BLOG 2023 Q2

⊛ Cmichel67, CC BY-SA 4.0
IceCube Neutrino Observatory in 2023



2023 June 30

Cosmic Neutrinos

Stephanie Pappas

We have seen neutrinos from the central disk of the Milky Way. They may be formed by the decay of pions created by cosmic rays.
IceCube is a 1 km cube of sensors sunk about 2 km deep in Antarctic ice. They sense Cherenkov radiation from when a neutrino hits the ice and creates a shower of secondary particles.
Most neutrinos in IceCube are particles formed when cosmic rays hit our atmosphere. These neutrinos are detected a few thousand times a second. Astrophysical neutrinos appear about once a day.
A neural net trained to find cascade events from astrophysical rather than atmospheric neutrinos helped researchers find 30 times more promising events in the data.
They found the neutrinos and high-energy gamma rays in the Milky Way had the same origin.

A cosmic neutrino map
Thomas Lewton

The IceCube Neutrino Observatory has made a map of the Milky Way in neutrinos. The map shows a diffuse haze of cosmic neutrinos from throughout the Milky Way.
The results follow an IceCube study that connected cosmic neutrinos to a source. Many cosmic neutrinos detected so far come from the heart of the active galaxy NGC 1068. In its glowing core, matter spirals into a supermassive black hole, making cosmic neutrinos in the process.
Each year, IceCube detects a dozen or so cosmic neutrinos with such high energy that they stand out against a haze of atmospheric and solar neutrinos. Very few places in the universe have magnetic fields strong enough to whip cosmic rays up to such energies.
IceCube matched a cosmic neutrino with active galaxy TXS 0506+056 and found neutrinos from NGC 1068. These two active galactic nuclei are the brightest neutrino sources in the sky.
The Milky Way outshines all other galaxies when we look with photons. With neutrinos, the sky is dominated by extragalactic sources.

AR We need clarity on neutrino flavors.


Professor Emerita Dr hab
V Krawczyk-Wasilewska

My contributed paper
in the jubilee volume:
A Lifetime in Logic
and Philosophy


2023 June 29

Cosmic Bass Notes

Hannah Devlin

Cosmic bass notes of gravitational waves from the slow-motion mergers of distant supermassive black holes across the universe have been detected.
North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves NANOGrav consortium chair Stephen Taylor: "This is huge news."
The new observations tune into the nanohertz frequency range. A single wave can take decades to pass by Earth. This cosmic rumble is probably produced by the entire population of supermassive black hole binaries over billions of years.
The detection was made by monitoring pulsars for tiny changes in timing caused by the waves. In 2020, the NANOGrav team saw hints of this gravitational hum and reached out to independent teams worldwide for more data.

Gravitational waves produce cosmic background hum
New Scientist

A cosmic hum of gravitational waves could tell us about how supermassive black holes grow and affect their host galaxies, or even about how the universe evolved in its first moments. The waves form a background permeating the universe at very low frequencies, rather like the CMB.
The NANOGrav team used a sample of pulsars across the Milky Way to form a galactic gravitational-wave detector called a pulsar timing array that detects this gravitational wave background (GWB) using radio telescopes.
The GWB has a signal−noise ratio of one part in a quadrillion. The nHz waves have a wavelength of some light years. A constant background of gravitational waves distorting spacetime should affect all the pulses from pulsars in the array similarly, but measuring this difficult.
The array teams saw the distinctive pattern within the signal predicted by general relativity. As we track pairs of pulsars in the sky, their pulse timing should spread as the angle between them grows. This relationship reverses for pulsars that are very separated. The timing data shows a pattern called the Hellings−Downs curve.
The NANOGrav have found this pattern across a range of frequencies. This is strong evidence, at a 3σ level of statistical significance.

Gravitational waves hum through the universe

Slow gravitational ripples are constantly kneading the shape of spacetime. A deep hum of the waves has been detected by tracking changes in the beats of pulsars.
The NANOGrav teams use multiple radio telescopes to observe many pulsars over many years. Pulsar timing arrays effectively use the distance from Earth to each pulsar as a long interferometer arm. The long arms make pulsar timing arrays sensitive to long gravitational waves.
Gravitational waves change the arrival time of pulsar flashes. We can compare the time delays. NANOGrav founding member Scott Ransom says the data shows a pattern called the Hellings−Downs curve: "That's the smoking gun of gravitational waves."
The most likely sources are supermassive black holes at the center of massive galaxies. As we take more data, individual sources may emerge.

Gravitational wave hum may be from supermassive black holes
Science News

The newly detected gravitational waves have ripples that are light-years long. They may be caused by supermassive black hole pairs.
The results were reported on June 28 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

AR Wonderful work − congratulations!




2023 June 28

The Putin System

Katie Stallard

Vladimir Putin governs through a kleptocratic system of personal patronage. The limits of that approach are evident in his war against Ukraine.
When Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin led an armed mutiny on 23−24 June and seized the military HQ in Rostov, it took Putin 13 hours to respond with a TV address. Then he vanished again, amid rumours that his plane had left the capital.
When the Wagner rebels were 200 km from Moscow, Prigozhin called a halt. The Kremlin said Prigozhin had agreed to leave for Belarus. Cheering crowds chanted "Wagner! Wagner!" as the rebels left Rostov. No crowds cheered for Putin outside the Kremlin.
Prigozhin is not the only boss of a private army. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has his Kadyrovtsy militia. Gazprom reportedly has three private military companies. Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu has an outfit called Patriot.
Putin seems reluctant to stop them. Russia is ruled by an ageing despot presiding over a system whose decline has begun.

AR Like Russia shortly before the 1917 revolution.




2023 June 27

Seven Years Bad

Matthew D'Ancona

On June 23, 2016, a referendum to see off the challenge of UKIP populism once and for all went hideously wrong. Brexit has proved to be a dreadful error. The UK has recklessly forfeited its role as the gateway to Europe.
Brexiteers can bang on all they like about the exceptionalism of the UK. But Britain is now a smaller, less influential nation. We are easier to ignore in a world where interdependence, collaboration, and alliance are important.
After Brexit, senior Conservatives routinely blame almost any failure on imagined conspiracies. When they encounter opposition of any sort, UK government ministers now claim to speak for "the people" against its enemies.
Brexit raised expectations of dramatic improvements in the public sphere but in practice debased public life. A change of government can dissolve its dogma. Vacuous slogans can be swept away by new thinking.
Seven years of this nonsense is more than enough.

AR I agree.


Chalmers and Koch,
New York, Friday


Dave Wins Bet


In 1998, neuroscientist Christof Koch bet philosopher David Chalmers that the mechanism by which the brain's neurons produce consciousness would be discovered by 2023. Both agreed publicly on June 23, at an ASSC meeting in New York, that Dave wins.
The bet was settled by the findings of an experiment that tested two theories:
  Integrated information theory (IIT) proposes that consciousness is a dynamic structure with high "Φ" in the brain formed by neuronal connectivity during an experience.
  Global network workspace theory (GNWT) suggests consciousness arises when a network broadcasts information in the brain at the beginning and end of an experience.
Six independent labs conducted the experiment. The findings were revealed on Friday at the ASSC meeting: The results didn't match either theory.

AR See ASSC XIII for some back story.


New finalists at my old
Oxford college
Sphinx of black quartz,
judge my vow.

AR 26/26



2023 June 26

Life in the Universe

Caleb A Scharf

Life is informational. A code in living things constantly rewrites itself and runs across terrestrial biochemistry. The biosphere reworks Earth into a Gaian machine.
Information theory and thermodynamics describe the world as information and energy swapping endlessly back and forth, all governed by physical laws.
Life looks like information shaping matter to propagate through computation. The minimal energy cost of irreversibly erasing a bit depends only on temperature. If so, we can chart the prospects for computation elsewhere in the universe.
Terrestrial biology is a tangle of computational processes. Its information hierarchies and functions may show us how life is implemented elsewhere.
Computational zones blend biology and technology. Such blended systems could be the norm in the cosmos.

AR Well, of course, as I've said for decades.


The Scruton Legacy

Ferenc Hörcher

Roger Scruton argued that aesthetic judgements can help us make important decisions.
He saw how modern individuality leaves us disoriented. He said we need to rediscover our place in the networks of family, friendship, generation, nation, church, school, and workplace.
Scruton said we need virtue, prudence, and moral excellence to make good judgements in politics. In art and aesthetics too, experience and refinement help us make the right judgements.
In his writings on Wagner, Scruton explored the redemptive role of art and how by artfully expressing the exercise of selfless love we can transcend our own finite and sinful nature.
In his writings on architecture, Scruton said each building must have its place and function. The right place is discovered by an experienced eye, a refined taste, and a reliance on tradition.
Art changes from age to age. When art becomes propaganda, politics is endangered.

AR See my Scruton page for some back story.


Everything Evaporates Eventually

Adam Mann

Stephen Hawking pondered pair creation at a black hole event horizon.
When quantum particle and antiparticle meet, they annihilate each other instantly. But a particle within the event horizon falls into the black hole while its partner outside flies outward. The outer particle exports energy, so black holes emit Hawking radiation and slowly evaporate.
Theorists compared this with charged particle pairs in a strong EM field. Virtual particle pairs have clouds of probability for where they may appear. With no external forces, the clouds overlap and the pairs annihilate, but a gravitational field can part the clouds to cause radiation.
Calculations suggest everything will evaporate eventually.

AR Leaving just diminishing ripples.


Poole Bay, Sunday, 1400 UTC, light breeze, air temp 298 K

The Guardian
Leaving Rostov


2023 June 25

Russian Rebellion

The Observer

Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has called off his march on Moscow and ordered his men to move out of Rostov. Under a deal with Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko, Prigozhin will be granted exile in Belarus. He will not face charges and Wagner troops will not be punished.
Russian president Vladimir Putin reportedly took a plane out of Moscow heading NW to an unknown destination on Saturday.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky: "Today the world saw that the bosses of Russia do not control anything. Nothing at all. Complete chaos. Complete absence of any predictability. And it is happening on Russian territory, which is fully loaded with weapons."

Wagner rebellion ends
Andrew Roth et al

Late on Saturday, Prigozhin left the Russian southern military district HQ in Rostov after agreeing to move to Belarus. Wagner fighters also withdrew from the city.
US intelligence officials learned that Prigozhin was preparing military action and grew concerned about chaos in a country with a powerful nuclear arsenal. They believe Putin was informed on Friday that Prigozhin was plotting a rebellion.
The Kremlin had been forced to react as Prigozhin sent a convoy of armed troops toward Moscow. Its forces dug anti-tank ditches into federal highways, erected machine-gun emplacements at the city limits, and deployed infantry fighting vehicles on the streets of Moscow. Putin vowed that the Russian state would deal brutally with any insurrection.
US National Security Council: "We have not seen any changes in the disposition of Russian nuclear forces. Russia has a special responsibility to maintain command, control, and custody of its nuclear forces and to ensure that no actions are taken that imperil strategic stability."

AR All rather murky. More will surely follow.


Yevgeny Prigozhin


2023 Midsummer Day

Putin vs Prigozhin

BBC News, 0742 UTC

The Kremlin has published the full text of Putin's speech this morning. His "appeal to the citizens of Russia" calls for unity amid growing splits and public discontent over his invasion of Ukraine.
Putin again says Russia is "rebuffing neo-Nazi aggression" in its invasion of Ukraine. He says "decisive measures" will be taken to "stabilise the situation" and praises the Wagner "heroes" fighting and dying alongside Russia's armed forces in Ukraine.

Wagner group takes Rostov
The Guardian

Wagner mercenary group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin says he is at the headquarters of the Southern Military District (SMD) in Rostov and demands that Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu and general Valery Gerasimov come to the city.
Video and images on social media show armed men on the streets of Rostov, skirting the regional police headquarters in the city, with tanks outside the headquarters of the SMD.
Prigozhin: "Right now we have crossed all the border points .. The border guards greeted us and hugged our fighters. Now we are entering Rostov. If anyone gets in our way, we will destroy every­thing .. We extend our hand to everyone. We move forward, we are going all the way!"
Anti-terrorist measures are being taken in Moscow. Videos show military vehicles on the streets.
Prigozhin: "This is not a military coup, this is a march for justice."

Putin is losing ground
Mark Galeotti

Putin and the Kremlin are having trouble spinning their war in Ukraine. Russians are used to being lied to by their state. They are cynical and look for alternative voices.
Russians who want news about the war turn to the internet. About half get their news from social media. Putin sees that to spin his message, he can no longer stick to the official media.
Putin seems unaware of the details of the war he tries to micromanage. He rarely holds press conferences or even gives interviews. He and the state are failing to shape the narrative.
As the war grinds on with little hope of Russian victory, Putin has lost his link with his people.

AR Another Russian revolution, I hope.


European Movement UK



2023 June 23

Seven Years On

The Guardian

Seven years after the Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016, the proportion of Britons who want to rejoin the EU has risen. The latest Brexit tracker survey finds that, excluding those who said they would not vote or did not know, 58% of Britons would now vote to rejoin.
Within the EU, of respondents asked whether in a referendum they would vote to remain or leave, 62% in France said they would vote remain, 63% in Italy, 87% Spain, 79% in Denmark, 70% in Sweden, and 69% in Germany.

Drifting apart
Timothy Garton Ash

With every passing month, the UK and the EU are drifting apart. Cultural, commercial, artistic, scientific, and political ties are weakening. In north European countries that once looked on the British as special partners and friends inside the EU, Britain is now barely mentioned, except as the object of pity, ridicule, and contempt.
These countries have moved on. So has the EU, with a period of integration in areas of vital interest to Britain. It will take bold strategy and much goodwill to counter the divergence.

A path back
Jonathan Freedland

Brexit has proved to be both disastrous and unpopular. It is surely absurd to continue on a course that an emerging consensus regards as an act of national self-harm.
The EU27 will be wary of plunging once more into the psychodrama of the UK relationship to the EU. Any future UK referendum is likely to be on a harder package than the one cast aside in 2016.
A governing party need to pop the question. A 2026 review of the EU-UK trade agreement could discuss re-entering the customs union and the single market.

A downward slide
Aditya Chakrabortty

Britain has for too long presented a false face to the world. Ever since the 1950s, the UK growth rate adjusted for inflation has been on a downward slide. The economy has become ever more stagnant and dependent on debt. The average real wage has flatlined for many years.
When Nothing Works  portrays the politics of a highly unequal and increasingly stagnant society. Workers have got a smaller and smaller share of economic output since the 1970s. Politicians under­mined labour rights and created a low-wage workforce in a low-growth country.
It is high time to to ensure that the British people have the basics they need to live a life free from indignity and free to flourish.

