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.

How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, by Ray Kurzweil

It is easy to criticize Ray. Too easy, as all that is required to dismiss him is to assume more of the same. i.e. linear development. While everyone knows that more of the same is not a correct – or even interesting – assumption, people like Ray provoke people that for different reasons defend marginal thinking. Two aspects are interesting with his assumptions/focus:

1. First of all he looks at exponential growth areas. How fast things changes in such areas are often hard to imagine, and Ray himself has identified the lack of capacity to understand/accept such developments as a major reasons for criticism. Everyone should do thought experiments regarding exponential change and see what happens under different assumptions. Personally I think it is a major reason why society tends to overestimate change in the short term while underestimating it in the long-term. The fact that exponential development result in very small changes at first, but then reach a threshold when its impact in society becomes know, and right after that have totally transformed society, is difficult to grasp. We like to focus on the changes that are noticeable, but possible to estimate using linear models, so exponential changes are ignored.

2. Second, he focus on thresholds/tipping points that are of interest. The fact that system can change dramatically once they reach certain points is well known, but most people shy away from this fact and prefer the simple linear tools and models. Ray’s focus on a singularity is interesting and I wonder if it would not be interesting to explore if there are historical parallels. Obviously the singularity deals with our human intelligence in relation to AI, so it is a special case, but I wonder how different changes in society have affected the way society operate and that way we think. How far back would you have to go to meet people that would not understand the challenges and opportunities in our society. Another aspect, discussed by many, is if we already have reached a situation where technologies are evolving so fast that no one understand where we are heading. The dream of the universal genius is a myth, but it is safe to say that Leonardo da Vinci was in an situation where he did not have to worry about so many breakthroughs in so many areas that can change the future. Today very few people even try to understand what is happening in fields like AI, robotics, (atomic precise) nanotechnology, biotechnology, brain/cognitive science, energy storage, material science, epidemiology, demographic development, animal right, etc. let alone trying to understand how these interact and those who try to influence the direction of the development are almost non existing.

The theme of the book itself “how to create a mind” is very interesting. I 100% disagrees with Ray regarding the way the mind operates. What he describes in the book is a rough outline for homo economicus, that I think could work scaringly well. But that says more about how simplistic view on humans that we tend to accept today, and what aspects we focus on, rather on humans. As many writers have discussed, the area that we should focus most on is not what kind of AI we can create, but what kind of mind we create in ourselves by interacting with different kind of tools/machines.

If we ever create a super intelligence that is similar to us the world will be a very dangerous place. The impulses and underlying visions we have, as well as our ethical inconsistences (that Ray wants to get rid of) is something that I think define us. The struggle to balance the difference ideas, impulses, drivers, we have is not just a source of frustration, it is part of what makes art possible (both to create and enjoy). The fact that all reflective people (not homo economicus) balance from time to time on the verge of insanity makes the idea of a super intelligence in computers a lot more questionable then I think Ray wants to admit.

What I think would be interesting to read is how Ray would see an ethical expansion, a global mind/body where we get increasingly connected, both to each other, but also to other living beings and even the plant/universe. The urge to understand, to feel and connect combined with an ethical expansion that remove the absolute boundaries between people, nations, species, non-living, is fascinating.

It is hard not to smile at the last sentence of the book that for my capture so much of why books by Ray is a joy to read. Without irony he states that: “waking up the universe, and then intelligently deciding its fate by infusing it with our human intelligence in its nonbiological form, is our destiny.”

If hubris ever needed a poster boy, Ray would be the perfect face. But likewise, if we ever need someone to push us to think and aim beyond the ordinary, Ray is still among us.

The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail but Some Don't, by Nate Silver

I like this book, not because it provides much new insight, but because the author seems genuine. In this day and age someone who cares about their issue, more than selling books, is refreshing. Two passionate, and well argued, points are provided in the book.

