Sunday, July 31, 2016

Is Putin now just the George Bush 2004 or Cheney of Russia?

Is Putin now just the George Bush 2004 or Cheney of Russia?

The flood of zingers in the greater world keeps getting wilder and wilder – and more and more connected to things I would not feel comfortable talking about even in this blog. But at this point, as Putin plays a double game with other people in Russia, it seems appropriate to touch on a few things I did not mention before.

On CNN this morning, Hillary Clinton expresses great confidence that Russian intelligence agencies, under the firm control of Putin, chose to conduct cyberwarfare
on the Democrats, as a way to try to get his friend Trump elected, just as Putin has manipulated elections in many other countries. Julian Assange on CNN gave the impression that this is true, that he is proud of it, and that he supports Putin’s effort to get rid of Hillary.

Dubeo ego. One must be very careful not to jump to conclusions so forcibly, one way or another.  Sadly, I am reminded of how Hillary endorsed and supported the views she was told by US intelligence people in the early stages of Benghazi, and how she trusted George Bush’s promises enough to vote for a law giving him some discretion in how to deal with Iraq. She certainly did not originate or support evil in these cases, as her lying self-serving enemies have asserted, but she did display a certain amount of gullibility which causes me to doubt what she said this morning. YES, some people have told her that it was Putin, but what about the possibility that those people themselves are linked to a DOMESTIC network which attacked Hillary for its own reasons and wanted to pin it all on a scapegoat? Not a good time to say more.  It worries me that more and more levels will come more and more into the open in the next few years, each level surprised by the next, yea until something a lot like armageddon.

However, this does not mean that Putin is any more of a genius than George “W” Bush was, or that Russia itself is monolithic. Just as “W” made a huge mistake in letting himself be manipulated by Cheney and Cheney’s friends in the Third Caliphate movement, until his “independence from oil” speech... in the same way, there is more and more reason to believe that Putin has been fooled and manipulated by his Chechen allies, paving the way to an Islamic Republic of Turkey and to the Caucusian Emirate in suzerainty to it. Of course, he and his new friend Erdogan play the old deception games of trying to blame Gulen, the US, the Kurds and any one else they can think of, to try to draw attention away from the well-planned far-reaching purges of the past few weeks. Putin has been had. Russians have known for years that Putin was going a bit far, letting blood flow in pseudo-Islamic blood-magic rituals in streets of Russia, but he got lots of credit for ending the wars with Chechnya in a peaceful way much more Christian than how the czars did things. (As I wrote this, I shiver a little to remember I am the only one in this house whose DNA does NOT show Romanoff connections... linked to why I usually don’t say much about that region.) But Putin’s deal with the Chechen friends has become more analogous to “W’s” deal with Cheney and the Third Caliphate network, and is already backfiring to a very serious degree. Russia is in real trouble now. (And there is also the minor matter of clouds of death to come out of the Black Sea, and the action of apparatchiks working for SOMEONE in Russia still actively attacking any effort even just to predict and understand what might be coming. That you can open source if you choose, if you have half a brain.)

Just a few weeks ago, when Putin’s allies started killing folks in the Ataturk airport, it was already pretty obvious what was really happening. Assad was one thing, more like the old Romanoff policy, but Erdogan is entirely different.

All for now. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

AI management algorithms and future jobs and terrorism

Many thanks to .... for sending us to an article which 
is relevant to more than just the future of AI:

The article calls for serious study, and poses serious questions, which I need to think more about. But I can see right away that it has a very strong resonance or even synchronicity with the NATO workshop on terrorism and new technology, which ended yesterday, which was in many ways a follow-on to the discussion of future mass unemployment by the Millennium Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center last week which I mentioned. 

When they discussed how future jobs may only be enough for 30% or less of the workforce... well, there are multiple connections to 
the future of terrorism. IT and automation are central to both.
We got a bit further into the realities of AI here, but I already posted a URL to that. Kahneman sounds closer to the realities of intelligent systems than a lot of people who talk as if they were experts on that subject, but I don't yet know how much up to date he is with the more advanced developments.

A key question: is it possible to design a new kind of internet 
algorithm, which does for the marketplace of ideas and IOT what
the Independent System Operator (ISO) algorithms now do for electricity markets, providing a level of reliability, security and longevity far beyond what today's financial markets have, while fully honoring the
nonzerosum nature of human life and pushing interactions away from the fragmented dysfunctional communication patterns which have reinforced terrorism and ideological extremism of all kinds in recent years and gotten in the way of real fundamental creativity and human potential?  Pushing towards a Pareto optimum which is far more equitable and sustainable than the aging systems leading to grosser and grosser inequality (where more absolute centralization and short-term energy imbalances have already led to nonsustainable levels of corruption in most of the earth)? Recognizing the reality that DNA is part of the system, and that government attention to DNA in a concrete way can lead to gross mismanagement and collapse as bad as government micromanagement of where resources flow? 

I will study Kahneman's paper with an eye to this question. 
I am tempted to say more, but maybe this is already more than enough for one post. I do not claim to have an answer to these very important questions -- questions which certainly do link to that other nasty question about terminator AI, which has held me back in the past from these questions.


For completeness, I should add that the issues of balance and social contract implicit here do remind me of issues faced by Meng Tzu and by the Tang dynasty, as well as familiar folks like Jefferson, all of which will be part of my thinking if I get further here. None of those people solved the social contract or covenant issues enough to allow us to cope with the realities of today, though both provided an important starting points, clearly more sustainable than what anyone is relying on lately in the Middle East or in the groups funded by the US fifth column! Also, the group has already begun to discuss how restructuring and strengthening both of ILO and of SEC would be part of what is needed. The concept of "trust" in conventional expert systems and networks,
and the current IBM business plan for IOT, reflect a kind of programmers vision of central control which
we really need to get past to have any hope of building a new more sustainable kind of system, reflecting, for example, the reality that different people do not trust the same sources. ETH Zurich touched on some of the related questions at the NATO workshop.


After reading the Kahneman article, I sent them my comments:

Am only halfway through the Kahneman article, but strong pros and cons already appear.

