a new one


a readymade: east coast 2017

after the wine, a long walk
through crooked streets and straight
under drips of air conditioners high up,
and a subway grating’s fetid breath on my legs 
decaying villages at midnight, greenwich and not
fused into a fungal growth of cobbles and asphalt
black trashbags slick with urine, and the homeless
cats slumping around, pouncing on scuttling things
a waiter squinting through the burn of his cigarette
his unembroidered favela dense with grandiosity
the squalor of history patinating its present
design and darwin choking each other
new york to a californian.


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old poetry

In clean­ing up, I came across some poems I wrote at the end of the the 90s, in Prince­ton.

10 Haiku and 4 Poems — 1998–2000

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rape culture

This recent Rolling Stone arti­cle about rape at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia is pret­ty upset­ting.

It’s just the lat­est in a string of hor­ror sto­ries over the past year about rape cul­ture, lack of empa­thy and denial, both gen­er­al­ly and on Amer­i­can cam­pus­es in par­tic­u­lar.  It seems hard to sep­a­rate the bru­tal­i­ty in the frat house, stu­dents’ misog­y­nis­tic ideas about social hier­ar­chy, neg­li­gence and mis­han­dling of com­plaints by cam­pus secu­ri­ty, and a sweep­ing-under-the-rug atti­tude by PR-mind­ed admin­is­tra­tors.  This is a per­va­sive val­ues prob­lem. As the arti­cle notes,

UVA’s empha­sis on hon­or is so pro­nounced that since 1998, 183 peo­ple have been expelled for hon­or-code vio­la­tions such as cheat­ing on exams. And yet para­dox­i­cal­ly, not a sin­gle stu­dent at UVA has ever been expelled for sex­u­al assault.

My first response was to try to pin the hor­ror safe­ly on the South.  The data, how­ev­er, don’t coop­er­ate.

A search for “rape at Princeton”—my alma mater, safe­ly up north and recent­ly ranked #1 in under­grad­u­ate edu­ca­tion for the nth time by US News and World Report—turns up an offi­cial fig­ure of 5 rapes on cam­pus last year.  Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad; it’s low­er than the CDC’s esti­mate of rape inci­dence in the US over­all (about 1/1000 of the pop­u­la­tion per year).  But how real is this fig­ure?  It seems that the same Title IX inves­ti­ga­tion now dig­ging into mis­han­dling of sex­u­al vio­lence com­plaints at UVA is also tar­get­ing Prince­ton, along with more than 50 oth­er Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties.  I’ve put the com­plete list at the bot­tom of this post, for the inter­est­ed.

I don’t know for sure why Prince­ton is on this list, but a piece in Jezebel from ear­li­er this year might sup­ply a clue.  It describes a rape sur­vey report con­duct­ed in 2008, which the Uni­ver­si­ty tried to bury, con­clud­ing that

One in six female Prince­ton under­grad­u­ates said they expe­ri­enced “non-con­sen­su­al vagi­nal pen­e­tra­tion” dur­ing their time at the Uni­ver­si­ty.

Sounds like rape to me—if nar­row­ly defined.  Assum­ing four years at col­lege and a stu­dent body of 5000 with the gen­ders even­ly split, that would amount to over 100 rapes per year.  Could this num­ber have gone down by a fac­tor of 20 between 2008 and 2014?  Real­ly?

Despite decades of lip ser­vice, it seems at first glance like noth­ing much has hap­pened for women’s rights since I went to col­lege in the 90s.  But in the next decade, gen­der and sex­u­al pol­i­tics may really—finally—start to change.  Let’s be opti­mists.  Per­haps the parade of absur­dist hor­ror we’ve seen in the past year (more cam­pus rapes, the Bill Cos­by scan­dal, gamer­gate, Mattel’s Com­put­er Engi­neer Bar­bie book, etc., etc.) her­alds a shift in the wind, a col­lec­tive sense that we’ve final­ly under­stood as a soci­ety that some­thing is very wrong, has been for a long time, and that we’ve had enough.  As The Guardian points out,

[...] it’s no coin­ci­dence that anti-fem­i­nist back­lash hap­pens most often when women’s rights are on an upswing.

