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This is my last post on this domain. I moved my blog to http://blog.theaitetos.de/

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As Wired recently reported in this article, a US study has shown the spread of MRSA to humans, who live around animal farms. In recent years, more and more studies successfully linked the occurence of (multiple-)drug-resistant bacteria in humans to animal industry. As many are aware, the last decade has confronted us with a threat of global pandemics, that seemed quite unfamiliar. Mad cow disease, food-and-mouth disease, SARS and avian flu caused major concern all over the world, as well as exposing our inadequate medical and vaccination capabilities to deal with such threats, if they had spread more widely. These kinds of threats are not unprecedented – consider the horrible 1918 flu pandemic that killed millions of people (up to 5% of the human species) – yet, the late 20th century, from which most of us draw our personal experiences, has been relatively free of such occurences due to advances in medicine. While we were lucky that none of the aforementioned threats turned into global killers, we have to remember that some might and that they leave us struggling when they do – think HIV, which we’ve been struggling with for decades.

Just like the aformentioned diseases, even HIV/AIDS was originally contracted from eating animals (HIV: “bushmeat“), and since has spread, taken millions of lives and wrecked economies. So we should take bold steps to reduce the likelihood of any such developments to occur ever again. The most important step towards that goal is to end depending on animal products, so one can stop using precious medicine that creates resistant “superbugs”. Although the EU banned the non-medical use of antibiotics in livestock, companies found ways around that, especially around using imported animal products. Apart from the EU, no other nation really followed up on that, and antibiotics usage in animal industry nowadays accounts for the vast majority of all antibiotics used around the globe. Since 2009, the US approved of only 2 new antibiotics, while the speed at which drug-resistance in bacteria is occuring is increasing, which causes “grave concern” among medical institutions, as Wikipedia puts it. The science journal Nature called it a “nightmare”, a “catatrophic threat” and simply a “horror” in this article, even warranting more background articles on animal farms and bugs. An old Wired article gives some more insight into why the looming loss of antibiotics endangers also all other areas of healthcare, basically making any kind of surgery impossible in the future, condemning anyone who needs even simple surgery to life-long pain or even death. Several years ago, the US death toll of drug-resistant bacteria alone breached the staggering 100,000/year and it continues to rise, according to the infectious-disease specialist at UCLA’s Medical Center. The far more conservative numbers of the CDC put it at 23,000 annually, yet provide also some economic impact, as it tells us that these bacteria cause an excess healthcare cost of 20 billion dollars annually and the antibiotics usage in the animal industry is still at more than 80% of all administered antibiotics in the USA.

In conclusion: Diets that include meat and other animal products don’t just kill animals, they’re killing humans, tens of thousands, every year, and those numbers are ever-increasing, making the consumption of animal products even worse than the current civil war in Syria. These diets also leave our posterity and offspring, the future of our children in jeopardy, as we leave them a world without effective defense against the superbugs that we created by mindless behaviours.

Consider: Veganism isn’t just about health, it’s about medicine. Ecologists talk about reducing your “carbon footprints”, but reducing your “blood footprint” seems more important to me. It’s rather simple to turn vegan and remove dependencies on animal products. It doesn’t require you to petition your government to intervene anywhere, nor does it require you to get up from your comfy couch, attend college or any other fanciful thing. All it requires is for you to choose what you eat, instead of having tradition and advertisement choose for you. All it requires is for you to stop looking for excuses not to do so, as these excuses make you look ignorant (“But what about proteins?”), addicted (“But I can’t live without it!”) or  – after reading this – criminally neglectful.

To end with something beautiful and nice, you can watch this video about an elephant drawing itself holding a flower.

EDIT 2014/01/29

Some recent news on the topic:
Well, my blog article was pretty well timed. Just yesterday news broke about FDA (Food & Drug Administration) studies, thanks to the NRDC. Wired, Time, New York Times and all major news outlets report on this. We now know that 29 out of the 30 antibiotic feed additives currently used in the US livestock industry failed the FDA’s safety criteria from 1973. Only 1 passed the safety criteria from 40 years ago, yet failed in efficacy tests. Furthermore 18 of those 30 antibiotic feed additives pose a “high risk of exposing humans to antibiotic-resistant bacteria through the food supply, based on the information available.” The other 12 additives could not be evaluated, as there isn’t even sufficient data about them to do so. The FDA’s requests to voluntary pull certain additives out of the market have been ignored for nearly 20 years. Finally, the FDA’s antibiotic feed additive evaluation program was discontinued in 2010 due to pressure from Congress.

EDIT 2014/02/23

Germany’s Union of Surgeons (Berufsverband der Deutschen Chirurgen) reports 22,000 deaths annually due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Germany. Considering that the United States is 4 times as big as Germany in terms of population, the 23,000 annual deaths, that the CDC reports for the US, seems extremely conservative.

