Reflections are only that, reflections, nothing more nothing less. Often these reflections are related to books I read, but occasionally also other things. These are often written very late, very fast,  using notes from my mobile phone, so the grammar and spelling is horrible.



From the Silk Road to the stars (Article)

Below is an article published in China Watch. The original article can be found here

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By Dennis Pamlin | 中国日报网 | Updated: 2019-01-24 10:17

With its successful Jan. 3 moon landing -- the first ever on the “dark side of the moon” -- China helped humanity take another step toward becoming a space-faring civilization.

In the world we live in, the successful moon landing was unfortunately not only celebrated, but was seen by many from a confrontational perspective. US President Donald Trump has already declared that he wants to create a new “Space Force” by 2020. The plan is to make that space force the sixth branch of the military. Without leadership, space could become the next major conflict zone and any space activity seen as a provocation by competing forces.

With many global challenges, we can and should not waste resources on a military space race. Current weapon technology means the consequences of a future space war could also be fatal for humanity. At the same time, it is obvious that the resources for military expansion into space would be much better used if they were invested for peaceful purposes -- as well as addressing urgent global challenges such as world poverty, growing inequity and the accelerating ecological collapse due to biodiversity loss and climate change.

With the successful moon landing, China now has the attention of the world and thereby an opportunity to help shape the direction of global space exploration. A new direction for space exploration could also help set a new standard for global collaboration. Clarifying that the space exploration should be peaceful is a good first step. However, the current situation provides us with a unique opportunity and China should consider establishing a three-pronged approach to sustainable space exploration that would be integrated into an eco-civilization agenda.

First, a new set of global goals for space exploration should be presented. The international Space Station (ISS) where the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada collaborate, has demonstrated that international space collaboration is possible. A global action plan to develop the technology to prevent future asteroid impacts through the capacity to detect, track and deflect asteroids could be one of humanity’s greatest collaborative achievements, which would reduce one of the main long-term threats to human civilization. China could also propose a global approach to the first human settlement on Mars, and help ensure that the settlement is built on sustainable technologies. These initiatives should be science driven with total transparency and a research agenda where people all around can collaborate.

Second, the excellent work by United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, which demonstrates the benefits of space exploration for global sustainability, should be accelerated. China could challenge all countries and companies active in space exploration to make relevant solutions for key global challenges available for free. An even stronger link between space exploration and global sustainability would help strengthen peaceful collaboration.

Third, it is time to integrate global infrastructure development on earth with peaceful space exploration. The establishment of the first permanent colony beyond Earth is within reach. This generation could be the first one to experience how we as Homo Sapiens became a space-faring species. A long-term plan for equitable and sustainable space exploration is an important part of such a journey.

By exploring how all major infrastructure investments on earth can help accelerate and guide space exploration in a sustainable direction, we can ensure that space becomes a shared project that is about increased benefits and knowledge for all. Technology development on Earth and in space should support each other so that they can help us move beyond our destructive industrial civilization and focus on the transition to a global eco civilization.

As the largest infrastructure project on the planet the Belt and Road Initiative could lead the way by integrating not just traditional sustainability goals, but also by helping develop and deliver on sustainability goals for an emerging space civilization.

We already see leading thinkers arrange events such as UN Industrial Development Organizations’ “BRIDGE for Cities - Belt and Road Initiative: Developing Green Economies for Cities”. During the BRIDGE event in 2018, links between the Belt and Road Initiative, space exploration and sustainability were discussed with representatives from both China and Europe. Hopefully, we will see more meetings in 2019 at which a peaceful space agenda can be discussed in the context of global sustainability goals.

It will take some time getting used to thinking of humanity as a space civilization. However, many of the children born today will be alive 2100 and by then, we will most certainly be a space civilization. The question is: What kind of civilization will that be? Let us do what we can so that those alive in 2100 will be able to look will back at 2019 as the year when, despite many conflicts and problems, the world took the first significant steps towards a spaced based eco-civilization.

Dennis Pamlin is a senior adviser at the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE). The author contributed this article to China Watch exclusively. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of China Watch.

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Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms, by Hannah Fry

I was initially very disappointed with this book as it is not very much about algorithms. That might not be Hanna's fault as the title on the American edition is "How to be Human in the Age of the Machine".

