Saturday Special: Yours, Not Kid’s, Screen Time is Worrisome

Much has been written about the dangers of screen time for children. It’s well known that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs limited their offspring’s use of technology, well placed as they were to see how addictive it can be.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, meanwhile, advises that parents limit screen use to one hour per day for children ages 2 to 5 years, and advises “consistent limits” for children ages 6 and older.

The basic message is that screen time isn’t bad in and of itself, it’s that too much of it can pull a child away from more meaningful activities, such as play, interacting with others and getting a decent night’s sleep.

But what about the parents?

Emerging research is starting to look at the role that parents’ screen usage has on a child’s development, and the news isn’t good.

The lost art of conversation

Early childhood educator and author Erika Christakis writes in The Atlantic that children’s development is being harmed because their parents are constantly distracted by technology.

The average smartphone user checks their phone 85 times a day. Almost half (46%) of Americans say they cannot live without their smartphones.

One of the key charges levelled at distracted parenting is that it harms a young child’s language development, and language is the single best predictor of school achievement.

Christakis references studies showing the importance of conversation for the developing brain.

“The vocal patterns parents everywhere tend to adopt during exchanges with infants and toddlers are marked by a higher-pitched tone, simplified grammar, and engaged, exaggerated enthusiasm. Though this talk is cloying to adult observers, babies can’t get enough of it. Not only that: One study showed that infants exposed to this interactive, emotionally responsive speech style at 11 months and 14 months knew twice as many words at age 2 as ones who weren’t exposed to it,” she writes.

This crucial interaction is in danger of being wiped out, by an incoming text, email or Instagram like.

Lost opportunities

Even if the adult is at pains to teach the child some new words, an incoming communication can render it wasted effort.

In an experiment involving 38 mothers and their two-year-olds, the mothers were asked to teach their toddlers two new words, one at a time. During one of the learning periods, the mother’s phone would ring and she would stop and take the call. In the other, the mother would not be interrupted. Children learned the word when the teaching was not interrupted, but when the interaction was interrupted, they didn’t learn the word.

Christakis also argues that children are programmed to get their caregivers attention, meaning that the constantly distracted parent is unwittingly likely to increase the bad behaviour and tantrums that youngsters often rely on to get attention.

Increased danger

Perhaps more alarmingly, Christakis also points out that distracted parents put their children in danger.

Another study that Christakis references found that visits to hospital for children under five increased in areas of the city that received 3G.

From 2005 to 2012, injuries to children under five increased by 10% as the network of 3G was expanded. The authors of the study suggest that the reason is that smartphones distract caregivers from supervising children.

The addicted parent

Many users of smartphones exhibit symptoms of addiction, such as constantly feeling the need to check their phone, getting angry if they can’t, or doing it even if it is inappropriate or dangerous for them to do so.

So, not only are interactions between caregiver and child constantly interrupted, the parent can also be grumpier.

“A tuned-out parent may be quicker to anger than an engaged one,” cautions Christakis.

But Christakis isn’t extolling the virtues of helicopter parenting, far from it. Telling a child to entertain themselves while the parent completes chores, or to go out and play are perfectly valid, she argues. Children need to learn independence, but the issue is that parents are present, yet not present.

“We seem to have stumbled into the worst model of parenting imaginable – always present physically, thereby blocking children’s autonomy, yet only fitfully present emotionally.

It doesn’t do adults much good either, she adds, likening always being on to being “stuck in the digital equivalent of the spin cycle.”

“Parents should give themselves permission to back off from the suffocating pressure to be all things to all people. Put your kid in a playpen, already! Ditch that soccer-game appearance if you feel like it. Your kid will be fine. But when you are with your child, put down your damned phone.”

 technology turns us into addicts

The World Health Organisation is to include “gaming disorder”, the inability to stop gaming, into the International Classification of Diseases. By doing so, the WHO is recognising the serious and growing problem of digital addiction. The problem has also been acknowledged by Google, which recently announced that it will begin focusing on “Digital Well-being”.

Although there is a growing recognition of the problem, users are still not aware of exactly how digital technology is designed to facilitate addiction. We’re part of a research team that focuses on digital addiction and here are some of the techniques and mechanisms that digital media use to keep you hooked.

Compulsive checking

Digital technologies, such as social networks, online shopping, and games, use a set of persuasive and motivational techniques to keep users returning. These include “scarcity” (a snap or status is only temporarily available, encouraging you to get online quickly); “social proof” (20,000 users retweeted an article so you should go online and read it); “personalisation” (your news feed is designed to filter and display news based on your interest); and “reciprocity” (invite more friends to get extra points, and once your friends are part of the network it becomes much more difficult for you or them to leave).

Technology is designed to utilise the basic human need to feel a sense of belonging and connection with others. So, a fear of missing out, commonly known as FoMO, is at the heart of many features of social media design.

Groups and forums in social media promote active participation. Notifications and “presence features” keep people notified of each others’ availability and activities in real-time so that some start to become compulsive checkers. This includes “two ticks” on instant messaging tools, such as Whatsapp. Users can see whether their message has been delivered and read. This creates pressure on each person to respond quickly to the other.

The concepts of reward and infotainment, material which is both entertaining and informative, are also crucial for “addictive” designs. In social networks, it is said that “no news is not good news”. So, their design strives always to provide content and prevent disappointment. The seconds of anticipation for the “pull to refresh” mechanism on smartphone apps, such as Twitter, is similar to pulling the lever of a slot machine and waiting for the win.

Most of the features mentioned above have roots in our non-tech world. Social networking sites have not created any new or fundamentally different styles of interaction between humans. Instead they have vastly amplified the speed and ease with which these interactions can occur, taking them to a higher speed, and scale.

Addiction and awareness

People using digital media do exhibit symptoms of behavioural addiction. These include salience, conflict, and mood modification when they check their online profiles regularly. Often people feel the need to engage with digital devices even if it is inappropriate or dangerous for them to do so. If disconnected or unable to interact as desired, they become preoccupied with missing opportunities to engage with their online social networks.

According to the UK’s communications regulator Ofcom, 15m UK internet users (around 34% of all internet users) have tried a “digital detox”. After being offline, 33% of participants reported feeling an increase in productivity, 27% felt a sense of liberation, and 25% enjoyed life more. But the report also highlighted that 16% of participants experienced the fear of missing out, 15% felt lost and 14% “cut-off”. These figures suggest that people want to spend less time online, but they may need help to do so.

At the moment, tools that enable people to be in control of their online experience, presence and online interaction remain very primitive. There seem to be unwritten expectations for users to adhere to social norms of cyberspace once they accept participation.

But unlike other mediums for addiction, such as alcohol, technology can play a role in making its usage more informed and conscious. It is possible to detect whether someone is using a phone or social network in an anxious, uncontrolled manner. Similar to online gambling, users should have available help if they wish. This could be a self-exclusion and lock-out scheme. Users can allow software to alert them when their usage pattern indicates risk.

The borderline between software which is legitimately immersive and software which can be seen as “exploitation-ware” remains an open question. Transparency of digital persuasion design and education about critical digital literacy could be potential solutions.

Living in the age of the zero-sum economy

The anthropologist David Graeber has argued that as much as 30% of all work is performed in “bullsh*t jobs,” which are unnecessary to produce truly valuable goods and services but arise from competition for income and status. But the deeper problem is that more and more economic activity performs a merely distributive function.

Across the global economy, the potential for automation seems huge. Adidas’ “Speedfactory” in Bavaria will employ 160 workers to produce 500,000 pairs of shoes each year, a productivity rate over five times higher than in typical factories today. The British Retail Consortium estimates that retail jobs could fall from three million to 2.1 million within ten years, with only a small fraction replaced by new jobs in online retailing. Many financial-services companies see the potential to cut information-processing jobs to a small fraction of current levels.

And yet, despite all this, measured productivity growth across the developed economies has slowed. One possible explanation, recently considered by Andrew Haldane, chief economist of the Bank of England, is that while some companies rapidly grasp the new opportunities, others do so only slowly, producing a wide productivity dispersion even within the same sector. But dispersion alone cannot explain slowing productivity growth: that would require an increase in the degree of dispersion.

However, to focus on how technology is applied to existing jobs may be to look in the wrong place, for the clue to the productivity paradox may instead be found in the activities to which displaced workers move. David Graeber of the London School of Economics argues that as much as 30% of all work is performed in “bullsh*t jobs,” which are unnecessary to produce truly valuable goods and services but arise from competition for income and status.

Graeber usefully views the world from the perspective of an anthropologist, not an economist. But the phrase “bullsh*t jobs” and his focus on demotivated workers doing pointless work may divert attention from the essential development: individual workers may regard as stimulating and valuable many jobs which cannot in aggregate contribute to total welfare.

Suppose, for example, that you cared passionately about the objectives of a particular charity, had a flair for fundraising, and successfully increased that charity’s share of available donations. You would probably feel both motivated and good, even if all you had done was divert money from another charity about which another equally motivated fundraiser was equally passionate.

The crucial economic question, therefore, is not whether individual jobs are “bullsh*t,” but whether they increasingly perform a zero-sum distributive function, whereby the dedication of ever more skill, effort, and technology cannot increase human welfare, given the skill, effort, and technology applied on the other side of the competitive game.

Numerous jobs fall into that category: cyber criminals and the cyber experts employed by companies to repel their attacks; lawyers (both personal and corporate); much of financial trading and asset management; tax accountants and revenue officials; advertising and marketing to build brand X at the expense of brand Y; rival policy campaigners and think tanks; even teachers seeking to ensure that their students achieve the higher relative grades that underpin future success.

Measuring what share of all economic activity is zero sum is inherently difficult. Many jobs involve both truly creative and merely distributive activities. And zero-sum activities can be found in all sectors; manufacturing companies can employ tax accountants to minimize liabilities and top executives who focus on financial engineering.

But available figures suggest that zero-sum activities have grown significantly. As Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini point out in a recent Harvard Business Review article, some 17.6% of all US jobs, receiving 30% of all compensation, are in “management and administrative” functions likely to involve significant zero-sum activity. Meanwhile employment in financial and “business services” firms has grown from 15% to 18% of all US jobs in the last 20 years, and from 20% to 24% of measured output.

Hamel and Zanini argue that if we could only strip out unnecessary management jobs, productivity could soar. But the growth of zero-sum activities may be more inherent than they believe. As technological progress makes us ever richer in terms of many basic goods and services – whether cars or household appliances, restaurant meals or mobile phone calls – it may be inevitable that more human activity is devoted to zero-sum competition for available income and assets.

As our ability to produce higher-quality goods with fewer people increases, value may come to lie more and more in subjective brands, and rational firms will devote resources to activities like market analysis, financial engineering, and tax planning. Eventually, almost all human work might be devoted to zero-sum activities.

Whether or not robots will ever achieve human-level intelligence, it is illuminating to consider what an economy would look like if we could automate almost all the work required to produce the goods and services human welfare requires. There are two possibilities: one is a dramatic increase in leisure; the other is that ever more work would be devoted to zero-sum competition. Given what we know about human nature, the second development seems likely to play a significant role.

As I argued in a recent lecture, such an economy would probably be a very unequal one, with a small number of IT experts, fashion designers, brand creators, lawyers, and financial traders earning enormous incomes. Paradoxically, the most physical thing of all – locationally desirable land – would dominate asset values, and rules on inheritance would be a key determinant of relative wealth.

In John Maynard Keynes’s words, we would have solved “the economic problem” of how to produce as many goods and services as we want , but would face the more difficult and essentially political questions of how to achieve meaning in a world where work is no longer needed, and how to govern fairly the inherent human tendency toward status competition. Seeking to resolve these challenges through accelerated technological development and faster productivity growth would be like pursuing a mirage.

Weekend Special: The Myth of an “Ageing Society” Exploded

Societal ageing is generally detrimental to a country’s economic health as it reduces workforce and increases burdens on healthcare systems.

For the past two centuries, governments have approached demographic issues with the assumption that calendar years are an objective indicator of age. But with a rapid increase in lifespans over the past few decades, age is not what it used to be, and unless public policy reflects that fact, the dividends of longevity may be squandered.

Economic doomsayers have long warned that the aging populations of industrial and post-industrial countries represent a “demographic time bomb.” Societal aging is bad news for the economy, they say, because it means that fewer people work and contribute to economic growth, and more people collect pensions and demand health care.

The United Nations estimates that between now and 2050, the share of the population aged 60 and older will increase in every country. Though life expectancy tends to be highest in advanced economies, it is growing fastest in emerging markets. The number of people aged 60 and over in developing countries is currently twice that of the developed world. And the UN expects a three-to-one ratio by 2030, and a four-to-one ratio by 2050.

Within many countries, increased life expectancy and declining birth rates are pushing up the average age of the population. In Japan, the median age has risen from 26 in 1952 to 46 today. In China, it has risen from 24 to 37 over the same period, and is expected to reach 48 by 2050.

The argument that aging will weaken these countries’ economies stems from what economists call the old-age dependency ratio (OADR) – the proportion of the population over 64, relative to the working-age population (those aged 15 to 64). If one assumes that old people are unproductive consumers of government benefits, then a rising OADR implies slower economic growth and mounting pressure on public budgets.

But what if this assumption is mistaken? Governments are concerned about your age not because they want to know how many candles to buy for your birthday cake, but because it affects productivity and health-related spending. And if those are the factors that really matter, then the changing conditions of aging are far more relevant than the share of the population that has reached some arbitrary threshold of years on the planet.

Measuring aging gracefully

The concept of “aging” is not as straightforward as it seems. Obviously, aging has a chronological component, expressed in the straightforward question: “How old are you?” But it can also be viewed in terms that are biological (“You look good for your age”), subjective (“You are as old as you feel”), and sociological (“You shouldn’t be doing that at your age”). Policymakers’ sole focus on chronological age is a 200-year-old artifact from the era when governments first started keeping reliable birth records.

If the various dimensions of aging could be embodied in a single immutable concept, focusing on a benchmark such as chronological age would not be a problem. Yet the biological, subjective, and sociological components of aging are not immutable. On the contrary, their relationships with one another have shifted over time.

the average age of the US population has steadily increased since 1950, but the average mortality rate has trended down. In other words, the average US citizen has become chronologically older but biologically younger. She is further along in years from her date of birth, but also further away from her probable expiration date. And the same trends can be found in other advanced economies, including the United Kingdom, Sweden, France, and Germany.

Given the decline in average mortality, one cannot say unambiguously that these societies have aged. Average mortality rates are driven by two factors, only one of which could properly be called “aging.” As countries industrialize, they undergo a “demographic transition” from higher to lower birth rates. This shift implies that older cohorts of the population will increase in size, and that average overall mortality will rise, because mortality rates are higher for older people.

But over the past few decades, this aging effect has been offset by a “longevity effect”. Owing to medical advances and other factors (for example, lower rates of smoking), mortality rates at all ages have fallen. In actuarial terms, this means that people are younger for longer. Whereas the aging effect captures changes in the age distribution, the longevity effect addresses how we are aging. And in a country like the US, where the average age has increased while average mortality rates have fallen, it is clear that the longevity effect has more than offset the aging effect.

Growing up too fast

The balance between aging and longevity has broad economic implications. The aging effect centers on all of the negatives associated with the “demographic time bomb” narrative. But the longevity effect is a decidedly more positive phenomenon. If people are leading longer, more productive lives, they can make a larger lifetime economic contribution than members of past generations ever could.

shows how the aging and longevity effects have affected average mortality in Japan and the US since 1950. Both countries have experienced significant declines in average mortality rates as a result of the longevity effect, but also increases in mortality rates due to the aging effect. But, whereas longevity has dominated aging in the US, the opposite has happened in Japan. Since 1980, Japan has been experiencing both an increase in average age and an increase in average mortality, even though its longevity gains are cumulatively greater than in the US.

This difference has its roots in the period after World War II. Japan’s rapid post-war growth produced an equally rapid demographic transition. But this led to a precipitous decline in its average birth rate, and to a dramatic restructuring of its age distribution. As a result, the aging effect rapidly outpaced the longevity effect. By contrast, the US experienced sustained but slower economic growth, and thus a slower demographic transition.

Still, it is worth noting that the average US mortality rate has begun to tick back up alongside average age. This may reflect the increase in midlife mortality among less educated white Americans that economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton have identified.

At any rate, the demographic difference between the US and Japan has obvious implications for developing economies. Countries that have grown the fastest have also experienced more sudden demographic transitions, and thus may suffer from a strong aging effect that will need to be offset by increased longevity.

The ‘new 65’

The longevity effect is essentially a measure of how biological aging has changed in relation to chronological age. One consequence of this change is that the standard chronological measure of age makes less sense than ever.

The divergence between biological and chronological age points to a familiar problem in economics: the confusion between nominal and real variables. A pint of beer that cost $0.65 in 1952 costs $3.99 today. Has beer become more expensive? In a sense, the answer must be yes: I have to pay more money to buy a pint in 2018 than I would have paid in 1952. But that is not the answer an economist would give. To compare prices accurately across time, one must adjust for inflation. And what one finds is that beer has actually gotten cheaper: the real (inflation-adjusted) price of a pint in 1952 was the equivalent of $5.93 in today’s money.

A similar problem occurs when one relies wholly on calendar years and a chronological conception of age. In the US, a 75-year-old today has the same mortality rate as a 65-year-old in 1952. Similarly, in Japan, 80 is the “new 65.” As an actuarial matter, then, today’s 75-year-olds are not any older than the 65-year-olds of the 1950s.

As with the price of beer, one can use changes in mortality rates to adjust for “age inflation” and determine an average real mortality age. In doing so, one finds essentially no increase in average “real” (mortality-adjusted) age in the UK, Sweden, or France, and barely any increase in the US. Japan, however, has witnessed a sharp rise in its average real age, from 31 to 44 years (in year-2000 terms). That is a big increase (though it is still significantly less than the nominal increase from 26 to 46 years).

Mortality-adjusted indicators of aging provide a radically different perspective on what is happening to OADRs in advanced economies. When using chronological age, the OADRs in the US, the UK, France, and Sweden have all been increasing; but in mortality-adjusted terms, they have all actually declined. The exception, once again, is Japan, where the dominance of the aging effect has resulted in a higher real OADR.

A policy challenge for the ages

From this perspective, one can see the flawed assumptions underlying the conventional “demographic time bomb” narrative, which makes no distinction between aging and longevity effects. If one assumes that there is only an aging effect, a rapidly aging society bodes ill indeed. But if one recognizes the role of longevity, the picture becomes much brighter.

Nominal age fails to capture the information underpinning the decline in mortality rates. What is needed is a more nuanced approach that reflects the multidimensional aspects of aging. And while the mortality rate provides additional information, it, in turn, is not the same as morbidity, healthy life expectancy (years spent in good health), or rising health inequalities. As with chronological age, the relationship between these different concepts is shifting.

In fact, the conditions of modern aging are strikingly diverse. Although the average person now lives a longer, healthier life, that does not hold true for everyone. Behind the average health figures are noticeable differences based on income, education, genetics, lifestyle, and environment. And as more people advance in years, these disparities will become increasingly obvious.

To manage current demographic trends, governments will need to design policies aimed at both aging and longevity. All countries still need programs to support those who are aging in a traditional sense; but there is also a growing need for more flexible policies to help older workers reap the benefits of longer, more productive lives. Increasing the official retirement age – one of the most common policy responses to the “aging society” problem – does not advance these other goals. And for those not benefiting from longer, healthier lives, it amounts to a cruel, retrograde intervention.

To capitalize on the boon offered by longevity, governments need to develop policies to help older, still-productive citizens find full-time employment or more flexible work arrangements. Unlike aging, longevity opens the door for policies that go well beyond end-of-life issues. Significantly longer lives, the twentieth-century historian Peter Laslett observed, invite us to draw up “a fresh map of life” itself.

Just as developments in the twentieth century gave shape to new, discrete life stages in the teenage and retirement years, twenty-first-century lifespans are creating the space for even more life stages to emerge. To maximize the advantages of longevity, we will need to rethink both education and traditional career paths, while ensuring that today’s younger generations live as long and as healthily as possible.

The future ain’t what it used to be

As ongoing anti-aging research and development gains momentum, longevity will become an increasingly central feature of policy debates. Most discussions about the future currently revolve around Moore’s Law and the rise of robots; but a genuine breakthrough in anti-aging research could have equally profound effects on individual lives and the organization of society. “By the end of the century,” notes Harvard Medical School geneticist David Sinclair, “people could live to 150 because there’s going to be a combination of research that will lead to pills we could start taking at the age of 30 to boost the body’s defenses against diseases and age.”

Advances in anti-aging technology could prove particularly useful for countries suffering from the aging effect, so governments would do well to support R&D in this area. Unlike the US and Western European countries, which can probably help their Baby Boomers adjust to longer, more productive lives through smart reforms, developing countries with rapidly aging populations will need to make significant investments in longevity to offset the effects of aging. Japan, Singapore, and South Korea have already made large investments in automation and robotics to make up for lost productivity in their aging workforces, and it is only a matter of time before they become heavily involved in longevity research, too.

Although every country will experience an increase in its average age over the next few decades, the balance of forces driving this trend will differ from country to country. For countries that underwent a rapid demographic transition, the aging effect could dominate longevity and pose serious economic and social challenges. By contrast, countries where the longevity effect is already dominant will have vast economic and social opportunities before them. In either case, a broad range of new policies will be needed.

But first, we must move away from nominal measures of age that treat older people as a problem. It is time to stop worrying about “aging societies” and start focusing on the type of demographic change that really matters. Governments should provide those in a position to reap the benefits of longer, healthier lives with opportunities to do so, while minimizing the number of people who are denied longevity. By investing in a longevity dividend, we can reduce the threat of an aging society.

The Way Human Thoughts Are Shaped by Language

Words work as a glue, allowing us to group together different experiences under one label. This is especially true for concepts that we cannot see or touch. But we still don’t really understand how language works in shaping the meaning of these more abstract concepts, or how it allows us to group experiences together under one “umbrella” term, which denotes something we cannot point to, or see, or touch.

Concrete concepts such as “banana” and abstract ones such as “freedom” differ in many ways. To get a grasp of this difference, Google the words “banana” and “freedom” and compare the images that are returned by the browser. For “banana” you get pictures that are quite similar to one another. For “freedom”, on the other hand, you get very different types of images that apparently have little in common.

The difference between concrete and abstract concepts has been researched by a large body of scientific studies. This research has demonstrated that concrete concepts are far more easily learned and remembered than abstract ones. Clinical studies conducted on patients with damages in specific brain areas reveal that some patients lose the ability to understand and recall abstract concepts but not concrete ones. This is because abstract and concrete concepts are processed in different, although overlapping, brain areas.

Despite these documented differences, and despite the fact that around 70% of the words we use on a daily basis designate abstract concepts, most scientific theories that address the big question of how language works in the brain are based on analyses of words denoting concrete concepts only.

It’s obvious why. Imagine that an alien came from outer space and wanted to learn your language. You could show her a banana while spelling the word “banana”, and after a few times the connection might stick to the alien’s memory. But how would you teach her the meaning of “freedom”?

It turns out that explaining how our daily experiences shape the meaning of concepts is important. For concrete concepts, this works fairly well: colours, shapes, textures, flavours, sounds, smells and everything that we perceive through our bodies contribute to shape the meaning of concrete concepts. But what colour or shape does “freedom” have? What type of experience can represent the meaning of “freedom”? If our bodily experiences don’t contribute directly to shape the meaning of abstract concepts, then what are abstract concepts even made of?

A great academic debate revolves around this topic. There are two main schools of thought: what is termed “grounded cognition” and then what we call “symbolic cognition”. Both views assume that we understand and represent all concepts according to the same underlying principles, be they concrete or abstract. The difference, they argue, may lie in the type of information that these concepts convey.

The grounded cognition camp predicts that when we hear the word “banana”, we automatically activate information about colour, taste, texture and so on in our mind, derived from our previous experiences with bananas. For “freedom”, they argue that we would still activate instances or situations in which we experienced “freedom”, but the focus would now be on the emotions that such experiences triggered, and on the dynamics between the elements that populate such situations, rather than on the perceptual properties of the entities involved.

The symbolic cognition camp, on the other hand, suggests that concepts are represented in our mind through symbols that are not tied to our experiences. According to this view, when we hear “banana”, we do not simulate anything that derives from our previous experiences. Instead, we understand its meaning by aggregating bits of information via abstract symbols (such as the zeroes and the ones inside a computer). According to this view, the mind operates on mental symbols like a bodyless computer, without reenacting every time previous experiences with these concepts. This would be the case for both concrete and abstract concepts.

A third way

There’s a problem with both of these approaches though. Given the vast differences between concrete and abstract concepts, as we saw above, surely it shouldn’t be surprising if they were processed in different ways in our mind.

The recent research suggests that the meanings of “banana” and “freedom” may consist of blends of information that we retrieve from different channels. In particular, while perceptual experiences constitute the main ingredient of the meaning of “banana”, language is the main ingredient to bake up the meaning of “freedom”. And language is a powerful tool that can be used to bend, invent and change experiences.

As humans, we construct meaning using language. Words are not just labels that we attach to concepts and ideas that are manipulated and combined at a deeper cognitive level. Words construct meaning and allow us to form, combine and elaborate complex thoughts that would otherwise be impossible to handle.

While concrete concepts are mainly made of information derived from perceptual experience, abstract concepts are mainly made of language. And as such, abstract concepts represent the highest and most sophisticated achievement in the evolution of language, and probably a major turning point in the evolution of humankind.

The Modern Person

For hundreds of years, mankind has carried the burden of old religions and scriptures. They have been eulogized as the true learning and the only path to reach the realms of a believed God entity by the believers of that religion. At the same time they have been ridiculed and considered false by non-believers or followers of another religion.

Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Jews, all have taken pride in their identity and their religious ways and their respective leaders have ensured that their religious space stands protected at all times from the infiltrators.

On the other side, even the atheists have stood their ground and have taken greater pleasure in ridiculing the believers and in protecting their perceived ego of being intellectually superior.

Somewhere in this chaos, continuing for centuries, the modern man is lost or yet to be born.

But today I see him in a distant alley, trying to hide himself while watching herds of blind men and woman carried in different directions by the leaders of their societies, sects and religions, carrying the burden of tons of garbage loaded on their heads by their masters. I see him afraid of telling those people that the day has begun and that there is the light of science and knowledge and that they are not blind and that they can open their eyes.

Alas, I realize that he is afraid of being alone and fears that his word would be lost in the din and that the blind men who have only seen through the eyes of the master will never accept that they have their own eyes. It is easier to be led than to make your own path. It is easier to follow than to walk alone.

Yet, I wait for the modern man to shed all his fears and speak out.

Let the modern man come out and make a new religion. A religion which is not demarcated by narrow boundaries of specified prophets or scriptures or traditions! A religion which allows an amalgamation of science and spirituality and allows him to understand the reasons of the fragrance of a rose and at the same time enjoy its beauty! A religion, where humans, animals, birds, trees, insects, all are treated as souls who have their own journeys to tread and are no longer treated as lower or higher life forms and yet are governed by the natural laws of the nature including the fight for existence!

Oh I can see the modern man emerging from the shadows and standing tall in the light of truth and knowledge! And lo! He speaks-

“Oh friends and fellow earthlings,

You are free. Free. Free. Free.

Free from all the bondages of the past and all the burdens that you carry. You are not defined by any boundaries and can look at each other as one! You do not need to hate anyone else who does not follow your scriptures! You do not need to take pride in following old traditions that deep down you yourself doubt! You need not look for anyone to redeem yourself but can start believing in your own capabilities!

Stop. Relax. Open your eyes. Unleash yourself and remove your bondage. And please put down that load that you carry for centuries on your head. Now, that’s great!

Feel the lightness!

Now that you are free and have no religious boundaries, you are childlike again. You now have no society dictated norms on your head for interacting with others in a separate way. You can go to a park or ride on a metro and mingle with people again. You can play with them, laugh with them and smile at them without any worries.

You can start loving again!

Science has proven that we all are made of similar material. We all shed same blood, we all have similar needs. Our skin colors may vary and we may be less or more hairy depending on climatic conditions and yet we are one. Even other souls in animals, birds, insect exhibit many similar traits. Look at how a mother animal sorrows when she sees her child dying or killed in her presence! The grief is universal. The love too is universal.

