Virtual Brains, Virtual Currencies, Real Revolutions

In collaboration with Exponential Finance

Your Brain in the Cloud: Access the Internet Directly with Your Mind

What if we could reverse-engineer the pattern-recognition units of our brains? Technologist and futurist Ray Kurzweil sees this as an imminent possibility, which would enable us to build virtual, cloud-based extensions of our minds with exponentially greater ability to organize and analyze information.

Ray Kurzweil is one of many ahead-of-the-curve speakers at 2015’s Exponential Finance conference, June 2-3 in New York City. Co-produced by Singularity University and CNBC, Exponential Finance provides insight into new technologies that leaders need to understand in order to make the most of the accelerating change happening across business sectors.

Peter Diamandis on How to Become a Billionaire

Exponential technologies are rapidly shifting the way we live and do business, says Singularity University's Peter Diamandis. Those who learn to take advantage of them are sure to ride the wave to extraordinary success.

Peter Diamandis is one of many ahead-of-the-curve speakers at 2015’s Exponential Finance conference, June 2-3 in New York City. Co-produced by Singularity University and CNBC, Exponential Finance provides insight into new technologies that leaders need to understand in order to make the most of the accelerating change happening across business sectors.

Brad Templeton: How Bitcoin Disrupts the Finance Industry

Should you invest in Bitcoin? Maybe not, says Brad Templeton, but that doesn't mean the digital currency isn't amazing in and of itself. Templeton explains what Bitcoin achieves and how it's set to spur further innovation.

Brad Templeton is one of many ahead-of-the-curve speakers at 2015’s Exponential Finance conference, June 2-3 in New York City. Co-produced by Singularity University and CNBC, Exponential Finance provides insight into new technologies that leaders need to understand in order to make the most of the accelerating change happening across business sectors.

Ray Kurzweil: Can You Read 100 Million Web Pages in a Few Seconds? Your Robot Assistant Will.

Comprehension is the human genius. But in a world where computers can process all of human history in a flash, that genius can be scaled. What possible industries would this eliminate risk from? Could scaled comprehension reliably create new business opportunities, each more efficient and profitable than the last?

We are talking about something more than augmenting human abilities with machine efficiency and power. We are talking about creating something that's simply more human: more capable of creativity, of understanding, of love, and of courage.

Ray Kurzweil is one of many ahead-of-the-curve speakers at 2015’s Exponential Finance conference, June 2-3 in New York City. Co-produced by Singularity University and CNBC, Exponential Finance provides insight into new technologies that leaders need to understand in order to make the most of the accelerating change happening across business sectors.

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  • Millennials have been labeled the "unluckiest generation in U.S. history" after the one-two financial punch of the Great Recession and the pandemic shutdowns.
  • A recent survey found that about a third of millennials felt financially unprepared for the pandemic and have begun saving.
  • To achieve financial freedom, millennials will need to take control of their finances and reinterpret their relationship with the economy.

    • It can be tempting to look at the economic history of the last two decades and derive a certain lesson. That lesson being: The millennial generation is screwed. The Washington Post even tagged millennials as the "unluckiest generation in history."

      It's understandable why the punditocracy would think this. Born between 1981 and 1996, millennials exited school and entered work right into the Great Recession. The recession forced many millennials to postpone financial milestones such as marriage, buying a home, retirement savings, or even reliable employment. That global setback quietly became a generational one. While the baby boomers and GenXers recovered their lost wealth relatively quickly, millennials couldn't and became the first generation with a standard of living lower than their parents'.

      A decade later, millennials face the pandemic shutdown. Although we can't say with certainty how the pandemic will affect us in the long-term, early forecasts suggest millennials will again take the brunt. Pew Research Center data, for example, suggest that about a third of millennial-aged homes have had someone in the household lose a job, while Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data forecast millennials suffering longer stretches of joblessness.

      "Millennials are in a fundamentally different economic place than previous generations," Reid Cramer, director of the Millennials Initiative at New America, wrote in "The Emerging Millennial Wealth Gap. "Relatively flat but volatile incomes, low savings and asset holdings, and higher consumer and student debt have weakened their finances. The Millennial balance sheet is in poor shape."

      Taking control of bad luck

      According to a recent survey by The Manifest, a business news website, millennials agree with Cramer. The study found that, of millennials surveyed, their largest expenses were housing (66 percent), educational expenses (9 percent), and health insurance (6 percent). In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, millennials are using the remaining 19 percent of their paychecks to budget and increase their savings.

