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Aspen Ideas Festival: Smart People Talking about Interesting Things

Aspen Ideas Festival: Smart People Talking about Interesting Things

 

I have just returned from a session of the Aspen Ideas Festival, an annual gathering of smart and influential people who discuss matters of interest--some political, some scientific, some just strange. I like to listen to talks on subjects about which I know nothing, which usually gives me many options, and this was no exception. Here are some of the widely disparate things I heard.

First, robots and artificial intelligence. Both are moving forward by leaps and bounds, but neither will likely change our lives unless humans remain very much in the mix. That was cheering. I was also entertained by the many examples of humans anthropomorphizing robots, which will help us learn to work with them because deep down we are fond of them. Working out together before your shift? But what about the story of the Hitchhiking Robot, who made it through Canada and parts of Europe and then was terminated with extreme prejudice in Philadelphia? 

The removal of confederate monuments was given some context. Some of the monuments were put in place to honor people, like Robert E. Lee. Even if he was fighting the United States, and even though his side lost, a monument erected to him as a person perhaps should remain. Some monuments, however, were erected to oppress a population that had lately been enslaved. Those merit removal. Historians, and the oppressed, know which is which.  

Being color blind--refusing to recognize a person's race--started as an anodyne approach to race prejudice. But it does not work long term. The newest thinking advocates race bravery. Recognize race and confront prejudice. 

Evidence of climate change is everywhere--in the bleaching of Australian coral reefs, and in the defrosting of the Arctic permafrost. The huge political loss created by our abandonment of the Paris accord has had the effect of stirring governors, mayors and private industry to action. The net result may be to enhance efforts to address climate change.

The role of the federal government is shrinking remarkably, but it should at least have a role in stimulating the economy, just as did the enactment of the GI Bill after WWII. 

An appealing tweak to the concept of universal basic income is to tether it to an obligation to learn something useful to the recipient and society. Seems a genius idea. Retirees can help teach.

China's debt is unprecedented, and its future effects unknown. 

Russia employs literal cities of trolls to hack everyone else. 

The US government has a plan for saving important government officials in the event of nuclear Armageddon. It is rather quirky in many ways. Those who will be saved have cards that tell them where to go to be saved (without their families); those who will not do not know about the cards.

Much much more was offered. The spectrum of information and analysis was exhilarating. Come sometime and exercise your brain.

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