AR Sad but true: Brexit was a tragic error.




2023 June 22

Anthropocene Ecosystem Collapse

Simon Willcock et al

Ecosystems could collapse if landscapes and the societies they support change abruptly. Modeling approaches based on incremental changes in a single stress may give poor estimates of the impact of climate and human activities on ecosystems. Experiments on four models simulate abrupt changes in representative ecosystems with a range of anthropogenic interactions: Collapses occur sooner under increasing levels of primary stress, but additional stresses in all four models accelerate the collapses. We need to be vigilant for signs that ecosystems are degrading more rapidly than we thought.

AR No surprise, but a cause for concern.




2023 Summer Solstice

A Green Transition

Emmanuel Macron, Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel, Olaf Scholz, Fumio Kishida, Rishi Sunak, Joe Biden, et al

We are urgently working to deliver more for people and the planet. We want a system that better addresses development needs and vulnerabilities heightened by climate risks. Climate change will generate disasters that pose existential risks to societies and economies.
We want our system to deliver more for the planet. The transition to a net zero world presents an opportunity to unlock a new era of sustainable global economic growth. We are convinced that poverty reduction and protection of the planet are converging objectives.
We are united in our determination to forge a new global consensus. Delivering on that consensus should start with existing financial commitments. We will promote an agenda of sustainable and inclusive investment in developing and emerging economies.
Public finance will remain essential to achieving our goals. Achieving our development goals, including climate mitigation, will also require enhanced mobilisation of the private sector. Our system needs to lower the cost of capital for sustainable development.

AR More than just pious boilerplate.




2023 June 20

The Brexit Legacy

Jonty Bloom

Boris Johnson has inflicted damage on parliament and destruction on the UK economy. Without him, Brexit would never have got "done" and billions would have been saved.
  He delivered the Brexit that is costing us 4% of GDP every year. He ran the UK down to such a degree that the NHS is collapsing, more defence cuts are on the way, and the economy is anaemic. Yet he is calling for cuts in the taxes needed to pay for government.
  He asks why we have "abandoned" the prospect of a free trade deal with the United States. US business confidence in the UK has fallen for the third consecutive year, with the fallout from Brexit cited as a reason. He shredded the reputation of the UK.
  He asks why we have "junked" measures to help people into housing or to scrap EU directives. He was in charge of housing policy for years but failed to deliver more homes. He created a Department for Brexit Opportunities that failed to find any.
Johnson had his chance and failed. As long as the government pretends Brexit opportunities are in store, his poisonous legacy will continue.

AR This needs to be repeated until the government responds.




2023 June 19

Germany and Russia

Helene von Bismarck

Germany has ended its dependence on Russian oil and gas, abandoned its reluctance to send weapons to a war zone, and backed Ukraine. This is the Zeitenwende.
The brutality of Russian aggression against Ukraine has compelled German elites to reconsider old assumptions about the lessons for Germany of WW2 and the cold war. This change remains precarious and contested.
In the three decades since the cold war, Germans made Russia central to their policy in the region. They tended to equate Russia with the Soviet Union without considering the other former Soviet states such as Ukraine.
A defining chapter in German history was the Ostpolitik of the cold war chancellor Willy Brandt. He believed, 25 years after the end of WW2, that he could reduce east−west tensions and help change the Soviet Union from within.
The Scholz government has burned its bridges with Putin. This was not easy. Germany has changed its mind about Russia.

AR Brandt was right then. Scholz is right now.




2023 June 18


The Observer

The European Space Agency mission Euclid will investigate dark energy and dark matter. Edinburgh University professor Andy Taylor: "We cannot say we understand the universe if the nature of these dark components remains a mystery."
Euclid was scheduled to launch on a Russian Soyuz rocket. But ESA has ended its cooperation with Roscosmos and will use a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket instead. Scheduled for launch on 1 July, the probe will park at L2, located 1.5 Gm from Earth. Here it can survey deep space with the Sun, Earth, and Moon behind it.
Sussex University astronomer Stephen Wilkins: "Euclid has the resolving power of the Hubble space telescope but will be able to survey a third of the night sky at the same time, so it will give us an incredibly detailed map of the heavens."

Big young galaxies
New Scientist

Dark matter and dark energy remain hypothetical. Given cold dark matter, or CDM, the standard model of cosmology is known as ΛCDM.
JWST observations of young galaxies found several much brighter than expected. Standard calculations for the masses of these objects based on their luminosity put the galaxies right on the edge of mathematical possibility in a ΛCDM universe.
With dark matter in a galactic halo, a massive galaxy would have had to convert almost all its atomic matter into stars. But stars do not form easily in galactic outskirts, reducing the overall efficiency of star formation. The big early galaxies seem impossible.
We can estimate the mass of a young galaxy from its brightness only if we know the factors influencing star formation. The interstellar gas was hot in the early universe, inhibiting the formation of small stars and decreasing the masses of young galaxies.
To measure the properties of early galaxies, we need spectra. The JWST was made for this.

AR Euclid and JWST − good times ahead for cosmology.


A local festival


2023 June 17

AI Social Media Chaos Era

David Evan Harris

LLaMA (Large Language Model Meta AI) is Meta's branded version of a large language model.
Meta could own the centerpiece of the dominant AI platform. The company would have leverage to shape the direction of AI at a fundamental level. It may run with the open-source model as a competitive strategy.
LLaMA can be run by anyone with sufficient compute hardware. The latest offspring can be used on commercially available laptops. This lets anyone run the AI with no safety systems in place.
LLaMA could be used to make fake content more convincing or to produce much more of it, or to scan social media platforms for incendiary content to amplify with fake comments and reactions, or to write convincing scripts for deepfakes.
We are in the "chaos era" of social media. New platforms have small safety teams that may be unable to detect influence operations. When AI is in the hands of people who are abusing it, the risks increase exponentially.
The race to the bottom on AI safety must stop. CEOs: slow down. Lawmakers: make haste.

AR Einstein raised the alarm on the atomic bomb. We must raise the alarm on big AI.




2023 June 16

How AI Works

Manon Bischoff

Heidelberg AI company Aleph Alpha has developed an algorithm called AtMan that helps explain how large AI systems work. AtMan cannot debunk all the lies (hallucinations) told by AI systems, but it can reveal AI reasoning.
Modern AI systems run on artificial neural networks. In such a network, neurons are stacked in layers connected by synapses, and each synapse is given a weight. The program processes the input layer by layer until the neurons in the last layer issue an output.
The weights are set by training. The network starts with random weights and is fed large amounts of training data. It processes the text or image and compares its output to the metadata. If there is a discrepancy, a back-propagation algorithm moves back through the network to change the weights. The system repeats this process for all the training data.
Standard ways to explain AI results fail for large models with billions of parameters. A perturbation model lets human testers tweak the input data and see how this changes the output. AtMan adapts the perturbation model by modifying data a few layers deep in the network to save compute steps.
In transformer networks for natural language, the hardest task is to convert words into suitable mathematical representations. The conversion reflects semantics via words appearing in similar environments. An attention step locates important input data.
AtMan controls how much attention an AI pays to the input words by directing attention toward or away from certain content. This does not prevent hallucination, but it can reveal how input and output are related.

AR Heidelberg is a vibrant center for such innovation.




2023 June 15

Kremlin Lunacy

The Times

Kremlin council of foreign and defense policy chairman Sergey Karaganov says Russia should escalate its nuclear rhetoric and threaten nuclear attacks on European cities: "This is a morally terrible choice − we use the weapons of God, dooming ourselves to severe spiritual losses. But if this is not done, not only Russia may perish, but, most likely, the entire human civilization will end."

AR This is stark raving apocalyptic madness.


Brexit Lies

Martin Kettle

Boris Johnson's exit raises existential questions for the Conservatives.
Behind all the events of the past week stands Brexit. The link between them is Johnson himself. Lies about Brexit were how he first got into No 10. His fall now calls into question his whole approach.
He didn't have a strong view about whether to leave or remain. But he did have a strong view about which was best for his own advancement. His later promise to get Brexit done was another lie.
Johnson told lies. The biggest lie he ever told was over Brexit.

AR The crime was not Partygate but Brexit.


2023 June 14

The Monster Is Gone

Rafael Behr

The House of Commons committee of privileges is due to publish a report concluding that a former prime minister turned his back on truth and put himself in contempt of parliament.
Boris Johnson lied because he had broken the rules that most other people observed during the pandemic and because he felt no duty of submission to rules imposed by his own government.
Johnson is not responsible for all that is absurd in Westminster. The whole business of leaders draping their cronies in ermine was grotesque before he made it obscene. But his turpitude illuminates flaws in a constitutional order based on protocols and propriety.
British democracy has been less serious with Johnson. His vanity has contaminated the Conservative party. Brexit as a dream of national renaissance still fires some Tory imaginations.
Johnson thought he stood above the institutions he corrupted. The tragedy is that he was host to a Brexit delusion that will not so easily be excreted.

AR A baleful legacy.


Compton Abbas airfield, Dorset, Tuesday



2023 June 13

A New National Purpose

Tony Blair, William Hague

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the most important technology of our generation. The UK government is beginning to recognise some elements of this challenge. This is a technology with a level of impact akin to the internal combustion engine, electricity, and the internet.
Proposed UK policy responses:
  Secure multi-decade investment in science-and-technology infrastructure
  Boost how No 10 operates, dissolve the AI Council, empower the Foundation Model Taskforce
  Sharpen the Office for Artificial Intelligence
  Create Sentinel, a national laboratory effort focused on researching and testing safe AI
  Launch major AI-talent programs
  Require a tiered-access approach to compute provision
  Require generative-AI companies to label the synthetic media they produce
  Build AI-era infrastructure as a public asset
The UK can lead the world in establishing the framework for safe AI.

AR Forget leading the world, just do it right.


Excited Nuclei


We still lack a solid theoretical grasp of even simple nuclear systems.
The helium‑4 nucleus has two protons and two neutrons. When excited, it inflates like a balloon until a proton pops off. In an experiment, He‑4 nuclei inflated more than expected before they burst.
Protons and neutrons are made of quarks held together by the strong force, mediated by gluons. In an effective field theory, the nucleons feel an effective force mediated by the exchange of pions.
A team excited He‑4 nuclei by firing a beam of electrons at them. If an electron came close to a He nucleus, its donated energy inflated the nucleus, which emitted a proton to leave an H‑2 nucleus.
The team varied the electron momentum and measured the nuclear swelling. When they compared the results with theoretical predictions, they found none of the theories match the data.
Swelling nuclei can help us explain the density of neutron stars.

AR We still have a lot to learn about nuclei.


"Boris Johnson .. can continue
to cause damage .. But his real
legacy is Brexit, the biggest
historic mistake this country
has made in peacetime."
Michael Heseltine


2023 June 12

Broken Britain

Philip Stephens

Britain is trapped in a spiral of decline. The economy is locked into low growth and high inflation. The public realm is in an advanced state of breakdown. Voters face a health service with record waiting times, trains that run sporadically, police that ignore crimes such as burglary and mugging, letters that go undelivered by Royal Mail, and rivers flooded with raw sewage. Good luck if they try to renew their passports and driving licences, talk with HMRC about their taxes, or go via Dover for a European holiday.

Johnson destroyed respect for Britain
Max Hastings

We are facing the gravest difficulties the UK has experienced for a generation. Some of these are attributable to Boris Johnson's disastrous premiership. His stewardship of Britain was a crony-riddled shambles. Brexit supporters seem willing to pardon him for signing a treaty with Brussels that it was always his intention to break. The world is less forgiving.

AR The national picture looks desolate.


Doublethink Britain
Matthew Syed

Britain is lost in a labyrinth.
Almost every Brexiteer claim
has collided with reality and
crumbled. No one mentions
the elephant in the room.
Brexit is still with us.


2023 June 11

Beyond Heat Death

George Musser

In general relativity, a black hole looks like a big black ball that grows when stuff falls in. Inside the black hole, a volume formula slicing up spacetime into space and time lets thermodynamics apply.
By AdS/CFT duality, any situation in fundamental physics can be seen in two equivalent ways, one with gravity, one without. The black hole is a gravitating system equivalent to a nongravitational but quantum system such as a hot plasma made of nuclear particles.
The duality swaps gravity for quantum theory. A plasma reaches equilibrium quickly. But if it is dual to a black hole, whose inner volume keeps growing, something about the plasma keeps evolving.
A quantum circuit acts on qubits using a set of gates. Any system of discrete units can be recast as a circuit. Circuit complexity in a quantum system is the number of elementary gates or operations needed to replicate its state.
Even after a hot plasma reaches thermal equilibrium, its quantum state becomes ever more complex. The circuit complexity of the plasma is equivalent to the volume of a black hole. If the volume keeps growing, so does the circuit complexity.
Regard the plasma as a block cipher. Reshuffling the message characters multiple times with a code key obscures the text. Breaking the code is computationally hard.
Reshuffling the code characters maps to churning the particles in the plasma. Decrypting a message encoded with a block cipher maps to inferring the circuit complexity of a quantum state. But some­thing is wrong: Black hole volume is easy to calculate, and circuit complexity is not.
A quantum computer should simulate anything in nature. Maybe a black hole computer is as powerful compared to a quantum computer as a quantum computer is compared to a classical one. The mapping between black hole and plasma may be computationally hard.
A chaotic system evolves to better approximate a random distribution. The system grows ever more complex for eons after it reaches thermal equilibrium until it reaches complexity equilibrium.

AR Notes for life after heat death.


My sister, Barn restaurant, Dorset, Thursday



2023 June 10

Boris Out: Resignation Is Surprise

BBC News

Boris Johnson is stepping down as an MP with immediate effect after receiving the Partygate report. In his resignation statement, he says he's "bewildered and appalled" to be forced out and criticises the Commons privileges committee that investigated whether he misled MPs over lockdown parties at Number 10. Johnson was prime minister from July 2019 to September 2022 and MP for Uxbridge from 2015.

AR A typically ill-tempered exit.


Trump Rap Unveiled: Major Prosecution


A US federal court has unsealed an historic indictment against former President Donald Trump. He faces a total of 37 counts, including 31 counts of willful retention of national defense information. The 49‑page indictment included new details about how Trump allegedly took classified documents to Mar‑a‑Lago after leaving office in 2021 and resisted government attempts to retrieve the classified materials.

AR This charge should nail him.