On the positive side... it is interesting to see the common points of his behavioral economics with our emerging understanding of brain intelligence. But their "irrationality" flag can be misleading. For example, is finite information bandwidth really an example of irrationality? When brains try to make sense of  a huge influx of information -- millions of variables - some kind of parsimony mechanism is not only necessary but highly rational. As it is in statistics. I have heard that psilocybin can loosen that bandwidth filtering mechanism in human brians, but that it causes wild outcomes not unlike plain ordinary heretoscedasticity in statistics. The overconfidence due to efforts to make sense of the world... is also less a matter of irrationality as finite intelligence. But Kahneman is right, as Raiffa was right, that training can help our finite intelligence emerge into greater competence.

So that part was basically very good, the basis of his Nobel Prize. But then the decision-making "algorithms" (procedures) remind me a lot of procedures I have seen in the most atrocious ineffective government funding mechanisms. I suppose that someday I should better write up what I saw in almost 30 years of funding panels at NSF and in interagency activities, across many disciplines.  Asking six standard fuzzy global questions is just very weak, and of narrow bandwidth, compared with really intense substantive questions based on feedback and iteration which fully mobilizes the intelligence and foresight abilities of human experts, aimed at deeper dialogue. Real creativity in many areas of basic technology, and in deciding what larger projects to fund, demands the higher level of collective intelligence possible with such approaches.   The old 6-to-20 variable fuzzy scales simply can't do the job, not well enough for us to survive. (For example, it does not identify huge unmet opportunities in solar farms, in space technology, in quantum computing, and others.)

I am also intrigued that IBM was once on the path to doing more of the rational management guidance that Kahneman was looking for... until a certain Oprah level of financial geniuses decided that intelligence = Watson,
and that the future of humanity should be a unitary expert system without any utility functions at all, which nevertheless is supposed to control all actuators in the world (including wired-up human brains) via IOT. 

But... will the second part of the article get into real AI? We will see... 
second half of kahneman article --

He is very reasonable but nonexpert on AI as such. As a business consultant, Kahneman echoes what we have heard from many other business experts, that a huge drop in jobs due to technology is now on the way. 

There are a few important subtleties here. One is that people are sometimes replaced by machines or by outsourcing because of the irrationalities he is expert on. Internal corporate salespeople, trying to advance their own careers, may sell their bosses on the idea that their voicemail systems or 
helpers in rural India are every bit as helpful to their customers as 
the humans now doing the job -- but customers may actually suffer and may even be moved to look violently for competing companies if they can find any. In my view, artificial stupidity is every bit as serious a threat as artificial intelligence.  Error-prone profiling systems, or systems which throw out creativity as much as they throw out troublemakers, are part of that threat.

Kahneman also makes interesting points about healthcare. Like anyone well-grounded in federal budgets, I see the growth in health care costs and the drains due to the unproductive type of tax loophole as the main things we need to attack, in order to prevent the coming sequestration from making employment problems much worse than they already are in the US. 
But if a rise in productivity and automation really poses a huge employment problem in coming decades, much worse than today's cyclical problems, maybe we should look twice at the implications for healthcare. The present ways of growing waste of money in healthcare still need to be cut short,
but what of allowing a growth in things like more human caring of humans for humans, as in things like alternative medicine and home care? I have seen excess employment in hospitals leading to folks milling around doing more harm than good, and even accelerating the opiate addiction problem, but maybe a redirection of healthcare costs (and serious continued growth, albeit slower and with less drugs) might make more sense than I thought last week...

Maybe. But then again, it would be better if we could trust market mechanisms somehow more... new market design... to decide how much of future GNP should go into healthcare. 

Best of luck,

Sunday, July 24, 2016

zingers from international studies of future job availability

This week I had a chance to hear in detail the views of the Millennium Project on the future of work and job opportunities, and a detailed response from the International Labor Organization. It was quite a zinger.

No one suggested that the jobs have been killed by unfair trade deals, which is Trump's main placebo. Rather, it is technology. FAIR trade deals can accelerate new technology, but that is happening anyway; whether it is good or bad for humans depends a lot on the rules we impose, as another person on this list noted. (For example, if the SEC rules enforce the idea that all life outside the government focuses solely on myopic measures of cash flow, we are in trouble with or without trade deals. The trade emphasis is a red herring, a scapegoat.)

After lots of feedback from all over the world, MP focuses on three future scenarios -- basically business as usual, worse and better as they see it.

What shakes me up most is to see that ALL these scenarios (and variants) show normal jobs being enough to employ 30% OR LESS of the workforce by 2050. Are we really resilient enough to handle a trend which is moving towards a kind of 70% unemployment not so far away?

MP has 60 nodes, and a large fraction of them had serious studies of these questions. The Argentina/Uruguay node considered many theories and models of future work. They noted they started with a nice World Bank scenario which was much less scary. "However, when we dug into the assumptions, we found that they simply assumed no technological change."

One quick proposition emerges: PRESENT rules (ala SEC) plus present technology trends equals a "70% unemployment problem."

MP, in its most optimistic scenario, elaborates on ways in which society could accommodate this problem through a variety of possible measures discussed in great detail, above all self-employment, but also basic income and side payments and such. But is our world, already wincing from overstimulation and stress, and regressing to assorted forms of fundamentalism all over the world (and monopolism in a lot of Congress), really ready psychologically for a much more massive change in human ways of life? Some things need to move faster, in order for us to survive, but do we need to focus on changing rules in a way which reduces the pain of dislocation and takes SOME changes a bit more slowly? 

I now know more about ILO than I did before, but my knowledge is still superficial. It does sound as if their main role is to develop and update fair labor standards, which get written into fair trade deals.  Would Trump really upgrade the ILO, improve its effectiveness and support for it? Or would he just gut it as his colleagues have been gutting other things? 

Does a real understanding of future jobs require a deeper understanding of SEC, ILO and new technology? Is anything short of that the moral equivalent of a drunk wandering randomly and bumping into things he does not see? 


This was sent to a group which also has people with deep commitments in the election. For 40 years, as a government employee, I worked hard to stay nonpartisan, and fulfill the duty to be a positive help to the positive goals of whoever gets elected. Maybe I need to change that, especially since people like Lamar Smith no longer 
honor or support the code of Teddy Roosevelt... but I still need to be clear that I give primacy to goals beyond the choice of parties and nations as such. Goals like survival of the human species as such, and the achievement of everyone's full potential. 

There have been many other zingers this week, so zingy that I have hesitated to say much.

