Categories
Economics Future Review

AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order by Kai-Fu Lee – An Honest Review

If you haven’t been paying attention, there is a war going on. It’s not a cold war or a hot war – it’s something brand new. We are on the cusp of civilization changing technology reshaping our world and our species – how that reshaping takes place depends on who wins the war. Will it be Silicon Valley and the flawed ‘American Way’ or will it be China and the equally flawed (but for different reasons) ‘Chinese Way’. Or will it be something else? Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, a pioneer and luminary in the field of AI has written this very interesting book to prepare us – read on for a review. 

Essentially, for the last 500 years or so – European and American interests have been calling the shots and as Dr. Lee puts it – China now considers that to have been a mistake which will be corrected soon. He’s not just talking trash here. Dr. Lee has an amazing resume with plenty of experience and time to understand both the American and Chinese way of doing things. In this book – he contrasts the two technology ideologies from the developers to the government intervention to the use case scenarios. The result is a world approaching a crossroads with two very different futures ahead of it. 

While the average American may still think of China as the backwater where children are starving (so clean your plate), the reality is that China has awoken and is developing faster than any nation in world history. Dr. Lee says that the ‘sputnik moment’ was when the AlphaGo computer wholloped the world’s best human player repeatedly. At this point the Chinese government – an authoritarian, nationalist, socialist, and completely centralized entity in charge of nearly 1.5 billion humans put a laser focus on the development of AI and all that it will bring – and without the constraints of a capitalist nanny state that has to appear to be rights and property respecting. 

China is not constrained by property rights, patents, human rights, privacy issues, or unions – all of which prevent Silicon Valley from making the next leap. Dr. Lee compares data to electricity in this race and essentially what he posits is that China has a lot less constraints on it in regards to collecting and using data than the US does and this gives China a huge advantage. In addition, China has a population that values safety and security over liberty and privacy – which makes it much easier to implement all data seeing applications, software, and surveillance systems. 

I’ve read other reviews – and it seems that many of them think that Dr Lee is  playing favorites and painting a picture of China having an advantage because of his Taiwanese heritage and the fact that he has spent a great deal of time living in China. I don’t believe this is true, on the contrary, I think that Dr. Lee understates things due to his American bias and longstanding employment and investments in Silicon Valley. 

The Chinese are already deploying self-driving buses and paying for dinner in restaurants with the same app they buy music, message friends, find ride-shares, and rent bicycles with. We are very early in this race, but the US is already a decade behind. 

Dr. Lee’s breakdown of the factors that each country will lead in and his later breakdown of the jobs that will be affected (almost all of them) are about as good as one can hope to envision the future with. Only time will tell if his projections are accurate.  The important thing about this book, however, is the awareness it brings to the fact that we are in a race most American people aren’t even aware of – and we are losing. 

Finally, at the end of the book, Dr. Lee uses his own experience with cancer and how it changed the way he lives to suggest a more human approach to the future – unfortunately, unless the whole world is suddenly diagnosed wth Stage 4 cancer, this is not likely to resonate with people who have to struggle to pay bills, make rent, get educations, and worry about economic survival today. 

He argues that a sort of paid volunteerism is a better way to stave off the massive unemployment that is coming than an Universal Basic Income

He doesn’t seem to recognize that if thousands of senior citizens are suddenly volunteering to do jobs that require humans – that the humans who would have made a living doing those jobs now have no source of income. It seemed to be a pretty glaring blind spot to me in what was otherwise a very aware book. 

Categories
Economics Future Politics Review

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Hariri – An Honest Review

I just finished reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Hariri. 

In my life, I’ve read many thousands of books. This is the one I wish everyone would read. Seriously. It had a few issues – but ultimately – at this moment in time, if someone were to ask me “What one book do you recommend that everyone on Earth read?” This is the one I would choose.

Yes, I admit it. In the moments or days when I finish reading a particularly good book, I am like a 13-year-old after his first kiss. My emotions are engaged, endorphins are spinning through my head and I have hormones coursing through my veins. I’m sure that everyone doesn’t react to a good book like that – but everyone reacts to something like that – because we are all humans. And ultimately, that is what this book is about – it’s the story of humans from begining to present without any fluff, lies, exaggerations, or unprovable beliefs or theories.