  1. There is data that clearly demonstrate that mainstream media is a destructive force when it comes to understanding the future as experts that are visible in media are those that with a bad track record of predicting the future. The reason for this is that the logic of media (sensationalism and simplicity) attract "hedgehogs" i.e. people with strong options and simplistic models for understanding the world.In a complex world we need to move beyond bumper stick logic this is a problem. What disturbs Nate, and should bother anyone who cares about a society built on knowledge, is that these sound bite providers manage to be constantly wrong, without ever being challenged. The kind of blog that Nate created for elections have a better track record, but it does not follow the media logic (e.g. it ignores the small things everyday and don’t over emphasize when new information becomes available that challenges established knowledge, instead it is weighted and incorporated).
  2. That society must become much better in dealing with probabilities, especially low-probability high-impact situations. The problem with the book as that it does not address totally new challenges where there is no earlier data set to base any estimations on. Still understanding that most of the big problems are “outside” what exports traditionally include in their planning.

I also want to give a big plus for proper footnotes. I'm so happy to see an author that actually provide footnotes, but it also makes me frustrated as you can't click on the links (or even copy the links) on Kindle... A simple software update from Jeff Bezos would be more than welcome (and a contribution to global knowledge).

There are also a number of "not so good things" in the book. The fact that Nate is enthusiastic result in a lot of "noise" in the book. Maybe Nate had to compromise with the publisher to get the book out? There is a lot of small stories and issues that are not related to the book, but maybe Nate thought that his book in itself could help train the reader to search for the signal among a lot of noise. Large parts reads like a (reasonable) entertaining, but rambling, dinner conversation.

It would have been interesting to read about Nate’s own reflections regarding his own role and contribution to noise/signal. After his “success” in the election he now seems to be invited to talk about a lot of things that he has no/little clue about. How can he ensure that he will not turn into a kind of “hedgehog” that applies his thinking to subjects where other approaches would be better? He seems like a cleaver guy who reflects so I’m sure he’s been thinking about it.

For those not interested in sport you can skip 20-40% of the book that does not add very much to the story (but I guess it is through his interest in sports that Nate wants to explain how he became interested in numbers).

As the general message about being careful and think about the possibility of being wrong is so well written I think this could be recommended as a book about scientific methodology at universities. Not the least in the US as the understanding of science seems to be moving in the wrong directions. But the teachers need to explain that Nate is a bit confused when it comes to the difference between policy making and science. All important issues cover both fields and there is no clear distinction (the difference between “ought” and “it” is more a theoretical one than a real).

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

I think the book in itself tells a story that very important for our time. It is a fictional reflection on a theme that is less interesting than the original reality and the end of the book is an interesting reflection of ways to hide a reality that should be dealt with.

Sitting in Doha during the climate negotiations my thoughts of the book might be colored by the fact that I’m in the middle of what the Economist describes as “Theatre of the absurd”. Policy makers, media, NGO’s and scientists gather at a meeting that is a about ideas of meetings that could result in a process that might deliver something that could help create what is needed. In short, we have a situation where few do anything that is even close to what is actually needed.

As many books recently I finally came around to reed it as a movie was done. With Ang Lee behind it I’m expecting a beautiful movie, but I wondered if it would have any content. It could be a really amazing movie if the fable/fantasy was contrasted against the more likely story that the book is opening up for in the end. In our connected society funny/graphic stories are powerful and can help or undermine the work that is needed to address the challenges of our time.

I might also feel frustrated that the book seems to have “stolen/borrowed” so much from one of the books I really enjoyed when it was published back in 1986. Adrift: 76 Days Lost At Sea, by Steven Callahan. It is a really fascinating story about survival and the elements. The way he relates to nature and his situation is something that inspire, he referred to his experience as “A view of heaven from a seat in hell”. Comparing the two books feels so unfair, one is a real story about someone who has actually experienced something and have something to say. Yann Martell feels like just another author trying to become famous but without anything to say, but being quite good at that.

I only found any value in the book when I read the last few pages when the “alternative” story is revealed. How we as humans like to create stories that makes us look better, the world more simple and that can hide things that hurt is very interesting. Maybe the book can be read as a critique of religion as Pi is described and a person who is drawn to the big religions. This search for simplicity might be what allows him to create his own fantasy universe when things gets difficult. But if that was the story, and that would have been an interesting story, I guess Yann would have spent some time writing about it?

To sum up: Don’t waste your time read this book. If you are interested in religion read something by Richard Dawkins and if you are interested in adventure/being lost at sea read Adrift: 76 Days Lost At Sea, by Steven Callahan. If you want to kill some time with fables, read something more well written than this, maybe Kipling (but remember that George Orwell called him a "prophet of British imperialism" for some very good reasons).