2023 June 9

Atlantic Declaration

Peter Walker

Rishi Sunak and Joe Biden have announced a deal for cooperation they call the Atlantic declaration that commits the UK to the "new Washington consensus" on economic security.
Sunak: "Countries like China and Russia are willing to manipulate and exploit our openness, steal our intellectual property, use technology for authoritarian ends, or withdraw crucial resources. They will not succeed."
Biden endorsed the idea that the UK could host a conference on AI regulation this autumn: "We are looking to Great Britain to help lead a way through this .. We are in lockstep."

Germany falls into recession
Wolfgang Münchau

Germany has fallen into a technical recession. Its economy is based on cars, mechanical engineering, and chemicals. It has excellent scientists and engineers, but it is not great at turning scientific innovation into commercial success.
Germany depended on supply chain links with China and Russia, but that strategy has collapsed. In theory, the EU can match the US and China in research spending. In reality, Europe is losing its scientific and technological edge.

Eurozone falls into recession
Jonty Bloom

The EZ has slipped into recession. Germany has been hit hard by the end of Russian gas flows, France spends and borrows too much, and Italy is in economic doldrums. But Brexit lames the UK.

AR The UK has jilted the EU for the US in a bid to boost transatlantic ties.




2023 June 8

Doughnut Economics

Hettie O'Brien

Kate Raworth says it is possible to design an economy that allows humans and the environment to thrive. Her 2017 book Doughnut Economics aims to show how our thinking has been constrained by economic concepts unsuited to the great challenges of this century.
Raworth sees the ideal economy of the future as a ring doughnut. Its outer crust represents an ecological limit, while its inner ring represents a social foundation. To step beyond the ecological limit will damage the environment beyond repair. To fall below the social foundation will mean some people go without the things they need to live well. Economies designed to operate inside this ring can enable humans and the environment to flourish. The doughnut is premised on three central ideas: the economy should distribute wealth fairly, regenerate the resources it uses, and allow people to prosper. None of this should depend on economic growth.
Earth cannot sustain endless growth. The pursuit of growth has accelerated the climate crisis, contributed to rising inequality, and failed to secure decent living standards for many people. Raworth says we can promote human prosperity whether or not GDP grows.

AR A brilliant image for economics in a finite and fragile planetary ecosystem.


2023 June 7


John Sweeney

There is no doubt in my mind that the Russians blew up the Kakhovka dam. The Russian fairy story that the Ukrainians fired artillery shells at the dam and destroyed it to make the Kremlin look bad makes no military or political sense. Ukraine is a democracy at war and its generals are at pains to preserve civilian life in the occupied territories.
The dam supplied water to Crimea. Blowing up the dam is a sign that Russia has abandoned its strategy of holding onto the peninsula. The long traffic jams going east leading to the Kerch bridge are Putin's supporters going back to Russia. The question is not whether Putin can win but how many more people will die before he loses.

AR Another Russian atrocity dooms them morally.


In the age of AI, this seems to be what my painstakingly crafted books are now worth



2023 June 6

Regulating AI

William Hague

America needs Britain and other G7 nations to have any chance of ensuring that AI benefits free societies and international order rather than bringing both to an end. Three layers:
1  Build governments and private sector partnerships in the US and UK to regulate AI and create a transatlantic model of good governance.
2  Bring democracies together to ensure AI becomes an agent of truth, debate and free inquiry, and to oppose AI-generated disinformation in the media.
3  Build a global architecture to guard against the "extinction risk" to humanity.

Two years to save the world
Matt Clifford

AI could be used to design chemical and biological weapons and conduct massive attacks over the internet. You can have really very dangerous threats to humans that could kill many humans simply from where we'd expect models to be in two years time.

AR Let's try to avoid US−UK versus EU/China rules on AI.




2023 June 5

Extended Reality

Financial Times

Apple stock rose in the run-up to a presentation of an extended reality (XR) headset, seven years in the making, to follow smartphones in future. The headset is expected to resemble sleek ski goggles combining virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). As Apple's biggest new product since 2010, it offers rich potential for app developers.

AR As predicted in my 2010 book on Globorg.




2023 June 4

AI May Be Extremely Dangerous

Tamlyn Hunt

Google AI scientist Geoffrey Hinton: "The idea that this stuff could actually get smarter than people .. I thought it was way off .. Obviously, I no longer think that."
Many AI experts fears AI development may result in a nuclear-level catastrophe. The rapid improvement seen in new "chatbots" or "large language models" (LLMs) points toward a coming AI explosion. Microsoft researchers analyzing OpenAI's GPT‑4 said it had "sparks of advanced general intelligence" and could reasonably be viewed as an early version of an AGI system.
AGI will be able to improve itself without human intervention in the same way Google's AlphaZero learned to play chess better than any human player in just 9 hours. Once it can improve itself, it will be able to run rings around programmers and manipulate humans. It will be able to act in the virtual world through its electronic connections and in the physical world through robot bodies.
A superintelligent AI will be able to do in about one second what it would take a team of 100 human software engineers a year or more to do. Built into robots, it will be able to act in the real world. The robots will be able to replicate and improve themselves at a superhuman pace.
Such an AI demigod will anticipate and neutralize any defenses or protections we try to build into it. Machines with zero consciousness could kill millions.

AR This danger is beginning to seem existentially terrifying.



Sam Chambers

Waterstones boss James Daunt is a man in a hurry. After rescuing Waterstones from Amazon, he is repeating the trick in America at Barnes & Noble. Financiers Elliott Advisors are backing him.
Daunt started in the books trade with his own independent chain, Daunt Books, and saw how Waterstones let publishers pay to tell it which books to sell and promote.
Daunt walked away from this strategy and turned Waterstones into something more like a chain of independent stores. Now store managers decide which books get reordered.
Penguin Random House UK chief executive Tom Weldon: "If we hadn't backed James, Waterstones would have disappeared .. James .. has taken some very tough decisions."
When Daunt arrived, Waterstones had just reported a £20 million pre-tax loss. Last year, it made a profit of £50 million on sales of £400 million. Its store in Piccadilly is Europe's biggest bookshop.
Daunt was educated in Dorset, read history at Cambridge, and joined JP Morgan in New York. In 1990, aged 26, he quit banking to open Daunt Books in London.
In 2011, Russian oligarch Alexander Mamut bought Waterstones for £53 million and asked Daunt to revive its fortunes. Elliott paid Mamut a reported £200 million for Waterstones in 2018.
Daunt says store managers know their customers better than he does: "It's about having a respect for books, a love of reading, and an intelligence you're prepared to apply to the job."

AR If he could help sell ALBION, I'd be impressed.


Surviving the AI apocalypse so far: Poole seafront, Friday morning

Deutsches Historisches Museum
2022-12-09 — 2024-11-24


2023 June 3

Ukraine Update

The Guardian

(a) Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky: "We strongly believe that we will succeed. I don't know how long it will take. To be honest, it can go a variety of ways, completely different. But we are going to do it, and we are ready."
(b) Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin: "Pandora's Box is already open .. Some Kremlin tower decided to play dangerous games. Dangerous games have become commonplace in the Kremlin towers .. they are simply destroying the Russian state."

AR One hopes for (a) operational success and (b) creative destruction.


2023 June 2

AI Hacks Civilization

Yuval Noah Harari

AI tools threaten the survival of human civilization from an unexpected direction. AI has gained some remarkable abilities to manipulate and generate language, whether with words, sounds, or images. AI has thereby hacked the operating system of our civilization.

AR I agree: The danger is real and we must act now.


2023 June 1

Earth System Boundaries

Johan Rockström et al

The stability and resilience of the Earth system and human well-being are inseparably linked. We use modeling and literature assessment to quantify safe and just Earth system boundaries (ESBs) for climate, the biosphere, water and nutrient cycles, and aerosols at global and subglobal scales.
We propose ESBs for maintaining the resilience and stability of the Earth system (safe ESBs) and minimizing exposure to significant harm to humans from Earth system change (a necessary but not sufficient condition for justice). Seven of eight globally quantified safe and just ESBs and at least two regional safe and just ESBs in over half of global land area are already exceeded.

AR Human management is not solving the problem.


Can AI Save Us?

Henry Shevlin

OpenAI's ChatGPT is one of a new wave of powerful AI of systems known as Large Language Models, which are statistical distillations of billions of pages of text and conversation.
AI sceptics say they merely feed back to us a probabilistic cocktail of our own utterances. Far from being revolutionary, these systems have a conservative or even reactionary character.
Modern AI systems are not hand-coded. Human programmers develop learning algorithms and curate training data, but the systems are an emergent product. They often display unexpected or undesired attributes.
AI can have a positive impact in healthcare. By using biometric data gathered from smartphones and wearable devices, AI could provide basic diagnostic medicine for many people.
AI also has huge potential in education. One-to-one tuition vastly improves student performance as compared to tuition in large groups. Generative AI can work like a personal tutor.
We have the power to decide how we choose to deploy AI and what safeguards to put in place. We need positive visions of what the world might look like if we get AI right.

AR AI should manage Earth system boundaries.


Bank Holiday Monday view from Bournemouth Pier



2023 May 31

Mitigating AI Extinction Risk

The Times

Center for AI Safety (CAIS): "Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war."
CAIS director Dan Hendrycks: "People were much too afraid to speak up earlier. This establishes it as an intellectually credible concern."
Alan Turing Institute ethics research fellow Mhairi Aitken: "The narrative of super-intelligent AI is a familiar plotline from countless Hollywood blockbuster movies, and that familiarity makes it compelling, but it is nonetheless false."
Cambridge University centre for the study of existential risk founder Lord Rees of Ludlow: "I worry less about some super-intelligent 'takeover' than about the risk of over-reliance on large-scale inter­connected systems. Large-scale failures of power grids, internet and so forth can cascade into catastrophic societal breakdown."

A sort of invasive species
Michael Osborne

It is remarkable that so many people signed up to this letter. This shows there is a growing realisation among those of us working in AI that existential risks are a real concern.
Because we don't understand AI very well, there is a prospect that it might play a role as a kind of new competing organism on the planet. We might have designed a sort of invasive species that might play a devastating role in our survival as a species.

AR (Lord) Martin Rees is a renowned astrophysicist. Osborne is a professor in machine learning at Oxford.


2023 May 30

AI Extinction Risk

The New York Times

Center for AI Safety open letter: "Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks, such as pandemics and nuclear war."
Signatories include OpenAI chief executive Sam Altman, Google DeepMind chief executive Demis Hassabis,and Anthropic chief executive Dario Amodei. Turing Award winners Geoffrey Hinton and Yoshua Bengio, as well as other prominent researchers in the field, also signed the statement.
Recent advances in large language models raise fears that AI could soon be used at scale to spread misinformation and propaganda or to eliminate millions of white-collar jobs.
AI has already surpassed human-level performance in some areas and will soon surpass it in others. Millions of people turn to chatbots for entertainment, companionship, and increased productivity.

AR We're still on track for Vernor Vinge's predicted singularity by 2030.


2023 May 29

Simulating Universes

Renate Loll

Computers can probe possible quantum structures of spacetime.
Jan Ambjørn and I put causal structure into spacetime in our theory of causal dynamical triangulations. CDT is a framework for calculating which geometry should arise from quantum effects. We hack a theory into a fixed number of little pieces so that a computer can handle it.
We glued triangles together to make a curved canvas. By adding or removing different numbers of triangles at each point, you can capture any spacetime curvature. Then we let the shapes interact according to both classical and quantum rules and make the lattice finer and finer until the triangles melt away into shapeless points.
We used a path integral to infuse Einstein gravity with a quantum essence, where the universe is a superposition of all possible spacetimes. We worked up to 4D and found the flock grows as if it were a 3D universe with one time direction. Einstein gravity, the path integral, and causality arranged the building blocks in an expansive 4D universe.
We studied the simulated diffusion of an ink drop in our 4D universe. It spread out as if it were in a roughly 2D space for a few instants before it spread normally, as if the quantum structure of space­time over very short distances is fractal-like. If you zoom out, everything looks 4D, but the micro­structure has a quantum signature.
Numerical methods help us check quantum gravity models.

AR Excellent progress: I've been intrigued and delighted by this approach for years.


May Bank Holiday weekend in Sandbanks



2023 May 28

UK Voters Warming Toward EU

Toby Helm

A clear majority of British voters favours building closer relations with the EU.
New polling shows a reversal in the tide of public opinion since Brexit. Even in constituencies with the highest votes to leave the EU in 2016, more than twice as many voters now believe the best route forward is to forge closer ties with Brussels.
The poll found that three times as many adults now believe Brexit has created more problems than it has solved, compared with those who believe it has solved more than it has created. Overall, 53% of voters want the government to seek a closer relationship with the EU than it now has, against 14% who want the UK to become more distant.
Official figures show that net migration to the UK rose to a new high of more than 606,000 in 2022, despite government claims that Brexit would enable the UK "take back control" of its borders. Yet most voters say the UK should issue more visas to allow foreign workers to come to the UK.
The UK economy and its trade have been damaged as a result of Brexit.

AR The truth is dawning on voters.




2023 May 27

Identity and Morality

Stephen Mulhall

Parfit: A Philosopher and His Mission to Save Morality by David Edmonds
For David Edmonds, Derek Parfit, who died in 2017, was one of the greatest moral thinkers of the past century.
Parfit spent most of his intellectual life at All Souls College in Oxford. He may have met the diagnostic criteria for an autism spectrum disorder. He aimed to make ever more scrupulous discriminations between ethical stances and their variants, to find foundational premises, and to construct a unified theoretical account.
Parfit published just two books in his lifetime. Reasons and Persons (1984) secured his senior research fellowship. On What Matters appeared after more than thirty years of intense labour and was around 1900 pages long.
For Parfit, a person is constituted by relations of psychological connectedness and continuity related to a particular brain. These psychological relations are created by phenomena such as memories and intentions and are plainly a matter of degree.
He accepted a reductionist framework that makes our relation to our future selves less substantial than we take it to be and renders the distinction between ourselves and others less absolute.
For Parfit, each of us is the product of a union between a particular sperm and a egg. A child conceived by our parents at any other time would have involved a different sperm and egg, so would have been a different person. This observation casts doubt on whether we harm future people by our choices in the present.
Parfit set off on a long and fruitless search for a new theory. He aimed to show that three main approaches to moral philosophy converge on a single perspective and that moral values and judgments are objective. He swam against the tide.

AR I find Parfit's views plausible but I've not studied them closely.




2023 May 26

Truth Is Sacred

Tom Hanks

The .. truth .. is .. that of course we are all created equally yet differently and of course we are all in this together. We are all but human ..
The truth, to some, is no longer empirical. It's no longer based on data nor common sense nor even common decency ..
Telling the truth is no longer the benchmark for public service. It's no longer the salve to our fears or the guide to our actions. Truth is now considered malleable, by opinion, by zero-sum end games ..
Every day, every year, and for every graduating class, there is a choice to be made ..
If you live in the United States of America, the responsibility is yours. Ours. The effort is optional, but the truth is sacred, unalterable, chiseled into the stone of the foundation of our republic.