      About a third of millennials said they are saving more money in response to the pandemic and creating new budgets for themselves. In fact, of all generations surveyed, millennials felt the most comfortable creating personal budgets. They were also willing to think critically and adjust budgets to match financial changes, both signs that this highly-educated generation is willing to learn and adapt.

      Millennials still have a rough road ahead, though. According to the survey, about half of millennials make less than $50,000 a year. That puts them into the upper-lower or lower-middle income class, depending on where in the country they live. That matches BLS data, which shows millennials earning less than older non-millennials. The BLS also notes that while millennials have less debt than GenXers, most of that is student loan debt rather than mortgages.

      And despite their budgetary plans, only 11 percent of millennials surveyed were able to stay within budget, while uncertainty still looms in the future job market.

      With all this said, there are caveats to The Manifest survey. It hosted a relatively small sample size, only surveying 502 Americans. Of those, millennials made up 22 percent of respondents. They weren't even the largest cohort in the study. That was the baby boomers at 32 percent.

      This makes the survey more suggestive than indicative. But the suggestion is that millennials, to borrow a phrase from writer Vicki Robin, are ready to reinterpret their relationship with finances.

      A push for financial freedom

      While budgeting and financial savvy have always been important, the millennial generation will need to be far more critical of their relationship with the economy. What Robin calls the old roadmap—the idea that "growth is good, more is better, game over"—is unlikely to support millennials as it did past generations. They'll need a new roadmap, charting both a new macro (the relationship between our economic and ecological footprints, for example) and micro (our individual relationships with money).

      Because the macro is a whole other article, we'll stick with the micro here:

      1) Track and cut your spending

      The first step to financial freedom is to track your spending and cut unnecessary purchases. For Robin, these are often the things, services, and subscriptions that we buy out of habit, but we no longer consider whether they add value to our lives.

      A pernicious modern example is the subscription economy. We subscribe to services for food, clothes, television, exercise, self-help, video games, bric-a-brac, computer programs, and on and on. These services quickly fade into the financial background as just another bill we pay.

      But if we watch Netflix nine times out of ten, why pay for Hulu and Disney+ and HBO Max and CBS All access? Instead, every month or so, we should scrutinize our subscriptions to ask whether they still add value to our lives. If they don't, unsubscribe.

      2) Kill your debt

      Debt doesn't just take away money we could save elsewhere; it's also a self-replicating devourer of wealth. Your debt interest rates are almost certainly higher than your investment returns, especially on credit cards. Because of this, no matter your saving rituals, you're likely bleeding wealth the longer you remain in debt.

      Instead, focus on removing debt from your life. Again, credit card debt especially. The good news is that most companies have hardship programs to help debtors. You can call them to see if they can lower your interest rates or provide other helpful services.

      "Financial accommodations are generally readily available right now," Amy Thomann, the head of consumer credit education at TransUnion, told the New York Times. "Lenders, just like consumers, understand the hardships that are going on in the economy."

      3) Have an emergency fund

      Of course, you'll need some savings when the unexpected happens. Say—I don't know—a worldwide pandemic? Experts like Robin and Thomann recommend people have three to six months' worth of expenses on reserve. These should be in liquid assets so you can access them easily and quickly.

      Of course, that's not always feasible, but you should save what you can.

      4) Find social outlets that don't cost

      The economic shutdown has offered one financial boon: It has revealed ways we can enjoy each other's company with overspending. We can host movies remotely with our friends. Play video games online. Enjoy physical-distance strolls through the park. And a host of other creative connections. After the pandemic, the occasional bar hop or Friday dinner out can still be a guilty pleasure. But unlike sitcom characters, we shouldn't be spending our social lives on the set of our favorite coffee shops or local watering holes.

      5) Reconsider your relationship with money

      Robin pushes her readers to be financially free. That is, to understand that there's an economy, people have a relationship with it, but it shouldn't become an obsession that runs their lives. As she told Big Think: "It's like there are so many presumptions that drive us into wage [slavery], and it doesn't matter whether you are at the low end or the high end. If you are engaged in that sort of anxious process of 'more, more, more,' you are not free."

      The millennial generation has certainly been dealt a bum hand, but it's perhaps defeatist, and more than a little premature, to label them the unluckiest generation. Perhaps after being led astray by the old roadmap, they will be the generation to reconsider their relationship with money—not as an end itself but a means to a healthier and more beneficial life.

