Butting Heads (and iPhones): Economists Robert Gordon and Joel Mokyr Duke it Out in the Wall Street Journal

Photo Credit: WSJ.comNorthwestern Professors of Economics Robert Gordon and Joel Mokyr just can’t seem to get along.

In this past weekend’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, the two voice some distinctly adverse ideas about technological innovation in the twenty-first century – on the one hand, its success, and on the other, its stagnation.

Professor Mokyr, author of The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy and co-author of The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times is an economic historian who’s altogether positive about the economic direction of the world-at-large. But this isn’t just blind optimism; in fact, it’s due in large part to the rapid rate of technological innovation. Mokyr notes that “new tools have led to economic breakthroughs,” and that since the field of technology is vast and unremitting, we’re hardly in danger of economic collapse.


“The divergent views are more than academic. For many Americans, the recession left behind the scars of lost jobs, lower wages and depressed home prices. The question is whether tough times are here for good. The answer depends on who you ask.”


But Professor Gordon, a macroeconomist and author of the forthcoming book Beyond the Rainbow: The American Standard of Living Since the Civil War (Princeton), and of the best-selling textbook, Macroeconomics, is hugely skeptical of such theories. He asks us to compare useful and revolutionary objects, like the flushing toilet, to the newest iPad; the former, already invented, is indispensable. Everything created thereafter is simply excess – the cherry on top, if you will. And, as new developments become only incrementally more advanced than their predecessors, technological progress will slowly grind to an anticlimactic halt.

The op-ed also gives some interesting background on both Gordon and Mokyr and tries to posit the origins of their respective beliefs, whether positive or negative. Despite their conflicts, the two can concede to one point: that the twenty-first century is unarguably the best time to be born, and the revelation is certainly an encouraging one.

Place Your Bets: Tim Chartier Develops FIFA Foe Fun to Predict World Cup Outcomes

Tim ChartierTim Chartier, author of Math Bytes: Google Bombs, Chocolate-Covered Pi, and Other Cool Bits in Computing has turned some mathematical tricks to help better predict the outcome of this year’s World Cup in Brazil.

Along with the help of fellow Davidson professor Michael Mossinghoff and Whittier professor Mark Kozek, Chartier developed FIFA Foe Fun, a program that enables us ordinary, algorithmically untalented folk to generate a slew of possible match outcomes. The tool weighs factors like penalty shoot-outs and the number of years of matches considered, all with the click of a couple buttons. Chartier used a similar strategy in his March Mathness project, which allowed students and basketball fans alike to create mathematically-produced brackets – many of which were overwhelmingly successful in their predictions.

Although the system usually places the most highly considered teams, like Brazil, Germany, and Argentina at the top, the gadget is still worth a look. Tinker around a bit, and let us know in the comments section how your results pan out over the course of the competition.

In the meantime, check out the video below to hear Chartier briefly spell out the logic of the formula.

Happy calculating!

Could India save Twitter? Misiek Piskorski discusses the future of social media with Yahoo! Finance

Harvard Business professor Misiek Piskorski is making the media rounds in New York to promote the publication of A Social Strategy: How We Profit from Social Media. Here, with Yahoo! Finance, he discusses why Twitter needs to make a big play in India if it wants to stay relevant and competitive with other social media platforms like Facebook and Alibaba.

And here he discusses social media and the growth of Uber on Bloomberg TV:

 

bookjacket A Social Strategy: How We Profit from Social Media
Mikolaj Jan Piskorski

Hardcover | 2014 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691153391
288 pp. | 6 x 9 | 2 halftones. 13 line illus. 9 tables.eBook | ISBN: 9781400850020 |

Reviews
Table of Contents

Sample the book:
Preface[PDF] pdf-icon
Chapter 1[PDF] pdf-icon

Congratulations to Joseph Masco, author of The Nuclear Borderlands and Winner of the 2014 J.I. Staley Prize

MascoCongratulations to Dr. Joseph Masco, who has been awarded the 2014  J.I. Staley Prize from the School of Advanced Research for his book, The Nuclear Project: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico

The J.I. Staley Prize is presented to a living author for a book that “exemplifies outstanding scholarship and writing in anthropology. The award recognizes innovative works that go beyond traditional frontiers and dominant schools of thought in anthropology and add new dimensions to our understanding of the human species. It honors books that cross subdisciplinary boundaries within anthropology and reach out in new and expanded interdisciplinary directions.”