Maybe we’re final­ly get­ting it.

The Title IX inves­ti­ga­tion list:

AZ Ari­zona State Uni­ver­si­ty
CA Butte-Glen Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege Dis­trict
CA Occi­den­tal Col­lege
CA Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia-Berke­ley
CA Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia
CO Reg­is Uni­ver­si­ty
CO Uni­ver­si­ty of Col­orado at Boul­der
CO Uni­ver­si­ty of Col­orado at Den­ver
CO Uni­ver­si­ty of Den­ver
CT Uni­ver­si­ty of Con­necti­cut
DC Catholic Uni­ver­si­ty of Amer­i­ca
FL Flori­da State Uni­ver­si­ty
GA Emory Uni­ver­si­ty
HI Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaii at Manoa
ID Uni­ver­si­ty of Ida­ho
IL Knox Col­lege
IL Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go
IN Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty-Bloom­ing­ton
IN Vin­cennes Uni­ver­si­ty
MA Amherst Col­lege
MA Boston Uni­ver­si­ty
MA Emer­son Col­lege
MA Har­vard Col­lege
MA Har­vard University—Law School
MA Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts-Amherst
MD Frost­burg State Uni­ver­si­ty
MI Michi­gan State Uni­ver­si­ty
MI Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan-Ann Arbor
NC Guil­ford Col­lege
NC Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na at Chapel Hill
ND Minot State Uni­ver­si­ty
NH Dart­mouth Col­lege
NJ Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty
NY Cuny Hunter Col­lege
NY Hobart and William Smith Col­leges
NY Sarah Lawrence Col­lege
NY Suny at Bing­ham­ton
OH Deni­son Uni­ver­si­ty
OH Ohio State Uni­ver­si­ty
OH Wit­ten­berg Uni­ver­si­ty
OK Okla­homa State Uni­ver­si­ty
PA Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­si­ty
PA Franklin and Mar­shall Col­lege
PA Penn­syl­va­nia State Uni­ver­si­ty
PA Swarth­more Col­lege
PA Tem­ple Uni­ver­si­ty
TN Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty
TX South­ern Methodist Uni­ver­si­ty
TX The Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas-Pan Amer­i­can
VA Col­lege of William and Mary
VA Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia
WA Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­si­ty
WI Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-White­wa­ter
WV Bethany Col­lege
WV West Vir­ginia School of Osteo­path­ic Med­i­cine
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maria and dave

Maria-Dave-Blaise - by Petra

It’s been a fun week.  On Wednes­day night, our good friend Maria Sem­ple orga­nized an 826 ben­e­fit at Town Hall with Dave Eggers, and invit­ed me onstage to do the read­ing with them and answer ques­tions.  Maria read from Bernadette’s let­ter to her men­tor (both fun­ny and quite beau­ti­ful), and the three of us did an omi­nous tri­a­logue from The Cir­cle– me as bad guy, obvi­ous­ly–

The Circle - our passage

Dave and Maria have entire­ly dif­fer­ent approach­es to writ­ing, and were a vivid con­trast. Notes vs. no notes, com­posed in scenes vs. start to end, per­son­al vs. jour­nal­is­tic (with the excep­tion of A Heart­break­ing Work of Stag­ger­ing Genius), par­al­lel vs. ser­i­al pro­duc­tion. There was a healthy dose of mutu­al respect, and a cer­tain amount of rib­bing (I now know an alter­nate def­i­n­i­tion of “under­writ­ten”, an adjec­tive applied, retract­ed, and then on provo­ca­tion re-applied by Maria in a very Bernadet­teish moment).

Under­writ­ten or not, Dav­e’s spon­ta­neous McSweeney’s-style sketch­es are impres­sive:

Eggers - HeartbreakingEggers - What is the whatEggers - Zeitoun

Feel­ing pret­ty hap­py about our life and friends in Seat­tle.

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christopher frizzelle interview

Hey, I made it onto Slog last week!  Excit­ing, since this is pret­ty much my main source of news.  I think life would­n’t be so bad if The Stranger real­ly were the Eng­lish-speak­ing world’s only news­pa­per.


