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Are We Becoming More Moral Faster Than We're Becoming More Dangerous?

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In The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker convincingly makes the point that by pretty much every measure you can think of, violence has declined on our planet over the long term. More generally, "the world continues to improve in just about every way." He's right, but there are two important caveats.

One, he is talking about the long term. The trend lines are uniformly positive across the centuries and mostly positive across the decades, but go up and down year to year. While this is an important development for our species, most of us care about changes year to year -- and we can't make any predictions about whether this year will be better or worse than last year in any individual measurement.

The second caveat is both more subtle and more important. In 2013, I wrote about how technology empowers attackers. By this measure, the world is getting more dangerous:

Because the damage attackers can cause becomes greater as technology becomes more powerful. Guns become more harmful, explosions become bigger, malware becomes more pernicious... and so on. A single attacker, or small group of attackers, can cause more destruction than ever before.

This is exactly why the whole post-9/11 weapons-of-mass-destruction debate was so overwrought: Terrorists are scary, terrorists flying airplanes into buildings are even scarier, and the thought of a terrorist with a nuclear bomb is absolutely terrifying.

Pinker's trends are based both on increased societal morality and better technology, and both are based on averages: the average person with the average technology. My increased attack capability trend is based on those two trends as well, but on the outliers: the most extreme person with the most extreme technology. Pinker's trends are noisy, but over the long term they're strongly linear. Mine seem to be exponential.

When Pinker expresses optimism that the overall trends he identifies will continue into the future, he's making a bet. He's betting that his trend lines and my trend lines won't cross. That is, that our society's gradual improvement in overall morality will continue to outpace the potentially exponentially increasing ability of the extreme few to destroy everything. I am less optimistic:

But the problem isn't that these security measures won't work -- even as they shred our freedoms and liberties -- it's that no security is perfect.

Because sooner or later, the technology will exist for a hobbyist to explode a nuclear weapon, print a lethal virus from a bio-printer, or turn our electronic infrastructure into a vehicle for large-scale murder. We'll have the technology eventually to annihilate ourselves in great numbers, and sometime after, that technology will become cheap enough to be easy.

As it gets easier for one member of a group to destroy the entire group, and the group size gets larger, the odds of someone in the group doing it approaches certainty. Our global interconnectedness means that our group size encompasses everyone on the planet, and since government hasn't kept up, we have to worry about the weakest-controlled member of the weakest-controlled country. Is this a fundamental limitation of technological advancement, one that could end civilization? First our fears grip us so strongly that, thinking about the short term, we willingly embrace a police state in a desperate attempt to keep us safe; then, someone goes off and destroys us anyway?

Clearly we're not at the point yet where any of these disaster scenarios have come to pass, and Pinker rightly expresses skepticism when he says that historical doomsday scenarios have so far never come to pass. But that's the thing about exponential curves; it's hard to predict the future from the past. So either I have discovered a fundamental problem with any intelligent individualistic species and have therefore explained the Fermi Paradox, or there is some other factor in play that will ensure that the two trend lines won't cross.

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publicenergy
1843 days ago
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A Few Thoughts Post-Brexit

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In no particular order, as I’m writing them off the top of my head:

1. So, the pound has crashed to a 30 year low, trading was halted on the Japanese stock market, other markets are plunging, David Cameron is resigning, Scotland wants another independence referendum, Sinn Fein is pushing for Irish reunification, Nigel Farage went on TV and said, basically, “Hey, remember when we said we were gonna put that EU money into our health service? We lied,” and the EU is saying to the UK, you want out, fine, but let’s make this quick. Yup, welcome to Brexit!

2.If you want an inside view of this mess, I suggest Charlie Stross’ take on it. His opening line is “Okay, so the idiots did it; they broke the UK,” which as far as I can see is entirely accurate.

3. From the outside, I wish I could say it looks totally unfathomable, but it doesn’t, because, hello, Donald Trump is the GOP nominee for president over here. The same bigoted, emotional, don’t-need-to-know-facts impulses that powered the Brexit vote to 52% put Trump into general presidential race. The irony is that some of these UK voters are apparently surprised that they carried the day. News folk over in the UK are now telling us that a fair number of people who voted “Leave” didn’t really think it was going to happen, so what was the harm in voting for it. Cornwall, which voted to leave, is now saying the UK government must replace its EU subsidies. Good luck with that, Cornwall. Maybe get in line behind the NHS for that money.

It should be noted that all the horrible things that are currently happening because of Brexit were called by the very experts that Michael Gove asserted, correctly, alas, that voters were tired of. This  of, which does seem to suggest that perhaps, for future reference, experts might be listened to from time to time. Also that a protest vote is still a vote, and as Nader voters learned (or, sadly, didn’t), you shouldn’t protest vote if you’re not willing to live with the implications of your protest, the implications, having been outlined to you by, you know, experts. protest.

