MCViewPoint

Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Posts Tagged ‘Isaac Asimov’

Erie Times E-Edition Article-Innovation’s secret sauce is freedom

Posted by M. C. on October 10, 2020

The vast and lingering damage done by the global lockdown will include governments’ opportunistic expansions of their controls of almost everything, and an increased tendency of people to look to government for shelter from all uncertainties. But one enormous benefit may result: There is an unflattering contrast between the tardy, lumbering, often blunderbuss response of many governments to the coronavirus and the nimble adjustments of individuals in their behavior and of commercial entities in their arrangements. So, perhaps there will be a healthier appreciation of the creativity of a free society’s unplannable spontaneous order.

Elegant way of saying stating the evermore obvious: central planning never works.

https://erietimes-pa-app.newsmemory.com/?publink=075c5fb4b

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny…’”

— Isaac Asimov

Matt Ridley, the British writer, calls himself a “rational optimist,” which today probably strikes many people — their health and finances threatened, their equanimity destroyed by the horrors of close confinement with family members — as an irrational coupling of adjective and noun. Nowadays, cheerfulness can be irritating.

Ridley, however, is right.

For many millennia, artificial light was a luxury: In 1880, a minute of the average worker’s toil earned enough to purchase four minutes of light from a kerosene lamp. Then came innovation: the incandescent bulb, and successors.

Today, a minute of work purchases 7,200 minutes (120 hours) of light.

In 1922, a government commission concluded that “already the output of [natural] gas has begun to wane.” In 1956, an expert predicted that U.S. gas production would peak in 1970. Until around 2008, the consensus was that cheap natural gas would soon be exhausted. Then came innovation: hydraulic fracking. Today, cheap gas has supplanted coal in electricity production. One reason is property rights — the mineral rights of local landowners. Ridley quotes an innovator: “Shale production was hotly pursued by many small companies resulting in a multitude of varied drilling and completion methods being implemented and tested across multiple basins.”

When, in August 1928, Alexander Fleming took a vacation from his London laboratory, a cold spell stimulated the growth of the fungus Penicillium, a spore of which, blown through an open window into the lab, landed in a petri dish containing a bacterial culture. Then a hot spell stimulated the growth of this culture — but not around the Penicillium, which killed proximate bacteria. When Fleming returned on Sept. 3, a friend watched him examine this result and heard him say: “That’s funny.” After various innovations, penicillin would radically reduce World War II deaths from wounds, thanks to a 1928 gust of wind.

An epidemic — polio — was worsening in the 1950s, from 10,000 cases in 1940 to 58,000 in 1952, when a Pittsburgh researcher, Jonas Salk, innovated a technique for growing polio virus in minced monkey kidneys. One thing led to another, and to a vaccine, and the almost complete eradication of polio.

These mind-opening vignettes are from Ridley’s “How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes in Freedom.”

There are others: Pre-coronavirus pandemic, more than 10 times as many people were flying as in 1970, when the number of air fatalities was more than 10 times higher than today. This safety improvement, Ridley writes, “has happened in an era of deregulation and falling prices. Far from leading to cut corners and risk taking, the great democratization of the airline industry over the past half-century, with its fast turnarounds, no-frills service and cheap tickets, has coincided with a safety revolution.”

Increased competition also increased innovation.

In the half-century between 1960 and 2010, the acreage needed to produce a given quantity of food declined about 65% because of agricultural innovations. If this had not happened, most acres of forest, wetland and nature reserve would be turned to agriculture. Instead, most are increasing. Innovation has driven “dematerializing,” doing more with fewer resources: “By 2015 America was using 15% less steel, 32% less aluminum and 40% less copper than at its peaks of using these metals, even though its population was larger and its output of goods and services much larger.”

There are more bank tellers — and they are doing more interesting things than counting out money — than before ATMs arrived.

