Thursday, 25 December 2008
In recent years there has been great focus on building brands and rating their values, but, like the sub-prime loan debacle, is this another case of assigning tenuous values to dubious qualities that could disappear overnight?
Friday, 19 December 2008
Thursday, 18 December 2008
I'm especially concerned given the current debate of nationalized health care. I fear that future health care costs in the US will be significantly higher than they are today because of our unhealthy eating habits, and I wonder if proponents of 'universal health care' have accounted for these additional costs? Should healthy tax payers fund the by-pass surgery of a citizen who knowingly eats unhealthy food?
In the current US insurance system, unhealthy citizens (ie, tobacco users) pay a higher insurance cost to compensate for the additional problems they will inevitably encounter.
Tuesday, 9 December 2008
Tuesday, 2 December 2008
About the Speakers
Jagdish Bhagwati is University Professor of economics and law at Columbia University, senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the author of In Defense of Globalization. He writes widely on public policy and international trade.
John Gray is emeritus professor at the London School of Economics. Among his recent books are False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism (Granta) and Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (Penguin).
Bernard-Henri Lévy, the French philosopher, has written more than thirty books, including the New York Times bestseller American Vertigo (2006) and, most recently, Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism (2008), both published by Random House. www.bernard-henri-levy.com
Friday, 21 November 2008
Thursday, 20 November 2008
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
Mercenary action: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27789400/
Send us your rum and women!: http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/africa/11/19/somalia.pirates.boomtown.ap/index.html
Is this nuts to anyone else? Some random (and admittedly not well formed) thoughts:
1) Naval officials the world over must be scrambling to redefine their doctrines to counter this threat
2) Goodbye nation-state, hello globalisation of security - Pirates operating out of a failed state, state-run navies helpless to intervene, and companies hiring mercenaries
3) What will this do to insurance rates on international shipping? And what will that do to world trade?
4) If this continues, can someone say 'military intervention in Africa'?
5) Piracy is widely supported by the African populace - they see only benefit and poetic justice from it. How might this relate to failed states that spawn terrorists?
Sunday, 16 November 2008
Saturday, 15 November 2008
1) The financial crisis has precipitated the weakening of free market principles that formed the basis of the Western model of organising economies
2) Russia's variety of state supported capitalism has done better than some economies in dealing with the crisis, though it's still been hurt. Other countries are moving in the direction of this model.
3) The Russia natural resource base is huge and largely untapped, which will be an advantage as commodity prices remain generally high
4) Russia has great military power and has the will to use it (see: Georgia)
5) Russia has an expanding sphere of influence in China, Central Asia, and Europe since they control many vital energy transits and economic interests in those regions
Will this next century be Russia's? It is, of course, never that simple, but a case can be made that Russia will be a much bigger player in world politics in the next 100 years than their struggles in the last 20 years would seem to indicate.
Monday, 10 November 2008
On the surface, it makes sense: Solve global warming while stimulating economic growth. Clean Tech is obviously an underdeveloped industry thanks to historically cheap fuel. While traditional, labor-intensive industry continues its migration off-shore, ET can thrive given western strengths of research and innovation.
But there is a HUGE difference between the IT boom and the proposed ET boom which is somehow being overlooked (despite being front page news): access to capital.
The IT boom was financed in the private sector by historic levels of liquidity. Will companies be able to invest in the R&D needed for a Clean Tech boom if banks aren't lending? Can governments drive a Clean Tech boom though other policy mechanisms?
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Tuesday, 28 October 2008
If this is the case, is it possible that the price of oil will drop given a lack of demand? Or could OPEC increase production of oil to squash the uptake of cheaper alternatives?
So to answer Grant's earlier question, I think the eventual uptake of clean-tech technologies will fuel another economic boom (much like how steam power fueled the industrial revolution and cheap oil spurred growth in the 1900s). However, the more interesting question is what becomes of the current oil producing nations when oil can no longer fuel their growth given the decreased cashflow (from lower demand and/or lower prices). Will they become more stable or less stable? Could regional instability offset the economic boom experienced by the rest of the world (consider potential simultaneous conflicts in South America, the Middle East, and Africa)? Or will traditional oil nations invest HEAVILY in alternatives (rather than football teams and stock exchanges) to hedge against such a result?
