Can AI Save the Internet from Fake News?


There’s an old proverb that says “seeing is believing.” But in the age of artificial intelligence, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to take anything at face value—literally.

The rise of so-called “deepfakes,” in which different types of AI-based techniques are used to manipulate video content, has reached the point where Congress held its first hearing last month on the potential abuses of the technology. The congressional investigation coincided with the release of a doctored video of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivering what appeared to be a sinister speech.

Scientists are scrambling for solutions on how to combat deepfakes, while at the same time others are continuing to refine the techniques for less nefarious purposes, such as automating video content for the film industry.

At one end of the spectrum, for example, researchers at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering have proposed implanting a type of digital watermark using a neural network that can spot manipulated photos and videos.

The idea is to embed the system directly into a digital camera. Many smartphone cameras and other digital devices already use AI to boost image quality and make other corrections. The authors of the study out of NYU say their prototype platform increased the chances of detecting manipulation from about 45 percent to more than 90 percent without sacrificing image quality.

On the other hand, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University recently hit on a technique for automatically and rapidly converting large amounts of video content from one source into the style of another. In one example, the scientists transferred the facial expressions of comedian John Oliver onto the bespectacled face of late night show host Stephen Colbert.

The CMU team says the method could be a boon to the movie industry, such as by converting black and white films to color, though it also conceded that the technology could be used to develop deepfakes.

Words Matter with Fake News

While the current spotlight is on how to combat video and image manipulation, a prolonged trench warfare on fake news is being fought by academia, nonprofits, and the tech industry.

This isn’t the fake news that some have come to use as a knee-jerk reaction to fact-based information that might be less than flattering to the subject of the report. Rather, fake news is deliberately-created misinformation that is spread via the internet.

In a recent Pew Research Center poll, Americans said fake news is a bigger problem than violent crime, racism, and terrorism. Fortunately, many of the linguistic tools that have been applied to determine when people are being deliberately deceitful can be baked into algorithms for spotting fake news.

That’s the approach taken by a team at the University of Michigan (U-M) to develop an algorithm that was better than humans at identifying fake news—76 percent versus 70 percent—by focusing on linguistic cues like grammatical structure, word choice, and punctuation.

For example, fake news tends to be filled with hyperbole and exaggeration, using terms like “overwhelming” or “extraordinary.”

“I think that’s a way to make up for the fact that the news is not quite true, so trying to compensate with the language that’s being used,” Rada Mihalcea, a computer science and engineering professor at U-M, told Singularity Hub.

The paper “Automatic Detection of Fake News” was based on the team’s previous studies on how people lie in general, without necessarily having the intention of spreading fake news, she said.

“Deception is a complicated and complex phenomenon that requires brain power,” Mihalcea noted. “That often results in simpler language, where you have shorter sentences or shorter documents.”

AI Versus AI

While most fake news is still churned out by humans with identifiable patterns of lying, according to Mihalcea, other researchers are already anticipating how to detect misinformation manufactured by machines.

A group led by Yejin Choi, with the Allen Institute of Artificial Intelligence and the University of Washington in Seattle, is one such team. The researchers recently introduced the world to Grover, an AI platform that is particularly good at catching autonomously-generated fake news because it’s equally good at creating it.

“This is due to a finding that is perhaps counterintuitive: strong generators for neural fake news are themselves strong detectors of it,” wrote Rowan Zellers, a PhD student and team member, in a Medium blog post. “A generator of fake news will be most familiar with its own peculiarities, such as using overly common or predictable words, as well as the peculiarities of similar generators.”

The team found that the best current discriminators can classify neural fake news from real, human-created text with 73 percent accuracy. Grover clocks in with 92 percent accuracy based on a training set of 5,000 neural network-generated fake news samples. Zellers wrote that Grover got better at scale, identifying 97.5 percent of made-up machine mumbo jumbo when trained on 80,000 articles.

It performed almost as well against fake news created by a powerful new text-generation system called GPT-2 built by OpenAI, a nonprofit research lab founded by Elon Musk, classifying 96.1 percent of the machine-written articles.

OpenAI had so feared that the platform could be abused that it has only released limited versions of the software. The public can play with a scaled-down version posted by a machine learning engineer named Adam King, where the user types in a short prompt and GPT-2 bangs out a short story or poem based on the snippet of text.

No Silver AI Bullet

While real progress is being made against fake news, the challenges of using AI to detect and correct misinformation are abundant, according to Hugo Williams, outreach manager for Logically, a UK-based startup that is developing different detectors using elements of deep learning and natural language processing, among others. He explained that the Logically models analyze information based on a three-pronged approach.

  • Publisher metadata: Is the article from a known, reliable, and trustworthy publisher with a history of credible journalism?
  • Network behavior: Is the article proliferating through social platforms and networks in ways typically associated with misinformation?
  • Content: The AI scans articles for hundreds of known indicators typically found in misinformation.

“There is no single algorithm which is capable of doing this,” Williams wrote in an email to Singularity Hub. “Even when you have a collection of different algorithms which—when combined—can give you relatively decent indications of what is unreliable or outright false, there will always need to be a human layer in the pipeline.”

The company released a consumer app in India back in February just before that country’s election cycle that was a “great testing ground” to refine its technology for the next app release, which is scheduled in the UK later this year. Users can submit articles for further scrutiny by a real person.

“We see our technology not as replacing traditional verification work, but as a method of simplifying and streamlining a very manual process,” Williams said. “In doing so, we’re able to publish more fact checks at a far quicker pace than other organizations.”

“With heightened analysis and the addition of more contextual information around the stories that our users are reading, we are not telling our users what they should or should not believe, but encouraging critical thinking based upon reliable, credible, and verified content,” he added.

AI may never be able to detect fake news entirely on its own, but it can help us be smarter about what we read on the internet.

