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Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Between Black Mirror and Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams there is plenty of science fiction fodder on TV right now.  But what I want to focus on is an idea that was spotlighted a few months ago on an episode of The Orville.  In this episode the crew encountered a society on another planet that was built around the concept of a social credit score.  To the point where if you score was too low, the local coffee shop wouldn’t even serve you.

That idea of a social credit score isn’t just reserved for science fiction anymore.  It’s a real thing right here on Earth, happening right now in China.  It all started a few years ago with the proliferation of mobile payments and social apps such as AliPay and WeChat.  As people got use to using their phones to pay for things they began to use them more and more.  To pay for groceries.  To hail an Uber.  To even pay parking tickets or order food for delivery.

At this point the Network Effect began to take effect.  The more people used these services the more they became comfortable with the idea of giving up control of their data and the more willing they were to sign up for even more services.  And the more people that used these services, the more that other people also wanted to use them.

These tech companies could now know a lot about their users.  The purchases they made, the trouble they got into with the court system, their credit score, who they were friends with, where they were traveling to.  With all of that information at their disposal there was only one logical step to take.  Combining it all in a useful way.

Useful could be a dirty word though.  In the hands of the Chinese government useful data could be a bad thing as they would invariably want to keep tabs on their citizens and root out dissident.  But useful could also be a good thing in the hands of a tech company that wants to reward people for good behavior.

And that’s exactly how things have played out so far.  Citizens in China are receiving a social credit score, three digits, just like a real credit score.  Depending on what actions a person takes this score could go up or down.  If you get good grades in school, volunteer your time, shop for items that improve your health, etc. your score will go up.  Fail to pay a parking ticket, however, and your score could plummet.  So much so, that you might lose access to basic services.  In fact, you might even be denied a visa to travel to another country or lose out on certain job opportunities.

Is this a world that you’d want to live in? That depends on how much of a law abiding citizen you are.  If you sometimes forget to pay a bill on time this society is not for you.  If you do everything you’re supposed to you’d probably love living in a society like this, especially when you hear about all the perks and rewards you’d get for good behavior.  Such as being able to skip security lines at airports, receiving discounts on hotels, getting streamlined access to government services or receiving preferential profile placement on dating apps.

Now here’s where things get tricky.  Your social credit score isn’t just about you.  It also takes into account who your friends with and what their scores are.  In some regards, this makes sense.  You’d want to reward someone who travels in well respected circles, who uses good judgment when picking who to associate with.  But then again it’s also a little bit extreme.  People with low scores could essentially be ostracized from society because no one would want to be friends with someone who has a low score that could drag them down by association.

Could you imagine walking away from a life long friend just because they have a low score?  Would you be willing to do that to someone you care about?  Think long and hard about your answer.  You may have to decide that for real in just a few years.  The age of social credit is almost fully upon us.

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Is Social Credit the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,225 – Estcoin

As the price of BitCoin, LiteCoin, Ethereum, and other blockchain based digital currencies continue to soar it’s worth investigating what the future of cryptocurrency might look like.  Will one of these currencies actually catch on or will something else come along and steal their thunder?

Luckily, one has to look no further than upstart Estonia for a case study, as the Baltic state is hoping to establish the estcoin as the hallmark of their digital dominion; an online based digital citizenship that they hope will be utilized not just by Estonians, but by people all over the world who want to be a part of their e-Residency program which would allow for anyone to become a digital citizen of their forward thinking country.

But how would the estcoin be used in such a digital society?  As a replacement for cash money?  As a unique identifier? Or as something else entirely?  The picture is beginning to take shape as the first proposed use cases were recently announced by Kaspar Korjus, managing director of the e-residency program.

According to Futurism:

“The first use case for the estcoin would be as a ‘community’ token. “The community estcoin would be structured to support the objective of growing our new digital nation by incentivizing more people around the world to apply for and make greater use of e-Residency,” wrote Korjus. “This includes encouraging investors and entrepreneurs to use e-Residency as their platform for trusted ICO activity.”

The second use case would be an ‘identity estcoin.’ In this case, the cryptocurrency would allow members of the e-Residency society to do such things as digitally sign documents or log into services safely and securely. These tokens could not be sold or traded — they would be inextricably linked to their owners.

