Big Think Interview With Robert Engle
Robert Engle is a Nobel Prize-winning economist. After completing his Ph.D., Engle was a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1969 to 1977. He joined the faculty of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in 1975, where he retired from in 2003. He now is a Professor Emeritus and Research Professor at UCSD. He currently teaches at New York University, Stern School of Business where he is the Michael Armellino professor in Management of Financial Services. Engle is also the co-founder of the Society for Financial Econometrics (SoFiE). He won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2003.
Robert Engle: I’m Robert Engle. I’m the Michael Armellino Professor of Finance at New York’s Stern School of Business.
Question: Is the investment banking model fundamentally flawed?
Robert Engle: My way of understanding this financial crisis is in terms of two different observations. One is that risk managers and investment bankers and actually, all kinds of investors took on more risk than they expected. So there was a failure of risk management. There was a failure to recognize how much risk there was in some of these securities that people bought.
But a second and perhaps more important point is that many of these same people were paid very well to ignore the risks, and so there are incentives which are – which distort our ability to measure risk. That is, many times we’re not risking our own money, we’re risking somebody else's money, or maybe that someone is going to back stop or downside, but we still get the upside. There are a lot of ways that investment banking models work, but these risks are not internalized by the people that are taking them. And so, I think that’s something that investment banks have worried about for a long time and are continuing to worry about, but it’s not an easy solution when you have lots of people betting the company’s money, how do you really allocate those risks? How do you make sure that the people that take the risks are feeling the risks in an appropriate kind of fashion?
Question: Do you agree with author Nassim Taleb that we put too much faith in financial experts?
Robert Engle: Oh well I would agree with that. I don’t agree – I agree with a lot of the points in Taleb’s book, but I don’t agree with many of his conclusions. It seems to me that he rightly points out that risk managers miss a lot of the risks, but the conclusion is that he draws, is that we should abandon risk management, whereas my conclusion is we should improve it. I don’t see what the alternative to risk management is. If it’s just getting rid of the models and instead using the smart people who can figure it out? How do you train them? What do you teach them? Do you just put them in a cockpit and let them stumble for 10 years of their life and then after that they’re good at it? I think that **** have gotten so complicated that we need risk management, but we just need to make it better. We need to be able to understand better where these risks are coming from.
And I think actually one of the – coming back to one of your previous points about investment strategies. One of the things we might come out of this crisis and I think that Nassim is sort of an example of this as well is that we might invest a part of our assets in portfolios that we don’t expect to do well not, but we would expect them to do well if we have another crisis. And this is a different way of thinking about asset allocation. It’s an old idea in economics, but it hasn’t’ really been at the center of much investment analysis, but I think now there’s a lot of interest in these so called hedge portfolios which will out perform in a crisis. I mean, we’ve always had gold bugs, but now we sort of realize that Treasure Bills might be in the same category. And we have derivatives like credit default swaps which are in this category, and we have derivatives like volatilities that are actually an asset class that we can invest in which are now – would out perform if we have another financial crisis.
And so thinking about these different assets and I should say, this extends to lots of other kinds of long term risks, for example, if we think about the long term risks of global warming. You know, some of the portfolios we might consider buying are portfolios which would do especially well if we have an economy-wide, or I mean, a global climate change that impacts us very negatively there are some companies that will do well, and so it might make sense to hold some of those in your portfolio.
Question: What is short selling, and should it be allowed?
Robert Engle: Well if you’ve got information about a company, or you believe that a company is undervalued, you can go out and buy their stock and you can make some profit on it. And if a lot of people feel like this company is undervalued and go out and buy the stock, the stock price will go up reflecting the higher value of this company. You might have information because you trade with them or because you’ve done some research on them.
On the other hand, if you have information that a company is not as good as its stock market valuation, you don’t have a way to sell that stock unless you already own it. And so that information doesn’t get incorporated in the company’s stock price as fast if you don’t allow short selling. And so allowing short selling is allowing people to sell – instead of having to buy the stock and then sell it, which doesn’t do much; allow them to sell it, and then buy it. In which case they can express that information and the idea is that you would get more accurate valuation of companies by letting people express both their positive information and their negative information through either long or short selling.
Question: Is the collateralized debt obligation really such a bad thing?