The Slippery Slope: If Facebook bans content that questions vaccine dogma, will it soon ban articles about toxic chemotherapy, fluoride and pesticides, too?


Image: The Slippery Slope: If Facebook bans content that questions vaccine dogma, will it soon ban articles about toxic chemotherapy, fluoride and pesticides, too?

In accordance with the company’s ongoing efforts to censor all truth while promoting only establishment fake news on its platform, social media giant Facebook has decided to launch full-scale war against online free speech about vaccines.

Pandering to the demands by California Democrat Adam Schiff, Mark Zuckerberg and his team recently announced that they are now “exploring additional measures to best combat the problem” of Facebook users discussing and sharing information about how vaccines are harming and killing children via social media.

According to an official statement released by Facebook, the Bay Area-based corporation is planning to implement some changes to the platform in the very near future that may include “reducing or removing this type of content from recommendations, including Groups You Should Join, and demoting it in search results, while also ensuring that higher quality and more authoritative information is available.”

In other words, the only acceptable form of online speech pertaining to vaccines that will be allowed on Facebook is speech that conforms to whatever the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says is “accurate” and “scientific.” Anything else, even if it comes from scientific authorities with a differing viewpoint, will be classified as false by Facebook, and consequently demoted or removed.

Facebook’s censorship tactics are becoming more nefarious by the day. To keep up with the latest news, be sure to check out Censorship.news.

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Facebook is quickly becoming the American government’s ministry of propaganda

Facebook’s rationale, of course, is that it’s simply looking out for the best interests of users who might be “misled” by information shared in Facebook groups suggesting that the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella, as one example, isn’t nearly as safe as government health authorities claim.

And that’s just it: There are many things that the government is wrong about, but that have been officially sanctioned as “truth” by government propagandists. If Facebook bows down to these government hacks with regards to vaccines, there’s no telling what the company will try to ban from its platform in the future.

As we saw in the case of Cassandra C. from Connecticut, the government actually forced this young girl to undergo chemotherapy against her will, claiming that the “treatment” was absolutely necessary to “cure” her of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Not only did the government deny young Cassandra the right to make her own medical decisions, but it also overrode the will of her parents, who also opposed taking the chemotherapy route. In essence, the government forced Cassandra to undergo chemotherapy at gunpoint, and now it’s trying to do the exact same thing with Facebook.

If little Adam Schiff is successful at forcing Facebook to only allow information on its platform that conforms with the official government position on vaccines, the next step will be to outlaw the sharing of information on the platform about the dangers of chemotherapy, as well as the dangers of fluoride, pesticides, and other deadly chemicals that the government has deemed as “safe and effective.”

Soon there won’t be any free speech at all on Facebook, assuming the social media giant actually obeys this latest prompting by the government to steamroll people’s First Amendment rights online. And where will it end?

“The real national emergency is the fact that Democrats have power over our lives,” warns Mike Adams, the Health Ranger.

“These radical Leftists are domestic terrorists and suicidal cultists … they are the Stasi, the SS, the KGB and the Maoists rolled all into one. They absolutely will not stop until America as founded is completely ripped to shreds and replaced with an authoritarian communist-leaning regime run by the very same tyrants who tried to carry out an illegal political coup against President Trump.”

With INFANTICIDE now a core “value” of Democrats, all decent, life-loving human beings must denounce the Democrat party


Image: With INFANTICIDE now a core “value” of Democrats, all decent, life-loving human beings must denounce the Democrat party

There’s no two ways about it anymore: the Democrat Party is evil beyond words. And with the Democrats’ recent voting down of a bill, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, that would have protected the lives of newly-born children from being murdered alive by abortionists, it’s now undeniably evident that there’s no possible way for decent human beings who support human rights and life in general to, in any way, identify as Democrats.

As if their love for abortion wasn’t already bad enough, today’s Democrats see nothing wrong with delivering the child victims of failed abortions and allowing them to die on the delivery table, all in the name of “reproductive rights” and “choice.” This newfound adoption of infanticide, a.k.a. baby murder, as one of their core “values” proves once and for all that Democrats hate human life, and openly embrace the “progressive” policy of murdering babies after they’ve already left the womb.

We might as well start referring to the Democrat Party as the Death Party – the party that will “cry” over the deaths of children whenever it suits their agenda of trying to scrap the Second Amendment, but that hoots, hollers, cheers, and claps when legislation is passed and signed that allows newborn babies to be chopped into bits and trashed as “medical waste” upon breathing their first breath of air.

There’s certainly no place for real Christians in the Democrat Party, which embraces pretty much every evil thing that the Bible condemns. Whether it’s brainwashing innocent children into believing that there are unlimited genders, or silencing free speech about the dangers of vaccines, the Democrat Party wants to destroy all that is good and wholesome, and replace it with every type of vice and wickedness.

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For more related news about the evil agenda of the Democrat Party and its army of “resistance” Leftists, be sure to check out LiberalMob.com and Libtards.news.

https://www.brighteon.com/embed/6003973369001

Things have taken a major turn for the worse since 2002, when a bipartisan Senate UNANIMOUSLY affirmed that born-alive children are human beings deserving of life

Believe it or not, it wasn’t that long ago that Democrats, or at least some of them, still had some level of conscience within their beings. Back in 2002, in fact, Democrats in the Senate unanimously, along with Republicans, voted to pass the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. This bill recognized all born children as “human persons,” affording them the same rights and protections as all other humans.

But somehow over the years, the Democrat Party decided that granting human life status to newborn babies infringed upon “women’s rights,” and here we are today.

“In just over a decade and a half, Democrats have gone from ‘safe, legal, and rare abortions’ to ‘kill ’em all and don’t stop when they’re born,’” writes Matt Walsh for The Daily Wire. “Many of us warned that the first slogan would lead eventually to the second. We take no pleasure in our vindication.”

