War and Pandemics Are Greater Threats than Global Warming

(p. A17) To arrive at a wise policy response, we first need to consider how much economic damage climate change will do. Current models struggle to come up with economic costs commensurate with apocalyptic political rhetoric. Typical costs are well below 10% of gross domestic product in the year 2100 and beyond.
That’s a lot of money–but it’s a lot of years, too. Even 10% less GDP in 100 years corresponds to 0.1 percentage point less annual GDP growth. Climate change therefore does not justify policies that cost more than 0.1 percentage point of growth. If the goal is 10% more GDP in 100 years, pro-growth tax, regulatory and entitlement reforms would be far more effective.
. . .
Global warming is not the only risk our society faces. Even if science tells us that climate change is real and man-made, it does not tell us, as President Obama asserted, that climate change is the greatest threat to humanity. Really? Greater than nuclear explosions, a world war, global pandemics, crop failures and civil chaos?
No. Healthy societies do not fall apart over slow, widely predicted, relatively small economic adjustments of the sort painted by climate analysis. Societies do fall apart from war, disease or chaos. Climate policy must compete with other long-term threats for always-scarce resources.

For the full commentary, see:
David R. Henderson and John H. Cochrane. “Climate Change Isn’t the End of the World; Even if world temperatures rise, the appropriate policy response is still an open question.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 31, 2017): A17.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 30, 2017.)

“Shannon’s Principles of Redundancy and Error Correction”

(p. C7) There were four essential prophets whose mathematics brought us into the Information Age: Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann, Alan Turing and Claude Shannon. In “A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age,” Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman make a convincing case for their subtitle while reminding us that Shannon never made this claim himself.
. . .
The only one of the four Information Age pioneers who was also an electrical engineer, Shannon was practical as well as brilliant.
. . .
Wiener’s theory of information, drawing on his own background in thermodynamics, statistical mechanics and the study of random processes, was cloaked in opaque mathematics that was impenetrable to most working engineers.
. . .
“Before Shannon,” Messrs. Soni and Goodman write, “information was a telegram, a photograph, a paragraph, a song. After Shannon, information was entirely abstracted.” He derived explicit formulas for rates of transmission, the capacity of an ideal channel, ability to correct errors and coding efficiency that could be understood by anyone familiar with logarithms to the base 2.
Mathematicians use mathematics to understand things. Engineers use mathematics to build things. Engineers love logarithms as a carpenter loves a familiar tool. The electronic engineers who flooded into civilian life in the aftermath of World War II adopted Shannon’s theory as passionately as they had avoided Wiener’s, bringing us the age of digital machines.
. . .
Despite the progress of technology, we still have no clear understanding of how memories are stored in our own brains: Shannon’s principles of redundancy and error correction are no doubt involved in preserving memory, but how does the process work and why does it sometimes fail? Shannon died of Alzheimer’s disease in February 2001. The mind that gave us the collective memory we now so depend on had its own memory taken away.

For the full review, see:
George Dyson. “The Elegance of Ones and Zeroes.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 22, 2017): C7.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 21, 2017.)

The book under review, is:
Soni, Jimmy, and Rob Goodman. A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.

Code Schools Provide Intense 12 Week Training, and Jobs

(p. B1) Across the U.S., change is coming for the ecosystem of employers, educational institutions and job-seekers who confront the increasingly software-driven nature of work. A potent combination–a yawning skills gap, stagnant middle-class wages and diminished career prospects for millennials–is bringing about a rapid shift (p. B4) in the labor market for coders and other technical professionals.
Riding into the breach are “code schools,” a kind of vocational training that rams students through intense 12-week crash courses in precisely the software-development skills employers need.

For the full commentary, see:
Christopher Mims. “Code-School Boot Camps Offer Fast Track to Jobs.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 27, 2017): B1 & B4.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 26, 2017, and has the title “A New Kind of Jobs Program for Middle America.”)

Fanjul Sugar Family Donated to Inauguration and Now Seeks Sugar Price Protection

(p. B1) MEXICO CITY — The sugar barons of Florida, Alfonso and José Fanjul, have been equal-opportunity political donors for decades, showering largess on the campaigns of Democrats and Republicans alike to ensure that lawmakers will protect the American sugar industry.
When Donald J. Trump was preparing to take office as president, the Fanjul brothers wrote another check. Among the contributors to Mr. Trump’s inaugural festivities in January was Florida Crystals, a Fanjul-owned company that contributed half a million dollars.
The brothers most likely had more on their mind than a sumptuous ball. Led by the Fanjuls, large American sugar producers and refiners were eager for the new administration to tackle some business left unfinished by the Obama administration: an agreement to control imports of Mexican sugar.

For the full story, see:
ELISABETH MALKIN. “Sugar Talks May Hint at Trump’s Approach to U.S.-Mexico Trade.” The New York Times (Mon., June 5, 2017): B1-B2.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 4, 2017, and has the title “Sugar Talks May Hint at Trump Approach to U.S.-Mexico Trade.”)

