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Geopolitical Danger: The New Cold War

By   Shlomo Maital

   Remember the good old Cold War? The nuclear standoff between the US and Soviet Union?   In the 1950’s American schoolchildren did regular drills for the possibility of nuclear war. It was not fun. Then in 1989-91 the USSR collapsed, and the US dominated for two decades.

   Well, the Cold War is back. And the new version is a whole lot worse than the old one. Don’t believe me – believe Thomas Friedman, veteran New York Times columnist, citing a new book by Michael Mandelbaum. *

     Here are three key geopolitical trends Friedman describes. Together they are scary.

     First, in this new Cold War, three powers have been in resurgence: Russia, Iran, and China. China claims the Western Pacific and spreads its reach throughout the world, with its Belt and Road project. Iran spreads its tentacles through the Mideast, in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Russia engages in mischief throughout the world, including within the US, supporting bloody dictators like Maduro and Assad. Meanwhile the US retreats, spending more and more on defense while doing less and less to keep world peace.

     Second, more and more weak states are failing. Countries are collapsing, owing to corrupt dictators – Libya, Guatemala, Venezuela, El Savador, and elsewhere. This creates a flood of migrants which has destabilized European union and threatens the US.   Reassembing those weak states is almost impossible – their dictators bribe the military and keep control against popular uprisings.

     Third, there are super-empowered small groups. These are hidden secret groups that make huge mischief, hacking elections, stealing, destabilizing, some government-sponsored, using cell phones and simple cyber tools.   “Some guy in Moldova with a cell phone and some cyber tools can shut off power in Montana”, Friedman explains. This threat has been vastly underestimated by the US and Europe. Even without mischief, social media have destabilized politics, blurring the line between truth and lies and giving everybody the power to say whatever they wish and be believed.

     For some 30 years, after 1989, there was more or less a new world order, in which the US kept things under control, with some huge mistakes (Iraq, Afghanistan). This is now ending. It is not clear what kind of new world order will emerge from this mess, nor the price we will pay in the process and how long it will take.

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* Michael Mandelbaum.   The Rise and Fall of Peace on Earth. Feb. 2019.

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2007: Did We Miss It?

By Shlomo Maital

 friedman

 

   New York Times columnist Tom Friedman thinks something interesting and important happened, in 2007 – while we weren’t looking. Why weren’t we looking? Because we were preoccupied with the global economic and financial crisis.   And we missed a “strategic inflection point” (a key turning point in history).

   This is the subject of his forthcoming book, in the works for the past 3 years.

     What did we miss in 2007?   The first iPhone that began the smartphone revolution; Facebook opened itself to anyone; Twitter took off in 2007; Hadoop helped enable Big Data and cloud computing. Kindle began the e-book revolution. Google introduced Android. IBM started Watson – the cognitive computer that is great at medical diagnoses. Genome sequencing? Once it cost $100 m. to decipher a genome; that cost fall drastically, starting in 2007.   Solar panel costs decline sharply in 2007; Airbnb was conceived in 2007; Intel introduced non-silicon materials in its microprocessors; and the Internet cross the 1 billion user mark.

   “Connectivity and computing got so fast, cheap, ubiquitous…that they changed three forms of power:  

* the power of one – what one individual or small group can do to make or break things is phenomenal. (See Trump’s tweets to 28 million followers).

* the power of machines – machines are starting to become truly creative, [making things] that are indistinguishable from the work of humans.

* the power of ideas – ideas now flow digitally through social networks all over the world, faster and farther.   New ideas suddenly take root and long-held ideas can suddenly melt away. “

     These three changes are like a hurricane in which we’re all being asked to dance. You can dance in a hurricane, Friedman notes – but only if you’re in the eye.   Trump and Brexiters want to build a wall against the change. Won’t work. “I think the challenge is to find the ‘eye’ “, Friedman argues.

     How will you adapt to these three key changes? And, can you find the ‘eye’ and the ‘I’?

  

  

Chaos Is the New World Order

By Shlomo Maital

     Chaos

  Thomas Friedman’s latest New York Times column helps us understand what is going on in the world.  In a word:  Chaos.  Chaos is the new world order.  Here is what he means.

   Quoting a high-tech executive, Tom Goodwin,  Friedman notes:  Uber is the world’s biggest taxi company but has no taxis. Facebook is the world’s most popular media owner but has no content. Alibaba is the world’s most valuable retailer but has no inventory.  Airbnb is the world’s biggest accommodation provider but has no real estate.

    So what is going on?  More and more businesses are simply doing global matchmaking (someone needs something, someone else has it), without owning assets.  More and more businesses are digitally creating markets where none existed before.  (You have a seat in your car?  Why not use it to make some spare cash?)

    This trend is highly disruptive, because it disorganizes and reinvents whole industries, in no time.  The existing players (taxi drivers, hotels) have little time to adapt. 

     It’s pretty clear, out of this chaos will emerge some order, and the chaos is actually creating value.  But the implications are huge.   A whole range of job skills will disappear.  New patterns of markets and ownership will emerge. 

     For now, chaos is the new world order.   How are YOU adjusting and adapting?  Do you have a job skill that will be needed in a year or two, or do you need to reinvent yourself and your skills?  If so, how will  you do it? 

    These are interesting times indeed.

The Second Machine Age: What It Means for You and Me and Our Kids

By Shlomo   Maital   

    smart machine

  Tom Friedman’s Global New York Times column, Jan. 13, is titled “If I Had a Hammer”.  It’s not about the folk singers Peter, Paul & Mary.  It’s about the Second Machine Age, and about the chess grandmaster Donner who was asked how to prepare for a chess match against a machine, like IBM’s Deep Blue computer. “I would bring a hammer,” he said. 

   Friedman reviews a new book by MIT Professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee,  The Second Machine Age.  According to them,  in the First Machine Age, 1700-1950,  each new invention made human control and human labor more important.  In the Second Machine Age, we are automating cognitive tasks.   Result:  humans, and software-driven machines, may be substitutes (i.e. enemies), not complements.  Machines are becoming exponentially smarter.  “Our generation will have more power to improve (or destroy) the world than any before, relying on fewer people and more technology”, Friedman concludes.

    What does this mean?  For one,  “we need to reinvent education so more people can ‘race with machines’, not race against them”. 

    This implies, I believe, that we must totally rethink how we teach kids.  The only advantage humans have over smart machines is in their imaginations. So teaching and fostering creativity will be a crucial component of how we educate our children in future.  It’s the only competitive advantage we have over machines.  The only think smart machines lack, and will always lack, is the human brain’s ability to imagine things that do not exist.   No machine yet has a ‘visual cortex’.    

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
June 2019
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