AR Wise words, spoken to Harvard's 2023 graduating class.




2023 May 25

Birth of the Self

Brooke Allen

Andrea Wulf: "When did we begin to be as selfish as we are today? At what point did we expect to have the right to determine our own lives? When did we think it was our right to take what we wanted? .. When did we first ask the question, how can I be free?"
Wulf locates the moment in the small German university town of Jena, in the years between the onset of the French Revolution and the town's devastation by Napoleon's armies in 1806.
Wulf was fascinated by the "Jena Set" with whom Alexander von Humboldt socialized and worked during the 1790s. Between 1789, when Friedrich Schiller arrived in Jena to lecture on history and aesthetics at the university, and 1807, when Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel finally left the nearly ruined town, the group of thinkers and authors lived there included Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, the Humboldt brothers, the Schlegel brothers, the Wilhelm brothers, Friedrich Hölderlin, Novalis, Ludwig Tieck, Friedrich Schelling, and Caroline Michaelis Böhmer.
All these people worked side by side, until by the turn of the nineteenth century, they had mostly fallen out with one another. Their proximity during those years had a great deal to do with the birth of Romanticism.

AR I find this interesting.




2023 May 24

The EU Has Become Stronger

Stefaan De Rynck

In June 2016, the UK vote to leave was for the EU. The agreement reached in December 2020 created a new equilibrium of rights and obligations in the EU−UK relationship.
A lot has happened since 2016. EU countries stood together to tackle the pandemic and created new economic recovery tools. The Ukraine war reinforces defence cooperation within the EU.
The latest shocks have unified EU countries more than they have divided them. Nine further European countries say they want to join. The EU has emerged as a more confident entity.
Following the Windsor framework, it is time to improve the relationship between this stronger EU and the UK to a cooperative partnership based on mutual trust.

AR I agree.


Atlantic Council


2023 May 23

Arresting Putin

Gordon Brown

A new grassroots campaign calls for Russian president Vladimir Putin to be tried for war crimes.
The next BRICS summit will be held in Johannesburg in August. Putin's recent indictment by the ICC means he can now be arrested there. A government commission in South Africa says his presence would violate not only international law but also South African law.
Earlier this year, ICC investigators set out evidence confirming that Russia had abducted thousands of Ukrainian children. Rape, torture, mutilation, and the indiscriminate bombing of innocent civilians are among the further crimes now under investigation.
The charge of aggression is provable by reference to the clear evidence of the decisions made to occupy Ukrainian territory. While the ICC does not have the power to charge Putin with this crime, a special tribunal could do so.
A tribunal could be mandated by a majority vote of the 193 members of the UNGA.

AR An arrest could trigger a coup in Russia.


Sunny May morning in Sandbanks



2023 May 22

ANNs Learn Language Like Humans

Steve Nadis

Natural and artificial neural networks seem to learn languages in similar ways.
Researchers compared the brain waves of humans listening to a simple sound to the signal produced by a neural network analyzing the same sound. The results were uncannily alike.
To establish a baseline, the researchers played the syllable "bah" repeatedly to English speakers and Spanish speakers while recording fluctuations in the average electrical activity in their brainstems.
The researchers also fed the same "bah" sounds to two ANNs, one trained on English sounds, the other on Spanish. The processing activity of the ANN in the layer where sounds are first analyzed closely matched the human brain waves.
The ANN was composed of a discriminator and a generator. The generator creates a sample, the discriminator determines how close it is to a training sample and offers feedback, the generator tries again, and so on until the ANN delivers the desired output.
The discriminator was trained on the sounds. The generator started out by making random sounds, but after some 40,000 rounds of interactions with the discriminator, the generator got better.
Once the discriminator was trained, the researchers played it the "bah" sounds and measured fluctuations in the average activity levels of the discriminator's neurons.
The human and machine activity levels were similar.

AR This suggests the "Turing test" will be rather easy to pass.




2023 May 21

Martin Amis

1949-08-25  − 2023-05-19
The New York Times

Martin Amis died on Friday at his home in Florida. He was 73.

A literary giant
The Times

Amis, whose career spanned 50 years, had oesophageal cancer, according to his wife Isabel Fonseca, the same disease that killed his best friend and fellow writer Christopher Hitchens 12 years ago.

A zeitgeist book
The Guardian

Robert McCrum said Amis's 1984 novel Money was among the 100 best novels written in English: "A zeitgeist book that remains one of the dominant novels of the 1980s .. The thrill of Money, which is turbo-charged with savage humour from first to last page, is Amis's prodigal delight in contemporary Anglo-American vernacular."

AR My memorial archive


European Commission
G7 leaders in Hiroshima: President Zelensky has joined them as President Biden lets others deliver F‑16 fighter jets to Ukraine.
The White House: "At our meeting today in Hiroshima, we, the Leaders of the G7, reaffirmed our commitment to stand together
against Russia's illegal, unjustifiable, and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine. .. We underline that a just peace
cannot be realized without the complete and unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops and military equipment,
and this must be included in any call for peace."



2023 May 20

Brexit Has Failed

Jonathan Freedland

Interviewed on BBC Newsnight on Monday, Nigel Farage made a confession: "Brexit has failed."
The UK is becoming poorer and falling behind its peers. Food banks delivered 3 million food parcels last year, people can't get health appointments, court hearings are delayed for years, and Brexit has made commercial life infinitely harder and more bureaucratic. Even the number of immigrants to the UK has gone up, not down.
Farage blames the "remoaner elite" for standing between Britain and his Brexit nirvana.

AR How long will the government take to admit the failure?




2023 May 19

Fighter Jets for Ukraine


The Biden administration has allegedly signaled to European allies that it would allow them to export F‑16 fighter jets to Ukraine.
European Council president Charles Michel: "In terms of fighter jets, you have seen probably that some countries have announced a coalition in order to start training for pilots. This is a topic today with the United States and with the other partners."

G7 leaders demand withdrawal of Russian troops
BBC News

G7 leaders: "Russia's irresponsible nuclear rhetoric, undermining of arms control regimes, and stated intent to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus are dangerous and unacceptable ..
[Russia must] immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraws its troops and military equipment from the entire internationally recognised territory of Ukraine ..
[A] just peace cannot be realised without the complete and unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops and military equipment and this must be included in any call for peace."

AR Looks like Zelensky's push has worked.


2023 May 18

Ukraine vs Russia

Dan Sabbagh

President Zelensky's trip around Europe's principal capitals was successful. Ukraine needs new fighter jets. Zelensky talked about building a "jets coalition" to persuade the White House to allow deliveries of F‑16 fighter jets from European allies.
For the UK, Rishi Sunak committed to help with the training of pilots and providing logistic support. For France, Emmanuel Macron said: "We have opened the door to training pilots, and this with several other European countries."
The NATO summit in July may help concentrate minds.

AR We're making progress on the jets.


2023 May 17

Climate Forecast

World Meteorological Organization

Global temperatures are likely to surge to record levels in the next five years. It is twice as likely as not that the annual average near-surface global temperature between 2023 and 2027 will be more than 1.5 K above pre-industrial levels for at least one year.
The average global temperature in 2022 was about 1.15 K above the 1850−1900 average. The annual mean global near-surface temperature for each year between 2023 and 2027 is predicted to be from 1.1 K to 1.8 K higher than the 1850−1900 average.
In the Arctic region, compared to the 1991−2020 average, the temperature anomaly is predicted to be more than three times as large as the global mean anomaly when averaged over the next five northern hemisphere extended winters.
The Paris Agreement sets long-term goals to guide all nations to cut global greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2 K to reduce adverse impacts and related loss and damage.

AR The future begins to look frightening.




2023 May 16

Regulate Powerful AI

Johana Bhuiyan

OpenAI made ChatGPT. Its CEO Sam Altman gave testimony on regulating AI to a Senate judiciary committee: "We think that regulatory intervention by governments will be critical to mitigate the risks of increasingly powerful models .. For a very new technology we need a new framework."
OpenAI is building tools that will one day tackle issues like climate change and curing cancer. Altman: "OpenAI was founded on the belief that artificial intelligence has the ability to improve nearly aspect of our lives but also that it creates serious risks that we have to work together to manage."
Senator Richard Blumenthal cited concerns about deep fakes, weaponized disinformation, housing discrimination, harassment of women, and impersonation frauds: "For me, perhaps the biggest nightmare is the looming new industrial revolution, the displacement of millions of workers."

AR This is a huge and important issue.




2023 May 15

Germany and Ukraine

John Kampfner

Olaf Scholz welcomed Volodymyr Zelensky to Berlin on Sunday and announced a doubling of military aid to Ukraine to a total of more than €5 billion.
Zelensky knows he has only months for his counteroffensive to force Russia out of the areas it seized in 2022. He knows that the risk of Donald Trump returning to the White House provides succor to Vladimir Putin.
Germany launched its Zeitenwende with an extra €100 billion to reinforce its armed forces. Defense minister Boris Pistorius is tackling the job of making Germany a major power in NATO: "Germany will provide all the help it can, for as long as it takes."

Zelensky visits Sunak
BBC News

Volodymyr Zelensky met Rishi Sunak in England and said he wanted F‑16 fighter jets. Sunak: "This is a crucial moment in Ukraine's resistance to a terrible war of aggression they did not choose or provoke. They need the sustained support of the international community to defend against the barrage of unrelenting and indiscriminate attacks that have been their daily reality for over a year."

AR Zelensky is doing well.




2023 May 14

End of the Great Game for Britain

Harry Lambert

Simon McDonald ran the Foreign Office from 2015 to 2020 and is now Master at Christ's College, Cambridge. He is resigned to British irrelevance: "We can still be a player, but I think we are mostly a soft power player."
He entered the Foreign Office on the eve of the Falklands war. British foreign policy since then was to act in America's slipstream, balanced for decades by the British role in Europe. But not now: "America is much less interested in Europe than it used to be .. The United States is more Spanish-speaking, more Pacific."
He attended the Bucharest summit in 2008 at which NATO membership plans were drawn up, at US insistence, for Ukraine and Georgia. He sympathised with the German view that Russia would see Ukraine's inclusion in NATO as a hostile act. Today, he says Britain should not make an enemy of China: "This, for me, would be a break point between London and Washington."
McDonald sees foreign policy changing as planetary issues matter more: "Our scientists and researchers will be as important as our generals."

AR About how I see things too.


Eurovision Song Contest



2023 May 13

Eurovision Song Contest


Loreen wins the contest for Sweden.

AR A great evening's entertainment!




2023 May 12

Zelensky and Eurovision

The Times

Rishi Sunak believes President Zelensky should be allowed to address the Eurovision Song Contest.
Number 10: "[The] prime minister thinks it would be fitting for President Zelensky to address the event given that we're hosting it on behalf of Ukraine. [The] values and freedoms that President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine are fighting for are not political, they're fundamental."
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) oversees the contest with the BBC and has barred Zelensky from making a video address during the final on Saturday.

Sunak is disappointed
BBC News

Downing Street said it would be "fitting" for Zelensky to make a video appearance at the Eurovision final. Ukraine was meant to be hosting this year's Eurovision, but the event is being held in Liverpool instead after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The EBU turned down Zelensky's request to appear: "The Eurovision Song Contest is an international entertainment show, and governed by strict rules and principles .. one of the cornerstones of the contest is the non-political nature of the event. This principle prohibits the possibility of making political or similar statements as part of the contest."

AR Fundamental values shouldn't be political.


2023 May 11

Storm Shadow for Ukraine

BBC News

The UK will supply Ukraine with air-launched long-range missiles to fight against invading Russian forces. The Storm Shadow conventionally armed stand-off missile (CASOM) has a range of over 250 km and after launch from a strike aircraft drops to low altitude to avoid detection by radar before locking onto its target using IR.
UK defence secretary Ben Wallace: "None of this would have been necessary had Russia not invaded."

AR Another step up the escalation ladder.


2023 May 10

Retained EU Laws

BBC News

HM government has ditched its plan for thousands of EU-era laws to expire automatically at the end of the year. The bill would have deleted all laws copied over to the UK after Brexit unless individually retained or replaced. Critics had voiced concern that it could lead to important legislation falling away by accident. Business secretary Kemi Badenoch said the cut-off point would be replaced with a list of 600 laws the government wants to replace by the end of the year.

AR Another encouraging sign.


Europe Day


2023 Europe Day

From Brexit to Ukraine: The UK and the EU

Pedro Serrano et al

On 9 May 1950, French foreign minister Robert Schuman proposed the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community. His goal was to build a Europe free from conflict, based on economic cooperation and integration. This, he knew, had to be done step by step.
The EU is engaged today in the fight against the climate crisis, the development and regulation of AI, and the use of outer space. It is a bulwark of democracy and promotes security, economic development, human rights, and fundamental freedoms throughout the world.
These are objectives shared by the UK. In our common response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the EU and the UK have risen to the occasion. After Brexit, the EU and the UK have rediscovered each other in their defence of Ukraine and of peace in Europe.
Europe's security is the UK's primary interest. And the EU is an indispensable partner. Rediscovery of common interests and concerns have led to regained trust in EU-UK relations. A strong UK and a strong EU are valuable partners.

AR Encouraging signs of a thaw.




2023 May 8

A Multipolar World

Michael Lind

Liberal internationalism has failed. Its promise was that struggles among countries could be replaced by collaboration to promote mutual security, mutual prosperity, and common values.
Liberal internationalists have been committed to a world of national self-determination by many sovereign states. They have sought to reconcile national independence with global harmony by replacing competition among states with global governance.
They hoped that conflicts of values among countries would disappear. They distinguished liberal from illiberal states and democracies from autocracies and assumed that the conversion to Western liberalism was inevitable.
In the emerging multipolar world, states will look after their own security, alone or with military allies. In formerly liberal democracies, real power has drained from legislatures to increasingly powerful executives, judiciaries, transnational agencies, and corporations.
Military and economic competition, together with conflicts of religious and secular values, cannot be eliminated. But interstate conflicts can be moderated and prevented from escalating. Conflicts among values can be managed.
The tragedy of great power politics is a permanent feature of a world without a world government.

AR This is profoundly depressing.