In many ways, I feel like this was the book that I have been looking to read for decades.  The reason I got a degree in anthropology, traveled all over the world, and worked in archaeology was because I am fascinated with humans and why we do the things we do. If you want to see why I love this book as much as I do, go have a look at the one-star reviews on Amazon. Religionsists, nationalists, statists, ideologists, and other people who Hariri calls out as delusional. The ultimate message of Hariri’s book is this :

We just aren’t that important.

Lots of people hate to hear that, but there it is. We just aren’t that important. The universe is 13.5 billion years old. 6 million years ago our common ancestor that we share with chimpanzees emerged. 200,000 years ago – humans emerged – not just us but at least six distinct species of humans. Our species survived but probably had a hand in wiping out the others somewhere around 40,000 years ago. From there we spread out and just 12,000 years ago stopped being hunter-gatherers. Next we made kingdoms and religions and invented money and empires. Just 500 years ago the first industrial revolution began and 200 years ago the scientific revolution and so on and so forth until right nowwe are on the edge of the fourth industrial revolution. The bottom line is – our history is a blink of an eye in the history of the universe, the solar system, the planet, life, or even human species.

Hariri delves into the great questions and emerges with great answers – although, admittedly, sometimes his answers rely less on facts than on suppostions based on history, science, and medicine woven together. Essentially, the book looks at our political, economic, religious, social, and tribal constructs and demonstrates in the only way possible that they are imaginary and no more real than anything else we might imagine. If you read this book with an open mind you will learn two things 1) As a species we are pretty terrible and 2) On the whole, we are improving and getting better.

While the ‘-ists’ may hate to hear it – the truth is that humans and everything we have done so far – it’s all pretty unimportant.  None of it really matters —empires, religion, capitalism, communism, nations, wars, movements, revolutions – none of it matters.

Except that actually – it does. It’s started to matter. We’ve entered a new era. We’ve started on a portion of our path where we might come to matter a great deal…or we might disappear with the other human species that came before us. In fact, it’s almost certain that we will disappear as we become something else, something wonderful, something brand new in the universe.

So, for those who hate to hear it – we aren’t that important but if they would have read on  with an open mind they would have gotten to the real message. We do matter. The way we do things matters. Why we do things matters. How we do things matters.

I can understand why so many readers/reviewers got upset. It’s not easy to have someone slaughter your sacred cows. It’s not easy to hear that your religion isn’t the chosen one, your country isn’t the best one, your diet isn’t the most ethical one. To be honest, I was bothered by some of these things too – and I found myself saying things like ‘this guy is obviously pushing a vegetarian agenda’ which is probably true – but why shouldn’t we treat animals better? Why shouldn’t we eat less meat? Why shouldn’t we strive to protect biodiversity? Why shouldn’t we acknowledge that we treat other people terribly? Yes, it shakes our foundational beliefs – the ones that were put in place by our ancestors who knew less about just about everything than we do today, as a species. Maybe we need a good shaking. Actually, strike that maybe. We need a good shaking.

Ultimately, Sapiens is a very needed message of hope in a time of fear, dread, uncertainty, doubt and change. It’s a very welcome message.

Read this book.

 

Categories
Economics Future Investing Politics Review

Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab – An Honest Review

As a geek, a sci-fi lover, a futurist, a technology lover, a person with a fascination for humans and what makes us tick, and an investor – I am constantly on the lookout for what the next big thing, the next big disruption, or the next human-culture shattering event may be – so reading Shaping the Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab was a no brainer.

Klaus Schwab is the Founder and Chairman of the World Economic Forum. He wrote a book in 2016 called the Fourth Industrial Revolution – which was one ofthe first books to clearly show just how sudden, powerful, and life chainging the technology we see around us every day is. We are in the midst of the most dramatic change our species has ever encountered. To put things in perspective – let’s take a step way back. This summary is not in the book but is helpful for understanding it.

