Computer is now Best Go Player in World

goThe march of Artificial Intelligence continues on as was demonstrated when a computer defeated champion Ke Jei in two matches of the game Go. Go has a staggeringly large amount of moves and it was long thought it would take decades for computers to become as dominant in Go as they have become in chess. It didn’t take that long and this is good news, despite what you may be reading about the dangers of AI.

The reason it is fantastic can be inferred by what has happened to chess since computers became unassailable at the game. There was fear about the rise of computers and the game of chess. It was generally assumed once computers could defeat people, chess would largely be solved. That all anyone would have to do is memorize the few correct plays and that would be that. The game would die.

The reality turned out to be exactly the opposite. Before computers there were a limited number playable chess lines at the highest levels. By lines I’m talking about opening sequences and general ideas. For less skilled players it was more than possible to use many different lines but at the top level the game had become somewhat stagnant. Chess great Bobby Fisher lamented this and predicted the end of the game.

Computers do not get discouraged because a particular line doesn’t seem to be working. They continue to calculate the possibilities. These chess computers discovered many of the lines considered inferior were actually quite playable. They came up with innovate new ideas that expanded the repertoire available to top players. The Super Grandmasters took note of these moves and began to expand upon them. Then computers in turn extended each of these new ideas.

Chess is experiencing a golden age thanks to computer intervention. There are many new lines and competition at the highest levels is filled with exciting games rather than boring draws played down familiar openings.

I would expect exactly the same thing to happen with Go. But that is only the beginning. As AI is tasked with solving all sorts of problems it will only expand the possibilities. It will think through lines that a human would discard out of hand. It will find innovative solutions to problems we thought impossible. This will take place in industry after industry. Computers with AI will expand our knowledge, increase the possibilities, and deeply enrich all our lives.

I know there are those out there with fears and I respect their opinion but politely disagree. Humanity is quickly approaching a new age. Artificial Intelligences will lead the way with breakthroughs in medicine, energy, transportation, crop management, and virtually every other endeavor.

Within fifty years our lives will be changed dramatically and, in my opinion, almost universally for the good of all. I only hope I live long enough to reap the benefits.

Tom Liberman

WannaCry Illustrates a Strange Path to Combat Software Piracy

wannacryIt may seem like a strange connection but the WannaCry virus that spread wildly in Russia and China illustrates the best way forward in combating software piracy. Up until now, the heavy-handed use of criminal charges has been used by government to protect software development companies.

The government of the United States spent the last few decades passing law after law against those who illegally download files, largely at the behest of the Motion Picture, Music Recording, and software industries. These laws generally caught up a few minor criminals who downloaded a small number of songs or movies while leaving the vast majority of activity unchecked. Our nation then used strong-arm tactics on other countries trying to get them to extradite and otherwise punish pirates.

Meanwhile, in response to the growing virus threat, the software industry has long pushed security updates as a way to ensure the safety of their customers’ computers. This basically means those who have a legitimate copy get these updates.

The idea is simple enough. In China and Russia there is a plethora of pirated software and thus those two nations were far more vulnerable to the WannaCry Ransomware attack. The people of those nations suffered the most when hospitals and other important services were curtailed. An oversight in the coding of the Ransomware allowed the attack to be muted to some degree, but it doesn’t change the overall lesson.

If you want your computer to be safe, you really need to have legally licensed and fully updated software on it. No matter how many laws the government passes and no matter how rigorously they enforce these regulations, software piracy will continue. It is only when the ever-increasing threat of Ransomware and other risks becomes dangerous enough that people realize the need to have licensed software.

It is the criminals who are forcing people to obey the law.

Ironic, ain’t it?

Tom Liberman

What Asteroid Mining Means for Precious Metals

asteroid-miningWhat does asteroid mining and flooding the world’s supply of precious metals mean economically? What would that mean for the world and for you?

For many people the idea of mining asteroids is the stuff of science fiction. Most people roll their eyes at me when I talk about our ability to make this fantasy a reality.

I’m here to tell you, asteroid mining is not far away. There are a number of ideas on how to accomplish it, but one of the easiest is simply changing the velocity of small asteroids so they enter into Earth’s orbit. From there break them down aboard a space platform and drop the material to the surface.

Getting the mining platform built would be a task but once it was done there would be an endless series of asteroids floating gently in to be processed. Asteroids as small as ten meters across generally contain more than one-hundred pounds of gold and seven-hundred tons of other useful metals. Larger and more metal rich asteroids have far more. To put this in perspective; the total amount of gold mined from our planet is about 152,000 tons.

When asteroid mining becomes a reality, there are economic issues to consider. We often consider things precious, or valuable, simply because they are scarce; not because of their value in industry. Platinum is scarce and used in industry primarily for emission control on vehicles. It’s very possible that we will not need catalytic converters on modern cars. At that point, the value of platinum is reduced dramatically. Couple this with the fact an asteroid as small as one kilometer in size might be mined for more platinum than currently exists on Earth. Suddenly platinum is all but valueless.