Christo­pher Frizzelle did this short inter­view with me in advance of my “spe­cial appear­ance”.  I’m copy­ing some of it here in case, you know, the author­i­ties raid The Stranger’s offices, find the drugs, and shut down their Inter­net oper­a­tions–

In Dave Egger­s’s nov­el The Cir­cle, images uploaded by reg­u­lar peo­ple through social media become ter­ri­fy­ing sur­veil­lance tools—creating a total loss of pri­va­cy world­wide. Is it pos­si­ble that innocu­ous, per­son­al images like that—me and my mom at the beach, say—can be mined for data to such ter­ri­fy­ing ends?

The Cir­cle envi­sions a lot of sce­nar­ios far beyond pho­to shar­ing. The sin­is­ter “clos­ing of the cir­cle” involves a total destruc­tion of pri­va­cy by means includ­ing manda­to­ry sign-up of the whole pop­u­la­tion using real names, embed­ding of track­ing chips in the human body, rad­i­cal pub­lic self-quan­tifi­ca­tion, and ubiq­ui­tous real­time cam­eras stream­ing high-def­i­n­i­tion video from every­where on Earth. So no, a few pho­tos of you and your mom on the beach post­ed to a social media site are prob­a­bly about as innocu­ous as they sound.

Of course, giv­en that the web empow­ers us all to be pub­lish­ers with glob­al reach, we have new social respon­si­bil­i­ties. Abus­es of these respon­si­bil­i­ties have cre­at­ed the poten­tial for harm to one­self or to oth­ers. I’m think­ing of revenge porn and online bul­ly­ing.

Social media aside, I per­son­al­ly think pri­va­cy in the online era is a very real concern—especially giv­en the many ben­e­fits of using the Inter­net and the cloud to store and trans­mit per­son­al data. Pret­ty much all of us do this—it’s enor­mous­ly empow­er­ing and con­ve­nient. Remem­ber what life was like before email or mes­sag­ing, and when pho­tos lived in shoe­box­es or, even worse, on those exter­nal hard dri­ves that tend to no longer work when left on the shelf for a few years? So I think it’s very impor­tant for us to have an Inter­net we can trust with our stuff, with­out wor­ry­ing that the gov­ern­ment is sur­veilling it with­out a war­rant. That’s one of the rea­sons I’ve found the Snow­den leaks so upset­ting, and why I believe we need strong Fourth Amend­ment-like pro­tec­tions for our pri­vate data, whether offline or online.

Read­ing The Cir­cle made me ter­ri­fied of the future. What was your reac­tion?

I’m a cau­tious opti­mist, and I see it as my job to do what I can to influ­ence the future pos­i­tive­ly and mind­ful­ly. I don’t believe in a zero-sum world­view in which we must choose between pri­va­cy and self-quan­tifi­ca­tion, for exam­ple, or between intro­spec­tion and social behav­ior. I think that well-made tech­nol­o­gy can empow­er us to be more human, not less.

I lis­ten and read a lot. I picked up a copy of The Cir­cle back when it first came out not only because Dave Eggers is a bril­liant writer, but also because I think he’s an impor­tant thinker. Those of us who are engi­neer­ing new tech­nol­o­gy should look close­ly at both utopi­an and dystopi­an futures. We should under­stand some­thing about the bright and dark spots of our his­to­ry too—these are pow­er­ful inoc­u­lants. By avoid­ing the blithe ahis­tori­cism and anti-intel­lec­tu­al­ism of char­ac­ters like Mae in The Cir­cle, or Eunice Park in Gary Shteyn­gart’s Super Sad True Love Sto­ry, we can avoid mak­ing some of the obvi­ous mis­takes.

Maria Sem­ple has said you were the inspi­ra­tion for the TED-talk­ing, Microsoft-genius dad in her book Where’d You Go, Bernadette. What did you think of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? What was it like to read about a char­ac­ter loose­ly based on you?

