(Image: Getty)

TALES FROM THE DYSTOPIA, PART 83071.4

The vision that we have is that you would have a device, maybe something like Amazon Alexa, that sits on the table and observes the human team members while they are working on a problem, and supports them in various ways. One of the ways in which we think we can support that team is by ensuring equal inclusion of all team members.

This blurb about a new grant for US researchers describes something truly horrendous: a device so employers can subject workers to surveillance intense enough to identify non-verbal “exclusionary” and other unwanted behaviours.

And if that sounds scary enough, wait until you hear about the 1 billion cameras coming for us — how plug-in surveillance and data analytics empowered the global video surveillance industry.

Huawei correctly points out in response to US allegations of spying, “takes one to know one”. But some good news: Signal is now reaching critical mass, driven by an array of features that appeal to ordinary phone users rather than crypto experts (I’m a happy Signal user of many years’ standing). And for a change of dystopic venue, Airbnb is devouring London housing stock.

WAVE OF MUTILATION

Rogue waves and the maths that make them (and while we’re doing Pixies references, do the manta ray). Moreover, debunking conspiracy theories about the origins of new viruses doesn’t appear to work.

There’s been another blow for facial recognition advocates: you can’t tell emotion from faces. Plus, why is Betelgeuse fading? It could be about to explode, but probably not. More on algorithms predicting rates of recidivism.

Ever wondered how birds and planes fly? Well, it’s tricky, and debate still rages about exactly why things stay up in the air. One things we do know is that a World War I French helmet still offers the best protection against shock waves. And [Bela Lugosi voice]: the travels of the wolf — how a taboo word changed shape as it roamed around Eurasia.

GEOPOLITICS

Far from stymieing it, geopolitical rivalry drives progressivism. Thus, the left should embrace confronting China. Meanwhile, opposition to Narendra Modi’s fascist government is stepping up: the perspective from Kolkata.

A nonsensical “kidnapping” charge brought against Italian far-right leader Matteo Salvini will offer a welcome platform for the former interior minister to attack illegal immigration and campaign for a return to power.

Trump has abandoned his justification for the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, leaving an illegal and unconstitutional act by a lawless president in full view.

“Elites in business and government collude regularly to run the American economy to their own advantages and have increasingly done so for decades” — a conservative economist admits his disillusionment with US capitalism and the federal government.

Tory grandee Ferdinand Mount — one of the best observers of British politics — explores the broader right-wing project in the UK of reversing key reforms of the last 30 years. And what exactly does the much-used and abused term “populism” really mean? A new book tries to make sense of the biggest definitional issue in politics.

NUP, KING COAL

Lack of financing has forced Poland to abandon plans to build what was to be Europe’s last big coal-fired power plant. If we’re to meet the IPCC target of 45% greenhouse emissions reduction by 2030, by how much does use of coal, oil and gas have to fall? A lot. Here’s a useful graph.

Remember this next time a conservative commentator or politician backs nuclear power: the only people building them in America anymore (or trying to build them — a couple of recent efforts ran out of money) are monopolies.

In related news, contra Trump, the US military not only accepts climate change, it sees it as a major security threat, and is undertaking a massive investment in resilience and switching to renewables

INFRALAPSARIAN PREDESTINATION, ANYONE?

Riddle me this: how can any finite act, however awful, justify infinite suffering? If God is good, hell surely doesn’t exist and everyone is saved — or maybe God isn’t good? Or maybe not always good? What are the political consequences of universal salvation? And why was Calvin such a bastard? As a former student of the Reformation and ardent atheist, I find such questions fascinating, if personally irrelevant.

A new work by one of the world’s foremost Christian theologians takes on some of the biggest issues of all and, for an alleged “conservative” theologian, ends up in some remarkable places (and no, you don’t have to know what “infralapsarianism” means to follow).

FINALLY…

Vermont will always be my favourite US state. And behold Vermont’s dog mountain and dog chapel!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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