Archive for September, 2008

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As part of their 10th birthday, it looks like Google are looking ahead to the changes that will benefit them and the rest of us in the next coming 10 years.

Two interesting things I spotted are:

  1. This page of blog posts from some of the Google higher-ups about how various things on the internet and in the world might change over the next 10 years.
  2. Project 10 to the 100th (= 1 googol) which is a $10 million prize fund for people with bright ideas – the winners being those whose ideas will improve the lives of the most people. Here’s the nice video Google have created to demonstrate it:

I have my worries about the power that Google have but so far (like Spiderman) they seem to have shown they understand that with it comes a responsibility to use it to help make the world better (and encourage others to do so). I hope Google will keep on Doing No Evil and, better yet, Doing Some Good.

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The TED conference is an annual gathering of some of the world’s top thinkers and doers. Fortunately for the rest of us, the website contains a wealth of videos from many of the presentations made at the conferences in the last few years by people such as Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Richard Branson and a whole load of less well known experts-in-their-fields. I’m yet to watch a boring video on the site so I recommend you take a look.

Here’s one I particularly liked as someone with a particular interest in unlocking the information in large data sets and presenting it usefully (you won’t be bored, I promise):

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…please don’t elect McCain/Palin.

References:

McCain suddenly supports financial market regulation after many years of opposition

They lie, then they lie about the lies and then they play the victim when challenged

McCain may believe in man-made climate change but considering how quickly he abandoned his previous values of straight talk and integrity, and that Palin and many of the party are more interested in their oil concerns than what those whiney climate scientists have to say, you have to wonder whether he’d be equally easily persuaded to continue with the current plan of ignoring the issue and hoping it goes away. Here’s what we can look forward to if they do.

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As the US government cave in and bail out AIG, those hoping the financial world would be fully re-introduced to the concept of moral hazard may be disappointed. Today, HBOS is next up on the chopping block as the market worries about their significant exposure to the failing housing market. The general consensus is that HBOS is too large for the government to allow it to fall but possibly too expensive for the government to save. It looks like LloydsTSB may be the government’s knight in shining armour, riding in to rescue HBOS-in-distress and returning the “Big Five” banks to four (or a “Big Three” and “Giant One”).

It seems as though the governments have had no choice but to bail out these failing banks (or offer favourable conditions to other banks coming to the resuce). The livelihoods of too many voters were tied up in the big financial messes that they had made for themselves. In fact, some traders have been taking advantage of the guarantees that HBOS wouldn’t go under to make money as the share price fell.

It looks to me like the City have been pretty succesfully pocketed all the profits from the risks they’ve been taking over the last few years but now it’s all starting to tumble and their gambles aren’t paying out, they want the government (and so the taxpayer) to pay out instead.

It’s like they’ve persuaded the owner of the casino to pay out when they win but foot the bill when they lose.

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According to Wikipedia, a cognitive bias is a pattern of deviation in judgement that occurs in particular situations. In other words, sometimes people make wrong or irrational decisions based on selective use of information or misinterpretation of a situation. Well known examples include hindsight and bandwagons.

Our brains sometimes can’t be trusted to make the right decisions based on the available information. In fact, we don’t even make decisions based on an absolute (or “discrete” to use the maths term) concept of right or wrong but a fuzzy scale (see fuzzy logic) of more or less right or wrong. As we assimilate more information, our disposition to choose one or other of two option shifts on a scale and sometimes irrationally.

There are some decision making processes where this analogue approach is beneficial, hence the invention of artificial neural networks in computer science to try to model this behaviour using computers which are fundamentally digital.

This is pretty interesting and bears some thinking about. Why, in certain circumstances, are people predisposed to act in a way that doesn’t make logical sense?

For some interesting further reading, here’s a handy list of cognitive biases from Wikipedia.

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The Corporation is a documentary about the rise of corporations (specifically LLCs – Limited Liability Companies) since the industrial revolution, their gradual encroachment on and commodotisation of what was once public property and their disregard for the environment and human welfare in the pursuit of profit.

Watch the trailer:

Much of the film is made up of talking head soundbytes from various professors, economists and CEOs. The most interesting of them, I thought, was the CEO of America’s largest carpet manufacurer who’s pragmatic but passionate approach to making his company more sustainable was quite inspiring.

The most worrying interviewee was, interestingly, not the commodities trader who during the events of this day 7 years ago was more interested in how it would affect the price of gold rather than the people dying streets away, but the lady from the marketing company who seems to realise that manipulating children to buy products (or nag their parents to buy them) is probably not ethical but is happy to do it anyway.

The gimmick used to tie the film (at least the first half) together is to establish the characteristics and behaviours of a corporation and then ask what kind of person would behave in that way? The answer they come to is that if a corporation was a person, it would be a psychopath. It gives them a nice tagline for the film but I think they were a bit one-sided in their psychoanalysis! In fact, the whole film was a bit one-sided. There were a few token pro-capitalists in there but most of what they said was quickly undermined by the next interviewee. I suppose, like many of the recent docu-films, they have to be a bit one-sided and extreme because they represent views that are counter-cultural and under-represented in our daily lives.

Anyway, on the whole I found it an interesting film and it was pretty packed with thought-provoking interviews and information – I feel like I should watch it again to absorb the stuff that didn’t sink in first time round – but I think to scrap corporations altogether (as at times it seems to advocate) is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I’ll certainly be digging into the extra features to hear more from the carpet man but I won’t be signing up for any anti-globalisation rallies just yet!

The filmmakers have put the whole film up on youtube (split into its 23 chapters) so you don’t even have to pay a corporation to see it (unless you are inadvertantly advertised to whilst on youtube). However, if you do buy the 2 disc DVD you’ll get 8 hours of extra features to trawl through too.

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