Science has also shrunk boundaries and made this world a global village. Where thousands of miles of distances are now measured in terms of hours and minutes! Where you may travel between Delhi and Lahore in nine hours (considering no stoppages at the Wagah border) and at the same time reach London from Delhi too in the same time!

And just by a change of geography, our relationships change. We can spew as much venom and hate at each other while sitting in Delhi and Lahore but when we live in the same communities in the streets of London, we are one. The brown, desis with similar cultural background! Same beats, music and tastes!

Likewise the world over! Differences of religion, cultures, regions, custom all have melted away with the ease of travel and with development of opportunities and spaces worldwide where the world intermingles. Go to a Google community in California or traverse the downtown of Toronto or enjoy shopping at Tshim Tsa Tsui in Hong Kong and you would immediately accept that in a free world, we all are one!

My friend, open your eyes and see. There is so much to learn and improve together. There is so much love in this world that there is no time to hate. There is so much to create that there is no time to argue about the existence of the Creator or his accepted differences as prescribed in the past.

What is important is this new world. Our today! This moment and our future and how to make it better! The past is dead. I live in present and I plan for the future.

Stop. Hug me. Let me feel your warmth and share my happiness with you. And then we can journey together and make this world a much happier one!” With tears of joy, I hear the words of the modern man and join his journey.

One step at a time, one man at a time, I know our caravan will build.

A Tale of Two Handshakes

To shake or not to shake hands has become a crucial question for Muslims in Europe. One of the controversies began in Stockholm several months ago. A 24-year-old girl named Farah Alhajeh went to the office of a Swedish company called Semantex to interview for a job. She had applied to be an interpreter for the company whose headquarters are located in Uppsala, a town outside of Sweden. When she arrived, a male interviewer was waiting to interview her. Instead of shaking his outstretched hand, Alhajeh touched her hand to her heart and stated that she did not shake hands with men or women.

What happened next shocked her. Instead of being seated for an interview as she expected, she was asked to leave and shown the way to the lift. In an interview given to the media, she described being completely astounded. Nothing like this had ever happened to her before. She was not about to just let it happen, however. Instead of forgetting about the incident, as some would have, Alhajeh filed a complaint with Sweden’s equality ombudsman, saying that she had been discriminated against owing to her religious beliefs. In turn, the company responded that they were protecting gender equality and that Alhajeh’s decision not to shake hands went against the company’s policy of treating men and women equally.

In front of the court, Alhajeh insisted that she did not shake hands with either men or women, hence treating both genders equally and not violating any company policy. Her attorney argued that Article 9 of the European Charter of Human Rights protected her behaviour. Semantex argued that hiring Alhajeh would have meant compromising their principles of gender equality and would have created awkward situations when Alhajeh was called to greet subjects for whom she was interpreting. In a three-two decision, the labour court came out in favour of Alhajeh, saying that they had tried to balance principles of gender equality against the individual’s right to religious freedom. They decided that Alhajeh had the right to offer a greeting of her choice and one that comported with her religious beliefs. They ordered Semantex to pay approximately £3,500 in damages to her.

All Muslims who live as minorities in Western countries may have lost.

But while Muslims in Sweden may be rejoicing over the decision, the prospects for no-handshake Muslims are not looking quite so good in Switzerland. The country’s somewhat odd immigration rules require the town councils or cantons to vote on whether or not citizenship should be awarded to immigrants. So it is in the small city of Lausanne, where a Muslim couple case came up for consideration. In the interview the couple refused to shake hands with the opposite sex. The canton voted to reject their application for citizenship because they felt that their views revealed an inability to integrate into Swiss society. They would never become Swiss citizens because they did not want to shake hands with the opposite gender.

Neither of these cases is new; in previous instances even applicants who refused to shake hands at citizenship ceremonies have been excluded from citizenship. Next to the veil, that ‘tired’ piece of cloth too often used as a metric of desire to integrate, the handshake has of late also become a litmus test. Sidestepping laws against employment discrimination that prevent employers from firing women with headscarves or refusing to hire them, a simple outstretched hand can, in the view of some, provide crucial insight into whether a prospective employee is the good kind or the bad kind. The good kind, needless to say, is the one who will smile and shake your hand.

Victory is hard to define in contexts where even the handshake has been afforded such significance. The case of Farah Alhajeh, the Swedish woman who won, may seem like victory in the individual sense of receiving damages and being vindicated. In the collective sense, where the Swedish Muslim community as a whole is considered, the very existence of the case signifies just how wary employers have become of hiring Muslims. The Swiss case reveals what many Swedish people would also have done — if they only could.

The question for European Muslims then is not whether one should or should not shake hands but rather how and what strategies for survival must be deployed in a Europe that is so very wary if not outright inimical to Muslims. Headscarves may be permitted in some places and handshakes considered unnecessary in others but what they connote is the refusal to accept Muslims on their own terms. After all, countries such as Pakistan do not permit the open and widespread consumption of pork and alcohol by non-Muslims; why should such adjustments be permitted for Muslims in majority non-Muslim countries?

In a world where lines have been drawn and walls erected, where coexistence seems like a foolish dream and each side wants its dominance in one or another territory to be visible and clear, a handshake may no longer be a handshake. In purely legal terms, the refusal to shake hands may be deemed permissible; in cultural terms it labels Muslims as targets whose stubborn desire to remain different, makes then undesirable as neighbours and employees.

Next time, employers like Semantex may note the refusal, continue with the interview and then offer a different reason for not offering the applicant a job. Farah may have won her individual case against the company, but Swedish Muslims or rather all Muslims who live as minorities in Western countries may have lost, their fates closer to the couple denied citizenship in Lausanne. The premise that they can never fit into Western society, never be a good member of society or the workforce, share a commitment to gender equality, has in the view of their Western neighbours, pushed a bit closer to being a truth, the truth. In this world where Muslims are watched and judged, a handshake is no longer just a handshake.

No Power Seems Concerned About China’s Ethnic Cleansing Campaign

‘Those who are deceived by religious extremism … shall be assisted through resettlement and education.’

The United Nations has received credible reports that China is holding as many as a million ethnic minority Uighur Chinese and other ethnic minorities in internment camps for the purpose of “political reeducation.” The UN report, released August 10, said that the Chinese government has created what is essentially a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.” The mass arrests amount to an ethnic cleansing campaign, a systematic attempt to snuff out religious dissent and political discord in China.

The Uighur ethnic group is primarily Muslim. More than 10 million Uighurs livein northwestern China in the autonomous Xinjiang region, an area with valuable oil deposits. However, the region has only been under Chinese control since 1949, and some Uighurs want their freedom back. Ethnic tensions there are high. After several incidents of violence in Xinjiang between Uighurs and Han Chinese (the largest ethnic group in China), the Chinese government cracked down on the Uighurs, blaming the violence on Islamic extremism.

In April, the United States Congressional-Executive Commission on China wrote a letter to the U.S. ambassador to China about the mass arrests of Uighurs. The commission, headed by Sen. Marco Rubio, called the situation in Xinjiang, “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.” Up to 3 million Uighurs and other minorities, mostly Muslims, may currently be imprisoned in “counter-extremism centers” and reeducation camps in Xinjiang. A senior Chinese official, however, insisted last year that Xinjiang’s Muslims are the “happiest in the world.”

China’s Communist government strictly controls religion; religions not approved by the government are persecuted or banned. China officially recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism and Taoism. However, each of these religions is directly supervised and controlled by a state-run organization, such as the Patriotic Association of the Catholic Church in China, for example. Following a religion other than these five is a criminal offense. Only state-approved religious materials are allowed. Religious adherents can be arrested for possessing or distributing material that is not government approved.

On April 3, the Chinese government published an official document about “China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief.” This paper was intended to promote China as a land of religious freedom. However, it declared that all “religions in China must be Chinese” (emphasis added throughout). Leaders of religious groups must “practice core socialist values, carry forward the fine traditions of the Chinese nation, and actively explore religious thought which conforms to the reality in China.” The government guides “religious believers to love their country and compatriots, safeguard national unity, ethnic solidarity, be subordinate to and serve the overall interests of the nation and the Chinese people.”

One way China does this is through reeducation camps. Chinese Muslims who have been released from reeducation camps tell stories of being arrested because they showed signs of “extremism.” These signs can include wearing Islamic-style clothes, having a long beard or a Muslim name, praying at a mosque more than once a week, being caught with religious content like Koranic verses on a mobile phone, or sending nongovernment-sanctioned religious materials to other people.

A former instructor from one reeducation camp in Xinjiang explained how the process works. Once arrested, religious prisoners often sit in jail for days, weeks or months before they are taken to reeducation camps, where they are forced to watch hours of propaganda videos denouncing extremism. They are required to memorize and recite pro-Communist Party slogans, songs and chants. Muslim prisoners must repeatedly apologize for and criticize their religious beliefs, saying, “We have done illegal things, but now we know better.” Sometimes, Muslims are forced to violate their religious beliefs by eating pork or drinking alcohol. Instructors question detainees constantly: “Do you obey Chinese law or sharia? Do you understand why religion is dangerous?” Wrong answers lead to punishment.

China officially denies the existence of these detention camps. Hu Lianhe, Chinese delegate to the United Nations, told the UN on Monday, “The argument that 1 million Uighurs are detained in reeducation centers is completely untrue. … [T]here is no suppression of ethnic minorities or violations of their freedom of religious belief in the name of counterterrorism.” But he also said that “those who are deceived by religious extremism … shall be assisted through resettlement and education.”

Although China denies the camps, a state-run Chinese journal ran a story in June 2017 about how successful reeducation camps are. Of the 588 people surveyed who had been placed in Chinese indoctrination camps, none of them understood why they had been arrested initially. By the end of their internment, 98.8 percent of them said that they had “learned their mistakes.” AP News quoted one Chinese researcher as saying that transformation through education “is a permanent cure.”

Few hard facts are known about these camps. Most of those who are released are afraid to talk about their experiences. They fear retaliation against themselves or their families. However, credible witness testimonies have emerged that allege malnutrition, cruelty, beatings, torture and death in some of the jails and camps. One survivor told AP News, “I still think about it every night until the sun rises. I can’t sleep. The thoughts are with me all the time.”

Islam isn’t the only religion targeted. In 2017, China declared that Christianity was a “national security threat.” Chinese Christians have been told to replace Christian symbols in their homes and businesses with images of Xi Jinping. This month, the Chinese government commanded that all religious buildings fly the Chinese national flag outside their facilities. Many informal “house churches”—private homes and unofficial buildings where religious observers hold services—have been targeted and destroyed.

In April, Bibles disappeared from nearly all websites in China. Searches for Bibles on websites like Amazon now return no results. The government has remained silent about what has caused this phenomenon. Some online sellers privately told cnn that it is now illegal for them to publicly sell the Bible on these sites. A spokesperson for Amnesty International told cnn, “[There is] a broader trend under President Xi Jinping to more tightly control religion, especially Christianity. It’s absurd that the government claims to promote religious freedom at the same time that they’re banning the sale of Bibles.”

One source told the Miami Herald, “Xi is a closet Maoist—he is very anxious about thought control. He definitely does not want people to be faithful members of the church, because then people would profess their allegiance to the church rather than to the party, or more exactly, to Xi himself.”

Mao Zedong ruled China as chairman of the Communist Party for decades, exercising authoritarian rule, establishing a cult of personality, “reeducating” dissenters, and killing somewhere between 30 million and 70 million people.

The Miami Herald wrote: Under President Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, believers are seeing their freedoms shrink dramatically even as the country undergoes a religious revival. Experts and activists say that as he consolidates his power, Xi is waging the most severe systematic suppression of Christianity in the country since religious freedom was written into the Chinese Constitution in 1982. …

“Chinese leaders have always been suspicious of the political challenge or threat that Christianity poses to the Communist regime,” said Xi Lian, a scholar of Christianity in China at Duke University. “Under Xi, this fear of Western infiltration has intensified and gained a prominence that we haven’t seen for a long time.”

The camps aren’t the only factor in Xi’s crackdown on religion. As Trumpet writer Richard Palmer wrote recently, China is a now a “1984-style surveillance state.” The government can use its unprecedented surveillance powers to crack down even more on “religious extremism.” The Washington Post wrote that the Chinese government uses these powers particularly in Xinjiang, creating “all-encompassing monitoring” that “rates people’s loyalty to the Communist Party in order to control every aspect of their lives.”

Since coming to power in 2013, Xi has cemented his control over the Chinese government. In March this year, the Communist Party announced that it was abolishing term limits for the president, meaning that Xi can rule China for as long as he pleases. As long as Xi, who is also the head of the Communist Party of China, sees religion as a threat to China’s Communist values, his campaign of religious persecution is likely to continue. For religious and ethnic minorities like the Uighurs, displaying convincing support for Communist ideals to the police, the common passersby and potential spies is the only way to remain safe. These stories of religious persecution show the character of the rising Chinese state and its powerful strongman.

Soon we will look back upon the problems making headlines today and recognize that they were merely, as Jesus Christ termed it, “the beginning of sorrows.”

The time for complacency is past. Xi’s “thought control” campaign is just one disturbing aspect of these times of the Gentiles. This is what the times of the Gentiles look like: thousands of people in forced reeducation camps, state-controlled religion, violence and persecution under the guise of protecting the state. This is a small foretaste of the kind of conditions that will soon exist around the world. The darkness and evil that are about to flood this globe presage the most wonderful news in human history!

Lament for the Dead-By their deeds shall they be known

The continued unrestricted homage to the memory of recently deceased McCain by CNN and other media reveals that we are often apt to cherry pick the qualities of person, especially after his/her death. Before a person dies, the supporters are divided- some only see good points, while opponents see only negatives. The view is sharply divided- black or white and no shades of grey. Let the person die and only praise is heaped. Is it hypocrisy or just showing of a philosophy of forgiving. We don’t speak ill of the dead. But often, to ignore their acts of omission and commission is to do disservice to those who suffered because of their actions

The Latin phrase, de mortuis nihil nisi bonum, (of the dead, say nothing but good), dates back to the 4th century. A Greek aphorism with a similar meaning can even be traced to as far back as 600 BC. Over hundreds of years, this has been an accepted tenet of human decorum and decency. To speak only well of the departed — a tradition fully endorsed in our own land, where even sworn enemies shower praise at memorials. Perhaps it is in the hope that they themselves will be accorded the same courtesy on passing, however questionable their conduct may have been in life. It is one of many small foibles that we delude ourselves with, as was on show in abundance last fortnight following the demise of many high-profile citizens of the world. The two which exemplified it were those with an Indian connection — Atal Bihari Vajpayee and V S Naipaul.

Everyone, regardless of political or philosophical dispensation, rushed to heap praise on the former prime minister. And there was much to praise. His contribution on the economic front, from road building to privatisation to telecom policy, cannot be overlooked.

Yet, he was also the prime minister in 2002, when India faced arguably its worst social moment in recent history. And what did he do? He offered poetic guidance to the chief minister of Gujarat, asking him to do raj dharma. Had he acted more decisively on that day, maybe India wouldn’t be the riven nation it is today. Later, perhaps stricken by the 2004 election verdict, he admitted that “maybe he had made a mistake”.

The regret was presumably at him having not had the courage to dismiss the Gujarat Chief Minister but it may also have been at his monumental blunder of calling for early elections, following a famously backfiring “India shining” campaign. Anyway, it was too little, too late. After his demise, many have claimed that he was a moderate, not a hardliner like L K Advani. Yet, his words on the eve of the Babri Masjid demolition, alluding to a desired “levelling of the ground” where the mosque stood, are recorded on camera for all to see. Again, that recourse to oratory and poetry, when the action, or inaction, sprang from questionable ideals. Obituaries may cling to a man’s words, history often dwells on his actions. One is forgotten, the other endures.

Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, received great accolades too, on his passing last week. His moral uprightness untarnished by his son’s alleged involvement in the “oil for food” scandal in Iraq, his exemplary stewardship of the UN unsullied by the heinous genocide in Rwanda or massacre in Bosnia, which he presided over with bumbling incompetence. History may be less charitable. In Washington, even death is political — a fact McCain well understood as a sought-after eulogizer himself, and by planning his funeral rites to exclude the President, he will be making an unmistakable posthumous statement directed at the White House.

Tributes for McCain and the lauding of his courage, honor, decency, character, and readiness to reexamine his own mistakes will unfold at a time when Trump is facing an unflattering public debate about his own personality and behavior. The guilty plea by the President’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and conviction of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort last week deepened the political and legal storm raging around the White House — but still did not push most Republican leaders to criticize Trump.

In that context, the ceremonies marking McCain’s passing seem sure to become more than a lament for a departed political giant. They are likely to become a debate about political morality and the comportment and principles expected of public figures in an already polarized political age that has been further roiled by Trump’s disruptive influence.

After two losing presidential campaigns, McCain never made it to the Oval Office — yet he is getting an emotional sendoff and assessment that might befit one of the men who did become President.

At least Sir Vidia got his share of brickbats, perhaps because his obituaries came from more learned people; men of letters, not politicians. He was one of the century’s greatest writers, but an Islamophobe and misogynist who tyrannised the women whose lives he touched and lashed out at Muslims. Some ill was spoken, deservedly, about this dead. Though it was still mostly high praise, even from his virulent lifelong critic Salman Rushdie, who said he had lost a brother in Naipaul. Touching.

One particular pathetic aspect of this is how journalists remember dead celebrities. More often than not, these are first person accounts of how well someone knew a particular politician or famous person — the time he came over for dinner or consulted one on a matter of national importance. No objectivity at all, just that naked desire to somehow bolster one’s own relevance through gratuitous suggestions of proximity to the inner coterie, in denial of the truth that they would always be aspiring outsiders in the eyes of the real protagonists.

In India, this trait of praising the dead is a bit ironic, seeing how little we care about the living or even the death of ordinary citizens. A hundred children die because of gross negligence in a Gorakhpur hospital and life carries on as is, after a few outraged cries in the media. Most Indians have developed this thick skin that enables them to confront and ignore the greatest of human tragedies with a mere clicking of the tongue. Perhaps it is the only way we can survive, in this nation of unending tragedies and atrocities.

Equally, public discourse in this country is marked by an utter lack of dignity, forget decorum, with powerful people calling each other by the vilest names possible. But when someone famous dies, they are all out in their verbal finery, outdoing each other in commending the dead. None of this should come as a surprise, though, knowing how intrinsic hypocrisy and duplicity are to our social fabric. Sigmund Freud had a remarkably perceptive take on this: “This consideration for the dead, which he really no longer needs, is more important to us than the truth; more important than consideration for the living.” So true.

We must end this obfuscation because often, in adorning a dead man’s legacy with unqualified praise we end up doing a great disservice to innocent people who may have suffered because of his sins, of commission or omission. An orphaned Rwandan child, a family destroyed in the Gujarat riots. They need closure, if only of the certainty that history will not forget, or absolve. Mark Antony’s words in Julius Caesar, should reassure them: The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.

Is This Repeat of Munich Agreement & Foreshadows World War III?

Are we about to witness a deal that marks not the end of an era or the beginning the end? I must be sounding like Cassandra, but the history shows that capitulation never leads to real, lasting peace. Should the world surrender the South China Sea to China? History teaches that appeasing expansionist powers does not bring lasting peace. Prophecy shows that this time will be no different.

“We cannot win that back,” said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in late 2016. He was referring to the Scarborough Shoal, a sizable coral atoll with a reef-rimmed lagoon. The fish-rich shoal lies a short 120 nautical miles from the Philippines coast, placing it well within the country’s internationally recognized territory. In 2012, China illegally seized the atoll from the Philippines, but not for the fishing. The Chinese wanted Scarborough as part of its “strategic triangle” plan to assert control over the South China Sea.

The triangle’s two other points are the Spratly Archipelago and the Paracel Islands. The year after China occupied Scarborough, it started building artificial islands in the Spratly chain. In 2016, it deployed missile batteries to one of the Paracels.

The eyes of Asia looked to the United States. How would America respond? Its military has kept the vital trade routes through the South China Sea open since the end of World War ii. China’s aggressive takeovers were in areas claimed by U.S. partners such as the Philippines and Vietnam. Its objective was to control crucial shipping lanes, and a 2016 international tribunal had invalidated China’s claims.

But the Obama administration did little more than wag its finger. Conflict with China was unthinkable. So the U.S. let it continue taking over the South China Sea.

America’s partners and allies took note of its inaction and grew fearful. “Even if we get angry, we’ll just be putting on airs. We can’t beat [China],” Duterte said. The best the Philippines could hope for now, he said, was to cooperate with China as it extracted resources near Scarborough and other areas that rightfully belong to the Philippines.

Meanwhile, China was emboldened by U.S. inaction. It accelerated its illegal island building and quietly continued to militarize more territory. Today it is clear that China’s assault on the freedom of the sea was effective.

In the Paracels, China now has a significant military base with missiles, radar, an airstrip, and aircraft including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers. In the Spratlys, China has now created more than 3,000 acres of land on seven reefs that were previously wholly or partly submerged. On these new islands, China has deployed anti-ship cruise missiles, surface-to-air missiles and airstrips accommodating fighters, bombers and cargo planes. And twice in the last year, in a clear demonstration of China’s power over the sea, it successfully coerced Vietnam into halting major oil-drilling projects in waters that international law says are Vietnamese.

Scarborough Shoal is the last part of the puzzle. So far, China has not converted the atoll into a militarized island. But China maintains tight control over it and could rapidly transform it into a base if it decides to. This would complete the “strategic triangle” and give China monitoring, policing and strike capacity across the 1.4 million-square-mile South China Sea, almost all of which China claims as its own. Such capacity could allow China to establish an air defense identification zone over the sea, requiring foreign aircraft to obtain Chinese permission to fly through the region.

The World’s ‘Most Valuable Artery’

The South China Sea contains immense natural resources, including an estimated 11 billion barrels of oil, 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 10 percent of global fisheries. Because of its abundance of hydrocarbons, some experts call it “the second Persian Gulf.”

Even more important is the fact that trillions of dollars in goods sail through the South China Sea each year on the way to and from some of the most populous regions on the globe. Almost 60 percent of Japan’s and Taiwan’s energy deliveries, 60 percent of South Korea’s energy, and 80 percent of China’s crude oil imports transit this waterway.

Altogether, around 21 percent of all global trade passes through the sea.

“The South China Sea functions as the throat of the Western Pacific and Indian oceans,” writes Stratfor’s Robert D. Kaplan in his book Asia’s Cauldron. It is “the mass of connective economic tissue where global sea routes coalesce” and the “region that will dominate the future of geopolitical conflict.”

The Sydney Morning Herald recently called the South China Sea “the world’s most valuable commercial artery.”

‘Just Let China Have It’

To understand how alarming it will be for authoritarian China to close its grip over “the world’s most valuable artery,” one needs look no further than to Xinjiang. There the Chinese government uses Orwellian surveillance, an unaccountable state security apparatus, a near total media blackout and “thought control camps” reminiscent of the Moaist era to assert tight control over people who would prefer to be a separate nation.

But Duterte is not the only voice saying the wisest course of action is to let China have its way. Many in the West, who are far removed from the South China Sea, are essentially saying, in the words of Ely Ratner of the Center for a New American Security’s Asia-Pacific Security Program, “[A]ccommodation is preferable to risking war over ‘a bunch of rocks.’”

James Laurenceson, deputy director of the Australia–China Relations Institute of the University of Technology, seems to agree with this logic: “[I]f China were able to block the South China Sea, the impact on economic growth in other countries is likely to be small,” he wrote on June 4, 2017.

Since trade can be rerouted, Laurenceson said, countries in the region generally do not stand up to China’s actions in the South China Sea. Japan, for example, could bypass the South China Sea entirely and instead receive energy shipments through the Lombok Strait, between the Indonesian islands of Bali and Lombok—although doing so does come at a cost: “[E]xclusively taking the Lombok route would have increased Japan’s oil import costs by $us300 million annually,” he wrote. “This equates to just 0.2 per cent of Japan’s oil import bill that year.”

This myopic rationalizing sounds extreme. But it may not be far removed from the reasoning that prevented the Obama administration from acting against China’s grab of Scarborough or its militarization of the Spratly Archipelago and the Paracels. However, by failing to confront these illegal behaviors early and decisively, America showed that it was willing to potentially sacrifice “a bunch of rocks” in order to avoid conflict with China. It showed that the South China Sea was a price the war-weary U.S. was willing to pay to keep the peace.

History rebukes such reasoning. Yielding territory to expansionist powers does not bring peace.

Failure of Appeasement

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last,” Winston S. Churchill famously said. Before Churchill became prime minister of Great Britain, he had witnessed political leaders attempt to secure peace by appeasing an expansionist nation.

On Sept. 30, 1938, leaders of Britain and France signed an agreement allowing Nazi Germany to annex the Sudetenland. This region of Czechoslovakia was of vital strategic importance to the nation, since the bulk of its border defenses and industrial centers were situated there. Czechoslovakia was an ally of France and Britain, but Hitler had threatened to take the Sudetenland by force. British and French leaders sought to avoid a repeat of World War i at all costs. They thought that by giving the Sudetenland to Germany willingly, the provocative Nazi regime would be placated and conflict could be avoided.

After returning home from the historic signing ceremony, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain proclaimed: “I believe it is peace for our time,” and told the crowd at the airfield and those listening to the broadcast, “Go home and sleep quietly in your beds.” The U.S. administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt supported the agreement, and Gallup polls in the U.S., Britain and France found that the majority of people in all three nations supported it, too.

But the deal was a sham. In the spring of 1939, the Nazis took the rest of Czechoslovakia. In September they invaded Poland, and Britain and France had no choice but to declare war. World War ii had begun. By the time it was over, more than 60 million lives had been lost in the deadliest conflict in human history.

The U.S. was even more pacifist than Britain. How could so many of our leaders in the United States and Britain—almost all of them—have been so weak in dealing with Hitler? It is as the leaders lacked the courage to face the brutal truth” about Adolf Hitler’s dark ambitions. Most leaders in the U.S. and UK lived in a weak world of illusion.

Subsequent generations of Americans and Britons have not learned from history. We simply lack the will to deal with tyrants and finish the job. We have a pathetic lack of will in a very dangerous world. We can’t afford the pacifist attitude we had before World War ii and survive nationally. Yet our pacifist attitude today is far worse than it was then.

A Modern Sudetenland?

The Sudetenland situation before World War ii differs from the South China Sea controversy today. But in both cases, the United States and other world powers are allowing an expansionist power to grab strategically valuable territory in hopes of keeping the peace.

Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino iii, compared the Sudetenland to the South China Sea during his presidency in 2014. Speaking to the New York Times about China’s activities in the South China Sea, he said: “At what point do you say, ‘Enough is enough’? Well, the world has to say it. Remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War ii.”

Dan Eberhart of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council also says it is a fair comparison. “The Obama [administration] failed to forcefully confront China as it expanded its territorial claims in the South China Sea, dutifully playing the role of Neville Chamberlain as China intimidated our allies,” he wrote. “[I]n the absence of American power, China’s appetite for expanding its influence and territorial claims in the South China Sea went largely unchecked.”

He says the result has been “an emboldened China that has militarized its position in the region through land reclamation activities and been openly aggressive in its encounters with American vessels.” He adds that if China’s territorial expansion is left unchecked, it will “expose the whole of Southeast Asia to China’s nationalist goals.”

Peter Beinart, a professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York, also sees the South China Sea as a modern Sudetenland. “[C]hina today—like Germany in the 1930s—is a country converting its tremendous economic vitality into military might,” he wrote. “It’s a country with a strong sense of historical grievance that wants to assert what it considers its natural role as the dominant power in its region. And it’s a country whose leaders are increasingly confident that the distant, status-quo powers that once held it in check can no longer do so.”

It is true that U.S. President Donald Trump has begun to take a somewhat firmer stance against China’s expansionism. He has increased the tempo of U.S. military patrols in the South China Sea, including a recent operation that sailed a guided-missile cruiser and a destroyer past the Paracels. But like Obama, President Trump has declined to confirm that America’s mutual defense treaty with the Philippines includes its territories in the South China Sea.