I still would have liked more discussions about different kind of AI:s and how they are shaped, as I think this is an area where more knowledge is needed to ensure a substantive discussion. But perhaps the book Hanna has written is needed before that discussion can happen.

This book basically just state that AI have some skills, especially  pattern recognition, classification and prediction. Given these skills it can do different things more/faster than humans, including mistakes.   

Hanna's main point form my perspective is to help us understand that we should apply the same ethics and thinking that we have always done. AI are a reflection of us and as such will always come with flaws. But also that it is the combination between humans and machine that tend to get the best results. So we should try to design systems based on how AI and humans work together. It is a noble goal, but I would have liked to see more discussions about how to increase the probability of that happening.

What I lack is a specific discussion about the kind of flaws we need to look for in AI systems, and even more how to mitigate these flaws. There are a number of areas that could have been covered such as the role of the training data (if you only train your AI for detecting hands on white middle-aged men the AI will struggle to recognise a the hands of black young girl. Or if you only focus on the simple things that are easy to quantify and get the AI to look for, you will miss the non quantifiable aspects that are important.

As a general introduction to the field for those who are "afraid" of computers and AI I think this book might be valuable. For those who wants to dive deeper this is not the book. Being critical in the same way as we always should be is the message Hanna leaves us with, and maybe that is what is needed right now, that we "stop seeing machines as objective masters and start treating them as we would any other source of power. By questioning their decisions; scrutinizing their motives; acknowledging our emotions; demanding to know who stands to benefit; holding them accountable for their mistakes; and refusing to become complacent. I think this is the key to a future where the net overall effect of algorithms is a positive force for society."

Brief Answers to the Big Questions, by Stephen Hawking

S-Hawking.jpeg

Stephen Hawking is a well known icon for science, but I think he is less known for his wisdom. Hopefully this book will change this. He has been a supporter of so many of the most important issues of our time, bringing wisdom and guidance to everything from space exploration and the question of God to the existential threats facing humanity and the nature of intelligence.

 

The book provides insights into a number of the grand scientific challenges of today when it comes to astrophysics, particle physics, and genetics. The focus is obviously astronomy, with emphasis on Hawking's work on Black Holes. He explores fundamental questions such as "how did it all begin", "what is inside a Black Hole", "is time travel possible", and "if there is other intelligent life in the Universe".

 

He does not shy away from difficult issues, but he does not go into details (my only significant frustration with the book is that I think it should have benefited from a "further reading" part. It does have an overview of Hawking's other books, but I would have linked to know what books Hawking would have recommended in the areas he covers in the book). This is however a small gripe with a book that is very short, and might possible best be read when each chapter can be discussed. My own bullet points where almost as long as the chapters.

 

For someone who have spent time working with existential threats, i.e. those that threaten the very existence of our survival, it is refreshing to read someone who is bringing those to the forefront and also challenges us with some fundamental questions.

 

Hawking manages does what anyone who is intellectually honest should do. He clarifies some basic facts, such as "We now have the technological power to destroy every living creature on Earth."

 

He then provides some context for this situation, such as "Aggression, in the form of subjugating or killing other men and taking their women and food, has had definite survival advantage up to the present time. But now it could destroy the entire human race and much of the rest of life on Earth. A nuclear war is still the most immediate danger, but there are others, such as the release of a genetically engineered virus. Or the greenhouse effect becoming unstable."

 

Instead of concluding in a doom and gloom scenario he brings in fundamental issues that are seldom discussed, such as "It is not even clear that intelligence has any long-term survival value. Bacteria, and other single-cell organisms, may live on if all other life on Earth is wiped out by our actions. Perhaps intelligence was an unlikely development for life on Earth, from the chronology of evolution, as it took a very long time—two and a half billion years—to go from single cells to multi-cellular beings, which are a necessary precursor to intelligence.".

 

He is also honest when he is making value judgments and not stating facts such as "The Earth is under threat from so many areas that it is difficult for me to be positive. The threats are too big and too numerous.". This is great as it provides us we a platform for further discussions. This who say that the facts indicate that we are moving in the right direction have to answer what threats they dismiss or what kind of impacts they do not consider relevant.

