NZ votes for stability or progress?

On Saturday  23 September, we vote.  After a disappointing result three years ago, I am hopeful for a government that can deliver on equity and protecting our beautiful country, and the planet.

You will hear it said, it does not matter what we do for climate change, or other aspects of planetary despoil. We are a tiny nation, not yet 5 million, less than 0.5% of global emissions, they say.  But, I think it does matter.   It’s called leadership.

Now we have the possibility of Jacinda for NZ, and perhaps the world.

One simple thing a new government could do would be to set up a financial transaction system that removes  cash (and hence corruption) and banking function.  A State infrastructure of distributed databases is at the heart of artificial intelligence; it also provides a distributed ledger that is used in blockchain, the technology behind BitCoin. Blockchain is now old technology, so this could be set up practically overnight with a few smart engineers.  The hardware – computers in every home, are already there and in most pockets.

You might not see how this would benefit the planet, but I hope it’s obvious how such a system would not only prevent corruption from being hidden, but also tax avoidance.  I do not believe in the need for income tax; it can be replaced with a much fairer and more efficient  financial transaction that is progressive, and can be used to prevent gaming on markets, when that is not adding to economic welfare.

It would be virtually costless to implement in this new State money system.   Yes, there are the costs of running large servers; but there is also the benefit of scale; and remember the ledger is distributed, not centralised.  The costs are in data processing, and while substantial are so highly scalable, and is tiny compared to the size of the economy.

As the only legal tender in the country, all transactions would need to be processed through the common ledgers that create security without the need for a third party.  In other words, banks no longer serve a useful function.  Banks also provide credit; but it would be simpler for the State to directly provide credit to citizens and enterprises, without the need to mediate through banks.  This allocation of credit to any member of the community who could persuade their local community, would remove a barrier to creating new businesses.  Perhaps loans are progressively larger, as individuals or companies show their ability to repay.

In designing the system for providing credit, we must listen to the calls for equity, fairness in how each individual can access community resources.  At present, those in most need, have least access to services and  resources.

Now, you may have notice that the financial sector, and especially banks have the most control of our society’s resources.  What I propose would remove the Emperor’s Clothes: bankers would no longer exist.  The bankers create/maintain a system that makes them indispensable, rather than actually being indispensable.  Technology is not the necessary solution to this problem, but it helps.  Computers and community decision making can replace banks.

So, where would all the money that goes to bankers go to instead?  And remember, we could make bankers redundant overnight, as the technology is already here.  It just requires a democratic decision.

This is where we can start to invest in a green infrastructure and advanced technologies, building on our global leadership in setting up a new global currency.  Look at the crazy value of bitcoin; now dropping but still worth a few thousand dollars, when once it was less than one!

We desperately need a new world, if humanity is to survive on this planet.  We don’t need a stability that is leading to global destruction and potential human extinction. We need progress to a sustainable future for our grand-children.

A world where mad-men do not control nuclear bombs; and even small arms no longer exist.  Hunting is traditional; so is gathering and the food we eat.  Not the highly processed and very tasty foods that science has developed for us, for profit – and damn the health consequences.  (Should I apologise for swearing in a world where most do not believe in damnation?)

Here’s dreaming and a reminder to my fellow NZers: let’s go for progress and live our manifest destiny in our journey to God-hood.  Vote Labour electorate and Green Party, to get the best mix of policies – including a financial transaction tax and a new NZ order that can lead the world.

And Grant Robertson, love you.  But you don’t need to win the electorate.  Please step aside for James Shaw; thanks!


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: 17. Vision

Humanity is at an inflexion point. We have mentioned the main historical transitions, from hunter-gateherer through agriculture and the emergence of cities – civilisation that it engenders. Then capitalism and science, that magic combination for multiplying growth leading to industrialisation, the replacement of muscle power with machine power.  Now the replacement of mind.  Google knows all.

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Our story: 15. Half-way there

Now is half-way between past and future.  In the last chapter we ran through human history from single-celled life through hunter gatherers to advanced capitalist economies.  Science and capitalism transformed the world.  Many have been left behind, but luxurious living conditions for the masses, and an ever more years of expected life are some of the positive results of capitalism.  Science continues to offer new technologies, and now the replacement of human mind, in the same was as muscle was replaced by the steam engine.

We started to get fat when we used machines instead of our muscles; and then invented gyms so that our muscles would be used to no purpose.  What will happen when machines think better than people; what will we do with our minds?  Do they not already cause more trouble, more worry that joy?

