• No commensurate movement has emerged to help them navigate toward a full expression of their gender. It’s no longer enough to “be a man” — we no longer even know what that means…

    Too many boys are trapped in the same suffocating, outdated model of masculinity, where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others. They are trapped, and they don’t even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped, because the language that exists to discuss the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine…

    Men feel isolated, confused and conflicted about their natures. Many feel that the very qualities that used to define them — their strength, aggression and competitiveness — are no longer wanted or needed; many others never felt strong or aggressive or competitive to begin with…

    To be clear, most men will never turn violent. Most men will turn out fine. Most will learn to navigate the deep waters of their feelings without ever engaging in any form of destruction. Most will grow up to be kind. But many will not.

    We will probably never understand why any one young man decides to end the lives of others. But we can see at least one pattern and that pattern is glaringly obvious. It’s boys…

    I believe in boys. I believe in my son. Sometimes, though, I see him, 16 years old, swallowing his frustration, burying his worry, stomping up the stairs without telling us what’s wrong, and I want to show him what it looks like to be vulnerable and open but I can’t. Because I was a boy once, too.

    There has to be a way to expand what it means to be a man without losing our masculinity. I don’t know how we open ourselves to the rich complexity of our manhood…

    tags: masculinity boyhood culture identity crisis MichaelIanBlack

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  • Drones turned into missiles, fake videos manipulating public opinion and automated hacking are just three of the threats from artificial intelligence in the wrong hands, experts have said.

    The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence report warns that AI is ripe for exploitation by rogue states, criminals and terrorists.

    Those designing AI systems need to do more to mitigate possible misuses of their technology, the authors said.

    And governments must consider new laws.

    The report calls for:

    Policy-makers and technical researchers to work together to understand and prepare for the malicious use of AIA realisation that, while AI has many positive applications, it is a dual-use technology and AI researchers and engineers should be mindful of and proactive about the potential for its misuseBest practices that can and should be learned from disciplines with a longer history of handling dual use risks, such as computer securityAn active expansion of the range of stakeholders engaging with, preventing and mitigating the risks of malicious use of AI

    Speaking to the BBC, Shahar Avin, from Cambridge University’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, explained that the report concentrated on areas of AI that were available now or likely to be available within five years, rather than looking to the distant future.

    Particularly worrying is the new area of reinforcement learning where AIs are trained to superhuman levels of intelligence without human examples or guidance.

    He outlined some of the scenarios where AI could turn “rogue” in the near future:

    Technologies such as AlphaGo – an AI developed by Google’s DeepMind and able to outwit human Go players – could be used by hackers to find patterns in data and new exploits in codeA malicious individual could buy a drone and train it with facial recognition software to target a certain individualBots could be automated or “fake” lifelike videos for political manipulationHackers could use speech synthesis to impersonate targets…

    “There are choices that we need to make now, and our report is a call to action for governments, institutions and individuals across the globe.

    “For many decades hype outstripped fact in terms of AI and machine learning. No longer. This report looks at the practices that just don’t work anymore – and suggests broad approaches that might help: for example, how to design software and hardware to make it less hackable – and what type of laws and international regulations might work in tandem with this.”

    The 100-page report identified three areas – digital, physical and political – in which the malicious use of AI is most likely to be exploited.

    Contributors included OpenAI, a non-profit research firm, digital rights group The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for a New American Security, a national security think-tank

    tags: AI machineintelligence technology harm risk danger

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  • We commonly use the term “burnout” to describe the state of exhaustion suffered by the likes of Steve. It occurs when we find ourselves taken over by this internal protest against all the demands assailing us from within and without, when the momentary resistance to picking up a glass becomes an ongoing state of mind.

    Burnout didn’t become a recognised diagnosis until 1974, when the German-American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger applied the term to the increasing number of cases he encountered of “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress”. The relationship to stress and anxiety is crucial, for it distinguishes burnout from simple exhaustion. Run a marathon, paint your living room, catalogue your collection of tea caddies, and the tiredness you experience will be infused with a deep satisfaction and faintly haloed in smugness – feelings that confirm you’ve discharged your duty to the world for at least the remainder of the day…

    The exhaustion experienced in burnout combines an intense yearning for this state of completion with the tormenting sense that it cannot be attained, that there is always some demand or anxiety or distraction which can’t be silenced. In his 1960 novel “A Burnt-Out Case” (the title may have helped bring the term into general circulation), Graham Greene parallels the mental and spiritual burnout of Querry, the protagonist, with the “burnt-out cases” of leprosy he witnesses in the Congo. Querry believes he’s “come to the end of desire”, his emotions amputated like the limbs of the lepers he encounters, and the rest of his life will be endured in a state of weary indifference.