Of course it was real­ly fun! Maria seemed a lit­tle appre­hen­sive about this when she sent the advance copy. But Elgie and I are only sim­i­lar in some very broad out­lines. The char­ac­ter is devel­oped pure­ly to serve the sto­ry’s ends; she did­n’t set out to make a por­trait of me. So while it was a fun­ny shock to read those few semi-bio­graph­i­cal sen­tences, the feel­ing wore off quick­ly as the sto­ry picked up. I loved the book, and post­ed a review on my blog. It’s time­ly, well-writ­ten, scorch­ing­ly fun­ny, and ulti­mate­ly packs quite a punch. I kind of knew it would go big.

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A let­ter to Wash­ing­ton.


The Hon­or­able Eric Hold­er
Depart­ment of Jus­tice
Robert F. Kennedy Build­ing
Tenth Street and Con­sti­tu­tion Avenue, N.W.
Wash­ing­ton, D.C. 20530

Dear Attor­ney Gen­er­al Hold­er:

I recent­ly attend­ed the TED2014 con­fer­ence, where I had occa­sion to lis­ten to talks by Edward Snow­den and NSA Deputy Direc­tor Richard Led­gett.

I’m a long­time mem­ber of the TED com­mu­ni­ty– it’s my 10th year attend­ing.  I’m a tech­nol­o­gist with a back­ground in applied math and neu­ro­science, cur­rent­ly lead­ing a team work­ing on Machine Intel­li­gence at Google.  In this let­ter I’m speak­ing for myself, not for my employ­er.

I want­ed to take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to share with you my thoughts on the issues around Edward Snowden’s dis­clo­sures.

The dis­clo­sures– and the debate they launched– have revi­tal­ized demo­c­ra­t­ic over­sight. Pres­i­dent Oba­ma him­self has said: “I wel­come this debate.  And I think it’s healthy for our democ­ra­cy.”

The Pres­i­dent is right. The debate has been healthy for our democ­ra­cy and for democ­ra­cies around the world.  Before the dis­clo­sures, all three branch­es of the gov­ern­ment had approved these pro­grams in the dark.  Now, all three branch­es of gov­ern­ment are engaged in a his­toric re-eval­u­a­tion of the NSA’s sur­veil­lance prac­tices.  And Pres­i­dent Oba­ma has agreed to end the mass track­ing of Amer­i­cans’ phone calls.

As a senior leader in infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy (pri­or to Google I was a Dis­tin­guished Engi­neer at Microsoft work­ing on online ser­vices), I have been espe­cial­ly trou­bled by what I have learned about the NSA’s activ­i­ties– and I am grate­ful to Edward Snow­den for work­ing with jour­nal­ists to edu­cate the pub­lic about them.  The NSA’s drag­net sur­veil­lance activ­i­ties, and its exploita­tion of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works, have under­mined our cyber­se­cu­ri­ty and harmed our busi­ness– espe­cial­ly over­seas.  We are now col­lec­tive­ly per­ceived as hav­ing abused our stew­ard­ship of much of the world’s cloud com­put­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­o­gy.

The rev­e­la­tions have been shock­ing, and I can only wish they had come out soon­er, to allow for an ear­li­er course cor­rec­tion.  I believe that show­ing lenien­cy to Edward Snow­den would send a pow­er­ful mes­sage to the world that the US takes these con­cerns seri­ous­ly– and is seri­ous about reform.


Blaise Aguera y Arcas

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30 years of TED

TED2014Through­out most of last week I was wear­ing a giant badge with a met­al tag on it announc­ing that this was my 10th TED.  The con­fer­ence itself was in ret­ro­spec­tive mode, cel­e­brat­ing its 30th birth­day.  Nos­tal­gia aside though, in many ways this was my favorite TED yet– lots of strong talks, includ­ing a remark­able inter­view with Edward Snow­den (and response from NSA Deputy Direc­tor Richard Led­gett).  My life has been great­ly enriched by the ten weeks I’ve spent in Mon­terey, Long Beach, and now (thank­ful­ly) Van­cou­ver.  Of course not all of the talks are good, but many of the most sur­pris­ing and delight­ful things I’ve seen and heard in the past decade, and many of the most inter­est­ing peo­ple I’ve met, I’ve seen, heard and met there.