The Agricultural Revolution (12,000 years ago) turned our species from nomadic hunter gatherers to farmers and allowed for massive population growth. The Scientific Revolution (500 years ago) gave us the tools to study and change the world around us based on what we learned. The First Industrial Revolution (200 years ago) opened the world up to us and allowed us to explore, settle, and kill each other on scales never seen before.  The Second Agricultural Revolution (100 years ago) allowed for mass production of food and huge expansion of population. The Second Industrial Revolution (100 years ago) gave us mass manufacturing and electricity. The Third Industrial Revolution (50 years ago) gave us computer, semi-conductors, and the internet. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (now) is changing everything across every aspect of our lives. Schwab’s book identifies the following as being the key technologies of the new world we are entering.

1) Extended Digital Tech including quantum computing, blockchain and distributed ledger tech, the internet of things, and big data crunching algorithms.

2) Changing the Physical World with artificial intelligence and robotics using advanced materials, 3-D printing, and and drones.

3) Alteration of Human Beings through biotechnologies, neurotechnologies, and through virtual and augmented realities.

4) Integrating our environment through clean energy, storage and transmission. Also geo-engineering on both Earth and other planets as well as space technology itself.

After reading this book – it becomes clear that the most immediate threat is that of social upheaval as the need for human workers becomes less through automation, artificial intelligence, and (to some extent) the problem of what to do with all the people who will be using up the resources of the planet. The intent of this book was to both show the coming technology and to let stakeholders know what they can do to make sure that the future is based on a human rights framework that has important human values built into it. We are moving very quickly and the ground we are covering is totally uncharted. We will make many mistakes. Schwab is trying to help us make less of them.

This book dovetailed nicely after reading Andrew Yang’s The War on Normal People – one thing is for sure. Automation is coming and your job is probably not going to last very much longer – no matter what your job is. We are all walking around with super computers in our pockets that are recording data all the time – that data is being used for many purposes. The way that data is used and sorted is key to what happens to us in the future – there are positive and negative outcomes attached to that. Blockchain is much more than jsut cryptocurrency and Bitcoin – it is a revolutionary tech that will change the way business gets done. In fact, it already is. The internet of things on the other hand is one of the ways that our pocket super computers and the quantum computers of the future will be gathering data about us and making decisions for us. Our shoes, clothing, cookware, and more will be gathering data – not just our phones, TVs, cars, and refrigerators.

I was pretty aware of automation technology in the form of robots and A.I. The idea of advanced materials and automated 3-D printing sort of blew my mind, however. Imagine every city or every house having a Star Trek style fabricator where you simply say ‘computer make a pork chop’ or ‘computer make a picture hook’ or ‘computer make a new part for my VW van’ and it either appears in the 3-D printer several minutes later or arrives by drone a few hours later. Not science fiction any longer. It’s happening and it is eliminating the need for warehouses, trucks and truckers, and stores on a massive scale.

The next section on biotechnology, neurotechnology and altered realities also was a bit of an eye opener. Essentially, I’ve been thinking of gene editing for a while now as a way to cure disease and fix our problems – I’ve read about the ideas of giving us new abilities and physical features but never really considered it viable – now though – these things are happening. The biggest opportunity/threat here is the integration of our minds/bodies with advanced A.I and robotics – we will, very shortly – almost certainly stop being humans as we have been. We will be something different. The perfection of artificial and augmented realities will also expand our world to horizons far beyond what that of Columbus and the colonization of the Americas did.

Finally, there are the ways we are changing the planet and our opportunities in space. We are and have been for a long time – destroying our evnvironment, wiping out the biodiversity of the planet, and giving ourselves the illusion of wealth while we destroy the only true wealth we have. The advent of the fourth industrial revolution has given us tools for accelerating this process or alternatively for reversing it. In addition the death of fossil fuels and the birth of clean, renewable energy are opportunties that can make the world a better place or a worse one. Finally, there is the development of space which the book touches on a little bit.