For example, I ran across a theory (and folks with evidence) of a Putin-Erdogan pact similar in some ways to Hitler-Stalin or to the secret agreements which destabilized Europe in a way which helped give us World War I. 
The oligarchs and siloviki really want some mix of progress and Christianity, and to crush movements to push us into a global mix of sharia and stone age culture. But Putin has his own deals, not always transparent to them, including Chechen allies he has used and empowered within Russia itself (e.g. for staged provocation events). Cutting back on one sharia state while creating another much more powerful one... 

H2S keeps rising in the Black Sea, and people do know. Why do apparatchiks try to turn that into a NATO versus Russia fight? Do they want new wars for their own sake? I suggested we need a calm very strong but very new scientific effort to understand how soon the people living in Sevastopol, in Turkey and in western shore nations might be at risk of H2S killer cloud breakouts? If it is loud and clear that this is NOT intended as a threat to any of them (it wouldn't increase H2S, the real threat there!), but intended as a follow-through of real human concern for the real humans who might be affected, could the silly fights be defused? And yes, we could emphasize that we are worried what would happen to us too, if lots of Russians died in their sleep unexpectedly in sevastopol... a matter of common rational worry, worry we need to calibrate. 

I was also surprised to learn that Chile is now facing something a lot like the "four county algae bloom" stinking up Florida. A whiff of euxinia? More precisely, something which smells like euxinia but which seems not well enough 
analyzed yet. (What are those cyanobacteria eating, and is more of it coming?). If you ever eat salmon which comes from fish farms, this is already hurting you. (More precisely, the supply-demand for such salmon is a bit worse, due to a real problem in Chile, related to the big stink.)

Today I also feel guilty that I did not follow up as much as I should have on various things with Kaine's people, when the opportunity may have existed. For example, Chesapeake also has ITS chemocline. There were clean coal options which EPA COULD have followed up on, in a very important if technical way, which I chose to discuss instead with our local Beyer group... but maybe Kaine's group would have been more accessible or more sincere
or simply capable. Oh, well. 

Tonight begins three days of NATO terrorism stuff...  

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

National Academy to reform science in US?

Some folks I know, rightly proud of their Administration connections, recently mentioned a new project at National Academy of Sciences aimed at a particular new reform of NSF (and really of science in America). My (quick personal) response to them:

 Good morning, ...!

For a few weeks, almost all the straws in the wind have been pushing me
more strongly to support Clinton over Trump. Your message is the strongest impulse I have received so far in the opposite direction. 

More precisely, after having worked for NSF for more than 35 years (until retirement last year), I can't help reading between the lines in what you said [about this project]

What kinds of organizational structures lead to maximum productivity and development of human resources in the S&T sector? There have been political speeches about that for many many decades, but so far as I know the book Leadership in S&T from Sage edited by Bill Bainbridge (who is probably still at NSF) is one of the most definitive. I see it as very compatible with another book from Sage by Ashkanasy et al, on organizational culture and productivity in general. 

"Reform" has become quite a slogan for the past recent years. There was such great support for Carly Fiorina based on the kind of reforms she carried out to Bell Labs, one of the topics covered in Bill's book. After Bells Labs and many of its siblings were truncated out, continued US leadership depended very heavily on a system of free universities, NSF, DARPA, and the "XROs"

And then came the great reform of Bush and Cheney, under Tony Tether, which really began to bite in 2003. I remember 2003 very well from personal experience. The great reform under Tony Tether was accompanied by many great speeches and powerpoints on "how to transition new technology" which I won't elaborate on here, but which certainly remind me of new things 
done to NSF.

IN 2003, I was one of the eight or so program directors in the electrical engineering division of NSF, the division responsible for fundamentally new breakthrough research in areas including electronics, photonics, communications, computational intelligence, and electric power grids (which were funded by my division long before the Office of Electricity Delivery of DOE  put big money into a different approach). For years, I had been able, at the end of the day, to fund about 30% of the proposals coming into my area, proposals which already represented much more advanced than average creative new ideas from universities across the US. (Small businesses were also an important part of the story, but this email will be long enough as is...) I remember very vividly the "Halloween massacre of 2003", when it dropped very abruptly to 10% and when a new division director announced that the cut would be accompanied by  her micromanaging all funding in order to help reduce and filter what was funded. 

The transition was slower in other parts of Engineering and of Computer Science,  but just as severe. Many of us worried: "If it takes huge effort to put together a worthwhile proposal, and your chances are only 10% of being funded, won't people just drop out, and go back to an equilibrium with a higher rate but a lot less research?" It was trending that way until the stimulus bill in 2009 (which raised hope and proposal counts), but I think that was a blip. When I left, it was still no more than 12% for major, competitive proposals (asking typically for $100,000 per year over 3 years). 

LOTS of serious intellectual effort went into analyzing why there was such a huge drop in success rates for core, competitive proposals. (By the way, statistics for noncore proposals, like 5K travel grants or undergraduate student supplements, PARTIALLY masked the data on the drop in the  NUMBER of proposals funded. It was every bit as bad as I described.)  
But everyone agreed that one major factor was something very obvious to us from day one: we were getting a whole more proposals from "refugees" from NASA and DOD. Whereas before, NSF handled about 30% of the funding for core innovative EE research in universities (the foundation of those great US university programs famous around the world back then), and DOD+NASA handled most of the rest, the Great Reform at DARPA and Shelby's similar interventions at NASA had created a stream of "refugees," of people coming to NSF for funding. Crudely: if people needing you are suddenly tripled, it should not surprise you if proposals triple.

Back then, Tether argued that we did not really need DARPA for the basic research part. There were "others like NSF" who could handle that. And so, making certain corporate stakeholders very happy, they decided DARPA would be more for translational technology for them. The universities protested vigorously, and Tether replied that universities could still get SOME funding -- basically as subcontractors to those big stakeholders, using them for well-defined specific pieces of work in more vetted, proven, translational areas. And thus we had a refugee problem. It was even worse at NASA.