      • Transitioning to a plant-based diet could help reduce obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
      • Humans are destroying entire ecosystems to perpetuate destructive food habits.
      • Understanding how to properly transition to a plant-based diet is important for success.

      Industrial farming is having a catastrophic impact on the planet—and our health. It's tough to separate the two given how dependent we are on the environment for survival. While author and farming industry executive Philip Lymbery strikes an apocalyptic tone, his message is not overstated.

      "Every day there is a new confirmation of how destructive, inefficient, wasteful, cruel and unhealthy the industrial agriculture machine is. We need a total rethink of our food and farming systems before it's too late."

      Earth is not resource-infinite. We're destroying entire ecosystems to feed our destructive food habits. Nutrition isn't the only concern. One of the major culprits of deforestation is palm oil, which is widely used in skincare products as well. Everywhere we turn, we're decimating ecosystems and species for personal gain.

      While a plant-based diet isn't the solution to every problem, it can certainly help. Whether you're concerned about your own health or that of the planet, transitioning to a plant-based diet isn't impossible. In fact, it can be quite delicious. Below are six strategies to help the process along.

      Richard Dawkins: No Civilized Person Accepts Slavery So Why Do We Accept Animal Cruelty? | Big Think

      Get your hands dirty—in the kitchen

      Quarantine offered an entire world the opportunity to get into the kitchen and put on a chef's apron. Complaints about "not enough time" are the biggest barriers to preparing home-cooked meals. Of course, pandemic fatigue has resulted in a number of recent chefs ordering out more. That said, this is the perfect time to try your hand at new dishes. With infection rates increasing across the country, stocking up on seasonal vegetables is a great idea.

      Simple seasonal ways to begin your plant-based exploration include roasted kabocha squash, Bombay potatoes, and no-chop pumpkin soup. If you're feeling a bit more adventurous, Masoor Dal Tadka will keep you warm into the winter months. A delicious sweet potato salad will never fail you. This round-up of 25 vegetarian recipes will keep you busy for a few months (or a month if you're ambitious).

      Educate yourself on the benefits

      Education is essential for beginning any endeavor. Weeding through propaganda and bunk science to find credible evidence of any diet is difficult, though many experts agree that for individual and societal health, a plant-based diet is key.

      Even vegetarianism has its pitfalls. For example, one-fifth of all calories consumed by Americans come from nutritionally-worthless white flour. If you're eating processed bread every day, you're missing out on the benefits of a rich and varied diet.

      Many of the "diseases of affluence," such as cardiovascular and obesity-related ailments, originate with a poor diet (and lack of exercise). Meat has been an essential component of the human diet throughout our evolution. Today, we eat too much of it—and too much of it is produced in factory farms. Transitioning to a plant-based diet could help cut down on carbon emissions and the aforementioned diseases.

      Plants are full of valuable phytochemicals and antioxidants that support a strong immune system. A (non-processed) plant-based diet reduces inflammation and offers plenty of fiber. It has been shown to reduce your risk of diabetes, stroke, and heart diseases. Those are all great reasons to transition.

      Begin your journey with a single step

      Going cold turkey rarely works for addicts. The same is true of diets. If you're interested in a plant-based diet, try to eat veg every other day for a few weeks. Notice how your body reacts on days you eat this way compared to other days. Gradually phase out meat products. Attempt meat-free weekdays and see if your craving for meat persists on the weekend. Try using meat as a garnish instead of the main course.

      More importantly, have a replacement plan. Dropping all meat products to consume frozen dinners isn't the best course of action. Filling your cart with bags of foods you've never eaten before will overwhelm you. Prepare meals as you taper off of meat; arm yourself with a broad knowledge of healthy plants and vegetables. At some point, you might forget what you've been missing.

      veggie burger

      Photo: anaumenko / Adobe Stock

      Start with foods you already love

      The good news is that you likely have a number of plant-based side and main dishes that you love. Transitioning into a new diet requires a certain level of enjoyment. Otherwise, you're going to loathe eating, and eating should bring some level of satisfaction.

      Try a one-to-one ratio to begin. On one night, cook a meal you love. Then try something completely new the next night. Follow that up with old faithful. This way, you constantly have new dishes to look forward to yet don't get stuck in thinking you have to be creative every single day. You'll likely find some winners and decide not to repeat other dishes. Regardless, you'll have a broader menu to work from.