Robert Engle: Oh I think it’s a wonderful creation. The collateralized debt obligation, the CDO, is a structure which allows you to more or less continuously choose how much risk you want to take in a whole batch of securities. And the reason why they got us into so much trouble is that it’s hard to figure out how much risk you really are taking. And so, you could construct these things made with sub prime loans and believe that you weren’t taking any risk at all, even though all the loans in there were lousy. So, I think what we need is better understanding of how to do risk analysis of a CDO, but that they still can perform a very valuable function because they can aggregate these risks and pass them around so that mortgages or other kinds of loans can be packaged and sold to investors all over the world, who in most times, would justify a small amount of each one. They don’t – It turned out they thought they were so good they bought large amounts of them and then took enormous losses on them.
Question: Can you explain collateralized debt obligations?
Robert Engle: I have a little example I like to tell. I don’t know whether you want to hear it or not, but it’s like from cooking. Something may be on the Cooking Channel. You combine in a glass some sand, some water, and some high class Tuscan Extra Virgin Olive Oil. And you shake it all up and you ask somebody, how much would you pay for a little bit of this? And the answer is, not too much because you’re gonna get sand and water in with your oil. But if you wait, it’ll settle out and if you take it from the top, you’ll get oil. And if you take it from the bottom, you’ll get sand. So, the roll of the CDO is that, you’ve got all these **** and you don’t know which ones are the oil and which ones are the sand. But over time, oil rises to the top and the triple A, or the senior **** have very few defaults and the equity **** at the bottom have lots of defaults. So, you pay different amounts depending on whether you’re going to take it from the bottom or take it from the top.
But it happened that no one expected was it got shaken up again. It didn’t have time to settle out. We had housing markets that deteriorated volatilities went up, correlations up, as soon as all these different parts were correlated, then the top is no better than the bottom. It’s only if it settles out that the top is better than the bottom. And so the failure of risk management was to recognize – was not to recognize that there could be increasing correlations and increasing volatility that would make the mixture more, more homogeneous and therefore less desirable.
Question: What are the benefits of credit default swaps?
Robert Engle: There are all these risks that we face in our businesses. Some of them might be that a bond we own defaults, but much more important, I think, are that we sell things to another company and they go bankrupt before they can pay us. We provide coffee to the lunchroom at some company, but you work up quite a bill after awhile, so what do you do if they go bankrupt? Credit default swap gives you something to do. You can buy some credit default swaps from them to protect yourself against the bankruptcy of people who owe you money. And so this credit default swap gives you the ability to reduce your risks by paying a small fee. And if you pay attention to where your exposures are, you might tend up buying credit default swaps against a variety of people that you – companies that you deal with.
So, this is the way it can reduce risks for all sorts of different kinds of activities. And really not just for people who happen to be bond holders. That’s why I don’t think the idea of requiring these to be only sold to people who have already own the bonds, in other words, this naked position that the Germans have recently put into their financial regulation and has been discussed here. I don’t think that makes any sense.
So what is the role that credit default swaps can play in an economy? Well my feeling is that if these things actually will now be traded on either exchanges or some kind of central clearing, they are going to be a very good measure of the credit worthiness of different companies. A better measure, in my opinion than rating agencies provide. I think the credit default swaps can take the place of the rating agencies who really have missed the ball in this procedure and are quite conflicted by the way the ratings are paid for. So, I would like to see credit default swaps become an evermore important way of understanding credit risk in the economy.
Question: What can we learn from the recent financial crisis?
Robert Engle: Right. So, I think we’ve learned a lot from this crisis. And I think one of the things is kind of what we’ve been talking about. That when firms take a lot of risk, to some extent, they’re taking risk beyond what they feel themselves. In other words, when large companies take on risk, then they impose risks on the rest of the system. And these are systemic risks and these systemic risks we never used to think were really that important, but as soon as we recognize how the financial sector – the risks the financial sector takes on can impact the entire global economy, we realize that those risks needed to be controlled for the social good. And reduced the systemic risks.
So we have a new push to understand systemic risk, where it comes from, how do you measure it, how do you regulate it. And the financial regulation that has been discussed for a year in the U.S. and which is about to be put into place, I think, and which is being discussed in Europe and everywhere, the focus is very much on systemic risk that those are the risks that you want to spend most of your regulatory time worrying about. So that leads us to regulating more carefully the largest or the most systemic risky companies and institutions.