A key point here is this: translational research can be great if there is something to translate. If not, it is only a matter of time when the pipeline dries up. I found it especially poignant a few weeks ago, when JOhn Mankins
(former head of HR&T, NASA's main new technology thrust under Steidle) said approximately: "It looks as if we CAN get launch costs low enough to meet the requirements for 9-cents-per-kwh electricity from space, thanks to the advanced launch technology now being developed in India..." 
(By the way, if you think solar is already at 4 cents per kwh, I posted a link at LinkedIn to a video of the president of the World Bank. Or you can google on the numbers in EEG.) India? There once was a time when the breakthroughs came here. But yes the US leads in commercials and dancing girls for our new space companies. (Not bad dancing girls!!) And innovative ways with manipulating numbers are part of our newfound superiority in buying other people's products. There are amazing similarities between some of the enthusiastic new translational efforts and enthusiatic things that Bo Xilai was doing in China, but people have been warned that these are national secrets because of the great competitive new edge they give us.

And so, another nail will be hammered into the coffin.

Maybe it is just as well. Some of the new areas of technology we were opening up could get to be very dangerous, as in the Terminator movie or worse.   (The new wave of deep learning translation was mainly really due to
Andrew Ng, Y. Dan, E. Boyden and Y, LeCun, EFRI-COPN Deep Learning in the Mammalian Visual Cortex,
which was just the first step of many which might have come. Still, China and the EU have continued activity in many such areas of technology, and there may yet be surprises coming. 

It is ironic to me personally that technology translation really was a major concern of mine, back before the reforms started to bite hard. But I don't see how funding for dancing girls and traditional beancounting would solve the many problems I saw in those areas. I see no alternative to the kind of very hard work some of us would try to do in the panel review system, which I once compared in my mind to auto engines which were only 25% efficient but were the only things actually able to move back then (though later our work was changing the picture on engines too, until oil stakeholders objected).
I also compared that good old competitive system, in the spirit of Vannevar Bush, to what Winston Churchill said about democracy: "The worst system anyone has ever devised, except for everything else anyone has ever tried or devised." As ugly as making sausage at times utterly dependent on human beings and human cultures, fallible, in need of intelligent improvement ..
even more competitive than the most extreme private fund competitions but more open to the high-risk cutting edge... and now...

well, the reforms remind me a lot of what Schumpeter predicted, the prediction that society simply would not put up with protracted competition.
I often think about the movie The Aviator (about Howard Hughes) and about the folks who almost shut down Edison when he was about to turn on the lights in New York City... and how the predictions of Schumpeter and Spengler do seem to be going by the numbers. But for folks who are used to a competitive IT private sector... don't imagine that the new reforms have nothing being prepared for you. 

Given such changes, I found it a bit challenging when IEEE asked me to give the keynote talk to their winter summer school on computational intelligence in big data  a few months ago (after my retirement, based on my personal work in that field). At, I posted the slides, which may be more digestible and quick than the long words of this email. 

By the way, ALL jobs can be automated. For folks who think a certain way, there is no need for any human beings at all, in space or in earth. That way of thinking is a very serious problem, in my view, exactly as one of you recently suggested, starting from 1980 as a transition year. More precisely -- the combination of new technology and a will to misuse it is like the combination of an automatic rifle and a particular metric of productivity in using it (as in Texas recently).  


[long as this was, one could write a whole book to fill in details... but not by me this morning!]

Saturday, July 16, 2016

NATO workshop on predetection of terrorists

The Millennium project has asked me to speak next week at the NATO workshop on predetection of terrorists and the like. This was one of the workshops described at:,
but it was postponed a couple of weeks from the initially planned date, to fit with other events within the world future society.


I spent some time thinking about the sensitivities. They will post the summary paragraph:

Neural networks, related technology and emerging uncertainties

Recent years have seen a vast explosion in interest in deep learning for applications like face and speech recognition, due to an NSF grant we funded in 2008 which proved that methods we had developed decades earlier really do outperform old paradigms when given a chance. More recent fundamental work can change the game in many ways, some for the better and some for the worse, tightly linked to issues like neuropsychology, like understanding insanity, and related technologies like quantum computing and crypto. 

They also asked for a bio, so I sent:

Dr. Paul J. Werbos, a Fellow of the IEEE and of the International Neural Network Society, received the Neural Network Pioneer Award and the Hebb Award from those societies, their highest award for fundamental substantive contributions.  His invention of a general form of backpropagation in the early 1970's provided the foundation not only for the first rebirth of neural networks in the 1980's but also for the more recent rebirth of deep learning. Before his retirement from NSF in 2015, he led three areas of research: adaptive and intelligent systems, emphasizing neural networks; quantum theory and modeling for electronic and photonic systems and devices; and electric power. He led the development of a special topic in 2009, for crossdisciplinary research in engineering and neuroscience (COPN), which funded the specific award to Ng and LeCun whose results led to the renaissance in deep learning in the US. 

(Gee, I didn't mention my three years coordinating the joint DHS-DNDO "ARI" research program addressing nuclear terrorism research. Whatever...)


I elaborated a bit by email:

I look forward to discussing these issues with you all, although there is no way that all the important themes can be handled in detail in the available time. Also, a lot of things I would want to say really should not be said in public. None are classified; I do not even have a security clearance, but there are other kinds of sensitivities. Also, I notice in the Hillary Clinton case that many are now prepared to put people in jail for saying things which were not classified when they heard them. I will feel a bit safer in email discussion, if
you all have the usual safeguards that gmail normally provides as an option (https always on, and double identity verification). I am also amused that one of the evaluations of Hillary Clinton said she would have been more secure if she used gmail instead of her own server. 

But... until I hear more about your servers... maybe I should limit myself to things I **MIGHT** talk about in this session.

Neural networks, and the next generation of deep learning, certainly have the potential to predict all kinds of things much better than anything anyone has seen as yet in the US. Deep learning as the computer science world has recently seen is just one part of one step on a progression which has already been mapped out at a mathematical level, with lots of allied applications. 
But certain caveats apply:

(1) The risk of unintended consequences is very severe, and has substantially limited the applications side of what I have done in the most recent years. There are many risks of centralization of power, well beyond what the Constitution envisions, some similar in flavor to a movie I finally watched after sustained pressure from my son: Captain America, the Winter Soldier. I have also learned there is more truth than I had expected in their extreme attitude of "Trust no one." I am glad that the 911 report is being declassified, and I hope people will understand at least the obvious implications. 