      Avoid ingredients you can't pronounce

      The produce section of your grocery store provides almost everything you need to survive. You can likely pronounce every ingredient in this section. There's a vast difference between food and foodstuffs. Plenty of plant-based companies offer too much of the latter. Potato chips are technically vegetarian, and some use simple ingredients, yet it's easy to fill your cart with foodstuffs. The health benefits of this are not only negligible but potentially dangerous.

      Qi Sun, an assistant professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explains. "If you eat a vegan diet, but eat a lot of french fries, refined carbs like white bread, white rice, that's not healthy." He suggests "emphasizing fruits and vegetables. Not fruit juice but whole food. And nuts."

      Utilize the wisdom of the internet—but don't get indoctrinated

      There's a lot of terrible advice—and worse, propaganda—on the internet. While you likely don't want to eat eggs every day, they're not "toxic," as one popular documentary claims. Eggs are one of the best low-cost, high-value foods around.

      Read websites like Everyday Health, which uses clear language, like "may improve" and "may decrease," with links to credible studies. This way you follow the going science without becoming fanatical about a particular diet or being disappointed if it turns out the research doesn't hold up. Good science evolves with evidence. And right now, the evidence points to more vegetables in our diets.


      Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His new book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."

      • Karma is not simple retribution for bad deeds.
      • Eastern traditions view karma as part of a cycle of birth and rebirth.
      • Actions and intentions can influence karma, which can be both positive and negative.

      The news that Donald Trump got sick with COVID-19 has prompted "karma" to trend on social media. After all, the President was constantly downplaying the virus, openly mocking wearing masks, sharing misinformation, and holding super spreader events for thousands of followers. But what happened to him was not necessarily karma (or at least we can't really know). Chances are, karma is not what you think it is.

      Karma is not just a mechanism by which the universe brings snarky retribution for someone's misdeeds. It's not simple luck or even destiny. It's a Sanskrit word that means "action," "work," or "deed," and it really speaks of the spiritual cycle of cause and effect. The good intentions and deeds you perform result in an addition of good karma, while the bad ones add to the bad karma. Notice that karma doesn't necessarily have to be negative. It's more a law of consequences than a particular reward or punishment.

      The notion is linked to the idea of samsara, which also originated in India (and means "wandering"). It is paramount to Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and Taoism, and refers to the belief that all living beings go through cycles of birth and rebirth, which may continue indefinitely. With the details depending on the religion, the kind of karma you accumulate on the "wheel of life" or "karmic cycle" can influence both the future of your present life but also the one you may have coming up. The soul transmigrates after death, bringing Karmic impulses from the life just finished into the new one. Conversely, it's important to note that karma you are experiencing today may be a product of not just your actions in this lifetime but based on what happened in the lives you had in the past.

      If you're wondering, being reborn as an animal is looked at as an undesirable rebirth, leading to much additional suffering. Having a human rebirth would land you closer to being able to get off the karmic soul train.

      How do you escape samsara? By working towards achieving enlightenment or "Nirvana." Once you get there through good karmic deeds and spiritual practices, your desires and sufferings will go away and you will find peace and happiness. Of course, your physical body will die and you will no longer be reborn, but on the plus side, you will be awake to the true nature of reality and if you're Hindu, you'd reunite with Brahman, the universal God or soul.

      Thanga Wheel of LIfe

      Credit: Adobe stock

      7th-century Upanishads described the law of karma causality in this poetic way:

      Now as a man is like this or like that,
      according as he acts and according as he behaves, so will he be;
      a man of good acts will become good, a man of bad acts, bad;
      he becomes pure by pure deeds, bad by bad deeds;

      And here they say that a person consists of desires,
      and as is his desire, so is his will;
      and as is his will, so is his deed;
      and whatever deed he does, that he will reap.

      Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

      What's significant to point out, the laws of karma, caused by individual actions, can affect the life you are leading. But what's also recognized are intentions. They are just as important in your karmic profile and the effect they have on you. Unintentional actions do not have that much influence. Even performing a good deed that stems out of questionable intentions can bring you negative karma.

      Karmic theory also recognizes two forms of karma — the phalas and the samskaras. A phala is a karmic effect (visible or invisible) that's immediate or within your current lifetime. Samskaras, on the other hand, are invisible effects, that are produced inside you, impacting your ability to be happy or unhappy. This extends both to this and future lives.

