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A 25-Year-Old Bet Comes Due: Has Tech Destroyed Society? (wired.com)
371 points by coloneltcb 76 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 434 comments



Regarding the first paragraphs where luddism is mentioned several times; Lord Byron, father to Ada Lovelace the first programmer, was one of the few on the House of Lords to defend the Luddites:

> But the police, however useless, were by no means idle: several notorious delinquents had been detected; men liable to conviction, on the clearest evidence, of the capital crime of poverty; men, who had been nefariously guilty of lawfully begetting several children, whom, thanks to the times!—they were unable to maintain. Considerable injury has been done to the proprietors of the improved frames. These machines were to them an advantage, inasmuch as they superseded the necessity of employing a number of workmen, who were left in consequence to starve. By the adoption of one species of frame in particular, one man performed the work of many, and the superfluous labourers were thrown out of employment. [...] These men never destroyed their looms till they were become useless, worse than useless; till they were become actual impediments to their exertions in obtaining their daily bread.

There is a lot of proganda use of "luddites" as anti-tech when luddites main grief was regarding income and inequality.

[1]: http://www.luddites200.org.uk/LordByronspeech.html

[2]: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/byron-was-one-few-...


There's a recent book about this, subtitled "The Luddites Are Right About Why You Hate Your Job": https://www.versobooks.com/books/3184-breaking-things-at-wor...

> In the nineteenth century, English textile workers responded to the introduction of new technologies on the factory floor by smashing them to bits. For years the Luddites roamed the English countryside, practicing drills and manoeuvres that they would later deploy on unsuspecting machines. The movement has been derided by scholars as a backwards-looking and ultimately ineffectual effort to stem the march of history; for Gavin Mueller, the movement gets at the heart of the antagonistic relationship between all workers, including us today, and the so-called progressive gains secured by new technologies. The luddites weren’t primitive and they are still a force, however unconsciously, in the workplaces of the twenty-first century world.


I frankly expect "smashing them to bits" (or setting them on fire) to be the response in France when self-driving cargo trucks are introduced.

In America and a lot of other rich countries I can imagine a large workforce just sort of slowly dissipating as they are made redundant by the unstoppable force of technology, but at least a few places may strongly disagree about the unstoppability, and put it to the test.


Indeed, that is why I figured (on a trip to the country a few years ago) why self-service supermarkets checkouts haven't been rolled out in South Africa. That is a country of very high unemployment, so perhaps one could expect violence if overt technology to save labour costs were introduced.


self-service checkouts also work well in high trust societies. By themselves, they aren't good enough to prevent shrinkage enough that it is cheaper to use them.


> I can imagine a large workforce just sort of slowly dissipating

Why imagine? The US working class is "slowly dissipating" in many ways:

* Homelessness

* Substance abuse, especially legal opiates

* Increase in mortality rates

etc.


Do you personally feel like smashing such a truck? Or would only ex truck drivers feel that way? Because if they are simply being faded out of existence (replacing retiring drivers with AI), there won't be any ex truckers to smash the trucks.


I don't personally, no; in fact I'm more likely to end up (accidentally?) contributing to the autonomous trucking revolution.

The faded-out version is what I think will happen in the USA. My point was that there are countries with much more confrontational labor movements (France in particular) and I think there will be truck smashers (burners, blockers, etc) there long before a majority of truckers become ex-truckers.


> Because if they are simply being faded out of existence (replacing retiring drivers with AI), there won't be any ex truckers to smash the trucks.

counterpoint:

> Well paid drivers no longer exist. The last time he has seen a local work as truck driver was in mid-2000 and meanwhile salaries have dropped to ~€700 and less therefore only some Eastern Europeans can justify that working as a driver still makes sense for them. -- https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25891779


You mean Brexit was kind of UK truck drivers smashing the trucks (because of cheap competition, and AI would be even cheaper, so more truck smashing)?


I would have to say that 'derided by scholars' is a bit much. Most historians who are aware of the luddites in any detail would agree with this take. While Luddites were derided in the past since around the 1930s and works like Herbert Butterfield's the Whig interpretation of History Historians have been very wary of ideas like 'the march of history' and luddites are certainly presented within the scholarship as an example where views have changed away from that kind of narrative.


I quit a job right after college because of the scene in Office Space where they smash the printer with a bat in the field. That movie was kind of a tip of the hat to the Luddites.


He wasn't defending destroying the frames though, he was commiserating with the plight of the workers. In modern developed countries we have social security benefits, health care and such, to varying degrees depending on the country, to try and make sure people don't starve like that.


> He wasn't defending destroying the frames though

Agreed

> In modern developed countries we have social security benefits, health care and such, to varying degrees depending on the country, to try and make sure people don't starve like that.

And the country with the highest GDP lacks anything other than the bare minimum social security and the article is very-USA centric. (Both China and Europe have a more stable society compared to the USA so not quite sure how the bet of this thread would have gone if evaluated over either Europe or China)


> the country with the highest GDP lacks anything other than the bare minimum social security and the article is very-USA centric.

As with many similar topics, the US actually spends a much higher amount on social welfare than people realize, more than most developed countries. As always, it just does so uniquely inefficiently, for reasons that are complicated and possibly related to our sclerotic politics.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/04/09/how-t...


> more than most developed countries

Basically this article is about someone's exercise to persuade themselves a lie is true. Keep squinting, keep finding ways to tilt the numbers, until, like a word you've read over and over they become nonsense and then pronounce yourself satisfied that you've proved Up is Down and Black is White. Congratulations I guess, to Kirkegaard? A Wall Street firm sends an exec on a $10M tour of Europe for "wellness" and that's now welfare expenditure, but there's tax charged on the food an unemployed steel worker in Liverpool buys so his unemployment cheque doesn't really count as welfare after all.

I look forward to a study showing that the US has really good paid leave compared to the rest of the world, so long as you denominate it in dollars not hours so that a marketing exec's six months "gardening leave" to prevent them stealing accounts outweighs Amazon warehouses with zero paid holiday...


> A Wall Street firm sends an exec on a $10M tour of Europe for "wellness" and that's now welfare expenditure, but there's tax charged on the food an unemployed steel worker in Liverpool buys so his unemployment cheque doesn't really count as welfare after all.

Does this comment have a point, beyond lurid and ill-thought-out analogies? Notice that even your contrived example isn't self-consistent: the only way the steelworker's unemployment check "wouldn't count" is if 100% of it was taxed away in the course of spending it.

Even your fevered conspiracy theory doesn't make any sense! What motivation do you imagine the paper author has? The paper[1] spends a substantial amount of time focusing on poor US outcomes, and its point is that current US policy isn't actually saving us any money relative to the rest of the OECD, so our outcomes aren't even trading off against net economic benefit (at least first-order). Suboptimal distribution of our social spending (as in your ridiculous examples) falls squarely into this category, and as such is a potential target for the paper's criticism.

[1] https://www.piie.com/publications/pb/pb15-4.pdf


I'm not really imagining any "motivation" beyond the intellectual exercise of proving America spends lots of money on things it actually doesn't spend money on, by squinting until the whole world is blurry.

Economists would like everything to be dollars, because that means you can plug numbers into a spreadsheet and get answers that work. Centuries of this not working haven't dissuaded them and I don't expect my rant to change that.

People who actually think we should care about population welfare do not try to squint at the dollar figures like this paper, you'll see them looking at policies qualitatively rather than quantitatively, and this way you don't need to draw a dozen charts to come to the apparently startling revelation that the US is a wealthy country in which money is being stolen from the poor to be wasted by the rich and this is a bad idea.

Sometimes this sort of work will be excused on the rationale that it will guide political decision making. This is an error perhaps everywhere and certainly in the US. A Republican is not going to read this paper and say "Aha! My policies were mistaken, I can actually have better impact by reducing tax breaks on the wealthy and directing the increased income to the poorest". They're going to glance at it, conclude it does not support the policies they wish to enact and so it's irrelevant.


It would be oddly specific, IMO, to claim that a country doesn't spend enough on (for example) social security. What people actually talk about is outcomes.

Interesting that a lot is spent on it, but not really much of a counterpoint since, as you say, it's done so 'uniquely inefficiently' that the outcome remains less.


> What people actually talk about is outcomes.

This is not my experience at all. I feel like the vast majority of conversation on the topic I've read is about differential _political will_ for social welfare and other redistribution, usually due to perceived cultural failings.

Eg, "the US doesn't want to take care of its most vulnerable because of muh freedom"

The notion that the US has lots of _political will_ for infra, redistribution, homeless care, etc but simply has an incompetent government is anathema to polite-company discourse, usually leading to handwavy rationalizations about how "starving the beast" has caused the government to be incompetent.


I don't want to be a stickler, but Europe isn't a country. It is simply inaccurate to claim that "Europe have a more stable society compared to the USA." There are countries within Europe that has extreme wealth, and extreme poverty, while most countries in Europe are still far better developed than, say, most countries in Africa. With that said, the best developed countries in Europe do seem to have a better social security system than the USA, but at a high cost.


Why is it inaccurate to claim that? Sure, Europe is not one country but is made out of several countries, but so what? The USA is comprised out of states, some of them poorer than other; heck, even inside a single country there are richer and poorer regions/counties/lands/whatever, with money/labour flows and dynamics very similar to the international ones.


>money/labour flows and dynamics very similar to the international ones

It’s quite different in my experience. Workers can be employed in another state with almost no friction (with the possibility of a income tax declaration at hire) but it’s a lot more complicated to work internationally.


China does not have a stable society. You never hear about most of the social issues that happen inside China.

A country committing genocide against its own citizens is not a stable society.


Well I'm a Brit, but I did write that with an eye to the fact that most people here are yank... er, I mean my esteemed colonial colleagues. Yes you have fewer and more threadbare social safety nets that in Europe, but a heck of a lot more than in China.


I am from Latin America though and have a 0.025 USD / year tuition on my current math undergrad education, public healthcare, and a more robust social security net overall.


Is the education, healthcare and social security you’re getting at the same level you’d get in the US?

I live outside the US and I can assure you the universal healthcare here doesn’t not provide the same level of care that even Medicaid does in the US. Sure if I had a routine broken arm there would be little difference, but if I had a serious cancer I’d be dead here.


Sure. I'm a capitalist and free marketeer, but support social security systems and even public health care. I think the US goes too far, particularly it's health care system is appalling, but I have to admit it's thin employment protections do make it a lot more flexible and responsive to economic conditions. Just look at how rapidly it recovered from the 2008 crisis compared to Europe, it was a whole year ahead of us on the curve by the early 2010s including in terms of jobs growth. There are pros and cons both ways.


> Just look at how rapidly it recovered from the 2008 crisis compared to Europe

I'm not EU or US, but the US printed a heck of a lot of magic monopoly money. And yet the dollar remained as strong as it ever was. Yes, some smartie pants will no doubt explain this away as "quantitative easing" which is the magnum opus of magic monopoly money.

EU central bank doesn't seem to like that very much being so risk averse. So we can say the EU is keeping financial wizardry in check because if left to the US, no one would know what is going on.

The EU might just save us all.


So the US bailed out the banks with a Trillion dollars, got it all back with a profit, used massive QE to successfully cushion their economy, without inflation. Which is bad.