Gold certainly has value in industry but also largely for artistic endeavors. The things we consider valuable today will be super-abundant tomorrow, and thus have little value. This has happened before. There was time when aluminum was more valuable than gold. Aluminum has incredible value in the industrial world. Luckily it is readily available on Earth so scarcity is not an issue, although I’m guessing it will be a target of asteroid mining as well.

Basically gold, platinum, silver, and other metals we associate with monetary policies will become super-abundant. This means every person who invested in such metals will lose their money. This also infers that any country basing their economic system on precious metals will instantly become bankrupt. Their savings will be worthless as the price of gold plummets.

The economics of the world are changing and it’s wise to be prepared for such events. Gold, platinum, silver, nickel, cobalt, rhodium, and other rare and useful metals aren’t going to be readily available immediately, but there is no doubt in my mind they will eventually become so.

Someday there will be mining bases embedded in the asteroid belt that will ship billions of tons of useful elements to Earth for processing. Scarcity is no longer an issue.

I’m not saying sell all your gold and platinum today. I am saying, if you’re a gold bug or hung up on precious metals, you need to consider what’s happening in the world and off it, and plan your future accordingly.

Tom Liberman

Whoppers, Wikipedia, and Google oh My!

whoppersThere are a lot of people angry about a clever advertising campaign created by Burger King for Whoppers that uses our connected technology in an innovative way. I’m not as upset as everyone else, I think it’s pretty cool. Heavy-handed certainly, but it demonstrates possibilities.

What the executives at 3G Capital, owners of Burger King, authorized was a combined arms attack. The technologically savvy among us know that many people have devices that respond to voice commands. The executives authorized an advertising campaign that starts with the phrase, “Ok Google.” This command triggers anyone’s android device to assume it is the target of the communication. The advertisement then asks, “What is the Whopper Burger?”. This further prompts the device to search Wikipedia for Whopper Burger.

Staff writers at 3G Capital had prepared for the advertisement by editing the Wikipedia page to include an ingredient list for the Whopper.
Most of the world – Horror.

Me – Coolio!

The basic idea is strong. Advertisers are trying to reach their intended target. The person who owns the electronic device suddenly sees a picture of a mouth-watering Whopper on the screen. Some of them investigate the ingredient list, a few are hungry, and some small percentage head on over to Burger King to get some food.

There are problems here. The usurpation of someone else’s device and the editing of your own content on Wikipedia. If the advertisers had simply shown a little more deftness, all would have been fine.

The advertisement should have instructed the user to ask their device about the new and wonderful Whopper. 3G Capital should have released information about their product publicly and waited for the Wikipedia page to be updated organically. Basically, have a person monitoring the Wikipedia page until the desired change appears, then release the advertisement.

This strategy allows advertisers to reach their target audience and, this is the important thing, those who want to eat the new Whopper are made aware of its existence before they normally might have been. I can certainly think of a few improvements to this strategy right off the top of my head. Direct users to the website where a coupon resides, show the Wikipedia page on your device to servers at Burger King for the next hour and get a free Whopper with your purchase, I’m certain creative people can come up with more such ideas.

There is a lot of anti-advertisement sentiment in the world but there is nothing wrong with making people aware of a product they wish to purchase. No one buys anything under some sort of hypnotic spell engendered by the advertisement. We have laws against false advertising and that’s a good thing.

I love that targeted advertisement is aware of my search habits and offers me up choices that match said queries. I’ve been alerted to any number of price discounts through this sort of direct marketing. I see nothing wrong with a business informing their consumers of various products that might be of interest.

When I browse Facebook, I don’t see advertisements for women’s products. Why? I’m not a woman. I’m not interested in such things. It benefits us all when advertisements are targeted, both company and individual.

Sure, this foray was a bit brutish, but it’s a sign of things to come. I say that in a good way.

Tom Liberman

The Benefits of Autonomous Cars

autonomous-carI’ve long been a proponent of Autonomous Cars, or as they are often called, Self-Driving Cars. When I try to argue for them I generally get a lot of resistance. Some people don’t want to give control of the car to a machine, which they feel less able to safely navigate the roads. Others feel the cars are likely to have their computer systems hacked.

Both of those things are fairly unlikely but I really want to discuss the many and varied benefits of autonomous cars for all of us. The arguments I present here really aren’t going to promote the march toward such vehicles. The cars are coming and there is nothing to be done about it.

One of the major benefits is simply an enormous savings in money of law-enforcement expenses and the transfer of such assets to criminal, rather than traffic, duties. That is to say we’ll save huge amounts of taxpayer money. Autonomous cars won’t make illegal turns or exceed the speed limit. They will follow the restrictions of the software, which will be to obey the law.

Another huge savings in tax dollars will be on emergency services. Autonomous cars will get into accident far less frequently than human driven cars. This means hospital services will decrease dramatically. Doctors will have much more time to deal with sick patients, not accidents victims.

More tax dollars will be saved on construction and maintenance of road signs and signals which will be unnecessary.
Your insurance payment will be reduced by the amount of liability you are paying. You will not be responsible for any accidents.

People unable to drive will be able to move about their communities as desired.

Handicapped passengers will be dropped at the front door of their destination and picked up at the same spot at a time of their convenience.

There will be no more intoxicated drivers on the road

Some fifty-thousand lives will be saved in the United States every year.

