Review of Alain de Botton, The School of Life: An Emotional Education
Sydney Morning Herald, 23 November 2019
In 1901, 98 percent of Australians told Census-takers that they adhered to a religion. For the vast majority, religion was where we got our notions of what it was to live a ‘good life’. Today, nearly one-third of Australians reports having no religion: seeking wisdom not from the pulpit, but from secular sages.
If there was a high priest of the unbelievers, it would be Swiss-born philosopher Alain de Botton.
Since writing Essays in Love at the age of 23, he has published a dozen books including How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Art of Travel, The Architecture of Happiness, Religion for Atheists, How to Think More About Sex and The News: A User's Manual.Read more
CANADA SHOULD TAKE AN INSURANCE APPROACH TO FUTURE DISRUPTION
Policy Options, 15 November 2019
To help Canadians face the technological disruptions of the future, policy-makers should strengthen our education and economic safety nets.
Poker star Jimmy Chou, who has won more than $1 million playing the game, has a new teacher. Pluribus, a new artificial intelligence program, recently defeated Chou, along with a handful of the world’s best poker players, in six-player no-limit Texas hold’em. The strategy was computed in eight days, at a cost of $144 in cloud server power. As Chou graciously noted, “Whenever playing the bot, I feel like I pick up something new to incorporate into my game.” Playing against humans, Pluribus can win around $1,000 an hour, suggesting that online poker tournaments may soon become a thing of the past.
Six-player Texas hold’em now joins a long list of activities at which computers are superior to humans, including checkers (1995), chess (1997), Jeopardy! (2011), facial recognition (2014) and transcribing a telephone call (2016). It’s been two years since Google’s AlphaGo beat the world champion, Ke Jie, in the game of Go. The performance gap between AlphaGo and Ke is now about as large as the gap between Ke and a keen amateur. If Pluribus and AlphaGo were self-aware, they might look at our prowess in their games the way that we regard the intellectual powers of our pets.Read more
A MORE EQUAL SOCIETY DEMANDS NEW IDEAS
APPS Policy Forum, 18 November 2019
Australia is not doing enough to encourage innovation, but investment in education and support for those institutions that do innovate can create a fairer and more prosperous society, Joshua Gans and Andrew Leigh write.
Australia has an innovation problem. Just eight per cent of Australian firms say they produce innovations that are new to the world – down from 11 per cent in 2013. Innovation collaboration is especially woeful.
Across a sample of around 30 OECD nations, Australia ranked fourth-last for the share of large businesses collaborating on innovation, sixth-last in businesses collaborating with suppliers, and second-last in collaboration between businesses and universities.Read more
LIKE IT OR NOT SCOMO, PROTEST MADE AUSTRALIA WHAT IT IS TODAY
Ten Daily, 14 November 2019
In 1960, my father and other Melbourne University students arranged an unauthorised street protest. The police told them they couldn’t march outside the campus. They refused, and walked onto the streets anyway.
Michael Leigh and his friends were protesting the White Australia policy, which was used to restrict non-Europeans from moving to Australia. The spark for the protest had been the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa, where 69 civilians, including 10 children, had been killed. The Labor opposition called on the Menzies Government to pass a censure motion against the South African government. Robert Menzies, who had praised the White Australia policy for helping Australia avoid "the kind of problem they have in South Africa", refused to censor the Apartheid regime.Read more
EQUITY CAN BE THE MOTHER OF INVENTION
Sydney Morning Herald, 13 November 2019
Returning from maternity leave to the traditional world of law, Carly Stebbing quickly discovered that the profession was not set up to embrace people who wanted to work three days a week. So she co-founded Resolution123, an online employment law advice site. Not only was entrepreneurship more flexible than an office law job – it also led to a startup that matches expert support for people facing unfair dismissal, workplace bullying or underpayment.