Meanwhile the EU which at the time was crippled over Greece, lagged far behind in the recovery and still haven't properly addressed deep flaws in the Euro are our saviours?


If you can forget the divide in the wealth gap in the US, sure the US has been very successful at recovering from '08.


Not sure this is particularly true, it took the US 6 years from 2008 to recover all the jobs lost in the recession [0]. I would assume the bulk of those were low-skilled, manufacturing roles, the ones ever more at risk of being rendered obsolete by automation.

[0] https://www.cbpp.org/great-recessions-jobs-deficit-much-deep...


Well given that the biggest looser of 2008 crash were the poorest slice of society that almost could afford a house.

They were tricked into loans they couldn't afford. And with all blue-collar jobs being exported at alarming rate to Asia, i would say that the recovery after that recession doesn't ring true to me.

Sure economy and gdp are higher up, but its not because poor recovered. They were left behind.

Trump won presidency mainly because he turned to those people and promised them the good old time, where the town had its steelworks and everyone had quite life.


Yes and we need to avoid the nirvana fallacy. I live in a country with public health care and every so ofter people are sent home to die from scheduled surgery because there aren't doctors or other staff available. My dad had 99% clogged heart arteries before he got treatment. My brother works in the US and prefer their system, but then he's got a good job - still a data point for the discussion.


So, how rich is your dad?

Because unless it was "can drop quarter of a million dollars or more" rich, then no, in the US he would've just been sent home to die.

The existence of a public healthcare system running at capacity is not evidence the US system "doesn't have this problem". Being denied treatment because you can't afford it is objectively worse then being denied treatment because the system is busy.

One problem is fixable.

EDIT: And also, unless your brother has had a major health event, then the reality is he has no idea whether his insurance is any good.


Perhaps there's another way to put this. In an ineffective public healthcare system, people are denied treatment because the public body has determined it is not worth the cost. In an ineffective private healthcare system, people are denied treatment because they cannot afford to pay.

> Being denied treatment because you can't afford it is objectively worse then being denied treatment because the system is busy.

Is it? I am fortunate enough to not be in this position, but I'm not sure how much I would care about the reasons why if I were.


And it will matter just as little if you can't afford to pay. The problem is, you seem to think you'd be able to - but that is statistically improbable. The cost of heart bypass surgery in the US (literally the highest in the world) as of 2019 was USD$123,000 - https://www.statista.com/statistics/189966/cost-of-a-heart-b....

That's not including the costs of follow up treatment, the increased cost of your insurance after an event which changes your risk category, or the byzantine system by which your job will be gently encouraged to let go of a "significant risk factor" because it will reduce the cost of them providing health insurance.

And in reality - people in socialized healthcare systems aren't denied life saving treatment. The availability of treatment is a priority list for "elective" surgery - that is, surgery not immediately necessary to save one's life. And this also does not affect the availability of private care - in Australia you always have the option to pay for private treatment, but controversy over waiting times exists precisely because the vast majority cannot afford to pay. And our costs are cheaper then US to start with if you do.

Hence the original question of how rich the OP's father was: because the reality is, if he wanted surgery right away he most likely could have got it. That he didn't is telling - because he actually couldn't afford it. Couldn't afford to fly to the US and have it done either. The US would have "denied" them treatment just as assuredly. And they did eventually get it where they were.


I want to be clear that I do not think the US system is a good one.

However, we should not be blind to limitations of a UK style system. There are also in-between alternatives, such as in Germany or to a lesser extent Japan.


Well my point was to not compare with rainbows and unicorns but how it works in the real world. Also I'm not saying the US has a better system.

But just to entertain this discussion (big mistake), the problem is that you can't pay for surgery even if you're rich, which means that useful price signals for how to allocate resources are missing. You'll perhaps say: "Well it shouldn't be like that". I agree but there is a reason it ended up like this.

My brother doesn't need a serious health event to know (for a reasonable definition of "know") because he has a brain and people to talk to with direct and indirect experience of the system.


>the problem is that you can't pay for surgery even if you're rich, ...

Yes you absolutely can, here in the UK I've had private health insurance from my employers for the last 23 years of my career. I'm not aware of any country that outlaws paying for private treatment.


This is the case for some provinces in Canada, and is used as a healthcare boogie man in the USA. At the same time, US politicians for a single payer refuse to state whether private supplemental insurance would be allowed. This mixes up debate between universal coverage and eliminating private insurance entirely.

https://www.vox.com/health-care/2019/2/12/18215430/single-pa...


>Because unless it was "can drop quarter of a million dollars or more" rich, then no, in the US he would've just been sent home to die.

Not trying to be argumentative, but what is this based on? I’ve known people who received major heart surgeries without insurance and certainly didn’t have that kind of money.


> One problem is fixable.

Both are fixable. Given enough money.

But if not fixed the results will be the same.


How do you know that was because of their job market?

As far as I'm aware, that was because they printed tons of money. Money was printed in the EU too, but stopped much sooner - far too soon. As if people forgot about Keynes.

And actually I think you have some of this backwards. If you have a good social security net, you don't have to protect workers as much.

Likewise, health care is an investment in human capital. When people are ill, they can't produce.


There are very few countries with good social security nets and strong public healthcare and very low worker protections.

Conversely low worker protections correlate strongly with the absence of the above.

Why do you think that is?


Well the British recovery was almost certainly slowed by the introduction of austerity following the return of the Conservatives to power.

The European (i.e Eurozone/EU) recovery was knocked back by the raising of interest rates by the ECB in 2011.

And finally, the US did recover better because they put a lot more proportionally into stimulus (even though it wasn't enough, as later events showed).

I'm not sure that you can suggest that the flexible labour market was a cause of that (and indeed, one would have expected the UK to recover quicker than the rest of Europe then, as they have more flexible labour laws).


Nowhere near as flexible as the US though. The ability to hire and fire quickly without high costs has helped the USA recover from crises many times in the past as well. Employers in countries with high protections for workers are often reluctant to hire because it costs so much to slim down the work force once you employ them. It's not like the aftermath of 2008 was the first time this has ever been tested.

To be clear I'm not saying their system is superior, I think it goes too far. Poverty and what I consider labour exploitation are much more common over there. Also I think it's pretty clear now that significant increases in minimum wages don't seem to significantly increase unemployment, for example, but on severance pay particularly it's pretty clear this is a tradeoff.


The US did not "recover" from 2008. It retooled its economy even further towards precarious hiring, with predictably disastrous political consequences.

There are proven links between economic insecurity and the rise of political extremism, and it's manifestly incorrect to suggest that corporate economics operates in a moral and political vacuum with no political consequences.

http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/74766/1/EPS_2018_accepted%20ver...


The US system is truly the worst of a both worlds: a highly centralized, bureaucratic system, with a handful of winner capturing huge margins on the top. The level of regulation and corporatism means that free-market people should be as dissatisfied as those on the left.


Recovered from the 2008 crisis that it caused. Those sub-prime mortgages were all in the US.


Belarus has a more stable society than the US?


You need to look at per capita GDP, not GDP.

In any case, the US has very high levels of per capita social welfare spending.


This reminds me of the "lump-of-labor fallacy" fallacy [0]:

<< When economists invoke the "lump-of-labour fallacy" I have to wonder how much research they have done on the history of the fallacy claim and how much documentation they have looked at on opinions of people who are alleged to believe there is a fixed number of jobs in the economy. I have done extensive research on these matters and the answer seems to be 0 and 0. >>

[0] http://econospeak.blogspot.com/2016/01/sandwichmans-lump-of-...


Sure, over the long term 'lump of labor' is clearly wrong.

However, that does not mean that those displaced from work will not struggle to find new jobs. You're not going to turn most coal miners into coders. There's also no guarantee that you replace automated jobs with better jobs. Much of the service sector work that's been created in recent years has been low wage.

TLDR: Just because there will still be jobs, does not mean they will be good ones or that the workforce can easily shift to them.


I mean that's the definition of the term "luddite" in our current understand of English. The only thing that could be labeled as propaganda is the application of the term to that movement


Still, it's important to know the story for two reasons. One, to realize that the "luddites" according to current meaning of the word never existed. Second, to realize that the people historically called "luddites" were fighting for the same reason communist revolutions happened, for the same reason you have a good chunk of world's population hating the elites (and arguably for the same reason many prior historical revolutions happened) - and it has nothing to do with technology. It's all about economic insecurity, about being poor, suddenly becoming poor, or being afraid of suddenly becoming poor, all while seeing fruits of your labor accumulate in your economic superiors' laps, and then trickle upwards towards the even more wealthy.


Language changes.


[flagged]


Have you read Lovelace’s notes on her translation of Menebrea? They are perceptive and foreshadow much of modern computing, including hints this sort of computer could become a universal machine.

https://www.cs.yale.edu/homes/tap/Files/ada-lovelace-notes.h...


I understand your gripe. I myself thought Ada Lovelace was a brilliant thinker and mathematician but not a programmer and had little to nothing with even the early precursors of modern computing - at least compared to someone like Alan Turing or George Boole.

But she part of a long line of those special people with far seeing "eyes" and undeniable talent.


> Lovelace is a perfect mirror for our society: a vapid socialite with shallow understanding of the problems and a willingness to make grandiose claims without the ability to back them up.

Can you provide some more context to this? Given that I'm viewing everything related to heroism as problematic(and that includes Claude Shannon) I'd be curious to know more about the context of this statement.

EDIT: I have personally seen/witnessed and experienced plenty of environments where credit was given to those that brought solutions into writing rather than the ones who did all the work to bring things to fruition. So this is always of interest to me (it's also tightly related to the German saying: Wer schreibt, der bleibt/roughly: Only written proof counts)


I added some rebutals on a reply here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25998041

(Pointing there to avoid duplication)


You know there's a difference between a computer and a computer program, right?


The funny thing is that your low effort zinger is factually wrong. Something you'd learn in second year compsci:

>In computer science, a universal Turing machine (UTM) is a Turing machine that simulates an arbitrary Turing machine on arbitrary input. The universal machine essentially achieves this by reading both the description of the machine to be simulated as well as the input to that machine from its own tape.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Turing_machine


> Babbage was the first programmer seeing as he invented the first computer.

Einstein invented the theory that later went on to predict black holes yet Einstein himself didn't believe they were possible.

It's entirely possible to invent something and yet still underestimate the practical applications of it. Heck, the hacker culture and even a great many musical genres are based on people saying "this thing is cool, but what if we do this with it instead?"

> In short: if you are the type of person to think she had anything important to add to computer science you are the type of person to think Steve Jobs was anything but a snake oil salesman with a decent understanding of typography.

Lovelace and Jobs couldn't be more different. One was a socially revered individual who made millions selling other peoples work. And the other was mathematical genius who had a significant amount to contribute but society forced to work in the shadows because of her gender.

I'm not saying Lovelace didn't have her flaws. But dismissing her achievements as being Baggages is, ironically, akin to your complaint about Jobs.


Your "low effort" response proves that a computer program can be the same as a computer. Not what OP said.


I'll rely on the first hand accounts and correspondences of those who knew these people personally rather than yours, thanks.


