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Too far right and left? DC think tank releases manifesto for radical centrism

Americans must choose the middle path, away from the fundamentalist positions on both the right and the left, argues a Washington think tank.

  • Niskanen Center, a Washington think tank, argues for avoiding the extremes of political positions.
  • The analysts propose that both a regulated free market and bolstered social insurance programs are important.
  • If we don't correct course soon, the American political system may never recover, warn the authors.

If you've had enough of all the political bickering coming from every side, a Washington think tank released a manifesto that it hopes will inspire those in the middle. The Niskanen Center's policy essay "The Center Can Hold: Public Policy in the Age of Extremes" attempts to incorporate rival ideological positions into a way forward for the divided America.

The cognitive scientist Steven Pinker of Harvard University highlighted the document in his tweet, indicating it will appeal to those who are "frustrated with the stale ideologies and mutual demonization of the Left and Right".

In an overview of the paper on the center's site, Niskanen's Vice Presidents Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson, along with other senior analysts write that American democracy is in the midst of a "crisis of legitimacy," which started with Donald Trump's ascendancy to the Presidency. Niskanen's document describes Trump as "an extravagantly unfit demagogue" who was elevated to "the most powerful position on the planet." His rise to power would not happened "in a healthy, stable, well-governed polity," argue the writers. What's more, they warn that without addressing the underlying issues, even stronger "anti-democratic demagogues" might follow Trump into the presidency. And unlike Trump, they "may possess the self-discipline and focus to translate their dark designs into explicitly authoritarian usurpations," caution the analysts.

Antifa and counter protestors to a far-right rally argue during the Unite the Right 2 Rally in Washington, DC, on August 12, 2018.

Credit: Getty Images.

The paper sees the need for new approaches to government in order to "quell populist distemper" and restore faith in institutions. There is a need for both more market competition and improved social insurance, without resorting to the fundamentalist "pro-market" right and "pro-government" left dichotomies of old, state the authors. The role of the government should be to create more opportunity and make for less corrupt governance.

The authors argue that America's slowing economic growth (if you compare to the 20th century) as well as growing income inequality are both issues that need serious attention. In particular, the manifesto's creators call for "far-reaching regulatory reforms to unwind distorted rules that favor privileged insiders at the expense of everyone else." But they recognize that the market doesn't benefit everyone the same and as such there's a need to "bolster social insurance programs to address dislocations caused by creative destruction and maintain political support for robust market competition."

Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Mobile, Alabama

Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

The politically "hybrid vision" from Niskanen proposes a "free-market welfare state," recognizing that free people have "the right to rule ourselves, within limits". But embracing the free market without key regulations could both cause collusion and excessive concentration of power and wealth because "participants in a capitalist economy do not like competition" and will do all they can to avoid it. Relying on the market to regulate itself can also lead to the worsening of crucially important social goods like education.

But democracy and forms of government also need constraints, say the authors, pointing out that the U.S. is suffering from "kludgeocracy" – "the proliferation of complicated, contradictory, ineffective, and inflexible policy mechanisms." Old policies and institutions abound, accumulating a mess and making it harder to move forward and implement new ideas.

"The first principle of moderation is recognition of the plurality of political goods and the constraints of human nature," write the analysts from Niskanen. "Liberty is a vital principle of the open society, but so are community and equality. Absolutizing any of these political goods is the essence of ideological thinking, while moderation is a recognition that all of them are important.'

You can read the full paper here.

Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
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Human brains remember certain words more easily than others

A study of the manner in which memory works turns up a surprising thing.

Image Point Fr / Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • Researchers have found that some basic words appear to be more memorable than others.
  • Some faces are also easier to commit to memory.
  • Scientists suggest that these words serve as semantic bridges when the brain is searching for a memory.

Cognitive psychologist Weizhen Xie (Zane) of the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) works with people who have intractable epilepsy, a form of the disorder that can't be controlled with medications. During research into the brain activity of patients, he and his colleagues discovered something odd about human memory: It appears that certain basic words are consistently more memorable than other basic words.