As you may recall, it was the Republican Party that had to step up to the plate in the past to stamp out another evil known as slavery, which was openly embraced by the Democrat Party. And it’s now up to Republicans once again to intervene on behalf of society’s most vulnerable, unborn and newborn babies, to protect them from the Democrat Party death cult.

“It is probably not a coincidence that the Democrat Party, through its long and sordid history, has supported both of those peculiar institutions,” Walsh adds about the Democrats’ support for both slavery and baby murder.

“What a force for evil it has been. But what amazing consistency – to always fall on the wrong side of every human rights issue.”

Even a ‘Limited’ Nuclear War Could Wreck Earth’s Climate And Trigger Global Famine


Deadly tensions between India and Pakistan are boiling over in Kashmir, a disputed territory at the northern border of each country.

A regional conflict is worrisome enough, but climate scientists warn that if either country launches just a portion of its nuclear weapons, the situation might escalate into a global environmental and humanitarian catastrophe.

On February 14, a suicide bomber killed at least 40 Indian troops in a convoy travelling through Kashmir. A militant group based in Pakistan called Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack. India responded by launching airstrikes against its neighbour – the first in roughly 50 years – and Pakistan has said it shot down two Indian fighter jets and captured one of the pilots.

Both countries possess about 140 to 150 nuclear weapons. Though nuclear conflict is unlikely, Pakistani leaders have said their military is preparing for “all eventualities“. The country has also assembled its group responsible for making decisions on nuclear strikes.

“This is the premier nuclear flashpoint in the world,” Ben Rhodes, a political commentator, said on Wednesday’s episode of the “Pod Save the World” podcast.

For that reason, climate scientists have modelled how an exchange of nuclear weapons between the two countries – what is technically called a limited regional nuclear war – might affect the world.

Though the explosions would be local, the ramifications would be global, that research concluded. The ozone layer could be crippled and Earth’s climate may cool for years, triggering crop and fishery losses that would result in what the researchers called a “global nuclear famine”.

“The danger of nuclear winter has been under-understood – poorly understood – by both policymakers and the public,” Michael Mills, a researcher at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Business Insider.

“It has reached a point where we found that nuclear weapons are largely unusable because of the global impacts.”

Why a ‘small’ nuclear war could ravage Earth

When a nuclear weapon explodes, its effects extend beyond the structure-toppling blast wave, blinding fireball, and mushroom cloud. Nuclear detonations close to the ground, for example, can spread radioactive debris called fallout for hundreds of miles.

But the most frightening effect is intense heat that can ignite structures for miles around. Those fires, if they occur in industrial areas or densely populated cities, can lead to a frightening phenomenon called a firestorm.

“These firestorms release many times the energy stored in nuclear weapons themselves,” Mills said. “They basically create their own weather and pull things into them, burning all of it.”

Mills helped model the outcome of an India-Pakistan nuclear war in a 2014 study. In that scenario, each country exchanges 50 weapons, less than half of its arsenal. Each of those weapons is capable of triggering a Hiroshima-size explosion, or about 15 kilotons’ worth of TNT.

The model suggested those explosions would release about 5 million tons of smoke into the air, triggering a decades-long nuclear winter.

The effects of this nuclear conflict would eliminate 20 to 50 percent of the ozone layer over populated areas. Surface temperatures would become colder than they have been for at least 1,000 years.

The bombs in the researchers’ scenario are about as powerful as the Little Boy nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, enough to devastate a city.

But that’s far weaker than many weapons that exist today. The latest device North Korea tested was estimated to be about 10 times as powerful as Little Boy. The US and Russia each possess weapons 1,000 times as powerful.

Still, the number of weapons used is more important than strength, according to the calculations in this study.

How firestorms would wreck the climate

Most of the smoke in the scenario the researchers considered would come from firestorms that would tear through buildings, vehicles, fuel depots, vegetation, and more.

This smoke would rise through the troposphere (the atmospheric zone closest to the ground), and particles would then be deposited in a higher layer called the stratosphere. From there, tiny black-carbon aerosols could spread around the globe.

“The lifetime of a smoke particle in the stratosphere is about five years. In the troposphere, the lifetime is one week,” Alan Robock, a climate scientist at Rutgers University who worked on the study, told Business Insider.

“So in the stratosphere, the lifetime of smoke particles is much longer, which gives it 250 times the impact.”

The fine soot would cause the stratosphere, normally below freezing, to be dozens of degrees warmer than usual for five years. It would take two decades for conditions to return to normal.

This would cause ozone loss “on a scale never observed,” the study said.

That ozone damage would consequently allow harmful amounts of ultraviolet radiation from the sun to reach the ground, hurting crops and humans, harming ocean plankton, and affecting vulnerable species all over the planet.

But it gets worse: Earth’s ecosystems would also be threatened by suddenly colder temperatures.

Screen Shot 2019 03 01 at 3.52.36 pm(Mills et al., Earth’s Future, 2014)

The fine black soot in the stratosphere would prevent some sun from reaching the ground. The researchers calculated that average temperatures around the world would drop by about 1.5 degrees Celsius over the five years following the nuclear blasts.

In populated areas of North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, changes could be more extreme (as illustrated in the graphic above). Winters there would be about 2.5 degrees colder and summers between 1 and 4 degrees colder, reducing critical growing seasons by 10 to 40 days. Expanded sea ice would also prolong the cooling process, since ice reflects sunlight away.

“It’d be cold and dark and dry on the ground, and that would affect plants,” Robock said. “This is something everybody should be concerned about because of the potential global effects.”

The change in ocean temperatures could devastate sea life and fisheries that much of the world relies on for food. Such sudden blows to the food supply and the “ensuing panic” could cause “a global nuclear famine”, according to the study’s authors.

Temperatures wouldn’t return to normal for more than 25 years.

