If our supersmart tech leaders knew a bit more about history or philosophy we wouldnt be in the mess were in now
One of the biggest puzzles about our current predicament with fake news and the weaponisation of social media is why the folks who built this technology are so taken aback by what has happened. Exhibit A is the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, whose political education I recently chronicled. But hes not alone. In fact Id say he is quite representative of many of the biggest movers and shakers in the tech world. We have a burgeoning genre of OMG, what have we done? angst coming from former Facebook and Google employees who have begun to realise that the cool stuff they worked on might have had, well, antisocial consequences.
Put simply, what Google and Facebook have built is a pair of amazingly sophisticated, computer-driven engines for extracting users personal information and data trails, refining them for sale to advertisers in high-speed data-trading auctions that are entirely unregulated and opaque to everyone except the companies themselves.
The purpose of this infrastructure was to enable companies to target people with carefully customised commercial messages and, as far as we know, they are pretty good at that. (Though some advertisers are beginning to wonder if these systems are quite as good as Google and Facebook claim.) And in doing this, Zuckerberg, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and co wrote themselves licences to print money and build insanely profitable companies.
It never seems to have occurred to them that their advertising engines could also be used to deliver precisely targeted ideological and political messages to voters. Hence the obvious question: how could such smart people be so stupid? The cynical answer is they knew about the potential dark side all along and didnt care, because to acknowledge it might have undermined the aforementioned licences to print money. Which is another way of saying that most tech leaders are sociopaths. Personally I think thats unlikely, although among their number are some very peculiar characters: one thinks, for example, of Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel Trumps favourite techie; and Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber.
So what else could explain the astonishing naivety of the tech crowd? My hunch is it has something to do with their educational backgrounds. Take the Google co-founders. Sergey Brin studied mathematics and computer science. His partner, Larry Page, studied engineering and computer science. Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard, where he was studying psychology and computer science, but seems to have been more interested in the latter.
Now mathematics, engineering and computer science are wonderful disciplines intellectually demanding and fulfilling. And they are economically vital for any advanced society. But mastering them teaches students very little about society or history or indeed about human nature. As a consequence, the new masters of our universe are people who are essentially only half-educated. They have had no exposure to the humanities or the social sciences, the academic disciplines that aim to provide some understanding of how society works, of history and of the roles that beliefs, philosophies, laws, norms, religion and customs play in the evolution of human culture.
We are now beginning to see the consequences of the dominance of this half-educated elite. As one perceptive observer Bob ODonnell puts it, a liberal arts major familiar with works like Alexis de Tocquevilles Democracy in America, John Stuart Mills On Liberty, or even the work of ancient Greek historians, might have been able to recognise much sooner the potential for the tyranny of the majority or other disconcerting sociological phenomena that are embedded into the very nature of todays social media platforms. While seemingly democratic at a superficial level, a system in which the lack of structure means that all voices carry equal weight, and yet popularity, not experience or intelligence, actually drives influence, is clearly in need of more refinement and thought than it was first given.
All of which brings to mind CP Snows famous Two Cultures lecture, delivered in Cambridge in 1959, in which he lamented the fact that the intellectual life of the whole of western society was scarred by the gap between the opposing cultures of science and engineering on the one hand, and the humanities on the other with the latter holding the upper hand among contemporary ruling elites. Snow thought that this perverse dominance would deprive Britain of the intellectual capacity to thrive in the postwar world and he clearly longed to reverse it.
Snow passed away in 1980, but one wonders what he would have made of the new masters of our universe. One hopes that he might see it as a reminder of the old adage: be careful what you wish for you might just get it.
For some travelling to San Pedro Sula in Honduras for the World Cup qualifier, the trip is literally a dream come true
Twelve hours after the Socceroos beat Syria, across 120 nervous, suffering minutes in Sydney, Romell Quioto beat the offside trap. To the delight of 38,000 Hondurans in the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, he spun a neat full circle, picked his spot, and unlocked a series of events that would send a handful of Socceroos fans on a 14,000km trip from Australia to San Pedro Sula.
It could have been Panama. Or the United States. Kevin Pollard, a travel booker from Melbourne, and his fellow travelling Socceroos fans had done the maths the points, the permutations of the results and the airfares. Honduras, the small Central American country, population 9 million, were the outsiders.
