Free market worship, open-ended knowledge, algocracy, Turkish enigma, pendulum synchrony and bioconcrete

My faith in freedom isn’t blind. It’s not really a form of faith, either — more of a shorthand for my understanding of theory and history.

Suppose, for example, that 50 years ago, when AT&T still had a government-granted telephone monopoly in the United States, someone asked how phone service could be provided by private companies that didn’t have that legal privilege. How, without eminent domain to take private property for those essential telephone lines and exchanges, would people be able to make and receive calls from their homes and businesses?

Fast-forward to today and we see practically every person over the age of 13 (and quite a few much younger) in the developed world carrying a cell phone or a smartphone small enough to fit in their pocket that combines telephone, Internet service, and a video camera. There are no cumbersome telephone poles, cables, or exchanges, and there’s not much eminent domain. The 1960s question was, “Who will build the heavy telephone infrastructure?” Today, who needs a heavy telephone infrastructure?

Knowledge is open-ended also in the sense that no matter where the limits and boundaries of one’s present knowledge may lie, free human beings possess an innate propensity to transcend spontaneously those barriers, those limits, to continually escape those limits, through discovery of new horizons of knowledge the very existence of which was hitherto unsuspected. Life consists, in this sense, of a never-ending series of spontaneous leaps of discovery. The life of freedom is thus a continual expression of the dynamics of continual discovery. The free life, a life for which the open-endedness of knowledge is a central ideal, is one in which the sense of potential—unending potential, unending discovery—is at the heart of one’s being. Open-endedness in this sense is the very opposite of the state of stagnancy.

The term ‘algorithm’ can have an unnecessarily mystifying character. If you tell someone that a decision affecting them was made ‘by an algorithm’, or if, like me, you talk about the rise of ‘algocracy’, there is a danger that you present an overly alarmist and mysterious picture. The reality is that algorithms themselves are relatively benign and easy to understand (at least conceptually). It is really only the systems through which they are created and implemented that give rise to problems.

An algorithm can be defined in the following manner:

Algorithm: A set of specific, step-by-step instructions for taking an input and converting into an output.

I have argued two things in the past. The first was that Turkey was an emerging regional power that would ultimately be the major power in its locale. The second was that this is a region that, ever since the decline and fall of the Ottomans in the first quarter of the 20th century, has been kept stable by outside powers. The decision of the United States to take a secondary role after the destabilization that began with the 2003 invasion of Iraq has left a vacuum Turkey will eventually be forced to fill. But Turkey is not ready to fill that vacuum. That has created a situation in which there is a balancing of power underway, particularly among Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Hang two pendulum clocks on the same wall, and over time, something strange will happen: the two clocks will tick in synchrony.

Geology and biology are blending in a fascinating way to create a breakthrough new construction material: concrete that can heal its own cracks. The secret weapon? Bacteria.


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