What an absolutely insane week. I'm five days overdue on posting links and skipped tuneage this week completely; Friday was a lost day thanks to an incredible hangover (initiated by the 268th Annual Dinner of the St. Andrew's Society), and I've been playing catch-up ever since.
Here’s what I was reading last week, and it kicks off with an article that sat with me and caused me to think for more than a day after reading it:
Will AI bring utopia or destruction?
Nick Bostrom is a researcher at Oxford who is committed to researching the impact of developing artificial intelligence on humanity. The entire, long piece on him in the New Yorker is totally worth reading, but the core thought that has stuck with me since reading it comes along toward the end: “In Bostrom’s view, the most distressing possibility is that the Great Filter is ahead of us—that evolution frequently achieves civilizations like our own, but they perish before reaching their technological maturity. Why might that be? “Natural disasters such as asteroid hits and super-volcanic eruptions are unlikely Great Filter candidates, because, even if they destroyed a significant number of civilizations, we would expect some civilizations to get lucky and escape disaster,” he argues. “Perhaps the most likely type of existential risks that could constitute a Great Filter are those that arise from technological discovery. It is not far-fetched to suppose that there might be some possible technology which is such that (a) virtually all sufficiently advanced civilizations eventually discover it and (b) its discovery leads almost universally to existential disaster.”
The kind of President we need
Dr. Robert Gates is at it again, with a spot-on editorial in last week’s Washington Post. Gates always struck me as the last gasp of the old guard in the last two administrations: a guy who cares less about ideology and more about effectiveness. A true Patriot who wants to do what’s right for all of America. That attitude (which I wholly support) is on display here in his writing about the attributes that our next President must exude.
And the kind we don’t.
I’m glad to see the backlash finally beginning this week over Trump’s anit-Muslim comments. Of course, the only thing more terrifying is that another poll comes out and he’s at or above his old numbers. It’s absolutely insane to me that anyone would find it permissible for a candidate to condemn an entire religious or ethnic group. That exclusion, as Paul Ryan aptly stated, is the opposite of conservatism. And it’s anti-American. Trump is reaching LaRouche levels of insanity. Fingers crossed this is finally it.
Paying $70,000 a year isn’t that easy
Dan Price announced last year that his firm was paying every employee $70,000 a year, minimum. At the time, many predicted all sorts of issues ranging from HR to performance. Those things have manifested, but it turns out the plan overall was even more cynical than many considered. Gravity is not some new paradigm of the egalitarian workplace — it’s another example of the firm putting itself first, but packaging it in a creative way.
Activist investing ought to be reined in
Hillary Clinton proposed an initiative in her campaign that would encourage investors to take long positions in firms. While I don't think her approach (a tax incentive) was the most compelling, I am totally aligned with her objective. Large shareholders who dedicate themselves to extracting short-term value out of businesses create a barrier to building enterprise. It's the flip side of the coin I wrote about recently (firms taking early exits). McDonald's is a salient example: same store sales, market share, and just about every other growth metric are down — yet the company is borrowing money to pay out more to investors, instead of completing acquisitions or investing in development. It's good for the shareholders today, but ultimately bad for the company and the economy.