Offline Offsite + Programming Note
Nearly the entire Lux team joined an offline offsite this past week, reconnecting, reinvigorating and reconsidering the meaning of life (both human and artificial). It’s always a special time when we can rendezvous a frenetically busy and large team all in one space — and what a glorious space it was in Utah.
Programming Note: I am on “summer” vacation for the next three weeks and will be traveling in Asia. Call it a personal government shutdown. A guest writer will write the columns in my stead, but otherwise, we’ll keep the great ship of “Securities” moving forward.
- Given that we were flying to Salt Lake City this week, it seemed appropriate to read the extensive excerpt from Romney: A Reckoning, McKay Coppins’s new biography of Utah senator and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, that was published in The Atlantic a few weeks ago. “But what struck Romney most about the map was how thoroughly it was dominated by tyrants of some kind—pharaohs, emperors, kaisers, kings. ‘A man gets some people around him and begins to oppress and dominate others,’ he said the first time he showed me the map. ‘It’s a testosterone-related phenomenon, perhaps. I don’t know. But in the history of the world, that’s what happens.’ America’s experiment in self-rule ‘is fighting against human nature.’ ‘This is a very fragile thing,’ he told me. ‘Authoritarianism is like a gargoyle lurking over the cathedral, ready to pounce.’ For the first time in his life, he wasn’t sure if the cathedral would hold.”
- Our scientist-in-residence Sam Arbesman is intrigued by Kelli María Korducki’s note in The Atlantic on the potentially declining value of computer science degrees in the age of generative AI. “If mid-career developers have to fret about what automation might soon do to their job, students are in the especially tough spot of anticipating the long-term implications before they even start their career. ‘The question of what it will look like for a student to go through an undergraduate program in computer science, graduate with that degree, and go on into the industry … That is something I do worry about,’ Timothy Richards, a computer-science professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, told me.”
- I covered India’s political assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada last week in “Extraordinary Extraterritoriality.” How does Narendra Modi build such a strong consensus around his leadership in such a traditionally fractured country as India? At least part of the answer is one of the world’s greatest troll armies. Gerry Shih at The Washington Post looks "Inside the vast digital campaign by Hindu nationalists to inflame India.” “So [modi’s bharatiya janata party] turned to its biggest strength: organizational discipline. ‘Everyone who wants to know how the BJP operates looks for hi-fi, extraordinary tech, and some of that exists,’ said a former BJP campaign manager. ‘But the reality is, it’s mostly brute, manual labor.’”
- Sam is excited by a new research paper in the prestigious journal PNAS by a group of MIT researchers who have used machine learning to separate organic from non-organic matter in samples from space with an identified accuracy of around 90%. “We report a significant advance to one of the most important problems in astrobiology—the development of a simple, reliable, and practical method for determining the biogenicity of organic materials in planetary samples, both on other worlds and for the earliest traces of life on Earth.”
- I bring this up in “Securities” every once in a while but haven’t written a full issue on the subject: South Korea, Turkey and a few other countries are becoming the “mid-market” providers of global defense technology, offering good products at prices that the Pentagon would turn its nose up as too cheap. The Wall Street Journal has a great piece on how Korea has now become the world’s fastest-growing weapons exporter. “‘When people think about defense production, they tend to think of massive factories with tens of thousands of workers, while now you’re looking at something that’s more like the production of racing cars—very high-tech and very low production numbers,’ Marsh said. ‘It could take years to ramp up production of weapons we haven’t been mass producing.’”
- Finally, Sam really encourages you to watch (or re-watch) “The Ultimate Computer” an episode of The Original Series of Star Trek that tracks extremely well with technological discoveries and complicated questions of intelligence that are ever-present in our world.
That’s it, folks. Have questions, comments, or ideas? This newsletter is sent from my email, so you can just click reply.