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Tuesday, 21 October 2008
What will the Dow Jones Industrial Average be in 6 months?
Assuming the Democrats sweep the US Election, how long will they stay in power before screwing it all up?
What will the Dollar/Pound exchange rate be in one year?
When will the housing crisis be 'over' (defined as when cable news networks stop talking about it)?
Will there be a clean tech bubble similar to the IT bubble of the late 90s?
What is the next big 'hot' area of the global economy?
Will this be accompanied by a global boom similar to the 1990s?
Who will Russia or the US invade next? (joking, sort of)
Are we looking at a new cold war? Are there any prospects for continued collaboration and cooperation between the two former superpowers?
Is the term 'superpower' relevant any more?
When will China's GDP surpass the US (or EU) based on purchasing power
When will India's GDP surpass the US (or EU) based on purchasing power
Will there be a permanent shift away from concentrated political power in North America and Europe to concentrated power in Asia and South America in the coming years, or will the world be more balanced?
What will the price of oil be in 6 months?
When will we reach peak oil?
How much longer will gordon brown remain the prime minister?
Who will host the Olympics in 2016?
While this financial crisis precipitate a depression (10% or greater contraction in GDP) or just a recession?
And how long will it last?
Does the current crisis mean an end to globalisation and liberal markets on the western model?
Will there be a nuclear power renaissance? What about wind? Solar?
Will Iran liberalise?
What about Pakistan?
Will Afghanistan collapse (more than it already has), or will things get better?
What about Iraq?
What is the future of the Kyoto Protocol and its successors? Will China/US/India succumb to an emissions monitoring agreement?
During what year will you first be able to take a holiday cruise to the North Pole?
Monday, 20 October 2008
Sunday, 19 October 2008
While I cringe knowing this overly US-oriented post will validate many of your preconceptions of my overly self-interested nation, I thought you might enjoy some insight given the significant amount of coverage that our elections have warranted in many of your nations.
Colin Powell is regarded by many as the preeminent American soldier/politian. A well decorated soldier in Vietnam, Powell eventually became a 4-star general and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (ie, the highest military position achievable in the US). Powell served as National Security Advisor under Republican President Ronald Reagan and Secretary of State during George W. Bush’s first administration. Given his highly visible and highly influential role in such republican administrations, his endorsement of a democratic nominee is unprecedented and is considered by many as a possible determining factor in the upcoming election.
Powell, an African American, has frequently been discussed as a possible presidential candidate himself as his distinguished military service and conservative views appeal to a majority of Americans. If you were to poll Americans up until late 2006 as to who could be the first African American president, Colin Powell would have been the unanimous choice (I am not exaggerating when I say 100% consensus with no second place, for at that time, Barack Obama was still a little known 2nd year senator and no other credible candidates had ever emerged). Powell’s possible candidacy was mentioned both in 1996 (against Bill Clinton who was seeking a second term) and again in 2001 (as a possible successor to George W. Bush following his appointment as Secretary of State). It has been reported that he chose not to seek the office of the presidency at the request of his wife, who feared for his safety after receiving hate mail—an unfortunate reality.
Powell resigned as Secretary of State following the revelation that many of his decisions regarding the invasion of Iraq were founded on unreliable information. On Sunday’s interview, he also acknowledged that there would not have been an invasion given more accurate evidence from the US intelligence community.
It is thought that an endorsement by Powell, a moderate conservative, will have significant sway with not only independent voters, but traditional republicans who feel alienated by the party’s recent shift to the extreme right. His endorsement was extremely well thought out and exhibited a keen understanding of issues—domestic and international, economic and militaristic, immediate and enduring. I can only hope that most Americans will agree with his well articulated opinions, not only regarding the outcome of this election, but the direction of the Republican Party and United States politics in general.