The third use case is the most controversial. The ‘euro estcoin’ would have a value linked to that of the euro, the fiat currency used in Estonia. Korjus claims this estcoin wouldn’t be an alternative to the euro, the creation of which is currently prohibited for any nation within the euro zone, but would instead be a token that combines cryptocurrency’s advantages with the stability of fiat currency.”

I can see all of those use cases coming to fruition but what excites me the most is all the use cases than I can’t see coming.  For it’s fairly safe to assume that some kind of digital currency will be a part of our daily existence in the near future.  Trying to predict which one and in what regard is a whole different story.

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Is Estcoin the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Whenever a natural disaster hits my heart goes out to the victims.  And considering recent events, my heart has been going out a lot recently.  To the victims of flooding in Houston, to the victims of hurricane force winds in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean, and to the victims of the Earthquakes in Mexico.

During trying times like these I often find myself wishing that I could do more.  But realistically what could I do when I live 3,000 miles away from the affected areas.  Short of donating money or gathering supplies there’s little recourse that I have.  It’s not like I can just pick up a shovel and start clearing debris.  But what if I could?

When a disaster hits I often hear that it could take months or years for the affected area to recover.  Some of these Caribbean islands that were devastated by back to back hits from hurricanes might never recover.  But what are these recovery time estimates based on? How long it would physically take to rebuild even if you had all the manpower and resources you needed?  Or a more realistic estimate based upon depleted resources and limited local manpower?

You may remember that Extreme Home Makeover TV show that was hosted by Ty Pennington.  With hundreds of people working around the clock, they could build an entire home in less than a week.  Wouldn’t it be possible then that if we literally had hundreds of thousands of people working around the clock that we could do an Extreme Home Makeover on an entire island or an entire town?  Couldn’t we get Puerto Rico or Mexico City back up and running in less than a month, instead of the years it will take according to the latest estimates?

Perhaps, but the issue is that manpower of that magnitude doesn’t exist.  The people in the affected area can’t really help that much themselves.  They might be injured, mourning the loss of a loved one, dealing with property damage, or physically depleted by a lack of local resources.  Military personnel, local law enforcement, aid workers, and a few church groups that have been bused in, are often left to do the heavy lifting.  But we can do better than that.  And we ought to.

What I’m envisioning then is a national program that will allow for people to volunteer to join disaster relief efforts.  Interested citizens could sign up for either one week, two week, or one month long deployments, and could rank their desired locations in order of preference.  Similar to Jury Duty, your employer would have to give you paid time off in order to complete your civic duty.  We could even gather students from high schools and colleges around the country, giving these young men and women credits to put towards their degrees in exchange for their volunteerism.

With an army of millions of paid volunteers at our disposal we could ensure that areas affected by natural disasters get back on their feet in no time at all.  Don’t we owe them that much? Or I suppose that we could just keep insulting them via Twitter instead.  That seems to be working out well so far.

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Is treating disaster volunteerism like Jury Duty the Greatest Idea Ever?

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This is next level awesome.

Last week in New York City, Comedy Central, and specifically the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, sponsored a comedic pop-up installation, the Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library.  The installation, modeled after the libraries that every President since FDR has been honored with, mocks Trump in every possible way.

It’s a fitting tribute to a President who deftly used the micro blogging platform to rise to power.  Although, deftly may not be the right word to use since it’s clear that Trump is often flying by the seat of his pants, tweeting out insults at 3 am and using misspelled words like Covfefe that he later claims weren’t misspelled at all. It shouldn’t be surprising though that I can’t find the right word to use.  After all, I’m not Trump.  I don’t use the best words.

The museum, which only lasted for a few days, was located a block away from Trump Tower, and featured the Gone But Not Forgotten memorial that paid homage to infamous deleted tweets.  There was also a fake bank vault housing Trump’s mysterious tax returns and a replica of the Oval Office complete with a golden toilet.

But don’t worry.  If you missed out on all the fun you can still check it out.