‘Steering the World Toward War’

China is challenging seven decades of American naval dominance in the Pacific Rim. This belligerent behavior should alarm the world.  Since Japan’s defeat in World War II, America has protected this vital trade route and brought peace to this part of the world. But since the U.S. is now retreating from the region, other great powers are coming in to fill the vacuum. China is intimidating the nations of Southeast Asia into submission to its will. It is forcing these countries to do what it wants. Everything is headed in the direction of war.

America’s failure to confront China as it tightens its grip on the South China Sea is leading to the fulfillment of this prophecy. This points to some dark days in the near term.

China’s BRI or Silk Road project viewed in Asia as the road to ruin

Five years ago, amid great fanfare, the Chinese president launched the new Silk Road project, since then termed the Belt and Road Initiative. The massive infrastructure project, involving 78 countries and $1.2 trillion in investment, was said to have been inspired by the ancient Silk Road Spirit of “peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit.” It was thus a bit of a shock to hear Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad ­– standing in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People – call BRI a “a new version of colonialism”. He even compared the Chinese-Malaysian deal with “unequal treaties” that Britain had imposed on China after the Opium War. The ripple of Mahathir exemplifying the growing concern about non-transparent deals of BRI is likely to be felt far and wide.

Mahathir announced the cancellation of the $23 billion rail and pipeline project as he feared it would place his country under a crippling debt burden. In fact, risk among some of the BRI loan recipient countries has grown enough for the managing director of IMF to issue a warning. The latest example of the danger is Sri Lanka which, unable to pay off its debt, handed over an entire port to China for 99 years.

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the flagship of China’s Silk Road project costing some $60 billion, has now brought Pakistan perilously close to a balance of payments crisis. Left with foreign exchange worth two months of imports Pakistan is close to seeking an IMF bailout, which would not only require painful structural reform but hurt the Chinese project by forcing the revelation of terms of agreement. Meanwhile US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has warned that the US would oppose an IMF bailout. Pakistan also would not have missed a Pentagon report last week that stated, “countries participating in BRI could develop economic dependence on Chinese capital, which China could leverage to achieve its interests.”

Malaysia has now unveiled the closed bidding benefiting Chinese companies, not to mention import of Chinese labour. They also found shoddy planning that condemned the railroad to be a losing concern. More shocking, the BRI invested money was siphoned off to a corruption-ridden Malaysian state fund. There is growing concern in other countries. Indonesia’s $5.5 billion Jakarta-Bandung rail project has stalled over concerns about its high cost. Myanmar and Nepal too have slowed down Chinese-backed infrastructure projects. According to US-based consultancy RWR Advisory Group, some 14% of the Chinese-invested BRI projects have run into trouble because of various concerns.

In Pakistan, where China has invested $62 billion to build road, energy and power networks, its projects have raised concerns. While much of the details of bidding in CPEC projects remain opaque they have brought in a flood of Chinese workers. In addition to workers brought in by companies many enterprising Chinese have come on their own thanks to a bundle of 30,000 visas that were granted. Over the years their presence has begun to cause social problems and provoke security threats. Although Pakistan has deployed 15,000 military personnel as part of the Special Security Division to protect BRI projects, it is impossible to guard every Chinese national working in the country. Since 2014 some 44 Chinese citizens are reported to have been killed – some by Islamist militants and others by Baluchis.

The fact that massive Chinese investment in Gwadar deep water port in Balochistan and highways linking it to China brought benefits mainly to China and in a small measure, to the federal government has provoked Baluchi nationalist anger. One report says over 90% of the revenue from Gwadar port would go to the Chinese operators and most of the power generated in the province would go to China. It is not hard to see why Baluchis are angry and Mahathir sees China’s new Silk Road project as a road to ruin

One Action Needed to Face Global Poverty

Nearly 800 million people globally live in extreme poverty, estimates the World Bank. Africa is home to more extremely poor people than all other regions combined. Most of the poor have low educational attainment and work in agriculture.

What can we do about it?

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals provide a snapshot of current thinking on poverty reduction. One of the goals focuses on improving schools, for example. Others call for better jobs and lower corruption. I want to argue for a solution that touches on all of these problems. Reducing poverty depends on helping poor people manage their money. Bank accounts are one of the best ways to do that.

It’s not that poor people are too uneducated to control their finances. Quite the opposite. They manage highly complicated budgets on very tight margins. My argument is that bank accounts help poor people more effectively confront the problems that keep them stuck in poverty.

Poor people have money – but their incomes are unpredictable and insecure

Sometimes people give me a puzzled look when I say this. You might be thinking: “poor people don’t have money – isn’t that what makes them poor?” So why do they need tools to manage money?

But poor people do have money – at least a little. It’s just that their finances tend to be unstable, unpredictable and hard to manage. Farmers, for example, don’t have the luxury of a regular 9-to-5 paycheck. They might only get paid twice a year. And their earnings depend on many factors beyond their control, such as the weather or the whims of the market.

They need to make their infrequent payments stretch a long time between harvests, while covering the costs of daily food, monthly school fees, and fertilizer and seeds for the next planting season. Often the juggle becomes too much to manage and they run out of money. When that happens, they might have to skip meals, for example, which makes them less healthy and even more poor.

A lot of farmers are unbanked, so they rely on cash. But cash is tricky. It’s easy to lose and easy to spend. Instead of using a bank account to hold savings, an unbanked farmer might stuff cash under a mattress. What if their husband steals it? What if their house burns down? Or maybe they save by purchasing livestock. What if there’s a surplus of animals when they need to sell, and they can only get half of what their animals are worth?

Bank accounts help people escape poverty and survive unexpected expenses

In this situation it’s hard enough to stay solvent. Forget about saving for long-term goals, such as buying better farming equipment, or investing in education. But accounts, whether accessed through a bank or mobile money provider, make all that much easier. They help people take control of their money and financial lives.

One study found that farmers increased harvest investments, earnings and household consumption when they had their payments deposited into savings accounts. In Nepal, savings accounts helped women ramp up spending on education and nutritious foods.

Account-based digital payments represent a key innovation in the fight against poverty. Distributing social benefits through digital channels instead of cash has been shown to cut corruption, increase efficiency and help recipients build savings. The spread of mobile money in Kenya slashed poverty, drove up savings and helped women leave agriculture for jobs in business and retail.

Mobile money accounts don’t just make life easier. They can help prevent people from falling into poverty by softening the impact of sudden expenses. For example, medical bills push millions of people into poverty annually. When a villager gets sick, she can use mobile remittances to gather money from faraway relatives. Research suggests that people with mobile money accounts get more money when an emergency hits, from a wider social and geographic network of friends, thereby helping them make ends meet during a crisis.

A bright spot for global development

The World Bank’s Global Findex data offer a bright spot on the global development landscape. Roughly 1.2 billion people have opened an account since 2010, creating new opportunities to improve their financial well-being.

Digital technology has driven much of the progress in financial inclusion. Millions of people, especially in Africa, are getting accounts through simple mobile phones. Since 2014, ownership of mobile money accounts has nearly doubled in Sub-Saharan Africa. The technology is catching on in other countries too, such as Bangladesh, Iran, Mongolia, and Paraguay.

There’s a big caveat to this global progress. Women in developing countries are still nine percentage points less likely than men to have an account. That number has not improved, and it’s even worse in some places. For example, in Pakistan, men are five times as likely as women to have an account.

So how can we help close the gender gap? Africa points to one solution: mobile phones. Gender differences in account ownership are often much smaller in African countries where mobile money is widespread. It’s still too early to tell if there’s a genuine connection between mobile money and gender equality, but the early signs are promising.

Our numbers show that 1.1 billion unbanked adults have a mobile phone, including 605 million unbanked women. Many make routine cash transactions that could be moved into accounts. Globally, 235 million unbanked farmers are still paid in cash. If those payments were digitized, the number of unbanked adults could fall by up to a quarter or more in Mozambique and Nigeria, by roughly a third in Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone, and by about half in Ethiopia.

People get skeptical when I say poor people need bank accounts. Rightly so. Financial institutions have a troubling history of swindling customers. Of course, not all financial services are equally good. They must be affordable, transparent, and underpinned by vigorous consumer safeguards.

Others say that unbanked people don’t want bank accounts. Our numbers don’t support that. The Global Findex shows that only 3% of unbanked adults globally say lack of need is their only reason for not having an account. This suggests that most unbanked people would be open to using financial services if they were accessible, affordable, fair and useful.

Fixing global poverty is hard. But one solution might be as simple as using a mobile phone to access financial services.

Relevance of Nationalism & Immigration for Economics

 There can be no question that immigration provides a net economic benefit to advanced economies, particularly those experiencing a retirement boom. But as long as anti-immigrant sentiment dictates the political narrative, growth will suffer, and resurgent populist forces will grow stronger.

One of the central challenges facing the world’s advanced economies is slowing growth. Over the last decade, growth rates in the advanced economies have averaged 1.2%, down from an average of 3.1% during the previous 25 years.

History shows that slower economic growth can make societies less generous, less tolerant, and less inclusive. So, it stands to reason that the past decade of sluggish growth has contributed to the surge of a damaging form of populist nationalism that is taking hold in a growing number of countries.

As in the darker decades of the twentieth century, today’s nationalism takes the form of heightened opposition to immigration and – to a lesser degree – free trade. Making matters worse, today’s toxic nationalism will exacerbate the economic slowdown that fueled its emergence.

Turning this vicious circle into a virtuous one – in which increased openness drives faster growth – will depend, at least in part, on making immigration more compatible with inclusionary forms of nationalism.

The economic evidence on this issue is clear: immigration makes a strong contribution to economic growth. Moreover, immigration is more necessary than ever, because population aging and lower birthrates across advanced economies are producing a retirement boom without a commensurate cohort of native prime-age workers to support it.

For example, Japan’s working-age population has been shrinking since 1995. In the European Union, immigrants accounted for 70% of labor-force growth from 2000 to 2010. And in the United States, immigration is the primary reason the workforce will continue to grow; if the US relied only on native-born workers, its labor force would shrink.

Faster growth is beneficial even if it must support a larger population, because working immigrants pay taxes that help support pensioners and retirees. In general, it is much better to be a fast-growing country with a vibrant, expanding population than a country with a dwindling population, like Japan.

Moreover, in addition to expanding the workforce, immigrants actually boost per capita GDP by increasing productivity – that is, the amount that each worker produces. The reason is that immigrants are much more likely to be entrepreneurial and to start new businesses.

In Germany, for example, foreign-passport holders started 44% of new businesses in 2015. In France, the OECD has estimated that immigrants engage in 29% more entrepreneurial activity than native-born workers do, which is similar to the average for the OECD as a whole. And in the US, immigrants take out patents at 2-3 times the rate of native-born citizens, and their innovations benefit non-immigrants as well.

There can be little doubt that immigrants expand the overall pie; but what about their effect on how that pie is shared? Here the evidence is less clear. There are certainly winners and losers. Yet, on balance, the available evidence suggests that immigrants do not reduce wages for native-born workers. In fact, it is more likely that immigrants increase wages overall.

One recent study of France, for example, found that each 1% increase in immigrants’ share of employment within a given département raises its native-born workers’ wages by 0.5%. It would seem that in addition to contributing to the size and productivity of the workforce, immigrants also often complement the skills of native-born workers, helping them earn more.

My professional focus is on economics, so I have emphasized the role of growth. But that clearly is not the only factor behind the rise of populist nationalism. The fact that developed countries are changing culturally also matters, perhaps even more so. In the US, for example, the foreign-born share of the population has risen from 5% in 1960 to around 14% today. As Harvard University’s Yascha Mounk notes in his insightful new book, The People vs. Democracy, that is the highest share since the last major anti-immigrant backlash in the US: the early twentieth-century “yellow peril.”

The trends are similar, and sometimes even more dramatic, in other developed countries. The foreign-born share of the population in Sweden, for example, has gone from 4% in 1960 to 19% today, representing a much larger shift than that in the US.

All countries face a choice when it comes to immigration. They can pay an economic price to follow a more exclusionary course, or they can reap the economic benefits from greater openness. But while public policies can help ensure that the benefits of openness are realized, we should not lose sight of their political and economic limitations.

Looking beyond policy solutions, we also need to establish a cultural expectation that immigrants will not just bring diverse perspectives, but also join their new country as citizens. That means speaking the language, honoring national traditions, and – as I saw first-hand while discussing these issues at Les Rencontres Économiques in Aix-en-Provence, France – cheering for the national soccer team.

In the US, in particular, that is the vision of immigration and inclusive nationalism that we should be working toward – including the better soccer team.

 

Medicine Shall Look Thus in 2050

 Let me start by making a specific prediction about medicine. Digital Medicines — drugs that communicate with your mobile phone when ingested — are here now and will quickly become a required part of therapy. They are already in commercial use and thousands of patients have used them. Within ten years every drug in the supply chain will be a digital object, every patient will know what they take and how it affects their body. Your grandchildren will be incredulous that you put things into your body and did not know if they were real or fake, in date or out of date, the right drug or the wrong drug, the right dose or the wrong dose. One hundred and twenty years of innovation based on chemistry, (Bayer 1899, Aspirin) and 36 years of biology (Genentech 1982, Humulin) will be turbocharged by a new era of physics, innovation based on silicon and software (Proteus, 2017 Abilify MyCite). Silicon and software is what is turbocharging innovation in every other industry. It will do the same for pharmaceuticals, and that is already underway.

What can happen over the next 30 years is hard to imagine, but with certainty it will be astonishing. More scientists are working today than in the rest of history combined. If you want to know what is going to happen in the next thirty years, it’s a good idea to look back at the last 100 years.

The mobile internet is a transformative technological step change. It is remaking all aspects of our lives and that will increasingly include medicine. So the number one mega trend that will transform medicine is digital technology. The 20th century paradigm of Building, People, Product (go to a bookstore, to see a clerk, to buy a book) is becoming Mobile, Software, Service (go to an iPad, to use software, to download content).

The second global mega trend is demographic: aging, urbanization and affluence. These three together are leading to global pandemics of dementia, depression and diabetes.,

The third global mega trend is globalization of free markets and capitalism. In 1990 about one billion people lived in markets that were more-or-less economically free. Today maybe five billion people live in markets that are more-or-less economically free. That means much more innovation and a faster pace of change. Today in healthcare we have a seven trillion dollar global industry, half of that revenue and nearly all the profits in the US. By 2040 it will be a twenty trillion dollar industry and most of the revenue and profit will not be in the US.

Let’s dig into healthcare some more. The first thing to note is that we don’t have a healthcare system. We have a sick care system. It was designed in the last century to deal with the major problems of the time: acute disease and trauma. It does the job for which it was designed quite well, and it uses the best technology of the 20thcentury. Buildings where you plug into electricity (the new utility of the time); people with knowledge in their heads (education an important 20th century development); and products designed and tested to be safe in everybody and work in somebody (mass standardization was another great achievement of the industrial era).

The healthcare challenges we face today are mainly chronic non-communicable diseases. We spend over 80% of our resources on managing these conditions. They are mainly treated in community settings with oral pharmaceuticals and are not well suited to being managed in our sick care system. To succeed with this challenge we are going to build a healthcare system, using the best technologies we have today, not to replace sick care, but to enhance it and make it better.

The potential of a building where you plug in to electricity is magnified by the awesome power of a mobile device where you log on. The capacity and expertise of people with knowledge in their heads is massively extended by software and servers with intelligence in the cloud. Products designed and tested to be safe in everybody and work in somebody will become services, tailored to you, your genes and your lifestyle. They will be delivered where you live, work, play and pray; in ways that you see, measure and understand; at a price you can afford to pay. That is the enormous potential of a digitally enabled healthcare system.

Patient centered, digitally enabled healthcare solutions can be built following a strategic roadmap laid out by the technology industry. That industry is already well on the way to delivering powerful computing for everyone, everywhere. The mobile internet is spreading much faster than electricity ever did.

There are three keys to making this happen that we can adopt in medicine.

First, consumerize: a computer has become a cell phone, not a work station. More computing power is now owned by consumers than by governments and corporations combined.

Second, systematize: tech companies operate in ecosystems that enable a seamless experience with all the complexity dealt with by producers, not by consumers.

Third, globalize: sell to everyone, not just rich people in rich countries.

Most people who own a mobile device make less than $10 a day. That’s not an accident, not an act of Congress and it’s not gravity. It’s a business strategy. There are at least five tech companies that will be trillion dollar companies soon – 3 or 4 times the size of any healthcare company.

In healthcare we have a long way to go if we want to follow the roadmap laid out by the technology industry. Consumerize? No, we sell to governments and professionals. Systematize? No, we sell expensive components and make the user figure out how to make them work as part of a solution. Globalize? No, the innovation focus of the entire pharmaceutical industry is very expensive therapies for the rich.

What we do in healthcare today is also not an accident, not an act of Congress and it’s not gravity. It’s also a business strategy. It is not sustainable. In healthcare, too, we are going to consumerize, systematize and globalize and we will do it with a four-dimensional care paradigm: drugs, devices, digital and data. These will drive both diagnosis and therapy.

By 2030 patients will be diagnosed at home for free using the consumer’s own mobile device and crowd-sourced medical expertise.

There will be many high-fidelity tests that can be built into the mobile device and they will be extremely inexpensive. This will happen first in China, and will be ubiquitous there by 2025.

The most important innovation in therapy will be Digital Medicines.
Genes account for maybe 15% of health outcomes, luck for maybe another 15%. Where and how you live is about 70% of what determines health.
So your zip code beats your gene code when it comes to medicine.

Digital companies have been able to use phenotyping to create exquisitely tailored products and services. Amazon phenotypes how you shop and delivers precision commerce. The same will happen with medicines. Your care team will know how you take them, how your body responds and will deliver precision Digital Medicines.

On the device side we will move from fun toys to FDA-certified consumer friendly, medical grade wearables that deliver accurate, actionable health data.

Digital apps will be much more sophisticated and make use of sensors and analytics integrated into the consumer’s own mobile devices. These apps will store data and forward actionable insights to care teams based on AI, and provide engagement tools that support patients and their families.

Data will increasingly be specific, accurate and actionable as opposed to general, variable and entertaining.
The focus on data fidelity in healthcare will give way to a focus on data fusion and the power that comes from many different signals that capture the life flow of the consumer, which is much more important for healthcare insights than money flow of the payer or work flow of the doctor.

To finish let me restate what I began with and what you all now know to be true:

Digital Medicines – drugs that communicate with your mobile phone when ingested – are here now and are quickly becoming a required part of therapy. They are in commercial use and thousands of patients have used them. Within ten years every drug in the supply chain will be a digital object, every patient will know what they take and how it affects their body. Your grandchildren will be incredulous that you put things into your body and did not know if they were real or fake, in date or out of date, the right drug or the wrong drug, the right dose or the wrong dose. One hundred and twenty years of innovation based on chemistry, (Bayer 1899, Aspirin) and 36 years of biology (Genentech 1982, Humulin) will be turbocharged by a new era of physics, innovation based on silicon and software (Proteus, 2017 Abilify MyCite). Silicon and software is what is turbocharging innovation in every other industry. You could not use a car or a television today without these technologies. The same will be true for pharmaceuticals very soon. The age of Digital Medicines has already begun.

It’s time to stop celebrating the GDP

The self-delusion deepens amongst President Trump and his delirious supporters as the second quarter growth in GDP reaches 4.1 per cent – notwithstanding that this level of growth was reached on several occasions during Barack Obama’s presidency. The delusion also ignores the fact that the second quarter of the U.S. fiscal year virtually always sees accelerated growth, and that this quarter’s results were driven disproportionately by a burst in exports of U.S. soya beans – in anticipation of retaliatory tariffs to be imposed on them by both allies and “foes” – and by the short term effect of the President’s tax “reforms,” neither of which will be there to boost third and fourth quarter growth. Perhaps this explains why President Trump announced late last week that he wants his Government to stop publicly issuing quarterly GDP growth numbers?

Indeed, at the same time that quarterly growth in GDP was at 4.1 per cent, unemployment is at 3.9 per cent, reflecting the fact that during its first eighteen months in office, the Trump administration has created some 3.7 million jobs, a not insignificant development.

Conveniently forgotten, however (especially by outlets such as Fox News), is that during his last eighteen months in office, President Obama’s government created some 3.9 million jobs. Also ignored is the fact that under Trump, inequality as measured by the Gini Coefficient has widened substantially, leaving the U.S. with the third highest share of low-income adults – after Greece and Spain – amongst the OECD rich member states. Unfortunately, the latest OECD report on this subject (issued in late 2015) had Canada not far behind in fourth place. This, in part, reflects the fact that the quality of jobs being created in today’s advanced economies is menial and that real wages have generally remained stagnant, as has productivity, which in the U.S. has largely been driven by robotisation amongst the big tech and logistics companies.

What the growth number also fails to adequately capture are the catastrophic weather events, including the extreme number of wild fires, drought conditions, and soil erosion, that threaten the very essence of what sustains North America’s prosperity and natural habitat. Also not revealed is the fact that these existential threats to many in the public are largely created by the oil and gas companies whose activities are a major contributor to the GDP numbers of the U.S., the Russian, and the Canadian economies.

The time for putting a stop to this perverse obsession by government policy-makers with a single income-based metric for “progress” has arrived, especially if one considers the fact that over three quarters of the peer reviewed articles on climate change have concluded that the outlook for the planet is likely to be worse, and sooner, than recent public consensus has suggested. Edmonton’s “apocalyptic” air quality this summer from wild fires in British Columbia, as well as the unprecedented fires in California, Greece, Portugal, and yes the Arctic Circle, to floods in India, and drought in Australia and Germany are not likely to be the rare events of the past. Indeed, what were once considered infrequent environmental events are now seemingly becoming annual.

Moreover, the single-minded focus by governments on GDP fails to capture growing evidence of the fraying of social compacts and cohesion, as well as growing social unrest. Indeed, any metric of progress that doesn’t properly address inequality and declining social mobility, as we are seeing both in the U.S. and in parts of Canada, will ultimately force an erosion of trust in government and a crisis of legitimacy. With the election of Trump in the U.S. and of Doug Ford in Ontario, one could conclude that in North America we are in danger of suffering from both developments.

What all this suggests is that governments need to prioritize and measure what 4.1 percent growth in GDP really means for the vast majority of people, rather than just for the corporate elites who most benefit from it.  In other words, governments need a paradigm shift in policy priorities that will measure and give as much importance to the quality of economic growth as to its quantity.

Since WW11 economic progress and national well-being have largely been formulated in terms of goals with the growth of GDP at the core. After all, economic growth and enlarging the cake are important. What is clear today, however, given the severity of the challenges we face, is that goals for sustained growth also need to be formulated in terms of limits and scientifically derived government regulations – not music to the ears of either Trump or Ford, nor to the political parties they represent. But we are at a point today where we have no other choice. As Professor Simon Kuznets – the father of the Kuznet’s Curve and of GDP as the proxy for economic progress – reminded us in a 1962 interview, “Goals for more growth should specify more growth of what and more growth for what.” After all, it is a broad-based sense of well-being and happiness that are the key pillars of social consensus and a healthy democracy.

Rather than celebrating the delusional benefits of U.S. second quarter growth by suggesting that even more deregulation is necessary (the Trump administration now wants to do so in order to produce a dramatic increase in coal-fired power plants in the U.S. – one of the worst emitters of CO2 and contributors to global warming – while Doug Ford has eliminated Ontario’s carbon tax), national governments need to prioritize broader benchmarks and measure progress in areas such as health care provision, the environment, fighting global warming, as well as the economy. For example, the state of Maryland has been seeking to do just this over the past several years by using the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) as it’s proxy for progress. As a composite, GPI mimes GDP but additionally accounts for the benefits provided by non-market activities and for the social and environmental costs that may result from high rates of GDP growth.

Along similar lines, the state of Minnesota measures, amongst other income-based indicators, units of energy consumption and waste, the percent of median income needed for household basic needs, income growth of the poor versus the wealthy, tuition costs as a percentage of annual income, and median annual rent compared to median income of renters. And like growth in GDP and the daily performance of our stock markets, these benchmarks need to be released and publicly discussed and debated with government and in the media. Were we to do so, we would not have the constant delusional refrain from Fox News and our business channels on how well the markets are doing and therefore by implication, how well all of society is doing. Only then will our governments and political parties adopt policies that reinforce, rather than fracture, social cohesion. And only then will we be able to address effectively the life-threatening challenges we increasingly face from the damage we are doing to our natural environment.

As former Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley commented in referring to the need for a broader measure of progress; “A strong economy, a clean environment, and a healthy citizenry go hand in hand: none can be a true measure of consensus without supporting the other two.  The GPI will help us ensure that our economic growth will not come at the cost of our national resources and that they will support our progress toward a sustainable future and a better quality of life.”

Future of Fashion: Renting Clothes

 A staggering 235m items of unwanted clothing were forecast to be dumped in UK landfill in 2017, while the average American is estimated to bin 81lb (37kg) of used clothing annually. Overconsumption and the inevitable disposal of unwanted clothing has become a worrying global problem – and in many cases, this clothing is unnecessarily thrown away. Instead, it could be repaired or recycled.

Filling landfill with clothing and textiles costs the UK alone an estimated £82m every year. But on the flip side, the consumption of clothing is hugely important to the economies of many countries, too. Research from The British Fashion Council, for example, found that fashion contributes £28 billion directly to the UK economy – and globally, it is a US$2.4 trillion industry.

Despite this, materialistic values and a widespread desire for having new things, twinned with fashion’s premise to create – and sell – different styles, has reduced the functional value of clothing, making it easily disposable. A staggering 100 billion items of clothing are being produced annually, and 50% of fast fashion pieces are disposed of within a year.

In fact, recent figures show that one rubbish truck of textiles is thrown away every second globally. Little wonder, then, that fashion has been dubbed “incredibly wasteful” – even by insiders.

The problem with fashion

Fashion and sustainability have historically had an uncomfortable relationship. The 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, along with growing concerns over sweatshop labour, have seen fashion companies overhaul their social and environmental impacts. Consumers, meanwhile, have grown increasingly concerned about where and how garments are made. But while fashion takes strides to become ethical, there are still serious concerns over its environmental impact and contribution to climate change.

Fashion is deemed to be one of the world’s most polluting industries – from toxic chemical use to water pollution and waste. Some 35% of the global total of microfibres in the oceanscomes from clothes and textiles, meaning fashion is a major contributor to this pollution. By 2050, it is anticipated, the fashion industry will use up 25% of the world’s carbon budget.

So what’s the solution? A circular economy seeks to move beyond fashion’s linear model of take, make and waste, to close the loop, designing out waste and minimising environmental impacts. While fashion brands work to limit their polluting practices through the creation of organic, environmentally conscious collections, there is still a need to limit the sheer volume of waste that fashion creates.

Recycling has become an important initiative to address this. H&M, for example, has a successful garment collection scheme, repurposing their consumers’ unwanted clothing. Other brands, meanwhile, are using recycled materials to create clothing. Outdoor clothing brand Patagonia has made polyester fleece out of recycled plastic bottles.

While recycling could achieve circulatory by designing out waste, it is problematic environmentally. Recycling is energy intensive and may require use of further virgin materials. Additionally, while it resolves some of fashion’s sustainability issues, it does not adequately address the problem that consumers buy too much, and that the average number of times a garment is worn has declined by 36% since 2000. We must reconsider how fashion is sold, encouraging consumers to waste less, and ensure that garments have a longer life span.

Are rentals the future?

WRAP, the UK’s resource efficiency agency, has identified leasing as an innovative business model that gives clothes a longer service life, while reducing material use and carbon dioxide emissions. A recent survey conducted by Westfield Shopping Centre in London also proposed that clothing rental would become a key future trend.

The possible value of the clothing rental market in the UK is predicted to be £923m and the model is already well-established for certain items, such as dinner jackets and wedding suits for men. Despite this, there are currently just a handful of fashion companies that have adopted a leasing model. At Mud Jeans, for example, consumers can lease a pair of organic jeans, and after a year can keep, swap or return them. Girls Meets Dress, meanwhile, was founded in the UK in 2009, under the ethos that in a sharing economy ownership will become obsolete.