“Doha: Where dreams die” or “From Doha to Doha - 2001 Trade to 2012 Climate”

It is a strange feeling being back in Doha after more than 10 years during which the world have changed significantly, and at the same time feel that history is repeating itself. Just over ten years ago the world’s trade experts met in Doha. They did so in the shadow if the major failure in Seattle 1999 where the global trading systems collapsed under itself. The world trade system had been a technical issue for decades, but then two world collided. The old world wanted to expand and use the traditional logic of “more trade” in other areas. The new world wanted to ask questions about sustainable development and if “more of the same” was really the best recipe moving forward.

The result was great confusion that exposed the gap between the rhetoric (support for the poor, help environmental sustainability and avoid protectionism) and reality (keep an unfair global trading system that push resources to the west, do anything to protect old business and include only incremental improvements as solutions, and keep an unsustainable farming proactive and food habits in the north). In Doha the “Doha Development Round” was launched without anyone really believing it would do anything significant. Still the machinery kept going for years and only in 2008 most negotiators had also given up. The process is now in some kind of zombie state between totally dead and just a little dead.

The Wikipedia article about the Doha round (that I read for the first time now) is a sad reading that anyone who do not want to feel cynic about the world should avoid. Still a lot of interesting processes was born during this process. Personally I was able to use it both to launch WWF’s BRICS work and develop some ideas/networks regarding the next generation of trade system (whenever it is time to re-think).

Fast forward ten years and we live in the shadow of the major collapse in Copenhagen during the COP15 meeting in 2009. Again the world’s experts that failed to get any results, but this time in the climate area, gather in Doha. This time the atmosphere is even more cynical and pessimistic than during the WTO meeting a decade earlier.

Compared to the WTO meeting the scientists in the climate area are very clear, act now or we might see the end of civilization in a few decades. You would expect such dire warnings to ensure that there were special G20 summits, crisis meetings among the world leading economists, etc. but really nothing is happening. Different reports highlight the possibilities, and dangers, but nothing result in actual action. Even more perplexing is that the climate challenge is still in the hands of the least powerful ministers on the planet, environmental ministers.

So powerless ministers meet at a place that might be the best illustration in the word of the distance between words and action (Doha, Qatar). An oil nation that talks a lot about sustainable development and hire PR agencies to help them do it. They are like a warmer and less PR savvy version of Norway, another country that talks a lot about sustainable development and spread (oil) money at different nice projects around the world (and getting rewards for this). All while doing what they can to open up new oil fields in the arctic and exploring the tar sand that people like James Hansen have called “game over of climate” I should say that Norway is not alone in the hypocrisy, there are even “socially responsible pension funds” (including from Sweden where I live) that invest in the tar sand (ignoring the big picture and trying to make sure that the local pollution should be minimal…!!! What’s next, trying to make sure that the screws on atomic bombs are fair trade and environmentally sustainable?

So while the official meeting here, and especially the consultants trying to make a buck on the broken system, belong to what the Economist (in an unusual sober assessment) calls the “Theatre of the absurd” there are things being born under the surface.

Compared with the WTO system there is an advantage and it is the fact that many of the senior people still remember when the system was created and the actual reason for the current negotiations. This “freshness” of the system, combined with the fact that people like Christiana Figueres still want the process to actually deliver results that matter, make me optimistic. So while the formal system is not delivering much results there are many ideas and initiatives being discuss that hopefully could deliver some significant results in the near future.

To end with some hope I insert an image  from a workshop in the Chinese pavilion where we discussed the role of communication (from a Chinese perspective). I used the parallel to the WTO meeting here and noted that it was back then when China entered the WTO. I look forward to a couple of more days with informal meetings and the official presentation of the “global risk and opportunity indicator” on Wednesday.

Three days in China = Book launch, BASIC meeting, CASS research fellowship and official presentation of Global Risk and opportunity Indicator

A few intensive days in Beijing (20-23 November) including: ➢ Launch of the Chinese version of László’s book ➢ BASIC meeting (see agenda below) ➢ I became a CASS research fellow/guest professor at the center for sustainable development (figuring out the English term). That’s why I have the little red thing with “letter of appointment” in my hand on the photo below. ➢ First official presentation of the Global Risk and Opportunity Indicator (see below for draft concept illustration)

The fact that there is a BASIC group and to be given the opportunity to follow this (and the BRICS) process is something I’m very grateful for.

