Davos Newbies Home

In praise of generality 

Princeton computer scientist Ed Felten makes a vital point about the role of the general purpose computer. Legislators take note: “If you’re designing a computer, you have two choices. Either you make a general-purpose computer that can do everything that every other computer can do; or you make a special-purpose device that can do only an infinitesimally small fraction of all the interesting computations one might want to do. There’s no in-between.”

Forget MacArthur 

I haven’t seen anyone questioning the analogy between a Tommy Franks-administered Iraq and a MacArthur-administered Japan. But Ian Buruma makes it clear how false any comparison would be.

“Despite all this terrible damage [suffered in the war], the software, so to speak, of Japan was intact. It was, in every respect, a modern nation-state, with a functioning bureaucracy that continued to administer the country under allied occupation. ”

Lomborg twofer 

In a nice instance of synchronicity, I sold my now-unwanted copy of Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist through Amazon on the same day that The Royal Society made clear how wrong Lomborg (and others) are on biodiversity.

“We don’t know, possibly to a factor of ten, how many species there are on Earth,” says professor John Lawton of the Natural Environment Research Council. “But if the better-known ones are reasonably typical, we’re looking at an extinction rate a thousand times faster than in the fossil record — and it’s accelerating.”

Pointedly, Lawton also says, “We are consuming about half of all the available resources on Earth, and the rate is growing exponentially — it’s doubling every 30 to 50 years. It beggars belief that politicians don’t realise this, though it’s easy enough for them to identify al-Qaeda as a threat.”

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