The effects might be much worse than previously thought

Robock is working on new models of nuclear-winter scenarios; his team was awarded a nearly US$3 million grant from the Open Philanthropy Project to do so.

“You’d think the Department of Defence and the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies would fund this research, but they didn’t and had no interest,” he said.

Since his earlier modelling work, Robock said, the potential effects of a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan have gotten worse. That’s because India and Pakistan now have more nuclear weapons, and their cities have grown.

“It could be about five times worse than what we’ve previously calculated,” he said.

Because of his intimate knowledge of the potential consequences, Robock advocates the reduction of nuclear arsenals around the world. He said he thinks Russia and the US – which has nearly 7,000 nuclear weapons – are in a unique position to lead the way.

“Why don’t the US and Russia each get down to 200? That’s a first step,” Robock said.

“If President Trump wants the Nobel Peace Prize, he should get rid of land-based missiles, which are on hair-trigger alert, because we don’t need them,” he added.

“That’s how he’ll get a peace prize – not by saying we have more than anyone else.”

The future of work won’t be about college degrees, it will be about job skills


  • According to the survey Freelancing in America 2018, released Wednesday, 93 percent of freelancers with a four-year college degree say skills training was useful versus only 79 percent who say their college education was useful to the work they do now.
  • Sixty-five percent of children entering primary school will end up in jobs that don’t yet exist, reveals the World Economic Forum.
  • The result is a proliferation of new, nontraditional education options.

Students walk across campus at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

Students walk across campus at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

Twenty million students started college this fall, and this much is certain: The vast majority of them will be taking on debt — a lot of debt.

What’s less certain is whether their degrees will pay off.

According to the survey Freelancing in America 2018, released Wednesday, freelancers put more value on skills training: 93 percent of freelancers with a four-year college degree say skills training was useful versus only 79 percent who say their college education was useful to the work they do now. In addition, 70 percent of full-time freelancers participated in skills training in the past six months compared to only 49 percent of full-time non-freelancers.

The fifth annual survey, conducted by research firm Edelman Intelligence and co-commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union, polled 6,001 U.S. workers.

This new data points to something much larger. Rapid technological change, combined with rising education costs, have made our traditional higher-education system an increasingly anachronistic and risky path. The cost of a college education is so high now that we have reached a tipping point at which the debt incurred often isn’t outweighed by future earnings potential.

Yet too often, degrees are still thought of as lifelong stamps of professional competency. They tend to create a false sense of security, perpetuating the illusion that work — and the knowledge it requires — is static. It’s not.

“Too often, degrees are still thought of as lifelong stamps of professional competency. They tend to create a false sense of security, perpetuating the illusion that work — and the knowledge it requires — is static. It’s not.”

For example, a 2016 World Economic Forum report found that “in many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate.”

And recent data from Upwork confirms that acceleration. Its latest Upwork Quarterly Skills Index, released in July, found that “70 percent of the fastest-growing skills are new to the index.”

Expect the change to keep coming. The WEF cites one estimate finding that 65 percent of children entering primary school will end up in jobs that don’t yet exist.

Upwork CEO on IPO: The market is ready for us

Upwork CEO on IPO: The market is ready for us  

These trends aren’t just academic to me. It’s influenced the advice I give my children. While my father had one job throughout his life, I’ve had several. And I tell my children not only can they expect to have many jobs throughout their working lives but multiple jobs at the same time.

It is therefore imperative that we encourage more options to thrive without our current overreliance on college degrees as proof of ability. We need new routes to success and hope.

New, nontraditional education options

The future of work won’t be about degrees. More and more, it’ll be about skills. And no one school, whether it be Harvard, General Assembly or Udacity, can ever insulate us from the unpredictability of technological progression and disruption.

As a leader of a technology company and former head of engineering, I’ve hired many programmers during my career. And what matters to me is not whether someone has a computer science degree but how well they can think and how well they can code. In fact, among the top 20 fastest-growing skills on Upwork’s latest Skills Index, none require a degree.

Freelancers, the fastest-growing segment of the workforce, realize more than most that education doesn’t stop. It’s a lifelong process, and they are nearly twice as likely to reskill.

More and more, companies are catching on. Last year PwC began a pilot program allowing high school graduates to begin working as accountants and risk-management consultants. And this August, jobs website Glassdoor listed “15 more companies that no longer require a degree,” including tech giants such as Apple, IBM and Google. “Increasingly,” Glassdoor reported, “there are many companies offering well-paying jobs to those with nontraditional education or a high-school diploma.”

Google, for example, used to ask applicants for their college GPAs and transcripts; however, as Laszlo Bock — its head of hiring — has explained, those metrics aren’t valuable predictors of an employee’s performance. As a result, Bock told The New York Times a few years ago that the portion of non-college-educated employees at Google has grown over time.

And second, new nontraditional education options are proliferating. Often laser-focused on the most in-demand skills, would-be college students can now enroll in campus-based, project-focused institutions, like the Holberton School (where I’m a trustee) or online programs such as e-learning sites like Coursera or Udemy.

To be sure, I’m not saying college is a waste of time and money for everyone. But if there’s one takeaway, it’s this: The future of work won’t be about degrees. More and more, it’ll be about skills. And no one school, whether it be Harvard, General Assembly or Udacity, can ever insulate us from the unpredictability of technological progression and disruption.

But one thing can: The fastest-growing segment of the workforce — freelancers — have realized more than most that education doesn’t stop. It’s a lifelong process. Diploma or not, it’s a mindset worth embracing.

U.S. Isolated at U.N. Over Its Concerns About Abortion, Refugees


The United States found itself isolated in the 193-member United Nations General Assembly on Monday over Washington’s concerns about the promotion of abortion and a voluntary plan to address the global refugee crisis.

Only Hungary backed the United States and voted against an annual resolution on the work of the U.N. refugee agency, while 181 countries voted in favor and three abstained. The resolution has generally been approved by consensus for more than 60 years.