    But Querry’s predicament is that, as long as he’s alive, he can’t reach a state of impassivity; there will always be something or someone to disturb him. I frequently hear the same yearning expressed in my consulting room – the wish for the world to disappear, for a cessation of any feelings, whether positive or negative, that intrude on the patient’s peace, alongside the painful awareness that the world’s demands are waiting on the way out.

    You feel burnout when you’ve exhausted all your internal resources, yet cannot free yourself of the nervous compulsion to go on regardless. Life becomes something that won’t stop bothering you. Among its most frequent and oppressive symptoms is chronic indecision, as though all the possibilities and choices life confronts you with cancel each other out, leaving only an irritable stasis…

    But it was not until the second half of the 19th century that writers began to link this condition to the specific stresses of modern life. In 1879, the American neurologist George Beard published “Neurasthenia: (nervous exhaustion) with remarks on treatment”, identifying neurasthenia as an illness endemic to the pace and strain of modern industrial life. The fin-de-siècle neurasthenic, in whom exhaustion and innervation converge, uncannily anticipates the burnout of today. They have in common an overloaded and overstimulated nervous system. A culture of chronic overwork is prevalent within many professions, from banking and law to media and advertising, health, education and other public services. A 2012 study by the University of Southern California found that every one of the 24 entry-level bankers it followed developed a stress-related illness (such as insomnia, alcoholism or an eating disorder) within a decade on the job. A much larger 2014 survey by eFinancialCareers of 9,000 financial workers in cities across the globe (including Hong Kong, London, New York and Frankfurt), showed bankers typically working between 80 and 120 hours a week, the majority feeling at least “partially” burnt out, with somewhere between 10% and 20% (depending on the country) describing themselves as “totally” burnt out…

    A walk in the country or a week on the beach should, theoretically, provide a similar sense of relief. But such attempts at recuperation are too often foiled by the nagging sense of being, as one patient put it, “stalked” by the job. A tormenting dilemma arises: keep your phone in your pocket and be flooded by work-related emails and texts; or switch it off and be beset by unshakeable anxiety over missing vital business. Even those who succeed in losing the albatross of work often quickly fall prey to the virus they’ve spent the previous weeks fending off…

    Some companies have sought to alleviate the strain by offering sessions in mindfulness. But the problem with scheduling meditation as part of that working day is that it becomes yet another task at which you can succeed or fail. Those who can’t clear out their mind need to try harder – and the very exercises intended to ease anxiety can end up exacerbating it. Schemes cooked up by management theorists since the 1970s to alleviate the tedium and tension of the office through what might be called the David Brent effect – the chummy, backslapping banter, the paintballing away-days, the breakout rooms in bouncy castles – have simply blurred the lines between work and leisure, and so ended up screwing the physical and mental confines of the workplace even tighter.

    But it is not just our jobs that overwork our minds. Electronic communication and social media have come to dominate our daily lives, in a transformation that is unprecedented and whose consequences we can therefore only guess at. 

    And, while we wait for reactions to the messages we send out, we are bombarded by alerts on our phones and tablets, dogged by apps that measure and share our personal data, and subjected to an inundation of demands to like, retweet, upload, subscribe or buy. The burnt-out case of today belongs to a culture without an off switch.

    In previous generations, depression was likely to result from internal conflicts between what we want to do and what authority figures – parents, teachers, institutions – wish to prevent us from doing. But in our high-performance society, it’s feelings of inadequacy, not conflict, that bring on depression. The pressure to be the best workers, lovers, parents and consumers possible leaves us vulnerable to feeling empty and exhausted when we fail to live up to these ideals. In “The Weariness of the Self” (1998), an influential study of modern depression, the French sociologist Alain Ehrenberg argues that in the liberated society which emerged during the 1960s, guilt and obedience play less of a role in the formation of the self than the drive to achieve. The slogan of the “attainment society” is “I can” rather than “I must”.