I bought this book to learn more about the technologies. It covered that but mostly the book was about what we as individuals, companies, governments, or individuals can do to deal with the change and to help bring it about in a way that benefits human values. I appreciated this information. I recommend that anyone read this book – it’s readable but not easy or particularly fun. It will educate you. It was compiled from over 200 individuals contributing information over an 18 month period.

Categories
Politics Review

Fahrenheit 11/9 – America’s PTSD on Film – An Honest Review.

I’m not sure why I went to watch Michael Moore’s latest film.  I knew it would make me feel like crap. I knew it would activate terrible emotions. I knew it would re-open the big hole in my soul which used to contain love for my country and then pour battery acid on it. It didn’t disappoint. If you want to feel crappy, if you want to feel pessimistic, if you want to feel angry about racism, gun violence, tyranny, sexual assault, the death of American democracy, genocide and more – this is the film to go see. Plus if you are a combat veteran, a survivor of sexual assault, a victim of racism, or a person who had a pleasant Saturday in Hawaii turned into a moment when you thought everyone you love would be incinerated by a nuclear bomb in thirteen minutes you will be activated. If you have PTSD, anxiety disorder, or suffered huge emotional trauma watching Donald Trump win in 2016 you will be activated and you will suffer. If you or your loved ones survived the Nazis or the Holocaust you will be activated and suffer. If none of that applies to you, you should watch this film but you probably won’t. If any of it applies to you, you shouldn’t watch this film but you probably will. Be prepared to have all your trauma activated. Fuck you Michael Moore.

Categories
Cryptocurrency Hardware Review Wallet

John McAfee’s Bitfi Wallet – The “Unhackable” “Hardware” Wallet – An Honest Review

For the past year, I have wanted to buy a cryptocurrency hardware wallet . I haven’t bought a Ledger or a Tresor wallet yet because when I looked into buying one or either of them, I found a lot of stories about how they were arriving to purchasers already compromised. There was a lot of FUD going around about them and I opted to look for something better.

First, I ordered a HooFoo which has still not arrived or possibly even been produced yet. I bought it more than six months ago. The crowdfunding campaign wouldn’t give me a refund and HooFoo recently contacted me to say that it will be shipped…someday. When it does, I will review it. I hope that day comes.

In late June of 2018, I started seeing John McAfee shilling Bitfi an unhackable hardware wallet. “The most unhackable hardware wallet ever made”. For those who don’t know, John McAfee is the guy who invented McAfee software and who was accused of murdering his neighbor in central America and who ran for President as a Libertarian in 2016 and who has become a sort of unwanted step-child poster boy for cryptocurrency and is now a master shiller of all things related to cryptocurrency. McAfee is the William Shatner of crypto, he’ll sell his soul if the price is right – so it wasn’t that I trusted him, it was more that I figured it like this. McAfee is known for hacking. He’s known for crypto. He’s putting his name right on this. Chances were it was a good and possibly a great product. So I ordered one.

Here’s the first announcement I saw: https://bitcoinprice.media/bitfi-and-mcafee-announce-unhackable-crypto-wallet.html

Looks pretty good? Right? Sounds pretty good.

Now, just so you know, I did ask for a free one to review and McAfee told me there were none available.So, I had to pay full price for it. This is a legitimate review with nothing given to me to influence what I would write. Which is kind of too bad for Bitfi. I think it would have worked in their favor to have me obligated. Two days after I ordered it (and ten days before mine arrived in my mailbox), the Bitfi got destroyed by motivated hackers and deconstructed by engineers and then it got hacked..in several different ways.

https://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/3037057/mcafees-bitfi-crypto-wallet-has-been-hacked-inside-a-week

Here’s a snippet from that:

Ryan Castellucci, a security researcher from WhiteOps, described it as “a cheap stripped down Android phone” and strongly advises against using it.

Another set of researchers pointed out that from a secure point of view, the use of Baidu as a search engine, and the inclusion of the Adups ‘spyware’ make for an even less wholesome environment.

Bitfi has gone a bit Trumpy in its response, denying all the accusations and accusing OverSoftNL of actively working for competitors.