In America, Rent the Runway has become a significant player in the fashion industry. These companies are built on change, but undoubtedly they face the challenges of the traditional sales-driven fashion system, along with consumer hesitation.

The research has explored the potential for clothing rental among consumers. While we found there were opportunities certainly at the luxury end of the market, there was a definite resistance to rental of lower priced items, which were just too easy to buy.

If consumers are to engage, rentals need to be convenient, cheap, accessible and fulfil the desire for having something new. Consumers are open to change and leasing could help achieve a more circular fashion industry. However, there are issues to consider from transportation through to dry cleaning impacts. Clothing rental has the potential to reduce waste and increase the lifespan of garments, but to achieve a more sustainable industry a systemic change in business practice and consumer behaviour is needed.

 

 

Higher Tariffs & Economic Growth

Imagine going back to 1990. Facebook and Google didn’t exist. The Berlin Wall had just come down and China was not yet an economic power.

Globalization, as we now know it, also hadn’t reached its heights. Import taxes were significantly higher in most countries, averaging around 5% for rich countries and 28% for the major emerging economies of India, China, Brazil and Russia, compared to less than 2% for rich countries today and 5% for emerging countries. In a recent report, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) researchers wonder what would happen if this decline in tariffs reversed itself. What if protectionism returned to those 1990 levels? As the trade war between the US and China escalates, this question is especially pertinent.

According to the OECD, turning back the clock on trade liberalization would be bad, but not a disaster. If tariffs were to stay at current levels, researchers estimate that global GDP per capita would more than double from 2020 to 2060. With tariffs returning to their 1990 rates, they guess that about a 14% share of that growth would be lost. The analysis assumes that tariffs would slowly ramp up from 2020 to 2030. The researchers caution that their estimate does not include all the possible impacts, including the ways increased tariffs might destabilize geopolitics and lower the confidence of investors.

Returning to 1990 tariff rates would not mean going back to 1990 transportation costs. According to the OECD, the average cost of transporting goods in 2015 was 25% lower than in 1990. So even at those older, higher tariff rates decreased shipping expenses would still mean more trade.

The biggest losers from a return to protectionism, according to the OECD, would be India, Australia and China. India and China would lose most because of their unusually high tariffs rates in the 1990. Australia’s economy would take a hit since China, now its largest trading partner, would no longer import so many of its natural resources.

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Image: ATLAS/ OECD

This hypothetical return to 1990 is far from a perfect reflection of what could actually happen in the future. There is little reason to think that the US’s recent turn to a more mercantilist economic policy would lead India and China to close off their economies to the rest of the world. Even without US involvement, the EU, China and India could choose to lower rates on each other’s products.

Yet the exercise is still instructive. The OECD analysis finds that most of the gains from lower tariffs are a result of the transfer of knowledge across economies that comes from increased trade, rather than the actual value of trading the goods themselves. For example, Bangladesh’s recent economic surge is mostly due to a booming garment manufacturing industry. That industry is in large part a result of trade with South Korean garment manufacturers, from whom Bangladeshis learned the tricks of the trade. Trade is good for the resulting exchange of ideas as much as for the trade of goods. A smaller knowledge ecosystem would be the biggest loss from a less globalized world.

Defining the Role the US Shall Play in World

 A combination of factors has sown concern about the condition of the postwar order: China’s resurgence, destabilizing Russian conduct, the ongoing disintegration of the Middle East, and the increasingly far-reaching effects of artificial intelligence, to name a few.

Perhaps the greatest anxiety, however, stems from the evolving attitude of the order’s principal architect, the United States. Under the leadership of Donald Trump, it is questioning the net strategic benefits of its participation as never before since the conclusion of World War II.

This judgment was a central theme among participants at the annual meeting of the Trilateral Commission, held last month in Singapore.

While those attending discussed Mr. Trump himself, they largely urged the adoption of a wider aperture: the president has tapped into a series of forces that had been converging well before his victory, and that will likely endure long after his time in office has concluded.

For starters, there is an increasingly marked disconnect between the issues that concern most Americans on a day-to-day basis and the way in which the foreign policy establishment discusses America’s role in the world. Washington Post national security correspondent Greg Jaffe remarked in mid-2017 that “sustaining the US-led, rules-based international order [is] an exhortation that, at best, [is] meaningless to most Americans. At worst, it smack[s] of soulless globalism.”

Less appreciated is the communications gap between establishment figures themselves: in an October 2016 report, a team of analysts at the RAND Corporation noted that “[d]espite the centrality of order to US postwar grand strategy, the term order itself has been used in divergent ways by different observers. There is no consistent, widely understood definition of a rules-based liberal order.”

So long as those urging a renewed commitment to the postwar order scope its activities differently, prioritize different elements thereof, and adopt different metrics for gauging its success, they will find it difficult to formulate a coherent case internally, let alone articulate a compelling message externally.

Problematic messaging is not the only issue, though; Americans are also questioning the returns to US involvement in world affairs. While US engagement encompasses a wide array of activities, ranging from disaster relief to backdoor diplomacy, most of it does not make the news. Instead, many Americans understand it primarily in terms of the country’s military undertakings, which have had a poor track record in the early years of the 21st century: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have taken the lives of nearly 7,000 American soldiers and left over 52,000 others wounded, while adding some $2.1 trillion to US debt.

Especially in light of the global financial crisis of 2008-09, one wonders what that sum could have done to bolster the country’s infrastructure or increase Americans’ access to healthcare.

Concentrated wealth

While America’s economy has grown an extraordinary 80-fold in the postwar era, the benefits have been increasingly concentrated. The New York Times reports that “since the 1950s, three-quarters of working Americans have seen no change in lifetime income.” Economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman calculate that in 1980, adults “in the top one per cent earned on average 27 times more than the bottom 50 per cent of adults”; by 2014 they were earning 81 times as much.

Perhaps most concerningly, though, a pillar of America’s narrative — upward mobility —appears to be increasingly shaky: a team led by Stanford’s Raj Chetty determined that “only half the children born in the 1980s grew up to earn more [in real terms] than their parents did,” down from “from 92 per cent of children born in 1940.” Automation is likely to amplify such trends: a recent report by Bain and Company’s Macro Trends Group forecasts that it could eliminate 20 to 25 per cent of current jobs in the United States, “hitting middle- to low-income workers the hardest.” It warned that “the growing gap between the majority of workers who suffer automation’s negative impact and the highly skilled few who benefit from it is likely to increase income inequality dramatically.”

While America’s resurgent populism is driven in part by economic trends, the Trilateral Commission’s outgoing North America Chair, Joseph Nye, reminds us that cultural anxieties play a key role as well: “Areas that have lost jobs to foreign competition appear to have tended to support Trump,” he explains, “but so did older white males who have lost status with the rise in power of other demographic groups.” The US Census Bureau reported last month that America’s “non-Hispanic white-alone population is projected to shrink over the coming decades, from 199 million in 2020 to 179 million in 2060”; meanwhile, the “two or more races population” segment is expected to grow fastest.

There is at least one other factor at work, which Financial Times columnist Edward Luce calls “the craving for dignity.” “When people lose trust that society is treating them fairly,” he warns, “they drift into a deeper culture of mistrust.” While such sentiments are not unique to the modern era — it was over four decades ago, in 1975, that the Trilateral Commission published an influential report entitled The Crisis of Democracy — they loom larger in an era of social media, when those who believe their government has sacrificed them on the altar of globalization can connect with one another and amplify each other’s voices more quickly and forcefully than ever before.

Americans have yet to turn isolationist; last April the Chicago Council on Global Affairs noted that, even in the Trump era, “a majority Americans of all political stripes said that the United States should maintain an active part in world affairs.” But Mr. Trump’s election demonstrates that policymakers cannot take that proportion for granted: if they do not accord greater priority to domestic renewal and assuage wide-ranging public anxieties over the impact of globalization, the postwar order’s erstwhile anchor may feel domestic pressure to abdicate its role.

Democratic Socialism Will Destroy America

The United States is making the same mistakes today that Russia made a century ago. Socialists are taking over the Democratic Party. And it’s not being done in secret, but openly.

Bernie Sanders is an avowed socialist. He honeymooned in the Soviet Union, won a seat in the Vermont Senate, and mounted an extremely popular campaign against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. Millions supported his call to dismantle corporations, double the minimum wage, and mandate universal health care.

Sanders lost the Democratic primary, but he may have won the Democratic Party.

Fifty-seven percent of Democrats now say they have a favorable view of socialism. That’s right: More than half of Democrats openly admit they support socialism.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a self-described socialist who won a sensational upset against a high-ranking Democrat. According to Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez, she is “the future” of the Democratic Party.

So, what is socialism?

Socialism Is Authoritarian

In its purest form, socialism means that the government controls the entire economy. The government owns not only the postal service, it owns all businesses—without competition. Most modern American socialists say the government doesn’t have to literally own all businesses, as long as it heavily regulates and taxes them.

But people like Sanders emphasize that they are “democratic” socialists, which means that this enormously powerful government will be voted in by a majority of the people.

Karl Marx, the father of communism, wrote that “the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy.”

Vladimir Lenin, famous Russian Communist revolutionary, wrote: “Proletarian democracy is a million times more democratic than any bourgeois democracy.”

Joseph Stalin, a famous Soviet Communist dictator, led an effort to replace the original democratic Soviet Constitution with an even more democratic version. Its bill of rights was even more extensive than the American bill of rights. It guaranteed the right to vote to every single Soviet citizen over age 18.

This is all very democratic. American liberals would support it—they did back then. But history records the end result of Marx’s, Lenin’s and Stalin’s socialism: a horrific totalitarian state where the enormously powerful government reduced its citizens to subhuman status, crushed the human spirit, and literally murdered millions of its own people.

Socialism Is Against the U.S. Constitution

Democratic socialism in the Soviet Union turned into a continent-sized horror story, not because people didn’t get to vote but because the Soviets did not keep laws that limit the government’s power and protect individual rights.

What Marx called the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” American Founding Father John Adams called the “tyranny of the majority.” Adams believed the Bible. And although he might not have known it, the Bible shows that the modern descendants of ancient Israel include the United States. Isaiah prophesies that these modern Israelites will become sick in their reasoning and faint in their hearts (Isaiah 1:4-7). It prophesies that their nation will be laid desolate by civil war.

How could a dramatic prophecy like this be fulfilled? How could the most powerful and prosperous nation in human history fall into such a terrible fate as this?

One major reason that Americans will clash with one another is over this issue of government control. By its very definition, big-government socialism is directly opposed to small-government constitutionalism. Socialism is based largely on atheism, and the American Constitution is based largely on the Bible.

Today, socialism is gathering strength. What people don’t understand about “democratic socialism” is that its aim of socialism in the United States is to overthrow its constitutional form of government—by violence if necessary.

Socialists usually downplay this, but the protests and riots occurring across America today are not really against President Donald Trump; they are against the constitutional system of government he leads. How widespread and how violent will this movement get? The history of socialism—and the prophecy of the Bible—provide the chilling answer.

Sunday Special: Detailed Ripping of Cone of Silence Enveloping Most Devastating Cyberattack

In the world of politics, many a times when the tragedy strikes, a cone of silence envelops it. And so it happened when the most devastating cyber attack took place. The silence was so deafening that till now the people in the country were not aware, what to say of the outside world. The attack was buried in the files of intelligence agencies. “Someone looking from the outside may raise the question whether students provided with free university education are as motivated to study hard as those who pay for it,” he said. “My impression is that those two things aren’t correlated. My belief is that your motivation to succeed in your studies is in no way linked to whether you’re paying for your tuition or not.”

It was a perfect sunny summer afternoon in Copenhagen when the world’s largest shipping conglomerate began to lose its mind.

The headquarters of A.P. Møller-Maersk sits beside the breezy, cobblestoned esplanade of Copenhagen’s harbor. A ship’s mast carrying the Danish flag is planted by the building’s northeastern corner, and six stories of blue-tinted windows look out over the water, facing a dock where the Danish royal family parks its yacht. In the building’s basement, employees can browse a corporate gift shop, stocked with Maersk-branded bags and ties, and even a rare Lego model of the company’s gargantuan Triple-E container ship, a vessel roughly as large as the Empire State Building laid on its side, capable of carrying another Empire State Building–sized load of cargo stacked on top of it.

That gift shop also houses a technology help center, a single desk manned by IT troubleshooters next to the shop’s cashier. And on the afternoon of June 27, 2017, confused Maersk staffers began to gather at that help desk in twos and threes, almost all of them carrying laptops. On the machines’ screens were messages in red and black lettering. Some read “repairing file system on C:” with a stark warning not to turn off the computer. Others, more surreally, read “oops, your important files are encrypted” and demanded a payment of $300 worth of bitcoin to decrypt them.

Across the street, an IT administrator named Henrik Jensen was working in another part of the Maersk compound, an ornate white-stone building that in previous centuries had served as the royal archive of maritime maps and charts. (Henrik Jensen is not his real name. Like almost every Maersk employee, customer, or partner I interviewed, Jensen feared the consequences of speaking publicly for this story.) Jensen was busy preparing a software update for Maersk’s nearly 80,000 employees when his computer spontaneously restarted.

He quietly swore under his breath. Jensen assumed the unplanned reboot was a typically brusque move by Maersk’s central IT department, a little-loved entity in England that oversaw most of the corporate empire, whose eight business units ranged from ports to logistics to oil drilling, in 574 offices in 130 countries around the globe.

Jensen looked up to ask if anyone else in his open-plan office of IT staffers had been so rudely interrupted. And as he craned his head, he watched every other computer screen around the room blink out in rapid succession.

“I saw a wave of screens turning black. Black, black, black. Black black black black black,” he says. The PCs, Jensen and his neighbors quickly discovered, were irreversibly locked. Restarting only returned them to the same black screen..

All across Maersk headquarters, the full scale of the crisis was starting to become clear. Within half an hour, Maersk employees were running down hallways, yelling to their colleagues to turn off computers or disconnect them from Maersk’s network before the malicious software could infect them, as it dawned on them that every minute could mean dozens or hundreds more corrupted PCs. Tech workers ran into conference rooms and unplugged machines in the middle of meetings. Soon staffers were hurdling over locked key-card gates, which had been paralyzed by the still-mysterious malware, to spread the warning to other sections of the building.

Disconnecting Maersk’s entire global network took the company’s IT staff more than two panicky hours. By the end of that process, every employee had been ordered to turn off their computer and leave it at their desk. The digital phones at every cubicle, too, had been rendered useless in the emergency network shutdown.

Around 3 pm, a Maersk executive walked into the room where Jensen and a dozen or so of his colleagues were anxiously awaiting news and told them to go home. Maersk’s network was so deeply corrupted that even IT staffers were helpless. A few of the company’s more old-school managers told their teams to remain at the office. But many employees—rendered entirely idle without computers, servers, routers, or desk phones—simply left.

Jensen walked out of the building and into the warm air of a late June afternoon. Like the vast majority of Maersk staffers, he had no idea when he might return to work. The maritime giant that employed him, responsible for 76 ports on all sides of the earth and nearly 800 seafaring vessels, including container ships carrying tens of millions of tons of cargo, representing close to a fifth of the entire world’s shipping capacity, was dead in the water.

On the edge of the trendy Podil neighborhood in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, coffee shops and parks abruptly evaporate, replaced by a grim industrial landscape. Under a highway overpass, across some trash-strewn railroad tracks, and through a concrete gate stands the four-story headquarters of Linkos Group, a small, family-run Ukrainian software business.

Up three flights of stairs in that building is a server room, where a rack of ­pizza-box-sized computers is connected by a tangle of wires and marked with handwritten, numbered labels. On a normal day, these servers push out routine updates—bug fixes, security patches, new features—to a piece of accounting software called M.E.Doc, which is more or less Ukraine’s equivalent of TurboTax or Quicken. It’s used by nearly anyone who files taxes or does business in the country.

But for a moment in 2017, those machines served as ground zero for the most devastating cyberattack since the invention of the internet—an attack that began, at least, as an assault on one nation by another.

For the past four and a half years, Ukraine has been locked in a grinding, undeclared war with Russia that has killed more than 10,000 Ukrainians and displaced millions more. The conflict has also seen Ukraine become a scorched-earth testing ground for Russian cyberwar tactics. In 2015 and 2016, while the Kremlin-linked hackers known as Fancy Bear were busy breaking into the US Democratic National Committee’s servers, another group of agents known as Sandworm was hacking into dozens of Ukrainian governmental organizations and companies. They penetrated the networks of victims ranging from media outlets to railway firms, detonating logic bombs that destroyed terabytes of data. The attacks followed a sadistic seasonal cadence. In the winters of both years, the saboteurs capped off their destructive sprees by causing widespread power outages—the first confirmed blackouts induced by hackers.

But those attacks still weren’t Sandworm’s grand finale. In the spring of 2017, unbeknownst to anyone at Linkos Group, Russian military hackers hijacked the company’s update servers to allow them a hidden back door into the thousands of PCs around the country and the world that have M.E.Doc installed. Then, in June 2017, the saboteurs used that back door to release a piece of malware called ­NotPetya, their most vicious cyberweapon yet.

The code that the hackers pushed out was honed to spread automatically, rapidly, and indiscriminately. “To date, it was simply the fastest-propagating piece of malware we’ve ever seen,” says Craig Williams, director of outreach at Cisco’s Talos division, one of the first security companies to reverse engineer and analyze Not­Petya. “By the second you saw it, your data center was already gone.”

NotPetya was propelled by two powerful hacker exploits working in tandem: One was a penetration tool known as EternalBlue, created by the US National Security Agency but leaked in a disastrous breach of the agency’s ultrasecret files earlier in 2017. EternalBlue takes advantage of a vulnerability in a particular Windows protocol, allowing hackers free rein to remotely run their own code on any unpatched machine.

NotPetya’s architects combined that digital skeleton key with an older invention known as Mimikatz, created as a proof of concept by French security researcher Benjamin Delpy in 2011. Delpy had originally released Mimikatz to demonstrate that Windows left users’ passwords lingering in computers’ memory. Once hackers gained initial access to a computer, Mimikatz could pull those passwords out of RAM and use them to hack into other machines accessible with the same credentials. On networks with multiuser computers, it could even allow an automated attack to hopscotch from one machine to the next.

Before NotPetya’s launch, Microsoft had released a patch for its EternalBlue vulnerability. But EternalBlue and Mimikatz together nonetheless made a virulent combination. “You can infect computers that aren’t patched, and then you can grab the passwords from those computers to infect other computers that are patched,” Delpy says.

NotPetya took its name from its resemblance to the ransomware Petya, a piece of criminal code that surfaced in early 2016 and extorted victims to pay for a key to unlock their files. But NotPetya’s ransom messages were only a ruse: The malware’s goal was purely destructive. It irreversibly encrypted computers’ master boot records, the deep-seated part of a machine that tells it where to find its own operating system. Any ransom payment that victims tried to make was futile. No key even existed to reorder the scrambled noise of their computer’s contents.

The weapon’s target was Ukraine. But its blast radius was the entire world. “It was the equivalent of using a nuclear bomb to achieve a small tactical victory,” Bossert says.

The release of NotPetya was an act of cyberwar by almost any definition—one that was likely more explosive than even its creators intended. Within hours of its first appearance, the worm raced beyond Ukraine and out to countless machines around the world, from hospitals in Pennsylvania to a chocolate factory in Tasmania. It ­crippled multinational companies including Maersk, pharmaceutical giant Merck, FedEx’s European subsidiary TNT Express, French construction company Saint-Gobain, food producer Mondelēz, and manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser. In each case, it inflicted nine-figure costs. It even spread back to Russia, striking the state oil company Rosneft.

The result was more than $10 billion in total damages, according to a White House assessment confirmed to WIRED by former Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert, who at the time of the attack was President Trump’s most senior cybersecurity-­focused official. Bossert and US intelligence agencies also confirmed in February that Russia’s military—the prime suspect in any cyberwar attack targeting Ukraine—was responsible for launching the malicious code. (The Russian foreign ministry declined to answer repeated requests for comment.)

To get a sense of the scale of NotPetya’s damage, consider the nightmarish but more typical ransomware attack that paralyzed the city government of Atlanta this past March: It cost up to $10 million, a tenth of a percent of NotPetya’s price. Even WannaCry, the more notorious worm that spread a month before NotPetya in May 2017, is estimated to have cost between $4 billion and $8 billion. Nothing since has come close. “While there was no loss of life, it was the equivalent of using a nuclear bomb to achieve a small tactical victory,” Bossert says. “That’s a degree of recklessness we can’t tolerate on the world stage.”

In the year since NotPetya shook the world, WIRED has delved into the experience of one corporate goliath brought to its knees by Russia’s worm: Maersk, whose malware fiasco uniquely demonstrates the danger that cyberwar now poses to the infrastructure of the modern world. The executives of the shipping behemoth, like every other non-Ukrainian victim WIRED approached to speak about NotPetya, declined to comment in any official capacity for this story. WIRED’s account is instead assembled from current and former Maersk sources, many of whom chose to remain anonymous.

But the story of NotPetya isn’t truly about Maersk, or even about Ukraine. It’s the story of a nation-state’s weapon of war released in a medium where national borders have no meaning, and where collateral damage travels via a cruel and unexpected logic: Where an attack aimed at Ukraine strikes Maersk, and an attack on Maersk strikes everywhere at once.

Oleksii Yasinsky expected a calm Tuesday at the office. It was the day before Ukraine’s Constitution Day, a national holiday, and most of his coworkers were either planning their vacations or already taking them. But not Yasinsky. For the past year he’d been the head of the cyber lab at Information Systems Security Partners, a company that was quickly becoming the go-to firm for victims of Ukraine’s cyberwar. That job description didn’t lend itself to downtime. Since the first blows of Russia’s cyberattacks hit in late 2015, in fact, he’d allowed himself a grand total of one week off.

So Yasinsky was unperturbed when he received a call that morning from ISSP’s director telling him that Oschadbank, the second-largest bank in Ukraine, was under attack. The bank had told ISSP that it was facing a ransomware infection, an increasingly common crisis for companies around the world targeted by profit-focused cybercriminals. But when Yasinsky walked into Oschadbank’s IT department at its central Kiev office half an hour later, he could tell this was something new. “The staff were lost, confused, in a state of shock,” Yasinsky says. Around 90 percent of the bank’s thousands of computers were locked, showing NotPetya’s “repairing disk” messages and ransom screens.

After a quick examination of the bank’s surviving logs, Yasinsky could see that the attack was an automated worm that had somehow obtained an administrator’s credentials. That had allowed it to rampage through the bank’s network like a prison inmate who has stolen the warden’s keys.

As he analyzed the bank’s breach back in ISSP’s office, Yasinsky started receiving calls and messages from people around Ukraine, telling him of similar instances in other companies and government agencies. One told him that another victim had attempted to pay the ransom. As Yasinsky suspected, the payment had no effect. This was no ordinary ransomware. “There was no silver bullet for this, no antidote,” he says.

The Cost of NotPetya

In 2017, the malware NotPetya spread from the servers of an unassuming Ukrainian software firm to some of the largest businesses worldwide, paralyzing their operations. Here’s a list of the approximate damages reported by some of the worm’s biggest victims.

$870,000,000

Pharmaceutical company Merck

$400,000,000

Delivery company FedEx (through European subsidiary TNT Express)

$384,000,000

French construction company Saint-Gobain

$300,000,000

Danish shipping company Maersk

$188,000,000

Snack company Mondelēz (parent company of Nabisco and Cadbury)

$129,000,000

British manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser (owner of Lysol and Durex condoms)

$10 billion

Total damages from NotPetya, as estimated by the White House

A thousand miles to the south, ISSP CEO Roman Sologub was attempting to take a Constitution Day vacation on the southern coast of Turkey, preparing to head to the beach with his family. His phone, too, began to explode with calls from ISSP clients who were either watching NotPetya tear across their networks or reading news of the attack and frantically seeking advice.

Sologub retreated to his hotel, where he’d spend the rest of the day fielding more than 50 calls from customers reporting, one after another after another, that their networks had been infected. ISSP’s security operations center, which monitored the networks of clients in real time, warned Sologub that NotPetya was saturating victims’ systems with terrifying speed: It took 45 seconds to bring down the network of a large Ukrainian bank. A portion of one major Ukrainian transit hub, where ISSP had installed its equipment as a demonstration, was fully infected in 16 seconds. Ukrenergo, the energy company whose network ISSP had been helping to rebuild after the 2016 blackout cyberattack, had also been struck yet again. “Do you remember we were about to implement new security controls?” Sologub recalls a frustrated Ukrenergo IT director asking him on the phone. “Well, too late.”

By noon, ISSP’s founder, a serial entrepreneur named Oleh Derevianko, had sidelined his vacation too. Derevianko was driving north to meet his family at his village house for the holiday when the NotPetya calls began. Soon he had pulled off the highway and was working from a roadside restaurant. By the early afternoon, he was warning every executive who called to unplug their networks without hesitation, even if it meant shutting down their entire company. In many cases, they’d already waited too long. “By the time you reached them, the infrastructure was already lost,” Derevianko says.

On a national scale, NotPetya was eating Ukraine’s computers alive. It would hit at least four hospitals in Kiev alone, six power companies, two airports, more than 22 Ukrainian banks, ATMs and card payment systems in retailers and transport, and practically every federal agency. “The government was dead,” summarizes Ukrainian minister of infrastructure Volodymyr Omelyan. According to ISSP, at least 300 companies were hit, and one senior Ukrainian government official estimated that 10 percent of all computers in the country were wiped. The attack even shut down the computers used by scientists at the Chernobyl cleanup site, 60 miles north of Kiev. “It was a massive bombing of all our systems,” Omelyan says.

When Derevianko emerged from the restaurant in the early evening, he stopped to refuel his car and found that the gas station’s credit card payment system had been taken out by NotPetya too. With no cash in his pockets, he eyed his gas gauge, wondering if he had enough fuel to reach his village. Across the country, Ukrainians were asking themselves similar questions: whether they had enough money for groceries and gas to last through the blitz, whether they would receive their paychecks and pensions, whether their prescriptions would be filled. By that night, as the outside world was still debating whether NotPetya was criminal ransom­ware or a weapon of state-sponsored cyberwar, ISSP’s staff had already started referring to it as a new kind of phenomenon: a “massive, coordinated cyber invasion.”

Amid that epidemic, one single infection would become particularly fateful for Maersk: In an office in Odessa, a port city on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, a finance executive for Maersk’s Ukraine operation had asked IT administrators to install the accounting software M.E.Doc on a single computer. That gave NotPetya the only foothold it needed.

The shipping terminal in Elizabeth, New Jersey—one of the 76 that make up the port-operations division of Maersk known as APM Terminals—sprawls out into Newark Bay on a man-made peninsula covering a full square mile. Tens of thousands of stacked, perfectly modular shipping containers cover its vast asphalt landscape, and 200-foot-high blue cranes loom over the bay. From the top floors of lower Manhattan’s skyscrapers, five miles away, they look like brachiosaurs gathered at a Jurassic-era watering hole.

On a good day, about 3,000 trucks arrive at the terminal, each assigned to pick up or drop off tens of thousands of pounds of everything from diapers to avocados to tractor parts. They start that process, much like airline passengers, by checking in at the terminal’s gate, where scanners automatically read their container’s barcodes and a Maersk gate clerk talks to the truck driver via a speaker system. The driver receives a printed pass that tells them where to park so that a massive yard crane can haul their container from the truck’s chassis to a stack in the cargo yard, where it’s loaded onto a container ship and floated across an ocean—or that entire process in reverse order.

On the morning of June 27, Pablo Fernández was expecting dozens of trucks’ worth of cargo to be shipped out from Elizabeth to a port in the Middle East. Fernández is a so-called freight forwarder—a middleman whom cargo owners pay to make sure their property arrives safely at a destination halfway around the world. (Fernández is not his real name.)

At around 9 am New Jersey time, Fernández’s phone started buzzing with a succession of screaming calls from angry cargo owners. All of them had just heard from truck drivers that their vehicles were stuck outside Maersk’s Elizabeth terminal. “People were jumping up and down,” Fernández says. “They couldn’t get their containers in and out of the gate.”