But if decades of supporting the Socceroos had taught them anything it was to expect the unexpected.
Pollard and his fellow fan Les Street, a self-confessed tragic writing a history of Australian football stadiums, are two of roughly 300 fans travelling to Honduras for this weeks first leg of the Socceroos final World Cup qualifying playoff. If the current numbers hold steady, they will be outnumbered by about 120 to one.
Street says he saw all this coming in a dream. Ive actually had two dreams about the Socceroos in Honduras, he says. He went to bed on the night of the Syria game, his mind on Panama, and instead dreamt of booking tickets to Honduras, where, thanks to dream logic, he found himself playing baseball.
In the lead-up to Fridays game (Saturday AEDT), much of the media focus has been on the gangsters and gun crime of San Pedro Sula. It has been reported as a place of Zika virus, hurricanes and carjackings with worlds third-highest per capita murder rate.
But Pollard, and local journalists, say the only source of danger to Australian fans is Honduran anger at this relentless caricature of a country that has, at least for travelling football fans, always been safe harbour.
Thousands of years ago, the agricultural revolution led our foraging ancestors to take up the scythe and plough. Hundreds of years ago, the Industrial Revolution pushed farmers out of fields and into factories. Just tens of years ago, the technology revolution ushered many people off the shop floor and into the desk chair and office cube.
Today, we are living through yet another revolution in the way that human beings work for their livelihoodsand once again, this revolution is leaving old certainties scrapped and smoldering on the ash heap of history. Once again, it is being powered by new technologies. But instead of the domesticated grain seed, the cotton gin, or the steam engine, the engine of this revolution is digital and robotic.
We live in a time of technological marvels. Computers continue to speed up while the price of processing power continues to plummet, doubling and redoubling the capabilities of machines. This is driving the advance of machine learningthe ability of computers to learn from data instead of from explicit programmingand the push for artificial intelligence. As economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee note in their book The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, we have recently hit an inflection point in which our machines have reached their full force to transform the world as comprehensively as James Watts engine transformed an economy that once trundled along on ox carts. Labor experts are increasingly and justifiably worried that computers are becoming so adept at human capabilities that soon there will be no need for any human input at all.
The evidence for this inflection point is everywhere. Driverless cars are now traversing the streets of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and other cities. New robots can climb stairs and open doors with ease. An advanced computer trounced the human grandmaster of the intricate Chinese strategy game Go. Moreover, it is not only the processing power of machines that has skyrocketed exponentially but also the power of their connectivity, their sensors, their GPS systems, and their gyroscopes. Today, we are giving computers not only artificial intelligence but, in effect, artificial eyes, ears, hands, and feet.
Consequently, these capacities are enabling computers to step into rolesand jobsonce held exclusively by members of our species. Robots now analyze stocks, write in deft and informative prose, and interact with customers. Semi-autonomous machines may soon join soldiers on the battlefield. In China, co-botsmachines that can work in factories safely alongside human beingsare upending that countrys vaunted manufacturing sector, allowing fewer laborers to be vastly more productive. In 2015, sales of industrial robots around the world increased by 12 percent over the previous year, rising to nearly a quarter of a million units.
At the same time, Big Data is revolutionizing everything from social science to business, with organizations amassing information in proportions that flirt with the infinite. Algorithms mine bottomless troves of data and then apply the information to new functions, essentially teaching themselves. Machine learning now powers everything from our spam filters to our Amazon shopping lists and dating apps, telling us what to watch, what to buy, and whom to love. Deep learning systems, in which artificial neural networks identify patterns, can now look at an image and recognize a chair or the face of a human individual or teach themselves how to play a video game without ever reading the instructions.
In many ways, these new technologies are an astonishing boon for humanity, giving us the power to mitigate poverty, hunger, and disease. For example, Stanley S. Litow, vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs at IBM, is overseeing an initiative between Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City and Watson, the computer that famously beat the human champions of the television game show Jeopardy! A doctor who had watched the show approached IBM with the idea to collaborate. Thus, Watson was reborn as an oncology adviser. Computer scientists at IBM embedded it with information from the hospitals clinical trials (not just some, all of them, said Litow) and trained it through data analytics to respond to oncologists questions.