A num­ber of us were asked to play futur­ist for the TED blog and write down our pre­dic­tions about the biggest and most sur­pris­ing changes head­ing our way over the next 30 years.  Mine are:

1. Machine Intelligence

I think that just as the Inter­net has been such a great dri­ver of change across so many spheres over the past 20 years, we will see machine intel­li­gence in the same role over the com­ing decades.

Today, we are as an intel­li­gent species essen­tial­ly sin­gu­lar. There are of course some oth­er brainy species, like chim­panzees, dol­phins, crows and octo­pus­es, but if any­thing they only empha­size our unique posi­tion on Earth— as ani­mals rich­ly gift­ed with self-aware­ness, lan­guage, abstract thought, art, math­e­mat­i­cal capa­bil­i­ty, sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy and so on. Many of us have staked our entire self-con­cept on the idea that to be human is to have a mind, and that minds are the unique province of humans. For those of us who are not reli­gious, this could be inter­pret­ed as the last bas­tion of dual­ism. Our eco­nom­ic, legal and eth­i­cal sys­tems are also implic­it­ly built around this idea.

Now, we’re well along the road to real­ly under­stand­ing the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of how a mind can be built, and Moore’s Law will put brain-scale com­put­ing with­in reach this decade. (We need to put some aster­isks next to Moore’s Law, since we are already run­ning up against cer­tain lim­its in com­pu­ta­tion­al scale using our present-day approach­es, but I’ll stand behind the broad­er state­ment.) When we reach this point, we will find our­selves no longer alone. It’s dif­fi­cult to over­state the impor­tance that moment will have in our future his­to­ry.

It may well result in fur­ther non­lin­ear­i­ty in the “rate” of his­to­ry too, since minds and what we’ve dreamt up with them have been the engine behind his­to­ry and its accel­er­a­tion.

2. Gender Selection

For many thou­sands of years we’ve lived in a male-dom­i­nat­ed soci­ety. I don’t think that we’re shift­ing toward “female dom­i­nance” so much as I think that the whole idea of dom­i­nance is a male par­a­digm, and that it is this par­a­digm that is being select­ed against— by increas­ing pop­u­la­tion den­si­ty in the urban cores, increas­ing edu­ca­tion, larg­er work­ing groups, increas­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion, ris­ing tech­no­log­i­cal lever­age, glob­al trade and so on. It may be dif­fi­cult to imag­ine this now, when the vast major­i­ty of the world’s cap­i­tal is still in the hands of men and many of the STEM fields (which are also among the high­est-paid) are still over­whelm­ing­ly male, but I think that men— and espe­cial­ly “man­ly men” exhibit­ing many of the clas­si­cal cor­re­lates of high testos­terone— will be at a dis­tinct dis­ad­van­tage in 30 years time. This rep­re­sents a pro­found upset of the patri­ar­chal sys­tem that has defined vir­tu­al­ly all of record­ed his­to­ry, so … it’ll be a big deal.

3. Post-subsistence Economics

As machine intel­li­gence, robot­ics, and tech­no­log­i­cal lever­age in gen­er­al increas­ing­ly decou­ple pro­duc­tiv­i­ty from labor, we will con­tin­ue to see unem­ploy­ment rise even in oth­er­wise healthy economies. The end state is one in which most forms of human labor are sim­ply not required. In 30 years, if not soon­er, we will be fac­ing this unprece­dent­ed sit­u­a­tion— and whether it’s heav­en or hell depends on whether we’re able to let go of cap­i­tal­ism, eco­nom­ic Dar­win­ism and the Calvin­ist ethics that implic­it­ly under­lie these sys­tems. With­out a change of course, we will see mass unem­ploy­ment dri­ve a rad­i­cal accel­er­a­tion of the already dra­mat­ic imbal­ance between the very wealthy few and every­one else, lead­ing to ugly con­di­tions in the cities and ulti­mate­ly vio­lent upris­ing.