The prize, which carries a cash award of $10,000, is presented at an award ceremony hosted by the School for Advanced Research during the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association.

Dr. Masco is a Professor of Anthropology and of the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago, teaching courses on a wide range of subjects, from national security and culture to political ecology and technology. He received a B.A. in the Comparative History of Ideas from the University of Washington (1986), and holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, San Diego (1991, 1999).

Quick Questions for Ian Goldin, author of The Butterfly Defect

Goldin_Butterfly_au photoIan Goldin is Professor of Globalisation and Development and Director of the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford.  He has published 19 books, the most recent of which is The Butterfly Defect: How Globalization Creates Systemic Risks, and What to Do about It. Andy Haldane of the Bank of England describes globalization as, “the girl with the curl,” because “when it is good, it is very, very good, but when it is bad it is awful.” He praises The Butterfly Defect as an explanation of “why this opportunity-cum-threat calls for a radical new approach to the setting of public policy–an approach which to be successful needs to be every bit as hyperconnected as the world it is operating in.”

Now, on to the questions!

Why did you write The Butterfly Defect?

I wrote The Butterfly Defect, together with Mike Mariathasan, as I believe that globalization, by which I mean the growing openness and integration of societies, is a force for immense good. But, it also causes great harm. Unless we are able to mitigate the negative factors and harvest the positive elements more effectively, it will lead to growing instability and disastrous outcomes.


The financial crisis was the first of a new type of systemic crisis which will characterise the 21st century.


This is the last of my series of four books on globalization. The previous three identified the factors that could lead to better management and policies (Globalization for Development: Meeting New Challenges; Exceptional People: How migration shaped our world and will define our future; and Divided Nations: Why global governance is failing, and what we can do about it). The Butterfly Defect focuses on the systemic risks being generated by globalization. These threaten to unravel the progress made to date and lead to the rejection of integration and globalization. Rising protectionism, zenophobia, nationalism and other symptoms of the desire to reduce interdependence are manifestations of the concerns that citizens and politicians have that globalization is not working and that the risks associated with integration outweigh the benefits. The book identifies ways to manage and mitigate the risks.

What was the most interesting thing you learned from writing this book?

The financial crisis represents a watershed in history. It is the first of a new type of systemic crisis which will characterise the 21st century. The four key failures which gave rise to the crisis are present in many other areas. Unless we can manage the new forms of systemic risk more effectively it will lead to growing global instability. Although the rising threat posed by pandemics, cyber attacks, widening inequality and political fracturing, environmental collapse and climate change, infrastructure weaknesses and supply chain disruptions and other systemic risks appear unrelated, they have the same underlying causes and solutions. These are:  accelerating integration and interdependency as a result of economic and political opening and new technological platforms; growing complexity and an inability to discern cause and effect in the blizzard of big data; technological revolutions leaping ahead of evolutionary institutional reforms; and, the growing gap between local management by divided nations of global and regional processes and systems.

What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?


Globalization has been the most powerful force for improvements in living standards, but it has also unleashed dangerous and potentially destabilising forces.


The book is the first to identify systemic risks as being an endemic feature of globalization.  It stresses that globalization has been the most powerful force for improvements in living standards around the world, but the engine of progress has also unleashed dangerous and potentially destabilising forces which could not only arrest the progress made, but lead to instability and reversals.  The book provides perspectives on how we can manage growing integration and complexity. It is unique in the breadth and depth of its analysis. It builds a bridge between the cutting edge of academic knowledge and the worlds of business and policy.

Who is the audience?

The book has been written for the widest possible audience.  It is rooted in scholarly research and provides a great deal of evidence and analysis of the theory.  However, the language is accessible and I have worked hard to reduce jargon and avoid equations and writing that cannot be widely understood.  My aim has been to write a book that will be by students, business people, policy makers and anyone concerned with a sustainable future for our planet.