      While the specifics of karma theory differ based on specific spiritual practice, one thing may be for certain – what goes around comes around.

      Tibetan Buddhist Wheel of Life~ Samsara Cyclic Existence

      • When you want someone to see things differently and to abandon their previous stance, sometimes persistence is not key.
      • "Too often we think change is about pushing," says Jonah Berger, author of the book The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone's Mind, and a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. "We think if we just come up with one more way people will eventually come around."
      • Through speaking with people who have successfully changed minds of others, Berger identified five common barriers and created the REDUCE framework for finding the catalysts needed to break through: reactants, endowment, distance, uncertainty, and corroborating evidence.

      • Music is used in many different therapies. Used in conjunction with traditional therapies, music therapy benefits us in a variety of different ways.
      • According to a 2004 study, music intervention used with children and teens with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) can improve their social behaviors, increase focus and attention, and reduce their anxiety and improve body awareness.
      • Various music therapy activities and tools can be used to help improve the quality of life of children with autism.

        little boy holding ukulele

        Music has quickly become a tool used in various therapies because it can stimulate both hemispheres of the brain.

        Credit: HTU on Shutterstock

        Music has quickly become a tool used in various therapies because it can stimulate both hemispheres of our brain rather than just one. Theoretically, a therapist could use a song or instrument to support cognitive activity that helps children with autism build self-awareness and improve their relationships with others.

        Music encourages communicative and social behaviors.

        According to Nurse Journal, "...if we look closely at the way that a band works, it is obvious that the instruments must all interact with one another, but the player only needs to interact with the instrument at first."

        This can be particularly difficult for children dealing with autism, but by introducing an instrument to their therapy, they may first bond with the object itself and then open up to interacting with others through the use of their instrument.

        Music also encourages a better understanding of words and actions.

        For children with autism, listening to a song about brushing their teeth could help them learn how to do this activity. Autism can create barriers for children in social settings, but small groups of children listening to music together may help the child feel comfortable singing or expressing themselves in front of others. According to research, dancing exercises in songs also help stimulate the sensory systems, allowing the children to enhance their fine motor skills.

        The positive impact of music goes beyond social interactions, helping children develop better motor skills and body awareness.

        According to a 2004 study published in the Journal of Music Therapy, music intervention used with children and teens with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) can improve their social behaviors, increase focus and attention, increase communication attempts (vocalizations/verbalizations/gestures), reduce their anxiety, and improve body awareness. A more recent 2018 study showed similar results.

        How music therapy works

        woman playing music with child

        "All people, regardless of pathology, illness, disability, or trauma all have the ability to make music."

        Credit: on Shutterstock

        Music is used in many different therapies. Used in conjunction with traditional therapies, music therapy benefits us in a variety of different ways.

        According to Positive Psychology, some of the major health benefits of music therapy include:

        • Reduces anxiety and physical symptoms of stress
        • Helps to manage Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease
        • Reduces depression and other symptoms (in the elderly population)
        • Reduces symptoms of psychological disorders
        • Improves self-expression and communication

        The Nordoff-Robbins approach to music therapy.

        This approach to music therapy interventions was developed through the 1950s-1970s by Paul Nordoff (an American composer and pianist) and Clive Robins (a teacher of children with special needs). According to Positive Psychology, this is an approach designed to harness every person's potential for engagement through active, communicative, and expressive music-making.

        This approach emphasizes the importance of music-making in developing skills, a sense of self, and a capacity for social interactions. Nordoff and Robins both believed that all people, regardless of pathology, illness, disability, or trauma all have the ability to make music. Due to Robins' history with teaching children, this specific approach is well known for its work with children and adults who have learning disabilities or difficulties.

        Relaxation music therapy.

        Research has proven music aids in muscle relaxation. This can enable you to easily release some of the tension in your body, and when you do this, your mind also relaxes. While this is particularly useful for adults, it can also be beneficial for children. Music can be used as stress relief when a child with autism begins to feel overwhelmed in a new situation. Positive Psychology also explains that music therapy for children can also aid in offering a rhythmic structure for relaxation and breathing.

        Music therapy for children.

        What does music therapy look like for young children? Music therapy will vary based on each individual child's needs and abilities. For some, it can mean learning to play a musical instrument and for others, it can be singing or learning new activities through songs. Various music therapy activities and tools can be used (discussed and decided upon by both parents and therapists) to help improve the quality of life of children with autism.