(This is where a few Nader voters spin up and whine that nuh-uh, they totally didn’t throw the election to Bush. Dudes, sit the fuck down, already.)

4. To make this about the US for a moment: Could the same bigoted, emotional, don’t-need-to-know-facts impulses that pulled Brexit over the line actually put Trump into the White House? They could, sure! It’s not likely, because a) the Democratic advantage in the Electoral College, b) Trump to date running the most incompetent general campaign in the modern history of US politics, but there still are relevant are lessons to be learned from Brexit. First and foremost, that it won because the people who voted for it the most were exactly Trump’s demographic here in the US: Older white folks from economically shaky areas — and they turned out in force, voting in substantially higher numbers than, say, the younger UK voters, who were overwhelmingly for remaining, but who didn’t vote anywhere near the numbers of older voters.

Which is the second thing, of course: folks, when it comes to politics, if you don’t vote, what you think kinda means dick. Here in the US, the people who love Trump are gonna show up on election day. 100% sure of that prediction. We know they will because they already did. And you can say, yes, but there’s not enough of them overall, and I will say to you, fuck you and your complacent ass, I want him to lose in a goddamn landslide. I want him electorally nuked from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure. Everyone needs to vote. It’s really that important.

With that said, it should be noted that Trump is currently blathering that he thinks that the Brexit, which is plunging the British economy into a trench and giving the global economy a haircut, is perfectly fabulous. He literally just said that he thinks Brexit is great because the pound dropping means more people will come to his golf course, which I think is the 21st century’s gold standard entry in the “fiddling while Rome burns” sweepstakes. So  And maybe, perhaps, the combination of economic implosion and Trump’s smug wanking about it will be the thing that convinces any fiscal conservative still holding out on Clinton to pinch their nose and vote for her in November, because she’s not in fact a raging cauldron of economic stupidity? November. Maybe? But probably not? We’ll see.

So yeah: Trump could take it. Brexit shows us how. Don’t get cocky. And vote, for fuck’s sake.

5. To get personal for a moment, over on Twitter I was asked whether or not, as an American, Brexit was actually going to have an impact on my life. Yes, it surely does! For one thing, I sell books in the UK, through my UK publishers (Gollancz and Tor UK), and I get paid in pound sterling, which is currently being punched in the throat, in terms of exchange rate. For another, the UK economy is likely to plunge into a recession, which will make it harder to sell books there, so that’s not great either. I also sell in other territories around the world, particularly in Europe, and Brexit is a destabilizing force there, which is likely not good for me. And of course the US economy is itself likely to get some buffeting from it, too.

But wait, there’s more! I like many Americans have retirement stock investments, which look to take a 2008-sized pummel. I should also note that 2008’s global recession was pretty terrible for publishing, the field I’m in, and writers in particular got it high and hard, so if things go south in general, that also makes things more difficult for folks in my field.

So, yes, directly and indirectly, Brexit is going to have an impact on my life, as an American and also as a working writer. Thanks, UK.

The good news for me, such as it is, is that last year I signed long-term publishing contracts with Tor (for printed/electronic books) and Audible (for audio). Those contracts basically act as an economic hedge  buffer for me, which is a thing I entirely intended them to be when I signed them — not against Brexit, to be clear, but against general instability in the publishing world. But they work for Brexit, too, as well as any knock-on economic fallout that might come from it. So, yay, go me and my fundamentally fiscally conservative nature.

6. But let’s be honest, if the world economy goes to shit, my contracts aren’t going to save me any more than they’re going to save anyone else, they’ll just slightly delay my fall into the abyss. The best case scenario at this point is merely that the UK is screwed for a while, and the rest of the global economy routes around it. The worst case scenario is, well, a bit grimmer, economically and otherwise. I’m hoping for the best case scenario (sorry, UK). I’ll be financially planning for other things.

(However, people in the US, etc — please do not panic about your retirement accounts just yet, unless you are, in fact, just about to retire. The whole point of retirement accounts is you sock money away in them and then let them do their thing. There will be ups and downs. This is a down. There will, hopefully, be more ups to come.)

To my friends in the UK who have to deal with this directly: My sympathies. May the pain be relatively brief. You can come camp out on my lawn if you need to. To my friends in the US: Fucking vote in November, already.