On top of that a few other meetings that will hopefully provide some interesting results in 2013.




CASS Forum on Equitable Access to Sustainable Development(EASD)

Time: 9:00-17:00, Nov. 21, 2012

Venue: Hotel Nikko New Century Beijing

9:00-9:10  welcome remarks, Mr. Wang Lei, Director of International Cooperation Bureau, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS)

9:10-10:35  Theme 1:Durban Platform Negotiations

Moderator:Mr. Liu Yanhua, Counselor of State Council, former Vice Minister of Science and Technology

Speakers: (15 minutes for each):

l  Ms. Yokeling Chee, Director of Programmes, Third World Network (TWN): Ensuring Equity in the Durban Platform

l  Ms. Nicola Willey, Head of Beijing Climate Change and Energy Team, UK Embassy:EU's Perspective on International Climate Negotiations and Position

l  Mr. Adriano Oliveira,Brazilian Environmental Ministry:Insights on International Climate Negotiations and Doha Outlook

l  Dr. Teng Fei,Associate Professor, 3E institute of Tsinghua University:Durban Platform Negotiation Outlook

l  Donald Pols, Head of the Climate Change Program, WWF International:

Q &A (10 minutes)

10:35-10:50 coffee break

10:50-12:10 Theme 2:Green Low Carbon Transition

Moderator:Mr. Lu Zheng,Deputy Director of Economics Department, CASS

Speakers(15 minutes for each):

l  Mr. Liu Yanhua, Counselor of State Council, former Vice Minister of Science and Technology: New Economy and New Market in the context of Green Development

l  Dr. Zhang Yongsheng,Deputy Division Director, Development Research Centre (DRC) of State Council: Seizing the Opportunities of Green Development in China

l  Ms. Kim Coetzee, Energy Research Centre, University of Cape Town:Low Carbon Development Strategy and Practice in South Africa

l  Dr. Zhu Rong, Senior Research Fellow, CMA Meteorological Service Center:Resources and Development Potentials of Wind Energy and Solar Energy in China

Q &A (10 minutes)

12:00-12:10 close remarks by Prof. Pan Jiahua, Director of Institute of Urban and Environmental Studies (IUE), CASS

12:10-13:30: Lunch

Launch of Books

13:30-13:35 Guests Introduction by Prof. Pan Jiahua, Director of IUE, CASS

13:35-14:35 Launch of books

Moderator: Mr. Xie Shouguang, Director of Social Sciences Academic Press (China)

Introduction by authors (20 minutes for each)

l  Green Book of Climate Change 2012, by Prof. Pan Jiahua, Director of IUE, CASS

l  BASIC Experts Joint Report on EASD, by Dr. Andrew Marquard, Senior Research Fellow, Energy Research Centre, University of Cape Town

l  Human Risks and Global Governance, by Dr. Dennis Pamlin,Director, Low-Carbon Leaders at UN Global Compact,CEO/Founder of 21st Century Frontiers

14:35-14:55 coffee break

14:55-15:35 Comments and discussions

Moderator: Dr. Chao Qingchen, Deputy Director of National Climate Center, CMA

Speakers(10 minutes for each):

l  Mr. Su Wei, Chief Climate Negotiator and Director-General Department of Climate Change, NDRC

l  Mr. Liu Yanhua, Counselor of State Council, former Vice Minister of Science and Technology

l  Prof. Wang Tongsan, member of Economics Department, former director of Institute of quantitative and Technical Economics (IQTE), CASS

l  Mr. Adriano Oliveira, Brazilian Environmental Ministry

15:35~15:45 remarks by representatives of the publishers

l  Mr. Jing Chenggong, editor, Intellectual Property Publishing House

l  Ms. Tan Jie, Vice Chief-editor, Central Compilation and Translation Press

15:45-16:10  Questions and Answers

16:10-16:50 Keynote Remarks

Moderator: Prof. Pan Jiahua, Director of IUE, CASS

Speakers (10 minutes for each):

l  Mr. Wang Weiguang, Vice President of CASS

l  Mr. Xie Zhenhua, Vice Chairman of NDRC, Director of Chinese Climate Negotiation Delegation

l  Dr. Zheng Guoguang, Director of CMA

l  Proxy Ambassador of EU Delegation

16:50-17:00 closing