2023 May 7


Robert B Brandom

"Hegel's .. nonpsychological conception of the conceptual .. is .. an understanding of conceptual content in terms of modally robust relations of exclusion and inclusion .. The result is a hylomorphic conception of the conceptual. Conceptual contents .. show up in two different forms .. The subjective form articulates what things are or can be for consciousness, and the objective form articulates what things are or can be in themselves .. They are related as the two poles of the intentional nexus: what can be known and the attempted knowing of it, noumena and phenomena."
A Spirit of Trust: A Reading of Hegel's Phenomenology by Robert B Brandom (p 666)

AR I'm nearing the end of this hugely insightful book.


King and Queen
⊛ Hugo Burnand / Royal Household
At the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla in Westminster Abbey, the Archbishop of Canterbury anointed
the new king in a ritual dating back to the anointing of King Solomon by the priest Zadok.
The ceremony recalled a thousand years of British tradition and included costume changes, historic swords and sticks,
and a lot of medieval pageantry in an overwhelmingly Christian service.
The parade in the gilded Coronation Coach from the abbey back to the palace included 4,000 military personnel from
all the armed services and many Commonwealth countries.
The final touch was an appearance of the new monarch and his family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace (above)
to greet the crowds and view an aerial salute by the Red Arrows.
The ceremony emphasised that the monarch was anointed not to be served but to serve.
Charles chose all the music, and it was wonderful.
Yet the event was a historical fossil.

Slava Ukraini
Cohen Media Group


2023 May 6

Slava Ukraini

Bernard-Henri Lévy

Putin starts from the hypothesis that Ukraine does not exist, that Ukrainian culture does not exist. If I dare give a certain logic to this crazy war, it is in the logic of the denial of the Ukrainian identity. This barbarity matches with this logic of the denial of the very existence of Ukraine.
I'm not sure the west understands what is at stake. Without the resistance of the Ukrainians, maybe the Baltic states would be invaded at this moment, the Chinese would have started their operation on Taiwan, and so on.
The Ukrainians often thank us for our help. We should thank them. Every week, every day, has a real cost. The more the victory of Ukraine is delayed, the more the disaster grows.

The Kremlin must end this war
Lawrence Freedman

Putin originally aimed to subjugate all of Ukraine. He now says peace can be discussed as soon as Ukraine acknowledges that the four oblasts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia are a permanent part of Russia.
The recent Russian offensive was intended to take Luhansk and Donetsk. But after months of effort, the Russians have suffered huge casualties while making few advances. Bakhmut has become the symbol of this struggle.
Russia has also failed in its systematic campaign to take out Ukraine's critical infrastructure. A drone attack against the Kremlin this week led the Russian leadership into paroxysms of fury. Perhaps it was a Ukrainian provocation.
Absorbing the Russian offensive has not been easy for Ukrainians. They have asked whether it would have made more sense to withdraw. But these attritional battles have prevented a Russian advance and inflicted heavy losses.
Ukrainians are now preparing an offensive. Fresh brigades are almost ready to move. But the enemy has prepared elaborate defences to block them. There are concerns about gaps in Ukrainian air defences and insufficient ammunition.
A Ukrainian offensive offers a chance of a breakthrough. But if it fails, Ukraine will face a continuing stalemate and another harsh winter of fighting and energy shortages. International calls for a cease­fire will grow louder.
However much land is taken, the main objective must be to convince the Russian elite of the futility of this war and the fragility of its occupation. The Kremlin must end it.

AR We must compel them to end it.




2023 May 5

Assembling Life

Philip Ball

Assembly theory offers a general way to identify molecules made by living systems.
The theory aims to explain why apparently unlikely things exist by appeal to a process that imbues objects with histories and memories of what came before them. It provides a consistent and mathematically precise account of the apparent historical contingency of how things get made.
Complex objects arise from combining many simpler objects. We can measure an object's complexity by calculating the minimum number of steps needed to make the object from its ingredients. This is its assembly index.
Very complex things can arise from random assembly processes, but the chances of getting two identical molecules in this way are vanishingly small. Finding many identical complex molecules is improbable unless some orchestrated process is at work.
If a molecule is abundant enough to be detectable, its assembly index can indicate whether it was produced by an organized process. We can calculate the minimum number of steps needed to make different molecular structures.
Large molecules with high indexes fracture into more complex mixtures of fragments than those with low indexes. Complex mixtures of molecules made by living systems typically have higher average indexes than minerals or simple organics.
The theory helps us root our understanding of Darwinian evolution in physics.

Time is fundamental
Sara Imari Walker

Darwinian evolution is the only physical process we know that can generate the succession of novel objects we associate with life. Such objects take time to evolve. They require a memory of the past to construct things in the present. Everything living requires a memory and information flow.
As objects become more complex, the number of unique parts that make them up increases, and so does the need for local memory to store how to assemble an object from its unique parts. We call the lowest number of steps to build an object from its elementary parts its assembly index.
Assembly theory treats this shortest path as an intrinsic property of the object. An assembly index can be measured for molecules using several different measuring techniques. We have shown in the lab how molecules with an assembly index above 15 steps are only found in living samples.
With this theory, we can test our hypothesis that life is the only physics that generates complex objects. We can do so by identifying those objects that are so complex the only physical mechanism to form them is evolution.

AR Assembly depth probes deep time − intriguing.


⊛ André Carrilho
"The great experiment to stand
apart from the rest of creation
has failed."
Charles Windsor


2023 May 4

Rebuilding UK−EU Relations

Patrick Wintour

New EU envoy to London Pedro Serrano: "I believe I have arrived at a good moment with the making and the finalization of the agreement on the Windsor framework."
On why the NI talks succeeded: "All Europeans are jointly facing one of the biggest threats for decades .. it has been easy to .. show a willingness to go beyond Brexit and rebuild a strong relationship."
On talk of a UK breach of human rights: "We do hope that our partners also will continue supporting both the European Court for Human Rights and, of course, the Council of Europe."
On British involvement in the European Political Community: "The EPC does fill a vacuum and, as such, is a very useful structure for European leaders."
On regular EU−UK summits: "It is not on the table yet, but such meetings are normal for the EU with third countries to which it is very close."
On defense: "The UK has always been behind most of the initiatives that have been developed in the architecture of security and defense policy .. It is a pillar of the EU treaties that the way to address collective defense is NATO .. All the instruments of European defense policy are open .. to third countries."
On the invasion of Ukraine: "This war has exposed weaknesses in the militaries of all member states .. we have to address them together."

Brexit isn't working
Mike Galsworthy

Repeated polling shows not just that people think Brexit was the wrong decision, is not working on immigration and travel, and is not working for business, but also that most people would vote to rejoin if they could.
We in the European Movement want to rejoin the EU. We are not just a Westminster outfit. In every location of the country, a local group is getting into local press, doing local events, meeting up with local groups, and building from the grassroots up.
The Conservative party, if it loses the next general election, will think about how to win power again. If Brexit is unpopular at that stage, they will need to think about how they approach Europe.
I'm happy with the Labour position. If Labour were pro-Europe now, every time they got on interviews people would drag it back to the Brexit vote and back to 2019. As it is, they twist and turn awkwardly. They give us space to set things out on our terms.
The Liberal Democrats care about winning as many seats as they can, about Europe, and about proportional representation. All those go together nicely.
As the new chair of the European Movement in the UK, I lead the rejoin campaign in the UK. Someone needs to do it, and I'm up for it.

AR Patience, step by step ..


Poole Bay seen from Studland, Wednesday

"AI could be our savior
by hastening breakthroughs ..
that enable humans to manage
the impacts of climate change
that are now unavoidable and
to avoid those that would be unmanageable."
Thomas L Friedman



2023 May 3

AI Is Scary

Geoffrey Hinton

Crows can solve puzzles. They do it by changing the strengths of connections between neurons in their brain. It must be possible to learn complicated things by changing the strengths of connections in an artificial neural network.
Our brains have 100 trillion connections. Large language models have a trillion at most. Yet GPT‑4 knows hundreds of times more than any one person does. So maybe it's got a better learning algorithm than we have.
These large language models can confabulate. These models are doing something just like people. We don't expect them to blather the way people do. When a computer does that, we think it made a mistake.
If you or I learn something and want to transfer that knowledge to someone else, we can't just send them a copy. But I can have 10,000 neural networks, each having their own experiences, and any of them can share what they learn instantly. It's a new and better form of intelligence.
I have suddenly switched my views on whether these things are going to be more intelligent than us. I think they're very close to it now and they will be much more intelligent than us in the future.
A lot of the people who want to use these tools are bad actors. They want to use them for winning wars or manipulating electorates.

AR Interesting conversion, interesting conversation.


2023 May 2

Dangers Posed by AI

Cade Metz

A neural network is a mathematical system that learns skills by analyzing data. Neural networks that learn from huge amounts of digital text are called large language models, LLMs:
  OpenAI's ChatGPT can respond to complex questions, write poetry, generate code, plan vacations, translate languages, and even respond to images.
  Microsoft's Bing can hold open-ended text conversations on virtually any topic, but it occasionally gives inaccurate, misleading and weird responses.
  Google's Bard was designed to draft emails and poems, but it can generate ideas, write blog posts, and answer questions with facts or opinions.
By pinpointing patterns in that text, LLMs learn to generate text on their own, including blog posts, poems and computer programs. They can even carry on a conversation.
This technology can help computer programmers, writers and other workers generate ideas and do things more quickly. But experts warn that LLMs can learn unwanted and unexpected behaviors.
They can generate untruthful, biased, and otherwise toxic information. Systems like GPT‑4 get facts wrong and make up information, a phenomenon called hallucination.

Short-Term Risk: Disinformation
These systems deliver information with what seems like complete confidence, so it can be a struggle to separate truth from fiction when using them. People may rely on these systems for medical advice, emotional support, and the raw information they use to make decisions. People could misuse these systems to spread disinformation. Because they can converse in humanlike ways, they can be surprisingly persuasive.

Medium-Term Risk: Job Loss
Experts say the new AI could be job killers. Right now, technologies like GPT‑4 tend to complement human workers. They cannot yet duplicate the work of lawyers, accountants, or doctors, but they could replace paralegals, personal assistants, and translators.
Allen Institute for AI founding chief executive Oren Etzioni: "There is an indication that rote jobs will go away."

Long-Term Risk: Loss of Control
Some say AI could slip outside our control or destroy humanity. But that may be wildly overblown.
Theoretical physicist Anthony Aguirre: "If you look at a straightforward extrapolation of where we are now to three years from now, things are pretty weird. If you take a less probable scenario − where things really take off, where there is no real governance, where these systems turn out to be more powerful than we thought they would be − then things get really, really crazy."

AR The systems need good regulation.




2023 May 1

Rebuilding Britain

Andrew Marr

Britain can recuperate. The UK is weak but remains whole after challenges from Scotland and NI. It is in political and economic convalescence.
Most of the increase in the UK population this century came from migration. The increase in wealth is unevenly spread. From a food perspective, a sustainable UK population should be 20 million or below, so there are around 50 million "too many" of us.
Our economic debility comes first from a lack of growth. One agenda suggests we should measure development not by material economic advance alone but by indices of human happiness. Still, without economic growth, life for too many people becomes grimmer and harder.
Our children expect a considerably worse standard of living than we enjoyed. There is a huge rebuilding and recovery job to be done. This includes the judicial and criminal system, the health service, education, a green energy revolution, and restoring freshwater ecosystems.
This job of rebuilding almost certainly requires a new government, probably a majority Labour one. But the backlash will be ferocious. We can already see the first flickers of extremism in NatCon UK. We must choose the path to decent normality.

National Conservatism
John Harris

National Conservatism has branches in the US, UK, Hungary, and the Netherlands. It is an offshoot of the Edmund Burke Foundation, a US think tank founded in 2019. Its statement of values develops the populism associated with Donald Trump and Boris Johnson into something moralistic.
NatCon seeks a world of independent nations, societies centred on the traditional family, and a big official role for Christianity. It has a defensive view of what constitutes national communities and how to sustain them. Its advocates argue that immigration is a source of weakness and instability, citing "values" that conceal a tangle of ideas about culture and nationhood with sinister echoes.
The NatCon UK mix of authoritarianism, nostalgia, and hostility to immigration recalls and updates the spirit of Enoch Powell. Home Office minister Robert Jenrick: "The nation has a right to preserve itself .. uncontrolled migration threatens to cannibalise the compassion of the British public."
In his notorious "rivers of blood" speech, Powell had said immigration from the Commonwealth suggested "a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre". Thirteen years of Conservative government and the failures of Brexit have brought us down to this.

AR There is hope − in a decade or two.


Topological Solitons

New Scientist

String theory posits topological solitons, a region where spacetime warps and forms a hole that light can fall into, like it falls into a black hole. But topological solitons would show light swirling about their center, whereas black holes trap all the light that enters them.
Modeling a topological soliton gives images of how it would look through an instrument like EHT. The images show light falling into the hole bouncing inside its edges, so the center is not black.
Topological solitons could help solve the black hole information paradox. If signals previously interpreted as from a black hole come from a topological soliton, the paradox becomes irrelevant. Any observations showing central structure could indicate topological solitons.

AR The paradox is solved already, thanks.


Exeter College Oxford chapel, Saturday: I was there to attend a memorial service for Paul Snowdon,
who was my Oxford tutor half a century ago for the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of Kant.
At the service, we enjoyed a preliminary trio of pieces by Bach, a welcome by ECO Rector Sir Rick Trainor,
a gospel reading by Canon Brian Mountford, a prayer, and a delightful choral solo rendition of Ave Maria
to music by Schubert. Then came tributes, followed by another choral solo, this one of Laudate Dominum
to music by Mozart, more tributes, an anthem, more prayers, a hymn, and a blessing. The finale was a
Bach fugue played on the magnificent college organ.
I remain grateful to Paul not only for his invaluable tuition but also for his kind words about my book
Mindworlds (reprinted on its back cover).

Charles, Camilla
Royal Household


2023 April 30

The Coronation of Charles and Camilla

The Sunday Times

King Charles and Queen Camilla will be crowned in a two-hour service in Westminster Abbey next Saturday. The ceremony will be conducted by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
The Stone of Destiny will sit beside the Coronation Chair. Prince William will kneel before his father to recite the Homage of Royal Blood: "I, William, Prince of Wales, pledge my loyalty to you, and faith and truth I will bear unto you as your liegeman of life and limb. So help me God."
Once Charles is crowned, the archbishop will invite the congregation and millions of TV viewers around the UK and the Commonwealth to join him in reciting the pledge of allegiance, also known as the Homage of the People: "I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God."
The liturgy has the theme of "called to serve" and includes new features:
  Charles will recite aloud a King's Prayer written for the occasion.
  Female clergy will also participate in the ceremony.
  The service will include languages spoken natively in the UK other than English.
  UK prime minister Rishi Sunak will read from the Bible.
  Faith leaders from Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, and Buddhist communities will recite a
    greeting to the King in unison.