Here are some of Ada Lovelace's notes on Menebrea's paper on Babbage's Analytical Engine: http://www.cs.yale.edu/homes/tap/Files/ada-lovelace-notes.ht...

> Again, it [the Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine . . . Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.

Some AI generated music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gA03iyI3yEA

> It is desirable to guard against the possibility of exaggerated ideas that might arise as to the powers of the Analytical Engine. In considering any new subject, there is frequently a tendency, first, to overrate what we find to be already interesting or remarkable; and, secondly, by a sort of natural reaction, to undervalue the true state of the case, when we do discover that our notions have surpassed those that were really tenable. The Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate any thing. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform. It can follow analysis; but it has no power of anticipating any analytical relations or truths. Its province is to assist us in making available what we are already acquainted with. This it is calculated to effect primarily and chiefly of course, through its executive faculties; but it is likely to exert an indirect and reciprocal influence on science itself in another manner. For, in so distributing and combining the truths and the formula of analysis, that they may become most easily and rapidly amenable to the mechanical combinations of the engine, the relations and the nature of many subjects in that science are necessarily thrown into new lights, and more profoundly investigated.

The second quote in particular was important for Turing later on: https://mindmatters.ai/2020/05/lovelace-the-programmer-who-s...

Back to your comment,

I believe Steve Jobs was a buisnessperson with a focus on design and Steve Wozniak provided most of quality engineering on the early years. I also like to bash Apple for a lot of stuff and I have never bought nor owned a single Apple product but recognize their early products as great and not snake oil.

So that is "anything but a snake oil salesman with a decent understanding of typography" and by modus tollens I am _not_ the "type of person to think she had anything important to add to computer science". Contradiction.

Also, it is no coincidence that the first programmer was working with the person building the first general computer (albeit neither digital nor electronic)


Thanks for providing details. I can think of many phrases for someone who writes careful notes about the promises of a newly-invented technology, but "vapid socialite" isn't one of them.


Is the claim here that what Ada Lovelace wrote is original to her and not Charles Babbage? To be specific: is the claim here that Lovelace saw in Babbage's invention something he himself failed to see and anticipate?

[please don't simply downvote. This is a sincere question. Do we know the answer?]


Yes, we do know the answer. We have many letters written by them.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-34243042


Thanks!


A comment I made on this when it was posted a few days ago:

I am surprised that this was regarded as a close decision. I guess a lot depends on wording, but when one person is predicting the dollar will be worthless, and the person in the role of judge claims that given global economic uncertainty, it's a "close" question, I wonder if they're just saying that to be diplomatic.

Obviously there's a lot of uncertainty, but one way to think about it, is that it can get so much worse than it currently is. And it seems like the predictions being wagered over were pointing to the "so much worse". I think the same holds for the environment, and for the proposed war between rich and poor.

I get the temptation to treat those as close, because there's tensions that you could imagine leading to some worst case scenarios. And so one might want to acknowledge the tension, and you want to put that acknowledgment into some sort of partial credit. But I think that way of thinking gets all confused and hair splitty, and comes from a place of thinking everything's a trick question, and not wanting to be perceived as overlooking nuances.

Anyhow, credit to all parties involved for formalizing their discussion and getting a bet out of it. I think those kinds of conversations are valuable, and I think it helps to get people thinking about what it takes for beliefs to be true over the long run.


I agree, but I'm reminded of this quote from Ernest Hemingway: “How did you go bankrupt?” “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

Massive change due to tech is always just waiting to happen. Here's to hoping it just changes society without destroying it.


>“How did you go bankrupt?” “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

Great quote! Gradually and unknowingly you approach a tipping point until some factor pushes you over the edge like the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back".

I believe Sale was/is broadly right. Some of Nassim Taleb's ideas also play into this viz. our inability to predict the future and the catastrophic effect of non-linear and "black swan" events. It is not "Technology" that is the problem but our stewardship of it. We simply are not taking a holistic system view of it which is absolutely necessary when our system (i.e. our planet) is "closed".


Actually the global poverty line has been on a steady decline over the last three decades (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extreme_poverty). We have made untold advances in the medical sciences (hello MRNA vaccines), we are rapidly divorcing ourselves from our reliance on fossil fuels, and we are living in a time when there is an unprecedented level of awareness for basal human rights (well, primarily in the West and North America). I feel Sale is incredibly naive in thinking agrarian or subsistence based societies were the pinnacle of human comfort. Back breaking labour, very long working hours, poor health care and for the most part, endentured servitude to those who own the land/mills/factories you toil away in? A very reductive and simplistic way of thinking, ala 'Lets go back to the good ol days where the world made sense to me...' It's ridiculous.


It's not that simple. Sure "the good old days" wasn't that good, but that doesn't mean he was completely wrong.

>We have made untold advances in the medical sciences

Out of reach of a lot of humanity and for those that can access it it is not without risks (just look at the medical devices debacle in the US). It also isn't as good as we often seem to believe. For example the US is number 7 in Deaths by heart attack but it is still double the amount of deaths as number 1[0].

>we are rapidly divorcing ourselves from our reliance on fossil fuels

Acording to EIA[1] "The share of U.S. total energy consumption that originated from fossil fuels has fallen from its peak of 94% in 1966 to 80% in 2018". 80% is not "divorcing ourselves from our reliance on fossil fuels". It will be at least ten years before we see another 10% down in the US.

>we are living in a time when there is an unprecedented level of awareness for basal human rights

Yet human rights, press freedom and economic freedom are all on a downswing in the US[2][3][4].

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_quality_o...

1: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=41353

2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Index_of_Economic_Freedom

3: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Press_Freedom_Index

4: https://ourworldindata.org/human-rights


The US is just one country and we're talking about the future of humanity as a whole. Here in the UK we've eliminated more than half our carbon emissions from energy generation, and generally the US is lagging far behind a lot of other countries. Covid aside, economic and health improvement trends globally have been incredibly positive. Since 1995 about a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. That doesn't look much like a collapse to me.


>Since 1995 about a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty

That is a great soundbite for the news but is it actually as great as it sounds? If we take it as fact that "one billion humans have been lifted out of extreme poverty" what about how many are in extreme poverty? Note that how many is outside extreme poverty doesn't say anything about the amount in extreme poverty, just that more are now above it. The world population grew by 1.6 billion between 1990 and 2010 according to the UN. So on one side we have the "one billion have been lifted out of extreme poverty" but on the other we have "1.6 billion more humans" with the greatest growth in poverty stricken countries like Nigeria. I don't know the numbers but I don't believe that the "about a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty" is the whole truth since AFAIK the amount in extreme poverty have grown.

EDIT: Looking up the numbers it hasn't "grown" but "extreme poverty" is seen as "statically less than 1.9 international dollars per day". Is it a lift to $3 or $30? $3 is still living in squalor and destitution if you ask most people in the West I'm sure. IMO extreme poverty haven't declined outside statistics.


> what about how many are in extreme poverty?

This is a simple and knowable answer. And it doesn’t change the facts the sound bite is based on. Extreme poverty is lower now as a percentage. There are fewer born into extreme poverty now, etc.

You can also pick other cutoffs and they are improving as well. Obviously the goal is to raise people higher than $3/day, but this is just an existing measure that’s getting better.

It’s frustrating to me when people nitpick unimportant details as if they were significant.

I don’t think anyone who established the extreme poverty cutoff thinks that it is the end goal, or that $3/day is as good as $30/day. So everyone agrees that 10x is better. But there are measures for extreme poverty because it’s a problem and needs to be addressed differently to get people from $.01/day to $3/day differently than interventions for $3 to $30 (and $30 to $100).

Pinker’s book, Angels of our Better Nature, goes into this quite a bit. And there’s a lot of global health primary sources to also help answer your questions.


The relevant graphs are: https://ourworldindata.org/uploads/2019/10/Global-inequality...

From: https://ourworldindata.org/global-economic-inequality

And I think you’re underestimating the marginal utility of going from $1.90 to $3 — both would suck for someone with a baseline of Western expenses, but it is the difference between a literal hand-to-mouth life of subsistence farming in a shack, versus a family that all works being able to collectively afford to rent a basic concrete flat with terrible plumbing on an unpaved street (citation: my ex took me to Nairobi a few years ago, we met one of her local friends, the friend’s flat was about $800/year to rent, $800/year is the increased income from two people going from $1.9 to $3 per day).


You're right to call that out. There are one billion fewer people in extreme poverty now than there were then. A bit over 500 million compared to over 1.5 billion, even taking into account the increase in the worlds population. Most of this increase has been in Asia where hundreds of millions of people have risen into the urban middle class. Industrial wages in China have increased almost 10x in the last 2 decades, and industrial employment has ballooned.

The situation in Africa isn't so good, but has substantially improved. Of course the cost of this has been stagnant wage growth and anaemic employment in the developed world, as hundreds of thousands of people in China and South East Asia joined the global labour pool.


Regarding energy: the trend in PV is an exponential with a roughly 2.25 year doubling time, and while I make no claims about how long that exponential will continue for, that trend would reach about 10-17 TW by 2030 if continued.


100% this.

Too many folks gulped Pinker’s nonsense without further inspection because it suited their priors.


I feel like equally as many people rejected Pinker because it violated their priors.

I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other -- I guess my prior is that I am skeptical of broad narratives one way or the other and I think Pinker is prone to facile generalizations -- but most of the rebuttals I've seen to Pinker seem offended by the idea of progress, rather than taking his arguments seriously.


The irony of this comment is you say

> The global poverty line has been on steady decline

That's about right. We measure poverty as less than $2 per day. It's an arbitrary number. It would need to be $7.50 to prevent malnutrition and lower than 50% mortality. If we use the 7.50 mark the number of people in poverty has increased dramatically since the 80s.


> If we use the 7.50 mark the number of people in poverty has increased dramatically since the 80s.

This seems surprising to me. What do you think is the best source for me to learn about this metric? I found a lot of info on the methodology behind $1.9/day [0] but couldn’t find much by looking for the $7.50/day mark and how it has changed over time.

I found this guardian article referencing $7.4/day [1] but the link they give to Peter Edward on an ethical poverty line doesn’t work. When I search for Edward’s concept I find papers from him [2] but they seem to reference $2/day.

Edit: I was able to find a gapminder analysis [3]. They break income into four groups, less than $2, less than $8, less than $32, more. The shift in poverty is still positive so I’m not sure what measure is being used to show 1B more under $7.5/day. This may be due to demographic trends where that group is growing faster. It is important to consider the overall proportion, not just absolute number, as well as the alternative of where they would have been (ie, a billion under $7.50 is better than a billion under $1.9).

But it’s hard to discuss without source data and methods.

[0] http://iresearch.worldbank.org/PovcalNet/methodology.aspx [1] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals... [2] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/014365905004327... [3] https://www.gapminder.org/tools/#$state$time$value=2020;;&ch...


https://www.jasonhickel.org/the-divide

The author addresses this question, along with how the UN has continually shifted the goal posts to reinforce the narrative that poverty has been reduced.


Thanks for replying, I’ll check out this book and learn about how it’s measuring poverty. The concept seems about inequality though, that is different (although important) than poverty.