(2) The quality of results in a domain as tricky as terrorism still depends,
no matter how good the algorithms/architectures are, on the adequacy of the data available, and the richness of the conceptual basis. This leads to issues such as cryptography, cybersecurity and the dark web, for the first half of it. It leads to issues regarding what we know about brain and mind, for the second half. Huge changes are possible in both large areas. For what it's worth, I did some breakthrough work on the best available high resolution >100 channel data from prefrontal cortex this past month, making new connections, but it seems the journal will take more time than I expected before I can talk about it (more a legal issue than a security issue, but law and security do intersect). 

(3) The US has fallen so far behind in some of this that our decision-makers do not even know how many ways they might be blindsided. This, just in the past few years. I have to admit that Lamar Smith gets a lot of the credit. 

(4) One area which I would feel less worried about discussing is quantum computing and communications. The whole world now knows how
digital quantum computing, as pioneered by David Deutsch of Oxford (and misattributed to folks who deserve about as much credit as Greek philosophers who said "I think there are small things in this universe") 
allows a degree of security, with quantum key distribution, not found in 
classical communications, and conversely that digital quantum computing may allow us to break codes which had seemed unbreakable. But
few people know about the implications of continuous and analog quantum computing (AQC), as in a couple of papers I have posted

America's lead in a lot of these areas ended, by coincidence (I think) at about the time when Howard Brandt died. Howard Brandt, among other things, was the key technical adviser to the US security community of quantum information technology, and he also led annual workshops at SPIE/DSS bringing together the various disciplines which feed into that. In 2014, he invited me to talk about some new results related to that area, and also invited speakers form India and China well ahead of our folks in applying it to secure communications; I was supposed to see him again in the 2015 version of his workshop, to discuss substantial breakthroughs of major technological importance, but he died unexpectedly just a week or two before the meeting. In the past, the US held the lead, but as of now China and the EU are the only places with the requisite laboratory capabilities. Are the Chinese actively moving on things basically unknown now in the US (again with lots of credit to Lamar Smith)? Of course, I do not know, but I do know that the key guy in Sichuan has moved up to Tsinghua, at the very center of power in China.  

It turns out that time and triple entanglement are right at the center of some new capabilities which I had not intended to talk about, except to two or three people, until we were ready to demonstrate phase three in the lab. But thanks to Smith... well, maybe no one will believe me if they do not know the physics.

By the way, I have wondered whether collaborators of Aharonov in Israel might be willing and able to understand and follow through on what the US no longer can. 


All for now. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

H2S: how could the curse of Moses save humanity?

First, a review.  H2S emissions from the ocean have reached levels high enough to kill every human on earth about 5-10 times in past history. Professor Peter Ward, arguably the world’s top expert on those past extinctions, says we seem to be on the path to reaching those levels again; while I do not agree with the exact details of his theories, I have checked in detail, and conclude that the threat is even more imminent than he suggests. See the details at:

Before my retirement from NSF in 2015, I had direct contact with people doing research on climate change and on technology which might reduce the probability of human extinction – and learned in enormous detail how the political constipation in Washington is getting in the way. I understand the importance of positive thinking, and of looking for ways to solve even the most overwhelming problems, but I have frankly found it hard to imagine realistic hope for the human species. What unnerved me a few years ago was seeing the map from NOAA showing how the thickness of the oxygenated bottom layer of water near the Antarctic, the source of the great current (“the lungs of the planet”, THC) which brings oxygen to the bulk of the world’s oceans, seems to be just 40 years away from zero on the Pacific side. This is not a matter of fancy climate models; it’s a matter of seeing how the fresh water and fresh water ice now ringing the Antarctic has shut down the convection current (involving salty water) all around that continent. To predict climate is a difficult matter, similar to trying to predict a complex electronic circuit like a computer or a TV; however, it is not difficult to predict that off is off, when you see the plug dangling in the air.

BUT THERE IS NOW HOPE!! And any human who is conscious and sane enough to care about survival should be glad to hear it. Even if we try to imagine a rational human who hopes on religious grounds that this problem has a 95% chance of just going away... there is a rational way forward, justified in rational cost-benefit analysis even if the probability were only as small as 5%.  

Basically, it has three components:

(1) People at the leading edge of studying space mirrors now estimate (roughly) that it would only cost about $1 trillion ($100 billion per year) to do geoengineering which MIGHT be enough to stop the fresh water deluge blocking the Antarctic THC, **IF** we develop a reusable launch vehicle (RLV) capable of getting costs down to <=$500/kg-LEO in scale, including an ability to step up production of such vehicles to something like the production of RLVs. But they have an important caveat: that's $1 trillion for "one unit of cooling"; that MIGHT be enough, but we don't know how many units of cooling we need until the specs for the job are refined, combining leading space technologists with guys... like Hansen, as retired as I am, and maybe even a guy like me who can translate and connect across disciplines.  

(2) There is a clear way forward to develop such an RLV, though it does depend on some very unique accomplishments made at Boeing years ago which no one else has been able to duplicate despite a whole lot of hard ball PR, lobbying and salesmanship. (I don’t mind so much that those folks have been evil. I do mind that we probably will all die as a result. I do not seek revenge; I just want us all to live.) Mike Snead of WPAFB and Ray Chase (retired from Project Air Force, SAB, JPL and the folks overseeing TAV) have documented that this is possible, with the kind of vehicle which could be mass-produced in the Boeing Seattle plant with only a bit of extension. Jess Sponable of WPAFB and DARPA has shown that such an activity is already justified, in terms of net present value, even based on just the planned launches of the US national security activities – though DARPA has not given him enough funds even to preserve the most essential endangered technologies. (DARPA’s initial ALASA plan would have preserved and used the most critical endangered technologies, until a “smart” DARPA political appointee smiled at her preferred stakeholders and restructured things, leading to a beautiful set of fireworks as her friend’s vehicle melted and exploded upon test.)

(3) There is growing hope of EARLY alarms waking us up before extinction becomes inevitable.

Note that this combination DOES NOT ask for a commitment to geoengineering yet! Rather, we could say... development of this specific RLV technology would give us an ace up our sleeve, so that we have the OPTION to scale up and stop the melting AFTER we see that our lives really are at stake, when we will only have a few years to get the job done. For about $12 billion in vehicle development and associated stuff (Chase’s peer reviewed estimate, reviewed by tough industrial cost estimation reviewers brought in at NSF), we buy the option to be able to scale up fast when we “wake up and smell the brimstone.” And we buy other stuff too, like maybe energy from space (as in Mankins’ The Case of Space Solar Power) and cost-effective boost phase intercept missile defense, and maybe even new basic physics.