You can read and view the interview at a variety of news outlets. I highly recommend it.
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Saturday, 20 September 2008
Thursday, 11 September 2008
It details the efforts of one of the much talked about Cambridge University start ups this year, Plastic Logic, to get their e-reader to market. While I'm impressed that one of the companies that Tim Minshall mentioned about 10,000 times this year is actually moving forward, I have two questions about it:
1) Do you think that e-readers will succeed in their current dominant design form in the next 5 years in becoming a mass market product, given their lack of success in the last 10 years? Or will they end up in another form not yet envisioned, such as being subsumed into mobile phones, much as PDAs have been? What if Apple were to take their Macbook Air and slap the screen on the front to form a combined reader/laptop?
2) What will it take to give one of these devices mass market appeal? Will it require a device that looks and feels almost exactly like printed paper? Is cost the driving issue? Compatability? Unfamiliarity? Some combination of these?
Monday, 1 September 2008
Thursday, 21 August 2008
Tuesday, 19 August 2008
The idea that democracy cannot be imposed is not new. Machiavelli, arguably the first political scientist, discussed this issue at length in his Discourses. History has shown that successful democracies are manifested by the people (the most obvious example comes from the US and French Revolutions in which virtuous people seized democracy from tyranny). Rice acknowledges this point, in affect foreshadowing the ultimate failure of her previously outlined policy. However, she immediately dismisses this logical fallacy on the basis that that tyranny is more likely to be imposed. To me, this is an unrelated issue and does not justify her previously outlined strategy.
Considering that most of us come from democracies, I have two questions: Was your current government imposed by a foreign power? And if so, what else helped to facilitate its successful adoption (institutions, etc)?
Read the full text of her article at:
Or read the passage in question:
"For the United States, promoting democratic development must remain a top priority. Indeed, there is no realistic alternative that we can -- or should -- offer to influence the peaceful evolution of weak and poorly governed states. The real question is not whether to pursue this course but how.
"We first need to recognize that democratic development is always possible but never fast or easy. This is because democracy is really the complex interplay of democratic practices and culture. In the experience of countless nations, ours especially, we see that culture is not destiny. Nations of every culture, race, religion, and level of development have embraced democracy and adapted it to their own circumstances and traditions. No cultural factor has yet been a stumbling block -- not German or Japanese "militarism," not "Asian values," not African "tribalism," not Latin America's alleged fondness for caudillos, not the once-purported preference of eastern Europeans for despotism.
"The fact is, few nations begin the democratic journey with a democratic culture. The vast majority create one over time -- through the hard, daily struggle to make good laws, build democratic institutions, tolerate differences, resolve them peacefully, and share power justly. Unfortunately, it is difficult to grow the habits of democracy in the controlled environment of authoritarianism, to have them ready and in place when tyranny is lifted. The process of democratization is likely to be messy and unsatisfactory, but it is absolutely necessary. Democracy, it is said, cannot be imposed, particularly by a foreign power. This is true but beside the point. It is more likely that tyranny has to be imposed."
Friday, 1 August 2008
"Federal agents may take a traveler's laptop computer or other electronic device to an off-site location for an unspecified period of time without any suspicion of wrongdoing, as part of border search policies the Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed. [...] DHS officials said the newly disclosed policies -- which apply to anyone entering the country, including U.S. citizens -- are reasonable and necessary to prevent terrorism."
"The policies state that officers may "detain" laptops "for a reasonable period of time" to "review and analyze information." This may take place "absent individualized suspicion."
The policies cover "any device capable of storing information in digital or analog form," including hard drives, flash drives, cellphones, iPods, pagers, beepers, and video and audio tapes."
I have two questions:
1) How can they not understand that data can pass their borders far more easily over network connections than on private laptops and CDs carried on planes?
2) Do they seriously expect to click on "Last Viewed Documents" and find "Terrorist_Attack_Plan.pdf"?
Wednesday, 30 July 2008
There are a lot of things going on here. Perhaps most striking is the rising confidence of developing nations, who don't want to be pushed around by the US and EU anymore. With the collapse of the Doha round, who are the biggest winners/losers?