However, this year the resolution included approval of a compact on refugees, which was produced by U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi after it was requested by the General Assembly in 2016. The resolution calls on countries to implement the plan.

The United States was the only country to oppose the draft resolution last month when it was first negotiated and agreed by the General Assembly human rights committee. It said elements of the text ran counter to its sovereign interests, citing the global approach to refugees and migrants.

General Assembly resolutions are non-binding but can carry political weight. U.S. President Donald Trump used his annual address to world leaders at the United Nations in September to tout protection of U.S. sovereignty.

The United States also failed in a campaign, which started last month during negotiations on several draft resolutions in the General Assembly human rights committee, against references to “sexual and reproductive health” and “sexual and reproductive health-care services.”

It has said the language has “accumulated connotations that suggest the promotion of abortion or a right to abortion that are unacceptable to our administration.”

On Monday, Washington unsuccessfully tried to remove two paragraphs from a General Assembly resolution on preventing violence and sexual harassment of women and girls. It was the only country to vote against the language, while 131 countries voted to keep it in the resolution and 31 abstained.

The United States also failed in trying to remove similar language in another resolution on child, early and forced marriage on Monday, saying: “We do not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance.”

Only Nauru backed Washington in voting against the language, while 134 countries voted to keep it in the resolution and 32 abstained.

When Trump came to power last year he reinstated the so-called Mexico City Policy that withholds U.S. funding for international organizations that perform abortions or provide information about abortion.

Visions of a Better World


Noam Chomsky, Richard Dawkins, Martin Rees and others answer the question: What’s your utopia?

Visions of a Better World

Unless you are too stoned or enlightened to care, you are probably dissatisfied with the world as it is. In that case, you should have a vision of the world as you would like it to be. This better world is your utopia. That, at any rate, is the premise of a question I’ve been asking scientists and other thinkers lately: What’s your utopia?

I presented students’ responses to this question last year. This final column for 2018 (if aliens land in Central Park or CERN discovers a portal to a parallel universe, I’ll let major media handle it) offers responses from scientists and others I’ve interviewed lately. My hope is that these visions will cheer up readers bummed out by my previous post, “Dark Days.” See the end of the post for my utopia.

Noam Chomsky: I don’t have the talent to do more than to suggest what seem to me reasonable guidelines for a better future.  One might argue that Marx was too cautious in keeping to only a few general words about post-capitalist society, but he was right to recognize that it will have to be envisioned and developed by people who have liberated themselves from the bonds of illegitimate authority.

Richard Dawkins: My utopia is a world in which beliefs are based on evidence and morality is based on intelligent design—design by intelligent humans (or robots!). Neither beliefs nor morals should be based on gut feelings, or on ancient books, private revelations or priestly traditions.

Sheldon Solomon: Staying alive long enough to see that my children are relatively settled and economically secure and knowing that there’s a decent chance that the earth will not be reduced to a festering heap long before the sun explodes!

Sabine Hossenfelder: That we finally use scientific methods to restructure political and economic systems. The representative democracies that we have right now are entirely outdated and unable to cope with the complex problems which we must solve. We need new systems that better incorporate specialized knowledge and widely distributed information, and that better aggregate opinions. (I wrote about this in detail here.) It pains me a lot to think that my children will have to live through a phase of economic regress because we were too stupid and too slow to get our act together.

Scott Aaronson: Since I hang out with Singularity people so much, part of me reflexively responds: “utopia” could only mean an infinite number of sentient beings living in simulated paradises of their own choosing, racking up an infinite amount of utility.  If such a being wants challenge and adventure, then challenge and adventure is what it gets; if nonstop sex, then nonstop sex; if a proof of P≠NP, then a proof of P≠NP.  (Or the being could choose all three: it’s utopia, after all!)

Over a shorter time horizon, though, maybe the best I can do is talk about what I love and what I hate.  I love when the human race gains new knowledge, in math or history or anything else.  I love when important decisions fall into the hands of people who constantly second-guess themselves and worry that their own ‘tribe’ might be mistaken, who are curious about science and have a sense of the ironic and absurd.  I love when society’s outcasts, like Alan Turing or Michael Burry (who predicted the subprime mortgage crisis), force everyone else to pay attention to them by being inconveniently right.  And whenever I read yet another thinkpiece about the problems with “narrow-minded STEM nerds”—how we’re basically narcissistic children, lacking empathy and social skills, etc. etc.—I think to myself, “then let everyone else be as narrow and narcissistic as most of the STEM nerds I know; I have no further wish for the human race.”

On the other side, I hate the irreversible loss of anything—whether that means the deaths of individuals, the burning of the Library of Alexandria, genocides, the flooding of coastal cities as the earth warms, or the extinction of species.  I hate when the people in power are ones who just go with their gut, or their faith, or their tribe, or their dialectical materialism, and who don’t even feel self-conscious about the lack of error-correcting machinery in their methods for learning about the world.  I hate when kids with a passion for some topic have that passion beaten out of them in school, and then when they succeed anyway in pursuing the passion, they’re called stuck-up, privileged elitists.  I hate the “macro” version of the same schoolyard phenomenon, which recurs throughout cultures and history: the one where some minority is spat on and despised, manages to succeed anyway at something the world values, and is then despised even more because of its success.

So, until the Singularity arrives, I suppose my vision of utopia is simply more of what I love and less of what I hate!

David Deutsch: Of course I’m opposed to utopianism. Progress comes only through piecemeal, tentative improvements. I think the world will never be perfected, even when everything we think of as problematic today has been eliminated. We shall always be at the beginning of infinity. Never satisfied.

Stephen Wolfram: If you mean: what do I personally want to do all day?  Well, I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to set up my life to let me spend a large fraction of my time doing what I want to be doing, which usually means creating things and figuring things out.  I like building large, elegant, useful, intellectual and practical structures—which is what I hope I’ve done over a long period of time, for example, with Wolfram Language.