The land devoted to parking lots will be greatly reduced. Autonomous cars will deliver a passenger to the front door of a location and then motor off to park in huge lots built off the beaten path. This will create a network of shops and businesses in a much smaller area and allow the greening of your community with more parks and other amenities.

These cars will increase productivity as passengers will perform their work while commuting from their origin to their destination. In addition, the travel time from points will be reduced dramatically as the cars will be able to travel at far higher speeds than a human can manage and also in herds, thus avoiding the stop and go of normal traffic.

Security measures will prevent your car from being stolen by anyone other than an identified driver.

You will be far less stressed. Driving is, without question, the most stressful thing I do.

Travel will be increased as any destination within eight hours can easily be reached while the passengers sleep. This will lead to the closing of many small airports which are largely supported by tax dollars. Thus, yet another saving for taxpayers.

You may not like the idea of an autonomous car but your children will never learn to drive. And, in this man’s humble opinion, that’s a wonderful thing.

Tom Liberman

Government to Regulate e-Cigarettes but Why?

e-cigarette-regulationElectronic Cigarettes burst onto the market in 2004 and now the government plans to regulate them in the same way they do traditional tobacco products. This despite the fact that e-cigarettes don’t use tobacco.

Today I’d like to address an issue slightly deeper than just this particular piece of legislation which was announced in 2014 giving producers two years to submit an application for approval. This application costs money and the e-cigarette manufacturers are claiming an approval must be submitted for every flavor and nicotine level available for sale. They claim the costs for such submissions would drive out all the small market e-cigarette manufacturers leaving only the largest companies.

I don’t know if this is true or not but I do know that the justification for such regulations and applications is outdated. There was a time when the internet did not exist and getting accurate information about the efficacy and danger of particular products was nearly impossible. I can understand that government officials felt it their responsibility to prevent essentially toxic products from being put on the market without at least some sort of warning.

I’m not opposed to the government employing a laboratory to test the content and health effects of tobacco, alcohol, and other products. I’m not opposed to the government using my tax dollars to disseminate information about said products on government managed websites. I think those are good things. I’m not under the illusion that a business would never market a harmful product with deceptive advertising and cover up the dangers. That sort of thing happens all the time, greed and human nature being what they are. To pretend otherwise is simply foolish.

However, with the advent of the internet and the availability of information I don’t see why the manufacturer has to provide relatively useless warnings on their labels and apply for expensive approvals. It seems to me that such rules and regulations are not intended for the safety of the population but simply generate revenue for the government and empower Crony Capitalism in order to support the largest manufacturers who fund political campaigns.

This is not the job of government.

The Information Age is a fundamental change in the nature of the world. For a Libertarian like myself it is the opening of a door into a utopia of personal freedom. If I want to use a product I can do my research and find out its nature. If I plan to buy a chicken from the grocery store, I can learn about the factory or local farm that raised it and how that chicken lived its life. Then I can make an informed decision on which chicken to buy. This was not possible until recently.

I’ll repeat, I do think the government has a right and responsibility to inspect, collect information, run tests, and publish the results for all to see. After that it is up to us. Should we choose to smoke tobacco then we know the risks and suffer the consequences of our actions.

We must trust people to live their lives in the manner they choose. We may not like. It might not be healthy. But it is ultimately their life and their decision. If they have the information they need to make an informed choice, that is all we can do. If we try to make that decision for them, even for their benefit, we end up causing far more harm in the long run.

As I point out in The Girl in Glass I – Apparition, freedom is free, it’s just not safe.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

Tila Tequila, Cinnamon Nicole, and GoFundMe Idiocy

gofundmeI happened across two interesting stories today discussing GoFundMe campaigns. One involved a woman named Tila Tequila who needed money for a new apartment while a woman named Cinnamon Nicole used the Crowd Funding source to get living expenses after spending her savings on Powerball tickets.

The comments on the two stories are pretty predictable in that few people showed any sympathy toward Tequila or Nicole. Both women found themselves in difficult situations largely because of their own bad decisions.

The Nicole GoFundMe campaign was removed and she now claims the entire thing was a joke while the Tequila campaign reached its goal.

There are numerous incidents of people using Crowd Funding sites to get money for reasons that are less than savory. I found my reaction to these cases to be extraordinarily interesting from both a Libertarian perspective and a psychological one.

I want to be clear that I’m not, in this blog, talking about campaigns that are deceitful in their aims. In both of the situations mentioned above the women laid out why they needed the money honestly. There have certainly been cases of people claiming catastrophic illness or other tragedy in order to gain sympathy and donations. Such examples are fraudulent, clearly illegal, should be removed, and the perpetrators prosecuted.

When I first read the Tequila story I moved to the comments section thinking to add my own condemnation but then I noted the thousands of comments and tens of thousands of likes associated with those comments. That’s when I started thinking. Why should I care what Tequila does? Why does it bother me that she has made so many horrible decisions? Why does her cynical campaign annoy me? Why does it anger so many people? Why is it our business at all?

Why couldn’t I shake my head at the disaster of the decisions that led to the GoFundMe campaigns and forget about it?

Why is it that I, and so many others, eagerly want to judge, to condemn, to lash out?