    A more prohibitive society, which tells us we can’t have everything, sets limits on our sense of self. Choose to be a bus conductor and you can’t be a concert pianist; a full-time parent will never be chairman of the board. In our attainment society, we are constantly told that we can be, do and have anyone or anything we want. But, as anyone who’s tried to decide between 22 nearly identical brands of yoghurt in an American organic hypermarket can confirm, limitless choice debilitates far more than it liberates…

    Steve presents an intriguing paradox: what appears from the outside to have been a life driven by the active pursuit of goals feels to him to be oddly inert, a lifeless slotting-in, as he puts it, to a script he didn’t write. “Genuine force of habit”, suggested the great philosophical misanthrope Arthur Schopenhauer in 1851, might appear to be an expression of our innate character, but “really derives from the inertia which wants to spare the intellect the will, the labour, difficulty and sometimes the danger involved in making a fresh choice.” Schopenhauer has a point. Steve is coming to understand that his life followed the shape it did not from the blooming of his deepest desires but because he never bothered to question what he had been told…

    Burnout is not simply a symptom of working too hard. It is also the body and mind crying out for an essential human need: a space free from the incessant demands and expectations of the world. In the consulting room, there are no targets to be hit, no achievements to be crossed off. The amelioration of burnout begins in finding your own pool of tranquillity where you can cool off…