This was originally published on January 22nd, 2014.

Brian Merchant reports very interesting findings about a recent study in his article The Rich and their Robots are about to make half the worlds jobs disappear on Motherboard. The study, done by Oxford University and accompagnied by an equally interesting article in The Economist, finds 47% of all US jobs at risk within the near future (next 1-2 decades). I highly recommend reading the articles now, and then returning to this post, as I will elaborate on some things that I deem not accurately covered in those articles and the study. If you do not have the time to read any of it at all, then here’s your

tl;dr: 80% to 90% of all jobs in the Western world will disappear within the next 2-3 decades. All current middle-class jobs will vanish, as well as a big share of high-skilled jobs. The only jobs that will remain are those, that computers are either too dumb for (science/research, creativity, excellence in a field) or too expensive for (extremely low-skilled jobs). Contrary to the study even jobs in the medical field, acting, teaching (school to university), banking/finance/insurance/accounting, administration/management/politics, tourism/catering/event-management, trade, fashion/design, et.al. will disappear – with up to 95% of jobs in those fields being gone. Basically, the tertiary sector will be cut down like machines cut down the primary and secondary sector.

German-speaking people have an incredible advantage, as the one person to be most competent in this field, Gunter Dueck, is giving speeches about the topic of computer automatisation, and his famed speech Das Internet als Gesellschaftsbetriebssystem (ger.: The internet as society’s operating system) at 2011’s Republica (YouTube) gives almost all of the needed insight into this topic.

For those, who don’t speak German, I will try to elaborate on the basis of the two recommended articles. The Economist engages in its typical neoliberal economic agenda in the end of the article, which can simply be discarded; its analysis is correct, but the conclusions flawed. Brian Merchant’s article is unfortunately very pessimistic and focused on rich people. The study itself is amazing, done very properly and covering the gap of not having very reliable numbers on the issue, as was its goal. Yet, there is a flaw in its methodology, by being very much focused on computers as machines itself, robots and similar things, while leaving out computer processes and the possibilities of the virtual world and programming. As a result, it only covers the risk for low-skilled jobs and the middle class, while it omits the risk of computerization for high-skilled jobs. The study claims that jobs, that require a lot of social intelligence or social skills – like actors or medical professionals – are at a low risk of being computerized. I will show this fallacy by providing examples on how such jobs, that the study thinks at an extremely low risk of being computerized, can, in fact, be replaced by computers.

