May 2014 Archives

US GPD contracted in 2014Q1, but is that significant? In my opinion, GDP is a pretty stupid metric. Why?

  • If you and I each mow our own laws, GDP = $0.
  • If you and I pay each other $50 to mow each others' lawns, GDP = $100.
The U.S. economy contracted in the first quarter for the first time in three years as it buckled under the weight of a severe winter, but there are signs activity has since rebounded.

The Commerce Department on Thursday revised down its growth estimate to show gross domestic product shrinking at a 1.0 annual rate.

It was the worst performance since the first quarter of 2011 and reflected a far slower pace of inventory accumulation and a bigger than previously estimated trade deficit.

This is the first I've heard of it, but Dan Gainor claims that Warren Buffett has given over a billion dollars to pro-abortion groups since 2001. I'd like to learn more, maybe some reporter will investigate the details.

Popular Science has a fantastic article about robot ethics, with a focus on robotic cars. The whole thing is worth reading, but here's a taste.

It happens quickly--more quickly than you, being human, can fully process.

A front tire blows, and your autonomous SUV swerves. But rather than veering left, into the opposing lane of traffic, the robotic vehicle steers right. Brakes engage, the system tries to correct itself, but there's too much momentum. Like a cornball stunt in a bad action movie, you are over the cliff, in free fall.

Your robot, the one you paid good money for, has chosen to kill you. Better that, its collision-response algorithms decided, than a high-speed, head-on collision with a smaller, non-robotic compact. There were two people in that car, to your one. The math couldn't be simpler.

In my opinion, your robotic car should has customizable ethics options that let you, the owner, choose your priorities. If you want to protect your family above all else, then you should be able to select that and bear the legal consequences.

"Buy our car," jokes Michael Cahill, a law professor and vice dean at Brooklyn Law School, "but be aware that it might drive over a cliff rather than hit a car with two people."

Okay, so that was Cahill's tossed-out hypothetical, not mine. But as difficult as it would be to convince automakers to throw their own customers under the proverbial bus, or to force their hand with regulations, it might be the only option that shields them from widespread litigation. Because whatever they choose to do--kill the couple, or the driver, or randomly pick a target--these are ethical decisions being made ahead of time. As such, they could be far more vulnerable to lawsuits, says Cahill, as victims and their family members dissect and indict decisions that weren't made in the spur of the moment, "but far in advance, in the comfort of corporate offices."

In the absence of a universal standard for built-in, pre-collision ethics, superhuman cars could start to resemble supervillains, aiming for the elderly driver rather than the younger investment banker--the latter's family could potentially sue for considerably more lost wages. Or, less ghoulishly, the vehicle's designers could pick targets based solely on make and model of car. "Don't steer towards the Lexus," says Cahill. "If you have to hit something, you could program it hit a cheaper car, since the driver is more likely to have less money."

These questions seem futuristic, but our robots will be making a lot of split-second decisions for us based on the rules we set up in advance. We need to think about what those rules should be.

Putin is conquering Ukraine by referendum and it makes me wonder if such a strategy could be used to gobble up American territory? Are there any populations who live in US territories who would vote for independence if given a chance? Would they then join a neighboring country? Texas comes to mind as a potential for independence, but I doubt they'd join themselves to Mexico. Who else?

Once the leader in cybersecurity, Symantec has declared that "antivirus is dead", at least as a business model. This is obviously true, considering the proliferation of excellent free antivirus software. Antivirus is also pretty stale as a technology:

Ted Schlein, who helped create Symantec's first antivirus product, describes such software as "necessary but insufficient." As a partner at venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Mr. Schlein invests in new cybersecurity companies that compete with Symantec.

Using antivirus software is like locking the door of your house. It's a smart thing to do, but it won't protect you if you expose yourself to danger in other ways.

Putin is forcing Ukraine to use Western aid money to pay Ukrainian debts to Russia -- debts that Russia forebeared while Ukraine was in its orbit.

Also later Friday, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union will hold talks over debts running into billions of dollars that state-run Russian gas firm Gazprom says Kiev owes.

Putin has warned that not paying the bill, which Gazprom estimates at $3.5 billion, could lead to him turning off the taps, which would also affect several European countries.

Kiev is expected to use part of a $17-billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, announced on Wednesday, to settle the bill.

Whatever aid money the West sends to Ukraine will end up enriching Russia.

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