So it proceeds as if talking to a potential patient, said Litow. On a mobile device I can say, She has the following characteristics. Do we have any information on clinical trials that would help me figure out whether this is the problem or that is the problem? Watson then analyzes the data and responds to the oncologists question in normal English. Theres a lot of clinical trial information, but a lot of doctors dont have access to it, said Litow. It is actually helping some of the best oncologists in the United States make a better, faster diagnosis and move toward a treatment plan quickly. In treating cancer, thats critical.
Automation long has been considered a threat to low-skilled labor, but increasingly, any predictable work is now within the purview of machines.
Watsons next challenge is to improve teaching in the New York City public school system, advising educators on effective teaching practices by using the same data analytics and communication techniques it is deploying with such success at Sloan Kettering. Technologies like Watson are helping people save lives, teach fractions, andin their less sophisticated iterationsfind the nearest parking space. They are helping people work better.
Or they are, for the moment. Automation long has been considered a threat to low-skilled labor, but increasingly, any predictable workincluding many jobs considered knowledge economy jobsis now within the purview of machines. This includes many high-skill functions, such as interpreting medical images, doing legal research, and analyzing data.
As advanced machines and computers become more and more proficient at picking investments, diagnosing disease symptoms, and conversing in natural English, it is difficult not to wonder what the limits to their capabilities are. This is why many observers believe that technologys potential to disrupt our economyand our civilizationis unprecedented.
Over the past few years, my conversations with students entering the workforce and the business leaders who hire them have revealed something important: to stay relevant in this new economic reality, higher education needs a dramatic realignment. Instead of educating college students for jobs that are about to disappear under the rising tide of technology, 21st century universities should liberate them from outdated career models and give them ownership of their own futures. They should equip them with the literacies and skills they need to thrive in this new economy defined by technology, as well as continue providing them with access to the learning they need to face the challenges of life in a diverse, global environment. Higher education needs a new model and a new orientation away from its dual focus on undergraduate and graduate students. Universities must broaden their reach to become engines for lifelong learning.
There is a great deal of evidence that we need such an educational shift. An oft-quoted 2013 study from Oxford University found that nearly half of U.S. jobs are at risk of automation within the next twenty years. In many cases, that prediction seems too leisurely. For example, new robotic algorithmic trading platforms are now tearing through the financial industry, with some estimates holding that software will replace between one-third and one-half of all finance jobs in the next decade. A 2015 McKinsey report found that solely by using existing technologies, 45 percent of the work that human beings are paid to do could be automated, obviating the need to pay human employees more than $2 trillion in annual wages in the United States.
This is not the first time we have faced a scenario like this. In past industrial revolutions, the ploughmen and weavers who fell prey to tractors and spinning jennies had to withstand a difficult economic and professional transition. However, with retraining, they could reasonably have expected to find jobs on the new factory floors. Likewise, as the Information Age wiped out large swaths of manufacturing, many people were able to acquire education and training to obtain work in higher-skilled manufacturing, the service sector, or the office park. Looking ahead, education will remain the ladder by which people ascend to higher economic rungs, even as the jobs landscape grows more complex. And it undoubtedly is getting knottier. One of the reasons for this is that the worldwide supply of labor continues to rise while the net number of high-paying, high-productivity jobs appears to be on the decline. To employ more and more people, we will need to create more and more jobs. It is not clear where we will find them.
Certainly, the emergence of new industriessuch as those created in the tech sectorwill have to step up if they are going fill this gap. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the computer and information technology professions are projected to account for a total of 4.4 million jobs by 2024. In the same period, the labor force, age 16 and older, is expected to reach 163.7 million. Adding to the disjoint is the remarkable labor efficiency of tech companies. For instance, Google, the standard bearer for the new economy, had 61,814 full-time employees in 2015. At its peak in 1979, in contrast, General Motors counted 600,000 employees on its payroll. To address the deficit, well need creative solutions.