  • How could a computer possibly replace an actor? It can not. Yet, you have already seen movies without actors, like Shrek, Cars or Finding Nemo. Here, actors are not replaced, but unnecessary, as the entire content is produced by computer code. There are still voice actors, but these too will diminish, as the technology to create computer voices is already being developed and applied in other fields. At the moment we still recognize animated movies, though the old movie Final Fantasy: Spirits Within is an early example for “real” movies, that do not actively portray themselves as “animated” movie. It will soon be cheaper to animate virtual humans on screen than retouching recorded real humans. Most likely there will be a “model database” from where designers, movie makers and everyone else can get virtual models to star in their products. Future generations don’t have to miss out on movies with a Patrick Stewart or Meryl Streep, as we can record them, virtualize them and save them in the database. A case in point is the 2012 Coachella concert with Tupac Shakur, the worlds best hiphop artist who died in 1996, yet virtually resurrected (YouTube).
  •  How could a computer replace Dietitians and Nutritionists (Study puts their job loss risk at an extremely low 0,39% chance)? The list of nutrients is quite long, yet dedicated nutritionists can know them all. The list of different foods from all over the world is much longer, well beyond the scope of any nutritionists. Now add the list of processed foods derived from original/natural foods. Now multiply it with the amount of possible preparation mechanisms like cooking, baking, stewing, … and then take the factorial, as there really is an infinite amount of different possible meals. No nutritionist can keep that in his mind. Yet computers can. Computers can also keep track of everything you eat and all your medical data – something that is establishing itself slowly in the Quantified Self movement. If you give a computer all that data, exactly what you eat at the exact time, combined with 24/7 records of your biometric data (pulse, blood pressure, blood sugar, …), of your physical activity, of your mental status, of local weather patterns, … and the same data of millions of other people, then computers can tell you exactly what foodstuffs or what combinations are good and bad for your health. Rainy days get you moody or drain your energy, unless you take in a lot of citrus fruit in the two days before? You will never find out with a nutritionist, but computers will know. Those computers can find people, who are similar to you in medical terms, and suggest things you do to improve your health based upon their data, and computers can find people, who have a taste similar to yours, to recommend new foods that will most likely be extremely delicious and provide you with needed nutrients. If you need medication, computers can quickly calculate which pills are best for you, based on the most recent medical studies, and also calculate the exact amount of medication you need based on your entire medical record, genetic disposition, your current diet, physical activity, weather pattern, et. al. This also gives a great insight into why lots of people in the medical field will lose their jobs: Computers are better, faster and cheaper in providing excellent health care for everyone – without the expensive decade spanning training required for medical professionals. Something weird on your skin? Show it to your Ultra-HD-webcam and it analyzes it fast and tells you if it’s just a dimple, a rash or a sign of melanoma.
  •  How could a computer replace a teacher? It can’t. But teachers can replace teachers. Something that needs little explanation if you are familiar with the concepts of Salman Khan or similar things. If not, watch his speech at TED. Summarized, just record the best teachers and lecturers around, and let students watch those videos. Students will be able to chose their teachers, the ones they like best, the ones they learn most from, instead of having been assigned to someone, they might not like, for years to come. Richard Feynman was famous as a physics teacher at college. So why not take our present day Feynmans and let them teach physics everyone, instead of having bad, mediocre or just good teachers teach physics? Let students do their homework at computers, and those computers will know exactly where problems are, simply by collecting data on how long the students need on which tasks. Right now you can have 5 completely different students with the same mark in a test for completely different reasons: School exams don’t say “He got an E, because he just lost a relative.” or “She got an E, because her boyfriend just cheated on and broke up with her.” or “He got an E, because he trouble understanding English.” or “She got an E, because she is bored by the dull and easy tests.” or “He got an A, because he cheated on the test.” But computers know and can tell educators and parents exactly what the individual student needs. As a result of all this, education at all levels will be cheaper and available for everyone. Students can be arranged into classes because they have similar ways of learning and/or work well together, instead of having those two or three students, who always ruin lessons, in every classroom, dragging entire classes down.
  •  Finally, lawyers and politicians. Lawyers will mostly be gone due to databases, that contain large amounts of data from cases and records from all over the nation, combined with new search engines, that can effectively work on such databases – see this 2min video about distant reading at phdcomics. With laws, rulings, records and recommendations being available semantically (“machine-understandable”), the need for lawyers evaporates mostly. The only cases, that will remain, are those that are beyond anything, that ever happened before, for which you need only the most extraordinary and best lawyers, as “usual” jobs for lawyers will be done by computers. Politicians, especially law-makers, will be gone, due to them no longer being needed. As an example, the US federal political system: The President of the United States is elected by … no, not the people, but by an electoral college. While useful in the old days, when a real popular vote was basically unfeasable, it is easily feasible today, as it is basically already done. Congress is, in many ways, as obsolete as the electoral college already is: We have the technologies to do popular votes on basically everything. We also have the technologies to make the drafting of laws a community process. Congressional oversight can be done by independent experts elected by the people. The necessity for political parties is gone as well: They were needed to organize a large group of people around similar political positions. We’ve seen how fast community driven projects like Change.org, Avaaz or many, many other projects can do so as well, based on topics, not on some party with whom nobody really shares all major positions. It’s even possible to vote upon people in the executive or judicative branch of government: If that guy is a real genius, when it comes to health and human services, then we make him Secretary in that field, instead of giving the position to a party pal of the President. Advice and consent, not by the Senate, but by the people. The “political parties” of the future will be bloggers, twitterers and similar people, who have “followers” based on what they publish. You think someone is a real wizard on the topic of energy, while you don’t have the time to educate yourself in that field? Transfer your vote to him to vote for you on matters of energy. And that old lady, who has so much success with X or Y? Transfer your vote to her on matters of X or Y. Z is important to you? Then make sure to follow all news and insights in that field and cast your vote accordingly on matters of Z. No more need for a sucky congress, cronies, corruption, lobbyism or childish fighting between liberals and conservatives; eliminate the “man-in-the-middle-attack” in politics: Your vote goes where you want it, directly, on every issue. Modern technologies allow us to shape our future without the need for political proxies. And as such, these jobs will be gone as well.

I hope these examples provided some insight, into why the study falls short on the elimination of upper income and high-skilled jobs, and that this article illustrated some future developments. If you are scared about the future: great. You should be, yet not because computerization takes away jobs, but due to the fact that the way how we will venture into these future developments is still left up for grab: with jobs being polarized into very low and very high income, what will we do about those in the very low income bracket? From an economic point of view it’s great, because cheaper services (like healthcare and education) will allow more and more people to participate and profit from these. The shape of our future economy is defined by technological progress, but the shape of our societies is not. We can create safe and peaceful societies by making sure that low-income jobs have decent wages. Or we can create a violent, crime-ridden and dystopian society, by allowing low-income workers to be exploited by the wealthy. This is where The Economist errs so profoundly and where Brian Merchant is too pessimistic.