It is serendipitous that the new book by Ridley, who has a keen sense of serendipity’s role in scientific and (hence) societal advances, arrives during the pandemic. “The main ingredient in the secret sauce that leads to innovation,” he writes, “is freedom. Freedom to exchange, experiment, imagine, invest, and fail.”

The vast and lingering damage done by the global lockdown will include governments’ opportunistic expansions of their controls of almost everything, and an increased tendency of people to look to government for shelter from all uncertainties. But one enormous benefit may result: There is an unflattering contrast between the tardy, lumbering, often blunderbuss response of many governments to the coronavirus and the nimble adjustments of individuals in their behavior and of commercial entities in their arrangements. So, perhaps there will be a healthier appreciation of the creativity of a free society’s unplannable spontaneous order.

George Will is a Washington Post columnist.

His email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

George Will

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Foundation series

Posted by M. C. on September 28, 2020

The Empire becomes too large, too unwieldy, mis-appropriates and mis-allocates and fails…

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundation_series

The Foundation series is a science fiction book series written by American author Isaac Asimov. First collected in 1951, for thirty years the series was a trilogy: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. It won the one-time Hugo Award for “Best All-Time Series” in 1966.[1][2] Asimov began adding new volumes in 1981, with two sequels: Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth, and two prequels: Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation. The additions made reference to events in Asimov’s Robot and Empire series, indicating that they were also set in the same fictional universe.

The premise of the stories is that, in the waning days of a future Galactic Empire, the mathematician Hari Seldon spends his life developing a theory of psychohistory, a new and effective mathematical sociology. Using statistical laws of mass action, it can predict the future of large populations. Seldon foresees the imminent fall of the Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a dark age lasting 30,000 years before a second empire arises. Although the inertia of the Empire’s fall is too great to stop, Seldon devises a plan by which “the onrushing mass of events must be deflected just a little” to eventually limit this interregnum to just one thousand years. To implement his plan, Seldon creates the Foundations—two groups of scientists and engineers settled at opposite ends of the galaxy—to preserve the spirit of science and civilization, and thus become the cornerstones of the new galactic empire.

A key feature of Seldon’s theory, which has proved influential in real-world social science,[3] is an uncertainty or incompleteness principle: if a population gains knowledge of its predicted behavior, its self-aware collective actions become unpredictable…

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5 Scary Things About Artificial Intelligence That Worry Military Brass | Military.com

Posted by M. C. on September 7, 2018

The only thing we know for sure about military and government-The many laws it ignores will include Isaac Asimov’s.

Guess who will the serve the sentence for disobeying those laws.

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.[1]
  1. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2018/09/07/5-scary-things-about-artificial-intelligence-worry-military-brass.html

By Gina Harkins

1. Killer robots.

We might be a ways off from a “Terminator”-style nightmare in which a self-thinking computer wages war on the planet. But as the military experiments with more autonomous vehicles and robots, experts are thinking about ways to keep them in check… Read the rest of this entry »

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Asimov and Science Fact

Posted by M. C. on November 27, 2016

I have this uppity series of books I want to read. The current one is Illiberal reformers: Race Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era by Thomas Leonard. It promises to be quite good. But after reading this stuff for a while I just can’t stand it anymore. I then retreat to a Louie L’Amour or Luke Short western. Good stuff! But I am yearning for another escape and for me that is science fiction.

Years ago I read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation. This series was started in 1951. Asimov’s Robot series was started in the early forties.

I am not particularly well read in science fiction but I know what I like. Asimov and Bradbury. A friend has suggested I investigate the River World series. That may be next.

The original Foundation series has been expanded upon both by Asimov and others. You can do a Wiki search for the details. For some reason I have decided to read the entire (Asimov written) Foundation series, then the Robot series.

In a nutshell the Foundation plot revolves around a galactic empire that is deteriorating (deterioration of infrastructure in particular!). The Hari Seldon character has started a chain of events that will shorten the inevitable collapse into barbarity from ten thousand to one thousand years. Seldon is a psychohistorian.  A predictor of the future based on mathematics. Read the rest of this entry »

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