How did you come up with the title, The Butterfly Defect: How Globalization Creates Systemic Risks, and What to Do about It?

The title arose in a discussion with a student at Oxford who was engaged as a research assistant for the book. It is a play on the concept of the butterfly effect, which is well known in complexity theory and physics, with the replacement of ‘effect’ by ‘defect’ seeking to highlight the risks associated with a highly interconnected world.  The subtitle tells readers what the book is about and highlights the fact that The Butterfly Defect goes beyond identifying the issues to provide practical lessons and tools to manage the systemic risks which globalization creates.

 


 Ian is the author of:

bookjacket The Butterfly Defect: How Globalization Creates Systemic Risks, and What to Do about It
Ian Goldin & Mike Mariathasan

Hardcover | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691154701
320 pp. | 6 x 9 | 45 line illus. 5 tables.

eBook | ISBN: 9781400850204

Reviews

Table of Contents

Sample the Introduction[PDF]

Untranslatable Tuesdays – Media

media

To mark the publication of Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon, we are delighted to share a series of playful graphics by our design team which illustrate some of the most interesting terms from the Dictionary. For week six in the “Untranslatable Tuesdays” series we present Media/Medium (of communication):

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the recognition of a family resemblance between the various “implements of intercommunication” meant that they could be compared and contrasted in profitable new ways. . . . The term “mass media” found its niche in scholarly articles by such influential American midcentury thinkers as Hadley Cantril, Harold Lasswell, and Paul Lazarsfeld. But European philosophers resisted this tendency. . . . For Sartre, Adorno, and their contemporaries, “mass media” was less an untranslatable than an untouchable sullied by intellectual and institutional associations with American cultural imperialism. . . . This resistance was soon exhausted. . . . Cognates like “multimedia,” “remediation,” and “mediality” proliferate globally. This reflects less the dominance of English than the collective urgency of an intellectual project. (Ben Kafka)

 

Celebrating the genius of Alan Turing

Considered by many to be the father of computer science, Alan Turing is remembered today for his many contributions to the study of computers, artificial intelligence, and code breaking. On December 24, Queen Elizabeth II officially pardoned the late British mathematician and the action recalled attention to his groundbreaking work as well as his personal life. In 1952, Turing was charged with homosexuality, which was considered a criminal act in England at the time. Two years later, he took his own life. Today, mathematicians and computer scientists celebrate Turing’s broad contributions to his field.

For more on the life and work of Turing, check out these resources:

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 Princeton University Press recently re-released Andrew Hodges’s biography of Alan Turing: Alan Turing: The Enigma — The Centenary Edition.

It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the British mathematician Alan Turing (1912-1954) saved the Allies from the Nazis, invented the computer and artificial intelligence, and anticipated gay liberation by decades–all before his suicide at age forty-one. This classic biography of the founder of computer science, reissued on the centenary of his birth with a substantial new preface by the author, is the definitive account of an extraordinary mind and life. A gripping story of mathematics, computers, cryptography, and homosexual persecution, Andrew Hodges’s acclaimed book captures both the inner and outer drama of Turing’s life.

Read Chapter One of the book here.

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Turing earned his Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton in 1938. Watch the video below to hear Andrew Appel (chair of the department of computer science at Princeton) discuss Turing’s legacy.

Andrew Appel on Alan Turing’s legacy
(Princeton School of Engineering and Applied Science)

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Appel, a Princeton graduate, is the editor of another recent release by Princeton University Press, Alan Turing’s Systems of Logic: The Princeton Thesis.

Though less well known than his other work, Turing’s 1938 Princeton PhD thesis, “Systems of Logic Based on Ordinals,” which includes his notion of an oracle machine, has had a lasting influence on computer science and mathematics. This book presents a facsimile of the original typescript of the thesis along with essays by Andrew Appel and Solomon Feferman that explain its still-unfolding significance.

Preview the book by reading Chapter One.