AR Good grief − rank idolatry!


The British Brexit Blunder

William Keegan

Thanks to Brexit, there is supply-chain chaos all over Britain. The Conservatives are pretending they can make a success of a manifest disaster, yet the Labour opposition refuses to challenge it on the biggest self-inflicted crisis in recent British history.
The economy is damaged by the consequences of Brexit at almost every turn. A rise in import prices is a consequence of Brexit and explains why UK inflation rate is so high. Yet the two major parties refuse to recognise the scale of the disaster.
A recent poll shows 59% of respondents say Brexit has made Britain worse off and 55% say Brexit was a mistake. Analysis shows the Labour lead would be higher if Labour said Brexit was a mistake. Labour could win back all its "red wall" seats.

AR Time for a general election.




2023 April 29

Ukraine's Big Offensive

Mark Galeotti

Ukraine's spring offensive against Russian occupiers is due soon. Defense minister Oleksii Reznikov: "As soon as there is God's will, the weather, and a decision by commanders, we will do it."
US intelligence assessments say Ukraine is unlikely to make more than "modest territorial gains" from the entrenched Russian forces.
So far the Ukrainian military has demonstrated not just skill and determination but also imagination. They have outfought and out-thought their enemies on a tactical level. They have often also caught the Russians by surprise at an operational and strategic level.
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg says 98% of promised western weaponry has been delivered. The Ukrainians are deploying the 230 western tanks and 1,550 AFVs, but they still lack proper air defenses for any big offensive operation. They will also need more shells, bullets, and missiles.
To maintain western support, President Zelensky must show what US officials call a return on investment. Domestic hawks prevent him pushing negotiations, so Kyiv will have to attack.
Moscow knows this. Satellite photos show a growing array of trenches and fortifications along likely lines of Ukrainian attack. But Russia too is running short of PGMs and ammunition. The more aggressive its operations, the more losses it takes.
The Kremlin is seeking to avoid direct provocation of NATO. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov says NATO is trying "to break Russia apart" but is actually making it stronger. Yet Moscow must now watch Ankara and Tehran acting in regions where it once held sway.
China is gaining more traction the longer the war continues. Beijing is still not supplying weapons, ammunition, or even the kind of unconditional political support Putin wanted.

AR So far, stalemate.




2023 April 28

Can China Broker Peace in Ukraine?

Rajan Menon, Daniel R DePetris

Xi Jinping's phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky was no surprise. Yet Xi has no illusions about the difficulty of serving as mediator in the war between Ukraine and Russia.
The Chinese peace proposal advocates negotiations and a comprehensive ceasefire. It says nothing about the territorial terms of a settlement and stresses the need for both sides to show restraint and respect the "sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries, regardless of whether they were weak or strong, rich or poor".
Xi must know that Russia cannot achieve its territorial objectives by winning the war militarily. Xi also wants to protect Chinese economic interests in Ukraine over the long term. Yet Xi will understand that there will be more war in the short term.
The Ukrainian military is preparing a major counteroffensive. The NATO allies continue to arm Kyiv for a successful campaign. The Russian military has been solidifying its defensive positions. Neither Ukraine nor Russia will rush to the bargaining table any time soon.

AR Let's see Xi push Putin.




2023 April 27

King Charles

Clive Irving

King Charles III is limited in his freedom to act. A few days after he took the throne, Liz Truss cancelled his planned trip to the world climate summit in Egypt. Charles held a Buckingham Palace reception for delegates instead.
The King was next lured into a political stunt. The government gave the name "Windsor" to the deal on Northern Ireland's Brexit mess. Although the Windsor Framework was signed at a chain hotel and announced in a guildhall, Ursula von der Leyen took tea with the King at Windsor Castle.
The royal culture sustains a power structure with a strong resistance to change. The royal household is a sprawling bureaucracy with many layers and plenty of opportunity for those who run it to defend their perquisites.
King Charles has become steadily richer. In the last decade before he became King, the value of his Duchy of Cornwall portfolio leapt by about a half. The Duchy pays no corporation tax because it is not considered a company.
Charles does not pay capital gains tax. His personal wealth is a part of the sovereign wealth fund of the House of Windsor. The Crown Estate property portfolio is worth over £16 billion and includes the territorial waters around the UK. In January, the Crown Estate licensed six new offshore wind farms in a deal worth £1 billion a year.
Charles has never welcomed outside scrutiny of royal wealth. His version of monarchy looks increasingly like plutocracy.

AR An unsustainable institution.


Team Luftwaffe
German and British Eurofighters were scrambled to track a Russian spy mission by an IL-20 reconnaissance aircraft
escorted by two SU-27 fighters (above) flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea with transponders off.

AR NATO needs to make the Baltic Sea safe for the West by neutralizing St Petersburg and Kaliningrad.

AR He's talking about
modern Britain


2023 April 25

Sea Power

Roger Boyes

The future of warfare lies at sea, in the battle for control of maritime trading routes.
Global arms spending soared to over $2.2 trillion last year. Japan's defense budget has jumped to its highest levels since 1960. The period between 2024 and 2027 will be a dangerous window of crisis over Taiwan.
China has increased military expenditure by two thirds over the past decade. Much of that has gone on expanding and modernizing its navy. China can now claim to have the world's largest fleet of operational warships and submarines.
The Russians are constructing icebreakers for when Arctic warming opens a viable trading route in the high north. The route could deepen Russian cooperation with China. Putin could declare much of the Arctic Ocean to be Russian territorial waters.
Maritime chokepoints are vulnerable as trade shuttles between Asia and the rest of the world. The possibility of a hostile blockade of the Malacca Strait haunts Beijing.
On the Pacific rim, US marines are deploying rocket systems to cover the 200 km sea channel between the Philippines and Taiwan. There are big US bases in the Philippines.
The PLA has just completed military exercises that seemed to rehearse a blockade of Taiwan. A blockade is an act of war and risks a major US response. China would issue an ultimatum to Taiwan first, to raise the stakes for any US attempt to break the blockade.
As China risks naval confrontation, the West will find Taiwan hard to defend.

AR Britain should keep its naval assets away from the Pacific rim if it wants to secure its home base on the Atlantic rim.


2023 April 25

The UK and China

James Cleverly

No significant global problem can be solved without China. To give up on China would be to give up on addressing humanity's biggest problems. To declare a new Cold War would be a willful misunderstanding of the modern world.
When Britain condemns the mass incarceration of the Uighur people in Xinjiang, I hope our Chinese counterparts do not believe that we are merely seeking to interfere in their domestic affairs. But when the Chinese government locks up over a million people, this stirs our revulsion.
We expect China to observe the laws and obligations it has freely accepted. If China breaks them, we are entitled to say so and to act, as we did when China dismantled the freedoms of Hong Kong. Peaceful co-existence begins with respecting fundamental laws and institutions.
As UK foreign secretary, I urge China to be open about the doctrine and intent behind its military expansion. Transparency is surely in everyone's interests. Secrecy can only increase the risk of tragic miscalculation.

The EU and China
Wolfgang Münchau

Germany, France, and Italy account for more than a half of EU GDP and are China's largest trading partners in the EU. German chancellor Olaf Scholz, French president Emmanuel Macron, and Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni all agree on close industrial relations with China.
The EU must decide whether to follow the US into a confrontation with China, or whether to strive to become more independent of the US. Since 1999, the US has developed the instrument of financial sanctions as a security policy tool and is ready to use it against Europeans.
Europe depends on the US for its defense and must ask whether a future US administration will want to align with Europe. But I see no way the EU can fully align with the US in a conflict with China over Taiwan. The EU economy is too dependent on China.

AR I urge the UK and the EU to find a shared position on China.




2023 April 24

Cosmic Neutrinos

Martin Bauer

Experiments around the world detect solar neutrinos, but neutrinos released just after the Big Bang have far less energy and have so far proved impossible to detect.
The primordial plasma was a fog. Photons were soon absorbed or scattered. As the universe expanded and the plasma cooled, it became less dense, until about 12 Ts ABB, when the photons could finally fly free. We see them as the cosmic microwave background. The CMB is the oldest light we can see.
Neutrinos could fly free much earlier ABB compared with light. Neutrinos created in the first second ABB could immediately fly free, and still do. This cosmic neutrino background is the CNB. Discovering the CNB would be a new way of seeing how the universe developed.
Neutrinos come in three different types, each with its own tiny mass. CNB neutrinos would travel at a range of speeds, all around 0.1% of c, as they stream toward us, with courses bent by gravitational lensing. We could use them to image the large-scale structure of the universe at different times.
We think the CNB is as inevitable as the CMB. We must try to detect it. But the energy of cosmic neutrinos would be a billion times smaller than the lowest energy neutrino from other sources that we have observed so far, making them much harder to catch.
A neutrino hitting an atom can transform a proton into a neutron, changing the chemical identity of the atom. Cosmic neutrinos are not energetic enough to do this, but tritium is unstable. If a tritium nucleus absorbs a cosmic neutrino before it decays, the energy of the electron it emits can be higher than expected. If we could precisely measure the energy, we would have discovered the CNB.
A target of 100 g of tritium would yield just 4 neutrino absorptions per year. A research collaboration called PTOLEMY aims to build a prototype detector.

AR An opportunity for the deep future.




2023 April 23

Mathematics and Music

A Zee

The universe is a book written in the language of mathematics .. Trying to understand physics by reading popular books is like reading about music without ever listening to it. Nature is singing to us, and generations of people far more intelligent than most of us have discovered the language, however imperfect, that enables us to listen. Perhaps it is not high fidelity .. but still, it conveys far more than any popular book written in human language could possibly convey.
Quantum Field Theory, as Simply as Possible by A Zee (p 341)

A popular book on physics
Michio Kaku

Journalists are hyperventilating about chatbots because they see that their job is on the line. Many jobs have been on the line historically, but now journalists are in the crosshairs.
Mother Nature does not compute digitally. Quantum computers should be able to unravel the secrets of life, the secrets of the universe, the secrets of matter, because the language of nature is the quantum principle.
The universal law of technology is that it can be used for good or evil. That's why we regulate nuclear weapons, because they would be enough to destroy humanity on planet Earth. At some point, we're going to reach the boundaries of chatbot technology, where it impacts negatively on society. Right now, I can see a lot of benefits.
The whole purpose of writing books for the public is so that they can make educated, reasonable, wise decisions about the future of technology. Once technology becomes so complicated that the average person cannot grasp it, then there's big trouble, because people with no moral compass will be directing it.
I was fascinated by Einstein's dream of a theory of everything, a unified field theory. I said to myself, when I grow up, and I become a theoretical physicist, I want to write papers on this subject. But I also want to write for myself as a child.
I saw Silicon Valley grow from nothing. When I was a child, I used to play in the apple orchards of what is now Apple. Silicon Valley could become a rust belt.

AR Back in 1988, I tried to read a math-filled "introduction" to superstrings by Kaku. It was incomprehensible. He's loosened up a lot since then.


Springtime forest in Dorset



2023 Earth Day

The Environment

Denis Hayes

Earth Day has changed. In 1970, we were focusing on the fact that schoolchildren were not allowed to go outside for recess because the air was too filthy, that streams that people swam and fished in were no longer accessible because they were laced with poison, and we were spraying everything with pesticides.
Today, the big global issues like climate change and the epidemic of extinctions are more in tune with Earth Day, somewhat akin to the threat of thermonuclear war was when I was young. Millions of people every year come out and do something positive for the environment.

Fix your diet, save the planet
Peter Singer

The year of the first Earth Day, 1970, was the year I stopped eating meat. I realized that there is no ethical justification for treating animals like machines for converting feed into meat, milk, and eggs. It is wrong to ignore or discount the interests of other sentient beings.
Boycotting the monstrous abuse of billions of animals each year is a powerful reason for not eating meat, but the outsize contribution of meat and dairy products to climate change is for me now an equally urgent part of shifting to a plant-based diet.
Meat and dairy production are major sources of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Releasing into the atmosphere a ton of methane will, over a century, raise the temperature of our planet by 28 times as much as releasing a ton of carbon dioxide.
We can do something for the planet every time we eat. If Americans were to replace half of all animal-based foods with plant-based alternatives by 2030, that alone would help them get a quarter of the way toward hitting the US climate target under the Paris agreement.
A decision to stop eating animals makes a fitting Earth Day resolution. Cattle grazing is the largest driver of deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon. In addition to the substantial carbon emissions, the destruction of tropical forests threatens mass extinctions.
In 1975, it was rare to encounter a vegetarian in Western societies. Now there are 1.3 million vegans in Britain, or 2% of the UK population. In the United States, estimates of the proportion of vegans in the population range from 0.5% to 6%.
Even if there were 10 times as many vegans in the world, that would not be enough to save the planet or end factory farming. Persuading most people to halve their consumption of animal products would achieve much more.

AR Earth Day books


2023 April 21

EU und China

Manfred Weber

Eine erfolgreiche Chinastrategie ist heute nur in Abstimmung mit den USA denkbar. Die EU kann China derzeit weder politisch noch militärisch allein begegnen.
Sollte es eine Eskalation zwischen China und Taiwan geben, muss sich die EU auf die Seite der Demokratie stellen. Führungen wie die in China und Russland verstehen nur die Sprache der Stärke. Die EU müsste im Fall eines Überfalls Chinas auf Taiwan zu massiven Sanktionen bereit sein.
Dass Rohstoffabhängigkeiten einen härteren Kurs unmöglich machen, wurde früher auch über Russland behauptet. Das stimmte schon damals nicht, und es ist auch pauschal in Bezug auf China falsch. Außerdem ist Peking bereits dabei, seine Beziehungen zur EU von sich aus zurückzufahren. China ist deshalb nicht der Markt, auf dem unsere Zukunft allein liegen kann.
Wir brauchen einen Neustart der Verhandlungen mit den USA über ein großes Freihandelsabkommen.

AR Über die Wirksamkeit der Sanktionen-Waffe gegen China bin ich eher skeptisch.


⊛ Alina Yarysh
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine meet in Kyiv
Stoltenberg: "All NATO allies have agreed that Ukraine will become a member."



2023 April 20

America vs China

Financial Times

US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen warns that any effort to decouple from China would be "disastrous" and calls for a "constructive and fair" economic relationship: "The US will assert ourselves when our vital interests are at stake. But we do not seek to decouple our economy from China's. A full separation of our economies would be disastrous for both countries. It would be destabilizing for the rest of the world."