Apart from automation, many other factors are stirring the economic pot. Globalization is the most apparent, but environmental unsustainability, demographic change, inequality, and political uncertainty are all having their effects on how we occupy our time, how we earn our daily bread, and how we find fulfillment. Old verities are melting fast. The remedies are not obvious.
Some observers have been encouraged by the growth of the gig economy, in which people perform freelance tasks, such as driving a car for Uber, moving furniture through TaskRabbit, or typing text for Amazon Mechanical Turk. But earnings through these platforms are limited. Since 2014, the number of people who earn 50 percent or more of their income from gig platforms has actually fallen. In general, these platforms give people a boost to earnings and help to pay the monthly bills. But as an economic engine, they have not emerged as substitutes for full-time jobs.
Of the new full-time jobs that are appearing, many are so-called hybrid jobs that require technological expertise in programming or data analysis alongside broader skills. Fifty years ago, no one could have imagined that user-experience designer would be a legitimate profession, but here we are. Clearly, work is changing. All these factors create a complex and unexplored terrain for job seekers, begging some important questions: How should we be preparing people for this fast-changing world? How should education be used to help people in the professional and economic spheres?
As a university president, this is no small question for me. As a matter of fact, the university I lead, Northeastern, is explicitly concerned with the connections between education and work. As a pioneer in experiential learning, grounded in the co-op model of higher education, Northeasterns mission has always been to prepare students for fulfillingand successfulroles in the professional world. But lately, as I have observed my students try to puzzle out their career paths, listened to what employers say they are looking for in new employees, and take stock of what I read and hear every day about technologys impact on the world of professional work, I have come to realize that the existing model of higher education has yet to adapt to the seismic shifts rattling the foundations of the global economy.
Machines will help us explore the universe, but human beings will face the consequences of discovery.
I believe that college should shape students into professionals but also creators. Creation will be at the base of economic activity and also much of what human beings do in the future. Intelligent machines may liberate millions from routine labor, but there will remain a great deal of work for us to accomplish. Great undertakings like curing disease, healing the environment, and ending poverty will demand all the human talent that the world can muster. Machines will help us explore the universe, but human beings will face the consequences of discovery. Human beings will still read books penned by human authors and be moved by songs and artworks born of human imagination. Human beings will still undertake ethical acts of selflessness or courage and choose to act for the betterment of our world and our species. Human beings will also care for our infants, give comfort to the infirm, cook our favorite dishes, craft our wines, and play our games. There is much for all of us to do.
To that end, this book offers an updated model of higher educationone that will develop and empower a new generation of creators, women and men who can employ all the technological wonders of our age to thrive in an economy and society transformed by intelligent machines. It also envisions a higher education that continues to deliver the fruits of learning to students long after they have begun their working careers, assisting them throughout their lives. In some ways, it may seem like a roadmap for taking higher education in a new direction. However, it does not offer a departure as much as a continuity with the centuries-old purpose of colleges and universitiesto equip students for the rigors of an active life within the world as it exists today and will exist in the future. Education has always served the needs of society. It must do so now, more than ever. That is because higher education is the usher of progress and change. And change is the defining force of our time.
A UNIQUELY HUMAN EDUCATION
Education is its own reward, equipping us with the mental furniture to live a rich, considered existence. However, for most people in an advanced society and economy such as ours, it also is a prerequisite for white-collar employment. Without a college degree, typical employees will struggle to climb the economic ladder and may well find themselves slipping down the rungs.
When the economy changes, so must education. It has happened before. We educate people in the subjects that society deems valuable. As such, in the 18th century, colonial colleges taught classics, logic, and rhetoric to cadres of future lawyers and clergymen. In the 19th century, scientific and agricultural colleges rose to meet the demands of an industrializing world of steam and steel. In the 20th century, we saw the ascent of professional degrees suited for office work in the corporate economy.
Today, the colonial age and the industrial age exist only in history books, and even the office age may be fast receding into memory. We live in the digital age, and students face a digital future in which robots, software, and machines powered by artificial intelligence perform an increasing share of the work humans do now. Employment will less often involve the routine application of facts, so education should follow suit. To ensure that graduates are robot- proof in the workplace, institutions of higher learning will have to rebalance their curricula.