That gate, a choke point to Maersk’s entire New Jersey terminal operation, was dead. The gate clerks had gone silent.

Soon, hundreds of 18-wheelers were backed up in a line that stretched for miles outside the terminal. One employee at another company’s nearby terminal at the same New Jersey port watched the trucks collect, bumper to bumper, farther than he could see. He’d seen gate systems go down for stretches of 15 minutes or half an hour before. But after a few hours, still with no word from Maersk, the Port Authority put out an alert that the company’s Elizabeth terminal would be closed for the rest of the day. “That’s when we started to realize,” the nearby terminal’s staffer remembers, “this was an attack.” Police began to approach drivers in their cabs, telling them to turn their massive loads around and clear out.

Fernández and countless other frantic Maersk customers faced a set of bleak options: They could try to get their precious cargo onto other ships at premium, last-minute rates, often traveling the equivalent of standby. Or, if their cargo was part of a tight supply chain, like components for a factory, Maersk’s outage could mean shelling out for exorbitant air freight delivery or risk stalling manufacturing processes, where a single day of downtime costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many of the containers, known as reefers, were electrified and full of perishable goods that required refrigeration. They’d have to be plugged in somewhere or their contents would rot.

Fernández had to scramble to find a New Jersey warehouse where he could stash his customers’ cargo while he waited for word from Maersk. During the entire first day, he says, he received only one official email, which read like “gibberish,” from a frazzled Maersk staffer’s Gmail account, offering no real explanation of the mounting crisis. The company’s central booking website, Maerskline.com, was down, and no one at the company was picking up their phones. Some of the containers he’d sent on Maersk’s ships that day would remain lost in cargo yards and ports around the world for the next three months. “Maersk was like a black hole,” Fernández remembers with a sigh. “It was just a clusterfuck.”

In fact, it was a clusterfuck of clusterfucks. The same scene was playing out at 17 of Maersk’s 76 terminals, from Los Angeles to Algeciras, Spain, to Rotterdam in the Netherlands, to Mumbai. Gates were down. Cranes were frozen. Tens of thousands of trucks would be turned away from comatose terminals across the globe.

No new bookings could be made, essentially cutting off Maersk’s core source of shipping revenue. The computers on Maersk’s ships weren’t infected. But the terminals’ software, designed to receive the Electronic Data Interchange files from those ships, which tell terminal operators the exact contents of their massive cargo holds, had been entirely wiped away. That left Maersk’s ports with no guide to perform the colossal Jenga game of loading and unloading their towering piles of containers.

For days to come, one of the world’s most complex and interconnected distributed machines, underpinning the circulatory system of the global economy itself, would remain broken. “It was clear this problem was of a magnitude never seen before in global transport,” one Maersk customer remembers. “In the history of shipping IT, no one has ever gone through such a monumental crisis.”

Mike McQuade

Several days after his screen had gone dark in a corner of Maersk’s office, Henrik Jensen was at home in his Copenhagen apartment, enjoying a brunch of poached eggs, toast, and marmalade. Since he’d walked out of the office the Tuesday before, he hadn’t heard a word from any of his superiors. Then his phone rang.

When he answered, he found himself on a conference call with three Maersk staffers. He was needed, they said, at Maersk’s office in Maidenhead, England, a town west of London where the conglomerate’s IT overlords, Maersk Group Infrastructure Services, were based. They told him to drop everything and go there. Immediately.

Two hours later, Jensen was on a plane to London, then in a car to an eight-story glass-and-brick building in central Maidenhead. When he arrived, he found that the fourth and fifth floors of the building had been converted into a 24/7 emergency operations center. Its singular purpose: to rebuild Maersk’s global network in the wake of its NotPetya meltdown.

Some Maersk staffers, Jensen learned, had been in the recovery center since Tuesday, when NotPetya first struck. Some had been sleeping in the office, under their desks or in corners of conference rooms. Others seemed to be arriving every minute from other parts of the world, luggage in hand. Maersk had booked practically every hotel room within tens of miles, every bed-and-breakfast, every spare room above a pub. Staffers were subsisting on snacks that someone had piled up in the office kitchen after a trip to a nearby Sainsbury’s grocery store.

The Maidenhead recovery center was being managed by the consultancy Deloitte. Maersk had essentially given the UK firm a blank check to make its NotPetya problem go away, and at any given time as many as 200 Deloitte staffers were stationed in the Maidenhead office, alongside up to 400 Maersk personnel. All computer equipment used by Maersk from before NotPetya’s outbreak had been confiscated, for fear that it might infect new systems, and signs were posted threatening disciplinary action against anyone who used it. Instead, staffers had gone into every available electronics store in Maidenhead and bought up piles of new laptops and prepaid Wi-Fi hot spots. Jensen, like hundreds of other Maersk IT staffers, was given one of those fresh laptops and told to do his job. “It was very much just ‘Find your corner, get to work, do whatever needs to be done,’ ” he says.

Early in the operation, the IT staffers rebuilding Maersk’s network came to a sickening realization. They had located backups of almost all of Maersk’s individual servers, dating from between three and seven days prior to NotPetya’s onset. But no one could find a backup for one crucial layer of the company’s network: its domain controllers, the servers that function as a detailed map of Maersk’s network and set the basic rules that determine which users are allowed access to which systems.

Maersk’s 150 or so domain controllers were programmed to sync their data with one another, so that, in theory, any of them could function as a backup for all the others. But that decentralized backup strategy hadn’t accounted for one scenario: where every domain controller is wiped simultaneously. “If we can’t recover our domain controllers,” a Maersk IT staffer remembers thinking, “we can’t recover anything.”

After a frantic global search, the admins finally found one lone surviving domain controller in a remote office—in Ghana.

After a frantic search that entailed calling hundreds of IT admins in data centers around the world, Maersk’s desperate administrators finally found one lone surviving domain controller in a remote office—in Ghana. At some point before NotPetya struck, a blackout had knocked the Ghanaian machine offline, and the computer remained disconnected from the network. It thus contained the singular known copy of the company’s domain controller data left untouched by the malware—all thanks to a power outage. “There were a lot of joyous whoops in the office when we found it,” a Maersk administrator says.

When the tense engineers in Maidenhead set up a connection to the Ghana office, however, they found its bandwidth was so thin that it would take days to transmit the several-hundred-gigabyte domain controller backup to the UK. Their next idea: put a Ghanaian staffer on the next plane to London. But none of the West African office’s employees had a British visa.

So the Maidenhead operation arranged for a kind of relay race: One staffer from the Ghana office flew to Nigeria to meet another Maersk employee in the airport to hand off the very precious hard drive. That staffer then boarded the six-and-a-half-hour flight to Heathrow, carrying the keystone of Maersk’s entire recovery process.

With that rescue operation completed, the Maidenhead office could begin bringing Maersk’s core services back online. After the first days, Maersk’s port operations had regained the ability to read the ships’ inventory files, so operators were no longer blind to the contents of the hulking, 18,000-container vessels arriving in their harbors. But several days would pass after the initial outage before Maersk started taking orders through Maerskline.com for new shipments, and it would be more than a week before terminals around the world started functioning with any degree of normalcy.

In the meantime, Maersk staffers worked with whatever tools were still available to them. They taped paper documents to shipping containers at APM ports and took orders via personal Gmail accounts, WhatsApp, and Excel spreadsheets. “I can tell you it’s a fairly bizarre experience to find yourself booking 500 shipping containers via WhatsApp, but that’s what we did,” one Maersk customer says.

About two weeks after the attack, Maersk’s network had finally reached a point where the company could begin reissuing personal computers to the majority of staff. Back at the Copenhagen headquarters, a cafeteria in the basement of the building was turned into a reinstallation assembly line. Computers were lined up 20 at a time on dining tables as help desk staff walked down the rows, inserting USB drives they’d copied by the dozens, clicking through prompts for hours.

A few days after his return from Maidenhead, Henrik Jensen found his laptop in an alphabetized pile of hundreds, its hard drive wiped, a clean image of Windows installed. Everything that he and every other Maersk employee had stored locally on their machines, from notes to contacts to family photos, was gone.

Five months after Maersk had recovered from its NotPetya attack, Maersk chair Jim Hagemann Snabe sat onstage at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, and lauded the “heroic effort” that went into the company’s IT rescue operation. From June 27, when he was first awakened by a 4 am phone call in California, ahead of a planned appearance at a Stanford conference, he said, it took just 10 days for the company to rebuild its entire network of 4,000 servers and 45,000 PCs. (Full recovery had taken far longer: Some staffers at the Maidenhead operation continued to work day and night for close to two months to rebuild Maersk’s software setup.) “We overcame the problem with human resilience,” Snabe told the crowd.

Since then, Snabe went on, Maersk has worked not only to improve its cybersecurity but also to make it a “competitive advantage.” Indeed, in the wake of NotPetya, IT staffers say that practically every security feature they’ve asked for has been almost immediately approved. Multifactor authentication has been rolled out across the company, along with a long-delayed upgrade to Windows 10.

Snabe, however, didn’t say much about the company’s security posture pre-NotPetya. Maersk security staffers tell WIRED that some of the corporation’s servers were, up until the attack, still running Windows 2000—an operating system so old Microsoft no longer supported it. In 2016, one group of IT executives had pushed for a preemptive security redesign of Maersk’s entire global network. They called attention to Maersk’s less-than-perfect software patching, outdated operating systems, and above all insufficient network segmentation. That last vulnerability in particular, they warned, could allow malware with access to one part of the network to spread wildly beyond its initial foothold, exactly as NotPetya would the next year.

The security revamp was green-lit and budgeted. But its success was never made a so-called key performance indicator for Maersk’s most senior IT overseers, so implementing it wouldn’t contribute to their bonuses. They never carried the security makeover forward.

Few firms have paid more dearly for dragging their feet on security. In his Davos talk, Snabe claimed that the company suffered only a 20 percent reduction in total shipping volume during its NotPetya outage, thanks to its quick efforts and manual workarounds. But aside from the company’s lost business and downtime, as well as the cost of rebuilding an entire network, Maersk also reimbursed many of its customers for the expense of rerouting or storing their marooned cargo. One Maersk customer described receiving a seven-figure check from the company to cover the cost of sending his cargo via last-minute chartered jet. “They paid me a cool million with no more than a two-minute discussion,” he says.

On top of the panic and disruption it caused, NotPetya may have wiped away evidence of espionage or even reconnaissance for future sabotage.

All told, Snabe estimated in his Davos comments, NotPetya cost Maersk between $250 million and $300 million. Most of the staffers WIRED spoke with privately suspected the company’s accountants had low-balled the figure.

Regardless, those numbers only start to describe the magnitude of the damage. Logistics companies whose livelihoods depend on Maersk-owned terminals weren’t all treated as well during the outage as Maersk’s customers, for instance. Jeffrey Bader, president of a Port Newark–based trucking group, the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers, estimates that the unreimbursed cost for trucking companies and truckers alone is in the tens of millions. “It was a nightmare,” Bader says. “We lost a lot of money, and we’re angry.”

The wider cost of Maersk’s disruption to the global supply chain as a whole—which depends on just-in-time delivery of products and manufacturing components—is far harder to measure. And, of course, Maersk was only one victim. Merck, whose ability to manufacture some drugs was temporarily shut down by NotPetya, told shareholders it lost a staggering $870 million due to the malware. FedEx, whose European subsidiary TNT Express was crippled in the attack and required months to recover some data, took a $400 million blow. French construction giant Saint-Gobain lost around the same amount. Reckitt Benckiser, the British manufacturer of Durex condoms, lost $129 million, and Mondelēz, the owner of chocolate-maker Cadbury, took a $188 million hit. Untold numbers of victims without public shareholders counted their losses in secret.

Only when you start to multiply Maersk’s story—imagining the same paralysis, the same serial crises, the same grueling recovery—playing out across dozens of other NotPetya victims and countless other industries does the true scale of Russia’s cyberwar crime begin to come into focus.

“This was a very significant wake-up call,” Snabe said at his Davos panel. Then he added, with a Scandinavian touch of understatement, “You could say, a very expensive one.”

One week after NotPetya’s outbreak, Ukrainian police dressed in full SWAT camo gear and armed with assault rifles poured out of vans and into the modest headquarters of Linkos Group, running up the stairs like SEAL Team Six invading the bin Laden compound.

They pointed rifles at perplexed employees and lined them up in the hallway, according to the company’s founder, Olesya Linnyk. On the second floor, next to her office, the armored cops even smashed open the door to one room with a metal baton, in spite of Linnyk’s offer of a key to unlock it. “It was an absurd situation,” Linnyk says after a deep breath of exasperation.

The militarized police squad finally found what it was looking for: the rack of servers that had played the role of patient zero in the NotPetya plague. They confiscated the offending machines and put them in plastic bags.

Even now, more than a year after the attack’s calamitous spread, cybersecurity experts still argue over the mysteries of NotPetya. What were the hackers’ true intentions? The Kiev staff of security firm ISSP, including Oleh Derevianko and Oleksii Yasinsky, maintain that the attack was intended not merely for destruction but as a cleanup effort. After all, the hackers who launched it first had months of unfettered access to victims’ networks. On top of the panic and disruption it caused, NotPetya may have also wiped away evidence of espionage or even reconnaissance for future sabotage. Just in May, the US Justice Department and Ukrainian security services announced that they’d disrupted a Russian operation that had infected half a million internet routers—mostly in Ukraine—with a new form of destructive malware.

While many in the security community still see NotPetya’s international victims as collateral damage, Cisco’s Craig Williams argues that Russia knew full well the extent of the pain the worm would inflict internationally. That fallout, he argues, was meant to explicitly punish anyone who would dare even to maintain an office inside the borders of Russia’s enemy. “Anyone who thinks this was accidental is engaged in wishful thinking,” Williams says. “This was a piece of malware designed to send a political message: If you do business in Ukraine, bad things are going to happen to you.”

Almost everyone who has studied NotPetya, however, agrees on one point: that it could happen again or even reoccur on a larger scale. Global corporations are simply too interconnected, information security too complex, attack surfaces too broad to protect against state-trained hackers bent on releasing the next world-shaking worm. Russia, meanwhile, hardly seems to have been chastened by the US government’s sanctions for NotPetya, which arrived a full eight months after the worm hit and whose punishments were muddled with other messages chastising Russia for everything from 2016 election disinformation to hacker probes of the US power grid. “The lack of a proper response has been almost an invitation to escalate more,” says Thomas Rid, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies.

But the most enduring object lesson of NotPetya may simply be the strange, extra­dimensional landscape of cyberwar’s battlefield. This is the confounding geography of cyberwarfare: In ways that still defy human intuition, phantoms inside M.E.Doc’s server room in a gritty corner of Kiev spread chaos into the gilded conference rooms of the capital’s federal agencies, into ports dotting the globe, into the stately headquarters of Maersk on the Copenhagen harbor, and across the global economy. “Somehow the vulnerability of this Ukrainian accounting software affects the US national security supply of vaccines and global shipping?” asks Joshua Corman, a cybersecurity fellow at the Atlantic Council, as if still puzzling out the shape of the wormhole that made that cause-and-effect possible. “The physics of cyberspace are wholly different from every other war domain.”

In that physics, NotPetya reminds us, distance is no defense. Every barbarian is already at every gate. And the network of entanglements in that ether, which have unified and elevated the world for the past 25 years, can, over a few hours on a summer day, bring it to a crashing halt

Global Migration Crisis Has Myopic Response

 The global migration crisis – the worst since the end of World War II – has consumed huge sums of financial and political capital. To address it effectively, the focus must shift to improving stability and security, and hope for better futures, in the places where migrants originate. And that means the development community, and especially official donors, must rethink their priorities and policies.

By 2030, most of the world’s poor will live in regions suffering from some form of “fragility,” forcing millions to flee their homes. Donors can prepare now by allocating money to address the causes of displacement, rather than focusing disproportionately on the effects.

With newspapers full of stories about the challenges migrant families face, it might be tempting to assume that the causes of displacement are also being addressed. In most cases, however, such an assumption would be wrong. Today, solutions to forced migration focus almost exclusively on aiding refugees after they flee, rather than targeting the reasons for their flight. To resolve the world’s refugee crises, the causes require as much attention as the effects.

Why would parents risk their lives, or the lives of their children, to leave home and journey into the unknown? And what can be done to keep families from being forced to migrate in the first place? These are among the key questions that colleagues and I have attempted to answer in a new OECD study, States of Fragility 2018. The findings are as illuminating as they are troubling.

By 2030, more than 80% of the world’s poor will live in an area defined as “fragile” – a status that may reflect any number of political, social, security, economic, or environmental causes. Unfortunately, if current trends hold, far too little development aid will be allocated to address the factors contributing to fragility. In 2016, for example, just 2% of the $68.2 billion in official development assistance (ODA) that went to places affected by fragility was used for conflict-prevention activities, and only 10% went to peace-building initiatives. There is no other conclusion to draw: we must change how ODA is allocated.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, a record 68.5 million people were forcibly displaced in 2017. Many of these people hailed from just five countries – Afghanistan, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria. But, while countries hosting refugees have an urgent need for money to support long-term relocation efforts, most ODA is still channeled to short-term solutions. Humanitarian initiatives – like food and shelter – accounted for roughly a third of all ODA last year, and that share has been climbing for nearly a decade.

By contrast, funding for construction of schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure continues to lag. While it’s understandable that donors would gravitate toward solutions that offer immediate assistance to the displaced, neglecting refugees’ long-term needs is shortsighted. Simply put, the international community’s ambition for aid must evolve beyond keeping people alive; it must also offer migrants a future.

If allocated properly, ODA can be a powerful tool in preventing conflict and reversing the trends that contribute to fragility. Moreover, this type of spending is often a source of hope for migrants, given that in many crisis-affected areas, ODA is among the most reliable funding sources. That is particularly true as emergencies age, because funding levels typically drop as donations from other sources dry up.

To be sure, reversing current ODA spending trends will not be easy. Fragility manifests in myriad ways, and addressing challenges as diverse as violent extremism, climate change, organized crime, and gender discrimination will require a new playbook for development spending.

Still, the need for actions has become urgent. If unaddressed, conflict, violence, and other forms of fragility will set development gains back decades, further fueling the very dynamics that lead to instability in the first place. Unless the international community changes its approach to investing in fragile regions, the world will fail to achieve a key objective of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: to leave no one behind.

Spending on long-term solutions also makes financial sense. According to the UN and World Bank, if more money were allocated to conflict-prevention programs, up to $70 billion could be saved annually in refugee-relocation costs. While the world has accepted the premise of cost-effective prevention in health care (by promoting regular screenings and checkups, for example), this philosophy has yet to be applied to policymaking on migration. This can and should change.

Now Trademark Chindia

India’s emergence as Asia’s third-largest economy and favourable demographics has helped it attract FDI and trade from various quarters. This presents attractive opportunities for China’s appetite for outbound investments.

There are ample opportunities for India and China to collaborate, rather than compete, and harvest the benefits of economic cooperation. Both countries are at a stage where they can benefit from trading more with each other.

India’s demographic potential is well known: 18% of the world’s working population, nearly half of its population under-25, and 550 million people who will be defined as ‘middle class’ by 2025.

China has vast forex reserves waiting to be deployed worldwide. India stands to gain at a time when China is searching for export destinations for its impressive infrastructure and construction industries.

Indian companies also have opportunities to invest and grow in China. For example, India has recently launched its second IT corridor in China to gain access to the country’s growing software market.

This will help bring together the requirements of Chinese companies with the capabilities of Indian IT service providers. China’s giant consumer base, too, offers tremendous opportunities for growth across sectors.

It would be prudent for Indian corporates to have a China strategy on their long-term radar. India-China bilateral trade reached $84.44 billion in 2017, up 20% from 2016. This was the fastest growth in bilateral trade over the last five years, a historic high in the economic relations between the two Asian giants.

China has also emerged as one of the fastest-growing sources of FDI into India. In 2017, China invested about $2 billion, compared with $700 million a year before, tripling the funding in a single year.

But China’s share of total FDI in India is only 0.5%, despite it being the secondlargest economy in the world and India’s largest trading partner. This underlines how much room there is for their economic ties to deepen. There are numerous examples of Chinese companies investing and thrivingin India across sectors.

Various mobile and consumer durable brands are household names in India. In fact, Chinese brands occupy around 51% of the smartphone market in India.

Greater cooperation and collaboration between the two countries in creating green economies will also go a long way in lowering carbon emissions globally. This common vision towards clean energy will ensure increased trade opportunities between India and China.

India, for instance, has some dependencies on China for import of solar panels.

Another sector ripe for enhanced collaboration is India’s technology sector, which is particularly attractive due to astrong culture of innovation, a growing middle class and a proliferation of IT outsourcing service centres.

Closer economic ties have also been bolstered by multiple meetings between government agencies and trade bodies of both countries. Constant engagement will help ease out any potential trade barriers, and enable ongoing trade relations that are mutually beneficial.

This is why a flurry of recent agreements on high-speed rail connectivity between key Indian cities, cooperation on developing planned urban infrastructure under the ‘Smart Cities’ programme, and skills development projects are welcome.

Both countries now need to focus on leveraging the inherent synergies that this economic relationship offers. Greater bilateral trade will also provide an impetus to international trade at a time when some of the bigger, developed economies are exploring protectionist policies. This can ensure that Asia reinforces its credentials as the epicentre of global economic growth.

The Fast Disappearing America’s Merchant Marine Fleet

The United States Navy is the most powerful navy in the world, but the nation’s merchant fleet is dangerously weak. At the beginning of 2017, the U.S. government and private businesses and individuals privately owned just 2,021 deep-water vessels. But 96 percent of these vessels were registered in nations like Liberia, Panama and the Marshall Islands. They fly foreign flags and are manned by multinational crews. Only 81 of America’s merchant ships actually fly the U.S. flag. These ships are manned by sailors who have taken an oath of allegiance to the United States. This is the U.S. merchant marine fleet.

As more U.S. companies try to avoid taxes and cut labor costs by registering their ships in foreign nations, the merchant marine fleet has dwindled from 1,288 deep-water vessels in 1951 to only 81 ships today. This is a serious problem. The merchant marine carries cargo during peacetime, but becomes an auxiliary of the Defense Department during wartime. The Navy itself cannot sustain enough ships to operate a large-scale supply mission in faraway nations, so it relies on the merchant marine to deliver troops and supplies to foreign conflict zones in times of war.

During the 1991 Gulf War mobilization, the U.S. military had to rely on foreign-flagged ships to send military supplies to the Middle East. The crews of 13 foreign-flagged vessels rebelled against the U.S. and forced their ships away from the war zone. An Air Force general recently warned Congress that the Pentagon could again face a similar situation.

“[The] reduction in actively trading U.S.-flagged vessels correlates to a decline in the numbers of qualified merchant mariners, the workforce required to deliver U.S. Forces to war,” Air Force Gen. Darren McDew told a Senate panel on April 10. “If the fleet continues to lose ships, a lengthy, mass deployment on the scale of Desert Shield/Desert Storm could eventually require U.S. forces to rely on foreign-flagged ships for sustainment.”

Maritime administration chief Mark Buzby, a retired Navy rear admiral, told McClatchy News that foreign crews could even sabotage cargos of U.S. equipment and information systems. Or they could refuse to deliver U.S. military supplies until America reclaims and reflags its ships. This would delay U.S. military forces in an environment where timing is a matter of life and death.

If a foreign naval power creates a naval blockade at sea, any vessel flying a foreign flag may choose to remain neutral and not carry American cargo through disputed territory. China understands the strategic implications of America’s dwindling merchant fleet. That is why 4,973 Chinese deep-water vessels fly the Chinese flag. China’s merchant vessels stand ready to support the People’s Liberation Army at a moment’s notice.

While almost 17 percent of merchant vessels worldwide flew under an American flag 50 years ago, less than half a percent of merchant ships fly the Stars and Stripes today. Americans take for granted the U.S. Navy’s ability to handle any conflict that may arise. But navy ships need supply lines. A 2015 report on maritime security claiming that America’s weakness in commercial shipping is the nation’s Achilles’ heel. And the veracity of that report is now palpably clear, but are the political leaders bothered!

 

Saturday Special: Money You Need When Alive & Money You Leave When You Die

Take three people. All are unmarried, 33-year-old women who live in the United States. One makes an annual salary of $40,000, another makes $120,000, and the third makes $200,000. Who do you think is the happiest?

According to a recently released study (paywall) in the burgeoning field of happiness research, the two higher-earning women are likely to report more satisfaction with their lives than the one who makes $40,000. But, perhaps surprisingly, the psychologists who conducted the study find that the one making $200,000 is probably no happier than the one making $120,000. This is because both the $120,000 and $200,000 women have incomes above $105,000, which according to their research is the point at which greater household income in the US is not associated with greater happiness. The technical term for this cutoff is the income “satiation point.”

The study is based on a life-satisfaction survey conducted on over 1 million people as part of the Gallup World Poll. Respondents across the world were asked to rate their lives on a scale of 0-10, where 0 is the “worst possible life” and 10 is the “best possible life.”

The researchers analyzed the relationship between this score and household income. They find that in every region of the world, after accounting for a person’s age, gender, and marital status, people with higher incomes are happier. But they also find that there is a level of income at which happiness no longer increases with more money. This varies by region, with Australia and New Zealand the highest and Latin America and the Caribbean the lowest. They even find some evidence that in certain places, when incomes rise above the cutoff level, life satisfaction gets lower.

The chart below shows the “satiation point” for different areas of the world. The incomes are converted to US dollars and adjusted for variations in spending power across countries.xxxx

These psychologists, from Purdue University and the University of Virginia, are not the first to study how income relates to life satisfaction. In 2010, the Nobel prize-winning duo of economist Angus Deaton and psychologist Daniel Kahneman, famously found that the satiation point for US households was about $75,000 (about $84,000 in 2016 dollars). This new research improves on Deaton and Kahneman’s work, because the data is able to account for the number of people in a household, has more detailed income numbers, and includes responses from many more countries.

Dan Sacks is an economist at Indiana University who studies the relationship between income and subjective well-being. He tells Quartz over email that he finds the new research compelling, but far from definitive. The primary strength of this paper, Sacks says, is that the researchers have access to a huge dataset that, unlike many previous studies, includes a large number of high-income people. His main concern is that the research relies on flawed survey questions.

The surveys rely on self-reported income, and previous research shows that just because people say they make a certain amount of money, it doesn’t mean they actually do (pdf). “It could be true that on average, people who say they have income of $150,000 are no happier than people who say they have income of $100,000,” write Sacks. “But I’m not convinced that people who actually have income of $150,000 are no happier than people who have income of $100,000.” Also, its possible that rich people have a tendency to underemphasize their happiness compared with poorer people.

People also tend to answer questions about their happiness differently on different days. While today I say my life is an eight, ask me tomorrow and it might be a seven. A person’s answer on any given day is predictive of what they say a month later, but it’s not that statistically robust. This measurement error makes it difficult for researchers to assess the income-happiness relationship with great accuracy.

But let’s assume that the research is right, and there is some point at which higher incomes don’t predict greater happiness. Does that mean that if you already make $120,000, you wouldn’t be happier with a $30,000 raise?

Not at all. Research suggests that the average person who makes $150,000 is no happier than the average person who makes $120,000. But it could be that the sort of person who makes $120,000 is different in some fundamental way from the sort of person who makes $150,000. Perhaps, the people who make $150,000 would be less happy if they made $120,000, so their satiation point is higher than the sort of person who is happy with $120,000 and doesn’t want for anything more. 

How much money should you have left when you die

While not the most appealing topic to consider, it’s a vital aspect of a retirement plan, along with how much to save prior to retirement and how much to budget once you’ve stopped working.

“It’s really important because people don’t know how much money they can spend,” said Fred Vettese, author of Retirement Income for Life, and a partner at Morneau Shepell Inc. in Toronto.

“No one really knows. Some people might say, ‘Oh, I’ll spend four per cent of my money on an annual basis.’ Others might say they’ll spend interest only. Most of those are pretty cautious ways of doing it.”

Retirees should ensure they leave enough to handle their funeral expenses, possibly by buying insurance, but after that, it’s up to the individual whether anything remains for their heirs, says Willis Langford, an independent Calgary retirement planning adviser.

