The Training Commission: an email newsletter from the future, after a civil war and digital blackout

"The Training Commission" is Ingrid Burrington and Brendan C Byrne's serialized science fiction tale, taking the form of an email newsletter that lets you eavesdrop on the correspondence between the story's principal characters: it's set after a civil war ("the Shitstorm"), sparked by misbehaving and easily abused machine-learning systems, and which was resolved after a protracted and catastrophic digital blackout. Read the rest

In 2008 "synthetic CDOs" destroyed the global economy, and now they're back

"Collateralized Debt Obligations" (CDOs) are a financial derivative that is a kind of bond that pays out based on revenue generated by a pool of assets: for example, a giant hedge fund might buy thousands of homes whose owners went bankrupt and suffered through foreclosure, and then rent them out at the highest possible rent with the least possible maintenance, and this generates thousands of revenue streams. Small slices of the revenue streams from many properties are pooled together into individual CDOs and these are sold to investors: when you buy one of these, you get a little bit of the rent from each of the tenants in the hedge-fund's holdings (other assets can be pooled together too, like payments on car loans, student loans, etc etc). Read the rest

Teen Vogue explains capitalism

Teen Vogue continues its run of excellent, progressive political reporting with Kim Kelly's potted explanation of capitalism, and not a minute too soon, as Kelly explains: "the reason many millennials haven’t been investing in mutual funds or building up their own financial nest eggs isn’t because they’re too broke, or that they lack personal responsibility — it’s because they think our current economic system, capitalism, will cease to exist by the time they are in their 60s." Read the rest

Financialization is wearing out its welcome

On the eve of Apple issuing a credit card (and following Carl Icahn's 2013 advice that "Apple should be a bank"), we seem to be reaching the end of financialization's dominance over the economy, a trend that started in the 1970s and has risen ever since -- but the tricks are wearing thin. See for example, the notorious Brazilian corporate raiders 3G bought out Kraft-Heinz and tried its usual MO of goosing profits by squeezing suppliers, paying its bills late, and cutting costs at the expense of growth -- only to have Kraft-Heinz's value drop by more than 50% in less than three years. Read the rest

Merger: a science-fiction short about corporations as literal (as well as figurative) AIs

Keiichi Matsuda created 2016's Hyper-Reality, an amazing, dystopian video about the future of augmented reality; now Matsuda is back with Merger, that plays darkly into the idea that corporations are a form of Slow AI that view humans as inconvenient gut-flora, a truth shot through our collective fears. Read the rest

Why Do Birds: Damon Knight's amazing, underappreciated science fiction novel about putting all of humanity in a box

In 2002, a mysterious man is arrested for illegally occupying a hotel room: he says his name is Ed Stone, and that he was kidnapped by aliens from the same hotel room in 1931 and has just been returned to Earth, not having aged a day; the aliens have told him that Earth will be destroyed in 12 years and that before then, the entire human race has to put itself in a giant box (presumably for transport to somewhere else, though Ed is a little shaky on the details), and to help Ed with this task, the aliens have given him a ring that makes anyone who touches it fill with overwhelming good feelings for him and a desire to help him. Read the rest

Devo's open letter on "Drowning in a Devolved World"

Robbo writes, "Gerald Casale, founder of DEVO, has written an open letter in response to the band being inducted into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame." Read the rest

The longest-serving Congressman in US history proposes a four fixes for American democracy

From 1955 to 2015, John D. Dingell served in the US House of Representatives, making him the longest-serving Congressman in the country's history: now, in the Atlantic, he warns that at the 2016 election "put the future of our country in mortal peril," and he proposes four measures to bring it back from the brink. Read the rest

20% of New York retail space is sitting vacant

A study conducted by Douglas Elliman Real Estate found that one in five New York retail spaces is sitting vacant; these spaces are boarded up and attract vandalism, drug-dealing, and other unsavory activities. The rate has more than tripled since 2016. Read the rest

History's solutions to runaway inequality: warfare, revolution, state collapse and plague

In Walter Scheidel's new book The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century, the Stanford classics prof traces the rise and fall of inequality from humanity's history, showing how over time, the rich get richer and richer, creating an ever-more-unstable situation, until, basically, the world melts down or the people start building guillotines on their doorsteps. Read the rest

US voting machine vendors and officials insist that it's OK to build wireless networking into election systems

I've been fighting with voting machine vendors since Bush v Gore, when companies like Diebold brazenly sought to subvert the Supreme Court's order to standardize a secure design for US voting machines, going so far as to send out thousands of fraudulent copyright notices in a failed attempt to silence whistleblowers who'd reported defects in their systems. Read the rest

Extreme poverty is on the decline, extreme inequality is on the rise

The rich world has never been more unequal, and the poor world has never richer: in 2018, we're seeing record low levels of global "extreme poverty" (a measure that's admittedly a bit fuzzy) and record levels of inequality, which wealth concentrated into a declining number of hands. Read the rest

The Russian equivalent to Alexa is a "good girl" but not too friendly, and is totally OK with wife-beating

Yandex is Russia's answer to Weibo, an everything-under-one-(semi-state-controlled)-roof online service, and its answer to Alexa is Alisa. Read the rest

Elon's Basilisk: why exploitative, egomaniacal rich dudes think AI will destroy humanity

Why does Elon Musk think that AI is going to kill us all? Why do so many "rationalist" techbros assume that he's right? Read the rest

The Trump-Kim commemorative coin now commemorates Trump's disastrous handling of the North Korea talks

Ahead of Trump's planned summit with North Korean "Supreme Leader" Kim Jong Un, the White House issued a tacky commemorative coin; once Trump sent his petulant breakup letter to Kim canceling the summit, the coin became the discounted "deal of the day" at the White House gift shop. Read the rest

War criminal Henry Kissinger: "AI is the end of the Enlightenment"

Henry Kissinger -- the war-criminal who abetted Pinochet's coup in Chile, supported the genocide of Bangledeshis by Pakistan, and architected the US's secret bombing campaigns in Indochina -- is worried about AI. Read the rest

The most hated company in America is about to get much, much bigger

Comcast is a perennial winner of national polls for the most hated company in America, and the bigger it gets, the worse it gets: back in 2011, the Obama administration let the company swallow NBC Universal, teeing it up to powerfully benefit from the destruction of Net Neutrality under Trump; now Trump is poised to let the company buy Fox and Sky, making the company bigger and more powerful. Read the rest

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