A robot-proof model of higher education is not concerned solely with topping up students minds with high-octane facts. Rather, it refits their mental engines, calibrating them with a creative mindset and the mental elasticity to invent, discover, or otherwise produce something society deems valuable. This could be anything at alla scientific proof, a hip-hop recording, a new workout regimen, a web comic, a cure for cancer. Whatever the creation, it must in some manner be original enough to evade the label of routine and hence the threat of automation. Instead of training laborers, a robot-proof education trains creators.
The field of robotics is yielding the most advanced generation of machines in history, so we need a disciplinary field that can do the same for human beings. In the pages that follow, I lay out a framework for a new disciplinehumanicsthe goal of which is to nurture our species unique traits of creativity and flexibility. It builds on our innate strengths and prepares students to compete in a labor market in which brilliant machines work alongside human professionals. And much as todays law students learn both a specific body of knowledge and a legal mindset, tomorrows humanics students must master specific content as well as practice uniquely human cognitive capacities.
In the chapters ahead, I describe both the architecture and the inner workings of humanics, but here I begin by explaining its twofold nature. The first side, its content, takes shape in what I call the new literacies. In the past, literacy in reading, writing, and mathematics formed the baseline for participation in society, while even educated professionals did not need any technical proficiencies beyond knowing how to click and drag through a suite of office programs. That is no longer sufficient. In the future, graduates will need to build on the old literacies by adding three moredata literacy, technological literacy, and human literacy. This is because people can no longer thrive in a digitized world using merely analog tools. They will be living and working in a constant stream of big data, connectivity, and instant information flowing from every click and touch of their devices. Therefore, they need data literacy to read, analyze, and use these ever-rising tides of information. Technological literacy gives them a grounding in coding and engineering principles, so they know how their machines tick. Lastly, human literacy teaches them humanities, communication, and design, allowing them to function in the human milieu.
As noted earlier, knowledge alone is not sufficient for the work of tomorrow. The second side of humanics, therefore, is not a set of content areas but rather a set of cognitive capacities. These are higher-order mental skillsmindsets and ways of thinking about the world. The first is systems thinking, the ability to view an enterprise, machine, or subject holistically, making connections between its different functions in an integrative way. The second is entrepreneurship, which applies the creative mindset to the economic and often social sphere. The third is cultural agility, which teaches students how to operate deftly in varied global environments and to see situations through different, even conflicting, cultural lenses. The fourth capacity is that old chestnut of liberal arts programs, critical thinking, which instills the habit of disciplined, rational analysis and judgment.
Together, the new literacies and the cognitive capacities integrate to help students rise above the computing power of brilliant machines by engendering creativity. In doing so, they enable them to collaborate with other people and machines while accentuating the strengths of both. Humanics can, in short, be a powerful toolset for humanity.
This book also explores how people grasp these tools. To acquire the cognitive capacities at a high level, students must do more than read about them in the classroom or apply them in case studies or classroom simulations. To cement them in their minds, they need to experience them in the intensity and chaos of real work environments such as co-ops and internships. Just as experiential learning is how toddlers puzzle out the secrets of speech and ambulation, how Montessori students learn to read and count, and how athletes and musicians perfect their jump shots or arpeggios, it also is how college students learn to think differently. This makes it the ideal delivery system for humanics.
A new model of higher education must, however, account for the fact that learning does not end with the receipt of a bachelors diploma. As machines continue to surpass their old boundaries, human beings must also continue to hone their mental capacities, skills, and technological knowledge. People rarely stay in the same career track they choose when they graduate, so they need the support of lifelong learning. Universities can deliver this by going where these learners are. This means a fundamental shift in our delivery of education but also in our idea of its timing. It no longer is sufficient for universities to focus solely on isolated years of study for undergraduate and graduate students. Higher education must broaden its view of whom to serve and when. It must serve everyone, no matter their stage in life.
By 2025, our planet will count eight billion human inhabitants, all of them with human ambition, intelligence, and potential. Our planet will be more connected and more competitive than the one we know today. Given the pace of technologys advance, we can predict that computers, robots, and artificial intelligence will be even more intricately intertwined into the fabric of our personal and professional lives. Many of the jobs that exist now will have vanished. Others that will pay handsomely have yet to be invented. The only real certainty is that the world will be differentand with changes come challenges as well as opportunities. In many cases, they are one and the same.