People tend to spend more immediately after retiring as they check items off their bucket lists.

“We call it the ‘go-go years,’ the first 10 years (of retirement). As you get into your 70s, we call it the ‘slow-go years,’ you’re not (travelling) as much, you’ve been most places and the travel insurance is becoming a problem, maybe you have some health challenges,” said Langford.

“When you get into your 80s, those are the ‘no-go years.’ My dad is 86 and he doesn’t want to go anywhere, just stay close to home.”

Canadian retirees have income they can count on until death, such as Canada Pension Plan payments. And those who are lucky enough to have a defined pension plan don’t generally need to worry about their retirement income running out.

But the prospect of outliving their money is a serious worry for those whose retirement is being largely funded with savings, to the point that they don’t spend as freely as they can when they are best able to enjoy it.

A recent Employee Benefit Research Institute study found that people in the United States who retired with more than US$500,000 in savings on average still had 88 per cent of it left 18 years after retirement.

“That is too much. Those people are being overly cautious,” said Vettese. He suggest people should try to have about 60 per cent left at that time.

“By the time they’re 75 or 80, they may be a lot more confident their money will last but by that point in time they’ve lost either the ability or the inclination to spend and so it keeps on building up.”

The study found that even individuals with less than US$200,000 in non-housing assets immediately after retirement still had 75 per cent of their cash assets 18 years later — which is great news for their heirs.

Spending generally grows with inflation in real terms between 65 and 70, then begins to slow down for most of the next 20 years.

“At the very end, people will spend more, in their 90s if they get that far, because at that point in time they’ll need care … and it does tend to be pretty expensive,” he said.

“I tend to shrug my shoulders a little bit about all this because what happens when you’re 88 or 90 years old, I think, is less important than what happens when you’re 65,” he said. “You’re not going to have the same quality of life you had when you were 50 or 60 or 65 or 70.”

An online tool Vettese helped develop (at enhancement4.morneaushepell.com) allows people to calculate what their retirement income will be based on their current level of savings and anticipated income streams.

According to the tool, a single man who retires at 65 with $500,000 in savings and $1,000 a month in a defined benefit pension will have available income of between $51,000 and $57,000 in the first year, rising to $64,000 to $71,000 per year at age 80.

Retirees with savings should adjust their discretionary spending depending on how their investments are doing, not adopt one simple budget for the entire time, said Vettese. And they need to work hard to avoid wasting money by employing inefficient drawdown strategies or spending more than necessary on investment fees.

A retirement budget should aim to cover basic expenses like food and shelter with guaranteed income streams, leaving savings to be used for discretionary spending such as travel, Langford added, noting retirees should look for advisers who can provide lifestyle tips as well as the raw numbers.

Over a handshake

One cannot remember if in old days there was as much hairsplitting over every gesture, facial twitch and gait as is witnessed during any ceremonial telecast. Or is it the natural outcome of the 24/7 news cycle?

During the live telecast of oath-taking ceremonies news anchors and their shrieking fellows acting as ‘experts’ went on and on about who shook hands with whom and how warmly. Who walked towards whom, who pumped whose hand vigorously, and who offered only a limp paw.

It really made you wonder if TV anchors had not heard of terms like ‘common courtesy’, and ‘cultural grace’. After all in a social setting or public interaction, a handshake is just another form of greeting. Body language is important, but reading too much into it, especially when politicians engage in it, could be misleading as more often than not they play to the gallery and it would not mean a diddly when the players decide to act exactly opposite to what these gestures may suggest.

Have TV anchors not heard of the term ‘common courtesy’?

Meanwhile, Desmond Morris, the world-renowned author of books like Man Watching: A Field Guide to Human Behaviour and The Naked Ape, believes that though long and complex, the evolution of the handshake can be described as a shortened version of the embrace that most humans (and apes) practise as a sign of familiarity and warmth. In some Western political cultures, candidates on campaign trails shake hands with their would-be voters using both hands to reach out to as many people as possible. This is possible, because theirs is a culture of ‘corner meetings’ with a few dozen participants at any given time.

Over here, even after the advent of social media, the attendance at public gatherings tends to run into thousands which makes the handshake business a bit of a challenge. Some politicians have, however, taken to compensate for this lack of physical contact — partially also owing to security concerns — by blowing flying kisses towards the crowd. It looks ludicrous. Some things are better left to rock stars.

Social graces and cultural mores are meant for creating a congenial atmosphere and to promote civility, not for political signalling or grandstanding. While one does not want to be prescriptive or critical of how people want to greet or acknowledge each other during various types of interactions, hopefully it is not too much to ask to at least consider how much time is wasted in shaking hands and hugging colleagues we see every day at work?

We have all attended sarkari meetings, where the chair’s arrival is preceded by half-a-dozen minions hovering over the vacant seat, straightening the already neat line of stationery, readjusting the name tag, and gingerly placing a file secured by a cummerbund in front of the sahib’s seat. Finally, the deputy assistant joint secretary walks in and immediately overcompensates for being late by squeezing through the knees of the seated and the bellies of the standing participants to go around the room to shake everybody’s hand. Won’t a simple good morning, and ‘let’s get down to business’, do? As for hugs, unless it is Eid for us common folk or a moment to be celebrated on the sporting field, let’s try to avoid them. Or consider the Sudanese variant where both parties pat their right hand on the other’s left shoulder. Seems so much less intrusive and sweat-free.

Like sports, the military has a set of gestures and body language all its own. The ‘manspreading’ — space between knees in a sitting posture — gets adjusted depending upon the rank, and friend/foe identity of the guest or host. Another signalling device is the swagger stick of senior officials. One does not remember a picture where the chief holds the swagger stick while sitting across representatives from friendly states, even if it is just an ambassador they are meeting. The stick is almost always present while meeting the civilian leadership.

It may be too much to ask to go back to the good old days when a deal struck over a handshake was as good as a legal instrument, but one can still hope for the return of integrity and sincerity in keeping oaths and fulfilling responsibilities. And no Arab-style kisses please.

 

Weekend Special: Altering Definition of Adulthood

Around the world, the idea of adulthood – when it happens and how it is defined – is being challenged. In Australia, the Greens’ Jordon Steele-John introduced a bill to give 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote; Malaysian minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman announced the country may lower the voting age to 18 before the next elections; and Japan recently lowered its voting age from 20 to 18 for referendums, following the 2016 decision to lower the voting age in general elections.

Japan’s decision was in part to address voter apathy and help young people feel more engaged in politics. But it may also signal that social views regarding the commencement of adulthood have shifted.

The shifting definitions of adulthood

Adulthood has traditionally been defined by a combination of age and the achievement of social milestones. Most countries have a legally defined age to determine when a person is considered an adult – the age of majority.

In Australia, most states consider a person to be an adult in court at 18. The age of 18 is also consistent with other adult privileges, such as the right to purchase alcohol and to marry.

However, 17-year-olds can enlist for military service and obtain a driver’s licence, whilst 16-year-olds can give sexual consent (in most states). The law confers adulthood on the basis of age, but also recognises the process of becoming an adult as involving gradual increases in social responsibility.

This legally defined approach to adulthood is mirrored in other countries, where there are differences between the age of majority and social responsibilities granted to young people. xxxx

International Ages of Social Responsibility.

Socially, determinants of adulthood traditionally focus on a person taking increasing responsibility for their lives in various ways. Completing school, commencing full-time employment, getting married and parenthood – these are all observable indicators used to determine when a person is viewed as adult (Zacares, Serra, & Torres, 2015).

Since the 1980s, however, some of these observable milestones are being achieved at later ages. Increased access to tertiary education has delayed young people leaving home and developing romantic relationships. The increased acceptance of de facto relationships has also reduced the need to leave home and marry in some Western cultures.

Economic changes have also resulted in unstable employment markets and increases in costs of living in some countries, prompting many young people to remain at home and dependent on parents.

In 2017, the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia report indicated that home ownership among 18-to-39-year-olds has declined from 36% to 25% since 2001. Among young people aged 22 to 25, meanwhile, 60% of males and 48% of females were found to still be living with their parents in 2015, up from 43% and 27% respectively since 2001.

Due to these social changes, our expectations of young people and their level of social responsibility has also changed.

Psychological perspectives: an emerging adulthood

Psychologically, age alone is an unreliable determinant of adulthood, as each individual varies in their rate of biological, cognitive and emotional development.

The recognition of a new life stage – emerging adulthood – has been recommended by developmental psychologists to account for the changes to social milestones that have traditionally represented adulthood. The concept of “emerging adulthood” acknowledges the varied levels of independence exhibited by young people and reflects the process of personal development and “finding oneself”.

A subjective definition of adulthood is linked with positive-identity formation and well-being. Young people who perceive themselves to be adults are closer to reaching adult benchmarks, exhibit fewer signs of depression and hold a robust sense of self.

What should society expect of adults?

If a more dynamic definition of adulthood is adopted, at what age is it reasonable to assign social responsibility to young people?

Young people in high-arousal situations are at risk of making impulsive decisions up untiltheir mid-20s. However, during times of low-emotional arousal, the reasoning abilities of young people are equivalent to adults.

The psychological evidence suggests the current approach in law of gradually increasing social responsibility for young people is prudent and accurately reflects the transitional nature of development to adulthood.

Increasing social responsibility among emerging adults, via civic engagement, has also been linked with their improved well-being. Civic engagement refers to involvement in one’s community and social and political systems. Therefore, Japan’s decision to lower its voting age is an example of law reflecting the contemporary emerging nature of adulthood.

Political Impact in case Trump is Impeached

President Trump comments on guilty verdict for his former campaign manager, says verdict has nothing to do with Russian collusion.
President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen’s guilty pleas Tuesday are unlikely to result in criminal charges against the president. But the pleas admitting to campaign finance violations could be used by Democrats to try to impeach the president, should they win control of the U.S. House in November.
Cohen said in his guilty pleas in U.S. District Court in New York City that he had failed to pay taxes on his taxi business and misrepresented his assets in a loan application. Cohen also pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws when he arranged for hush-money payments shortly before the 2016 presidential election to two women who claimed they had extramarital affairs with Trump. The president has denied having these affairs.
Cohen will be sentenced later this year. His plea deal may help him avoid a sentence of over 60 years in prison.
A jury could potentially find the payments to the women to be a violation of campaign finance laws, because the money paid to them was meant to aid Trump politically, and was above and beyond the contribution-limit for donating to a candidate’s campaign. It wouldn’t be illegal for Trump to make these payments, but Cohen claims that Trump ordered him to orchestrate the payments, which could be a crime.
Cohen said he arranged the payments of $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford) and $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office” – Donald Trump.
Because of that, even though Cohen’s plea didn’t include a cooperation agreement with prosecutors, many are speculating that in an effort to reduce his prison sentence Cohen will cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller to go after the president.
But Mueller is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and allegations that Trump or his campaign conspired with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton. No one is alleging Russia had anything to do with the payments made to Daniels or McDougal.
Of course, the Cohen guilty plea received heavy coverage in the media. The stock market dropped after-hours. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who sees collusion under every rock and around every corner, said the development added to the president’s “legal jeopardy.”
The anti-Trump “resistance” – people who wake up every day hoping that the president will be removed from office – found a moment of happiness. The happiness won’t last long.
This controversy is ultimately a political matter – even if prosecutors conclude Cohen is telling the truth, Justice Department guidelines say a sitting president can’t be indicted. If Democrats want to remove President Trump from office, the proper avenue is impeachment.
But Trump-hating Democrats who pursue impeachment will be punished by the American voter – the more Middle America learns the facts of the Cohen case, the worse the president’s opponents will look.
Go back to square one. Once the allegations about the payments to Daniels and McDougal were publicized in media reports, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York – at the behest of Mueller – got a search warrant for Cohen’s office, home and hotel room where he was temporarily staying.
FBI agents raided the locations in April. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing Mueller’s Russia investigation, signed off on the raids.
The shocking thing is that the Justice Department got a judge to approve the raids, despite attorney-client privilege that should have protected communications between Cohen and his client, Donald Trump.
That’s a big problem. In the president’s words, it is “Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning) – almost unheard of.” He’s exactly right.
The Justice Department, however, claimed that it was protecting attorney-client privilege because its people were sifting through Cohen’s documents and determining what was privileged and what was not. That is reprehensible.
In the words of attorney and law professor Alan Dershowitz, “the very fact that this material is seen or read by a government official constitutes a core violation (of the Sixth Amendment). It would be the same if the government surreptitiously recorded a confession of a penitent to a priest, or a description of symptoms by a patient to a doctor, or a discussion of their sex life between a husband and wife. The government simply has no right to this material.”
The Justice Department’s excuse for this behavior is the little-used “crime-fraud exception” to the rule of attorney-client privilege. The theory is that Cohen’s payments had constituted a crime co-committed by Cohen and Trump, which would negate any attorney-client privilege between them on this matter.
The problem with this fudge is that President Trump has still not been credibly implicated in a campaign finance violation. Trump has already admitted, through his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, to compensating Cohen for his payment to Stormy Daniels – though Trump says he did not know about the payment until after it was made.
As for the payment to McDougal, American Media Inc. (AMI), the parent company of the National Enquirer, made the payment, not Michael Cohen. And it is unclear if Cohen ever actually compensated AMI for its payment.
And what if everything Cohen stated in his guilty plea is true?
Remember former North Carolina Democratic U.S. Sen. John Edwards? Donors paid $1 million to Edwards’ mistress to keep quiet just before the 2008 Democrat presidential primaries when Edwards was a candidate.
Federal prosecutors charged Edwards with campaign finance violations but he was acquitted, largely because the contributions didn’t go directly to his campaign, though Edwards also argued that the payment was meant to hide his extramarital affair from his dying wife. There’s even a name for this sad business – the “mistress loophole.”
There are other problems with the Cohen case that are less concrete but should still be mentioned. Cohen is smarmy, but smarmy or not, he has an incentive to cooperate with prosecutors to get the lightest punishment possible for his crimes.
If Cohen doesn’t cooperate, or maybe even “compose,” he faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison. The fact that Cohen’s lawyer is Clinton-confidant Lanny Davis, and that the judge in the case is Kimba Wood – who was almost Bill Clinton’s attorney general – might raise a few eyebrows as well.
To many Americans, it seems that men like Cohen, former Trump presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort (who was convicted of tax evasion and bank fraud charges Tuesday), and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn (who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI on highly suspect grounds) have been targeted for prosecution simply because of their association with Donald Trump.
We now live in a country where pundits on the left explicitly hope that people working for President Trump will be prosecuted. In other words, they argue that the selective use of justice is a good thing if it is directed against conservatives or supporters of the president.
That is chilling. Without a concerted effort from the American people to condemn such political prosecutions, things will only get worse.

WTO on the brink: The nuclear option in trade war

A trade war is now in progress on two fronts. The United States opened the first front by imposing a 25% tariff on steel imports and 10% tariff on aluminium imports from a large number of its trading partners. That led many damaged parties to take retaliatory actions.

China was the first to respond with a 25% tariff on $3 billion worth of food imports from the US. Mexico, Turkey, European Union and Canada followed suit once it became apparent that the US would not grant them the exemption from tariff they had sought.

On the second front, the US has exclusively targeted China by slapping 25% tariff on a wide variety of imports worth $34 billion from it. China hit back in this instance as well, imposing 25% tariff on $34 billion worth of imports from the US. The US has threatened China with 25% tariff on another $200 billion worth of imports. China has said it will respond in kind.

Imposition of tariffs by members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is not unusual. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which governs goods trade among WTO members, contains numerous “safeguard” provisions allowing member countries to raise tariffs under specified circumstances. What is unusual about these tariffs is that they do not fall within the domain of any of these safeguard provisions.

Instead, the US has justified steel and aluminium tariffs under the rarely invoked GATT Article XXI, otherwise known as the national security clause. It has not spelt out the GATT article under which it has imposed the tariffs targeting China, but with no other provision applicable these too will have to be justified under the national security clause.

As it stands, each party engaged in the trade war has formally complained against the offending party in the WTO dispute settlement body (DSB). The critical question facing DSB is how to approach the disputes involving the national security clause.

The relevant provision in this clause says, “Nothing in this Agreement shall be construed … to prevent any contracting party from taking any action which it considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interests.” Accordingly, a member country may violate any WTO rule if such violation is necessary to protect its national security interests.

More importantly, according to many leading legal scholars of the WTO, the member country has the sole right to decide what actions are necessary to protect its national security interests.  This means that actions under this clause are beyond review by the DSB. To date, there have been very few disputes under this clause and not a single one of them has reached the review stage in the DSB or its equivalent under GATT.

The dilemma the DSB faces is that if it allows a review, the US may simply walk out of WTO on the ground that such a review is forbidden under the clause. At the same time, if US actions are allowed to stand without a review, it will signal to member countries that anything is fair game so long as it is played under the national security clause. In either case, the multilateral trading system will be seriously damaged.

The question then is whether the matter can be resolved through negotiations among the affected parties. Unfortunately, prospects for this are not bright either. Both the key players in this conflict, the US and China, seem determined not to give ground.

From being the architect of the open world trading system in the post-Second World War era, today the United States has descended into a state in which it feels it is a victim of that same system. It aggressively seeks redress from large trading partners, notably China.

The president’s 2018 Trade Policy Report to the Congress expresses his determination on the matter in these words, “The United States will not allow the WTO – or any other multilateral organization – to prevent us from taking actions that are essential to the economic well-being of the American people.”

China, the other major party in the conflict, is a young but equally aggressive power. Judging by its assertive posturing in South China Sea and Belt and Road Initiative, prospects that it will retreat from the battle are bleak. It has already made good on its promise of retaliation in both cases involving it and has made clear that it will respond in kind to any further actions by the US.

In the immediate future, the only hope is that after midterm elections in November, President Trump would return to a more conciliatory position. If not, serious damage to the trading system is inevitable.

A Panglossian may still argue that the vast damage that a wider trade war would inflict would at last convince political leaderships that trade openness is not the enemy, protectionism is. If so, this would be a replay of history that saw the highly prosperous First Globalisation from 1870 to 1914 descend into escalating protection during inter-war years. Lessons learned from that phase of protectionism brought the global leadership together to build what came to be known as the GATT-WTO system.

 

The Concept of Urbanization Needs Redefining

Widely accepted numbers on how much of the world’s population lives in cities are incorrect, with major implications for development aid and the provision of public services for billions of people, researchers say.

The United Nations predicts the world’s urban population is expected to grow to 70 percent by 2050 from 55 percent at present after becoming majority urban for the first time around 2008.

Not so, say researchers based at the European Commission.

Using a definition made possible by advances in geospatial technology that uses high-resolution satellite images to determine the number of people living in a given area, they estimate 84 percent of the world’s population, or almost 6.4 billion people, live in urban areas.

“Everything we’ve heard about global urbanization turns out to be wrong,” said lead researcher Lewis Dijkstra.

Asia and Africa, which are routinely cited as majority-rural continents that are rapidly urbanizing, turn out to be well ahead of figures in the U.N.’s latest estimates.

Once thought to be about 50 percent and 40 percent urban respectively, the new research argues Asia and Africa are closer to 90 percent and 80 percent, or roughly double previous estimates.

Those percentages translate to billions of additional people living in cities and urban areas, such as towns and suburbs, than previously thought. “If this is true, the impact is going to be massive,” Dijkstra said. “A lot of development aid was geared toward rural.”

Big Variations

The reason for the past errors is simple, Dijkstra said, because countries self-report their demographic statistics to the U.N. and they use widely different standards.

For example, India defines a city as a place where at least 75 percent of males are not working in the agricultural sector.

China provides an official number of cities, although its rapid growth suggests a different picture on the ground.

Researchers at the New York University Urban Expansion Project, who have also developed a satellite-based definition of cities similar to the European Commission’s, calculate 387 cities of more than 100,000 people are not officially classified as such by the Chinese government.

“The city in China is a very political idea,” NYU researcher Patrick Lamson-Hall told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Most countries use a population density threshold, but those figures can vary widely.

The United States, for example, starts classifying settlements as urban when they exceed a population threshold of 2,500.

For Egypt, the number is 100,000, according to Dijkstra.

“The numbers released by the U.N. are accurate in that they report what the countries tell them, but as far as being able to make comparisons between countries go, they are not usable,” Lamson-Hall said. “It’s beyond apples and oranges.”

Researchers from both city definition projects agree the chief problem is restricting what constitutes a city to its boundary line, which does not take into account real economic and demographic patterns.

In other words, commuters who live outside of the central city but work downtown are just as much part of that city as those who live inside the city limits.

“If you leave it to every country to define its own administrative boundary of what is urban and what is rural, then you have no benchmark for comparability,” said Sameh Wahba, head of the World Bank’s urban programme.

A consistent definition will benefit policymakers at the global level as they seek to respond to new international agreements calling on countries to encourage sustainable cities, he said.

Egypt’s high threshold has created claims on paper that do not square with reality.

“(According to official data sources), Egypt has been 43 percent urban since 1986 up until today, it hasn’t changed,” said Wahba, an Egyptian national.

In 2003, before joining the World Bank, he led an urban planning studio to survey a village outside Cairo that had 12 structures on agricultural land according to the most recent map at the time.

When he and his students arrived, they found a city of 275,000, Wahba said.

Egyptian authorities had a fiscal motivation to leave the settlement as officially “rural”, Wahba said.

“The moment you classify an area as urban, you have to put a courthouse, a police station,” he said. “These are financial outlays for the government.”

Satellite Images

According to the European Commission definition, any contiguous stretch with at least 50,000 people and a population density of 1,500 per square km is considered an urban center.

Any area with at least 5,000 people and a population density of 300 per square km is classified an urban cluster.

Rural areas are those with less than 300 people per square km.

The New York University definition, which has been informed by research by UN-Habitat and the United Nations Population Division, also incorporates a measurement of building stock as part of its criteria for what constitutes a city.

If at least 25 percent of a 900 square meter (1,076 square yards) parcel is built up, then the researchers consider it part of a city.

That information is cross-referenced to confirm people live there so that, for example, a mining encampment with several buildings but few residents would not qualify as a city.

“A city represents a concentration of people but it also represents a concentration of capital, represented partly in the fixed stock of buildings,” Lamson-Hall said.

In addition to differing population thresholds, countries also rely on arcane criteria for defining a city, like the existence of a charter or presence of a cathedral, Dijkstra said.

“We use the same words but we really mean different things (when it comes to cities),” he said.

However, the satellite imagery that captures the population density of human settlements might not tell the whole story. A lot of these satellite-image based definitions of urban miss informal settlements.

Until researchers visit the cities they have measured to see if their numbers hold up to observed conditions on the ground, numbers might still not reflect the true picture, she said.

The work is a very valuable exercise still in early stages towards a very important end goal, but a lot needs to happen before this (definition) has practical value.

India Need Appropriate Strategy in Strategic Meet

The first India-US high-level dialogue with the Trump administration next month can pack a punch, or remain in the safe zone of comfortable repetitions.

When the defence and foreign ministers of India and the US meet on September 6 in New Delhi, they will discuss their strategic concerns. But they should also draw a clear roadmap with tangible goals.

Now that the US Congress has granted India a waiver from the catch-all Russia sanctions law, the relationship is out of the landmine zone. Last month, the US also elevated India’s status to Strategic Trade Authorisation-1— the same category as Nato countries —in another positive signal before the meeting.

Defence Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have repeatedly highlighted India’s importance in maintaining a free and rules-based order. Nomenclature diplomacy to counter Chinese swagger is also at play. Asia-Pacific is now firmly Indo-Pacific, and Pacific Command is renamed Indo-Pacific Command.

The US government’s policies on India’s two most difficult neighbours are clearer. More than $1.5 billion in US security aid to Pakistan remains blocked, and only $150 million are allotted for 2019. Funds for military training for Pakistani officers in the US are frozen.

Neither President Donald Trump nor Pompeo has called Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to congratulate him as per tradition. Instead, Pompeo warned Pakistan he would not allow an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout to pay off China.

China, too, is in sharper focus. A full-fledged tariff war is in the making, acquisitions of strategic US companies have been blocked, eight Chinese entities were blacklisted, and visas for Chinese graduate students are more difficult today.

Against this backdrop, India and the US should have an easier time moving ahead. The dialogue’s two working sessions will focus on key issues: security in the Indo-Pacific, Iran sanctions, trade as a strategic issue, bilateral defence partnership and Afghanistan’s future.

India will raise the H-1B visa issue. Both sides have legitimate questions about the other, even if they share the ultimate objective: a free and open system where all countries prosper without subjugation by China. But how far either is willing to go to ensure equilibrium is a matter of debate. A frank discussion on the short-, medium- and long-term goals is necessary.

If India makes its presence felt in the Indo-Pacific by deploying more ships, the US should correspondingly give more importance to India’s interests in West Asia and in Afghanistan. Given Pompeo’s hard line on Iran, the Indian side is keen to get a sense of where things stand on sanctions. Last month, he said he would “consider” waivers for a handful of countries.

But Pompeo’s views on a carve-out for Iran’s Chabahar port, in which India is heavily invested, are unknown. US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley had called the port “vital” on her India visit, saying the US was keen to make it happen. We don’t know if Pompeo agrees.

The US demand that nothing should benefit Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is a tough one. The IRGC has a large stake in the Iranian economy, including real estate. But a way must be found.

On defence, the two sides need to define what the term ‘major defence partner’ really means, instead of circling around. India wants more technology and US wants more trade. Clarity on what exactly is on offer — and at what cost — would help.

Similarly, to increase military-to-military cooperation, the defence ministers should discuss capacity-building, raising the complexity and size of exercises and allowing Indian officers access to specialised courses.

There is much to learn from each other. India needs better skills in electronic warfare, cyber security and the use of snipers. Would Mattis allow Indian officers in the US Army Sniper School? New Delhi has now decided to pay for courses just as Nato countries do, and not depend on US funding.

In return, India could offer courses in high-altitude warfare — surviving in Siachen with less oxygen must have some secrets the Americans can learn. It could also share best practices in fighting ‘near-peer’ competitors, now that the US worries about facing similar situations.

And, finally, given the deeply emotional issue of the remains of US soldiers —take the recent North Korea example — India could institutionalise the current case-by-case arrangement to find remains of Americans who died in World War 2 on the India-China-Burma border.

Joint search teams working regularly in Arunachal Pradesh will generate enormous goodwill — to say nothing of the signal to a certain neighbour that claims the entire state.

China Building a More Capable People’s Liberation Army

 China is advancing its capability to strike United States targets and the island of Taiwan, according to the Pentagon’s latest annual report to Congress about “the current and probable future course” of the Chinese military, released August 16.

According to the report, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is “likely preparing for a contingency to unify Taiwan with China by force, while simultaneously deterring, delaying or denying any third-party intervention on Taiwan’s behalf.” The report said that China has accumulated an array of military options against Taiwan which include a sea and air blockade, a full-scale amphibious invasion, threats of a full-scale amphibious invasion, and a surprise attack designed to “force rapid military and political resolutions before other countries could respond.” And should the U.S. respond, “China would try to delay effective intervention and seek victory in a high-intensity, limited war of short duration.”

Already, the PLA is likely “training for strikes against U.S. and allied targets” and boosting its “capability to strike U.S. and allied forces and military bases in the western Pacific Ocean, including Guam,” according to the Pentagon.

China clearly is now a force to be reckoned with, and its use of force will have dramatic global ramifications.

Chinese leaders have branded the years since the turn of the 21st century as a “period of strategic opportunity.” Through enterprises like the Belt and Road Initiative, they have improved economic and trade cooperation with various countries. And they have used those seemingly benign enterprises to deter confrontation or criticism from trade partners and also as investments for advancing “potential military advantages for China.”

The report noted two key factors working in China’s favor: strong political will and fiscal strength. The Nations like China are growing in economic power and willpower while nations like the United States would greatly diminish in those critical factors for military success.

China is the world’s second-largest defense spender after the U.S. Analysts expect it to continue increasing its defense budget.

China has “continued to advance an ambitious agenda of military modernization and organizational reforms,” the report said. The current reforms are actually “the most comprehensive restructuring of forces in its history to fundamentally change the way Chinese forces fight.”