Beyond that, do you think future economic stability and growth depend on global consensus? Or will a plethora of bilateral or regional agreements suffice?
I've got my own ideas, but I would like to hear from you guys first.
Monday, 28 July 2008
Monday, 30 June 2008
I've said it before: The Internet has created the greatest generational divide since Rock 'n' Roll. This borderless divide has also proven that cultures of all stripes have the ability to enact profoundly counterproductive (and technically impossible) rules that increase the chasm between both sides.
Had a great conversation with Patrick today, who said something I know I agree with. He said that one of the best things he'd gotten out of Cambridge was the ability to think critically; and that leaving Cambridge could sometimes lead to a weakening (perhaps an atrophying?) of that ability. I know I sometimes wonder about the same thing.
Which is why this blog is such a great idea.
I think there are two reasons why we've been able to think critically (or more critically) this last year. First, our continuous engagement with the essays, assignments, term papers, theses - a whole bunch of tasks that force us to stretch out and think - helps keep the machinery degreased, so to speak. Second - and most important - this luxury we have of being able to bounce ideas off a lot of smart, clear-headed people, and in turn have ideas bounced off of us, has been really helpful. It's a huge bonus, something we may not always get when we leave Cambridge; and I think this is what I've really gotten from the discussions and conversations we've had in and out of class.
I think this blog helps with both. We're sharing brain fodder here, with the links and comments we post. If we can get (and keep) our discussions going on in here, we'll keep our brains exercised - and our edge sharp.
I'm glad this thing has been set up!
Just a thought.
Friday, 27 June 2008
Tuesday, 24 June 2008
Monday, 9 June 2008
Computer systems always fail - and the national database will do so big timeIan Angell
The ID card project is still on track - more or less. Jacqui Smith is just the latest in a long line of Home Office ministers to sell us the benefits of ID cards, while casually informing us of the latest rise in costs or slippage in its implementation schedule. Ms Smith is also yet another Home Secretary who subscribes to the “pixie dust” school of technology: computation is a magic substance to be sprinkled over problems, that, hey presto, then vanish. Little wonder that Britain has an appalling record in government IT projects.
The ID project is one of the biggest computer systems envisaged - far more complex than the failing NHS system. And it's another disaster waiting to happen. Still the politicians naively claim there will be no problems: it will be totally secure because of biometrics. Apparently iris scans, fingerprints, face-recognition software will all work perfectly, be amazingly cheap to implement - and all foolproof. It must be true, as they've been told this by those selling the technology. Baroness Anelay of St Johns, with a group of parliamentarians, was once given a demonstration of a facial recognition system. It failed; indeed the system subsequently crashed, twice. The reason? The baroness was told her face was “too bland”.
The only property that all systems have in common is that they fail. And the bigger the system - 60 million entries on a compulsory ID card database - the greater the opportunity of failure. Systems are much like any life form: they degrade over time, they entropy. In the case of databases, the pick up errors and then build data error upon error. The DVLA in Swansea in 2006, for instance, admitted that a third of entries contained at least one error, and that the proportion was getting worse.
We've all had encounters with computer systems that get it wrong. Barclays once refused one of my transactions because they said I was accessing an account owned by a teenage girl named Ian Angell, who lived at my address and was a professor at LSE. I still had to take a morning off work to explain that a 14-year-old couldn't own an account that, according to their own records, had been open for 35 years.
And however scrupulous the managers might be, errors leak and take on a life of their own. They are sampled by other databases, known as “farming”: errors, even when corrected in the original database, live on elsewhere.
But the ID project will be different, we are told. According to the rhetoric, an ID card, one central point of reference, will be so much more efficient and beneficial than you having to prove your identity daily, by producing driving licences, gas bills and so on. Its proponents fail to see that if any of these documents is erroneous, then we don't use the one with, say, a mistake in the address to prove our identity. With the ID card, we won't have the choice. Even if the card is not compulsory, all financial systems will converge on it, and anyone without a card faces great cost and inconvenience. Just like Oyster cards on the London Underground, you're not forced, but it's so much more expensive and tiresome without one.
