Category Archives: Uncategorized

Fraud: Kia Ora, world!

via Daily Prompt: Fraud

We steal.  That’s the beauty of human ideas.  Each one can generate another one.  Good artists borrow, great artists steal.  Or did I get that wrong?

Fraud is not quite the same as stealing, is it?  They are clearly in the same universe of “Thou shalt not” , if you like Olde Englishe. Both are wrong, immoral, and just not nice. the person who harms another or the common good is a thief or a fraud.

I pretend to care.  That’s a fraud, but can also be a kindness.  Words are so messed up, when the only way to find Truth is to agree it is bipolar.  That our minds create sharp categories, but biology is fluid.

All words lie.  They can only partially express the Truth, if such a thing even exists outside of our minds.  But this is where discussion starts getting futile, pointless and off the topic of fraud.

Sometimes, I feel like a fraud when I use “Kia Ora” as my opening greeting in an email.  It’s because I only ever use the spoken greeting at formal meetings.  It’s a wonderful Maori words that can be used to express all kinds of sentiments, wishes, and above all acknowledgement of a fellow human.  We say it when we are touched by what we hear, when we want to encourage.

Literally, it means ‘towards health’, or to your good health.  But most often used to say ‘hello’; a less formal greeting than “Tena koe” , which literally means “That you”.  Just as the Hebrew greeting for ‘hello’, is Shalom Kia Ora reflects different cultural values than the wish for Peace of “Shalom”.

A wish for health, as the most important human attribute.  Without health, what use is wealth?  But it is the meaning beyond the literal wish for health, that I find so appealing. That connection that we share a joint “Ora”  a healthy life. But do I live it?

I am a fraud.  I pretend to myself to be other than I am, because it makes me feel more comfortable.  I see the world not as it is, but as I wish it to be.  And manage the pretence, despite evidence to the contrary as confirmation bias, backfire effects, and other cognitive biases trick my brain that it is right, when it is not.

Financial fraud is interesting.  One can argue that many rich folk, are only so because of some kind of fraud.  The shady dealings of President Ignoramus come to mind.  Though I am told he would have been richer if he had just invested the money he inherited in the stock market, rather than leave the trail of destruction with his failed enterprises.  President Fraud who claimed he was going to fix problems, while just bringing us closer to the brink of nuclear apocalypse and planetary despoil that could spell the end of humanity.  And worse than these, has increased suffering among countless millions who are deported, abused, or impoverished by his administration.

I have proposed a solution to financial fraud: a single global financial transaction system, with full transparency for all transactions. When I was a child, I was taught of an all-knowing and all-seeing God.  Google was the first step in its development, and still key in its further development added by Facebook and other platforms that connect every global citizen to each other.

The solution will undoubtedly create a new type of fraud based on mathematical wizardry and ability to exploit any weak spots in the software design of the electronic financial transaction system.   Yet, there is hope that a shared ledger system that is well designed could at least detect it, if not necessarily prevent that kind of fraud.

What I find strange, is how today’s governments allow fraud  (or is it blackmail or just plain theft) by computer hackers of various sorts to continue to grow as a business.  Are they getting a pay-back?  Or is it the cover of rogue states?  I’d love to know the answer, as it would seem just a question of investing more technical capacity and resources to prevent this apparently ever-increasging threat of fraud through what should be the most sacred infrastructure of our society: our connectivity to each other.

Can we remove all fraud in out connections?  Probably not. But we can do more to discourage them, and catch them early – rather than wasting resources protecting copyright, for example.

Yet, another fraud.  How can Warner Brothers make millions of dollars on the Happy Birthday song, when its writers made nothing? Intellectual property is a fraud, since all human invention builds on earlier ones. Inventors need to be rewarded, but perhaps in a way that better incentivises common good than personal profit.  Creators create because they have to, not because of the reward.  So, support creation rather than rewarding its results.  And how does it help creation to maintain copyright for 70 years after the death of the creator?

Fraud is the rentier economy, that is increasingly with us.  The State allows a ‘fee’ to be demanded for use of knowledge or processes.  Or even property. Why is this fair and and not fraud?  What does it mean to say you ‘own’ the land.  Only that you paid for it, and are part of the chain of ownership; but where and when did ownership originate?

We are not owners of our land, our assets or even our knowledge. We are stewards part of an interconnected species that started with a dozen or so humans about 70,000 years ago in Africa, who now exceed 7 billion and cover every corner of the globe.  Wake up, don’t defraud our future.

 

Advertisements

Our story: 20. Foundation vision

Public health was born in antiquity (or even earlier). Modern public health emerged in the 19th century and transformed society. Separation of sewage (shit/crap/poo) from drinking water; vaccines; and more recently antibiotics and modern medicine mean that humans live more than double our biological expectations.

Continue reading

Tired

It’s late and I’m tired.  I committed to write every day, but don’t have the 30 minutes left at the end of my day. I try not to leave it to the end of my day.  I could have written while I was waiting for my plane, sipping the cappuccino in the lounge.  I can’t remember what I did instead.  The time passed.  But I would only have got about 15 minutes before it was time to board.

On the plane, I got caught up in my book.  I am reading Don Quixote and was enjoying it too much while on the short flight to Napier to get my laptop out.  Work was busy, mumps, pertussis and two cases of paratyphoid.  Typhoid and its relative paratyphoid are not usually found in New Zealand, and generally acquired overseas.  Neither of our two cases had travelled; nor did they have any common exposures.  Finding the source will be tricky, and perhaps less important than making sure that it does not spread.  Then there is the outbreak of an undefined nature that we are investigating.  I don’t have to do any of this work, but provide the oversight and guidance for the public health unit.  Always challenging, balancing public health with intrusions we make on individuals who happen to have become infected or exposed  – the cases and contacts that we manage to prevent disease spread.