My Review

By the time it got to Hawai’i, I had read so many scary reviews about this thing that there was no way I would ever use it to store anything larger than what I would carry in my wallet. I feel more comfortable leaving cryptocurrency on Coinbase and Binance – because Coinbase is insured and Binance has promised they will reimburse if they ever get hacked. This thing…well…

I like technology but I’m not a hard core coder or hacker. I’m an early adopter of platforms and new technology and an innovator in the uses of tech but I’m not a security expert or a hacker – so you can find other reviews that will go into that stuff.

I’m a user of technology and part of the reason I ordered Bitfi was so I could have fun using it. Even after all the bad things I had heard, I was ready to have fun. The box was fun. It had a quote from Satoshi Nakamoto on it. It even said there was a six-sided die inside. That sounded like fun too.

The problem is – it’s not fun. It’s not fun at all. There’s nothing fun about Bitfi.

I opened the box and found what looked like the same Samsung phone I bought in Morocco back in 2012 for $50. It was in a nice blue monogram wallet. The outer box was taped with clear strapping tape. The inner box had been taped with scotch tape. In the box were a charger cord, adapter, the six-sided die, and some instruction cards. And the wallet of course.

Seriously, this thing is almost identical to my old $50 Samsung but when I turned it on, I found the touch screen to not be as responsive. It felt like garage sale technology – the kind you find at G-sales on Saturday mornings. But, I didn’t want to judge, I dove into the instructions.

The first thing I had to do was connect to wifi and then to set up an account on their website using my iphone or a computer. Then I had to sync the old phone..I mean wallet…with the website. The numbers and letters were tiny – actually hard to see with my 46 year old eyes and my fingers must be getting fat because they kept hitting the keys next to the ones I was trying to hit. There were cute instructions about how to use the six-sided die to create an unhackable pass phrase using the cyper on their website. I followed all the instructions, I got it set up, and then I went to transfer a little cryptocurrency in.

It doesn’t do Stellar, Cardano, Tron, Ripple, Eos, Iota, Ethereum Classic, or Bitcoin Cash. It does do Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum, Monero, Neo and a bunch of other coins that McAfee has promoted in the past like Golem, Docademic,Bezop, etc.

So, honestly, I should have read all this before. Most of the currencies I wanted this for are safe because they aren’t supported by the Bitfi. My bad.

I was surprised at how little the wallet does. It’s basically a confirmation device for transactions which are all ran from the Bitfi website on a different device. I pretty much think that sucks. It might be great for security but my thought is this – how is this more secure than just using another website and enabling an authenticator app? Or even going further and getting a hardware authenticator like I used to use on my paypal account back a decade ago. The answer is, it’s not. I’m sure the website is all unhackable and secure, but I bought a hardware device to store my crypto on…not so I could store them on someone’s website. There’s no interface on the device so if the Bitfi site is gone, there is no way to get your funds. I know I’m a simple caveman but this seems like bullshit to me…

Look at that handsome wallet though! And, it’s got a great box. But, when it comes time to punch in your salt and your phrase, be prepared with your magnifier glasses and also make sure that you don’t pick any of the letters or numbers near the sides because this old phone doesn’t have a nimble modern keyboard that pops up – it’s like trying to use the first touch enabled devices in the late 1990s. Remember those video trivia games in all the beer joints back when people didn’t have phones to stare at? It’s like that. Expect to hit the same button a few times and make some mistakes.

On the positive side, it was only $120 including shipping and it arrived within two weeks. It has a great box, nice case, and ships with a die.

On the negative side – I pretty much hate this thing and never plan on using it for anything unless I have to. Maybe someday I can put it in the Cryptocurrency Museum if I keep it preserved good enough. I don’t like the website or interface. I don’t really want to carry this thing around with me or have it take up space in my safe deposit box. It’s already a relic.

Don’t buy the Bitfi. I’d tell you this even if they’d given it to me for free but maybe I would say it in a nicer way like “I see a really good future for the Bitfi when they solve a few early quirks that keep popping up” – and that’s true. I really like the idea of shipping an old phone with a die, but personally, I would have probably been more impressed with an eight-sided or a 12-sided die.