According to CNN:

“If you didn’t get a chance this weekend to pop over to the pop-up ‘Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library’ in New York City, Comedy Central has you covered.  The network created a 3D, interactive virtual tour you can take now that the exhibit has closed.”

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Is the Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I absolutely love living in Arizona.  There’s nothing better than hiking through beautiful mountains on the way to a waterfall, reading in a public space, riding a bike along the Green Belt, or attending Spring Training baseball games.  And yet, if it wasn’t for the invention of the air conditioner, I wouldn’t be able to live here.

We take the inventions that make modern life possible for granted but without them we would be lost.  The phones in our pockets.  The TVs in our living rooms.  The cars in our driveways.  The food in our bellies.  It’s all made possible, one way or another, by science.  Forged in the fires of experimentation, trial and error, and peer review, today’s scientific research is tomorrow’s technology.  It’s not always easy.  Often it’s incredibly hard.  But in the end, it’s always worth it.

And yet, recently, science has come under attack.  The Trump Administration wants the United States to invest in fossil fuels and leave the Paris Agreement that’s leading the charge against Climate Change.  Federal programs designed to protect the environment are being defunded.  Scientists are being banned from discussing their findings publicly or from even sharing their results with their colleagues.  Ignorance is winning out.

It’s worth noting though that it’s always darkest before the dawn.  Today at the March For Science in Phoenix I saw the light start to shine through.  I saw thousands of people uniting for a cause that they believe in.  People of all ages, all races, all backgrounds, all religions came together in the name of science.  And they were joined on Earth Day by millions of other people in cities all across the world.

Standing in that crowd, among my peers, I couldn’t help but get goosebumps.  Looking at all the witty signs, hearing all the enthusiastic conversations, seeing the look of hope and optimism on everyone’s face, it was impossible to feel anything other than pure, unbridled inspiration.  Ignorance may be winning out right now but in the long run science is going to win out.  Yesterday, that’s something that I hoped would happen.  Today, it’s something that I know is going to happen.

Now the question becomes: where do we go from here.  Now that we’ve taken a stand, what comes next?  As the organizers of the Phoenix March For Science stated on their website, this rally is just the start of the fight, not the end:

“Science is often an arduous process, but it is also thrilling. A universal human curiosity and dogged persistence is the greatest hope for the future. This movement cannot and will not end with a march. Our plans for policy change and community outreach will start with marches worldwide and a teach-in at the National Mall, but it is imperative that we continue to celebrate and defend science at all levels – from local schools to federal agencies – throughout the world.”

I couldn’t agree more.  This is just the beginning.  Just like the Earth and all life on it, our fight will continue to evolve to deal with any challenges that come forward.  We’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that a culture of innovation continues to win out over a culture of ignorance.

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The March For Science in Phoenix was truly inspirational.

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One of the calls to action that I made the other day in my post about the Resist Movement was that everyone, regardless of whether you identify as a Republican or Democrat or Independent, should strive to get more involved in politics so that we can elect better representatives and put pressure on those already in office to talk some sense into Trump.  Well, now there’s a quick and easy way for us to do just that thanks to a new app that thoroughly streamlines the political process.

The app is known as Countable, presumably short for accountable, although a more fitting name would have been Pester, because pestering your local representative is exactly what you’ll be doing.  First, the app connects to your Facebook profile in order to determine where you live and who your elected representatives are.  It then shows you what’s on their agenda, informs you about the issue, and enables you to contact them to give your opinion.

As Wired describes:

“[Countable] shows you the next piece of legislation your representatives are expected to vote on, with a short summary of the bill and a list of pros and cons. You can click ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ to automatically send an e-mail to your representatives, or you can ‘skip’ it. You can also click on the bill’s name to pull up more details, including voting activity, costs, links to media coverage, and the full text of the bill.”

In addition, the app also keep tracks of voting records so that you can follow along and see if your representatives are actually voting the way that you want them to.  If they’re not, you’ll know that the time has come to vote someone else into office.

The gripe about politics that we hear most often is that it’s too hard to get involved.  The most common refrain of all is: if you want more people to vote, make it easier to vote.  Similarly, if you want more people to get involved in applying pressure to politicians, make it easier to apply pressure.  Countable does that, and much more.