If you’re asking what I see as being the best ultimate outcome for our whole species—well, that’s a much more difficult question, though I’ve certainly thought about it.  Yes, there are things we want now—but how what we want will evolve after we’ve got those things is, I think, almost impossible for us to understand.  Look at what people see as goals today, and think how difficult it would be to explain many of them to someone even a few centuries ago.  Human goals will certainly evolve, and the things people will think are the best possible things to do in the future may well be things we don’t even have words for yet.

Peter Woit: Besides the peace, love and understanding thing, in my utopia everyone else would have as few problems and as much to enjoy about life as I currently do.

Martin Rees: A utopian society would, at the very least, require trust between individuals and their institutions. I worry that we are moving further from this ideal. Two trends are reducing interpersonal trust: firstly, the remoteness and globalization of those we routinely have to deal with; and secondly, the vulnerability of modern life to disruption –- the realization that “hackers” or dissidents can trigger incidents that cascade globally. Such trends necessitate burgeoning security measures. These are already irritants in our everyday life – security guards, elaborate passwords, airport searches and so forth — but they are likely to become ever more vexatious. Innovations like blockchain could offer protocols that render the entire Internet more secure. But their current applications – allowing an economy based on crypto-currencies to function independently of traditional financial institutions –seem damaging rather than benign. It’s depressing to realize how much of the economy is dedicated to activities that would be superfluous if we felt we could trust each other. (It would be a worthwhile exercise if some economist could quantify this.)

And the world is so interconnected that no utopia could exist on the scale of one nation-state.  Harmonious geopolitics would require a global distribution of wealth that’s perceived as fair– with far less inequality between rich and poor nations. And even without being utopian it’s surely a moral imperative (as well as in the self-interest of fortunate nations) to push towards this goal. Sadly, we downplay what’s happening even now in far-away countries and the plight of the “bottom billion.” And we discount too heavily the problems we’ll leave for new generations. Governments need to prioritize projects that are long-term in a political perspective, even if a mere instant in the history of our planet.

Tim Maudlin: In the utopian tradition that goes back to Plato (again!) utopias are not supposed to be real places. In Republic, Socrates says that it does not matter whether the ideal state actually exists: it is a pattern by reference to which one can judge the present situation and how it can be improved. There is a reason why Butler’s Erewhon is about a place called “Erewhon”. But as it happens my present not-yet-in-full-existence utopia is well on its way to full-blown reality. It is called the John Bell Institute for the Foundations of Physics, a non-profit institute formed to promote the study, teaching and investigation of the foundations of physics. So far we have our Faculty and Honorary Fellows and Bell Fellows and regular Fellows, and we have identified where our European campus will be (in Bojanić Bad, Hvar, Croatia) and are seeking an American campus in the Rockies. This is putting my views about utopia to the acid test.

Robin Hanson: My personal utopia would be an intellectual world where we actually lived up to most of the intellectual ideals we espouse. Where work is judged mainly on the long term benefit it gives the world, and arguments are accepted no matter how unpalatable their conclusions, or whose ox is gored. I actually think we know a lot about how to construct such a utopia if we wanted – see my work on futarchy and idea futures. The main problem seems to be that most of us don’t actually want my “utopia.”

Tyler Volk: John, having this opportunity to focus for a spell on your great questions: this is it!

Jim Holt: My utopia is a society that consists in its entirety of Tim and Vishnya Maudlin, David Albert, Jenann Ismael, Shelly Goldstein, Barry Loewer, Carlo Rovelli, Hartry Field, Trevor Teitel, and me, all arguing eternally about gauge theory while beautiful girls and comely boys peel grapes for us.

Nick Herbert: In sociology, I am utterly ignorant. My favorite poet Robinson Jeffers (“Shine, Perishing Republic”) held a dim view of human progress. Perhaps we are now living in the Last Golden Age before the Decline of the West. Whatever the case, Nick offers these words as a guide to rightly living in this odd complexity:

Love this well

ere it perish.

And thank you

for your mystery

which I almost entirely

do not understand.

John Horgan: As I argue in Mind-Body Problems, my free, online book, many of us are already living in pretty good utopias, democracies that give us unprecedented freedom to be who we want to be. But things could be—will be!–a lot better. We will recognize how stupid and wrong war is and end it once and for all. With the money we save from demilitarizing we will end poverty, too, improve education and health care for all, and solve the conundrum of climate change. And we will keep giving ourselves more freedom, more choices. Our children and their children will find new ways to be human, to live good, meaningful lives, ways we can’t even imagine now. This weird, wonderful human adventure will never, ever end. Happy Holidays!

The UN’s latest climate meeting ends positively


But there is a lot more to do if global warming is to be stopped

HOSTING COP24, the latest of the UN’s annual climate summits, in Katowice was meant to symbolise the transition from an old, dirty world to a new, clean one. Spiritually, the city is the home of Poland’s coal miners. Today, it is replete with besuited management consultants and bearded baristas. The venue itself was on top of a disused mine in the city centre.

Ahead of the two-week powwow, which concluded on December 15th, many feared the meeting would instead highlight the unresolved contradictions involved in that transition. So it came as a relief when nearly 14,000 delegates from 195 countries managed—more or less, and a day late—to achieve the gathering’s main objective: a “rule book” for putting into practice the Paris agreement of 2015, which commits the world to keeping global warming “well below” 2°C relative to pre-industrial times, and preferably within 1.5°C.

This outcome was far from assured. Setting an abstract goal, as governments had in Paris, is simpler than agreeing on how to go about reaching it. Technicalities—what counts as a reduction in emissions, who monitors countries’ progress and so on—can be politically thorny. Poland’s right-wing government, which presided over the talks, lacks both friends (alienated by, among other things, its anti-democratic attacks on judicial independence) and green credentials. Observers were braced for a diplomatic debacle.