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publicenergy
2036 days ago
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Nottinghamshire, UK
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5 public comments
jsonstein
2034 days ago
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yup
43.128462,-77.614463
JimB
2035 days ago
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Learn from this USA. Don't get caught by the liars with the big hair.
acdha
2037 days ago
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QFT: “folks, when it comes to politics, if you don’t vote, what you think kinda means dick. Here in the US, the people who love Trump are gonna show up on election day. 100% sure of that prediction. We know they will because they already did. And you can say, yes, but there’s not enough of them overall, and I will say to you, fuck you and your complacent ass, I want him to lose in a goddamn landslide. I want him electorally nuked from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure. Everyone needs to vote. It’s really that important.”
Washington, DC
jepler
2037 days ago
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As a USAian I irrationally worry that brexit is a bellweather for the donald's possible success in november.
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
wmorrell
2037 days ago
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Vote.

Behind the scenes at Fujifilm's factory in Sendai, Japan

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Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

After the official launch of the X-Pro2 recently in Tokyo, Fujifilm invited a select group of press to visit its Taiwa assembly plant near Sendai to see the camera being put together. As well as the X-Pro2, we were also able to see the assembly lines for the X-T1, X100T, and several lenses. Fujifilm has been making optics since the 1940s, and although the construction workers of that time would not recognize much of the technology used in lens construction today, a lot of the assembly is still done fairly traditionally, by hand. 

The first step when visiting any assembly plant, is to sterilize yourself. No, not like that, but by donning head-to-foot protective clothing and scrubbing your hands with alcohol. It's a time-consuming, uncomfortable but necessary step in order to prevent contamination of the assembly line. I do very much regret keeping a sweater on underneath the overalls though. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Here, a worker in Fujifilm's Taiwa plant uses a sonic motorized screwdriver to assemble the company's 56mm F1.2 prime lens. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Journalists take photographs of the various lens groups that make up the new 100-400mm zoom, laid out on a table at Fujifilm's Taiwa plant, which is about 20 miles outside of the city of Sendai. 

The elements themselves are not ground and polished in Sendai, but like other components they are shipped in, ready to be turned into complete lenses. Fujifilm has three additional facilities in Japan that mold and polish glass lens elements and machine various other components.

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Here, a worker performs the delicate job of attaching the PCB to Fujifilm's new 100-400mm telezoom. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

The 100-400mm zoom takes roughly 4 hours to assemble, in its progress from a box of bits to a finished lens. These lenses are almost complete, and await the final assembly and testing phases of their construction. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Fujifilm's new 100-400mm telezoom being assembled. As with other factories we've visited in Japan, a lot of the assembly is done by hand, and aside from calibration, there's little automation in the assembly lines of either lenses, or cameras in Fujifilm's factory. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Here, a 100-400mm zoom undergoes final testing. This process (which involves racking the zoom and focus ring to various points, repeatedly) is partly automated - presumably to avoid the human operators from getting repetitive strain injury.

Almost all of the other calibration tests and checks are confidential, which means no photos. None taken by humans, anyway.

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

A 100-400mm gets the finishing touches added, prior to being boxed up for shipping. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Several completed 100-400mm zooms are placed in plastic trays before being wrapped and boxed-up for shipping.

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Here, a worker examines one of the groups destined to become part of Fujifilm's much smaller 35mm F2 prime lens. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Again, a majority of the steps in the assembly of this lens are manual, with little automation. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

We were impressed by just how many of the stages in assembly appear to be visual inspection. A single worker might inspect hundreds of these components in a day.

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Here, lens groups are arranged in trays ready to be inspected.

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Ultraviolet light is used to 'cure' the cement that holds elements securely in their groups. Gone are the days of screwing elements together using friction and using shims to adjust their precise alignment.  

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Here, several 35mm F2 primes sit in trays awaiting the final stages of their assembly.  

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

The front bezel of the 35mm F2 is attached with four screws. Once this is done, the screws will be concealed by the nameplate ring. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

And here are the finished lenses with their nameplates attached, ready to be boxed and shipped. Much simpler than the 100-400mm zoom, the 35mm prime takes only about 80 minutes to assemble, in total. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

The day we toured Fujifilm's factory was the first 'official' day of production for the new X-Pro2. Of course workers have been putting final shipping cameras together now for some time, under a veil of secrecy ahead of the product launch in mid-January.

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Although outwardly similar to the original X-Pro1, the X-Pro2 is a completely redesigned, considerably more complex camera than the first X-series ILC. It should be - Fujifilm has had four years to gather feedback from users of the original camera. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Like the lenses, the X-Pro2 arrives in Sendai as a collection of partly-finished components ready for final assembly. Here, a worker performs the delicate job of connecting the various wires and ribbon connectors that will bring the camera to life.