None of these three points is a sure thing, but the combination is enough that maybe, just maybe, the continuation of the human species might be possible enough that a mere miracle might do the job. Item (3) especially reminds me of the wonderful benevolent miracles attributed to Moses... not the kind of miracle we would like.  And lately, there is more and more reassuring evidence that we may get what we need ... just like what the miracles of Moses were said to have provided back then!
(Of course, item (1) does cry out for work to narrow the uncertainty bounds and scope out options for what is needed.) 

People have reminded me that there is that other “lung of the planet,” the little one in the Arctic which we can probably live without. It was actually news from the Arctic which worried me first, back in 2009, when I started learning about these details. (In 2009, I was on-again off-again the lead guy in the Office of Senator Specter, interfacing with others on EPW, to understand and address climate issues.) The THC is still working up there, but the agricultural runoff and the depths are such that there is growing hope of massive H2S emissions from the Arctic well before the Antarctic,  giving us something to smell – especially for folks working for oil companies who will discover some operational difficulties they had not planned for. (In a way, this will be like what hit BP in the gulf a few years back, due to a small “surprise” from archaea under the sea bottom; but this will be much bigger.)

Even better, even sooner...

Peter Ward already popularized the stories of a few fresh water lakes, where H2S emissions caused a cloud of death in the night, very much like the final curse of Moses, except that everyone died, not just first born sons. There is some village in Africa, famous for looking normal one day, and the next day a town full of quiet corpses.  

Four counties in Florida recently experienced a great crisis of foul emissions from the water. When I saw the face and the words of the NPR TV reporter covering this... “you would not believe this smell...”.. it sounded very, very familiar. No, the low oxygen did not result from THC blockage, but it illustrated very clearly (though at a low level) when happens when low oxygen and agricultural runoff occur together.
Much higher levels of H2S underwater are brewing in the Black Sea and in... surprise... the Chesapeake!

And so... it is quite possible that we will be blessed within a relatively short time (a decade or two? next year?) by a cloud of death striking in the night, killing people in Annapolis, Sevastopol, or maybe even Baltimore or Capitol Hill. Who knows what the timing might be of what is in the pipeline?

After the Florida case, I wondered... what is the PRECISE relation between eutrophia and euxinia and combinations of the two? If algae get all the nutrients in a low oxygen zone, can they prevent archaea from getting them and limit the H2S production enough that blue-green algae can take care of most of the H2S? Is there a cutoff here, which affects the probability of an outbreak of the cloud of death in the night? In searching euxinia and eutrophia and on various recent outbreaks... I was amazed at how little inventory of species over time we have for these events. People just assume that an outbreak of cyanobacteria or purple bacteria, which can digest H2S, is due only to fertilizers and anoxia... but why don’t they ask about the supply of H2S? Also, I remember an article where they calculated the stiochiometry of what the H2S digesters do, and showed little hope of their blocking H2S emissions at the fatal levels we have seen before from the oceans.

It is odd and sad that this is our best hope, but some hope is better than none. Of course, Lamar Smith and Senator Shelby have been working very ruthlessly to make sure we never have this kind of hope. (The tactics remind me a lot of Miscavage’s book “Ruthless” on scientology, a much smaller and weaker cult, arguably less sane, arguably more sane. They all just take the money and run... but they will not be able to outrun H2S!! Nor will any of the rest of us; the technology for sustainable “lifeboats” simply does not exist, though the same old lobbyists would love to take money for it.)

Best of luck...

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Trump's VP options and various miscellany

I have not been watching CNN or France24 as much lately, for many reasons, but
a blip has appeared which feel called to talk about, since it is a very special kind of zinger.

The zinger is that Trump is seriously considering General Flynn as a possible running mate.

Right now, the "smart money" would give better odds to Hillary winning over Trump, but a strong... blip signal.. suggests that Flynn would really improve those odds, not to 50%, but maybe enough to give a real shot.

Part of the reason is that the other VP choices in the news may be one of the reasons why Trump's standing has deteriorated over ... the past month or two. I also wonder whether TV ratings for the presidential race have gone down as well, expressing public feelings about predictable reruns.
(Would a 4-way debate between those two and the libertarian and the green restore ratings a bit,
a bit more novelty, without a net imbalance?) Does Pence really excite the public any more than Jeb Bush did? Is he an omen of decay into the same old entropy? Could Trump clean up the executive branch and the REpublican party, or would he really just drown in them?

Actually, Trump as president reminds me suddenly of things I said when Obama appointed Chu to be secretary of energy. "DOE, I know that dragon very very well. This is like one of those old Chinese stories where a noble good young poor peasant student wins approval from the gods, and is assigned to ride the dragon. But will he ride the dragon or will the dragon just roll over and eat him?" Chu did make a few good changes, but on the whole, the dragon won. The dragon is older and cannier and has developed tricks he did not know. Chu did talk a little about how "the lawyers constrained him."
Lawyers are to some lobbies what hit men have been for the mafia and the sharia billionnaires; really knowing about the hit men and how they are organized and how to deal with them is essential to any hope.

As head of DIA, Flynn probably got closer to knowing about the hit men and the bad things going on now all across the executive branch than any of the others, by far. That would revive what has been a fading hope. But Hillary has at least been one of the (many) targets of the hit men, and her general intelligence and support network make her still the favorite...

The biggest problem is that Flynn's strong support for the Hillary email witch hunt suggests he doesn't know as much about what is going on as one might hope. Ironically, an active push which was intended to increase Trump's chance of election may well be the single biggest factor reducing it!!
Remember when Sanders said "to hell with the emails"? The polls don't tell you the real underlying dynamics here. In my view, he did a lot better after that... until he switched back to DC style entropy... and other threads came into play.