This quote mixes the two concepts “ Since 1960, the income gap between the North and South has roughly tripled in size. Today 4.3 billion people, 60 per cent of the world's population, live on less than $5 per day.” and doesn’t provide context on whether the percent of the worlds population living in less than $5/day is better or worse than in 1960.


Right, the book overall is about global inequality, but he definitely addresses the defined poverty thresholds. These thresholds are used by the wealthier countries to claim an improvement in people’s lives, while they’re gaming the numbers to show a decrease in poverty.

Trying to boil down a very diverse global population, which may or may not even be paid, into a single $/day seems a bit ridiculous to me personally.


> Trying to boil down a very diverse global population, which may or may not even be paid, into a single $/day seems a bit ridiculous to me personally.

This is not the method described in the world bank web site. I don’t think the intent is to boil down to a single measure.

Tracking data globally is really challenging, so a consistent and meaningful measure is required to even have a hope of a perspective across countries. It’s useful in eradicating poverty to both measure progress or failure as well as to prioritize investment for areas of greatest need.

This also isn’t the only measure of poverty as there’s many others and there’s quite a bit of literature in global health on other measures as well.

That being said, I think there is room for improvement both in developing more useful metrics as well as improving accuracy of measures.


That doesn't sound right. Do you have a source for that?

What does 50% mortality mean here?


I think you have missed the point. Please see my response to "lamontcg" in this thread for some rebuttal.

Note that it is not just Sale (though of course he is quite extremist in his views) who has pointed to the deleterious effects of our Technology, Social systems etc. which may lead to "Collapse" of our Civilization; you also have Nassim Taleb, Jacques Ellul, Michael Ruppert espousing similar arguments in different contexts.

All that you mention are "local effects" having their own unforeseen long-term negatives, due to self-limiting feedback loops, for example (without making any moral/judgemental/ethical calls);

>global poverty line has been on a steady decline over the last three decades

Debatable and for a certain definition of "poverty". Inequality has only been increasing and if i am unable to afford stuff even though i make more today then i did a few years ago, that is not "alleviation of poverty". Even if we accept your argument we now have the problem of increased middle class population leading to rampant consumerism and pressure on both social and natural resources.

>untold advances in the medical sciences

True but the other side is also adapting itself to work around our efforts eg; "Superbugs". We also don't know what the long-term effects of genetic engineering would be. There is also the problem that advanced medicine leads to longer lives and thus more pressure on social safety nets and healthcare.

>we are rapidly divorcing ourselves from our reliance on fossil fuels

Wishful thinking; we have a long way to go and given our propensity for short-term fixes we may very well run out of time.

>when there is an unprecedented level of awareness for basal human rights

Awareness does not necessarily lead to Usage/Implementation.

The above is not to say that "good old days" were "very good" and we should blindly roll back our scientific and technological use. On the contrary just like we have realized that Atomic warfare is unlike anything ever experienced by mankind and hence has to be prevented and dealt with in a whole different way than we have ever handled our "differences", so should our use of Science/Technology towards the betterment of our Societies, Other Species, Natural Resources and ultimately the whole Planet.


> Debatable and for a certain definition of "poverty". Inequality has only been increasing and if i am unable to afford stuff even though i make more today then i did a few years ago, that is not "alleviation of poverty". Even if we accept your argument we now have the problem of increased middle class population leading to rampant consumerism and pressure on both social and natural resources.

Taken globally, and looking at purchasing power. Things have been massively improving for the very poorest. Because developing countries are doing just that, developing.

Inequality and poverty are two distinct things. Poverty is having lack of access to things you need. Inequality is becoming a big issue, and poverty is far from being solved. There certainly are opportunities to solve both problems. But the depth of poverty for a lot of humans has lessened the last few years, and that is undeniably a good thing.


And just imagine all the tribal wars. Talk about forgetting your history


I was under the impression that in a distant past tribal wars ceased at the first blood, serious wound or at worse first victim, and didn't induce a major risk for non-combattants.

Modern politics and weaponry changed transmuted tribal wars into contemporary wars, some with systematic massive massacres and such.

If true it may mean that most 'classic' tribal wars were way less damaging than WW1 or WW2. In any case it seems hard to imagine how even some extreme tribal war may be more damaging than a total nuclear war.


> I was under the impression that in a distant past tribal wars ceased at the first blood, serious wound or at worse first victim, and didn't induce a major risk for non-combattants.

Not sure where this comes from. Tribal wars frequently ended in genocide, mass destruction, etc. The book Sapiens covers some of the evidence for how Neanderthals were exterminated.

I agree though that total nuclear war would be way worse than all the tribal wars in history. Although, interestingly, it seems like threat of nuclear war has prevented lots of wars. There have been no wars between major powers since nuclear wars. Maybe the closest was the Korean War, but China wasn’t a nuclear power back then.


Which non-modern tribal war ended in genocide or mass destruction?

AFAIK Neanderthals went extinct due to climatic change and disease.

Moreover tribes are everywhere defined by a complex and dynamic system of relationships. Neanderthals where another human species, or at least subspecies, and as far as I understand we cannot be sure that such relationships were established or even possible with another human species.

The threat of nuclear war ("MAD") may have prevented wars between major powers, but it didn't prevent many proxy wars, some of them quite destructive, and assuming that the net effect was positive is only an opinion (probably not shared by many in Africa and Asia).


There are multiple theories for what killed Neanderthals [0] but violence by Homo Sapiens seems the most supported by the fossil record. It would be hard for climate change and disease to wipe out an entire species, especially since there was interbreeding with homo sapiens so if a disease was so virulent to span the entire half of the world with Neanderthals it would affect homo sapiens as well.

I’m not sure there are any modern tribal wars. I’m not sure I’d consider Rwanda a tribal war, but it was tribes fighting.

I was thinking more about pre-historic tribal warfare. Or at least pre-bronze age before Egypt, Indus, Greece, etc. The tribes in the Amazon, Africa, Papua New Guinea [1] frequently had wars of extinction that eliminated their opposing tribe.

This kind of brutal warfare seems in our genes as even other primate have these genocidal wars where entire communities are wiped out [2].

There were certainly many proxy wars and lots of death, so I don’t think MAD means absolute peace. But it did stop world war 3 (while almost starting it quite a few times) and it’s most likely the reason why there haven’t been any large wars with casualties that existed prior to MAD (ww2,ww1,sino-japanese,Napoleon).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neanderthal_extinction

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endemic_warfare

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gombe_Chimpanzee_War


Back breaking labour, very long working hours, poor health care and for the most part, endentured servitude to those who own the land/mills/factories you toil away in?

All of these things are more true now than they were in the average subsistence based society. Amazon warehouse workers have a worse deal than serfs, and a much much worse deal than hunter gatherers.

Oh and this

we are rapidly divorcing ourselves from our reliance on fossil fuels

Isn't just wrong, it's laughable. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_return_on_investment

If you want a really long read - https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31850765-energy-and-civi...

The tl;dr is that renewables cannot provide equivalent levels of surplus energy to fossil fuels, cannot offer the same reliability as fossil fuels, cannot perform the same functions as fossil fuels (e.g. shipping). Not now, not ever. Not possible.


Your own link puts the EROI of renewables in the same range as conventional oil (wind slightly better, PV slightly worse), and way better than shale or sand oil.

And of course you can make liquid fuels by cracking water and then doing chemistry to add carbon (which can be from atmospheric CO2). This is what Musk has planned for Mars, the process is from 1897: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabatier_reaction

Further chemistry can turn that into long chain hydrocarbons, from what I remember of school.


>All of these things are more true now than they were in the average subsistence based society

I don't think that's accurate at all. For one, we no longer have prevalence of childhood leukemia that we used to have. You could run down a long list of similar examples related to health.

For another, we have robust labor standards in most of the world which we didn't didn't used to have. Warehouse workers do indeed have appalling work conditions measured by modern standards, and we should be incensed by those. But I think any serious consideration of what, say, dust bowl Texas was like prior to rural electrification, or what an experience of hunter-gatherer life would be like for a person who actually wanted to go out and try it, I think it would be nuts to say such conditions are preferable.

As others have mentioned, your own link to EROI doesn't appear to make the point that you think it does.


>Isn't just wrong, it's laughable. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_return_on_investment

Conventional oil reserves are declining so this article merely proves that renewables are superior.


Society is great...

...if you’re a well compensated tech worker having gourmet lunch delivered by benefit-less contractors paid slave wages.


“Amazon warehouse workers have a worse deal than serfs“

Could you back this claim up? I don’t find it at all plausible.


Yeah we're just likely to cruise along operating as "ABoringDystopia" until we hit some kind of fairly hard stop.

I don't know what that is going to look like though so I'm not taking any concrete bets. I certainly don't know what comes after.


Jacques Ellul also has a lot to say on the effects of Technology on Society.

I think the following factors, broadly speaking; will be our (i.e. Civilization as we know it today) downfall;

  * Environmental Disaster as a consequence of rampant consumerism. The planet simply cannot sustain it. Our current "Renewables/Recyclables/Carbon Credit etc." policies are a joke. We have forgotten that our planet is a closed system with finite resources.

  * Our "Baser" Instincts - We will always subvert any and all technological advances towards the pursuit of power, wealth, and greed and exclude "others" (i.e. those not belonging to our group) thus increasing the "inequalities" in our society.

  * Non-linear "catastrophic" effects of many of our social systems - As Nassim Taleb points out in his books, many of our systems are non-linear in their effects and inherently fragile. Thus our ability to predict the long-term future is non-existent.

  * The rise of mono-culture biological and social systems. Evolution has always proceeded as a loosely coupled federation of highly cohesive units eg. Madagascar/Australia vs. Asia/Europe, small self-sustaining villages/kingdoms bartering amongst themselves vs. megapolises with huge populations and pegged to a "common currency". This makes the entire system fragile to local shocks.

  * Adaptation and Evolution of other species against our measures towards controlling them eg. "Superbugs".


I mostly agree with the points, except for:

> Evolution has always proceeded as a loosely coupled federation of highly cohesive units

No, it did not. Evolution does what it does, things that are good enough at surviving survive. For instance, multicellular organisms, and in particular large animals, are "megapolises with huge populations and pegged to a 'common currency'". Fragility is a more nuanced topic too, large coupled systems are vulnerable to internal problems, but they can also withstand external forces that would kill the equivalently populous "loosely coupled federation". All in all, evolution is probably not the best thing to draw lessons about organization from, because a) any system of organization you can think of is likely already effectively used in some organisms, somewhere, and b) evolution doesn't care about well-being of individual cells, but we care about the well-being of individual humans. That last constraint means we can't just do thing the way evolution does, which is throwing crap at the wall and seeing what sticks.


Yes. Nassim Taleb is essential reading.


>but when one person is predicting the dollar will be worthless, and the person in the role of judge claims that given global economic uncertainty, it's a "close" question,

He did not think the currency issue was close at all, "Not much contest here" and granted that one unequivocally to Kelly.

On the others I don't agree with Patrick at all. On environment we are quite possibly heading towards a disaster, but it's still very far off. I doubt we'll even be in a situation to unequivocally call this one for Sale even in another 25 years. Maybe in 50, sure, but the bet was about the conditions in 2020, not 2045 or 2070.