Petsitting Is Illegal Without a License

CorderoRaulPetsitterNYC2017-08-08.jpg“Raul Cordero with his Rhodesian ridgeback, Viuty. Mr. Cordero operates a dog-care business in East Harlem that appears to run afoul of city rules regarding the care of pets for pay in homes.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A18) Raul Cordero and his Rhodesian ridgeback, Viuty, often have canine houseguests overnight at their East Harlem home, part of Mr. Cordero’s dog-care business, for which he carries special petsitter’s insurance that costs about $800 a year.
Yet despite Mr. Cordero’s efforts to do everything by the book, he was shocked to discover that his petsitting business — and in fact, any of the ubiquitous, your-home-or-mine variety — is against New York City’s rules.
According to long-established but little-noticed regulations of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, anyone offering petsitting for pay must be licensed to board animals, and do so in a permitted kennel. Running such a kennel out of a home is not allowed in the city.
. . .
The newcomers are large, app-based pet-care businesses, with names like Wag and Rover, that operate in a similar style to Airbnb, enabling New Yorkers to open their apartments and dog beds as à la carte dog hostels.
. . . Rover and its ilk have run afoul of similar stipulations in places like California and Colorado, and John Lapham, Rover’s general counsel, said that Rover was currently embroiled in similar concerns in several cities in New Jersey.
. . .
The department’s rule “deprives dog owners of the most obvious, safe and affordable care,” Mr. Lapham said.
“And it deprives sitters of the opportunity to make ends meet,” he said.
Mr. Lapham noted that in New York City, babysitting, for example, is permitted, no license necessary.
. . .
. . . to Mr. Cordero, 27, regulating small-time dogsitters like him and his Rhodesian sidekick feels like government overreach. Petsitting “is like taking care of you own pet in your house,” he said, adding: “So if you have a license, that means you are certified to feed a dog or a cat? That’s crazy.”

For the full story, see:
SARAH MASLIN NIR. “Paid Petsitting in Homes Is Illegal in New York. That’s News to Some Sitters.” The New York Times (Sat., JULY 22, 2017): A18.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 21, 2017.)

Employment Grows as Productivity Rises

(p. C3) In a recent paper prepared for a European Central Bank conference, the economists David Autor of MIT and Anna Salomons of Utrecht University looked at data for 19 countries from 1970 to 2007. While acknowledging that advances in technology may hurt employment in some industries, they concluded that “country-level employment generally grows as aggregate productivity rises.”
The historical record provides strong support for this view. After all, despite centuries of progress in automation and recurrent warnings of a jobless future, total employment has continued to increase relentlessly, even with bumps along the way.
More remarkable is the fact that today’s most dire projections of jobs lost to automation fall short of historical norms. A recent analysis by Robert Atkinson and John Wu of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation quantified the rate of job destruction (and creation) in each decade since 1850, based on census data. They found that an incredible 57% of the jobs that workers did in 1960 no longer exist today (adjusted for the size of the workforce).
Workers suffering some of the largest losses included office clerks, secretaries and telephone operators. They found similar levels of displacement in the decades after the introduction of railroads and the automobile. Who is old enough to remember bowling alley pin-setters? Elevator operators? Gas jockeys? When was the last time you heard a manager say, “Take a memo”?
. . .
. . . , if artificial intelligence is getting so smart that it can recognize cats, drive cars, beat world-champion Go players, identify cancerous lesions and translate from one language to another, won’t it soon be capable of doing just about anything a person can?
Not by a long shot. What all of these tasks have in common is that they involve finding subtle patterns in very large collections of data, a process that goes by the name of machine learning.
. . .
But it is misleading to characterize all of this as some extraordinary leap toward duplicating human intelligence. The selfie app in your phone that places bunny ears on your head doesn’t “know” anything about you. For its purposes, your meticulously posed image is just a bundle of bits to be strained through an algorithm that determines where to place Snapchat face filters. These programs present no more of a threat to human primacy than did automatic looms, phonographs and calculators, all of which were greeted with astonishment and trepidation by the workers they replaced when first introduced.
. . .
The irony of the coming wave of artificial intelligence is that it may herald a golden age of personal service. If history is a guide, this remarkable technology won’t spell the end of work as we know it. Instead, artificial intelligence will change the way that we live and work, improving our standard of living while shuffling jobs from one category to another in the familiar capitalist cycle of creation and destruction.

For the full commentary, see:
Kaplan, Jerry. “Don’t Fear the Robots.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 22, 2017): C3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 21, 2017.)

The David Autor paper, mentioned above, is:

Autor, David, and Anna Salomons. “Does Productivity Growth Threaten Employment?” Working Paper. (June 19, 2017).

The Atkinson and Wu report, mentioned above, is:
Atkinson, Robert D., and John Wu. “False Alarmism: Technological Disruption and the U.S. Labor Market, 1850-2015.” (May 8, 2017).

The author’s earlier book, somewhat related to his commentary quoted above, is:
Kaplan, Jerry. Artificial Intelligence: What Everyone Needs to Know. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Toyota’s Solid-State, Lithium-Ion Batteries Increase Electric Car Range

(p. B6) TOKYO–Toyota Motor Corp. believes it has mastered the technology and production process for a new lithium-ion battery that could slash charging time and double the range of electric vehicles, according to U.S. patent filings and one of the inventors.
On Tuesday [July 25, 2017] Toyota said that by the early 2020s it planned to sell cars equipped with solid-state batteries, which replace the damp electrolyte used to transport lithium ions inside today’s batteries with a solid glass-like plate.
Behind Toyota’s brief statement lay years of research aimed at solving issues that have long bedeviled batteries for electric cars. Current lithium-ion batteries can’t be packed too tightly together because of fire risk. That is one reason electric cars tend to have limited range compared with traditional gasoline-powered cars.
With the solid-state battery, “you can improve the output and reduce the charge time–hopefully,” said Ryoji Kanno, a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Prof. Kanno led a team including Toyota scientists that discovered the materials for the glass-like electrolyte.

For the full story, see:
McLain, Sean. “Toyota: Battery Can Make Electric Cars Go Farther.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 28, 2017): B6.
(Note: bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 27, 2017, and has the title “Toyota’s Cure for Electric-Vehicle Range Anxiety: A Better Battery.”)