Paradise Papers reveal James Simons tried to keep tax haven fund hidden from public and is wealthier than rich lists suggest
One of the Democratic partys top donors has spent decades building a hidden offshore fortune of more than $8bn in the tax haven of Bermuda, according to leaked documents.
James Simons, a hedge fund magnate who spent $11m in support of Hillary Clintons 2016 presidential campaign, amassed investment profits in the Lord Jim Trust, a vast private wealth fund set up on the Atlantic island in 1974.
Confidential legal files from 2010 show lawyers and advisers for Simons worked to protect him and his children from particularly severe US tax bills that would be triggered if they tried to bring the funds onshore. Bermuda imposes no taxes on profits or income.
The Simonstrustwas revealed in the Paradise Papers, millions of leaked offshore files reviewed by the Guardian, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and others. The files give a rare glimpse inside trusts used by the super-rich to ensure confidentiality and minimal regulation.
Brooke Harrington, a professor at Copenhagen Business School and the author of Capital Without Borders, said offshore trusts were the ideal vehicles for concealing immense wealth. They dont have to be registered and they dont have to be audited, she said. Its a handshake deal and nobody has to know. Its the ultimate in secrecy.
Faced with the immense threat of global warming, and the refusal of world leadership to act sufficiently, many people have wondered if it is possible to keep the planet habitable through deliberate cooling. Many versions of this idea, known as geoengineering, have been proposed, but a study of the most widely discussed idea has found a nasty side-effect.
Volcanoes inject a lot of sulfur dioxide high into the atmosphere, where it reflects sunlight. Really large eruptions produce a noticeable dip in global temperatures for a year or two thereafter. Human activity already releases cooling particles into the atmosphere, but the effect is swamped by carbon dioxide and methane emissions. However, we could deliberately raise our output of suitable particles, in an approach known as stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI), to bring average temperatures closer to balance.
Certain risks with SAI have already been identified, but a paper in Nature Communications outlines an additional one – more severe droughts in one of the most vulnerable parts of the planet. Dr Anthony Jones of the University of Exeter warns that the consequences could be devastating.
“Our results confirm that regional solar geoengineering is a highly risky strategy which could simultaneously benefit one region to the detriment of another,” Jones said in a statement. “It is vital that policymakers take solar geoengineering seriously and act swiftly to install effective regulation.”
Jones modeled the effect of SAI from the most industrialized parts of the planet. He found some positive effects, including a reduction in tropical cyclones, but at the price of less rainfall over Africa’s Sahel.
The Sahel, immediately south of the Sahara, houses the poorest people on the planet. Consequently, residents have few reserves to fall back on, and the frequent droughts produce mass starvation, including one in the eastern Sahel right now. If such droughts become more intense or more frequent, it will be a human catastrophe almost unmatched in history. SAI in the southern hemisphere would have the opposite effect, but would be harder to achieve given the much lower population and industrialization there.
Co-author Professor Jim Haywood noted the importance of looking at local impacts, rather than just considering what a project will do to the global average temperature.
A particular concern is the danger of individual nations acting in their own best interests, while devastating others. This could potentially become the basis for war, or an inspiration to terrorists.
The fact that the United States is not only the nation best placed to implement a program like this, but would be particularly likely to benefit as the intensity of hurricanes decline, is a worry. But surely no American President would spare the country a few natural disasters at the expense of hundreds of millions of the world’s poor, would they?
In an ongoing series of artworks entitled ‘Ciclotramas‘, Brazilian artist Janaina Mello Landini unravels ropes into incredible fractal patterns that evoke tree roots, river basins, lightning strikes and circulatory systems.
Landini has been developing this concept since 2010, using threads and strings to create site-specific installations that occupy the space in an immersive way. She adds:
The idea is to â€œunstitchâ€ Time from its inside, unraveling the threads of the same rope in constant bifurcations, until the last indivisible stage is reached, a point that holds everything together in perfect equilibrium.
Below you will find our favourite Ciclotramas but be sure to check out her website for additional shots and dozens of more examples. Janaina is represented by the Zipper Gallery in SÃ£o Paulo, Brazil
(CNN)The arc of nations and their empires is an imprecise thing.