As for war between rich and poor, I think it should be judged compared to historical examples. Are we in a higher level of conflict between rich and poor now than in the past? I'd say no. Occupy came and went. The global economy recovered ok from the crisis in 2008 by historical standards. Advanced technology is already solving the pandemic for us, and we should be back to normal economically within a few years. Only 4 years ago a Billionair won a US election on a platform of cutting taxes for the rich, which he did. If there's a war going on between rich and poor, I'm not seeing it.


On the others I don't agree with Patrick at all. On environment we are quite possibly heading towards a disaster, but it's still very far off. I doubt we'll even be in a situation to unequivocally call this one for Sale even in another 25 years. Maybe in 50, sure, but the bet was about the conditions in 2020, not 2045 or 2070.

And this is what scares me. From my point of view, we are already well into multiple major environmental disasters. I wonder how much worse it has to get before more people realise that.


> Are we in a higher level of conflict between rich and poor now than in the past? I'd say no.

I’d argue the drivers for the war are already here, but the only reason the war isn’t class based is the rich and powerful have convinced the lower classes to attack each other instead of them. They’ve successfully driven in dividing lines such as race and religion to distract us as the plunder to their hearts content.


I feel there's also an element of the divide of power between both parties being greater too. For example, the police force - which generally supports the status quo of the powerful - is far more able to control and suppress uprisings than in the past. This lends itself to providing a higher barrier to the poor pushing back, and thus necessitates those drivers (such as blatantly separate outcomes before the law, higher wealth inequality, etc.) to become stronger than in the past before conflict eventuates.

I mean it sort of relates to the 2nd amendment idea that private citizens at home with firearms can overthrow a tyrannical government if need be. When it was minutemen vs foot soldiers that was a drastically different equation to now when it's AR-15s vs a military-industrial apparatus with drone strikes, tanks and automated mass surveillance.


The way I see it the bet was about the statement that the drivers for the war were already there in 1995 and that it would actually materialize in the 25 years before 2020 - which it (IMHO obviously) has not. The struggle is still there, but a society-shattering escalation of the conflict has not happened (yet?).

The observation that "the rich and powerful have convinced the lower classes to attack each other instead of them" seems like a reasonable tactic for the society (or the rich) to prevent such a war from occurring, and this might plausibly succeed for a prolonged time in the future - as you say, "successfully driven in dividing lines" that are long-lasting. I see Kirkpatrick Sale's position as essentially claiming that the tensions are stronger than the societal bonds that favor status quo and centralization, that these tensions can cause a society to collapse - and the last 25 years have shown the opposite, that an increase in these tensions is still tolerable and does not lead to a collapse.


>He did not think the currency issue was close at all,

Thank you for catching that, I stand corrected with respect to the judging of the economy. It's interesting that there are commenters here taking issue with my point disputing that, when it turns out not even the judge, Bill Patrick, felt that question was close! People will really debate anything.

As you point out, Bill did, however, remark that the other questions were close, and asserted that Kirk was not merely close, but correct(!) on the other two questions. I am surprised about that, for reasons more or less along the lines you mention.


No credit to Sale for denying victory to his opponent. I'm more disappointed than I thought I would be.


Right. He agreed that they'd go with Patrick's judgement, then petulantly went back on his word after he lost.


Yeah, the bet and judgment are both unreasonably favorable to Sale, to an absurd degree.

He predicted society's "collapse", that by now we'd be living in small bands. Global warming steadily making the worse a crappier place is an awful thing, to be sure, but we're nowhere near collapse, at least not at the moment.

The first part of the bet is a good one: the dollar -- the world's reserve currency -- becoming worthless is something that makes sense as a part of society collapsing, and more importantly, it's fairly objective to judge. The other two are far more ambiguous.


>He predicted society's "collapse", that by now we'd be living in small bands. Global warming steadily making the worse a crappier place is an awful thing, to be sure, but we're nowhere near collapse, at least not at the moment.

Yeah, this is exactly the thing I'm stuck on when I go over these responses. I feel like people really aren't grasping the difference in scale between (a) 2008 financial crisis was pretty bad and (b) dollar becoming "worthless".

People are talking as if those two things are close, or taking up the tone of cautionary finger wagging and saying "well, you know he wasn't too far off" and going off to say this or that about a given poverty statistic.

My best theory as to what's going on here is that people are just cannibalizing the question and using it as a digression into various world problems in ways that don't clearly connect back to the wording of the question.


You’re not taking into account that Kelly bet that it wouldn’t even be close to Sale’s vision. That massively evens the odds, because we aren’t so far from his vision, and most people would agree that the world (or the west at least) is much more going downwards than upwards


Would I rather prefer the society of 1995 or of 2020 ? That is a very simple question for me. I do not find it very close.

If I your were in India which was a deep socialist state in 1980s and 1995 just when the seeds of 1992 reforms were sowed, it was a complete shithole compared to the India of 2020 even with COVID.


Likewise China, I first went in 2001 and it's a different country in terms of most people's every day lives. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty into comfortable livelihoods and I personally know some of them. There's still a long way to go, but it's incredible how far it's already come.


But is it sustainable? China has been (like most western countries) creating a ton of debt to make that happen.


Future is not for us to see and when it comes to predicting future of nations and societies we are especially pretty bad. Having said that sustainability is a first world problem. There is no point sustaining anything if 80% of your population is malnourished, availability of food per capita and clothes per capita is less than what is needed for sustenance of life where thousands of children die of polio and thousands more disabled.

I would rather live in an unsustainable India of 2020 than in sustainable India of 1985.

Debt is not really much of a problem for India as debt of gdp ratio is pretty low. Debt is not a problem in terms of sustainability either, when the proverbial shit hits the fan the country might go into massive recession but even in the worst of worst cases and even with terrible politicians at help recessions don't last very long. But the gain upto that point are all real. (India has over 50M more young and healthy people purely because the country has eliminated Polio and dozen other diseases that were common 40 years ago).

Rising population and rapid urbanization would require India to manage its forests, water and other resources better and India is not equipped to do so because of government control of key industries and bad policies. But we can hope things will change for better as a more competent government is at helm.


It was close, in 2008. It was frighteningly close. Not before or since, but yeah, I'll give them "close" on that one. ("Worse than 1930" was part of the criterion. We didn't come close to that in terms of the final outcome, but we were, I think, within a very few days of getting there.)


Here was one of the predictions in the words of one of the participants in the bet:

>“The first [measurement] would be an economic collapse. The dollar would be worthless, the yen would be worthless, the mark would be worthless—the dislocation we saw in the Depression of 1930, magnified many times over.

The dollar is not worthless and not close to worthless. There's no reasonable interpretation of that outcome, or of reality, where the dollar becoming worthless was "close" to an accurate prediction. I truly, honestly don't know how to reason with someone who is going to dispute that.

Another prediction was that we would be in an active global military conflict between rich and poor nations. Also not close.

Another prediction was "Africa, from the Sahara to South Africa, becomes unlivable."

If words actually mean things, none of these were close.


First: Those weren't the words of the bet, per the article. The actual words of the measure of collapse, per the article were:

> an economic disaster that would render the dollar worthless, causing a depression worse than the one in 1930; a rebellion of the poor against the monied; and a significant number of environmental catastrophes.

Now, you sound like you have a source other than the article, and the article sounds like it might be a paraphrase. But it's kind of hard for me to judge without knowing what your source is.

But, using the wording from the article: Were we close to the first of those in 2008? When Lehman collapsed, if there hadn't been intervention the dominoes would have continued to fall. How far would they have continued to fall? Hard to tell now, but at the time it looked like they were just going to keep falling...


>Those weren't the words of the bet,

Yes, they were the words of the bet.

https://www.wired.com/1995/06/saleskelly/


I don't know if this changes anything but I think the actual bet is described by the line

>I bet you US$1,000 that in the year 2020, we're not even close to the kind of disaster you describe—a convergence of three disasters: global currency collapse, significant warfare between rich and poor, and environmental disasters of some significant size. We won't even be close. I'll bet on my optimism.

It seems like in the actual terms of the bet Kelly paraphrases Sale. That is how I would read it sans an actual signed legal document. But then again I'm not a lawyer or anyone versed in gambling etiquette and protocol.


> I bet you US$1,000 that in the year 2020, we're not even close to...a global currency collapse

Why would anyone take this bet? If you're right, then $1000 USD probably won't be worth very much after the "global currency collapse", so you'd basically be saying "I'll give you $1000 in 2020 if it's worth anything"


To Kevin Kelly, today, $1000 is barely worth anything anyway. So he also stands to gain nothing. (And, indeed, he didn't even want the money, but asked for it to be sent to charity.)

So ask yourself the question again. Why would two public intellectuals make a public bet, when neither stands to gain any monetary benefit from it? My goodness, it's a mystery.


Good point. I would guess, since it's all moot from the perspective of the person making those predictions, the whole exercise is just a theatric flourish, meant to communicate in a more or less performative way.

The other (perfectly plausible) answer is that the part of one's brain that believes the claim, and the part of ones' brain that believes in the power of bets and value of money that make bets interesting, are brain regions that haven't reconciled with one another.


Sale says (1) all of Africa south of the Sahara will be uninhabitable, and Kelly paraphrases that as (2) "environmental disasters of some significant size".

It would seem to be against the spirit and intention of the bet, in any plausible reading, to grant Sale a win on the grounds that (2) comes true but not (1), when (1) was attempting to paraphrase (2).


How can there even be ‘significant warfare between rich and poor’? Some kind of communist revolution? By definition the poor don’t have the resources to significantly attack the rich.


I don't think that is true. You can have strength in numbers and mass violence is very difficult to stop without outright killing the perpetrators.


I really don't think that 2008 was ever close to anything like "Worse than 1930". For example Europe handled the financial crisis in an almost completely farcical way and didn't suffer anything close to the economic problems of 1930's America. There was never a moment where the US or any other important financial center was at risk of a real bank run of any significance.


I don't think I can agree with that as long as the FDIC exists.


There is a pretty good chance that the period of 2022-2035 or so will be a lot worse than the 2008-2015 one.


Get ready for a Peripheral style Jackpot ;)


I would like to know why you would think that.

In US terms it seems clear that financial support in excess of that available in 2009 onwards will be provided.

Vaccines are being delivered and economic activity will increase as the fear of COVID-19 subsides.

Is this based on political gridlock after the next set of US midterms? Something not COVID-19 related?


IMO, it is the memes which will do it. Have you seen the one about capitalism teetering on an ivory tower, unable to to continue growing after moving away from extractivism and hopelessly trying to exert itself into a knowledge based economy? It's a real tickler.


Let's bet.


> Has Tech Destroyed Society?

I recently watched the documentary The Man Who Saved the World[0], about Stanislav Petrov, who one day in 1983 made the decision to ignore the early warning system computers telling him the USA had fired 5 missiles at the USSR.[1] It seems had he followed orders, a report to his superiors would have resulted in mass retaliation. The decision was in his hands.

In the movie, as well as a reenactment of the incident, the real Petrov visits the USA to speak at the UN, and visits Kevin Costner, his favourite actor. Costner asks him how many people would have died if not for his actions that day. You expect him to say millions. Petrov explains that everyone on the planet would've died.