On the oth­er hand, if we are able to set aside our Calvin­ism, we will real­ize that giv­en the tech­no­log­i­cal effi­cien­cies we have achieved, every­one can live well, with or with­out a job. Cap­i­tal­ism, entre­pre­neur­ship and oth­er sys­tems of dif­fer­en­tial wealth cre­ation could still func­tion on top of this hor­i­zon­tal base; but every­one must be fed and housed decent­ly, have access to free health care and edu­ca­tion, and be able to live a good life. I assume the nation-state will still be a rel­e­vant legal and eco­nom­ic con­struct in 30 years (though I’m not sure, as cor­po­ra­tions or pos­si­bly oth­er struc­tures will com­pli­cate the pic­ture); my guess is that we will see both paths tak­en in dif­fer­ent parts of the world, lead­ing to mis­ery and war in some, where either the ben­e­fits of accel­er­at­ing tech­nol­o­gy are slow to pen­e­trate or Dar­win­ian eco­nom­ics are left unchecked.

4. Self-modification

We’re rapid­ly fig­ur­ing out not only how the brain is engi­neered, but also the body. Of course this implies greater mas­tery over mech­a­nisms of dis­ease, but more broad­ly, as biol­o­gy becomes first under­stood and then engi­neered, Nature becomes open to pro­found and rapid mod­i­fi­ca­tion. I don’t doubt that we will be able to alter aging mech­a­nisms, “fix” var­i­ous bugs in human “design”, make nov­el organ­isms and ulti­mate­ly mod­i­fy our own natures. As we reach the end of the 30 year peri­od it’s hard for me to imag­ine that peo­ple won’t begin to explore these capa­bil­i­ties, which seems like­ly to lead to accel­er­at­ed spe­ci­a­tion. Machine intel­li­gence and bio­engi­neer­ing will both demand that we rethink our legal and eth­i­cal foun­da­tions in a vari­ety of ways.

5. Space

The world’s space pro­grams have been essen­tial­ly dor­mant for decades, as we’ve focused inward on devel­op­ments like com­put­ers and the Inter­net, biol­o­gy and neu­ro­science. But as our fun­da­men­tal tech­ni­cal capa­bil­i­ties improve, bar­ri­ers to space explo­ration do begin to come down; what was once a hero­ic effort requir­ing the full brunt of the resources of the rich­est coun­tries on Earth will come with­in reach of com­pa­nies and (ini­tial­ly, rich) indi­vid­u­als. We’ve seen only the first stir­rings of this with under­tak­ings like SpaceX and Moon Express.

At some point our grasp of mate­ri­als sci­ence and nanofab­ri­ca­tion will become suf­fi­cient to build a space ele­va­tor, at which point our world will expand a great deal as the ener­getic cost of escap­ing Earth’s grav­i­ty well goes to near zero, as many sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers of the 20th cen­tu­ry imag­ined. While I’m unsure of whether the space ele­va­tor will hap­pen with­in the 30 year peri­od, I’m con­fi­dent we’ll see this with­in our life­times.

6. Sexual and lifestyle freedom

In 30 years, I think that not only will the more pro­gres­sive places in the world have fin­ished rec­on­cil­ing them­selves to the wide spec­trum of sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion and expres­sion, but also to a wide vari­ety of life con­fig­u­ra­tions beyond the nuclear fam­i­ly built around a sin­gle life­long pair-bond. There are many forces con­tribut­ing to this shift, and I sus­pect that an empir­i­cal case can be made for this in much the same way as for the gen­der ideas above. This is the least devel­oped of my six ideas, but one that I think will have pro­found impli­ca­tions.

Bonus: Energy

One thing I’m leav­ing off the list above is the poten­tial avail­abil­i­ty of very cheap, very abun­dant ener­gy at some point in the future.  Many aspects of our out­look are con­di­tioned on the premise that ener­gy is lim­it­ed and expen­sive. As a thought exper­i­ment, one can ask, “what if ener­gy in vir­tu­al­ly any amount were free?” This could imply an end to drought any­where via desali­na­tion of sea­wa­ter; it could allow us to enact cli­mate con­trol­ling inter­ven­tions on a mas­sive scale, engi­neer mate­ri­als that are cur­rent­ly cost-pro­hib­i­tive, or let us get into space eas­i­ly even if we con­tin­ue to do it the hard way.