    tags: burnout exhaustion psychology work overwork stress anxiety

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  • All the personal tasks in our lives are being made easier. But at what cost?—Convenience is the most underestimated and least understood force in the world today. As a driver of human decisions, it may not offer the illicit thrill of Freud’s unconscious sexual desires or the mathematical elegance of the economist’s incentives. Convenience is boring. But boring is not the same thing as trivial.In the developed nations of the 21st century, convenience — that is, more efficient and easier ways of doing personal tasks — has emerged as perhaps the most powerful force shaping our individual lives and our economies. This is particularly true in America, where, despite all the paeans to freedom and individuality, one sometimes wonders whether convenience is in fact the supreme value.As Evan Williams, a co-founder of Twitter, recently put it, “Convenience decides everything.” Convenience seems to make our decisions for us, trumping what we like to imagine are our true preferences. (I prefer to brew my coffee, but Starbucks instant is so convenient I hardly ever do what I “prefer.”) Easy is better, easiest is best.Convenience has the ability to make other options unthinkable. Once you have used a washing machine, laundering clothes by hand seems irrational, even if it might be cheaper. After you have experienced streaming television, waiting to see a show at a prescribed hour seems silly, even a little undignified. To resist convenience — not to own a cellphone, not to use Google — has come to require a special kind of dedication that is often taken for eccentricity, if not fanaticism.For all its influence as a shaper of individual decisions, the greater power of convenience may arise from decisions made in aggregate, where it is doing so much to structure the modern economy. Particularly in tech-related industries, the battle for convenience is the battle for industry dominance.Americans say they prize competition, a proliferation of choices, the little guy. Yet our taste for convenience begets more convenience, through a combination of the economics of scale and the power of habit. The easier it is to use Amazon, the more powerful Amazon becomes — and thus the easier it becomes to use Amazon. Convenience and monopoly seem to be natural bedfellows.Given the growth of convenience — as an ideal, as a value, as a way of life — it is worth asking what our fixation with it is doing to us and to our country. I don’t want to suggest that convenience is a force for evil. Making things easier isn’t wicked. On the contrary, it often opens up possibilities that once seemed too onerous to contemplate, and it typically makes life less arduous, especially for those most vulnerable to life’s drudgeries.But we err in presuming convenience is always good, for it has a complex relationship with other ideals that we hold dear. Though understood and promoted as an instrument of liberation, convenience has a dark side. With its promise of smooth, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sort of struggles and challenges that help give meaning to life. Created to free us, it can become a constraint on what we are willing to do, and thus in a subtle way it can enslave us.It would be perverse to embrace inconvenience as a general rule. But when we let convenience decide everything, we surrender too much.Convenience as we now know it is a product of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when labor-saving devices for the home were invented and marketed. Milestones include the invention of the first “convenience foods,” such as canned pork and beans and Quaker Quick Oats; the first electric clothes-washing machines; cleaning products like Old Dutch scouring powder; and other marvels including the electric vacuum cleaner, instant cake mix and the microwave oven.Convenience was the household version of another late-19th-century idea, industrial efficiency, and its accompanying “scientific management.” It represented the adaptation of the ethos of the factory to domestic life.However mundane it seems now, convenience, the great liberator of humankind from labor, was a utopian ideal. By saving time and eliminating drudgery, it would create the possibility of leisure. And with leisure would come the possibility of devoting time to learning, hobbies or whatever else might really matter to us. Convenience would make available to the general population the kind of freedom for self-cultivation once available only to the aristocracy. In this way convenience would also be the great leveler.This idea — convenience as liberation — could be intoxicating. Its headiest depictions are in the science fiction and futurist imaginings of the mid-20th century. From serious magazines like Popular Mechanics and from goofy entertainments like “The Jetsons” we learned that life in the future would be perfectly convenient. Food would be prepared with the push of a button. Moving sidewalks would do away with the annoyance of walking. Clothes would clean themselves or perhaps self-destruct after a day’s wearing. The end of the struggle for existence could at last be contemplated.The dream of convenience is premised on the nightmare of physical work. But is physical work always a nightmare? Do we really want to be emancipated from all of it? Perhaps our humanity is sometimes expressed in inconvenient actions and time-consuming pursuits. Perhaps this is why, with every advance of convenience, there have always been those who resist it. They resist out of stubbornness, yes (and because they have the luxury to do so), but also because they see a threat to their sense of who they are, to their feeling of control over things that matter to them.By the late 1960s, the first convenience revolution had begun to sputter. The prospect of total convenience no longer seemed like society’s greatest aspiration. Convenience meant conformity. The counterculture was about people’s need to express themselves, to fulfill their individual potential, to live in harmony with nature rather than constantly seeking to overcome its nuisances. Playing the guitar was not convenient. Neither was growing one’s own vegetables or fixing one’s own motorcycle. But such things were seen to have value nevertheless — or rather, as a result. People were looking for individuality again.Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that the second wave of convenience technologies — the period we are living in — would co-opt this ideal. It would conveniencize individuality.You might date the beginning of this period to the advent of the Sony Walkman in 1979. With the Walkman we can see a subtle but fundamental shift in the ideology of convenience. If the first convenience revolution promised to make life and work easier for you, the second promised to make it easier to be you. The new technologies were catalysts of selfhood. They conferred efficiency on self-expression.Consider the man of the early 1980s, strolling down the street with his Walkman and earphones. He is enclosed in an acoustic environment of his choosing. He is enjoying, out in public, the kind of self-expression he once could experience only in his private den. A new technology is making it easier for him to show who he is, if only to himself. He struts around the world, the star of his own movie.So alluring is this vision that it has come to dominate our existence. Most of the powerful and important technologies created over the past few decades deliver convenience in the service of personalization and individuality. Think of the VCR, the playlist, the Facebook page, the Instagram account. This kind of convenience is no longer about saving physical labor — many of us don’t do much of that anyway. It is about minimizing the mental resources, the mental exertion, required to choose among the options that express ourselves. Convenience is one-click, one-stop shopping, the seamless experience of “plug and play.” The ideal is personal preference with no effort.We are willing to pay a premium for convenience, of course — more than we often realize we are willing to pay. During the late 1990s, for example, technologies of music distribution like Napster made it possible to get music online at no cost, and lots of people availed themselves of the option. But though it remains easy to get music free, no one really does it anymore. Why? Because the introduction of the iTunes store in 2003 made buying music even more convenient than illegally downloading it. Convenient beat out free.As task after task becomes easier, the growing expectation of convenience exerts a pressure on everything else to be easy or get left behind. We are spoiled by immediacy and become annoyed by tasks that remain at the old level of effort and time. When you can skip the line and buy concert tickets on your phone, waiting in line to vote in an election is irritating. This is especially true for those who have never had to wait in lines (which may help explain the low rate at which young people vote).The paradoxical truth I’m driving at is that today’s technologies of individualization are technologies of mass individualization. Customization can be surprisingly homogenizing. Everyone, or nearly everyone, is on Facebook: It is the most convenient way to keep track of your friends and family, who in theory should represent what is unique about you and your life. Yet Facebook seems to make us all the same. Its format and conventions strip us of all but the most superficial expressions of individuality, such as which particular photo of a beach or mountain range we select as our background image.I do not want to deny that making things easier can serve us in important ways, giving us many choices (of restaurants, taxi services, open-source encyclopedias) where we used to have only a few or none. But being a person is only partly about having and exercising choices. It is also about how we face up to situations that are thrust upon us, about overcoming worthy challenges and finishing difficult tasks — the struggles that help make us who we are. What happens to human experience when so many obstacles and impediments and requirements and preparations have been removed?Today’s cult of convenience fails to acknowledge that difficulty is a constitutive feature of human experience. Convenience is all destination and no journey. But climbing a mountain is different from taking the tram to the top, even if you end up at the same place. We are becoming people who care mainly or only about outcomes. We are at risk of making most of our life experiences a series of trolley rides.Convenience has to serve something greater than itself, lest it lead only to more convenience. In her 1963 classic, “The Feminine Mystique,” Betty Friedan looked at what household technologies had done for women and concluded that they had just created more demands. “Even with all the new labor-saving appliances,” she wrote, “the modern American housewife probably spends more time on housework than her grandmother.” When things become easier, we can seek to fill our time with more “easy” tasks. At some point, life’s defining struggle becomes the tyranny of tiny chores and petty decisions.An unwelcome consequence of living in a world where everything is “easy” is that the only skill that matters is the ability to multitask. At the extreme, we don’t actually do anything; we only arrange what will be done, which is a flimsy basis for a life.We need to consciously embrace the inconvenient — not always, but more of the time. Nowadays individuality has come to reside in making at least some inconvenient choices. You need not churn your own butter or hunt your own meat, but if you want to be someone, you cannot allow convenience to be the value that transcends all others. Struggle is not always a problem. Sometimes struggle is a solution. It can be the solution to the question of who you are.Embracing inconvenience may sound odd, but we already do it without thinking of it as such. As if to mask the issue, we give other names to our inconvenient choices: We call them hobbies, avocations, callings, passions. These are the noninstrumental activities that help to define us. They reward us with character because they involve an encounter with meaningful resistance — with nature’s laws, with the limits of our own bodies — as in carving wood, melding raw ingredients, fixing a broken appliance, writing code, timing waves or facing the point when the runner’s legs and lungs begin to rebel against him.Such activities take time, but they also give us time back. They expose us to the risk of frustration and failure, but they also can teach us something about the world and our place in it.So let’s reflect on the tyranny of convenience, try more often to resist its stupefying power, and see what happens. We must never forget the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest. The constellation of inconvenient choices may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity.