 

Appel_AlanTuring's_F12Hodges_Alan Turing_F12

More from Gabriella Coleman on the NSA Leaks

Today in a final post in our ongoing NSA debate between authors Gabriella Coleman and Rahul Sagar,  Professor Coleman, author of Coding Freedom, responds to Professor Sagar’s recent post, offering a historical perspective on intelligence agencies and raising the potential for grave abuse in an era of increased technological capabilities. Read the wrap up post in this fascinating series here:

Gabriella Coleman:

Rahul Sagar’s thoughtful response has prompted me to think through a few troubling questions which have been plaguing me since Snowden’s bombshell revelations. It is without question that intelligence agencies require secrecy to effectively work.  I agree that this issue is not new. But if history is any guide, it also shows that secrecy, while necessary, is also a breeding ground for abuse. In a prior era, a dramatic leak by the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI helped put an end to a 40 year reign of outrageous abuses, such as COINTELPRO, at the helm of J. Edgar Hoover who ruled the FBI with an secretive iron fist.

But this surveillance apparatus strikes as technologically and thus historically distinctive. It can be gravely abused with or without a Hoover. Never in our history have we had in place a surveillance infrastructure as extensive and powerful as we do now, nor administrations who have refused so systematically to declassify information. (One does wonder what Nixon could have done with the surveillance methods that the government has at its disposal today).  With enough computer power, it is frighteningly easy for the government to gather data. This ease will likely push them to seek questionable or ex post de facto justifications for their actions. This was put rather cogently and succinctly by civil liberties lawyer Jennifer Granick when “Of course, we see mission creep – once you build the mousetrap of surveillance infrastructure, they will come for the data.” It is not only that they have this power, but as sociologists and others, have noted, secrecy is alluring and really hard to give up/ This state of mind was put best by physicist Edward Teller who wrote, “secrecy, once accepted, becomes an addiction.”

There might be a very good reason to have the surveillance methods that the NSA has now, but until that reason is disclosed, there is no reason for them to have such awesome technical (and questionable) legal powers currently at their disposal. The problem is we have these programs and our government could use them as a tool of oppression (in fact the mere fact of their existence serves to stifle dissent). Even if abuses are not so grave today, what is so troubling is how these programs enable any future person who might gain control of them to utilize these tools for serious oppression.

We as a society have to ask whether this is a gamble we are willing to take. Since the stakes for the future are so high, the decision about the scope and depth of eavesdropping cannot and should not be an undertaking that is decided by the President, the FISA court, or even all the three branches of government acting in agreement. Only we as a people, who hold the truths described in the constitution as self-evident, are allowed, by that very constitution, to make changes to these rights. “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men [and Women et al.], deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government” At some point, the actions of the government go too far, and it is up to us to sound the alarm. The Pentagon Papers, the COINTELPRO leaks, the Tet Offensive, these are many instances when citizens have not trusted our elected officials and with good reason.

It is our responsibility to hold our elected officials accountable, although we  can only effectively do so with the aid of a free press. Journalists help keep whistle-blowers accountable. Snowden worked with journalists, from independent film maker Laura Poitras to Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post. The fact that respected news organizations accepted the leaks, filtered the information, and wrote extensive and thoughtful stories demonstrates the validity and responsibility of Snowden’s actions. If his leaks posed such a grave threat to the state of security, I trust these media establishments would not gone public with them.

Finally, I would like to clarify Snowden’s statements on Nuremberg. He is not equating the NSA with Nazi Germany, he just simply referencing a principle. He is also not saying that this principle exonerates him in any US court, but simply that it justifies his actions on a moral level. Snowden is saying that there are times where it is not only moral to break the law, but that it is immoral and wrong to not break the law. Further, it might be interesting  engage  in a thought experiment about how Snowden’s actions also might relate to the Nuremberg Principles.  For the purposes of this experiment, we would submit some undisputed facts about The United States. The United States continues to torture and cause substantial suffering to 44 people who are still held against their will in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, via forced nasal intubation twice daily. In the past, they were tortured by electrocuting their genitals, and simulated drowning through waterboarding. The US has forcibly rendered people to other countries for purposes of torture, and deprive them of their liberty without charge or due process, calling them “detainees”. If we look how Nuremberg Principles defines a “crime against humanity” the United States has committed over half of the abuses on that list. The programs that Snowden has revealed likely were involved in the capture and detainment of many of these people.