President Trump will be reminded of this on his five-nation trip to Asia this coming week.
He will find it not just writ large in the power of economic growth across the region, but also in the trip’s timing: he arrives as the next super power in waiting, China has just stretched its wings, revealing a plumage capable one day of carrying it to great heights.
The Chinese Communist party conference in Beijing two weeks ago appeared to confer on President Xi, a power that could keep him in office long past expectations armed with a robust foreign policy that could allow China to significantly extend its global reach.
Trump appeared to take note, days later reminding Americans in a TV interview, “some people might call him the King of China” clarifying himself soon after “but he is called President,” apparently acknowledging Xi as a big leader, potentially with more power than he has.
There is no exit ramp for superpowers leaving center stage, and even if there was, Trump and quite rightly all Americans have no intention of taking it, abdicating most influential nation status.
With such influence comes a power to shape the world’s destiny in one’s own image and to one’s needs. History, even the stuff written last week, is full of generations fighting in that struggle to keep the top spot.
A glimmer of existence vs. an eternity
The aspiration for nationhood itself is powerful. At the farthest end of the spectrum, take the Catalan Republic declared last week. It glowed brightly for a few minutes in the eyes of its beholders, secessionist Catalonians, before being snuffed out by Spain’s government in Madrid.
A glimmer of existence so brief it risks the ignominy of being Europe’s shortest lived country, and never had a hope of being officially recognized in the global constellation of nations, never mind aspiring to world power.
The Greeks and Romans flung themselves far and wide, throwing up empires built on the backs of slaves, the remains of which dot the world today.
They gave us great skills — the Romans, underfloor heating and aqueducts, the Greeks, philosophy, mathematics and demos (democracy) — but both burnt out under the weight of global power.
Chinese dynasties came and went, as did the Persians. Cuneiform script, one of the world’s first recognized writings, was a creation of the Sumerian empire discovered in what today is known as Iraq — and who today has ever heard of the Sumerians?
Portugal and Spain had their days of empire and influence. Renaissance Italy bequeathed the world art of staggering beauty, as groundbreaking in its day as the first mobile phone selfie a decade or so ago. All three are now shadows of their former glory.
Britannia, too, ruled the waves for a while, grew a commonwealth to protect its global interests, but like all the other super powers that came before, arrived at an unforeseen apogee before bending back toward earth.
Perhaps one measure of the arc is the time it takes to downsize an empire back to its roots.
But like life, empires have a few certainties: taxation if the empire is to survive and death when the money is gone.
Not until Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all fracture off from England — not as absurd-sounding a proposition as it was 20 years ago — and not until pro-EU London tires of Brexit and votes to secede from England will Great Britain’s greatness truly be spent.
It will leave a legacy of Magna Carta, of old castles, warm beer, stiff upper lips, laws, and bureaucracy, but most of all how it managed its decline.
The at times ugly struggles for independence across Britain’s collapsing Empire serve as a bloody reminder of how perilous downsizing is. Not just in terms of the staggering numbers of lives lost, but in how contemporary and coming generations will judge you.
Architect of America’s ouster?
Times of change are the most dangerous, and in China, Trump will face the architect of America’s ouster from most powerful status.
How both countries handle this is an existential issue for the rest of us.
While North Korea may dominate the headlines as Trump tries to cajole Xi into tougher sanctions on the Hermit Kingdom, the unspoken narrative will be Trump’s efforts to burnish his own credentials as a man of true global power, exerting his will over Xi’s reticence.
It may all be a vain effort to put Kim Jong UN’s nuclear genie back in the bottle, but it will keep other deeper and potentially far more dangerous issues regarding Sino-US relations out of the big headlines.
Trade, over which Trump has railed against China on many occasions — worrying global investors concerned about the possibility of a damaging cycle of retaliation — will provide for tense talks. But those discussions will likely not be as heated as the disputes over the South and East China seas and China’s expansionist construction of artificial islands near global shipping lanes.
In Africa, China’s massive new military hub in Djibouti casts a long shadow over the nearby US military base and sphere of regional influence, since it shows China is getting ready to back up its global interests with hard power.