    tags: TimWu convenience technology decision choice bias ethics automation culture 2018 efficiency monopoly competition consumer freedom work humanity identity purpose individuality effort concentration

  • tags: gun violence USculture BretStephens NRA myth

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  • Americans advance a lot of theories for why they have so many more gun deaths than other countries do. The answer is lying in plain sight…

    The United States is one of only three countries, along with Mexico and Guatemala, that begin with the opposite assumption: that people have an inherent right to own guns.

    The main reason American regulation of gun ownership is so weak may be the fact that the trade-offs are simply given a different weight in the United States than they are anywhere else.

    After Britain had a mass shooting in 1987, the country instituted strict gun control laws. So did Australia after a 1996 shooting. But the United States has repeatedly faced the same calculus and determined that relatively unregulated gun ownership is worth the cost to society.

    That choice, more than any statistic or regulation, is what most sets the United States apart.

    “In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

    tags: killing gun violence USculture culture evidence analysis foreign comparison

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  • It should offer download speeds of at least 20 gigabits per second, response times or “latency” of less than 1 millisecond and the ability to connect at least 1m devices in one square kilometre. So 5G networks are supposed to be able to transfer a full-length, high-resolution film in two seconds, respond to requests in less than a hundredth of the time it takes to blink an eye and effortlessly serve cities that are densely packed with connected humans and devices…

    Another piece of 5G ingenuity is on view at Ericsson, a maker of network equipment. In what was once a factory building next to its headquarters near Stockholm, it is demonstrating “network slicing”, a technique to create bespoke networks. The antennae on display are able to create separate wireless networks, to serve anything from smartphones and wireless sensors to industrial robots and self-driving cars. “Each set of devices will get exactly the connectivity they need,” says Nishant Batra, who runs wireless-network products at the Swedish firm….