(Although freely avail­able ener­gy could let us save great ecosys­tems cur­rent­ly under dire threat, with­out great care it could also lead to dis­as­ter through chem­i­cal, ther­mal, bio­log­i­cal and noise pol­lu­tion on an unprece­dent­ed scale.)

We know that in prin­ci­ple vast amounts of ener­gy are avail­able to us through nuclear process­es, so in prin­ci­ple an inno­va­tion could come along at any time that lets us tap safe­ly into this ener­gy. That would change every­thing. How­ev­er, there is no trend or indi­ca­tion that sug­gests a time­line for such a devel­op­ment— it could hap­pen next week, or still be a pipe dream a cen­tu­ry from now.

* * *

As a post­script, one of my col­leagues asked me why cli­mate change did­n’t make it onto my list.  I sup­pose it was because the brief was to write about “things that will blow our minds in the next 30 years”, and our cli­mate (and more broad­ly, envi­ron­men­tal) prob­lem seems like­ly to be just as bad as every­one intel­li­gent has been say­ing it’s going to be.  I don’t think a sin­gle one of my 10 TEDs so far has failed to include a tight­ly-argued cli­mate Cas­san­dra– accel­er­at­ing deser­ti­fi­ca­tion, molten tun­dra, drowned cities, a bil­lion dis­placed peo­ple.  So our minds should not be blown when we find out that our mod­els were right.  There are all-too-plau­si­ble “mind-blow­ing” futures in which the prob­lems we’re cre­at­ing for our­selves are so severe that none of my oth­er pre­dic­tions come to pass, and we instead expe­ri­ence glob­al cli­mate-medi­at­ed civ­i­liza­tion­al col­lapse in the Jared Dia­mond sense.  Even in the best sce­nario, there will be dev­as­tat­ing loss­es.  Let’s hope that we can pull it togeth­er enough to mud­dle our way through to the amaz­ing futures on the far side of this bot­tle­neck.  I’m cau­tious­ly hope­ful.

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Nick Wing­field at the New York Times just broke the news that I’m going to Google.  On one hand, of course this is tremen­dous­ly excit­ing; Google is a com­pa­ny of grand ambi­tions and bril­liant peo­ple.  On the oth­er hand it has been hard— very hard— to detach emo­tion­al­ly from Microsoft.  The company’s lead­er­ship has been con­sis­tent­ly good to me over these past eight years, and it has been a time filled with cre­ativ­i­ty and growth and good friends.  It’s painful to leave behind so many won­der­ful ongo­ing projects, and even more so to leave behind such a great team.

The hard­est deci­sion of my life.

thank you ellen

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latter day scones

It takes only about 15 min­utes to pro­duce a bas­ket­ful of love­ly hot scones, feath­erlight, on the table.”

Thus begins the Aus­tralian Women’s Week­ly recipe on p. 76 of the Cook­ing Class Cook­book. Although I’ve put the scone recipe on styleisvi­o­lence before, it was per­haps not in the most digestible form. I’ll adapt it more read­ably here, since this is a recipe that I’m sure we’ll need in a pinch some­where, some­time in the future, per­haps on a driz­zly day in a Scot­tish cas­tle with good WiFi, or to impress expats at the British embassy in Algiers.


  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tea­spoons bak­ing pow­der
  • 1 tea­spoon salt
  • 1 tea­spoon sug­ar
  • 1oz (30g) but­ter
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup water

Pre­heat oven to 475 Fahren­heit. Mix the dry ingre­di­ents. Rub in the but­ter with the fin­ger­tips until it resem­bles fine bread­crumbs; do not over-han­dle. Pour in the milk and water and mix light­ly and quick­ly to form the dough. Turn it out onto a floured sur­face, knead light­ly and pat to a 2cm thick­ness. Cut into cylin­ders with a floured cham­pagne flute. Put the cylin­ders on a light­ly greased cook­ie sheet, packed in close, and brush with a bit of milk. Bake about 10 min­utes, or until done. While bak­ing, whip some cream and find the jam.

Make tea.

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