The research is published in Nature Human Behaviour.

An odd find

Image source: Tsekhmister/Shutterstock

Xie's team was re-analyzing memory tests of 30 epilepsy patients undertaken by Kareem Zaghloul of NINDS.

"Our goal is to find and eliminate the source of these harmful and debilitating seizures," Zaghloul said. "The monitoring period also provides a rare opportunity to record the neural activity that controls other parts of our lives. With the help of these patient volunteers we have been able to uncover some of the blueprints behind our memories."

Specifically, the participants were shown word pairs, such as "hand" and "apple." To better understand how the brain might remember such pairings, after a brief interval, participants were supplied one of the two words and asked to recall the other. Of the 300 words used in the tests, five of them proved to be five times more likely to be recalled: pig, tank, doll, pond, and door.

The scientists were perplexed that these words were so much more memorable than words like "cat," "street," "stair," "couch," and "cloud."

Intrigued, the researchers looked at a second data source from a word test taken by 2,623 healthy individuals via Amazon's Mechanical Turk and found essentially the same thing.

"We saw that some things — in this case, words — may be inherently easier for our brains to recall than others," Zaghloul said. That the Mechanical Turk results were so similar may "provide the strongest evidence to date that what we discovered about how the brain controls memory in this set of patients may also be true for people outside of the study."

Why understanding memory matters

person holding missing piece from human head puzzle

Image source: Orawan Pattarawimonchai/Shutterstock

"Our memories play a fundamental role in who we are and how our brains work," Xie said. "However, one of the biggest challenges of studying memory is that people often remember the same things in different ways, making it difficult for researchers to compare people's performances on memory tests." He added that the search for some kind of unified theory of memory has been going on for over a century.

If a comprehensive understanding of the way memory works can be developed, the researchers say that "we can predict what people should remember in advance and understand how our brains do this, then we might be able to develop better ways to evaluate someone's overall brain health."

Party chat

Image source: joob_in/Shutterstock

Xie's interest in this was piqued during a conversation with Wilma Bainbridge of University of Chicago at a Christmas party a couple of years ago. Bainbridge was, at the time, wrapping up a study of 1,000 volunteers that suggested certain faces are universally more memorable than others.

Bainbridge recalls, "Our exciting finding is that there are some images of people or places that are inherently memorable for all people, even though we have each seen different things in our lives. And if image memorability is so powerful, this means we can know in advance what people are likely to remember or forget."

spinning 3D model of a brain

Temporal lobes

Image source: Anatomography/Wikimedia

At first, the scientists suspected that the memorable words and faces were simply recalled more frequently and were thus easier to recall. They envisioned them as being akin to "highly trafficked spots connected to smaller spots representing the less memorable words." They developed a modeling program based on word frequencies found in books, new articles, and Wikipedia pages. Unfortunately, the model was unable to predict or duplicate the results they saw in their clinical experiments.

Eventually, the researchers came to suspect that the memorability of certain words was linked to the frequency with which the brain used them as semantic links between other memories, making them often-visited hubs in individuals's memory networks, and therefore places the brain jumped to early and often when retrieving memories. This idea was supported by observed activity in participants' anterior temporal lobe, a language center.

In epilepsy patients, these words were so frequently recalled that subjects often shouted them out even when they were incorrect responses to word-pair inquiries.

Seek, find

Modern search engines no longer simply look for raw words when resolving an inquiry: They also look for semantic — contextual and meaning — connections so that the results they present may better anticipate what it is you're looking for. Xie suggests something similar may be happening in the brain: "You know when you type words into a search engine, and it shows you a list of highly relevant guesses? It feels like the search engine is reading your mind. Well, our results suggest that the brains of the subjects in this study did something similar when they tried to recall a paired word, and we think that this may happen when we remember many of our past experiences."

He also notes that it may one day be possible to leverage individuals' apparently wired-in knowledge of their language as a fixed point against which to assess the health of their memory and brain.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

Videos
  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

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