In theory, anyone can found a startup. In practice, startup founders aren't typically like Stebbing. They are most likely to be young men from affluent backgrounds. This isn’t just inequitable – it’s also inefficient. Society ends up missing out on the productive talents of potential Marie Curies and Albert Einsteins, just because they grow up in disadvantaged circumstances.Read more
THE VALUE OF FREEING IDEAS, NOT JUST LOCKING THEM UP
The Economist, 8 November 2019
Back in the 1960s, Bob Kearns was an engineer working and lecturing in Detroit. Due to an unfortunate wedding night accident involving a champagne cork, he was legally blind in his left eye. When driving in a Michigan rainstorm, Kearns lamented the inability of his wipers to help him see better. In those days, windshield wipers had two settings—fast and slow—and they were always moving. Kearns’s notion was that it should be possible to have a slower setting, in which the wipers paused briefly between each wipe.
Motivated by his own experience, as well as a long-standing desire to work for a big car company like Ford, Kearns spent years working out a way to make wipers pause. His solution relied on electronics—an unusual and innovative thing in those days. He fitted the mechanism to his own Ford Galaxie with most of the contraption inside a black box and drove it down to Ford to show its engineers. They pored over the car and were impressed. Kearns was then given the details of tests he would need to perform to become a Ford supplier. Those took months of work that Kearns completed in his basement. Ford, however, passed on him being a supplier, though the firm did employ Kearns for a brief period. In the meantime, Kearns filed for a patent on his invention.Read more
THE SCIENCE OF SESAME STREET
New York Daily News, 8 November 2019
Oscar the Grouch gives children permission to feel sad. Big Bird questions everything. Mr. Snuffleupagus is the imaginary friend. Count von Count loves mathematics. Grover embodies self-confidence. Ernie delights in practical jokes. Bert has an utterly different personality to Ernie, but is his best friend nonetheless. Zoe proves that girls can be both dainty and strong. Kermit the Frog is always a gentleman.
Nov. 10 marks the 50th anniversary of the moment when “Sesame Street” first aired on television. But it’s not just a day for nostalgia; it’s also a time when we should recall what a remarkable venture the show is, and the extent to which it is grounded in careful science and hard data.
My new book with Joshua Gans is titled Innovation + Equality: How to Create a Future That Is More Star Trek Than Terminator. Published by MIT Press, with a foreword by Larry Summers, we make the case that pursuing innovation does not mean giving up on equality – precisely the opposite. In this book, we outline ways that society can become both more entrepreneurial and more egalitarian.
I'd love it if you could join the conversation at one of our three scheduled book launches. Click the links for details and to RSVP:
All launches will kick off at 6pm. Innovation + Equality is available on Amazon now. If you have a moment, please post a review - it really helps others find the book.
FRYDENBERG IS PLAYING A JAUNTY TUNE ON PICASSO'S VIOLIN
The Canberra Times, 30 October 2019
‘I found a Picasso and a Stradivarius in my attic’, goes the joke. ‘Alas, Stradivarius couldn’t paint, and Picasso made terrible violins’.
The Morrison Government has a similar problem. When it comes to economic growth, what matters to households are their living standards: how incomes are growing on a per-person basis. When it comes to carbon emissions, the big question is how Australia is impacting the planet. So it’s total emissions that count.
But that’s not what the Coalition has been spruiking. When discussing the economy, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg points to ‘28 years of uninterrupted economic growth’ as proof of the economy’s resilience. What he won’t admit is that on a per-person basis, Australia’s gross domestic product (the sum of the economy’s output) shrank over the past year. The nation has been through a ‘per-capita recession’.Read more
RUNNING OUT OF EXCUSES FOR HIGH INEQUALITY
The Hill, 28 October 2019
American views on inequality have profoundly shifted. In 1995, 30 percent believed that poverty is due to circumstances beyond individual control. Today, fully 55 percent of Americans take that view. Two decades ago, most Americans didn’t see a role for government in addressing inequality. Now, most do.
The traditional economic argument against addressing inequality is that it blunts the incentives for the wealthy to invest. But while cutting top tax rates might give the most affluent a larger share, the consequence can be that governments need to cut productivity-enhancing measures like infrastructure and education spending. As a result, growth slows. The wealthy end up with a bigger share of a smaller pie. They have more in relative terms, but less in absolute terms.Read more