If you are not sure, whether your job is safe for the future, better assume it isn’t – that way you’re on the safe side and take precautions. Otherwise go by this simple rule: Content is King. Whether that content is science, research, engineering, programming or anything else new, creative or avant-garde. The better the content you create, the safer your job is. Services of any kind, i.e. being distant to the creation of original content, is unsafe and will most likely get automized. Even if your job doesn’t vanish entirely, it will be radically transformed, as every routine will be automized, e.g. surgeons will only do surgery that is new, as all other kinds of surgeries can be run from a computer program directly. Working with humans isn’t a safe job either: New technologies that help old, sick or handicapped people overcome their disabilities (like exoskeletons) render those in a nursing/caring capacity obsolete.

Great aspects about working in the future: More work can be done from home, talking with colleagues over life-sized monitors (or even holograms) instead of cubicles in offices. And with more efficient infrastructure like driverless cars we can cut down on easy, time-consuming chores (cleaning, shopping, driving, planning, …) and spend more time with our friends and families.

Edit: An article at Mail Online puts job loss at 70% within next 30 years.

Edit: The BBC reports that the Chinese manufacturer Hon Hai intends to lay off 500,000 workers and replace them with robots within the next 3 years.

Edit: A nice video from a project that develops giant 3D-concrete-printers to print entire houses from scratch: YouTube

This was originally published on September 22nd, 2012.

Veni, vidi, vici.
– Julius Caesar

I came, I saw, I won. This famous quote of Julius Caesar is what best describes man’s normal attutide when it comes to discussion: We are not arguing to seek truth, but to win over others. And, like in all such championships, it’s normal to cheat, deceive, trick, lie and outright “fight” other people. An amazing article about this kind of – evolutionary implemented – behavior into our brains can be found on cracked.com: http://www.cracked.com/article_19468_5-logical-fallacies-that-make-you-wrong-more-than-you-think.html

The article describes very vividly and accurately what is at stake in discussions and why people never back down and say “wow, I was wrong, thanks for helping me understand this issue.” The only point where the article errs, is in the assumption that this were the only reason for reason in the first place – a very pessimistic thought – yet, when witnessing the culture of discussion in Ancient Greece, one quickly sees how real discussion pertains to our human nature.

I hope after spending some time pondering these thoughts, you will never again be surprised when people “start to get personal”, since you now understand that discussions are perceived as “personal” from the very beginning by everyone. Stick with a healthy scientific attitude to make sure, you never end up irrational again; get to know how much fun it is to find out that you’re wrong and that you are able to learn something completely new. Since the power and beauty of the human mind is not “to be right”, but “to be able to learn” and leave behind a state of confusion. There is no gain in “being right”, but petty emotions*, but training your mind to find and expand the limits of your own knowledge is more than only a reward in itself: it raises your self-awareness and self-esteem and gives those a solid bedrock that stands fast against any and all attacks leveled against it.

*Seriously, I met people who draw pleasure from the fact that they successfully tricked someone over some little issue. What kind of life do I have, if I were to need such sources of pleasure to be happy? 😮

This was originally published on September 13th, 2012.

While SOPA/ACTA just tried to crack down on internet things in the name of “intellectual property”, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement goes much, much further. As all the negotiations are made in secrecy, not even giving information to lawmakers in the US Congress, we only know about a few leaked passages. Even those passages though would make it illegal, for example, to do cosplay, create fanart or import/export merchandise.

And very important to wit is the fact, that the entire way how copyright infringement is handled will be changed as well: Law enforcement no longer acts upon the copyright holders initiative, they (i.e. police) will act out of their own without even having to tell the copyright holder at all. Copyright infringment would move from being a civil matter into a criminal matter. That means police officers can come up to you and demand “that you take off that cosplay costume right now” and/or arresting you, filing statutory charges. And remember that all of this will have nothing to do with the copyright holder himself – i.e. even if the copyright holder is fine with anyone doing cosplay to their Manga – as copyright infringement would be a criminal offense, that is persecuted and acted upon unilaterally by the state.

Personally, I am in shock and awe at this kind of stuff, and at the same time I am startled that there is basically nothing going on here [at deviantART] against TPP, considering that SOPA/ACTA was all over the place just a few months ago.

Edit: There is a petition on Avaaz.org against TPP: http://www.avaaz.org/en/stop_the_corporate_death_star
Edit: Here is article about criminalizing Cosplay and  dōjinshi on Anime News Network: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2011-11-09/artist-k-hachiya/copyright-law-changes-would-affect-cosplay