    This versatility, along with the ITU requirements, could make 5G the connective tissue for the internet of things (IoT), as connected devices are collectively called, says Pierre Ferragu of Bernstein Research. Networks based on it could connect and control robots, medical devices, industrial equipment and agricultural machinery. They could also enable “edge computing”, the idea that more and more number-crunching will not happen in centralised data centres but at the fringe of networks…

    In spite of all this backing for 5G, hurdles exist. One of these is radio spectrum, which is increasingly saturated in the lower frequency bands usually used by mobile networks. Free spectrum abounds in the higher bands—in particular where the length of radio waves is counted in millimetres. But the higher the frequency, the more difficult things get, explains Stéphane Téral of IHS Markit, a research firm. Millimetre waves provide a lot of bandwidth, but even foliage can block them. They either need direct line-of-sight to work or must be bounced around obstacles, which requires lots of computing power.

    Hardware is another headwind. Some equipment vendors have been touting their wares as “5G-ready”, needing only software upgrades to work with the new standards. In fact, even if equipment is easily upgradeable, most operators will have to rejig their networks. High-frequency radio waves do not travel far, so firms have to erect more base stations (computers that power a network’s antennae). As for mobile devices, big changes must be made for these to be able to use millimetre waves; with current technology, the computing power to process the signals would drain batteries in a twinkling.

    But the biggest brake on 5G will be economic. When the GSMA, an industry group, last year asked 750 telecoms bosses about the main risk to delivering 5G, over half cited the “lack of a clear business case”. Some of this pessimism is tactical: if operators were more enthusiastic, equipment vendors would raise their prices. But as things stand, 5G is unlikely to be a big moneymaker, says Chetan Sharma, a telecoms consultant.

    That is because, although people want more bandwidth, they are often not willing to pay for it—an attitude even the fanciest virtual-reality offerings may not shift. Revenue per gigabyte of data has already plunged by over 50% between 2012 and 2015, estimates Mr Sharma. Costs per gigabyte have not gone down nearly as much and building 5G will not be cheap. Because of the higher frequencies, 5G will require more antennae, base stations and fibre-optic cables to connect them. And before firms can take full advantage of “network slicing”, for instance, they have to upgrade the computers at the core of their networks. “We will have to work harder to give 5G a push,” admits Lauri Oksanen, who oversees network research at Nokia, a Finnish equipment maker…

    In other words, 5G’s trajectory is likely to differ from that of a ski jumper: it may fly low for years before it takes off. If this is the case, it would develop much like 3G, a mobile technology introduced in the early 2000s. It disappointed until it found a “killer application” with the smartphone late in the decade. And it was only with 4G that mobile networks lived up to the promises made of 3G, such as being able to watch video streams (see chart). “The odd-numbered generations do not seem to do too well,” quips Dean Bubley, a telecoms expert. “We may have to wait for 6G to get what 5G promises.”

    tags: 5G telecoms spectrum connectivity policy publicpolicy technology ITU virtualreality networkslicing internetofthings edgecomputing economics 3G 4G

  • Young argued that the most significant fact of modern society is not the rise of democracy, or indeed capitalism, but the rise of the meritocracy, a term he invented. In a knowledge society the most important influence on your life-chances is not your relationship with the means of production but your relationship with the machinery of educational and occupational selection. This is because such machinery determines not just how much you earn but also your sense of self-worth. For Young, the greatest milestones in recent British history were not the Great Reform Act of 1832 or the granting of votes to all women in 1928. They were the 1854 Northcote-Trevelyan report, which opened civil-service jobs to competitive examinations, and the Education Act of 1944, which decreed that children should be educated according to their “age, ability and aptitude”…

    he was only half-successful when it came to launching the debate about “meritocracy”. Young used the term pejoratively on the grounds that meritocracy was dividing society into two polarised groups: exam-passers, who would become intolerably smug because they knew that they were the authors of their success, and exam-flunkers, who would become dangerously embittered because they had nobody to blame for their failure but themselves. The book is as odd as it is brilliant. It purports to be a government report written by a sociologist in 2033. It is also a product of its time. Young was preoccupied by the 11-plus exam which divided British state-school pupils on the basis of IQ tests. Today the 11-plus exam survives only in pockets of the country. Young believed that IQ would supplant other determinants of life chances like wealth…