What’s great about this app is how easy it is to use, not just for voters, but for government officials as well as it doesn’t require them to do anything differently.  There’s no special software to download or install.  No change to existing protocols.  The only difference is the volume of feedback that they’ll now be receiving.

The time has come to RESIST!  And we now have an app that makes it easy to do just that.  No.  More.  Excuses.

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Is Countable the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,024 – RESIST!

It used to be that organized crime operated in the shadows.  The Dark Web, an invite only second version of the Internet, was frequented by hackers, human traffickers, sex offenders, and weapons dealers.  Now the tables have turned with reputable scientists operating in the shadows, carrying on their important work through rogue social media accounts in light of a government ban on communicating with the public.  First we had alternative facts.  Now we have alternative Twitter handles.  Welcome to our Orwellian present where the Dystopian future predicted by science fiction is now our reality.

As frustrating/infuriating/maddening Trump’s executive actions have been so far, it’s encouraging to know that people aren’t taking this assault to our pillars of democracy lying down.  On the heels of an overwhelmingly successful Women’s March, there are now further protests planned including a Scientists March designed to counter Trump’s communications ban.

The ban, designed to prevent scientists from speaking out against the Dakota Access Pipeline project, has already spurred the creation of alternative social media accounts.  Such as the alternative twitter account for the National Park Service (@altusnatparkservice) which exclaimed: “You can take our official Twitter account but you’ll never take our free time!”

In addition to taking to social media, some scientists are also planning far more drastic actions, such as running for public office.  There’s even a newly formed organization, called 314 action in honor of Pi, which is designed to help aspiring scientists turned politicians connect with donors and raise awareness for their campaigns.

Ideally there should be a separation of science and state the way there’s a separation of church and state.  But since that’s not happening and politicians like President Trump are meddling in scientific affairs, there’s a real need now for scientists to get actively involved in politics as well in order to fight back.  To protect their right to freely publish their unbiased findings to the public.  To protect their right to peer review.  To protect the sanctity of the data that they have already collected so that it can’t be destroyed by a government that disagrees with the results.  Which is exactly what almost happened last week.

It may sound like the plot of a Tom Clancy novel, but last week while references to climate change were being taken down from the White House website, climate change scientists were busy downloading their data onto European servers so that it couldn’t be deleted.  That is a drastic action to undertake at the 11th hour.  The kind of action that you only take when you realize that an all-out war against science and the truth is actively being waged.

A similar war is already taking place with journalists finding themselves firmly on the front lines, desperately trying to protect their reputations as Trump continuously undermines their credibility with claims that they are spreading fake news.  Now scientists find themselves on the front lines of a second front, desperately trying to restore balance to the Force as Darth President tries to silence them.

As these ideological wars continue, I fear what may be lost in the process.  Consider if you will, the case of famed Soviet engineer, inventor, and science fiction writer, Genrich Altshuller, who was imprisoned by Joseph Stalin and forced to slave away for several years in a prison camp where he faced countless hours of torture.  How many scientific breakthroughs were lost to history because Altshuller and his fellow scientists were imprisoned or murdered by those who feared opposing points of view?  How many will be lost to history if Trump and his supporters continue to silence the voices of our modern day scientists?

The time has come to put aside politics.  To put aside our personal opinions and biases.  The time has come to solely deal only in facts.  For this is no longer about being a Democrat or a Republican or an Independent.  This is now about protecting our future from those who wish to rob us, and our children, and our children’s children, of it.  Standing on the sidelines isn’t going to cut it.  Idly sitting by and hoping that others will take action for us isn’t going to cut it.  Every single one of us needs to step up and do what’s right.  We need to volunteer at the grassroots level to get better alternatives elected at the mid term elections.  We need to call our local lawmakers and put pressure on the congressional members of the GOP to oppose Trump.  We need to speak up whenever we see injustice happening in our local community.  And above all else we need to stand with our scientists and journalists and support their noble endeavor.

These are scary times and they’re only going to get scarier if we do nothing.  For evil to prevail all that is needed is for good men to do nothing.  We can’t let that happen.  We won’t. The time has come to RESIST!

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Science is under attack.  The time has come to RESIST!

 

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