For the past 30 years, China’s air force has not been part of its nuclear weapons strategy. The report noted that the Chinese Air Force has now been “reassigned a nuclear mission.” For the first time ever, China now possesses the nuclear “triad”—systems for delivering nuclear strikes by land, sea and air.

Expect China to continue “to develop and deploy increasingly advanced military capabilities intended to coerce Taiwan, signal Chinese resolve, and gradually improve capabilities for an invasion,” as the Pentagon expects. We can expect it to continue “increasingly undertaking military operations in other countries’ [exclusive economic zones],” not only Taiwan’s, the Philippines’ or Japan’s. We can expect the PLA to develop “increasingly sophisticated weapons” and pursue “an increasingly global role.”

The Real Art of Deal Making: Indian Women Bargaining

 Growing up, going shopping with older female relatives was always a nightmare. They took inordinately long, visiting at least a dozen shops before even thinking about buying something. They seemed most interested in the least important things- hair clips being particular favourites. They fussed about things that were exceedingly trivial- choosing the colour of a bathroom mug could take them a good twenty minutes, till another aunt would remember that the first shop they had gone to had greater variety (it didn’t). But by far what was the worst thing about being dragged along to these expeditions, was the bargaining that followed once some object had finally been identified as being worthy of purchase. The brazenness of their negotiations was deeply embarrassing; an asking price of Rs 60 would be countered with an offer of 15.

One yearned for fixed prices, for then there was no responsibility to even attempt to bargain. The worst feeling was to be put in a situation where bargaining was clearly called for, and one was not up to the task. At best, one managed with a weak counter, which more often than not, seeing the haplessness of their prey, the seller rejected, and one capitulated having at least made a token attempt. Going to big stores, where bargaining was a no-no, was thus a great relief, but that rarely happened.

Wisdom about the meaning of bargaining came strangely in one of my travels. It was in Bali, I think that while trying to buy some improbably coloured garment, that a price was quoted, and finding it unattractive, one tried to move on. The lady who was selling, called me back, and with great cheerfulness, asked me not to just give up, but to bargain. There was something so innocent about the transparent manner in which it was acknowledged that this was all a game and that one had an invitation to play. It happens in India too, but usually, by way of the vendor asking what price is one willing to pay, which then serves as a starting point to begin negotiations. But an open invitation to bargain has a disarming quality, for it pre-empts the adversarial nature of the negotiation. It underlined the fact that there was a reason why some of us liked bargaining- for it was not only an exercise in penny-pinching but one that met deeper needs.

Bargaining makes price human. It rescues relationships from transactions. It encloses the buyer and seller in a pact. The price arrived at, becomes a junction, a meeting point. Both sides reveal a little bit about themselves, how much something is wanted and what value one is willing to place on it. Price becomes a value. The object bought gets located in the real world, one that teems with needs and constraints. Without the ritual, the act of buying becomes mere consumption. The money saved is important but it is the interaction that coverts something cold into something warm.

Discounts are bargains too, and there is no question that causes delight, particularly when they are unexpected. Objects jump in value and become suddenly that much more accessible. But that being said, discounts do not replace the joy of bargaining, for they are little more than bribes for buying. The question is also one of control; discounts keep control squarely on the seller’s side. One is an appreciative recipient of the other side’s generosity, but no longer an equal. Of course, now with virtually every shop sporting a discount sign the whole year round, the pleasure in getting a discount has been severely undercut. It is now merely an entitlement and any discount that uses the word ‘up to’ is largely disregarded.

Price otherwise is the unwelcome sign on the door, a sign designed to keep us away, or at the very least tell us that we are not really welcome unless we can afford to buy what we are looking at. There are shops we don’t enter because we fear what the price tags inside might be. We stand outside these shops and strain our eyes and bend in strange poses to catch a glimpse of the price tag on the product so that we don’t embarrass ourselves by going in, looking around awkwardly, feebly examining some merchandise, before pretending that nothing here meets our fancy, and quickly walking out. The ability to bargain frees us from the diffidence of our own presumed inadequacies. The price can no longer judge us, for the evaluation works in both directions in an overt way.

Bargaining needs people on both sides to be in control of their decisions. Price becomes a mutually arrived at destination between two people. When we move into the more formal world of consumption, the relationship between individual buyers and selling organisations cannot accommodate this fluidity. Things are what they seem, and one either accepts that or one move on. Traditional markets, teem with people exchanging energy; modern outlets are galleries of frozen objects.

While bargaining itself belongs to a world that we are rapidly leaving behind, the idea of haggling is very much a part of our everyday lives, as anyone with children can readily testify. Every day is fraught with intricate negotiation, with much give-and-take, parry-and-thrust, calculated brinksmanship, and the use of various kinds of blackmail, all melding together effortlessly. No negotiation is harder fought, and more rigorously argued.

Good deals make both sides happy.  They preclude the notions of victory and defeat. Agreements that are arrived at through a process of working through each other’s perspective have an inbuilt mechanism that creates satisfaction with the outcomes. In an increasingly fractious world, where we agree on fewer and fewer issues, agreeing on a negotiation is a sign that interests of a vastly different kind can converge. As long we engage with a desire to converge, we can bargain our way through it. The problem arises, as it days nowadays, when the intention itself is lacking.

Canada-S. Arabia: A Losing Diplomatic Battle

It’s not a happy assessment of the current state of play in Saudi Arabia’s cynical barrage of attacks on Canada, and it might not be too late for Justin Trudeau’s government to stiffen its spine and turn things around, but let’s face it. The Saudis are winning.

This is nothing like a “trade spat” and it’s got nothing to do with “diplomacy by Twitter.” It would not be putting too fine a point on it to call the Saudi’s carefully-calibrated mayhem an act of diplomatic terrorism. Requiring only a pretext to put it all in motion, the House of Saud found one in a brief and otherwise run-of-the-mill statement that the Canadian embassy in Riyadh released on Friday, August 3—in Arabic—to the embassy’s 12,000 followers on Twitter.

“Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.”

That was it.

That’s the “blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs” that the Saudi foreign affairs ministry blew a gasket about, falsely and preposterously claiming that it was a violation of “basic international norms and all international protocols.” Then there was this threat, aimed specifically at Canada, but by implication at every other democracy: “Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgement of our right to interfere in Canadian domestic affairs.”

Then the Saudis acted. Riyadh recalled its ambassador from Ottawa and told Canadian ambassador Dennis Horak he had 24 hours to leave the country. All further trade and investment was to be dropped. Saudi students in Canada—there are roughly 15,000 of them—were ordered to leave the country. All Saudi medical exchange programs were cancelled. Then a boycott of Canadian wheat, then an order to Saudi asset managers to dump Canadian bonds, equities and cash holdings “no matter the cost.”

There has been quite a barrage of hyper-partisan cheap shots fired at Trudeau these past few days, to the effect that the Saudi uproar is of a piece with his catastrophic magical mystery tour across India last February. Or that somehow Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is at fault, and not the House of Saud’s thuggish senior consigliere, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Butcher of Yemen.

Still, it’s not easy to subject the current state of play to any objective assessment that does not lead to the conclusion that the Saudis are winning, hands down. The crown prince has friends in all the right places. He’s a close confidante of U.S. President Donald Trump’s soft-palmed, jet-setting son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the regime is giving every impression that so far, in its horsewhipping of Canada, it’s quite pleased with itself. The Saudis have rallied Russia’s Vladimir Putin to their cause, along with Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and all those Muslim-majority states still distinguished by relations with Riyadh that run along a spectrum from servility to slavishness.

The Kremlin summed up the grossly disingenuous standpoint of the world’s tyrant states quite succinctly: “We consistently and firmly advocate compliance with universal human rights, with due regard for the specific national customs and traditions that developed in a given country over a long period of time. We have always said that the politicization of human rights is unacceptable.”

In Ottawa, meanwhile, the Trudeau government has been reduced to backing off without being obvious about it, saying sorry without saying sorry, and even resorting to forelock-tugging and flattery. Canada will of course continue to “speak out,” Trudeau said last Wednesday, but he also said this of Saudi Arabia: “This is a country that has some importance around the world. It is making progress when it comes to human rights.”

Not according to the dystopian kingdom’s civil rights activists it isn’t. And not to Amnesty International, nor to Human Rights Watch Saudi Arabia researcher Hiba Zayadin: “Since Mohammed bin Salman has ascended to power, there’s been an intensified repression of dissent.”

Freeland has been obliged to go begging for mediation assistance from Theresa May’s profoundly dysfunctional government in the United Kingdom, as well as from the effectively comatose U.S. State Department. Not a shred of solidarity was on offer anyway: it was all just a dispute between “friends” and “allies.” In other words, it wasn’t anybody else’s business. The European Commission stuck its neck out only so far as to say it was “seeking clarification” about the bedlam of arrests underway throughout Saudi Arabia’s civil society groups. Other than that, this was what the EC’s Maja Kocijancic had to say about Canada’s predicament: “We don’t comment on bilateral relations.”

As far as bilateral relations with Canada are concerned, the Saudis are interested only in capitulation. “There is no need for mediation,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. “A mistake was made and it should be corrected. Canada has made a mistake and needs to fix it.” Al-Jubeir’s views were then immediately ventriloquized and elaborated upon by former Conservative foreign affairs minister John Baird. In an interview broadcast by the Saudis’ own Al-Arabiya network, Baird came across partly like a spokesman for the Saudi foreign ministry, and partly like a celebrity spokesman for Barrick Gold, a Canadian multinational conglomerate with substantial mining interests in Saudi Arabia. Barrick retains Baird as an “international adviser.”

That sort of thing—plain venality and partisan hackery—is another reason why everything is going Riyadh’s way. A final indignity: Canada will continue to buy oil from the Saudis’ state-owned petrochemical behemoth, Aramco, because the Saudis don’t want to disrupt global oil markets. As a purported global leader in the campaign for fossil-fuel reduction, Canada might have taken the opportunity to tell the Saudis to keep their damn oil, we have enough of our own. But we didn’t.

All indications are that Canada will further debase itself by keeping its end of the secretive bargain involving those “jeeps” Canadians were told they were selling to the Saudis via a $15 billion contract with General Dynamics Land Systems, which turned out to be heavily-armoured crowd-control personnel carriers with mobile gun batteries and anti-tank capacity.

The thing to keep your eye on is that the Canadian embassy statement that set things off, and the similar statement Freeland had made the day before, were merely reiterations of an appeal articulated by no less than the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, earlier that week. The OHCHR’s July 31 statement called upon the House of Saud to release all the feminists and civil rights champions it has been lately rounding up by the busload and throwing into prison.

Not the least of these is the brave and internationally celebrated Samar Badawi, jailed on July 30. Badawi’s brother, the secularist Raif Badawi, is serving a ten-year prison term for “apostasy” and “insulting Islam.” His wife Ensaf Haidar and their three children are Canadian citizens.

It’s not so straightforward a matter as the Saudis winning, and Canada losing. The international human-rights regime, ostensibly led by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is also taking a drubbing. If Canada decides to behave itself the way the White House and Downing Street and the Saudis would want, all those Arab human rights activists will lose, too. The way the exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi puts it, the kind of intervention Freeland and the embassy made “restores their hope that someone out there does indeed still care.” The Saudis aren’t exactly interested in getting anybody’s hopes up.

The other thing to notice is that the House of Saud’s reactionary grip on the world’s Sunni states is steadily slipping. Riyadh is increasingly paranoid about an Arab Spring erupting in Islam’s birthplace. For the first time in its history, the Saudi “royal family” lives in dread of widespread democratic demands that it loosen its vicious, tyrannical grip on the people of the Arabian peninsula. Resigned to transforming its endgame reliance on oil wealth by opening up its economy, securing foreign investment in megaprojects and boosting its sovereign wealth fund to $400 billion over the next two years, the House of Saud is perilously vulnerable to tectonic political upheaval these days.

The whole point in giving Canada such a public thrashing is it was something the Saudis could afford—annual bilateral trade is about $4 billion. The lesson Mohammad bin Salman intends to teach the world’s craven, quivering, leaderless democracies: if you want in on the coming boom of our sovereign wealth funds and our imminent $2 trillion public listing of Aramco and all the rest, then you better play by our rules.

But standing up to the Saudis is something Canada can afford, too.

“We do not have a single friend in the whole entire world,” Rachel Curran, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper claimed the other day. That’s not true.

It is true that the cause of universal human rights has few serious friends among NATO’s presidents and prime ministers at the moment. It’s also true that the Liberal Party has a long way to go in shedding the intellectual and moral slovenliness that has encumbered its foreign policy, particularly in regards to the despotism in Beijing.

But Canada is not alone. It supporters are Liberal media and some NGOs, but no country.

The Washington Post published its first-ever editorial in Arabic the other day. Its subject was the Saudis’ diplomatic and trade tantrum, and its point: The world should stand with Canada. The New York Times has come out swinging on Canada’s behalf. So has the Guardian in Britain: “It is in European countries’ own interests to stand together and tell the crown prince that such actions are not cost-free for Saudi Arabia.”

Often in spite of himself, Trudeau has cultivated a tremendous amount of good will and public affection throughout the NATO countries. With the United States now stuck in one of the darker moments of its decade-long retreat from global leadership in the cause of democracy, there are still quite a few Democrats and Republicans in Congress who would be pleased to turn the tables on Riyadh. The Brookings Institution’s Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst, says Canada should seize the opportunity the Saudi conniptions have presented: “I would stand firm.”

If the mantle of global leadership has fallen to a handful of democrats like Trudeau, then that’s what we’ll have to work with. Now that the Saudi hostility has pretty well cemented the pointlessness of Canada’s debilitating efforts at a seat on the UN Security Council, there’s no shame in making the best of the cards we’ve just been dealt.

The majority of Canadians never seem to see any of the fabulous wealth that trade with gangster states like China, Saudi Arabia and Iran is supposed to entail anyway. It’s a good bet that Canadians would be pleased to have Ottawa seize this opportunity and stand up to a bully like Mohammad bin Salman.

Canada didn’t pick this fight, but we’re in the thick of it. It would be a long haul, but the least we might do, if we genuinely believe what we say, is to put up some kind of proper fight in response

Star wars

Going where no US president had gone before, Trump recently signed an executive order to create the sixth branch of the US military — the Space Force — with the vice president later giving a deadline of 2020 for it to become operational. Like all Trumpian pronouncements, it was met with groans, jokes, invective and some pretty amazing memes.

There have been complaints that this is an unnecessary waste of money and that the US Air Force already has a Space Command and space force. There has also been much hand-wringing about how this will lead to the militarisation of space, but the fact is that space — like any other area we can get our warlike little hands on — is already militarised and has been for some time now.

The race started in 1950 with the launch of Sputnik by the USSR, which was quickly followed by the Soviets sending the first dog, and then the first man and woman into space. This threw military planners in the US scrambling to find countermeasures. One proposal was Project Horizon, which envisaged the building of a military base on the moon.

Paranoia may lead to disastrous miscalculation.

The Soviets took a more pragmatic approach, launching Polyot-1, the first ‘suicide’ spaceship which was designed to approach enemy spy satellites and explode, destroying them with shrapnel. Even sci-fi genre was the Soviet’s Almaz space station — a habitable space base designed for reconnaissance and surveillance, but that was also equipped with a cannon to fire at enemy satellites. As late as 1987, the USSR tried and failed to launch the unmanned Polyus spacecraft that was equipped with a carbon dioxide laser and designed to destroy America’s anti-missile Strategic Defence Initiative satellites.

Plans were drawn up by both sides to actually place nuclear weapons on select satellites as well but thanks to detente and the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, these plans were never realised.

Conventional weapons, however, are another matter and the US — starting with the Obama administration — has repeatedly refused to back the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space treaty which would ban the placement of conventional weapons in space. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently railed against this refusal, accusing the US of “nurturing plans to militarise outer space [and deploy] weapons in outer space”.

He’s not wrong, given that the US recently launched the secretive X-37B unmanned spaceplane, which can remain in orbit for a year (ironically, the use of orbiting spacecraft as surveillance and weapons platforms was proposed by Soviet scientists decades ago), and that there is a real possibility that conventional hypersonic missiles (currently in development) could be placed on US military satellites. That’s a frightening prospect for any potential target country, given that the speed of these missiles renders them impossible to intercept.

Adding to the potential orbital bombardment arsenal is the modern version of the Cold War Project Thor, which envisaged massive tungsten rods being fired from sub-orbit with devastating velocity. On the ground, these ‘rods from God’ would impact like a nuclear weapon, without all the pesky fallout.

Given how the US dominates orbital space, it is no surprise that both Russia and China are railing against its refusal to back the treaty, but this does not mean that those nations are not scrambling to develop countermeasures — not space weapons per se, but weapons based on earth that can target space platforms. These include ground-based anti-satellite ballistic missiles, and the ‘directed energy weapons’ (including lasers) which could be used to damage or destroy sensitive space-based equipment.

In order to offset America’s massive satellite surveillance networks, lasers are also being developed to effectively ‘blind’ those satellites. This doesn’t mean that China and Russia are not vying for space-based weapons platforms of their own, but that they are prioritising less expensive countermeasures rather than trying to match the US in a field in which the latter already enjoys a massive lead.

In the event of a conflict, the space theatre will be further complicated by the fact that many space technologies are dual use and that manoeuvrable satellites can easily be fitted with or turned into weapons even if their actual purpose was far more benign. Similarly, advanced ballistic missile defence systems also have the latent ability to target satellites, should the need arise. What this means is that in any future conflict, the lines will be further blurred, thresholds will be lowered and paranoia may lead to disastrous miscalculation.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, as advances in space (and military) technology do indeed trickle down to us on earth as well, and the global positioning system that helps us get around is just one such example. And then, of course, there’s the promise that if the real ‘khalai makhlooq’ show up, we may have a surprise or two in store for them.

The Measurement of Children’s Intelligence Can be Altered by AI

There is a saying in education that you treasure what you measure. Going by the standardized tests that dominate schools in many countries around the world, we’re teaching children that we value only a very narrow definition of intelligence—the ability to solve word problems about train times, or identify the purpose of a World War I treaty on a multiple-choice test.

The truth is human intelligence is vast and complex. Yet it is measured—and valued—crassly. And in an age when artificial intelligence is capable of nailing IQ tests and mastering knowledge-based curricula, humans may be setting ourselves up to be outshone by technology.

“I think we are in danger of dumbing ourselves down,” says Rose Luckin, a professor of learning-centered design at University College London who has been studying artificial intelligence and learning for more than 25 years. Because we measure intelligence in very limited ways, “we are very impressed by the sort of intelligent behavior our technology can produce.”

Luckin’s latest book, Machine Learning and Human Intelligence: The future of education for the 21st Century, argues that if we want to avoid turning our kids—and their teachers—into robots, we have to radically redefine intelligence. She advocates using AI to help us develop and measure human intelligence in various forms to better prepare students for a workplace that requires constant adaptation and learning.

Redefining intelligence

Luckin identifies seven kinds of intelligence that kids will need to thrive in the future.

First, there’s interdisciplinary academic intelligence, the ability to tie subjects together rather than studying them in silos. (Finland, of course, is ahead of the curve on this front, having jettisoned the idea of teaching by subjects in favor of showing students to make connections between math, history, economics, and language under umbrella topics like “The European Union.”)

Then there’s social intelligence, or developing an awareness of our own emotions and how we regulate those in a group. This is something humans can excel at; robots, not so much.

Luckin also says that there are four meta-intelligences:

Meta-knowing, or our relationship to knowledge. Do students “understand where knowledge comes from?” Luckin asks. “Do they see it as something they are given and they have to learn, or do they realize it is something they construct and is contextual?” Kids with this kind of intelligence understand what constitutes good evidence, and how to make judgments based on that evidence.

Metacognition, or knowing ourselves and regulating our cognitive processes. (For example, if know I’m a procrastinator and someone who needs to write things down to learn them, I should not wait until one hour before a major exam to try and re-write all my notes.)

Meta subjective intelligence, or understanding our emotions and their relationship to our learning and well-being. Motivation is a key piece of this.

Meta contextual intelligence, which is about the dynamic context in which learning takes place—not just in a class, but with people, things, and locations. “Our intelligence is not just in our brain,” Luckin says. “There’s an increasing amount of evidence that context is huge,” and context is something AI can’t do well, Luckin says.

Accurate perceived self-efficacy, our ability to assess our own abilities, is perhaps the most important kind of intelligence. “Can we accurately predict whether we are likely to be successful at something, whether we are effective?” Luckin asks.

Humans are notoriously bad at predicting our own performance. In general, behavioral psychologists and economists have shown we are prone to overconfidence, among other biases. Luckin argues this is where AI comes in.

Bringing AI into the classroom

“AI is a powerful tool to open up the ‘black box of learning’ by providing a deep, fine-grained understanding of when and how learning actually happens,” Luckin writes in Nature. She proposes that AI systems can allow us to better develop this wider range of intelligences—in part because AI could help to measure things beyond knowledge, including collaboration, persistence, confidence, and motivation. It would also allow us to dispose of one-time tests used to assess students. Instead, students could be tested on a continuous basis, with a computer, phone, or tablet using tools to evaluate aspects of students’ social, interdisciplinary and multiple meta intelligences. By providing kids and teachers with a more accurate portrait of what they can and cannot do, students would thus have more efficient ways to improve.

“Often seeing some evidence for yourself about how you are doing is very instructive to shed a light on what you are doing,” Luckin says. This method would free up the teacher to focus on making sense of the data and working on key students issues like motivation and perseverance. While she acknowledges that AI can’t fully measure any of the intelligences, she believes “it can help us get better at all of them.”

Luckin offers some examples of how AI could help improve learning. In a paper published in Computer Sciences, she examines how to measure collaborative problem-solving, a skill that’s been much-touted as necessary for the modern workplace. But it’s impossible for one teacher to keep complete tabs on which students are working well together during classroom small-group activities.

In one experiment, she and her colleagues had cameras film kids’ hand movements and head orientations to measure how effectively they were working together. The detection tool was then cross-checked by humans who judged whether the groups were working collaboratively or not. The goal, Luckin said, was to build evidence of social interaction, which is one element of successful collaborative problem solving. This evidence could be used to form a dashboard that would flag to teachers which groups need their attention, allowing teachers to use their time more efficiently.

Another example of how AI could work in the classroom is offered by the UK learning platform Century Tech, which uses AI and big data to tailor educational content and activities based on individual students’ areas of strengths and weaknesses. Teachers get real-time updates on students’ progress, allowing them to target how best to support learners.

Developing every kind of intelligence

There are ways to develop a range of intelligences that go beyond AI, too. Some teachers seeking to build metacognitive intelligence are using a computer program called “Betty’s Brain.” In the program, science students teach a cartoon character named Betty about river-ecosystem processes, including the food chain, photosynthesis, and the waste cycle. They then test Betty to see what she has learned, and observe the role testing plays in learning. “In checking her, the students are really checking themselves and discovering that self-monitoring is an important strategy that applies to all learning situations,” Vanderbilt magazine explains. “In order to teach, they first have to learn,” said Gautam Biswas, the Vanderbilt professor of electrical engineering and computer science who developed it.

Luckin also says that students can build their intelligences by studying AI itself. She points to how exploring IBM’s Watson, which has an enormous knowledge base, could help students build meta-knowing—the understanding that knowledge is not just information that we are presented with, but something we build. Watson can answer complex questions because it is programmed to make observations and build bodies of evidence, generate and evaluate hypotheses, and decide on the best possible answer. In other words, Watson learns in much the way that students should learn. “We can use that as a sandpit for learners to see that knowledge has been constructed,” Luckin says.

The downside of AI surveillance

There are some obvious obstacles to the AI-enabled world that Luckin envisions. For one thing, education systems are notoriously averse to change. For another, the idea of AI tracking students’ performance raises significant concerns about data privacy. If technology is constantly evaluating your child’s intelligences, it is also collecting data on their strengths and weaknesses.

It’s easy to imagine the ways that this could be used to pigeonhole students or deny them opportunities. A story in the Financial Times offers one instructive example, explaining how in a high school in eastern China decided to track students: “A surveillance system, powered by facial recognition and artificial intelligence, tracks the state school’s 1,010 pupils, informing teachers which students are late or have missed class, while in the café, their menu choices leave a digital dietary footprint that staff can monitor to see who is gorging on too much fatty food.” The school eventually halted the program because of local controversy, the Financial Times reports. But the portrait it paints is a scary one.

Luckin admits that data privacy is an enormous issue, though she doesn’t necessarily have a solution herself. “This is the big discussion that has to happen,” she says, and teachers and policymakers should join the academics and engineers who are already talking about how to make use of AI in education.

As for the issue of schools’ historical resistance to change, Luckin isn’t alone in believing that it’s inevitable that AI will become more embedded in the classrooms. Simon Balderson, an assistant headteacher at Wells Cathedral School in the UK, organizes an international conference about AI and education. He tells Tes, a UK website and magazine about teaching and learning:

“At the moment, we deliver content and assess pupils but, as AI infiltrates classrooms, this will change. AI is developing so rapidly that, in the future, it will be able to detect, for example, the micro-expressions that pass across someone’s face when they are struggling to understand a concept, and will pick up on that and adapt a lesson to take account of it.”

Like teachers, the AI would adapt its approach to each student. But it would do it consistently, on a constant basis, and for every pupil. “No teacher can do that with 30 children per class,” Balderson notes. “AI will also manage data for each pupil, ensuring that work is always pitched at exactly the right level for every student. Currently, that level of differentiation is impossible.”

The future of testing

It seems unlikely that schools will jettison high-stakes, academic testing anytime soon. But there is a growing acknowledgement on both sides of the Atlantic that the exam system is broken: it rewards students for regurgitating information rather than making meaning from it, and incentivizes extrinsic—rather than intrinsic—motivation.

Luckin argues that AI is a viable option to replace some tests. “Now that we have ways of collecting data and analyzing that can help us to do very accurate formative, continual assessment,” she says, “there is a realistic alternative to exams if we want it.”

She’s excited by the possibility of how changing what we measure would change what our education system values: “If we can accept that we need to change that assessment system,” she says, “then it opens the door to that radical rethink about what the education system is for.”

It’s too soon to know whether the vision Luckin has is utopian, dystopian, or just plain off. But the conclusions of a recent House of Lords report on AI included this assertion:

All citizens should have the right to be educated to enable them to flourish mentally, emotionally and economically alongside artificial intelligence.

This kind of thinking bodes well for a shakeup in the way schools work. “When you unpack it,” Luckin says, “that’s huge

Future of Geopolitics-Possible Scenarios

To understand events in the international arena, it helps to distinguish whether our current period is essentially stable or in significant flux. In an article written a quarter of a century ago, during another time of rapid and relentless change, my co-author and I described the former type of period as a plateau phase, and the latter as one of historical transition.

A series of recent developments suggests that the domestic political situations of several key players in the international arena are undergoing significant shifts, as are relations between players. Everything seems to indicate that the world is in another period of historical transition.

A shortlist of the developments that point in this direction include: the breakdown of the political centre in several advanced democracies; centrifugal tendencies in the long-prevailing regional and international structures, of which the Brexit vote is one example; the accentuation of authoritarianism in Russia and China; and last, but certainly not least, the collapse of American moral leadership.

Against this backdrop, how might we expect strategic relations to evolve in the next 20 years? In the short to mid-term, the key issue is the relationship between those powers that have been largely responsible for creating the post-WWII order, and those that are challenging it, in an effort to erect a new paradigm calling that order into question. In which direction this relationship is moving should become clear within the next five to ten years, and perhaps much sooner. There are essentially three possible outcomes.

One is that the current Western-dominated paradigm manages to overcome its current weaknesses and disunity, creating space for and movement towards a renewed democratic revolution. In the process, it forges an environment in which the challenging powers can be successfully encouraged to integrate. Call this ‘liberal internationalism renewed’ – a revamped version of the paradigm that has prevailed since the end of the Second World War.

A second possible outcome has the challengers to the Western-led paradigm – primarily, but not exclusively, Russia and China – succeed in taking advantage of its contradictions, to more or less peacefully establish the basis for the multi-polar world for which they have long been militating. Call this ’21st-century concert’, after the 19th-century Concert of Nations.