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

The X-Pro2's firmware isn't 'hardwired' but has to be manually uploaded to every camera individually, in one of the final stages of assembly before the cameras are boxed up for shipping. Doing it at this late stage decreases the risk that firmware will need to be loaded more than once if an update is required. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Here, a worker is attaching the small plastic window over the X-Pro2's focusing lamp before applying the leatherette material that covers much of the outside of the camera's body.

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

One of the trickiest (and most manual) stages in the construction of the X-Pro2 is applying the leatherette material to the camera body. This is done slowly, carefully, and entirely by hand.

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

The material is carefully pressed into place around the lens throat, and various control points. Bubbles are worked out by scraping the material gently with a plastic 'spudger'. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

The X-Pro2's grip is attached using a very strong adhesive, and firm adhesion is ensured by placing the camera in a mechanical press that applies firm and even pressure to the join. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Here, finished X-Pro2 bodies await final checks before being boxed up for shipping. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

The X-Pro2 isn't the only camera that is put together in Sendai. Fujifilm also assembles the X-T1 in the same facility. Here, a collection of X-T1 top-plates await assembly.

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

And this is what happens next. The X-T1's magnesium-alloy top-plates are introduced to the electronic viewfinder assembly, ready to be mated with the main body of the camera, further down the assembly line.  

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Dials! Thousands of dials! Here, trays and trays of X-T1 ISO dials sit waiting to be introduced to their host cameras. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

A well as the X-Pro2 and X-T1, the Sendai plant is also home to the X100T assembly line. We wanted to take this lonely-looking X100T home with us, but apparently that's not allowed.

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

That's OK - we like the black ones more anyway. Here, a number of almost-finished X100T bodies sit in trays waiting for their rear control plate and LCD screens to be added. 

Sendai was badly hit by the earthquake of 2011, and some of the buildings at Fujifilm's Taiwa plant had to be abandoned due to structural damage. One of those buildings housed the original assembly line for the X100, and after the earthquake, assembly was moved across the street and into the building that we visited.  

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

And here's where they all end up - X-Pro2s, X-T1s, X100Ts and lenses. These large boxes contain finished products, ready to be shipped to retailers and distributors worldwide. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Well, almost ready. Even once they're placed in their retail packaging and stacked in the larger shipping boxes, one in 10 of all the cameras and lenses assembled in the factory are removed, unboxed,and checked by hand to ensure that any given batch is free from manufacturing defects. 'Made in Japan' really does mean something, even today. 

Behind the Scenes of Fujifilm's Factory in Sendai, Japan

Happy 5th anniversary, Fujifilm X-series!

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publicenergy
2181 days ago
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Nottinghamshire, UK
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Classic development cycle

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by misterjposts

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publicenergy
2300 days ago
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Nottinghamshire, UK
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acerothstein
2301 days ago
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Rehren@gmail.com
dfwarden
2303 days ago
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aka everything I've ever built.
JayM
2304 days ago
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.
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skittone
2304 days ago
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Ha.

Ex-Microsoft Designer Explains the Move Away from Metro

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Ex-Microsoft Designer Explains the Move Away from Metro

Windows Phone fans pining for the days of Metro panoramas and integrated experiences have had a tough couple of years, with Microsoft steadily removing many of the platform’s user experience differentiators. But as I’ve argued, there’s reason behind this madness. And now an ex-Microsoft design lead who actually worked on Windows Phone has gone public […]

The post Ex-Microsoft Designer Explains the Move Away from Metro appeared first on Thurrott.com.

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publicenergy
2470 days ago
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David Cameron's Plan to Ban Encryption in the UK

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In the wake of the Paris terrorist shootings, David Cameron has said that he wants to ban encryption in the UK. Here's the quote: "If I am prime minister I will make sure that it is a comprehensive piece of legislation that does not allow terrorists safe space to communicate with each other."

This is similar to FBI director James Comey's remarks from last year. And it's equally stupid.

Cory Doctorow has a good essay on Cameron's proposal:

For David Cameron's proposal to work, he will need to stop Britons from installing software that comes from software creators who are out of his jurisdiction. The very best in secure communications are already free/open source projects, maintained by thousands of independent programmers around the world. They are widely available, and thanks to things like cryptographic signing, it is possible to download these packages from any server in the world (not just big ones like Github) and verify, with a very high degree of confidence, that the software you've downloaded hasn't been tampered with.

Cameron is not alone here. The regime he proposes is already in place in countries like Syria, Russia, and Iran (for the record, none of these countries have had much luck with it). There are two means by which authoritarian governments have attempted to restrict the use of secure technology: by network filtering and by technology mandates.

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publicenergy
2564 days ago
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