    , it is impossible to look at the country without seeing Young’s dystopian meritocracy everywhere. Parents agonise about getting their children into the right schools and universities. The public sector is run by manager-despots who treat their workers as “human resources”. The number of MPs with working-class origins has shrunk to about 30. The penalty for failing exams is rising inexorably. The proportion of working-age men without qualifications who are “not active in the labour force” is more than 40% today compared with 4% two decades ago.

    Some of the biggest changes in recent decades have made the meritocracy even more intolerable than it was in the glory days of the 11-plus. One is the marriage of merit and money. The plutocracy has learned the importance of merit: British public schools have turned themselves into exam factories and the children of oligarchs study for MBAs. At the same time the meritocracy has acquired a voracious appetite for money. The cleverest computer scientists dream of IPOs, and senior politicians and civil servants cash in when they retire with private-sector jobs. A second is supersized smugness. Today’s meritocrats are not only smug because they think they are intellectually superior. They are smug because they also think that they are morally superior, convinced that people who don’t share their cosmopolitan values are simple-minded bigots. The third is incompetence. The only reason people tolerate the rule of swots is that they get results. But what if they give you the invasion of Iraq and the financial crisis?

    It is also impossible to read Young’s book without being struck by how prescient it is. This imagined revolution begins in the north as people become sick of the arrogance of London and the south. The revolution is led by a “dissident minority” from the elite who, by striking up an alliance with the lower orders, rouse them from their traditional docility. The tension between the meritocrats and the masses that Young described is driving almost all the most important events in British politics. It drove Brexit: 75% of those with no educational qualifications voted to leave while a similar proportion of those with university degrees voted to stay. It is driving Corbynism, which is, among other things, a protest against identikit politicians who promised to turn Britain into a business-friendly technocracy and ended up with stagnant wages. Older Brexiteers bristle at the cosmopolitan elites who sneer at traditional values. Young Corbynistas are frustrated by the logic of meritocracy. They cannot join the knowledge economy unless they go to university and move to a big city, but universities cost money and big cities are expensive.

    The tension also lies behind the growing culture wars. The most effective way to rile the meritocrats is to attack their faith in expertise: Lord Turnbull, a former Cabinet secretary, has said that Brexiteers’ willingness to question current Treasury forecasts of the impact of Brexit was reminiscent of pre-war Nazi Germany. The easiest way to rile the populists is to imply that their attachment to symbols of national identity, such as blue passports or the Cross of St George, is a sign of low intelligence.

    The conflict between the meritocracy and the masses also explains the most depressing fact about modern politics: why voting intentions over Brexit remain so fixed despite mounting evidence that the Brexit negotiations are a shambles and that leaving the European Union will damage the economy. Changing your mind doesn’t just mean admitting that you’re wrong. It means admitting that the other side was right. The likelihood that the losers in the meritocratic race are going to give the other side yet another reason to feel smug is vanishingly small.

    tags: meritocracy democracy polarisation inequality politics opportunity dissatisfaction protest UK

  • FOR more than three decades, telecoms policy, at least in rich countries, has been a one-way street: more deregulation and more privatisation in order to foster more competition. This direction was set by America in 1984, when it broke up AT&T, its telephone monopoly. So there was much surprise at a recent memo, written for the White House by an official at the National Security Council, which argued that the next generation of mobile network, “5G” for short, should be built and run by the American government….

    the memo contains another idea that merits more discussion, and not just in America but elsewhere too. This is the proposal that 5G be rolled out as a national wholesale network that can be used by several service providers, just as some rail networks and electricity grids are.