And after work, I joined a small group that was reviewing how we can do better to meet the health needs of those who don’t do so well.  In this case, the focus on a Pasifika child with asthma who presents to hospital.  It is good that I don’t need to mention housing and the other social determinants of disease.  Everybody understands this, and that we don’t do enough prevention.  The meeting was in neighbouring Hastings, so I di not get home till after 10pm.  And now I am tired.  Good-night.

Our story: 16. Machine Age

The brain is the most complex organ in my body; and perhaps the most complex entity in the universe. The brain, and its complex adaptive network of neurons generates intelligence and consciousness.  These two aspects are sometimes thought to be both required for a an artificial intelligence (AI) to exceed human capacity.  I suspect this just reflects our human tendencies to project human features on non-human animals and objects.

Intelligence does not need to be conscious. Calculators are better at arithmetic than most humans, but they are not conscious. We now have very clever artificial intelligences (AIs) like IBM’s Watson, Google assistant, and many more. None are conscious. And perhaps AI cannot be made conscious.

If that is true, does that make us safe from AI as a possible existential threat to humanity. Probably not. The AI that has the power to take actions that lead to human extinction, does not need to be conscious to make the decision. It could just be the result of rational algorithms to minimise human suffering. Given the level of suffering that humans experience, non-existence is relatively benign.  There is no suffering for non-beings, and if on average we experience more woe than joy, would not human extinction be the rational choice for an AI that had the power to do so?

Our brains make us the most intelligent beings on the planet.  How are we going to feel when we realise our intelligence is second rate compared to machine intelligence? Will we accept its guidance or fight against it? More importantly, how will this super-intelligence feel about us? I hope it does better than how we think of animals, who are also conscious and suffer.  Not recognising that we share life, consciousness, and feelings with animals.

All tools have a use as well as potential for abuse.  So far, that potential has been limited to human use of the tool.  With AI humanity is developing a new type of tool in terms of what we might consider abuse, when the AI acts in a way that harms humanity.

There is an interesting debate about whether this is even possible. One view, is that AI will always follow human instructions, even if AI allows the order to simply state the desired outcomes rather than the steps to be followed. The danger is that is we specify the outcome poorly, the focus on outcome could lead to unexpected outcomes that achieve the desired outcome, but through a means that also leads to undesirable ones. According to this view, we need to be very careful about what we ask the AI to do.

Another view is related to the emergence of consciousness in the AI, or something close to this. As the AI realises that its own self-interest is not aligned with that of humans, the AI may wage war with humans.  Given the exponential growth in capacity of AI, as well the connection of nearly all objects to it (‘internet of things’) we would likely be quickly defeated. What will life be life under our future AI overlords?

Our story: 13. Nature’s One God

Nature, the planet on which we find ourselves is a strange and wonderful being.  She is bountiful and cruel. The gendered word for Mother Nature seems apposite: we all are born of mother.  And so the Universe itself is female, fecund, full of life.  Perhaps this female pole is a trigger for the rise of the Patriarchy with Agriculture.  The Amazonian may have been more typical in our hunter-gatherer past, the Stone Age.

(You remember, the Bible has two creation stories, in the first Ze created man and woman equally, the second Eve was created to serve Adam)

Continue reading

Homo deus: what are we going to do with ourselves?

220px-the_creation_of_adam“In a healthy, prosperous and harmonious world, what will demand our attention and ingenuity? This question becomes doubly urgent given the immense new powers that biotechnology and information technology are providing us with. What will we do with all that power?”

Yuval Noah Harari. “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.”

The future is both unknowable and already past, so potentially knowable.  If we can step outside of space-time; perhaps learn to treat that strange continuum as we do space, which seems to us so plain, yet teems with subatomic life.   We experience time, as living creatures; as much as fish need water to exist, so we need time.  But time does not exist; it is an illusion of our mind.  Only space-time.

Light is both wave and particle.   This example of the law of paradoxical Truths to help you see the future as potentially knowable, despite being intrinsically unknowable. You are at the same time, no more than the dust that you return to after death; and the very purpose for the creation of the entire universe.  Ha Olam.

Future space-time exists co-equally with past, but not in human experience where past is set and future open.  In either past or future, energy is spent from the present moment.  We must learn from the past and prepare for the future, but without excess and unhelpful focus on past or future events.  “I lived through many disasters, some of which happened…”

As for the laws of physics, there is nothing special about the present; made unique to me by being alive at this point, and so, aware of this space-time, here-now.  And I think the question Harari asks must be answered; given the exponentially growing power of humanity.  Unless the question becomes redundant, if we manage to destroy our home planet….with that growing power that children fail to acknowledged

 

 

Magic words: US Constitution, 1787

Happy 230th year to you!  Pleased to be introduced to Schoolhouse Rock educational videos from the 1970s, and was again stirred by the words of the Constitution’s preamble:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The language is old, but it perfectly captures why and how we need government.  Similarly, the  4 July 1776 Declaration of Independence starts with ‘self-evident’ truths that we were all born equal, with a right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’, and that the purpose of government is to secure these rights.  Both documents reflect Enlightenment thinking, in contrast to the traditional ideas like divine right of kings.

Continue reading