They visit a disused missile silo in the USA and Petrov explains to a guard there that just one of those missiles had more explosive force than all the weapons used in WW2. According to this page[2], in 1985 the USA had 21,000+ nuclear weapons, USSR 39,000+.

It's very chilling, to say the least. It makes humans seem so very crazy, to create the possibility of that situation in the first place. Petrov explains emotionally to the guard that the Russian people wanted peace, and thought the USA wanted to attack them.

I can't help thinking about that, reading about Whether Tech Has Destroyed Society?

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Saved_the_World

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1983_Soviet_nuclear_false_alar...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_nuclear_weapons_sto...


It's possible that had "AI" been in charge at that time, the world would have been destroyed. I don't think "AI" is a threat in itself but relying on technology to make life-or-death decisions without human application, feels extremely dangerous.


There are an awful lot of lines in the sand that have to be crossed prior to "oh, we just rig up nukes to this computer that checks for incoming missiles and fires back."

Using nuclear weapons is one of the most bureaucratic processes the government has by design. There are an awful lot of people in the loop that must work in concert to make something like that happen.


What if you trained it on tic-tac-toe though?


> Petrov explains emotionally to the guard that the Russian people wanted peace, and thought the USA wanted to attack them.

Good reason for us to personally think about (and investigate) whether our political/societal enemies really believe what we're told they believe about us. And I don't mean respond to a tweet, I mean have a real conversation.

Kinda feels like we're in an arms race where Facebook/Twitter are the arms dealers and have so much to gain from continued hostilities.


"continued hostilities" -> "offline engagement".


> in 1985 the USA had 21,000+ nuclear weapons, USSR 39,000+.

This is one of the facts from this era which seems completely irrational to me. Considering the damage each one of these devices can do why do you need so many.

Lets presume you're in fact a genocidal maniac (i didn't say the roleplaying would be difficult America) 1 bomb per enemy military installation and 1 bomb per population centre over 100k population friend, foe, own country included.

Why do you need the other 18,000 bombs?


> Why do you need the other 18,000 bombs?

Second-wave strategic targets ( surviving silos, airfields, ports and C3 facilities )

Tactical targets ( tank formations , POL depots, troop assembly areas, aviation FOBs )

Naval targets ( submarines, surface vessels, sonar installations )

Mobility targets ( bridges, valleys, tunnels )

Plus accounting for failed weapons, losses en route, missed targets...


If you have made so many enemies that you need 18,000 nuclear bombs to feel safe, I question your attitude to life.


As others have said - the primary reason is that you need 1+ nukes to take out the other side's launch sites, and the other side knows this so they spread the siloses across their whole territory - so now you need 1+ nukes for every silo they have (or suspect they have), and they need 1+ nukes for every silo you have (or suspect you have), and this is a positive feedback loop.


By the time your nukes get to the silos, they will most likely be empty already though.


Which is the reason you want to have more nukes than they have silos - to be able to hit all of them at once in a surprise attack (also called "first strike").


Which won't save you against their SSBN… Granted, they have much less warheads in submarines than in silos, but that's still far enough to obliterate every city above 100.000 inhabitant in your country.


Indeed, which is why submarines are the linchpin of modern MAD. But they weren't always present; the buildup of nuclear arsenal started when the options were limited to ICBMs and strategic bombers.


Efficiency of submarine fleets were always hard to calculate, based largely on guesses about the adversary's true anti-submarine capabilities.


i don't see any real reasons, i bet lunch the main idea was to be able to credibly publish a bar graph showing your count larger than that of your enemies.


Why do you need the other 18,000 bombs?

Every bomb must be purchased from the armaments manufacturers who actually control our society. The same who originally bamboozled Truman into damning our species. Your question is equivalent to "why do they want more money?"


Any money is in selling bombs that are used, so you can sell more. Not much money in nukes, and you can very by stock exchange listings.

This kind of conspiracy thinking utterly ignores the horrifying logic of MAD. Read a bit about Bernard Brodie, pre-eminent strategist, he laid it all out for why deterrence was sadly the only way to go and that we must live in a state of mutually assured destruction.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Brodie_(military_str...


> Any money is in selling bombs that are used, so you can sell more. Not much money in nukes

World nuclear arms spending hit $73bn last year – half of it by US.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/13/nuclear-weapon...

"The U.S. government is now estimated to have 6,800 nuclear weapons at its disposal, but America hasn’t actually built a new warhead or bomb since the 1990s. “It has refurbished several types in recent years to extend their lifetime,”...The B61-12 atomic bombs, for instance, are to undergo a life-extension program that will cost roughly $9.5 billion. There are 400 to 500 of these bombs... which means refurbishing one will cost about $20 million.

W-80 warheads, another type being refurbished, are estimated to cost $75 million each ... the total cost of the W-80 life extension plan will be $7.3 billion to $9.9 billion over 17 years."

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/08/08/heres-how-much-a-nuclear-wea...

Sounds like serious money to me. More details about which companies are making the most money and how:

http://www.nuclearweaponsmoney.org/corporations/

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/01/02/20-companies...


The US govt spends 7.3 trillion dollars per year. So that’s about 0.5% of spending. As a fraction of US GDP it’s about 0.17%.

It’s tiny. The claim I was arguing against was this:

> the armaments manufacturers who actually control our society

You can’t control society with 0.17% of US GDP!

Note also that most of that spending does not flow to arms contractors so the actual figure is less. The bulk is spend on the defense department and other government agencies.

Here’s the report your article cites. See page 9

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/ican/pages/1549/attach...


Well, it seems a bit pointless debating whether billions of dollars is not much/tiny or a lot.

>> the armaments manufacturers who actually control our society

> You can’t control society with 0.17% of US GDP!

That doesn't seem fair. The companies involved are involved in a lot more than nuclear weapons, as I guess you know. (see my last 2 links)


Yeah, they’re much bigger, but the point is the nuclear spending is clearly not the key to any power they do wield.

As I said, 0.17% of gdp covers all the spending, including on govt salaries. Only a portion of that actually goes to manufacturers.


We currently spend about $750 billion every year on the military, not counting the "black" budget. The stinking, offensive waste will soon exceed a trillion every year. That ain't all going to the VA hospitals. Besides, at this point every American who could have remembered a more normal way to live, is dead. The reptiles won. We literally can't stop spending vast sums killing brown people and preparing to kill more.


Thank you, am reading his Strategy in the Missile Age, which is surprisingly a very enjoyable read. Brodie was evidently a cultured guy and a good writer. There's quite a bit of history and philosophy, and the first 2 pages are entirely about Paradise Lost!

PDF: https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/commercial_books/...


One can't be surprised that Rand Corporation, an entity created by the military-industrial complex to help it control journalists and politicians, would publish such a book.


That might explain the USA part of the arsenal, but it can't be the whole explanation because that would not work for USSR. And, since whatever was the reasons for USSR, it most likely also applied to USA as well, reducing the need to pin it all on commercial interests.


Thanks this is much more elegant than what I came up with.


Stalin was (justifiably) frightened by nuclear weapons. Any time between August 1945 and mid-1949, Truman could have picked up the phone and said "we've decided to step back from the brink". Stalin would have eagerly agreed. Instead, USA developed vastly more destructive fusion weapons, and the first unofficial act of newly created CIA intentionally leaked designs to the Russians. That's why their first functional weapon was a carbon copy of early American weapons.

Truman would later regret creating one of the several monsters that ate his soul [0], but he was clearly out of his depth from the moment that he learned of atomic weapons. None of the top military brass wanted to use the atomic bomb. [1] The reptiles knew what they were doing in 1944 when they replaced Henry Wallace with an easily controlled Missouri hick. Truman himself didn't know their precise plans, but he had to know he wasn't the man who should've gotten that job. He let ambition overrule propriety.

Of course, Truman isn't the only human to blame for the mess we've been in for 75 years. Most of the scientists who developed the bomb knew better than he did what the result would be. "MAD" is not an acceptable condition for human life. We endure it because some reptiles desired further enrichment. No good intentions paved their way to their current location.

Throughout our existence, USA's projections of the worst possible intentions on the part of other nations have driven our deepest depravities, to a far greater extent than the real situations we've faced.

[0] https://truthout.org/articles/trumans-true-warning-on-the-ci...

[1] https://www.thenation.com/article/world/why-the-us-really-bo...


Maybe because silos are an important target for the attacking side? So you want to have many in order to reduce the risk of being left without arms in case your enemy attacks first?


Absolute madness, you and your enemy will be dead anyway from the fallout and nuclear winter.


Yes, MADness. Because the attack entails utter destruction, it would be irrational to attack, so no one attacks.

Bernard Brodie, naval strategist, figured this all out as the inevitable endpoint of nuclear weapons in 1946.

People have been trying to get around it ever since, but there is no way around it. Disarm, and a handful of nukes rule the world. If armed, the only way to avoid war is to make it utterly irrational.

And offence has an apparently permanent advantage over defence with MIRVs, as it will cost more to shoot down a rocket than to launch it, so missile defence doesn’t work as a strategy to exit MAD.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Brodie_(military_str...


> And offence has an apparently permanent advantage over defence with MIRVs, as it will cost more to shoot down a rocket than to launch it, so missile defence doesn’t work as a strategy to exit MAD.

But not shooting a missile down is massively, massively more expensive. If the missile scare on Hawaii had been real and North Korea had launched a single nuclear missile and the US had shot it down, do you think anyone would have cared about the cost?

Even if it is, say, twice the cost to shoot down a missile as to launch it the US can afford more than twice the cost the Russians and much more than North Korea.


I think limited missile defence is sensible for dealing with accidental firings or countries with tiny stockpiles like North Korea.

But it isn’t 2x. Try 10-20x. Modern MIRV’s can have ten warheads, and it is also substantially more difficult to target a moving missile than to hit a launch silo. Tests so far have not been anywhere near the accuracy needed to confidently guarantee you could shoot down a first strength. You need 100% performance, they’re getting less than 50%, for ideal conditions.

The economics just don’t work with a 20x cost gap. What’s more the attempt to built a unilateral defence system would encourage a massive arms race.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_independently_targe...


Not necessarily. I think the nuclear winder risk for an asymmetrical strike is largely overblown. If a country successfully take the capability of the other to respond, they could see few repercussions.

This drives the need to be able to respond.


The best way to destroy an enemy nuclear weapon is by hitting it with one of your nuclear weapons. Add on top of that your other strategic targets and a reserve, and the fact that their calculation is the same as yours, and you can see where this is going.


With weapons distributed amongst all USSR holdings this implies the US was willing to nuke everything from Poland to north Vietnam.


The US in fact did have a serious problem with nuclear warplan targeting during the Cold War - there was essentially never a reason you could give to take a target off the list, so the plan for a good deal of time was essentially something like "hit every single conceivable target several times" (to account for failed bombs or losses en route).

It was actually one of Dick Cheney's initiatives to create a process which would remove targets from the nuclear warplan's to get the number of weapons used down to a manageable number - and end the feedback of "oh no we've assigned all the weapons - we need more weapons in case there's more targets".

EDIT: A critical element with nuclear warplan's is that you don't have one bomb per target - you generally have several bombs per target via different delivery systems with different priorities, because the key element of MAD is survivability - there has to always be a guarantee in your adversary's mind that they cannot destroy enough capability to create a winning scenario for them.