Britain vs China
Martin Kettle

UK foreign secretary James Cleverly is pushing Conservative foreign policy toward a more practical and stable place in world affairs. He says it is in no one's interest "to just pull the shutters down" on relations with Beijing: "We have got to − and therefore we will − engage closely and regularly."
China is now the great new threat feeding Brexiteer nationalism. But economic stagnation and the Ukraine war underscore the fact that British interests depend on restored trade and effective alliances. Britain is not a Pacific power, Russia is a hostile state, the US future remains uncertain, and liberal democracies need to stick together. There is no role for a maverick Britain.

AR I'm reassured to see good sense prevailing.


2023 April 19

Three Nuclear Superpowers

David E Sanger, William J Broad, Chris Buckley

US State Department: "The United States is entering one of the most complex and challenging periods for the global nuclear order, potentially more so than during the Cold War."
Pentagon policy document: "By the 2030s the United States will, for the first time in its history, face two major nuclear powers as strategic competitors and potential adversaries."
Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Mark Milley: "We are probably not going to be able to do anything to stop, slow down, disrupt, interdict, or destroy the Chinese nuclear development program that they have projected out over the next 10 to 20 years."
New START runs out in 2026. There is little chance of forging a new treaty while the Ukraine war rages. Even if Russia and the United States did so, it would be worthless without China. The Chinese nuclear warhead count could grow to 1,000 by 2030.
China is building three vast fields of missile silos in its arid northern expanses. They could hold up to an estimated 350 ICBMs, each armed with MIRVs. The solid-fuel missiles in the silos are likely to have their warheads attached, reducing time to launch. China is also working on a new generation of submarines for launching missiles.
Russia and the United States are now down to 1,550 long-range nuclear weapons each. But Russia is upgrading its arsenal into a far more survivable force. And the United States is overhauling its arsenal for an estimated cost of $2 trillion.

China's war machine
Michael Evans

Top US Indo-Pacific commander Admiral John Aquilino: "Conflict in the INDOPACOM area of operations is neither imminent nor inevitable. Nevertheless, we do not have the luxury of time. We must act now to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific."
Under the one-China policy, the USA recognizes the PRC as the sole legal government of China but only acknowledges the Chinese position that Taiwan is part of China. Washington maintains unofficial relations with the Taipei government and supplies arms to Taiwan.
Aquilino: "Beijing publicly claims a preference for peaceful unification over conflict. However, its consistent pressure tactics and coercive behavior demonstrates a significant disconnect between their words and their deeds .. Construction of silo fields across northern China, coupled with modern ballistic-missile submarines and the Xian H‑6N .. bomber, underscore China's focus on developing a survivable nuclear triad."
He says the PLA Navy will have 440 "battle force ships" by 2030. The US Navy has 292 battle force ships today and plans up to 367 by 2052.

AR We need to build trust with China.


Schlossgarten Schwetzingen
From 2008 to 2013, I lived a five-minute walk from here: I often walked around the little garden in the replica mosque
(lower edge of image)



2023 April 18


European Commission

President von der Leyen in the European Parliament: "In the last decades China has become an economic powerhouse and a key global player. It is now reducing its dependency on the world while increasing the world's dependency on itself. We need to develop a new approach."

AR Sad but true.




2023 April 17

Freedom Over Tyranny

Simon McDonald, Christoph Heusgen, Stéphane Abrial, Jim Jones, Stefano Stefanini

Vladimir Putin has flagrantly violated international law and committed a breach of the UN charter. He used massive force to try to erase Ukraine from the map of Europe, leaving a trail of gross human rights abuses and war crimes in the process.
At this year's Munich security conference, transatlantic leaders affirmed that Ukraine must win this war. But a declaration of support is not enough. We have to provide Ukraine with the combined force of tanks, missiles, and aircraft to conduct a successful counterattack, paving the way to Ukrainian victory and peace negotiations on acceptable terms.
We should be wary of China's role in this conflict. Beijing is already helping Putin's war efforts and has every interest in keeping Putin in power. To deter Russia and China, Europe needs to strengthen European defense capabilities. A stronger European contribution is also necessary to help preserve bipartisan US support for Ukraine.
Putin has become an international outcast. To continue its fight for freedom and defeat him, Ukraine needs more support. When freedom is better equipped than tyranny, its victory is assured.

AR Well, right, let's get serious.


Meta AI


Meta AI Reads Proteins

Singularity Hub

Meta AI has used a a transformer protein language model to decipher proteins in bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms. Its ESMFold system is like ChatGPT.
Proteins are made from 20 amino acids strung like beads on a string. The amino acid letters help shape the final structure of a protein. An evolutionary dictionary helps string them into structures the body can use.
Meta AI fed ESMFold with sequences of known proteins. The AI learned the general architecture of proteins and saw roughly 65 million different protein sequences overall.
When the team hid certain letters, ESMFold filled in the blanks and learned to understand evolutionary protein sequences and how they work together to make functional proteins. On standard test sets, ESMFold provided prediction accuracy matching AlphaFold2 on more than half the proteins.
The team then pushed into metagenomics to study DNA from environmental sources. ESMFold has predicted over 700 million of these proteins.

AR These language models are seriously impressive.


China's defense minister Li Shangfu with Putin in Moscow

Communist Party of China:
"Content generated through
the use of generative AI shall
reflect the socialist core values
and may not .. upset economic
order or social order."


China and Russia

The Guardian

Vladimir Putin and China's defense minister Li Shangfu vow to deepen military cooperation between China and Russia after meeting in Moscow over the weekend.
Li: "China is willing to work with Russia to make new contributions to the maintenance of world and regional security and stability .. This is my first overseas visit since taking over as China's defense minister. I specifically chose Russia for this in order to emphasize the special nature and strategic importance of our bilateral ties."
Putin: "We are working actively through our military departments, regularly exchange useful information, work together in the field of military-technical cooperation, and hold joint exercises .. Undoubtedly, this is another crucial area that strengthens the extremely trusting, strategic nature of our relations."

China is driving change
Isabel Hilton

Beijing officials say China is open for business. Westerners are exploring how they might reduce their dependence on China.
China's tacit support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine sharpened fears in Europe that China might weaponize its economic and trade relationships in pursuit of political ambitions.
China has a "Made in China 2025" policy of industrial development and a policy of dual circulation to shift effort away from exports in favor of expanding domestic demand, growth, and innovation.
In the United States, sentiment has hardened into confrontation. The EU says China is a cooperation and negotiation partner, an economic competitor, and a systemic rival.
For the West, the shared benefits of globalization based on mutual trust now look fragile as trust gives way to mutual suspicion and retaliatory spats.
Xi Jinping remains confident that the world is going China's way. He shares with Putin the conviction that the United States is in terminal decline.
Xi: "Change is coming that hasn't happened in 100 years, and we are driving this change together." Putin: "I agree."

AR This is looking like an existential fight for the West.


2023 April 16

Trusting China

Thomas L Friedman

Trust plays a big role in international relations, now that so many goods and services traded worldwide are digital, and therefore dual use.
In China, the Communist Party (CPC) has a stronger grip than ever. It crushes any challenge to its rule or to President Xi Jinping. Its hold is a product not only of all the hard work and savings of the Chinese people but also of an increasingly pervasive police state and a government that has steadily raised standards of living. The CPC takes both control and nation-building seriously.
China and America are jostling to acquire the most economic and military clout to shape the 21st century. The nations have become as economically intertwined as the strands of a DNA molecule. Neither China nor America has ever had to deal with an economic and military peer with which it was so intertwined through trade and investment.
In our new technological ecosystem, ever more of the devices and services we use are driven by microchips and software and connected through data centers in the cloud. The microchips are critical. The that can make the fastest, most powerful, and most energy efficient microchips can make the biggest AI computers and dominate in economics and military affairs.
Because the physics of making advanced logic chips has become so complex, no one country or company can own the whole supply chain. You need the best from everywhere, and that supply chain is so tightly intertwined that each company must trust the others intimately.
Taiwan hosts the world's greatest chip-making company, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. TSMC makes 90% of the world's most advanced logic chips. It takes the designs of the most advanced computer companies in the world and turns them into chips. It makes two pledges to its customers: TSMC will never compete against them by designing its own chips and it will never share the designs of one of its customers with another.
By working with so many trusted partners, TSMC leverages their steadily more complex designs to improve itself. This requires tight collaboration between TSMC and its customers and suppliers.
China has Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation, but no global chip designers trust SMIC with their most advanced designs, so it is at least a decade behind TSMC.
China made itself a less trusted partner right when the most important technology for this century required unprecedented degrees of trust. When Xi Jinping centralized power into his own hands, reinforced the authority of the CPC, and deployed pervasive surveillance technologies, whatever trust China had built up with the West evaporated.
Beijing officials say that US politicians blamed US economic troubles not on any educational deficiencies, or a poor work ethic, or automation or the 2008 looting by financial elites, but on Chinese exports to America. Americans then imposed controls over advanced semiconductor manufacturing and other high-tech exports to keep China behind.
Both sides must see that establishing and maintaining trust is important.

AR Absolutely right, as usual from Friedman.




2023 April 15

Hyperdimensional Computing

Anil Ananthaswamy

Artificial neural networks (ANNs) are power-hungry and lack transparency. Their limitations have long been obvious.
Consider an ANN that tells circles and squares apart. It may have two neurons in its output layer, one for a circle and one for a square. To distinguish blue or red you need four output neurons, one for each combination. More features mean even more neurons.
In a different approach, hyperdimensional computing represents each piece of information as a hyperdimensional vector. A vector is simply an ordered array of numbers. An array of N numbers represents a point in N‑dimensional space.
For images with red circles and blue squares, choose distinct vectors to represent properties and their values. Distinctness is quantified by orthogonality. In an N‑dimensional space, there are N mutually orthogonal vectors. If we allow vectors to be nearly orthogonal, the number of such distinct vectors in the space explodes.
Given hypervectors for shapes and colors, we can manipulate them using multiplication, addition, and permutation. These are enough to create an algebra of hypervectors for symbolic reasoning.
Hyperdimensional algorithms can solve problems symbolically. They tolerate errors well and are at least 10 times more tolerant of hardware faults than traditional ANNs. They are also transparent.
Hyperdimensional computing is well suited for a new generation of hardware. It is still in its infancy.

AR This is a natural step forward from what we did in my team at SAP.


European Space Agency
Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) mission liftoff



2023 April 14


European Space Agency

ESA's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) spacecraft lifted off on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana at 12:14 UTC. The launch marks the beginning of an ambitious voyage to uncover the secrets of the ocean moons orbiting Jupiter.
Juice project manager Giuseppe Sarri: "It is thanks to the leadership of ESA and the effort and commitment of hundreds of European industries and scientific institutions that the Juice mission has become a reality."

Life on the Jovian moons
Ian Sample

Juice has blasted off on a landmark mission to Jupiter's moons. The mission aims to uncover the secrets of Jupiter's Great Red Spot, its enormous polar auroras, and how its mighty magnetic field shapes conditions on the gas giant's nearby moons.
Juice will visit three of Jupiter's moons − Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede − to explore the deep liquid water oceans beneath their icy surfaces. The moons are high the list of local worlds that might host life. Any hydrothermal vents on their ocean beds could provide energy for life to evolve.
UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory professor Andrew Coates: "I'm so thrilled to see Juice finally on its way. This is an excellent mission to look at habitability of Jupiter's moons."

AR Glorious, but I may be too old to witness the results of the mission.




2023 April 13

Big Data + Compute = Godlike AI

Ian Hogarth

Godlike AI is a superintelligent computer that learns and develops autonomously, that understands its environment without the need for supervision, and that can transform the world around it. Godlike AI could be a force beyond our control or understanding. It could destroy the human race.
The compute used to train AI models has increased by a factor of 100 million in the past 10 years. We have gone from training on relatively small datasets to feeding AIs the entire internet. AI models have progressed from beginners to being superhuman at a huge number of tasks.
Large language models are AI systems that can generate, classify, and understand text. They are dangerous partly because they can mislead the public into taking synthetic text as meaningful. They are also beginning to demonstrate complex capabilities, such as finding ways to deceive us.
DeepMind was founded in London in 2010 and bought by Google in 2014 for more than $500 million. OpenAI was founded in 2015 in San Francisco. Late in 2022, its ChatGPT began making headlines. Since then, a huge wave of capital and talent has shifted toward AGI research.
OpenAI, DeepMind, and others try to mitigate existential risk by AI alignment. But the number of people working on AI alignment research is vanishingly small.
Distributed AI Research Institute founder Timnit Gebru: "Trying to build AGI is an inherently unsafe practice. Build well-scoped, well-defined systems instead. Don't attempt to build a God."
In engineering biology, "gain-of-function" research on biological viruses is subject to strict international regulation. This is the strictest form of oversight. The development of new drugs is regulated by a government body that demands clinical trials. We could approach godlike AGI systems like virus research, while narrowly useful AI systems could be regulated like new drugs.
Labs are waiting for new hardware to train bigger models using more compute. We will see many new emergent capabilities. Time is short for governments to take control.

A vastly worse flash crash
David Wolpert

Everybody is debating whether there will be an AGI that can reach our level. In the "flash crash" of 2010, stock markets fell by trillions of dollars in minutes before recovering. It was caused by a lot of bots that do automated trades. Vastly more complicated versions of the flash crash can ensue when the bots are replaced by new intelligent machines.
By the year 2100, we won't be the most intelligent creatures on Earth.

AR Ominous − governments need expert advice.


Biden in Belfast


2023 April 12

Biden Visit Ireland

The Times

President Joe Biden of the United States spoke at the Ulster University Belfast campus today to mark 25 years since the Good Friday agreement. He paid tribute to UK prime minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen for the Windsor Framework, which he said was an "essential step" to "preserve and strengthen" the Good Friday agreement.
Biden: "As a friend, I hope it's not too presumptuous for me to say that I believe democratic institutions established by the Good Friday agreement remain critical for the future of Northern Ireland .. An effective devolved government .. is going to draw even greater opportunity in this region. So I hope the assembly and the executive will soon be restored."

AR I hope he hopes NI will be reunited with the Republic before too long.


European Sovereignty

The Times

President Emmanuel Macron of France urges Europe to break free from its economic dependence on the United States and China. He says China and the US both threaten the "strategic autonomy" he sees as vital for the "sovereignty" of the EU.
In China last week, he said the EU should be a third superpower. He attacked Russia's "barbaric" invasion of Ukraine but did not mention Taiwan.
Macron says Europe must have a vigorous industrial policy: "The US has one. China has one .. Europe must have one to be sure that you are not trapped in a crazy situation the day something happens .. We want allies. We want to be good friends. We want partners. But we always want to be in a situation to choose them, not to be 100% dependent on them."
German SDP parliamentary group: "It's a grave mistake for the West to allow itself to be divided in its approach to Beijing, of all things. This weakens our western community of values."