    High five

    In the fixed part of the telecoms network—the cables that run underground, say—wholesale networks are already widespread. Under this model, the owners and operators do not also provide the services; these are supplied by separate firms, which share the network and compete with each other. Singapore and New Zealand have this sort of arrangement; so do cities in Sweden. Mobile networks have conventionally been integrated affairs, with operators both managing the network and also providing services (although they do sometimes sublet capacity to others). But sharing does happen. Rwanda has had a wholesale mobile network for some time. Mexico’s Red Compartida is expected to start up soon; it has been built by a private consortium, with the government providing radio spectrum and fibre-optic links to connect the base stations…

    The obvious risk of a single wholesale network is that, without the cut and thrust of competition, it ends up acting like the sluggish and underfunded telecoms monopolies of old. Critics point out that the average speed of internet connections on Australia’s government-owned National Broadband Network lags behind that of most rich countries. South Korea, by contrast, has a system of competing broadband networks and some of the zippiest speeds on the planet.

    But many people in South Korea live in clusters of residential high-rise buildings, which are easily wired up. For farther-flung networks, particularly in rural areas, the costs are higher. And 5G networks will anyway be more expensive to build than their forebears. They will eventually use higher-frequency radio waves, which cannot penetrate buildings and other obstacles; that means they will need more base stations and antennae. If every provider has to build its own 5G network, costs will be unnecessarily high—sometimes prohibitively so.

    A single shared network would be cheaper. It could also increase competition for the services on top of it. Next-generation networks are supposed to become the connective tissue for all sorts of devices, from sensors to medical equipment (see article). If firms can lease capacity to create such networks without having to build them, in much the same way as firms use smartphones and app stores to reach consumers, the “internet of things” will be more vibrant. This kind of environment would also ease worries about the end of “net neutrality” in America. If one company discriminates against certain online content, consumers can switch to another…

     Many states in America restrict or even ban municipalities from building networks. Eliminating such laws would be an obvious start. Regulators can also encourage other forms of sharing, for instance of spectrum, something America has started to experiment with…

    tags: 5G spectrum telecoms connectivity policy publicpolicy competition regulation FCC

  • The grand schemes of the mega-rich provoke excitement in some quarters and unease in others. One complaint involves accountability. Billionaire philanthropists do not answer to voters. Their spending power gives them the ability to do great good, but what if they prefer to act more like Blofeld-style Bond villains than Iron Man-style superheroes? Wealth also grants the mega-rich special access to policymakers and elected officials. Shovelling your fortune into a charitable foundation has the happy side-effect of reducing tax bills, too—meaning that billionaires’ schemes can leave poorer taxpayers to fill in the gaps in public spending.

    Given that so many of today’s billionaires are geeks, there is also a danger of techno-solutionism. The idea that problems in health, education and so on can be solved with whatever technology is in vogue (today’s favourite is the blockchain) has usually proved naive. Deep change generally requires co-operation with governments and social mobilisation. Recognising such things is hard for techies used to seeing politicians as clueless and regulation as something to be innovated around…

    And yet these reservations are surely outweighed by the billionaires’ scope for good. The would-be world-changers are applying innovative and evidence-based approaches in clinics and classrooms, where elected politicians are often too timid to risk failure, captured by entrenched interests or unwilling to spend public money on experimentation. For all their wealth, the billionaires would struggle to force change upon society. Although today’s philanthropists are more visible than those of previous generations, they account for less than a quarter of all charitable giving in America—which has remained roughly constant, at around 2% of GDP, for decades, according to David Callahan of Inside Philanthropy, a specialist website…

    The billionaires’ most useful function, then, is not to bring about change themselves, but to explore and test new models and methods for others to emulate. Using their access to policymakers, they encourage the adoption of the ideas that work. Even an Avengers-style coalition of billionaires, like the one assembled by Mr Gates and Mr Buffett under the “Giving Pledge” banner, could not solve really big problems like infectious diseases, colonising Mars and climate change without the co-operation of governments, industry and voters.

    So, as the Tesla car sent skywards by the Falcon Heavy begins its trip around the sun, salute the billionaires for their ambition. Raise your eyebrows, in some cases, at their hubris and political naivety. But applaud their role as public-policy trailblazers, opening up paths to a better future.

    tags: philanthropy accountability impact ElonMusk BillGates MarkZuckerberg WarrenBuffett taxavoidance history-technology techno-utopian techno-solutionism innovation publicpolicy policy publicservices publicgood

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