In Pakistan, China’s massive financing of the huge Gwadar Port project threatens the fragile balance of interests that the US relies on to bend Pakistan to its strategy to end the war in Afghanistan and bring US troops home.
In Asia generally, the tectonic plates of global change are inching forward, threatening America’s unchallenged superpower status, and President Xi is the force keeping them moving.
Trump’s Asian tour also stops in the Philippines, Japan and Vietnam, where he will find potential allies in pushing back against China’s claims to sea territory and disputed islands — but even together, they are unlikely to persuade China it is not in the ascendency.
Today’s superpower, the United States, has by the measure of modern nations risen on a relatively steep arc: nationhood some 241 years ago, leader of the free world about 70 years back.
How long the plateau lasts, how steep the possible fall, is currently in President Trump’s hands — and how he plays that hand during his nine-day tour of Asia, beginning this weekend, may well shape the arc of America’s remaining years as number one nation.
The Department for Transport says the purpose of traffic signs is to get drivers to take in information quickly and the symbols are merely a “general representation” of the activity.
This particular football ground symbol was first used in 1994 so drivers have become “accustomed” to it, the spokesman said.
“The purpose of a traffic sign is not to raise public appreciation and awareness of geometry which is better dealt with in other ways.”
He added if the signs were corrected, it would only be visible close up and not from the distance at which drivers will see the sign.
“The higher level of attention needed to understand the geometry could distract a driver’s view away from the road for longer than necessary which could therefore increase the risk of an incident.”
Responding to the government’s comments, Mr Parker told the BBC he felt like the DfT had not read the petition properly.
He added he had specifically asked not to change current signs but to set a precedent for the new signs.
“I’m not sure what the DfT thinks a football looks like but they say both: the change would be too small to be noticed and that the correct geometry would be so distracting to drivers it would increase the risk of accidents.
“I’m not asking for angles and measurements on the sign, just for it to look more like a football.”
What do the experts think?
Art director Will Howe says the signs are “still recognisable and functional in their current state”.
But, he adds it was a “clear oversight” in the beginning to construct it without the iconic black pentagon detail.
And graphic designer Chris Watterston said a symbol should always be as realistic as possible.
“It still needs to be simple enough for the human brain to process the symbol in as minimal time as possible [because] not doing so would almost certainly cause confusion and frustration.
“You’ve got to bear in mind that road signs are only ever going to be viewed by a driver for just a few seconds each time, meaning that recognition is key.”
Mr Parker says the next step is to get 100,000 signatures so the government will have to debate the issue in parliament.
Every day we read stories concerning the prowess of Russian hackers. But why are they so good? A clue may lie in the fact that Russia has long excelled in maths outreach, which has been instrumental in creating a supply of people with the right skills. More of this later. Meanwhile, here are three puzzles with Russian origins.
1. Find a solution to the equation
28x+ 30y + 31z = 365
where x, y, and z are positive whole numbers.
2. Place five stones on an 8×8 grid in such a way that every square consisting of 9 cells has only one stone in it.
3. A colony of chameleons on an island currently comprises 13 green, 15 blue and 17 red individuals. When two chameleons of different colours meet, they both change their colours to the third colour. Is it possible that all chameleons in the colony eventually have the same colour?
The first question was told to me recently by Nikolai Andreev, of the Steklov Mathematical Institute, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences. It should take you a few seconds to solve.
The second question is taken from a fantastic after-school programme run by three Russian emigres in London. They call themselves We Solve Problems, and use two approaches used in Russia: maths circles, in which students can delve deeper into topics, and maths battles, which are like the maths equivalent of a debating society. Check out their website, where secondary school children can apply to attend weekly maths battles in London free of charge.
The third question is a stunner. It was first set in 1984 in the International Mathematics Tournament of the Towns, a wonderful maths competition founded in 1980 in Russia that now involves students in more that 100 cities and towns around the world (but mostly in Russia). The idea is to test ingenuity, rather than rote learning.
Ill be back at 5pm with the solutions and full explanations. Da? No spoilers BTL please, but do talk about great Russian mathematicians, or any experiences with Russian teaching methods.