However, the ID card itself isn't the real problem: it's the ID register. There, each entry will eventually take on a legal status. In time, all other proofs of identity will refer back to the one entry. If the register is wrong - and remember fallible human hands will at some stage have to handle your personal information - then all other databases will be wrong too. Given the propensity of officialdom to trust the details on their computer screen, rather than the person in front of them, you will have to conform to your entry in the register - or become a non-person.
In effect, your identity won't reside in the living flesh and blood of you, but in the database. You will be separated from your identity; you will no longer own it. All your property and money will de facto belong to the database entry. You only have access to your property with the permission of the database. Paradoxically, you only agreed to register to protect yourself from “identity theft”, and instead you find yourself victim of the ultimate identity theft - the total loss of control over your identity.
Errors won't just happen by accident. It's possible to imagine that workers on the ID database will be corrupted, threatened or blackmailed into creating perfectly legal ID cards for international terrorists and criminals. Then the ID card, far from eliminating problems, will be a one-stop shop for identity fraud; foreign terrorists, illegal immigrants will be waived past all immigration checks.
At a recent Ditchley Park conference on combating organised crime, a persistent warning from the law enforcement authorities was that criminal gangs had placed “sleepers” in financial sector companies, and they were just waiting for the one big hit. The perpetrators of 80 per cent of all computer security lapses are not hackers, but employees. Cryptographic systems don't help if the criminal has been given the keys to the kingdom. Why should the ID centre be immune, especially when there will be nearly 300 government departments logging in. Furthermore, the register will be the No 1 target for every hacker on the planet: the Olympic Games of hacking.
So why is the Goverment so keen to force ID cards on us? Is it because ministers are control freaks who, having read 1984, only saw it as a wishlist. John Lennon may have been right: “Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we're being run by maniacs.” More likely, ministers have been dazzled by the myth of the perfectibility of computers.
Ian Angell is Professor of Information Systems at the London School of Economics
Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Superb article at Wired - basically, they got a whole bunch of scientists/anthropologists/other smart people together, and had them comment on it. What's cool - are the people they've got on the panel:
Marvin Minsky, artificial intelligence pioneer
Daniel Dennett, cognitive scientist
Renee Reijo Pera, embryologist
Patricia Churchland, neuroethicist (see why I said it's a policy topic?)
Nikolas Rose, sociologist
Ian Tattersall, anthropologist
Don't be lazy - just click on the link.
Tuesday, 3 June 2008
I'm reporting live from Morocco's Hollywood, Ouarzazate, where of recent fame Gladiator and Babel were filmed. We took a tour of the Atlas Studios here and it was a fun behind the scenes look at how movies are made. Tomorrow we're off to camp out in the Sahara for a night. Transport=camel.
I was gutted I couldn't make it out to the noon celebration on Monday, but I enjoyed looking through the pictorial highlights from Facebook. Miss you all and in case you are missing West Virginia mentions...check out what Dick Cheney recently had to say about the Mountain State that is causing a stir.
Oh and here's a snippet of a fun bus conversation between my lovely travel companions and me that I now pass on to you: If you had 5 days at 5 star accomodation anywhere in the world where would you go?
Welcome to the Technology Policy 2007/2008 Alumni Blog. We’re all heading off to employment (or unemployment, as the case may be), but this will be a way to keep in touch and keep all those random corridor conversations going. The name of the blog, “I have Two Questions” was, of course, inspired by Rahul. I think I learned more from his questions than I did from the lectures themselves.
The name of the blog says it all. Feel free to post or reply to any topic that interests you, and try to end each post with a couple questions that other people can think or write about. If you read an interesting article, share it. If you want to get opinions on a concept or idea, throw it up on the blog for everyone to read. No word limits or grading or any other TP1 garbage, but short and light posts are welcome. We also reserve the right to laugh at you if you post something really stupid…such as mentioning