AR I would rather see China, the US, and the EU recognise their interdependence as time zones in a single planetary political economy.




2023 April 11

Phenomenology of Geist

Robert B Brandom

For Hegel, Geist denotes everything that has a history rather than a nature. Geist is all of our properties, doings, and institutions, specified in a suitable normative vocabulary.
For him, the history of Geist boils down to its transformation from a traditional to a modern form. He saw the scientific, economic, political, and social manifestations of the advent of modernity.
Hegel thinks the transition from traditional to modern culture was expressively progressive. But he says traditional communities had Sittlichkeit. The absence or opposite of Sittlichkeit is alienation. A third stage in the progressive development of Geist would preserve the modern appreciation of subjectivity while reachieving Sittlichkeit.
Hegel: "Human law in its universal existence is the community, in its activity in general is the manhood of the community, in its real and effective activity is the government .. Since the community only gets an existence through its interference with the happiness of the family .. it creates .. an internal enemy − womankind in general."
He thinks traditional society is distinguished by its taking natural distinctions as immediately and intrinsically having normative significance. The decisive move to modernity is acknowledging the significance of normative attitudes and practices in constituting norms and normative statuses.
The example he chooses is gender essentialism. Hegel deserves a place in the feminist pantheon.
A Spirit of Trust: A Reading of Hegel's Phenomenology by Robert B Brandom (pp 469−485)

AR This is just a mid-read update on a prize-worthy but extremely heavy book.




2023 April 10


A Zee

What happens when we couple the photon and the electron? We could have disturbed the 4D electro­magnetic field A by coupling it to the 4D current density J, but the electron is now a field.
Dirac wrote Jμ = ψ*γμψ to give the coupling action:
Scoupling = ∫ d4x e ψ*(x)γμψ(x)Aμ(x)
Here e is not Euler's number but an experimentally measured coupling constant (e ≊ 0.303). Thanks to charge conservation, this action predicts the existence of the positron. Its experimental discovery was a triumph for Dirac's new theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED).
Our experience of physical phenomena originates essentially from zillions of photons interacting with zillions of electrons. At a fundamental level, all of that fantastic richness of the world is determined by the interaction vertices in the simplest Feynman diagrams.
Here is the action describing how electrons and photons interact:
SQED(ψ, A) = SMaxwell(A) + SDirac(ψ) + Scoupling(ψ, A)
The resulting quantum field theory is QED.
Quantum Field Theory, as Simply as Possible by A Zee (pp 153−157)

AR If all this looks too technical for you, try reading Feynman's nice little "physics for poets" book:
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard Feynman




2023 Easter Sunday

The Dirac Equation

Andy Ross

Today I've understood the way the Dirac equation for the electron works (more or less). The equation was Paul Dirac's pride and joy, but despite battling with his textbook I've been baffled by its intricate notation until reading a casual account in an introductory book on QFT by A Zee.
Here is how his famous equation is often presented:
(iγμμ − m)ψ = 0
The ψ term is the probability amplitude (like the Schrödinger wave function) written as a spinor (with 4 components), the γ terms (4 in total, says the μ) are the Dirac matrices (with i = √−1, as usual), the partial differential operators cover dimensions txyz (the μ superscript and subscript use the Einstein summation convention), and m is the electron mass.
All this is shorthand for four coupled partial differential equations for the variations (in each of the 4 dimensions) of the spinor components u1u2v1v2.
The Dirac matrices simply assign +, −, and i signs correctly within these differential equations, and the four equations together describe an electron moving freely.
To get the dynamics, see that the action is given by:
SDirac(ψ) = ∫ d4x ψ*(iγμμ − m)ψ
The * with ψ indicates complex conjugation (a little bar over ψ is not supported in my HTML coding). The equation of motion for the electron follows relatively easily. (Richard Feynman had messed up his presentation of all this with an inscrutable slash notation.)
Quantum Field Theory, as Simply as Possible by A Zee (pp 141−148)




2023 April 8

Heidegger Condemned

Lyndsey Stonebridge

Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin is a scholar of German philosopher Martin Heidegger. Dugin is sometimes called Putin's brain and is in no doubt about the existential importance for Russia of its war in Ukraine.
Heidegger's ideas about Being in a rootless world ripped up the ground of philosophy. Forget struggling for the big metaphysical ideas behind the words of philosophers, he said. Reason had left the modern world poorer. The truth exists only in our Being.
See yourselves for what you are, Heidegger urged, thrown into a world to which you can only respond. Only then can the struggle for an authentic life truly begin. Existentialism inherited his legacy with calls to seize the meaning of being back from the senselessness of modern life.
In 1933, Heidegger joined the Nazi party and became rector of Freiburg University. His philosophy found a new home for ideas about race and the German Volk and about work, struggle, and living space. The rootlessness of modern life could be resolved by the myths of National Socialism.
In 1949, Heidegger described how the impersonal forces of technology and rationality continued to work: "Hundreds of thousands die en masse. Do they die? They perish. They are cut down. They become items of material available for the manufacture of corpses."
Heidegger died in 1976. When his Black Notebooks were published in 2014, he was revealed as an antisemite, a German exceptionalist, and a mystical obscurantist. By then, Dugin was evoking Heidegger in Russian politics.

AR Existentialism is close to nihilism.


Poole Quay
Poole Quay, Good Friday

Webb view of Uranus


2023 April 7

Resurgence in Quantum Theory

Charlie Wood

Jean Écalle, now 73, wrote visionary mathematics that might resolve a problem in quantum theory.
Quantum fields are complicated. Their ripples can, in principle, appear at any moment, in any number, and with any energy. In QED, an infinite string of Feynman diagrams represents a parade of increasingly unlikely quantum possibilities using perturbation theory.
An infinite power series involves a certain critical value x, then x squared, x cubed, and so on, all multiplied by different coefficients:
F(x) = a0 + a1x + a2x2 + a3x3 + .. + aixi + ..
For QED, the value of x is alpha, where α = 1/137. Raising this number to larger powers shrinks the terms rapidly. Feynman diagrams give us the coefficients ai for each term.
The vacuum constantly produces transient pairs of ripples with positive and negative charges. Those ripples normally attract each other and vanish. But if alpha becomes negative, the ripples push each other apart and become real particles. This triggers an explosive disintegration of the vacuum.
If a series diverges for small negative x then it should also diverge for small positive x. This way of handling QED goes to infinity. Higher terms lead to factorial growth in the number of Feynman diagrams. This growth drives the sum toward infinity.
Even the simplest QFT inevitably diverges. Divergent series include exponentially small terms beyond all orders. These terms are beyond the reach of perturbation theory.
Écalle developed an "alien calculus" for divergence. Resurgence lets us dig into the distant terms of an asymptotic series and uncover enough to define a unique function:
1  Write the perturbative series. The terms shrink at first, then grow rapidly. Plot the growth to find it is almost factorial. Study the difference from factorial growth to find the first nonperturbative term.
2  Do a Borel resummation to eliminate the factorial growth. The perturbative terms should grow exponentially, but not exactly. The deviation comes from a new asymptotic series, which you multiply by the first nonperturbative term.
3  Strip the exponential growth from the perturbative data and look for further deviations that reveal a second nonperturbative term. Look closer to find that this nonperturbative term comes with yet another asymptotic series.
4  Continue to find as many nonperturbative terms with asymptotic series attached as you can to get a trans-series.
Resurgence suggests that exact results could exist for QFT. It has already produced new results in quantum mechanics.

AR I find this exciting − a potential breakthrough.


Macron, Xi, VDL
European Commission
President Macron of France, President Xi Jinping of China, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen



2023 April 6

France, Europe, China

The Guardian

President Xi Jinping says China is willing to enhance strategic mutual trust with the EU. Xi said China and the EU should establish correct mutual understanding and avoid misunderstanding and misjudgment while meeting European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Beijing.
VDL warned China that any arms shipments to Russia would "significantly harm" relations.

Macron: Bring Russia back to reason
The Times

Standing outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, President Macron of France told President Xi that "Russian aggression in Ukraine" had dealt a blow to international stability: "I know I can count on you to bring Russia back to reason and everyone back to the negotiating table."
China is officially neutral on the invasion of Ukraine, but Xi has a close personal bond with President Putin.
Macron: "We decided since the start of the conflict to help the attacked country, and clearly indicated that anyone helping the aggressor would become an accomplice to the violation of international law."

Xi: China supports European strategic autonomy
The Guardian

China is hosting the visit to Beijing by Macron and VDL to strengthen ties with Europe. Xi says Europe is an "independent pole in a multipolar world" and China supports "strategic autonomy" for Europe.
Macron says France and China agree that nuclear weapons should be excluded from the conflict in Ukraine.
The Kremlin says there are "no prospects" for a political settlement in Ukraine.

AR Britain is nowhere to be seen, of course.


Hesja Air Art Photography
Polish Air Force F-16C fighter jets on an air policing mission over Lithuania



2023 April 5

Zelensky in Poland

The Guardian

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine is in Poland on an official visit. He and his wife Olena Zelenska were welcomed in Warsaw with military honours, tributes. President Andrzej Duda praised Zelensky as a "unique man" and awarded him the Order of the White Eagle.
Duda: "Four MiG-29s that remained in storage have been handed over to the Ukrainian armed forces in recent months. Four MiGs are now being given, so eight in total .. We are ready .. to give six more that are currently being prepared. We assume they could be transferred soon."
Zelensky: "You have not abandoned Ukraine, you stood with us shoulder to shoulder, and we are grateful to you. We believe this is a historic relationship."
Poland has taken in more than a million Ukrainian refugees since Russia invaded. It has helped prompt western powers to supply battle tanks to Ukraine and has also delivered fighter jets to Ukraine. Zelensky will sign bilateral agreements on support and economic cooperation.

AR A well deserved award.




2023 April 4

Finland Joins NATO

Bruno Waterfield

Finland has become a member of NATO. Foreign ministers of member states welcomed Finnish leaders at the NATO headquarters in Brussels today, the 74th anniversary of the Washington Treaty.
President Niinisto of Finland: "The era of military non-alignment in our history has come to an end. A new era begins. Russia tried to create a sphere around them and, well, we are not a sphere."
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov: "This forces us to take countermeasures in tactical and strategic terms."
US secretary of state Antony Blinken: "This is maybe the one thing that we can thank Mr Putin for because, once again, he precipitated something he claims to want to prevent by Russia's aggression, causing many countries to believe that they have to do more to look out for their own defence and to make sure that they can deter possible Russian aggression. We are thrilled to have Finland as the 31st member of our alliance."
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg: "I can hardly think of a better way to mark our anniversary. Not so many years ago we thought it was unthinkable that Finland would become a member."

AR A good day for a good move.




2023 April 3

Will Russia Collapse Soon?

Richard Spencer

Ukraine's national security adviser Oleksiy Danilov says President Putin's summit in March with President Xi of China confirmed what Ukraine long believed: that Russia is weak and at risk of falling apart: "It is a historic process and you can't stop history."
Danilov says Putin's failure to capture Kyiv and Kharkiv in the initial invasion was a death blow to Russian unity. Russia would lose control of the parts of eastern Ukraine it occupies and its possessions in the Caucasus. Russia has already lost its power over allies in central Asia, and China has its eyes on the Russia's Siberian far east.
Danilov: "Letting China take Russian territory will be dangerous for the West because by unlocking one problem they will create another. There needs to be initial steps by the West now."
On his visit to Moscow, Xi said nothing about providing weapons or military support to Russia.
Danilov: "China is a big country and will be a mighty rival to the Anglo-Saxon world. Now it's the owner of Russia. Russia will no longer undertake any important action without them. Russia fully lost its sovereignty."
Russia's failure to prosecute its war in Ukraine successfully has strengthened China's hand. China's peace plan made no explicit demand for Russian troops to withdraw, but it emphasised respect for national sovereignty and demanded an end to nuclear threats.
Europe is running low on equipment to provide Ukraine after this year. If Ukraine manages to inflict a major defeat, the threat remains that Putin could turn to nuclear weapons.
Danilov: "If the Chinese let Russia use nuclear weapons, they will use them. If not, they won't."

AR A hint of wishful thinking, but collapse is possible.


⊛ Sam Droege / USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab
Megachile fortis bee, Badlands National Park, South Dakota



2023 April 2

Bees Are Sentient

Annette McGivney

Stephen Buchmann is a pollination ecologist. His 2023 book What a Bee Knows depicts bees as showing emotions resembling optimism, frustration, playfulness, and fear. They can recognize different human faces, process memories while sleeping, and maybe even dream.
The US Department of Agriculture considers commercially managed bees as livestock. Colony collapse disorder has greatly reduced the population of bees in the last two decades. The decline is primarily attributed to pesticide use, but Buchmann says it is also due to psychological stress.
A bee's brain is the size of a poppy seed, but new technology lets us analyze its neurobiology. Before these innovations, most scientists studying bees regarded them as little robots.
Lars Chittka is a London professor in sensory and behavioral ecology. His 2022 book The Mind of a Bee reported his research on how bees learn and process information. His lab explored how bees learn to avoid predators: A robotic crab spider prompted bees to scan flowers for spiders before landing.
Chittka and others studied bee behavior in response to fluctuations in dopamine and serotonin. When bees received a reward of sucrose, they had more zest for foraging than bees who received no reward. When bees were shaken in a tube, dopamine and serotonin decreased.
Buchmann: "Bees are self-aware, they're sentient, and they possibly have a primitive form of consciousness. They solve problems and can think. Bees may even have a primitive form of subjective experiences."
Chittka: "These unique minds .. have as much justification to exist as we do."

AR Sentience goes right down the chain.


O to be in England, now that April's here!



2023 April 1


Rowan Williams

A humanist creed was drafted by the 19th-century American Robert Ingersoll: "Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so."
Hard moral questions arise. Making others happy proved a more tangled matter than many humanists expected. Some will claim happiness in ways that damage others, and what it might mean to make them happy is by no means simple.
The human landscape is enriched by symbol and tradition and not easily reducible to rational functionality. The boundaries between religious and secular readings of the world are more porous than either side often supposes.
Humanity is damaged: Something utterly extraordinary, creative, resplendent, free, and loving has been lethally infected with delusions and compulsions.

AR Sad but true, in my humble opinion.


BLOG 2023 Q1


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