Besides the resources of the "watch," I also have spoken with folks from other agencies and so on who  are deeply worried, and hence not so talkative. When I tried to disentangle who was
liquidating the vision of Vannevar Bush and NSF's lead role in US S&T development...
one set of threads went back directly to Lamar Smith, but another led to... what?... not exactly IBM loyalists but a certain type of computer channel... and if Flynn is not aware of the fact that
some folks want extragovernmental people to give orders to the Secretary of State (and everyone else)   by way of "dot gov"... if he doesn't know what's going on, AND in consequence fully supports it... it suggests for now that Hillary has a better chance of fixing the problem. Not great, but better.

Would there still be a hope for life (literally) if the US simply loses its democracy, and if the next stage is a Clinton Presidency that ends up like Rousseff's? I hope we do not have to face up to that question... but ... whatever...


As Trump talks about Pence a few days later....

I wonder whether he has considered risk of assassination by his newfound friends,
after he sells out? No joke. "W's" wife had stories to tell about Cheney, and there is a certain group of folks in Texas... We will see.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

should we develop an actual lifeboat to escape human extinction

The Lifeboat Foundation scientific discussion list mainly focuses on trying to understand threats to the very existence of the human species, and of how we might reduce the probability that the human species goes extinct (at least within the next few thousand years). But this week, one of the folks has argued that we should actually build a lifeboat, like a Noah's ark or the spaceship in the movie Wall-E. Here is my last response, which
touches on broader questions like the ongoing loss of US scientific leadership:  


>... argued for a project to build an actual lifeboat...

Yes, the relevance is clear, although I believe the Lifeboat Foundation still would like us to put energy into trying to understand and prevent extinction, rather than only how to escape it.

I accept your position that what you want to do is highly relevant, and deserves a place in our discussions. But I have seen hundreds and hundreds of people who say "Give me money and I will figure out how." Bill Gates would not fund an investment plan by a group which does not establish that they know how to do what they say they are doing. That goes in spades when hundreds have tried to do X, and all or almost all have failed. NSF, in its glory days, was perhaps the best place on earth to be able to fund the really important, highly innovative high risk things, WHICH IT COULD SUCCEED AT sometimes, because of a very thorough review process as tough as anything the banks would do, but with criteria which allow more high risk work to get through. (AND were wide open to lots and lots of competition!!!) For amounts of money much smaller than what you would want, it was necessary to provide a lot more evidence, and a plan.

Actually, two years ago (maybe to the day), I gave my last really big public talk on what it would take, in practice, to get money form NSF. In practice, it came down to just three questions: WHAT? HOW? WHY? If any are not addressed well enough, well-run panels will explain the questions which need to be addressed and say "try again when you can answer these questions." "WHAT": some folks think they can just say "I want to work in area X." No information on the specific target. (One could write a book on what a "specific target" is, and I think of a book by John Von Neumann on game theory which in a way did exactly that, or at least did part of that.) "HOW": that's why I would not YET see your proposal as fundable now, AND ALSO why I (and Keith) have tried to focus on questions you would need to address better. Usually "how" requires something of a plan (which can be like a decision-tree for high-risk stuff, but needs to convey a readiness to actually do something), and an evaluation of previous efforts to achieve that target, and specific ideas to address the problems. And one could write a book about any of THOSE things!
WHY is also essential, but yes, in this case, many of us could see "why" TO SOME DEGREE -- enough to make it a valid activity, if it doesn't get in the way of other priorities.

Actually, I can think of a cynical reason to give you good marks on "why": if it is better understood how hard this is, it may help more people appreciate the importance of the other branch of the big decision tree, the importance of not getting to a point to where people without a lifeboat all die. If they understand they won't have a lifeboat, no matter how wealthy or well-ensconced or relaxed and normal they are, maybe they wilkl appreciate more what their stake is here.

Best of luck,


P.S. That was an incredible week, two years ago. The talk was to about a thousand folks in an IEEE international conference in Beijing. The Chinese got excited, and they really liked the three questions. I was surprised when a limousine suddenly appeared at the front doors of the conference hotel, carrying me and  a couple of others to, first, the key dean at Tsinghua University, and then the NSF of China. On July 12, on the airplane home, I finally got to watch Captain America: the Winter Soldier, which my son had been urging me to see for months -- and was rather nervous that I could see more parallels than I had expected to for what was/is going on in DC. And on July 14, I started to really learned how pervasive the new defacto structure is that Lamar Smith put in place, and how it makes my comments about NSF above totally obsolete. The recent article about Arecibo in Scientific American has some real zingers for those folks who know how to read between the lines, from experience with the new realities, and the news now is that China is investing to take over the leadership which the US has abandoned. The obscure aspects of physics discussed in that article actually relate to the "NUC" cluster of extinction options, because there are things we do not know very well yet which may lead to changes in nuclear technology... beyond what I see even in science fiction, except for a few obscure things you probably haven't read. (Last year I reread Olaf Stapleton's First and Last Men, very inexpensive now as a kindle book.)


On Wed, Jul 6, 2016 at 7:01 AM, [lifeboatfoundation] <> wrote:

The very definition of a Lifeboat is an independent method to survive an extinction level event (sinking ship). In my view, the only project on which the Lifeboat Foundation is working that fits this classification is a space habitat in low earth orbit but NASA is involved with settlements on the Moon and Mars. Just as a land based prototype is the first development preceding the volume production of a class of U.S. Navy warships, the first project of any off-Earth settlement should be an Earth-based prototype. I chose a Moon settlement simply because I believe it has the best chance to capture the imagination of the general public but, if that is not the case, building an Earth based prototype of a space habitat or Mars settlement would work just as well.  A nominal population of 10,000 was used in the 1970s NASA report on a Stanford Torus space settlement so this same population base was chosen for an Earth based prototype. The design intent is to fund the project with donations from foundations, the wealthy, and member nations of the UN with any shortfall derived from a percentage of the earnings of entertainment centers patterned after a space settlement.



For a blog, I should add a LITTLE bit of detail on this large subject. I used to compare the old system and corporate culture of NSF, started by Vannevar Bush but developed by many committed to the same kind of vision, to what Churchill said about democracy: "It is admittedly quite horrible, full of disgusting things,m the worst system ever developed by man -- except for all the other systems." Many people worked hard to make it work better for many, many years.