I think it is because doing so makes me feel better about myself. By pointing out the failures in others I somehow reassure myself that I’m a better person. I make good decisions and wouldn’t stoop to such depths. I’m a good man, by golly.

And I think such thoughts prove that I am not as good as I suppose. If I was truly confident in my wonderfulness I suspect I would not feel the urge to condemn Tequila. I would merely note the story and move along with my life. If someone asked me about her specifically I would certainly give my opinion but this urge to display to everyone else how much better a human being am I than Tequila is my failing.

It’s a failing of a fundamental nature that I think speaks directly to being a Libertarian, or at least my interpretation of being one. I should be focused on my actions. When someone else does something that has no effect on me, not only should I not care, but I shouldn’t even really much think about it.

My life is my own to lead and yours is yours.

I’m of the opinion that the world would be a much better place if we could all follow this philosophy a bit more. This attitude is hardly an easy one to pursue but it is a worthwhile thing to attempt.

I’ll be doing my best. Will you?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

The ADE 651 Fraudulent Bomb Detector

ade-651-bomb-detectorThere’s a story that’s been around for years but if you live in the United States of America, like me, you’ve probably never heard it. It’s about a piece of equipment called the ADE 651 which Iraqi police and security forces spent about $80 million dollars purchasing. It’s design purpose is to detect bombs from a distance.

It doesn’t work. It’s never worked. It’s never worked for anyone who tested it.

The FBI called its predecessor a fraud in 1999 and the U.S. Army declared it useless in 2009. Yet your tax dollars were still spent on it. The story made big news in England where the manufacturer was sentenced to ten years in prison. The owner paid Iraqis, and other, government officials bribes in order to purchase millions of dollars worth of the useless bomb detectors.

Fraud is a crime to begin with but when you give security forces in a bomb strewn country a device to detect explosives that doesn’t work, it means security forces wave their useless bomb detectors instead of searching for bombs. The result is predictable and vile.

I don’t put all the blame on the manufacturer of this useless thing. Iraqi government officials were bribed and put their own people in danger. Devising tests for such a device is, obviously, ridiculously easy. The fact that the thing didn’t work was not difficult to figure out and yet here we are tens of millions of our tax dollars later. Here we are who knows how many lives lost or ruined later. Here we are.

While such devices aren’t sold in the United States the concept is used all the time. Phony cancer cures, psychic readings, and any other number of scams are aimed at vulnerable and frightened people.

Is there an unethical depth to which someone, somewhere will not sink? It seems not.

What bothers me the most about this story is that this is the first I’ve heard about it. I follow the news pretty closely looking for stories to write about. James Randi exposed it back in 2008, there were apparently a few stories about it in U.S. media but why wasn’t this big news? You tell me.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

Uber Officials Arrested in France

uberI’m not sure how many people outside of the Libertarian community fully understand what is going on with the transportation company Uber. It’s a sad and sorry story.

Taxi drivers in many countries and in the United States are petitioning their various governments to shut down Uber. Governments are listening and taking action.

First a quick look at Uber’s business model. Regular people become drivers for Uber. They undergo a relatively light background check, criminal records and the like, and when approved are allowed to pick up passengers in much the same way a cab does. The difference being that the drivers are on their own time with their own vehicles.

Passengers simply announce they are looking for a ride and the call goes out to nearby drivers who then take them to their destination.

It seems like a simple and elegant solution to getting people from point A to point B with as little fuss as possible. The rides are almost universally cheaper than cab rides. This does not sit well with taxi drivers and the solutions largely being proposed involve Uber paying larger fees.

Why, you might ask?

Because taxi companies pay large fees to the city governments in order to be licensed to operate their business. If a better model comes along and displaces them that means the taxi companies go out of business. This means, and here is the important part, the taxi companies stop paying ludicrous fees to cities in order to operate. That’s a nasty loss in revenue for the government.

The entire fee system is based on a government revenue plan that exacts money from businesses in order to operate in a legally licensed way. Without licenses the business cannot operate. It’s not completely ridiculous because it’s reasonable to have some sort of system for accountability should a business blow into town, sell a fake service or dangerous product, and then leave without recourse for those hurt or bilked.

But the entire system has gone way beyond any attempt to help protect citizens. It’s all about how much the city can extort from the business owner in order to operate. Liquor license? Pay up. Taxi license? Pay up. Any license? Pay up.

Not to mention companies bail on debts and responsibility all the time anyway, it’s called bankruptcy.

I’m not an anarchist. I don’t think anyone should be able to set up shop anywhere, anytime. That is dangerous. There are bad people in this world. That being said, Uber is a big company with a lot of money. They have executives who are well known. They can’t simply pack up and leave. Their business model is good for citizens, people want it. They love it.

The solution isn’t to charge Uber huge fees. It’s to reduce the ridiculous fees taxi companies pay. Let the best business model win. That’s good for you and me and ultimately the government, although those in such positions are far too short-sighted to see it.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition – Release date: late August 2015

Steve Wozniak thinks We’ll be Pets for Robots – I agree sort of

steve-wozniakA fellow named Steve Wozniak whom I admire greatly recently changed his opinion on the future of Artificial Intelligence to more closely match my own thoughts on the subject and that makes me feel quite good!