 

One of the most striking features is how Hawking's manages to move on timescales that sometime feels as if they are, if not extinct, a dying breed. In an age where people in media seriously talk about discussions on Twitter that come and goes in hours it is refreshing with an intelligent mind who look at things from at least a millennium, but often billion years, perspective.

 

"One way or another, I regard it as almost inevitable that either a nuclear confrontation  or environmental catastrophe will cripple the Earth at some point in the next 1,000 years which, as geological time goes, is the mere blink of an eye. By then I hope and believe that our ingenious race will have found a way to slip the surly bonds of Earth and will therefore survive the disaster. The same of course may not be possible for the millions of other species that inhabit the Earth, and that will be on our conscience as a race."

 

I think it takes a certain mind to wander to the limits of knowledge and push beyond it. There is also a special kind of mind that moves freely in multiple dimensions. I think much of Hawken's brilliance when it comes to areas outside his specific area of expertise is due to the capacity to think long-term and put things in perspective. Hopefully this book will inspire people to think outside the box with regards to their normal constrains in time, space and ethical boundaries.

 

I like to end with a long quote from the last chapter:

 

"But what lies ahead for those who are young now? I can say with confidence that their future will depend more on science and technology than any previous generation’s has done. They need to know about science more than any before them because it is part of their daily lives in an unprecedented way.

 

Without speculating too wildly, there are trends we can see and emerging problems that we know must be dealt with, now and into the future. Among the problems I count global warming, finding space and resources for the massive increase in the Earth’s human population, rapid extinction of other species, the need to develop renewable energy sources, the degradation of the oceans, deforestation and epidemic diseases—just to name a few.

 

There are also the great inventions of the future, which will revolutionise the ways we live, work, eat, communicate and travel. There is such enormous scope for innovation in every area of life."

 

It has perhaps never been a generation that have lived in a time with more significant challenges, but also there have probably never been a generation with more opportunities.  If we can get more people to read books like this, I think we will increase the capacity to recognise, understand and address the challenges and also recognise, understand and capture the opportunities.

Ecological Civilization and the Belt and Road Initiative as a two global concepts

Over the last 12-24 months the concept of “Ecological Civilisation” and the Belt and Road Initiative are finally moving into mainstream thinking and media. It looks like the end of 2018 and 2019 could see some transformative shifts due to these two concepts.

The photos above are from three interesting events where these two topics have been discussed.

  1. European Business Summit

  2. The Vienna Energy Forum

  3. NEOMA Confucius Institute for Business

Global Citizenship in Reality: The 2017 Climathon as a Transformative Event (Keynote)

The 2017 Climathon the 27th of October was a very interesting event. It is not often you see large groups of people, in this case participants from more than 100 cities come together and only focus on solutions to a global challenge, climate change. Most initiatives are still national and often lose the global perspective. The few international gatherings that take place tend to bring policy makers and business that try to do as little as possible, where governments look after the short-term interest of their countries (or their own re-election) and companies focus on the next quarterly earnings report.   

This Climathon was such an interesting event and I can't help but wondering if this is how a new generation of global citizens are born. The people participating think global and then begin to implement local with the aim of providing global solutions (through export and/or networking). I hope it is not long until such an approach is the default approach to global challenges. I actually think we will look back in ten years and wonder why not many more events like this were organised, not realising that doing events like this still require a significant amount of social capital ( you can't just throw money out and expect results like this, you need the right kind of group with the right kind of network). 

My guess is that we will see some very interesting results coming out of processes like this. The reason for this guess is that when you reach a certain threshold (as you do when 100 plus cities all over the world are included) you almost always see disruptive results, not always directly, but though unforseen consequeneses of the critical mass that has been created. 

Perhaps we should to distinguish between international political events (bringing countries together that look after themselves), international business events (when companies come together with the aim to find ways to make money) and global events, where people come together as global citizens? We need international policy and business events, but more than anything I think we need global events. 

I will do what i can to support these kind of processes and ensure that the people participating connect globally and find new opportunities for collaboration, but also that the ideas that are developed during events like this are given a chance to be implemented. Hopefully we will also see more tools that allow for collaboration, especially for the teams, but also for us who had the opportunity to present some of our ideas and perspective. It would been fantastic with a global Q&A session. 

Link to the Climate KIC page for the event

Video of my presentation during the event (not sure how long the link will work)