In the end I, like everyone else, wants to live in a state of security. This means not only  thwarting terrorism—though it invariably includes it—but means having the security to engage in dissent, thus the security to call out the grave human rights abuses—such as those at Guantanamo Bay—which our elected officials have allowed to transpire and to raise red flags about programs, such as Prism, which might lead to grave abuse in the future.

 

 

A very Kafkaesque 130th birthday anniversary!

In case you haven’t looked at today’s Google Doodle yet, July 3rd marks the 130th birthday anniversary of novelist Franz Kafka. Kafka is the subject of a major three-part biography by Reiner Stach and translated by Shelley Frisch, the first two of which are just out this month from our fair Press (KAFKA: The Years of Insight and KAFKA: The Decisive Years, for those not already in the know).

In the commercial publishing world,  Peter Mendelsund came up with some stellar cover overhauls for many of Kafka’s works for Schocken Books, a division of Random House, including “The Trial,” “Amerika,” and “The Castle.” Here’s a fun birthday video they released for the anniversary, as part of what graphic artist Neil Gower aptly calls the “Tour de Franz“:

The birthday coverage has also been picked up by Michael Cavna of Washington Post‘s Comic Riffs blog, Mashable, PC Magazine, the Guardian, and the Toronto Star, among others. Over at the Christian Science Monitor, Katherine Jacobsen identifies a great quote from British poet W. H. Auden on the brilliant German-language writer:

Kafka is important because his predicament is the predicament of modern man.

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves, so in that spirit, happy birthday, Dr. Kafka!

Why has Nikola Tesla become a countercultural hero?

This video was taped at a recent event at the Johns Hopkins University bookstore. The speaker here is W. Bernard Carlson, author of Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age.

Bernard Carlson talks Tesla at Johns Hopkins Bookstore tonight!

j9941[1]Did Tesla really invent a death ray? Could he have provided unlimited free energy to the world? Did he really fall in love with a laser-eyed pigeon? There are many rumors and myths surrounding Nikola Tesla, and biographer Bernard Carlson will separate fact from fiction tonight at the Johns Hopkins University Bookstore at 7 PM.

With a functioning Tesla coil by his side, Dr. Carlson will discuss his new biography, Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age. 70 years after Tesla’s death, this major new book sheds new light on his visionary approach to invention and the business strategies behind his most important technological breakthroughs. Publishers Weekly calls the book “[An] electric portrait,” and it received a starred review in Booklist.

See you there!

 

Location:

Homewood – Barnes & Noble JHU Book Store
3330 St. Paul Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
Phone: 410-662-5850

 

Find this event on the PUP Calendar, to set a reminder for yourself and share news of the event.

Tesla wins Geek Madness, named Greatest Geek of All Time

GeekMadnessChamp-1024x687[1]

GeekWire recently held a Geek Madness. Over several weeks their readers whittled down a field of 32 all-star scientists to name Tesla, the Greatest Geek of All Time.

Tesla entered the competition as the #2 seed in the Math/Science field of competitors, but emerged victorious after vanquishing opponents like Linus Torvalds (ranked 14 on the Technology side), Albert Einstein (1), Charles Darwin (7), and Alexander Graham Bell (15). High praise from a geeky audience and as publishers of Tesla: The Inventor of the Electrical Age, we couldn’t agree more.

Here’s the blow-by-blow from GeekWire:

Tesla led from start-to-finish in the championship match over 14-seed Linus Torvalds, as Mr. Cinderella fell one upset short of what would have been one of the most epic underdog stories in geek history.

But it was Tesla garnering 1,764 of the votes to edge Torvalds, who still managed to do his Linux faithful proud with 1,293 votes to his name.

Read the complete post at GeekWire: http://www.geekwire.com/2013/geek-madness-tesla-named-greatest-geek-trouncing-torvalds/

 

We hope some of these Tesla fans will show up to meet Bernard Carlson and get an autographed copy of Tesla: The Inventor of the Electrical Age.

Here’s the complete list of dates and places: http://blog.press.princeton.edu/2013/02/22/bernard-carlson-author-of-tesla-to-tour-college-bookstores/