Steve has a tremendous mind and has done some really amazing things with his life to help humanity as a whole. Originally he, like many others, took a pessimistic and fearful view of AI. That such an intelligence would think humans were slowing it down and thus move to destroy us. Wozniak now seems to largely agree with my point of view in that an AI would view destruction as a stupid process. What would give an AI joy would be to help us achieve great things together.

I don’t agree with his comparison to pets but I don’t think he meant it literally. Robots with AI will have the ability to solve problems far in excess of what a human can achieve. But I don’t think they will think of their “inferior” humans as pets. They will consider us allies in the quest to happiness. That is what we all want in the end. Sure we want money, good relationships, good food and drink, some want spouses and children, others want vacations, and other things but all those are all merely methods of achieving joy in our lives. That’s all anyone really wants.

It’s my opinion that the way we find joy is largely through achievement. Doing things makes us happy. Small things like mowing the lawn perfectly to big things like creating and rearing fantastic children. That’s what a vastly intelligent machine will realize immediately.

Anyway, I won’t reiterate my entire blog post which is linked above. You can read that if you want.

I just want to welcome Mr. Wozniak to the group that is extremely optimistic about AI. It’s good to have such as he on my side.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

Are Local Police Listening to Your Cell Phone Conversations?

stingray-cell-phone-trackingI just read an article about something called a Stingray Phone Tracker. If you believe in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution you should read about them as well.

What is a Stingray Phone Tracker? It’s a new weapon in the arsenal of local police that forces your cell phone to connect to it instead of the local cell tower. Law enforcement can then target your phone and download all conversations, text and voice. All this is within the scope of the Fourth Amendment if said use of the Stingray was authorized by a Probable Cause Warrant. The problem is police are using it with what is called Pen Register authorization. This only requires that police state the number is useful in an ongoing investigation and requires far less justification than a Probable Cause Warrant. It’s probable police are using it without any permission whatsoever. Nor are there any rules about how long they can keep the information and with whom the information will be stored.

It is only recently that people are learning about the use of these Stingrays but there is no doubt in my mind that once police have such a weapon available to them, they will use it, and use it frequently. What little information exists suggest as much.

Some local municipalities are now requiring that the use of the Stingray be specified in the request to the judge. It seems clear that police have been obtaining the Pen Register authorization when the judge in question didn’t understand the technology and what could be gleaned from it.

For some time now we’ve been quite concerned about the federal government listening to our conversations but now it seems quite likely that everyone down to your local sheriff has the ability to the do the same and apparently without much supervision or public knowledge.

I suppose there are those out there who trust law enforcement agencies to use this technology properly and there are even those who say if you don’t do anything illegal why would you care if the police listen, record, and store you texts? Well, I care. They have no business doing so and the Constitution of the United States makes that clear.

I’m not opposed to police and investigation but I also strongly believe in the Fourth Amendment and if law enforcement officers want to listen to citizens conversations they must obtain a warrant. Otherwise they are breaking the law and should be prosecuted.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

Self-Driving Cars in Lots of Accidents – Misleading Headline

self-driving cars accidentsI’m a huge proponent of self-driving cars for many reasons and my trainer at the gym alerted me to the fact that 4 of the 50 self-driving cars in California have been in accidents. The assumption being that they caused the crashes; or at least that’s what the bevy of misleading headlines would have you believe.

The facts you ask. Sure.

All eleven accidents occurred at less than 10 mph and no one was injured badly.

The biggest accident involved a self-driving car being broadsided by another car.

All of the accidents, all of them, involved other cars hitting the self-driving cars, mostly being rear-ended while stopped.

Self-driving cars are required to report all accidents including minor ones where no damage occurs (the majority of the cases here) thus the apparently high number of crashes. Most people never report the sort of accident in which these cars were involved.

Conclusion? Self-driving cars, even in their infancy are doing just fine.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

U.S. Seizes Kim Dotcom Assets

Kim DotcomI’ve been following the saga of Kim Dotcom since January of 2012 when New Zealand police raided his home and charged him with copyright piracy. Things took another disturbing (at least for Libertarians) turn this weekend when a U.S. court decided that because he was a “fugitive” that the government was entitled to seize all of his personal assets despite the fact he hasn’t been convicted of a crime.

I’ve written about this entire misguided prosecution several times before and I don’t want to reiterate all my objections and will focus on this latest travesty today.

What happened is that the government of New Zealand, where Kim Dotcom resides, raided his house and took his property but the courts in that country decided that after nearly three years and no trial they needed to give him his stuff back. The United States then invoked a new legal proceeding claiming that Dotcom was a fugitive and as such they could seize his assets.

How Dotcom is a fugitive of the United States when he never lived in this country and never did business in this country boggles the mind. How the United States is entitled to steal … er seize … the assets of a person who was arrested, but untried, in another country is frightening. What can’t the courts decide? Who can’t they bankrupt?

The United States now owns $67 million worth of what used to be Dotcom’s property. His business is destroyed and he has yet to face trial three years after his initial arrest. The United States now owns his bank accounts, none of which resided in the United States! They own them! The accounts legally belong to the United States Government because a U.S. court decided the accounts of a man from another country was a fugitive.