Implementing the judgment of Paris

The summit got off to an inauspicious start. At the outset Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, declared that his country cannot reasonably be expected to give up its 200 years’ worth of coal reserves. In France, his opposite number, Emmanuel Macron, caved in to massive protests and suspended a planned fuel-tax rise intended to help curb greenhouse-gas emissions from transport. Days earlier, Brazil had withdrawn its offer to host next year’s summit after Jair Bolsonaro, the president-elect who takes office in January and who would love to follow his American counterpart, Donald Trump, out of the Paris deal, said his government had no interest.

Despite these early setbacks, negotiators resolved most of 2,800-odd points of contention in the rule book’s pre-summit draft. Michal Kurtyka, the amiable Polish bureaucrat who chaired the proceedings, turned apparent haplessness into a virtue, by leaving delegates space to thrash out their differences.

Poor countries won firmer assurances that rich ones would help pay for their efforts to curb their greenhouse-gas emissions and to adapt to rising sea levels and fiercer floods, droughts, storms and other climate-related problems. The rich world, for its part, cajoled China into accepting uniform guidelines for tallying those emissions. Thus stripped of their most powerful voice, other developing countries reluctantly followed suit. If any cannot meet the standards, they must explain why and present a plan to make amends. This concession, long demanded by the Americans, may not persuade Mr Trump to keep the United States in the deal. But it could make things easier for any successor who wished to re-enter it after Mr Trump has left office.

Besides haggling over the rules, a handful of countries—including big polluters such as Ukraine—used the jamboree to announce plans for more ambitious “nationally determined contributions” (or NDCs, as the voluntary pledges countries submit under the Paris deal are known). The city councils of Melbourne and Sydney, in Australia, joined a growing number of national and local governments intent on phasing out coal. So did Israel and Senegal. In the wake of Brazil’s desertion, Chile stepped in to organise next year’s summit, which convention dictates should happen in Latin America. The Paris compact has thus not come apart at the seams.

Predictably, for negotiations that need to balance the interest of nearly 200 parties, no one leaves Katowice entirely happy. Vulnerable countries, such as small island states imperilled by rising seas, worry that the findings of a recent UN-backed scientific report outlining the dire consequences of another half a degree of warming, on top of the 1°C which has happened since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, have been underplayed. Rich countries grumble that poor ones can still get away with emitting too much carbon dioxide.

Mr Kurtyka was also unable, because of Brazilian objections, to break an impasse on carbon trading. This is an arrangement that allows big belchers of CO{-2} to offset emissions by paying others to forgo some of theirs. Brazil balked at proposals intended to prevent double-counting in such trading, because it believed they penalised its large stockpile of carbon-trading instruments, such as promises not to chop down patches of the Amazon. As a result, the issue has been kicked into the long cassava.

The direction of travel is, nevertheless, correct. Earlier in the meeting Ottmar Edenhofer, a veteran German climate policymaker who is director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, had feared that Katowice would mark “the beginning of the end of the Paris agreement”. For all its shortcomings, the compromise which emerged is not that.

But after all is said and done, the 2°C goal (let alone the 1.5°C aspiration) still remains a distant prospect. The current set of NDCs puts the world on course for more or less 3°C of warming—and Kiribati and the Marshall Islands at risk of submersion. Campaigners, who spiced up the stodgy talks with a dash of sit-ins and marches, were right to decry the lack of ambition as unequal to the task of sparing future generations from climate catastrophe. The rule book is itself no nostrum for the planet’s man-made fever. The only real medicine would be firmer commitment to decarbonising economies. And, as Mr Macron is finding, that medicine can be bitter.

Suicide Is A Society-Wide Problem That Needs A Society-Wide Solution


People across our communities need the confidence and skills to speak openly about suicide.

The weekend before Greg Hunt got his fellow health ministers from the states and territories to agree to a national plan to reduce suicide, I watched people with paper butterflies in Bendigo trying to heal the sorrowful hurt of our national suicide emergency.

At a community event there, I saw affected family members and friends queue up — young and old, townies with tattoos and country conservatives in Akubras — to pin their homemade personal tributes onto a net that symbolised holding hope.

I counted some 50 butterflies and some 800 participants.

I listened to a local GP who regularly deals with people with suicidality say: “People aren’t dying to die. People are dying from the pain of not being heard.”

Now, as governments and stakeholders consider what a national suicide prevention plan should include, and we finally join the other 28 countries who currently have one, we would be wise to listen and learn from the hard-earned and heartfelt lessons of those of ‘lived experience’. Those who directly deal with suicidal people, those impacted on by suicide death, and those who have overcome suicidality.

The vast majority of those who experience suicidality do not die.

For the 3027 deaths by suicide in the past statistical year — a 10-year high at a time of 25 straight years of economic growth — there were likely more than 100,000 attempts. The vast majority of those who experience suicidality do not die.

Let’s start our listening there, where hope lives. We know from overseas successes that suicide is practically preventable. For many, suicidality is an experience of being overwhelmed by pain at a point in time. This ‘psych-ache’ is contributed to by isolating factors such as loss of work, lack of access to services, relationship breakdown, addiction, and, in some but certainly not all cases, mental illness.

If we can hear people in that critical period and respectfully support them through what’s happening for them, many go on to live positive and prosperous lives. Therefore, the infrastructure for crisis support is vital to recognise in a national plan. We believe we contribute to saving some 1100 lives per week by being unconditionally there for people in intense pain and confusion.

Part of our contribution needs to be about matching our tradition of empathy with greater effectiveness. This year, to compliment the near 1 million phone and Internet interactions we fielded from around 300,000 Australians in crisis, we will seek to introduce crisis text and messaging.

