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The Fool’s Gold of Hosting an Olympics

Every so often a news organization will throw up a story with some pictures of the abandoned decay overrunning Olympic venues of the past. Here is but one example from CBS News. What is different and striking about the headline-linked piece is the double whammy gut-punch when one looks at the Olympic facilities from Rio in Brazil:

  1. Recency — this isn’t a look at places like Sarajevo, which hosted the Winter Olympics 35 years ago … and suffered a civil war a decade later. The Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was less than three years ago.
  2. Debt — it’s bad enough when cities spend the money to fund ever more elaborate venue construction projects, only to have the facilities become useless shells after the games are gone. In Rio’s case, they incurred a large amount of debt to finance these now wasted projects that has now tripled in size in the last two years (from $32M to $113M). That and organizing committee is facing hundreds of lawsuits over its failure to pay the wages of the workers who did the work and the invoices of the suppliers who provided the materials

And yet, every cycle the lunacy of corruption begins anew.

2Lyft’s Big Lift: Ending Car Ownership

An interesting 3:12 worth of video from an interview between CNN’s Poppy Harlow and Lyft co-founder and President, John Zimmer. Lyft (and presumably it’s cross-town app-based rival, Uber) want to so radically transform the transportation sector that private car ownership doesn’t just become the more expensive option — it becomes the unnecessary one.

Though neither Harlow nor Zimmer discuss it in the video clip, the idea of providing a service that removes the burdens of responsibility that come with car ownership — cost, upkeep, parking, etc — unwittingly triggers another interconnected issue: the freedom of car ownership. Freedom and Responsibility are always two sides of a single metaphorical coin. You can’t diminish one without losing the other. Yes, there are costs and hassles that owning a vehicle imposes that would be nice to be out from under in a near-future world where an Uber or Lyft car is cheap and easy everywhere. (Don’t worry about how the companies will balance a cheap service with living wages for their drivers. Self-driving cars are the answer for both companies.)

The tradeoff? Every trip to everywhere becomes a recreation of junior high and early high school, when getting anywhere required someone else to drive you.

3People-Centered City Design

One of the first things Lyft’s Zimmer says in that clip with Harlowe is that our cities “have been designed for cars. … In reality, they should be designed for people.”

This essay is an interesting look at what that means. I was particularly surprised to by the section on how much space is devoted just to parking spaces.

4The AI Race Is About More Than Just Algorithms

The development of Artificial Intelligence and all its various incarnations (deep learning, machine learning, neural networks, etc) to potentials beyond what we currently see around us is going to require new types of computer chip hardware, which is why software companies like Google and Facebook are developing their own, in-house chips. Beyond that, in the words of Facebook’s Chief AI Scientise, Yann LeCun, AI development “might require us to reinvent the way we do arithmetic in circuits.”

And you thought Facebook was just about memes, fake news, and misuse of customer data.


5Will “AI Artist” Ever Be a Thing?

“No,” says Sean Dorrance Kelly, a philosophy professor at Harvard. In this, he joins the chorus of those like George Gilder, who argues the same point in his book, Life After Google, based on the logical proofs of a 24-year-old mathematician named Kurt Godel from 1930.

Says Kelly about whether a machine or algorithm can ever surpassed humans when it comes to creativity:

To say otherwise is to misunderstand both what human beings are and what our creativity amounts to.

This claim is not absolute: it depends on the norms that we allow to govern our culture and our expectations of technology. Human beings have, in the past, attributed great power and genius even to lifeless totems. It is entirely possible that we will come to treat artificially intelligent machines as so vastly superior to us that we will naturally attribute creativity to them. Should that happen, it will not be because machines have outstripped us. It will be because we will have denigrated ourselves.