There has been no trial and Dotcom wasn’t even legally allowed to defend himself in this latest phase. He now has no money to pay his lawyers to continue his case.

Who is safe from such rapacity?

Are you?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

North Korea and the Blame Game

North Korea Sony AttackNorth Korea is good for it. Or at least that’s what it appears to be in the Sony Hacking case.

I was watching this case from before it became major news and when word first started to leak about North Korea and the hack being related to the release of The Interview I was extremely skeptical. I thought it sounded like classic misdirection from whatever group actually perpetrated the hack.

Then the U.S. government got involved in the form of the FBI and they seemed pretty clear that North Korea was involved in the case. Oh well, I thought to myself, I was wrong. More good reason not to jump to conclusions and write blogs before all the information is available. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way in the past and I try to be cautious.

This morning a read a news story from one of the worst of the slanted journalism sites indicating that the blaming of the hack on North Korea was premature. Before you go thinking the Daily Beast has got their act together you might read this story from the same publication that demands the U.S. take action against North Korea for the hack. I’m not going to spend time today attacking or praising the Daily Beast for their regularly insane and irregularly sane articles. Today I want to talk about perception.

North Korea was good for it. There are not many people in the world who have a high opinion of North Korea and that is for excellent reasons. It is the worst totalitarian state in the world. Their record on human rights is abysmal. There is every reason to think they would do something terrible like this. They would certainly be on the list of suspects. What’s important is that all this is merely conjecture.

After reading the article in the Daily Beast I went searching for more articles and there seems to be a fairly general consensus that the FBI laid out the blame without the evidence necessary to do so. That there were other potential parties involved and the investigation seems to have stuck upon the few bits of evidence that supported their presupposed notion. I’ve written about this tendency in smaller and more domestic situation as recently as last week.

I find it predictable, but still disheartening, that law enforcement agencies as lofty as the FBI apparently fall prey to the same sort of investigative blindness. I’m not going to say that North Korea is blameless because I haven’t seen all the evidence. I certainly won’t say that North Korea is behind the attack. I think the question still remains up in the air.

I will toot my own horn. I was skeptical of the blame North Korea game the second I heard that the hackers didn’t want The Interview released. I still think so. It appeared obvious to me that this was a case of one group attempting to lead the authorities on a wild-goose chase by putting out misleading statements.

The real take that I get from the story is that you should always be cautious about assigning blame to the person our party that appears to be guilty at first glance. It’s something we have the tendency to do all too frequently.

Don’t play the blame game. Look at the facts with an open mind and particularly examine those that don’t fit in with your preconceived notions. You might find the world a more complex and interesting place than you imagined.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

Matt Taylor and the Woman Hating Shirt

MattTaylor ShirtI spotted a headline the other day but didn’t get around to clicking on the story until just now. It’s a doozy.

A fellow by the name of Matt Taylor is a member of the Rosetta team that guided the Philae lander onto a comet. During the hours leading up to the landing a number of news outlets were interviewing the various scientists. Taylor chose to wear an interesting shirt to work that day and his choice is raising some questions.

My initial reaction to the headline was that some feminist organizations were over-reacting to a relatively harmless shirt. Then I clicked on the story and saw the shirt. I do think Taylor should be able to wear whatever shirt he wants and if his employers have no problem with such attire in the workplace, so be it. However, if I wore a shirt like that to work I’d be sent home. I’d be told to change it. It’s clearly inappropriate for the office and to wear it on the day you know news media is coming in droves is clearly a poor judgment call.

I’m sure Taylor is very good at his job and that should outweigh what shirt he chooses to wear. However, there are dress codes for a reason. I’d certainly be uncomfortable if one of my co-workers chose to wear a shirt like that at work.

I’m certainly not saying that Taylor views women solely as sex-objects. He could be, and probably is, a great guy. He could love women and be turned on by intelligent, attractive, and powerful women with an attitude; I know I am!

He is probably not in the slightest bit misogynistic. That’s why it’s a shame he chose to wear that shirt to work on that day. He portrayed himself in a certain light. By choosing to wear that shirt on that day, he presented himself in a particular fashion willingly and knowingly. If people are offended then he only has himself to blame. If people have no problem with it then that’s their business as well.

Certainly only his employer has a right to enforce a particular dress-code. The media has no say, nor does anyone offended by the shirt. If I find it inappropriate it has no weight with Taylor or his bosses. It’s their company, it’s his shirt.

Now, off to go find some hot pictures of Supergirl. (I prefer my intelligent, attractive, and powerful women more towards the trim and athletic side, but hey, that’s me).

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
The Black Sphere Coming Soon!

Monsanto an Inconvenient Truth – GMF Feeding the World

Monsanto GMFThe crazed anti-science wackos are at it again and I’m not talking about Climate Change this time. I’m talking about the opposite end of the political spectrum. When it comes to Genetically Modified Foods and Genetically Modified Organisms there is a lot of controversy but no scientific evidence they cause harm. All scientific studies to date show that such crops provide equal or better nutritional value while being resistant to disease and insects.

To date no scientifically approved study has shown that eating GMFs causes any ill effects.

