Some time ago, I wrote about what I regard as the lunacy of deliberately cheapening one’s own currency, and how I cannot fathom how increasing the (in real terms) price one pays for everything one buys (imports) and simultaneously reducing the amount one gets paid for everything one sells (exports) could conceivably be regarded as beneficial to one’s economy.

As further proof that I just don’t “get” economic policy, here is another bit of accepted wisdom that seems nuts to me. The following quote is from the most recent (and last) issue of the always entertaining and incisive newsletter “Things that make you go hmmm”, by Grant Williams, but you can find similar opinions expressed by many other economic commentators:

“[T]he fact that Japan’s population is now declining by roughly 20,000 people every month has seemingly crept up on the world and taken everybody by surprise. . . .

“The only answer to Japan’s demographic problem is mass immigration. Simple.”

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There has been a rash of commentary lately about the potential for strong AI — AGI, or artificial general intelligence as it’s often referred to — to turn around and bite the human species that created it. Paypal/Tesla/SpaceX founder Elon Musk and physicist Stephen Hawking have recently opined publicly and apocalyptically on what Musk described as “our greatest existential threat.” Hawking, in a BBC interview, said that “full AI” could “spell the end of the human race.” Naturally, there are equivalently authoritative opposing views; Ray Kurzweil, for example, sees the future of AI in much more optimistic terms, as expounded at length in several books.

Econtalk, a consistently excellent weekly podcast by the always insightful Prof. Russ Roberts, has aired two hour-long audio interviews on the subject in recent weeks, the first with philosophy professor Nick Bostrum of Oxford University (who is perhaps better known for his paper exploring the possibility that what we perceive as reality is actually a simulation), and the second with  Gary Marcus, a cognitive psychologist at NYU. Both are authors of recent books: Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Bostrum, and The Future of the Brain: Essays by the World’s Leading Neuroscientists, by Marcus.

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I rewrote the math game that I posted a week or so ago, in javascript. The javascript version runs in any reasonably up to date web browser, which has several advantages:

  1. It avoids the deployment hassles described in my previous post.
  2. An end user can run the game simply by going to a web page and clicking the ‘Start’ button — no local installation is required. This is important, I think. Many users are quite hesitant to install programs from sources that are not big companies like Microsoft or Apple. For Windows users the risk is more theoretical than real, in my opinion, assuming they have Microsoft Security Essentials installed and working, and assuming they aren’t installing programs from links on Estonian porn sites. But whatever one may think of the risk, it’s a fact that the harder you make it for a user to try a program, the less likely they are to do it.
  3. The updating problem goes away — all the developer has to do to fix a bug is fix the code on the server. The program gets reloaded every time the user reloads the page, so updating is automatic.
  4. It makes the program accessible to a much wider range of devices. The VB.NET version from my previous post can only run in a .NET environment, which, as a practical matter, means Windows. (Yes, I know, Mono, etc., I’m a big fan, but realistically, for most users, .NET means Windows.) Whereas javascript will run on any device that supports a browser — Windows, Apple, Linux, Android, tablets, phones, and whatever next year’s new must-have platform is.
  5. It’s better suited for apps that need to interact with a server.

There are also a few disadvantages: More »