There is even a case to be made that too much nuclear disarmament could create a less stable situation, because arsenals might deplete enough that an exchange might seem survivable.


Of course they would be. Nuking the USSR would involve resigning yourself to the murder of hundreds of millions. It also means accepting that the USSR will do whatever they can to retaliate with nukes.

In that context, you are already so resigned at killing others over your own safety, that hitting a few other countries is a no-brainer.


And the USSR was willing to nuke everything from Turkey to South Korea (going the long way).


Yes, that was the stated objective.


The doctrine was M.A.D. .. or mutually assured distruction[1].

I believe the (arguably crazy) idea was that the weapons wouldn't ever be used. The fact that each nuclear superpower has a similar amount of weapons assured that the equalibrium would stop the worst from happening.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutual_assured_destruction


That page says "Although the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, the MAD doctrine continues to be applied."

I get the feeling that's not generally known. Isn't that kind of extremely weird? I've never seen discussion of it on HN, for example, or maybe what to do about the prospect of living indefinitely under the threat of MAD. With more countries with nuclear weapons all the time. Well, you read here about people not wanting to have kids because of global warming, but not because of that. Is it just too big a problem to even think about?


It's not generally known, particularly by the generation that was born at the tail end of the Cold War (like myself), and by people born later. We grew up without the fear of that particular flavor of Armageddon.

But MAD is still what keeps the world relatively peaceful. It also gives rise to certain paradoxes - like any attempt to create a better defense against nuclear weapons is also the biggest threat to mankind, because it risks breaking the MAD doctrine and thus inviting a nuclear first strike. For MAD to work, countries in their equivalence class (e.g. US, Russia and China are one class) need to be in lock step with their capabilities, so that no one can be struck without the attacker risking annihilation.


> But MAD is still what keeps the world relatively peaceful.

There seems a kind of anthropic principle here - it seems successful, but we wouldn't be here talking about it if it had gone terribly wrong, which has come very close to happening more than a few times, apparently.

The risk of that is >0, but the cost is...infinite. That doesn't seem obviously worth the gamble, to say the least.


I think it's less of an anthropic principle, and more the realization that it's the only stable equilibrium available once nuclear weapons become available.


Sorry, by "here" I didn't mean in the sentence I quoted, just in this field.

I just don't buy the apparent absolute certainty it won't kill everyone. Then anything else would have been preferable to the "stable equilibrium" we were assured was necessary. But we won't be around to talk about it. That eternally living under MAD is 'the only way' seems to me more like a religious belief than a realization of a fact. A uniquely insane/evil one, however you want to describe killing everyone on Earth. Perhaps it's not considered so evil or insane to do that if you meant well?


>That eternally living under MAD is 'the only way' seems to me more like a religious belief than a realization of a fact.

It is the presumptive fact in the absence of viable alternatives. IF one is discovered, we can revisit the question.


I'd say it's generally known - everyone is aware of nukes and what nukes can do. The difference is they're considered much more of a known quantity these days: you can't use them, you don't use them, and you also can't fight a direct war with any country which has them. The idea of the "mad Russians" launching against the US has worn out, but watch what happens when you talk about Iran or North Korea having them.

What's more worrying is that most nuclear policy in the US was centered around condensing launch authority solely with the President of the United States - there's a heck of a lot of assumption that that person is a sane, rational elder statesmen type.


That MAD continues didn't seem that known on HN earlier today. (I didn't know it either.) When I wrote the GP comment, it had half a dozen sibling comments from different people, now all deleted, talking about MAD in the past tense, as a crazy thing that was believed in long ago.


the problem with MAD is it falls apart when you cross religious extremism with nuclear weapons. It's not rational to douse school girls in acid on their way to school but religious extremism turns it into reality.


The AD - Assured Destruction - part works just fine. Irrational actors don't assemble world ending arsenals (after all if you think you should rush to your death, why not launch when you have 1, given that you're most likely in a "use it or lose it" situation).

Even in your cited example - the people who do this sort of thing attack those who can't fight back. They are never in any danger of being immediately shot dead after.

While yes suicide bombers exist, this is more a question of arms proliferation and control then an indictment of the ineffectiveness of MAD or the general strategic reality of nuclear weapons. And the situations under which non-state actors have them are still a policing rather then political concern - North Korea or Iran leaking a bomb to another entity that then detonates it is the surest possible way that both those states will be dismantled by NATO, since MAD does apply there: proof that you represent an uncontrolled risk of nuclear attack invites conventional or nuclear annihilation, regardless of the mechanism. Civilian casualties go out the window when you have already suffered some.


The obvious - but incredibly difficult to implement - solution is to achieve world peace, through mutual respect, tolerance and trust amongst nations. A lot of people seem to have abandoned that as a goal, in favor of being contented with a perpetual uneasy standoff.

It's a tough goal - perhaps the hardest there has ever been - but it's not impossible.


I would consider world peace "through mutual respect, tolerance and trust amongst nations" as inherently impossible for homo sapiens as we are.

A world peace might be plausible through a single world government that can enforce a world peace and resolution of diverging interests and conflicts without war, i.e. with some "policing" mechanism instead of relying on people not escalating through sheer goodwill. That is possible - world peace based on the expectation that any potential violators of that world peace would face retaliation and lose in that conflict. Si vis pacem, para bellum - that can work, if it can be established.

Or, alternatively, a world peace through mutual respect and tolerance may happen if at some time in future our civilization consists of substantially altered individuals - genetic alteration, chemical brainwashing, computerized circuits in brains, something that changes the way our motivation works on a fundamental level - but not for people as we are.

Otherwise, as long as any people and groups of people have unmet desires (not merely needs) and diverging interests, conflicts will happen, and as long as violence is a practical option for achieving goals (i.e. there's not a threat/expectation of successful powerful resistance to that violence) it will be considered and used if mere threat of that violence isn't sufficient.


The problem with MAD is that it only works with logical people. Once you include religious fanatics then they don't fear the destruction, in their warped sense of reality their death just takes them to the next spiritual level (or whatever claptrap they preach). So they dont care if they are destroyed as long as their enemy is destroyed also. Because their enemy is some sort of heretic/unbeliever they will not be saved, whilst their people will all live happily in heaven because their god excuses genocide if you do it in HIS name.


MAD keeps India from eliminating Pakistan, or China from eliminating India, or any of the Arab states vs Israel, or NK vs USA. MAD is a core doctrine of most countries' defences even today. It's the reason Iran wants to obtain them ASAP.


For both sides, the most important job for the nukes was counter-force, that is, blowing up the enemy nukes. Both sides understood this, so they deployed their own nukes so sparsely that you generally need one to take out one, and since they still expected to lose a lot of them, they built spares.


to me, it was the invention of SLBMs that truly but the concept of a first-strike advantage to bed. With subs under the water in the world's oceans armed with dozes of missiles each armed with multiple warheads the concept of taking out your enemy before they can retaliate is gone.

IMO, if MAD fails it will be an accident that triggers a run away chain of events leading to nuclear war. We've come close many many times to total nuclear war due to miscommunication, simulation errors, procedural errors, etc.


It'll kill the whole world - eventually, but for an effective first or second strike you want to take out the enemy as fast as possible, instead of wait for the fallout and climate change to take over.

Mind you, a single nuke on e.g. DC or NY would cripple the country already, especially if there's minimal warning.


It doesn't have anything to do with efficiency. It's a pissing contest. You want the largest number because it gives you bragging rights.


These people and their logic started WW1 and WW2. The only thing keeping them abay is that with even conventional warfare, you end up with Syria.


Power begets more power.


Russia invented the largest nuke ever and are still innovating in the space with the new Satan 2 missile that can pretty much wipe out the eastern seaboard. So America isn't the only homicidal maniac. Putin gives us a run for our money.


I’m reminded of a long bet made a number of years ago between Joseph Romm and Greg Blencoe that 1% of car sales in the US would be Hydrogen Fuel cell vehicles by 2015. I’d done a report on this in college and completely forgot about it, probably because hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are near impossible to find on the consumer market.

So Blencoe lost the bet and paid Romm the $1000 and wore a T-shirt. He posted a very short post to his blog saying it happened. [1]

What’s most interesting to me is that the blog has since disappeared. At the time these things seemed like such a big deal, but a few years on and it just vanished. It’s like the bet never took place and the advocacy for Hydrogen wasn’t a big deal. It was kind of shocking to me how ephemeral it is, in spite of “nothing ever disappearing from the internet”

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20160911231646/http://www.h2carb...


I typically avoid the streisand effect by not reacting when something has attention, and then subsequently removing all references to it months later. Nobody important/loud enough notices.


My strategy is to never do anything noteworthy.


If that works to sustain your lifestyle, way to go.

Hasn't been the reality for me. I would prefer to be behind the scenes but that's not whats always been the case. I like the financial outcome though.


In line with David Mitchell. How will you ensure that your not doing anything noteworthy don't become noteworthy? As him dressing unnoteworthy would itself be noteworthy...


Great minds think alike :P


A relevant long bet: https://longbets.org/601/


Ironically hydrogen is having a renaissance as we speak


Only because natural gas is so damn cheap it almost isn't worth selling.

If you're a natural gas producer, it makes a lot of sense to pump hydrogen fuel. Ignorant* people think it is green, so it is an easy sell to the populous. Since it is actually made from NatGas, the success of hydrogen would be a significant boon to a substance that has been teetering on the edge of being industrial waste for years.

* Unknowing, not stupid.


In theory you can capture the carbon at the point source. It would be far cheaper than capturing it directly from the air.

Although I think turning natural gas into hydrogen is wasteful it still proves that current usage of fossil fuels is not sustainable by showing that a "sort of" sustainable way of using fossil fuels exists.


Are you sure? It’s 5 years after that Million ‘Murican Hydrogen bet was lost, and we’re still 2 full orders of magnitude away. (In spite of massive subsidies for fuel cell in California.)

At least 8,890 FCEVs are on the road today, a far cry from the 53,000 the California Fuel Cell Partnership projected by the end of 2017. "I don't see a lot of automaker interest in hydrogen," DeShazo argued. "Most automakers are betting on battery electric vehicles for the passenger market and delivery trucks."Dec 12, 2020


Only on Wall Street, which does not need to worry about actual physics or engineering.


... or even cash flow and profits.


Where from? I've seen a couple of big government grants announced (which honestly smell more of pork than genuine technology) but nothing approaching a useful prototype that's in any way competitive with battery EVs.


I see the opposite happening - electric winning and hydrogen losing. Airbus still wants to make hydrogen planes by.. 2035.


if something happened before the internet or since, but it's archived properly, did it really happen? :-P


Spoiler alert.

> Kelly wrote to Sale on New Year’s Day, instructing him to direct the $1,000 to Heifer International, a nonprofit that gives away breeding pairs of animals. Sale puzzled him by replying, “I didn’t lose the bet.” Kelly assumed he hadn’t seen Patrick’s decision, and he had the editor resend it.

> But Sale had read it—and rejected it.

> “I cannot accept that I lost,” he wrote to Patrick. “The clear trajectory of disasters shows that the world is much closer to my prediction. So clearly it cannot be said that Kevin won.”