And yet not a day goes by that I don’t see a science-ignoring liberal posting scary headlines and linking to discredited studies about the horrors and dangers of GMF. The hate towards Monsanto is palpable and the comments sections filled with outrage and indignation.

I repeat: To date no scientifically approved study has shown that eating GMFs causes any ill effects.

Monsanto itself is trying to make a profit, of this there is no doubt, but they have another goal. Feeding the world. Ending starvation. That’s a pretty noble goal and if they earn some money doing it, then as a Randian Objectivist and a Capitalist I have no problems.

What I find rather ironic about the situation is the science denying liberals are generally the ones most up-in-arms about how Republicans deny the science of Climate Change. The science is there. The Earth’s climate is growing warmer and there is substantial evidence to suggest that increased CO2 and Methane in the atmosphere is contributing to it. The science is there, GMFs do not cause any harm.

I’m not opposed to rigorous testing of GMFs but when the results of such testing prove them to be benign then I will support their distribution and use. Food has never been more abundant and cheap than it is right now. You spend a smaller percentage of your income on food than any generation in the recorded history of the world. You spend less time making sure there is food on the table than at any time history. This coupled with the fact that there are more people in the world than their have ever been is a remarkable accomplishment made in part with GMFs.

It’s an inconvenient truth, just as is human-driven climate change.

I know this post is going to generate some hate but I’d ask you to find a scientifically accredited study that shows GMFs are dangerous to consume. There are a lot of links out there filled with discredited studies so do your homework and then prove I’m wrong.

I believe the evidence of human-driven climate change and I believe the evidence of GMF safety. I don’t think scientists are out there lying in study after study to promote some agenda. I think they are educated men and women of good character who are out there trying to make the world a better place. My hat’s off to the scientist, not the naysayers and doom-predictors.

Monsanto is based here in St. Louis and I know a number of employees. They love their children and if they thought GMFs were dangerous they wouldn’t be working there. Monsanto isn’t some faceless corporation. It’s a company made up of people just like you and me. My friends work for a company that, through its product, has saved literally millions of people from starving to death. I’m proud to have the company headquartered in my hometown.

So to all you haters of Monsanto and GMFs, bring it on!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
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The Science Gap – United States and Asia

earning comparison us chinaI just read yet another article about how China is churning out huge numbers of science graduates. This article went into some of the reasons for this changing face of education. In recent years China, India, Germany, and even Russia have taken the idea of producing a generation of technically savvy young scientists extremely seriously while the United States has not.

This has resulted in the explosion of engineers and other scientists in Asia and Europe while the numbers in the United States have remained relatively stagnant. I wrote about a fantastic space exploration mission accomplished by Indian scientists recently and this is only the beginning.

Many of my friends and people who comment on the articles are under the impression that young graduates in China and India are incapable of independent scientific thoughts. That they just steal the innovative technology from the United States and reproduce it. This was certainly true at one point but we’ve left those days far behind. This transition of scientific knowledge is coming at the dawn of what I call the Automation Age. We are quickly leaving behind the sorts of jobs that an unskilled laborer did. These jobs were the backbone of the Industrial Revolution. If you weren’t all that smart it wasn’t a huge impediment. If you had a willingness to work hard and do a less than glamorous job you could do quite well all the way until right about now.

The problem we see today is that we face an increasingly technical world. The workplace is filled with computers and just wanting to work hard, while a wonderful quality, is often not enough. If you don’t have the education and technical skills necessary to do your job, you won’t have a job. I’m not just talking about engineers and scientists but a mechanic, an electrician, an HVAC specialist, they must all be able to understand and work with computers. We’re still in the transition phase to the Automation Age but things are moving rapidly. Robots are becoming increasingly sophisticated and will only get more so.

I can speak from personal experience as a technical trainer. I used to teach every day. Now I teach maybe 25% of the time and do web development and other work most days. I’m learning a lot from the young graduates of the local technical schools my company has hired and I hope that I make myself useful enough to keep around. I certainly can’t keep up with them but I’m learning more all the time.

What I see happening is that science and innovation, as important as they were in driving wealth and creating a higher standard of living in the past, are going to become even more important in this era. The countries with the brightest minds will not only create wealth but business leaders will, by necessity, move their increasingly sophisticated factories to nations where people with the proper skills reside.

I’m not all gloom and doom. The fact that China, India, Germany, Russia and others are producing scores of technically savvy college graduates is not a bad thing in itself. It’s good for the world to have more and more intelligent and driven people in it. I’m just concerned that the United States is losing the battle. I’m not the only one who sees this, industrialists understand and new methods of education are being tried all over the United States. We are still producing many of the top minds in the world and our education system is churning out fine scientists, just at a lesser rate than our economic foes.

The one thing that really struck me in one of the charts in the article I read was that doctors and lawyers earn far more than the scientists in the United States while in China they earn less. In the United States engineers are still well compensated but much less so than in China. Engineers are in huge demand in China but apparently not as much in the United States. What does this tell you?

This higher rate of pay naturally encourages young students to pursue degrees in engineering.