Under new new order, I remember a debate with a friend higher in management. "We agree there is a new gestapo in place, but WHOSE gestapo is it? The scientology-like secretive tactics make it hard to know." he argued it was Obama, but I argued that Obama was playing golf. Certainly a clear, important trail went to Lamar Smith, but there were trails in the computer systems as well going outside and not just watching.
Yesterday, I felt something akin to stomach pains when I heard one of the questioners of the State Department guy asking why they don't more actively use administrative investigation mechanisms to put severe sanctions (get rid of) folks who do not give total control to the new dot gov systems -- new systems I have seen in operation, not reporting to the president, and investigative systems which have also been compromised.
God help us. But reply to this lifeboat guy was only about one hour; my main activity has been a new paper
showing some new methods of analysis of brain data, which my collaborators are now looking at... maybe close to all done. And family/spiritual life.  

Monday, July 4, 2016

quick morning notes on some complicated thoughts

Many important things have come to me in the past few days, and I regret that I can't do them full justice, because of the paper on brain data I am more than half finished writing now.

One: a striking experience at Quaker meeting, where a woman from Lebanon who has been spearheading efforts to assist Syrian refugees expressed extreme frustration, and difficulty in maintaining balance. In past months, I heard her praise Merkel for bringing in refugees to Europe, and for heeding the real human story of a Syrian child who died due to callous behavior by adult authorities of Europe. But yesterday, she was really deeply upset by the US government bringing in so many more people than they were able to take care of, leaving them to sink or swim, people who are starting to really suffer. (As I type this, it reminds me of religious people who want to force their religious beliefs on poor women in the inner cities, forcing them to have more illegitimate children than they know how to take care of. Will a new generation of religious restrictions also forbid them from meeting pork or beef hot dogs to those children?) She spoke of a family with a household already full of too much furniture, with the adults focusing on trying to get more, even as a twelve-year old child kept out of schools during war  is in a desperate situation trying to learn even first grade material, like reading, in an environment which easily taunts and tortures such kids. (That reminds me of the old story of first generation coming because they hear good things about America, especially getting money in America, while a next generation experiences radicalizing pain.).
Reminds me of how Cameron was hoping things could be arranged... maybe a hard kind of middle way but maybe actually better?

But mainly... for me the day starting with the usual enormous happiness, in bed near Luda, pleasant talk with birds in the background, in a light place... going over an "assumption dream" which included the funny not-quite-right image someone else has of Luda, as well as of me...
but then suddenly interrupted by a cold realization.

Cold as in temperature.

I said, roughly: "With that new thermostat, I feel like an ordinary citizen trying to cope with the complexities of the new US government. It was too hot yesterday, so I lowered the temperature setting. I didn't know that you need to click the right number of mysterious times to lower the temperature THEN." So it didn't cool down yesterday... but entered an instruction somehow to lower the temperature dramatically at 5:30AM this morning. A cold realization indeed.

I said: "Is Trump going to do to the US government what I did to the thermostat?"

"NO," she said,"You were the one behaving like the US government." Me: "That's a bit insulting!"
Her: "So now being like the US government has become the worst of insults?"

Thinking deeply about the realities of life can lead to important points which policy makers miss somehow. (I am reminded of a Berkeley professor, Shankar Shastry, who once explained why he was so much successful than others in some tricky physical control challenges:"It's all a matter of going in and extracting what the basic principles are causing the problem..." That's such a simple idea, but also so rare and so important to do.)

The new thermostat reminded me of the new Swedish alarm clock we got a few years ago, and about some of the cockeyed versions of "demand response" which some electric utilities and DOE/OER have tried to foist on the poor public. "Hey," said Luda,"What's wrong with a little bit of an intellectual challenge in the home?" Yes, it's better than sudoku... but is it really? There were versions of intelligent efficient powergrid pushed by "jihadi style market economists" (as ignorant of the underlying principles of economics as jihadis are of spirit and god) in which perfect human efficiency would be achieved by forcing every household to make intelligent thoughtful decisions about
every appliance and its intensity setting every 5t to 15 minutes, day and night. Of course, many utilities went to the opposite extreme, of following the historic reflex of behaving like caliphs or czars, controlling everyone's air conditioners in a total dictatorial way from a central command post.
There is a better, more truly human and efficient way, in the middle, with a more rational
blending of human and computer chips... but no, not the cyborg extreme either!
(By the way, do you know about those smiling apparatchiks paid and empowered by the conservative movement to try to force us all to become cyborgs? Yes, they know they are doing it, and I wonder at what point in the chain of command do people understand how evil their orders have become. Long dictatorial chains of command tend to do that kind of thing, even if the folks at the top delude themselves with the belief that "their" chain of authoritarian command is somehow advancing the cause of freedom. But I do not have time this AM to get into the very tricky balances needed
to avoid such extremes. We do need schools, and we do need institutions like Quakers, and we do need well-designed markets emphasizing the honest aspects of competition, to manage things ranging from ideas and money to even DNA, indirectly but importantly.)

As folks in Europe start getting vast powerful diffuse anxiety about DNA lately... I hope we will remember that creatures of the forest do not spend most of their lives being miserable, even though they do not always get what they want. We do not need political systems which make people so miserable so much, even if we decay all the way to the jungle level of standards. But sadly, the risk is that we will sink instead to outright extinction, through various willful but mindless/myopic convulsions.

The reading for Quaker discussion this morning was two pages in which Obama asked a leading author about how people can be so decent and rational in everyday life, and so destructively paranoid and crazy and even evil in collective political life. "Why the gap?" But the theme of groupthink versus collective intelligence, and sanity in general, is beyond the scope for me to wrote about this morning. I did a book review last week at Amazon, on the book Ruthless by Miscavage, with some relevance, though still not as long as the topic calls for. This morning... back to a rat brain by the numbers.  


As I make coffee.. I realize I felt a lot of trepidation when I typed the word "god" next to "jihadi,"
and consciously rejected using God or Allah next to jihadi.

For recent years... I would use the word "god" in conversations with Luda, where it is a useful shorthand and does not force permanent misunderstanding. But only very recently, talking with Quakers and a neighbor, do I start using it beyond that, because the misunderstandings really do blow up in people's faces. In fact, even with the neighbor... I said I am more comfortable talking about three more specific realities (RELATIVELY more specific), "pater galactucus, noosphere and archetypes." (The first two merit capitalization.) (And there are plain old other creatures.) So often people imagine they know which one they are hearing from, based on wishful thinking and narcissism!  But... must turn off coffee now...