How to get to Utopia?   Utopia is based on two Greek words:  ou ‘not’ + topos ‘place’; it does not exist!  The word was first used in the book Utopia (1516) by Sir Thomas More.  Plato described a Utopian state nearly two thousand years earlier, in The Republic, ruled by Philosopher Kings.  For Marx, it is the classless state, the end of exploitation.

Marx described history as the struggle between classes, those who produce and those live off their work.  If the promised era of machine produced everything becomes reality, technology could deliver a classless state. In feudal times, the nobles lived off the work of the peasants.  Capitalism has been through many changes since the time of Marx.  It has progressed to provide better conditions for workers. The role of the state has expanded, to include provision of health, education and welfare as well as security.

In future, the what will be the role of the State, when all produce is made by machines.

Our story: 14. Where are we?

I got lost.  Or so it may seem. The criss-cross of different threads do not yet build a  story.  Our story, starts from the Big Bang and then goes in so many different direction.  Covering a tale that is complex, and already told many times before.   You may get lost again, but here goes.

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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)

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Our story: 12. Food and mood.

vegeplateA plate full of anti-oxidants or food for your bugs.

From the mid-1980s  until this millennium, there was much hope in the potential to use anti-oxidants like Vitamins A, C and E to prevent cancer and extend life.  Some evidence showed associations  with health.  Since anti-oxidants reduce damage to cells from it was plausible that supplements might prevent cancer. But the trials not only failed to find protective effects, there was even some suggestions of increased risk.

It was disappointing, but why did they fail?  Antioxidants are clearly important for cellular health, but the molecular machinery that keeps us alive is complex; and single element solutions (‘magic bullets’) tend not to work.  Even the original magic bullets of modern medicine, antibiotics are facing critical resistance.  (Luckily, vaccines still seem to work well.)

I interpret the failure of the anti-oxidants as another example of the problem of processed foods, especially the highly processed and very tasty foods that subvert our biology, including fizzy and sugary drinks.  Or carbonated drinks in general probably.

The loss of nutrients from the processing is often remedied by adding back nutrients.  But there are also many phytochemicals that can be lost in processing; for example fibre that is a key source of energy for our microbe.

One theory is that most of our “Western Diseases” (like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and many more that are largely caused by modern lifestyle, especially our diets) is caused by inflammation.  And that this inflammation is caused by bugs eating other bugs and/or our immune cells that live on and in the gut, respectively.  And one reason they do this, is failure to feed them their diet of green and red leaves.  Or whatever kid of vegetable fibre they feed off best.

So, the whole plant food that we eat provides chemicals both directly and indirectly (though the action of the microbiota) that contribute to our metabolism.  They are not essential for life, but add to health.  We know that eating more fresh fruit and vegetable is good for health – but also too expensive.  Sprouting lentils is very cheap, and tasty – once you have adjusted your tastebuds; if they are used to very tasty highly processed foods.  Recall, they have bee scientifically designed to make you addicted, or at least craving this deadly foods full of sugar, additives, and highly processed ingredients.

All highly speculative; but will you take a 2-week test to see what happens when you re-adjust your diet, cut out CRAP (carbonated, refined sugar, additives, processed food).  If you don’t feel 100% better – you collect the refund of your desire.  If you are already feeling 100% well, I would still expect a 10% improvement – but do you know what 100% feels like?

In addition to the limits of evidence, especially when clouded by commercial interest – or unexplored for lack of it,  there are many problems with the above statement, but I know if you believe it will increase the chance of a successful trial, if you are willing to give two weeks to it.  But you have to also be 100% committed, as it is not easy.  Much less easy that you may think it is; though some of you will think it much harder than it actually is.

Food is the unity of life.  Let me explain.

We were ‘designed’ to eat whole foods; and have mostly benefitted from traditional processed foods like bread and milk. Highly processed foods, including sugar, seem to be the cause of most modern ills.  These foods tend to be low in anti-oxidants, another reason for their attraction as supplements.   But that failed!

The evidence for a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables continues to grow  Green leafy vegetables are particularly important not only for nutrients and anti-oxidants, but also because it is the food that some specific species of bugs in our microbiome.

A recent study found that a mostly whole plant based diet without processed foods but with extra olive oil, a modified mediterranean diet, was effective in treating depression.  If you already have diabetes, or at risk of diabetes, you can reverse your disease- but it takes radical change in what you eat.  It will be hard for two weeks; after that your palate adjusts.  Understanding and dealing with a food craving is not easy.  Nor is feeding it.