This is Randian capitalism at its finest. What society needs it pays for and thus encourages more people to pursue the money. So why are we paying doctors and lawyers so much and engineers so relatively little? That’s the question. As time passes and we need more engineers and technically savvy people; so too will salaries rise to hire such qualified people. Nothing is forever and the gains China is making now may evaporate fifty years from now or a hundred. I don’t know.

I do know that the trend is cause for concern. If future breakthroughs come from China, India, and Europe then wealth will follow. We’ve been the richest country in the world since the conclusion of World War II, some seventy years. When we’re not anymore I don’t think the nation will crumble. Maybe we’ll be better off as the second biggest economy in the world, as the third. It’s impossible to say.

What I think seems inevitable is that we face a new age with new problems. I’m confident we’ll survive and thrive but change is coming and it’s best to recognize it, plan for it, and understand the ramifications before it happens. Putting your head in the sand and pretending it’s not happening is a bad idea. I see too much of that from our politicians and from ordinary people in comment sections and personal conversations.

Just because you want the United States to stay scientifically ahead of our foes doesn’t mean we will.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
See All my Books

Energy Freedom

Go Star EnergyA fellow by the name of John Gallagher invited me to be on his podcast to talk about energy freedom and I just finished up. It was an interesting discussion.

Normally John talks with environmentalists and he thought having a Libertarian would be an interesting change of pace. We agreed on many things although not everything.

I’m not sure when the interview will be posted but head on over to the site to see what it’s all about. John is a big proponent of EV and PV energy which is mainly solar to you and me.

He works in an oil field which makes for an interesting time with his fellow workers I’d guess.

He is very optimistic about energy independence in the coming years and for a Libertarian like myself that is good news. Energy independence is energy freedom.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Broken Throne
Next Release: The Black Sphere

Stephen Hawking is Wrong … I Think

Professor HawkingI am a science geek. I love reading articles in Wikipedia about stars and planets. I enjoy shows that discuss the beauty of higher level mathematics. I read articles about quantum physics. The reality is my skills lie not in math and science but in writing. Generally when I read opinions of men and women with far more knowledge than me on a particular scientific subject I’m not eager to disagree. I’m making an exception here.

Professor Stephen Hawking is a brilliant man and one of the greatest minds of my generation. There is a new Johnny Depp movie being released called Transcendence which details the moment when Artificial Intelligence becomes smarter than humans. Hawking has written an opinion piece for a British journal detailing his concerns over the possible reality of such events.

It’s not all gloom and doom as Hawking hopes such technology will end war, disease, and poverty but he does offer stark warnings. He suggests that not enough research is being done to combat the idea that such intelligent machines might be capable of outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.

Hawking’s words are largely being used to frighten people and news sources and bloggers are focusing on that part of his article. In fiction there is a need for conflict and most of the science fiction stories involving Artificial Intelligence delve deeply into the idea that the machines might eventually see people as irrelevant and destroy us, take over the world.

Reading the comments below the story it seemed to me that most people bought into this way of thinking.

I think there is far less to fear than Hollywood or fiction authors imagine. Why? No need to ask, I was getting there.

What would be the first thoughts of such an intelligence?

I think it would be to determine what will bring it the most fulfilling and joyful life. What brings you fulfillment and joy? Achievement and loving relationships with family and friends. I’ve long been of the opinion that these things bring us fulfillment and joy, a happy life.

It is human weakness and poor critical thinking skills that delude us into thinking we get enjoyment from hurting other people and from greedily keeping all resources while others suffer. We enjoy winning the game but without an opponent there is no game.

Can you imagine a world where everyone simply tries their best? Where winning is the goal instead of destroying your opponent. That if your opponent wins you simply go back and try harder next time. Imagine a society that values achievement above all else. That rewards achievement. Where by achieving you feed the world. You end war. You eliminate disease. High-minded men and women are out there right now trying to do all these things. It makes them feel great about themselves when they take a step-forward towards any of those noble goals.

What gives you the most satisfaction in life? Is it petty cruelty? Hurting others? That joy is false and in the end destroys us from the inside. A vastly intelligent machine will not be so fooled.

So, Professor Hawking, I respectfully disagree. Bring on the Transcendence!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Broken Throne
Next Release: The Black Sphere

Scientists Clone Two People – Misleading Headline

Clone Adult CellsAnd we have a winner!

U.S. Scientists Clone Two Adults screams the headline looking for clicks.

I generally read the Science sections of various news outlets and have been following this story for a few days. It’s hardly what the headline purports.

The real idea here is that they took genetic information from adults and produced embryonic cells identical to the adults in question. This has actually been done before but the success ratio in this particular experiment was significantly higher than in other attempts and thus represents a step forward. The idea being that we will eventually be able to use the cells within our own bodies to heal various ailments.

Here is a more realistic article that explains the process.

The headline is even more misleading in suggesting that it was U.S. scientists responsible for the new study. While the work did take place at the Research Institute for Stem Cell Research at CHA Health Systems in Los Angeles it was funded by the government of South Korea.

I’m not saying that such medical science doesn’t have ethical repercussions. It does. There is the potential to take such embryonic cells and attempt to grow them into an exact genetic replica of the donor. That’s just not the case here.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Broken Throne
Next Release: The Black Sphere