> Like the raging denialist in the White House, the cantankerous anarchocommunalist has quit the game after the final score left him short. Sale says he is seeking some sort of appellate relief, if only by public opinion, when in fact the rules included no such reconsideration. Kelly is infuriated. “This was a gentleman’s bet, and he can only be classified as a cad,” he says.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this Sale fellow sounds like an asshole.


Gloom & doom is a mood more than a reasoned position.


It destroyed the average Joe's faith in the average Joe.

Now, people are more separated than ever, in their echo chambers, hating each other and firmly believing they are better and righter than the other.


As a counterpoint, I've seen lots of people become more accepting because of the way the internet connects people. If you lived in a rural place before, you likely had very little interaction with minority groups outside of how they were portrayed in media. Now it's possible to interact with all kinds of people and recognize them as people instead of stereotypes.

I don't deny that there are echo chambers and major communication breakdowns, but I think on the whole it's a positive development.


How does that work, like how does the connection get made and identity discovered? Generally I feel the echo chamber effect would be more common.


Well on more anonymous platforms like HN or Reddit it probably doesn't happen that much, but on youtube, instagram, twitter, etc usually identity is no secret.

This is just more of my opinion, but generally the people I know that get caught up in bad echo chambers would have done so without the internet. The Alex Jones fans are just a new iteration of Rush Limbaugh fans, albeit more extreme. I think it's possible for otherwise reasonable people to get caught up in something like that, but they can also get out with time and more life experience.


One consumes information online, that information causes introspection and a better perspective of one's identity.

Usually it's not one specific event but a bombardment of information that over time, hopefully gives someone more perspective and their place in the world.

On the other hand, it closes some people off and causes the echo chamber. Cuts both ways.


I don't know. I can see it going both ways, but I think that modern technology has reduced introspection for many people. In the news today, it's all about sound bites and hyperbolic headlines. I thing the intellectual attributes of news sources has declined. I thought I saw a study or thread on HN supporting the claim, but now I can't find it.


News is very polarizing by design. Just like with social media, news profits more off of driving polarization. So they frame everything to drive traffic and viewers.


Can you share some articles or studies that demonstrate the increasing openness? (I hope it’s true that it cuts both ways, but would like to see more data/research).


> Generally I feel the echo chamber effect would be more common

almost certainly is


This reads like a technocrat's hopeful vision of the Internet in the early 1990s. Sure, in theory it's true, but we all know in reality that that's not how the majority of humanity is using the Internet.


I can't get people I am close with to even consider engaging in conversations about firmly held beliefs they have if I even remotely present myself as possibly holding a different opinion.


Understand that this is the norm. And understand that when you present differing opinions without being asked, you’re acting selfishly — you’re not doing it because you care about them, you’re doing it for yourself.

Ultimately it depends what you want out of your personal relationships. I’ve found people who are willing to talk. But I haven’t found people who genuinely change their mind about deeply held beliefs without a lot of patient — emphasis on patient — conversations over a long period of time. And sometimes I’m the one who changes their mind.

So I don’t think you’re going to be satisfied if you feel you must be able to change your group’s minds about social issues. A group is its own form of entity. If you don’t identify with your group, find another one. They exist. But if you don’t identify with your associates, that’s a hard problem which won’t go away.

It helps to accept that you care about them more than what they believe, and leave it at that.


That's not what I am saying at all. I mean for the sake of conversation and discussion, asking to even explain a belief, for understanding. Sometimes even the question is seemed as a threat. I didn't say I want to change anyone's mind. Wanting to have a discussion about important topics with loved ones isn't an instant trip down selfishness lane. I see what you are saying, but you jumped the gun a little bit.


Based on what you've said, I get the same impression. If you want to connect with somebody, don't talk. Listen. Even if you "know" you're right.

As stubborn as you think those people are, they have a good case for arguing that you are just as stubborn if not more so.


Most people you'd disagree with generally have a point, if you get past the quick-release talking points. If one tries to have a genuine conversation, it might be surprising to many how much common ground can be found.


Do you hang out with people who just talk all day without a prompt? How do you listen if you don't first ask?


I think I get your question now. Honestly, there is an art to it, and you can't always just come out and ask. It exposes that you care more about the information than you do about the person. Maybe bring it up gently the next time it comes up in context. Or, when it's just the two of you, ask if you can bring up a potentially sensitive question with no judgement involved, just to learn.


I'm sorry, but I truly don't understand your point here. Do you mind explaining it for me?


It's not really anything new: Most people generally don't want to entertain ideas highly contrary to their own. Enshrined in the the old adage that you should never discuss religion or politics in some circumstances. Thanksgiving dinners have been getting ruined for decades by it. The rate of that happening has very likely increased though.


Wanting to have a discussion about important topics with loved ones isn't an instant trip down selfishness lane.

Are you sure?

I don’t know. It helped me to view it as “yes, this is selfish. They’re more important to me than the topic.”

The reason they’re talking is to feel good with themselves (as we all are). But asking someone to explain a tricky subject throws that off, doesn’t it?

Another way to phrase it: why care so much what they think? If they don’t explain themselves, then they probably don’t care whether you agree.

To reframe the question a bit, what do you feel you would get out of it if they explained their belief structure to you? (Explain your belief about this, ha.)


What is your definition of selfishness then?

Looking at the things you wrote:

> They’re more important to me than the topic.

Why does it mean one is selfish, when _a topic_ (not oneself) is more important to oneself than that other person?

> The reason they’re talking is to feel good with themselves (as we all are). But asking someone to explain a tricky subject throws that off, doesn’t it?

Perhaps. But the interpretation is still not immediately "selfishness" for me. You are not there to please them and make them feel good. But how does that immediately become "selfish"?

> To reframe the question a bit, what do you feel you would get out of it if they explained their belief structure to you? (Explain your belief about this, ha.)

Yes, that is a good introspective question, that one maybe should ask oneself.

However, if anything that could somehow be interpreted as "wanting something for oneself" is considered selfish, then we can shut down all our media right now and stop talking to everyone else. You can always claim "You did this or that conversation only to feel good about yourself! So Selfish!"

So I am asking: What is your definition of selfishness?


> Why does it mean one is selfish, when _a topic_ (not oneself) is more important to oneself than that other person?

You care about the topic, they don't want to talk about it for whatever reason. You are trying to get them to do something they don't like, because _you_ like it.


But that is an assumption right there. Perhaps it is simply an important topic in the context of the moment. It doesn't have to mean one personally likes the topic. There can be a necessity, that one has to discuss this topic.


This is a hypothetical, importance or non-importance is an assumption either way. I didn't realize importance was assumed here.


You are assuming a great deal.


Good job. And correct.


I'd suggest approaching the conversation from the POV that you yourself have not fully made up your mind about an issue and would like input.

By genuinely adopting this viewpoint, not only will you likely have a more productive discussion, but you may reconsider some of your own priors.


Same. I want to start a club of people like us. At a library with a coffee shop and bar included. Bunch of us philosophical peeps chillin and talking shit but nobody gets mad. I would love such a paradise.


Consider looking if there's a LessWrong meetup nearby? The wiki has a list.

edit: Probably better after Covid.


It's called 4chan.


I don't get how 4chan related to the conversation. My main desire is to find people that are truth seekers. Question what we know and investigate. I don't find that curiousity in most people. How that is related to 4chan is lost on me.


I think the poster means the anonymous, no upvote aspect. Seriously, I’ve been on quite a few different styles of message board and discussion quality is noticeably better when you can’t get any other queues about how “right” an post is except for its content. Depending on the subject, some of the not-pol/b boards can actually be quite nice.


I think he is thinking smaller. Maybe 10 people at most.


I'm reminded of the stereotypical personality alignment matrix common to role playing games, with lawful and chatic matched to good and evil. Each of to need to strive to sit in the middle, true neutral. In this position one can recognize echo chambers are all around us and one must hop from to the another to gain understanding and sympathy. This would be easy if we mandated the teaching of cognitive and logical fallacies. However, I fear that the powers that be (wealthy, political leaders, and attention grabbing algorithms) intentionally use these against us. Sophistry has long been a weapon of politicians against the plebs and each other. I am at loss on how all of us can transition to a more enlightened state, a state where we don't build walls between us, but recognise the selfishishness and primal fears that lead us against each other. We all suffer from cognitive limitations and fallacies and none of us really know what is the 'correct' opinion on anything. I think if we can agree we all share the same limited stupidity that's the right step go forward.


We have to make choices, often complicated ones, so just the concept of recognizing our limitations doesn't really help. Or rather it does not change the basic fact that we have to live artfully and figure things out with very little information to guide us even in the best of cases. True neutral is not far from evil in a highly contrasted world where work has to be done.


> Each of to need to strive to sit in the middle, true neutral.

Says the person with a true neutral alignment.


Where is this you're describing? The USA, or some part of the USA?

Doesn't sound anything like my bubble, my city or my country. (Not the USA)

I have heard that bleak description before, just never experienced it.


I don't think nukes did that. The news media did that.


I don't agree that this is the fault of tech at all. Facebook et al are still largely echo chambers, where we see what we have cultivated ourselves to see. Sure, recommendation algorithms show us external things once in a while, but by and large you can cultivate what you see on social media.

The real culprit I believe, has been the incredible hysteria of the legacy media as it joined the social media spaces, and started their race to the bottom for clickbait and outrage porn. Covering inane tweets, and blowing them up to pretend that crackpot points-of-view have more weight and are more common than they truly are. Gotcha gonzo-journalism, that prides "getting them" (whichever group that may be) over informing, and in the process dehumanising large swathes of people for clicks. How you "can't avoid politics, because everything is political". Ravelry, which is a crocheting website, went mad with us-vs-them discussions. Why?

The fault is mainly with legacy media, because they had the credibility and prestige of their history, plus the consistency of their output (daily, weekly, whatever), which they used to spoonfeed poison to large parts of society. How others are "unlike us", and that "they're evil", and oh by the way, "vote for our candidate" who is the some storybook hero we need.

The "two-minutes-of-hate" has come largely from legacy media, and they are responsible for the schisms present right now.


>I don't agree that this is the fault of tech at all.

>The real culprit I believe, has been the incredible hysteria of the legacy media as it joined the social media spaces, and started their race to the bottom for clickbait and outrage porn. Covering inane tweets, and blowing them up to pretend that crackpot points-of-view have more weight and are more common than they truly are. Gotcha gonzo-journalism, that prides "getting them" (whichever group that may be) over informing, and in the process dehumanising large swathes of people for clicks.

Everything you've outlined above is entirely the result of technology and the incentive structures that have been pursued in its "advancement".


Instead of blaming technology, why can't we blame capitalism? Capitalism obviously incentives both parties (big tech and the media) to compete for eyeballs and drive content to the bottom to make money. I don't think anybody is so nieve enough to believe that these companies have society's interests at heart. Their very existence is to make money.


Tech didn't force anyone or any org to act maliciously. Either one chooses to uphold their own values every day, or they sway with the wind regardless of consequence, but either way the choice was theirs. If it was so easy to convince the so-called fourth estate to drop truth-seeking and fair coverage for clickbait, then it wasn't a core value to them in the first place.


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