A large portion of Australian communications activity is by SMS or some form of messaging, and that’s where we need to be to help. That’s especially true of men (about 75 percent of all suicides), and younger people (where rates are rising again), who may be more likely to use text or messaging in the first instance to seek help. Plus, it may make crisis support more accessible to rural and regional communities with weaker signals for mobile coverage, which typically have the most frightening suicide rates in Australia. We have at least enough money from the Feds and some very dedicated corporates to trial this year.

People across our society need the confidence and skills to speak openly about suicide, to remove the barriers such as shame and blame, and to encourage help-seeking.

Another key message from people with ‘lived experience’, especially those who have sadly seen loved ones die, is the need for greater skills in the community to address suicide among our family, friends, workmates and neighbours. Organisations such as Mates in Construction are currently doing a great job of training people in the high-susceptibility industry that is construction.

But we need to do more to destigmatise suicide and empower more people to have suicide-related conversations. That includes more involvement by the broader business community, especially where suicide risk is higher. Focus should be on male-dominated professions, and ‘gatekeeper’ sectors such as education, social welfare, employment organisations and the judiciary. People across our society need the confidence and skills to speak openly about suicide, to remove the barriers such as shame and blame, and to encourage help-seeking.

On the other hand, ‘spotting the signs’ of suicide is a difficult proposition that often eludes trained professionals, and there’s limited return in training people in this method of prevention. It’s likely to be more effective to empower the community to ask the critical question, “Are you suicidal?”, that Lifeline asks an average of 2500 times per day.

We need to use what we know about speaking about suicide from our 54 years of experience and share it with a community that has come to trust us to a truly humbling extent. We need more support for school and university programs, and businesses are literally crying out for help for their employees, contractors, suppliers and stakeholders.

Another ‘lived experience’ voice that is vital to hear is the one that consistently says this to Lifeline crisis supporters: “I’ve just left the hospital after a suicide attempt and don’t know what to do.” There is a massive gap in services and support for the group that is much more likely to be suicidal: those who have already made an initial attempt. As overseas evidence suggests, many of the deaths of this group of people are preventable through better ‘post-vention’ and recovery, including improved discharge procedures, after-care facilities, follow-up services, and peer-to-peer support.

This we can do and it’s an area Hunt is very focussed on. It’s a group of people who number in their hundreds and we literally know them by name. They have been to hospital; we can deliver hope directly to them by breaking down the barriers between hospital systems and charities, and by using the best of what modern technology offers us, such as e-health.

A national strategy can’t be up to the mental health and emotional wellbeing sectors alone, because it will fail.

Whether it’s ‘lived experience’ or others, a key aspect is co-ownership. A society wide problem needs a society wide solution. A national strategy can’t be up to the mental health and emotional wellbeing sectors alone, because it will fail.

As an alternative approach, The Huffington Post Australia, Twitter, Accor, and Lifeline will soon hold a #stopsuicide summit with 50 CEO-level executives and leaders from multiple sectors such as financial services, public administration, media, transport, tourism, agriculture, the law, resources and ICT to discuss their ideas for innovation and problem solving around suicide.

Ultimately, it’s this continuum of compassion and innovation that we need to have a go at, or as the World Health Organisation recommends, from ‘universal’ strategies to fight stigma to ‘selective’ strategies to reduce risks in vulnerable communities to ‘indicated’ strategies for specific people who need immediate support. As a colleague describes it: more of what works and more of what we need to try. And, in that respect, the principle of co-design, the use of evidence, the inclusion of measurement and evaluation, and the identification of accountability structures are simply non-negotiables in good policy and practice.

While a national plan is a good and necessary thing, the truth is much suicide will be prevented not by change in public policy but change in personal perspective. The disconnectedness and toxic loneliness that drives much suicide is given space to exist when we don’t go out of our way to look after each other and connect.

When the pervasive narcissism of our times negates our niceness to each other. When vanity blocks our values. When our practice of empathy goes without everyday practice. When our compassion is doled out in convenient clicks rather than acts of kindness. When we don’t speak plainly about the very real social disadvantages that at least compound suicidality in many people.

In the months ahead, we have the chance to make a real plan to save Australian lives. But, in this very moment, we have the chance to make a real promise to ourselves to care and connect with those who most need it. One bereaved mother in Bendigo told me that’s what she now devotes her life too; we should look at our own actions too.

U.S. Appeals Court Narrows Trump Birth Control Ruling


A U.S. appeals court on Thursday narrowed an order that had blocked President Donald Trump’s administration from enforcing new rules that undermine an Obamacare requirement for employers to provide insurance that covers women’s birth control.

Last year two federal judges, one in Philadelphia and one in Oakland, California, had blocked the government from enforcing rules allowing businesses or nonprofits to obtain exemptions from the contraception policy on moral or religious grounds. The Justice Department appealed both rulings.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said on Thursday the injunction issued in California should not apply nationwide, but only within the five states that sued over the policy. California’s attorney general filed the case, along with AGs in Delaware, Virginia, Maryland and New York.

Despite the 9th Circuit ruling, a nationwide injunction issued by the Philadelphia judge is still in effect while that case is under appeal at the 3rd Circuit, a spokesman for Pennsylvania’s attorney general said on Thursday.

A U.S. Justice Department spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment. At the time the California injunction was issued, a spokeswoman said: “This administration is committed to defending the religious liberty of all Americans.”

One 9th Circuit judge, an appointee of Republican President George H.W. Bush, said he would have revoked the California injunction altogether.

The cases are among several that Democratic state attorneys general filed after the Republican Trump administration revealed the new rules which targeted the contraceptive mandate implemented as part of 2010’s Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.

The rules would let businesses or nonprofits lodge religious or moral objections to obtain an exemption from the law’s mandate that employers provide contraceptive coverage in health insurance with no co-payment.

Conservative Christian activists and congressional Republicans praised the move, while reproductive rights advocates and Democrats criticized it.

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