A third possible outcome resembles the second, but with one crucial difference. The rise of the multi-polarists turns violent, characterized by spiraling patterns of conflict that encompass ever more regions of the world. The resulting situation is similar to the strategic free-for-all that prevailed as the Concert of Nations was weakened, and ultimately condemned, by inter-state conflict rising to critical levels. Call this ‘geostrategic meltdown’, a new period of global conflict.

As for the factors driving these developments, there are five key ones.

The first factor concerns the economic viability of the main protagonists – whether their economic model continues to engender sufficient wealth to maintain their programmes of hard and soft power.

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Image: PwC: The World in 2050

The second factor is whether these states will succeed in reducing the inequality gap among their citizens. The existence of this gap spans international borders, but it is particularly significant in the main protagonist states shaping the emerging world order.

The third factor has to do with the competing countries’ governance capacity. Are the democratic states that have traditionally exercised governance leadership relinquishing this role? Will authoritarian states prove capable of fashioning a new paradigm, based on a political monopoly of the ruling group, but in such a way to lead society effectively, owing to their prowess in mastering cutting-edge technologies? Or will the world end up with a new kind of democratic paradigm, quite different from what we have known in recent decades, but sufficiently similar to be considered still in the democratic genre?

Next, there is the possibility of a military breakthrough – one that could convince the leadership of one or state or another that it was in a position to stave off other challengers and/or take significant risks in confronting the prevailing system. Think submarines in World War I and nuclear weapons in World War II.

Finally, the wild card factor is how key states in the international community will address the growing environmental challenges that every actor in the community faces. A less-than-rigorous response to the environmental realities of our time will increase the likelihood that a serious climatic contingency will intervene, relegating traditional strategic considerations to a position of lesser importance, or alternatively combining with them to create strategic complexities of a new order.

This is my conceptual framework for understanding the global big picture in the coming two decades.

Successful diplomacy needs large heart, quick action

Recently, a newspaper headline with respect to our diplomacy in Africa caught my eye, “Slow delivery of aid, low credit disbursement can undo India’s strategy.” I could not agree more. Our diplomacy in Africa, had a headstart over China, particularly in former British colonies. Our support for the freedom struggle, the large Indian diaspora and NAM placed us in a pivotal position to cultivate goodwill and support in our quest for our rightful place in the comity of nations. Our problem then and to a great extent today, is money. We cannot match other powers in direct aid and infrastructure creation.

However, in fields of military diplomacy and human resource development, few can, even today, match us. Common colonial military heritage allowed us to open our military training establishments to train their personnel, establish training teams and infrastructure in host countries and export basic military equipment. Alas, even in this field we did not adequately exploit opportunities. On the contrary, we allowed well-established programmes to wither away. A case in point is our experience in Zambia (formerly North Rhodesia) which got independence in 1964.

Kenneth Kaunda, the first president, was inspired by the Indian freedom struggle and developed excellent relations with India. We opened our military training establishments to the Zambian army and the air force. Every officer of the Zambian armed forces has done one or two courses in India. The Zambian military hierarchy has always been personally known to our senior officers. In 1970, President Kaunda approached India for military aid as the Zambian military had similar doctrine and organisations as our armed forces, apart from English being the common language.

Based on the prevailing foreign policy, we did not want to be seen as exporting military hardware. However, we agreed to allow Zambia to directly hire our retired military personnel. Some officers and other ranks also took premature retirement to join this project. These personnel were inducted into the Zambian army and the air force, filling the void left by the British and gave the Zambian armed forces a solid foundation, replicating our model. The personnel were extremely popular in Zambia and one officer even reached the rank of a Brigadier. A fair number of them settled permanently in Zambia.

This project was closed in 1976 due to the economic crisis in Zambia and our reluctance to finance it. Zambian military personnel continued to do courses in India. In 1993, the Zambian government requested India for assistance to establish a Defence Services Command and Staff College ( DSCSC) for 50 students.
Due to fall in Copper prices, the Zambian economy was in doldrums and they sought a complete package in terms of instructors and infrastructure.

The cost of the project was approximately Rs 25 to Rs 30 crores. The MEA decided that we could only provide a team of 4 officers under the Indian Technical and Economic Programme. This is how, as a Colonel leading a team of two Lieutenant Colonels and one Wing Commander, I arrived in Zambia in April 1994. My short brief was to establish the DSCSC in Zambia. In addition, I gave myself the charter to further the ends of our foreign policy using military diplomacy.
Ours was a unique success story. We enmeshed ourselves with the Zambian military. A fair number of senior officers knew me, including the air chief and deputy army chief.

Due to the economic crisis, there was only a limited budget available. Following the model of our own Staff College which began from temporary hutments in 1948, along with the Zambian team, we worked night and day to establish the fully functional DSCSC in 1.5 years. My team became the toast of not only the Zambian armed forces but the entire nation.

One day, the Army Chief made a rather modest request to me. He requested 1,000 military picks and shovels from India. He said these items are not manufactured in Zambia and import costs approximately 15 times more than the prevailing price in India. The equipment was urgently required to equip units going for UNO peacekeeping missions. Eager to promote military diplomacy, I jumped at the idea. I met our High Commissioner, a former Army officer and we quickly sent in a request for donation of the equipment to the Zambian army. The cost was trivial, approximately Rs 3 lakh, including shipping.

Despite our repeated reminders to the MEA and the MoD we got the standard reply that the matter was under consideration. And it remained under consideration for six months, until it ceased to matter and the equipment was post-haste imported from Belgium.

Our Deputy Chief of Army Staff came to attend the opening of the DSCSC. He had limited time, but was very keen to visit the Victoria Falls. It was only feasible through a charter flight. I reluctantly approached the Army and the Air Chief. Zambia had only one VIP aircraft meant for the President. Necessary permission was obtained in a few hours and the Deputy Chief used the Presidential aircraft for his visit.

Moral of the story is that for successful diplomacy, you need a large heart and execution must be on time.

The racist language of space exploration

The language of colonialism is infecting outer space, thanks to dominance by rich white businessmen and politicians.
On Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence, head of the National Space Council, outlined plans for creating the “Space Force” that President Donald Trump envisions as a space-dedicated military branch, complete with space warfighters and weapons, by the year 2020. Back in June, Trump explained the Space Force by using the language of Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 Supreme Court decision which ruled that racial segregation was constitutional, giving states and municipalities the authority to enact Jim Crow laws.
“We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal, it is going to be something so important,” Trump said. He just as easily could have said, “The Space Force will be a branch of the military, like the Air Force,” but he did not.
Trump is far from the first or only person to use the language of colonization to make a pro-space venture argument. Elon Musk famously describes his plans for a Martian settlement as a “colony,” and a long lineage of space pundits, politicians, and thinkers invoke the history of colonizers and colonization in order to frame the future of humanity in space. During a July 25 hearing of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness titled “Destination Mars – Putting American Boots on the Surface of the Red Planet,” subcommittee head, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said that he believes that the first trillionaire on earth will make their money from space exploration.
Is it possible to ethically explore space? Listen to Caroline Haskins discuss the possibilities on The Outline World Dispatch.
“I don’t know who it will be, and I don’t know what they will discover, or what they will accomplish,” Cruz said. “But I think it is every bit as vast and promising a frontier as the New World was some centuries ago.”
“You could argue that the effort to colonize space is likely to involve new forms of inequality: shifts in tax revenues and administrative priorities devoted to that,” said Michael Ralph, a professor of anthropology at NYU. “As opposed to [supporting] other social institutions that benefit people like health care, education, infrastructure.”
Earning money in space is an exciting prospect for a far-right, pro-business, anti-regulation politician like Cruz, and he explicitly associated it with European countries having colonized the Americas. Starting in the late 1400s, Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal funded missions to the Americas in order to gather natural resources that would power up their economies. By stealing the land that made this resource extraction possible, colonizers used genocide, enslavement, biological weaponry, and warfare and that resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of indigenous people living in the “New World.” The concept of race, and therefore racism, was invented as a way of justifying their violence and legitimizing a hierarchy of race-divided labor.
Based off of what we know right now, the Moon and Mars are devoid of life, so this colonizing language is not actually putting other beings at risk. But, there is the risk that the same racist mythology used to justify violence and inequality on earth — such as the use of frontier, “cowboy” mythology to condone and promote the murder and displacement of indigenous people in the American West — will be used to justify missions to space. In a future where humans potentially do live on non-earth planets, that same racist mythology would carry through to who is allowed to exist on, and benefit from, extraterrestrial spaces.
On Earth, and in the United States specifically, the ideal of a merit-based society has been used to justify race-blind hiring policies that fail to account for, say, the implicit bias against black or Asian-sounding names, or the legacy of segregation, which continues to make children of color more vulnerable to attending underfunded schools. Narratives of “law and order” have also been used to justify racial profiling and harsher prison sentences for people of color than for white people who commit the same crimes. Not nearly enough work has been done here on Earth to ensure that these structural inequalities wouldn’t carry through.
“Those narratives do carry specific implications about how people living on other worlds might be structured,” Lucianne Walkowicz, the current Chair of Astrobiology at the Library of Congress, told The Outline. Walkowicz organized the Decolonizing Mars Conference that took place on June 27 as well as a public follow-up event planned for September, to discuss how colonial language is shaping our potential future in space. “Space is not just built for nothing, it’s built for people.”
When we think about humanity’s potential to exist on other planets, it’s important to consider who won’t have access to space, in part due to a total lack of concern over these issues by people who are able to access it. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos intends to make space a place for the rich to use for adventure leisure, and SpaceX/Tesla founder Elon Musk has proposed that a Martian “colony” can save a selection of humanity from the collapse of civilization in some World War III scenario. Granted, right now, these are just words from billionaires who want to excite the public about their business ventures. But they suggest that if the economically and socially vulnerable are priced out of a life-saving journey from Earth, it is a justifiable loss.
“All of these things that are said off the cuff [by billionaires] have some implications that are concrete and count some people in, and some people out,” Walkowicz said.
Part of that concern is fueled by the fact that Cruz and Pence have presented the path to settling space as one that will be privately funded, but lead by the U.S. government. In the Destination Mars subcommittee meeting, Cruz said, “At the end of the day, the commercial sector is going to be able to invest billions more in dollars in getting this job [of getting to Mars] done.” In his Thursday remarks regarding the Space Force, Pence also implied that celestial territories would be treated as private property (even though owning private property in space is explicitly illegal per the Outer Space Treaty, which the U.S. and dozens of other nations signed in 1967).
“While other nations increasingly possess the capability to operate in space, not all of them share our commitment to freedom, to private property, and the rule of law,” Pence said. “So as we continue to carry American leadership in space, so also will we carry America’s commitment to freedom into this new frontier.”
This approach to public-private partnerships directly mirrors colonist practices. For instance, the British East India Company violently colonized parts of India on behalf of the company, but over time, ownership of the stolen land shifted to Great Britain.
While these risks feel a part of a far away future, in the present, idealizing colonization as a positive, replicable aspect of American history speaks to an unsettling indifference from leaders about the violent history of colonization. And by referencing historical events that victimized people of color, leaders paint a vision of the future in which people of color continue to be excluded, Walkowicz said that the social and economic legacy of colonization is ignored.
By using narratives of adventurism and heroics, white Americans were able to convince other white Americans that they were not only entitled to steal and conquest land and persons, but that it was their destiny. Ralph said to The Outline that this mythology remains central to the way Americans conceptualize their history and culture.
“Colonization is portrayed as a heroic conquest,” Ralph said. “These practices are framed as central to American identity, essential to governance, politics, and all major social institution. But not depicted as a colonizing that is one caused by violence, displacement, dispossession.”
Even when people aren’t explicitly referring to settlements in space as “colonies,” they still use the rhetoric of colonizing the New World and the American frontier, which erases the stories of and violence against the people of color who lived and ranched in the region. But how did this language start being used in the first place?
Presidents have also used frontierism and colonialism to get white citizens behind their agenda. When President John F. Kennedy announced his intention to bring Americans to the Moon in 1962, he paraphrased one of the earliest colonists on the North American continent.
“William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage,” Kennedy said.
Bradford was the governor of the Plymouth Bay Colony at the time of the Pequot War. In an overnight attack, British colonizers massacred four hundred soldiers, non-soldiers, and children. Bradford later described the act of genocide as a Christian victory. “…victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prays therof to God,” Bradford wrote, “who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enemies in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy.”
Although Kennedy did not characterize his vision for the Moon as creating a “colony” specifically, the association he wanted to create is clear: The Moon is the next version of the New World, the next frontier for American conquest.
In his speech, Kennedy continues that men like Bradford teach us that “man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred.” However, if “man” is a stand-in for “white colonizers,” “knowledge and progress” unabashedly brushes over the lives of indigenous persons and people of color that were lost in their quest to “explore.” It’s a profusely sanitized version of reality.
“It’s fascinating that a term like ‘colonizing’ can be seen in neutral terms when it can’t exist without violence and dispossession,” Ralph said. It can’t exist without violence to establish a political hierarchy. Every colonial project is about managing populations, subjugating people, extracting resources.”
But Kennedy was not the first person to use of colonizing language in the context of space. John Wilkins, one of the first people who ever theorized about humanity’s future in space, wrote “A Discourse Concerning a New World and Another Planet” back in 1638, where he argued that the Moon will be a place for human habitation in the future. Although it was a piece of science fiction theorization at the time, Wilkins justified his argument by saying that God created the Earth and stars for people to use in his honor.
Colonizers are adventurers, Wilkins argues, whose ideals are worth replicating on other planets. “The invention of some other means for our convenience to the Moon cannot seem more incredible to us, than this did at first to them, to be discouraged in our hopes of the like success,” Wilkins wrote, admitting that any mission to the moon would be far in the future. “We have not now any [Sir Francis] Drake, or Columbus, to undertake this voyage, or any Daedalus to invent a convenience through the air.”
Sir Francis Drake was a slave-trader, and of course, Christopher Columbus is responsible for the genocide of almost 3 million people on the island of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti).
As space travel has become more technologically feasible, science-fiction writers have speculated about how a space society would actually function. Arthur C. Clarke envisioned that “colonial” would be a dirty word in space in his 1954 book Earthflight: “And to do [enter Solar politics], one had to go to Earth; as in the days of the Caesars, there was no alternative. Those who believed otherwise or pretended to — risked being tagged with the dreaded word ‘colonial.’”
For Clarke, colonialism was equated with privilege in a space society, not because of racism and violence on Earth. Later in the novel, Clarke doesn’t hesitate to compare travelling between planets, and the nobility of doing so, with British colonizers travelling between continents in earlier centuries.
Adilifu Nama, a professor of African American Studies at Loyola Marymount University who has written about the representation of race in science fiction, said that science fiction movies and books during the 1950s and 1960s often included narratives of invasion from alien lifeforms directly alongside conceptualizations of existing in other worlds. These anxious science fiction narratives became popular during the Civil Rights Movement.
“We had [an] invasion emerging [during the Civil Rights Movement] of black folks invading these once pristine white spaces: with public transportation, public schools, and eventually particular neighbourhoods and black folks having access to better, more upscale neighbourhoods,” Nama said. “So there is also this invasion society around racial purity, and the tensions of science fiction can be read not only as Cold War anxieties, but racial anxieties about the other.”
Ralph said to The Outline that the Space Race of the 1950s and 60s shouldn’t be seen as purely a nationalist competition between the U.S. and Soviet Union: it was also a distraction from the Civil Rights Movement.
“A lot of what we think of as the Space Race was the US and Russia competing as rivals for supremacy in space back in the 1950s, but also that movement was about civil rights and the struggle for justice for Americans,” Ralph said. “In a way, you could argue that space exploration has historically been used to shift public attention away from the struggle of social justice.”
According to Walkowicz, that people dip into the violent, racist history of colonialism and gloss over their language using a sense of adventure provided by the American frontier is no coincidence. “The people for whom the American frontier myth were constructed, who were primarily white men, also now have the narrative of space,“ Walkowicz said. “And because tech is so incredibly non-diverse, and has been so slow to change even in those small ways in which it has, I think a lot of those narratives go unquestioned.”
The people with the power to make a future in space possible, such as Trump, Pence, and Cruz, or the money to actually get us there, like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, are the same people who have and will always benefit from systemic racism and the potential economic glory from new economic ventures.
Ralph noted that prioritizing space travel undermines funding for sustainable forms of energy like wind and solar, and efficient ways to construct affordable houses and schools. It also has direct economic implications for the people who rely on any number of federally-funded social programs in the U.S.
“In Trump’s America, we have a lot of conservatives and even libertarians insisting there’s too much government spending on social programs, and yet Trump wants to use our federal funds to reinvigorate our space programs,” Ralph said. “Just like in the 1950s and 60s, [Trump] is using space exploration to cultivate nationalist sentiment and arguably shift questions away from questions of social justice and questions of inequality.”

The Fourth Industrial Revolution Altering the Process of Growing, Buying & Choosing Food

Disruptive technologies could help distribute food, wealth and data, reduce hunger and waste, and empower farmers.
Technology has revolutionized agriculture at regular intervals, from the invention of the ox-drawn plough in ancient Egypt, to the first gas-powered tractor at the beginning of the 20th century. In the 1960s, the Green Revolution rolled out high-yielding cereal seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is no different. In 2017, a robotic farm in the UK harvested its first fully machine-operated crop. Five tons of barley were sown, fertilized and harvested by autonomous vehicles. In the next two to three years, digital technologies in agriculture will have a sizeable market coverage around the world, estimates suggest.
In January, a World Economic Forum report developed in collaboration with McKinsey & Company identified 12 emerging technology buckets that have the potential to do good across several dimensions of the food system. They could change the shape of demand for food, through alternative proteins and personalized nutrition, for example; promote linkages along the food value chain, through mobile service delivery, big data, the Internet of Things and blockchain-enabled traceability; and create effective production systems, through water sensors, gene-editing and other scientific advances that make agriculture more precise and high-yielding.
Together, these innovations will transform a sector too often characterized in too many parts of the world by poverty and waste. But the potential of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies to advance sustainable development in rural areas cannot be taken for granted. Although world food production quadrupled between 1960 and 2010, in large part thanks to technology and an expansion of trade, this did not lead to uniformly better outcomes for food producers, consumers or the environment. Farmers increasingly find themselves in a high volume/low price equilibrium, where the gains in productivity that lift them out of poverty are partly eroded by the lower prices associated with increased supply.
Although rising rural land and labour productivity helped countries such as China and Vietnam move millions of people above the breadline, poverty remains an overwhelmingly rural concern. About 80% of the world’s extreme poor live in rural areas and 65% of poor working adults make a living through agriculture, a 2016 World Bank analysis found. Paradoxically, the very people who spend their lives growing food are some of the world’s most food insecure. Globally, hunger still affects 815 million people.
While food production has successfully kept up with population growth, diet-related diseases have emerged as a leading cause of premature death. Obesity is on the rise in virtually all regions of the world. Sub-optimal nutrition now affects the health and prospects of approximately three billion people. That’s nearly one in two people on the planet. Stunting holds back one third of the children in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and robs them of their future potential in an economy that will increasingly value brain over brawn.
Modern agriculture is also responsible for an enormous share of environmental degradation. “With current diets and production practices, feeding 7.6 billion people is degrading terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, depleting water resources and driving climate change”, states a recent article in Science magazine. In other words, our unchecked appetites are causing havoc. Food production is responsible for 26% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, 32% of terrestrial acidification, 78% of eutrophication and two thirds of freshwater withdrawals. It occupies 87% of the world’s ice-free and desert-free land.
The real question, then, is not whether Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies will help us grow more food. It’s whether they have the potential to shift the current model to a smarter system that could leave producers, consumers and the planet better off. Some of the most exciting developments may not be on the farm at all. While much attention has been focused on farm-level improvements, an equal if not greater amount of disruption may be occurring in supermarket aisles, online and through aggregation apps.
The potential for change becomes apparent once you consider the complexity of the food system. It matches the 570 million farms that produce our food with the 7.6 billion people who consume it. Add to that picture roughly 100,000 upstream enterprises that supply farms with inputs such as seeds, fertilizer, finance and crop insurance, and millions of downstream enterprises moving, processing, and selling their outputs, and it’s no wonder that data-driven companies including Amazon and Alibaba are getting into the food business.
“It’s beginning to become clear why Amazon bought Whole Foods”, CNBC reported in June, one year after the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon. “For one, it’s getting its hands on lots of shopping data, which will come in handy as Amazon expands its online grocery business and private label offerings.”
Digital technology is a game-changer for the agri-food system, because it dramatically reduces the cost of matching buyers and sellers in markets. In turn, greater efficiency in upstream and downstream markets could result in higher prices for farmers and more competition between middlemen.
Cargill, the American grain trader and beef packer, is reportedly having to rethink its business model and move toward more integrated food operations as a result of digital disruptions, including the democratization of crop pricing information. By connecting agri-entrepreneurs directly with buyers, the Chinese tech, e-commerce and artificial intelligence company Alibaba is reportedly reducing poverty in remote villages. A future in which rural communities are fairly rewarded for cultivating and conserving local resources would be a welcome development indeed, upending decades of rural to urban migration.
A new food volume/price equilibrium would also leave the planet better off, by reducing the water and land used, greenhouse gases emitted and other pollution streams generated to produce the staggering amount of food that is never eaten. (Experts estimate that about one billion tons of food are thrown away every year, accounting for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.)
The food sector is currently so riddled with inefficiencies (otherwise known as “market failures”) that it has started to attract serious tech business interest and solutions. In the past few years, fora such as Seeds & Chips in Milan and the EAT Forum in Stockholm have become hot spots of creativity, where entrepreneurs who are rethinking food mingle with advocates, policy-makers and researchers. Winnow is a start-up zeroing in on food waste in commercial kitchens by connecting scales and data analytics. Protix is betting that it makes more sense to feed insects, raised locally on food waste, to Dutch poultry, than to use Peruvian anchovies, shipped halfway across the world then ground into fishmeal.
While times are exciting for ag-tech entrepreneurs, it’s too early to declare victory for inclusive and sustainable development. Disruptive technologies could help distribute food, wealth and data, reduce hunger and waste, and empower farmers to produce more valuable, climate-resilient and nutritious foods for their clients. Or they could spur a consolidation of the food sector, allowing a few companies to dominate the market, limiting food choices and expanding bad practices rather than correcting them.
Some of the policy choices that can steer the food system toward better outcomes have been clear for years. Green certification schemes, user-friendly nutrition information, local procurement rules and incentives for conservation all have a role to play in the battle for more nutritious and sustainable food systems. Reforms of the European Union Common Agricultural Policy have led to reduced fertilizer use, more crop diversification and payments for ecosystem services while continuing to support farmers’ living standards and high productivity. In July, four of the world’s largest food companies – Danone, Mars, Nestlé and Unilever – announced they were forming an alliance to advance sustainability and nutrition food policies in the US.
What’s less obvious is the policy framework that governments should adopt in relation to farm and consumer data, and how to support a healthy, diverse, competitive and truly sustainable food economy well into the future.
Change is about more than technology. Policy innovations are urgently needed. At stake is the depth of agricultural transformation and the maximization of its dividends for millions of small-scale food producers, as well as for food entrepreneurs and consumers around the world.

Role of Robots Society Needs a Reevaluation

For most of us, our understanding of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) is drawn more from science fiction than from fact. Intelligent robots are often portrayed as either a virulent threat to humanity, as seen in the Terminator series of films or in Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, or a socially beneficial tool, as with the Star Wars robots R2-D2 and C-3PO or Star Trek’s Lieutenant-Commander Data. The truth of AI and robotic integration into society, however, is unlikely to be either of these, and, as developments in AI continue, perhaps we should pause to re-evaluate how we view these ever-evolving machines. (Note from the editor: Please see video below with reference to HAL 9000, the sentient computer in Stanley Kubrick’s movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.)

As we move towards robots becoming sentient, it is clear that we must start to rethink what robots mean to society and what their role is to be.

As a first step, we need to stop thinking of robots as human facsimiles. Science fiction tends to imagine robots that mimic human movement and language; while it is true that we are developing robots like these, the bulk of everyday robots will in all likelihood not look or sound human. Many will be specialised devices not dissimilar to the production line robots of today, carrying out spot-welds on cars or packing shirts for shipping; or they will exist without corporeal bodies at all as mere lines of code that control self-driving cars or drones or that will act as future personal assistants replacing Siri, Cortana and Alexa.

Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have warned of the threat that AI poses to human safety and security

As we move towards robots becoming sentient, it is clear that we must start to rethink what robots mean to society and what their role is to be. Today much debate surrounds what I label the “sci-fi debate”. Among others, Professor Stephen Hawking and entrepreneur Elon Musk have warned of the threat that robots and AI pose to human safety and security, a position held by 36 per cent of people in the UK according to a 2015 YouGov survey for the British Science Association. In the alternative, the passive or socially useful robot has become demonised as a direct threat to human employability. The Bank of England warned in 2015 that up to 15 million jobs in Britain are at risk of being lost to robots, while a 2016 report from Forrester research suggested that, by 2021, robots will have eliminated six per cent of all jobs in the US.

Despite these dire warnings, we continue to press ahead in robotics and AI research. Why? Because there is a dissonance between the sci-fi debate and the future role of robots in our society. The first generation of truly smart AI devices is likely to be self-driving vehicles, which offer potentially massive social benefits. From a public safety perspective these benefits are clear. In 2016, 1,810 people were killed on Britain’s roads and 25,160 were seriously injured. With human error being attributed to around 90 per cent of road traffic accidents, self-driving cars could save around 1,600 lives and reduce serious injuries by around 22,500 per annum. Then there are the economic benefits for major corporations. Delivery companies, ride-share apps and even public transport providers can replace employees with smart robots, saving billions per annum and removing the risk of industrial action. Against such a backdrop it is clear to see how AI is attractive. Similar arguments can be made for the objective impartiality of AI judges and the precision of robot surgeons.

These arguments and debates are not the root of my interest in AI and robotics, however. While most people are looking at the challenge of AI and robotics to society, I’m looking at the challenge of the robots to us. What is the human cost of integrating AI and robotics into society? It is clear that using intelligent devices, even the base algorithmic intelligence of a current smart agent like Alexa, changes the way that humans think and make decisions. We retain less information and outsource the storage of data to our devices. This means that these external devices filter the information provided to us when we make a decision: we lose some of our autonomy by trading it for convenience and for a perceived “fuller picture” which is not the case.

As Eli Pariser has shown in his book The Filter Bubble, a vital role of technology is choosing what not to reveal to us. In 1987 we might have made a decision based on incomplete information but the question of what to retain and what to discard was a purely human decision. Thirty years later we have more information but that information is valued and presented to us not by a human thought process but by algorithmic design. The information society we value so highly has created too much information for us to process. We are faced with a tyranny of choice created by overwhelming data and have outsourced the filtering of that data to algorithms and devices. This has led to developments like big data analytics and algorithmic regulation.

As we approach the brave new world of human-level machine intelligence, which some commentators believe could be with us by 2030, we will, however, be asked some very deep questions about our identity and what it means to be human. The first significant challenge is likely to be how we treat our new equals. A common theme of sci-fi is human inability to recognise and treat with respect sentient life forms different from our own. If we do achieve human-level artificial intelligence within the next 20-30 years, what we do next will define both us as humanity and our relationship with our creation. Will we treat it with respect, as an equal, or will we treat it as a tool?

When the machine intelligence reaches human level and becomes sentient and self-aware we will have to consider it an intelligent life form.

Today when we talk of AI and robotics we normally define them as tools or devices to be used as we please: to drive cars or fly planes, to mine in dangerous environments, or simply to manage our everyday lives. This may be acceptable with the current standard of low-level machine intelligence; however, when the machine intelligence reaches human level and becomes sentient and self-aware we will have to consider it an intelligent life form. If we then continue to treat it as a tool or device it will be no different from treating humans in this way. The UK abolished human slavery in 1833; in less than 30 years we may be revisiting the debate. Such debates, or even the possibility of such debates, mean that for lawyers AI and robotics offer a unique opportunity to hold a mirror up to humanity and society and to examine how we make and uphold our most fundamental legal principles and norms.