Question: Is deregulation effective for financial markets?
Robert Engle: I think we’re fooling ourselves if we think that regulators are going to be able to outsmart the bankers. So, the task of designing regulatory reform is trying to make more or less foolproof regulation and that’s one of the advantages of the systemic category where, if you can **** that some smaller number of banks or financial institutions are the ones to worry about, then you can give them more scrutiny and more attention, you don’t have to have rules that apply to everybody. And I think that you can do sort of what the Fed has often done, which is said – called “leaning against the wind.” In other words, if you think that there’s too much risk being taken and that the financial sector is being super heated, you can actually increase the capital requirements at that point.
When Greenspan, who’d had no appetite for regulating risk thought that things were getting out of hand, he coined the phrase “irrational exuberance” to cover it. But all he had was talking points. And with this new regulatory environment there would be more than talking points, there would be things that could be done. I do think that the reason the regulators were asleep at the switch in part was because we have had so much success in the U.S. history with deregulation, it’s done valuable things for the trucking industry, for airlines, for telecommunications. We’ve expanded deregulation, gotten government out of one sector after another and I think that the Greenspan approach and the Cox SEC were in that tradition of let’s deregulate and see what these markets do. And one of the things they immediately observed is that these markets took off. But they took off by taking more and more risk, which it turned out to be risks that the taxpayers were really taking.
So I think what we’ve learned is that deregulation is not as effective in the financial sectors where at least it can’t go as far in the financial sectors as it has I some of these other sectors, and so I think while they were asleep at the switch, I don’t think it was really just the regulators that were asleep at the switch, I think that they were appointed to be asleep at the switch. And that Congress, Congressional Oversight wanted them to be asleep. And so that it was really across the board. It was just not that the regulators missed it. They were appointed to not do anything.
Question: Will Americans post-financial crisis be smarter investors?
Robert Engle: I think they’re more cautious. On the other hand, that was true in 2003 also, when they had run up the internet bubble in 2000 and 1999, and then all of a sudden it blew apart. So, people were cautious for a while, but then they jumped on some other bubbles. We had an energy bubble, and then we had the banking bubble, and those – and I guess the housing bubble. So I’m not really sure whether Americans are going to be better investors.
Question: How will financial regulatory reform help financial markets?
Robert Engle: Well there’s several features. I mean, it’s a pretty complicated set of topics that have been legislated. I like to focus on systemic risk, I think that there’s going to be a systemic risk regulator, which will probably be the Fed, and will chose in committee, select a subset of all the financial institutions that they can consider to be systemically risky and subject them, first of all to more scrutiny, but second of all, to more careful behavior. In other words, restrict their capital requirements so they can’t take on quite a much risk, or maybe put on a systemic risk tax, which is kind of gives them the incentive to become less systemically risky. So, that’s I think, an important part of the legislation. I really like the emphasis on trying to reduce the inner connections of firms through the over-the-counter derivatives market. The fact that this vast array of derivatives are traded over-the-counter means that they’re counter party risks between all sorts of pairs of individuals that are not adequately margined or controlled so that any one company goes bankrupt, it affects a wide range of other companies.
So these also contribute to systemic risk, and what the legislation is proposing is that as many of these over-the-counter derivatives as possible be moved to some kind of centralized clearing so that there is no more counter party risk and improved transparency in this markets, and I think that actually is going to be a very substantial reduction in systemic risk for the system as a whole.
There’s resolution authority saying these companies that are too big to fail just need new kinds of bankruptcy-type provisions. And then we can actually unwind them quickly and without doing so much damage to the entire economy. A lot of ambitious code has been written into the law for those and we will have to see if it actually works, if we have another example of a big financial institution going bankrupt.
I think global coordination is tremendously important. I hope we can see this happening through the G20 and through coordination of regulatory regimes around the world. I guess those are the main features of this bill that are important.
Question: What advice would you give to Barney Frank and other legislators?
Robert Engle: Well, I would say, first of all, congratulations. Because Barney Frank could have been wiped out by the Freddie and Fannie problems, but really, he was instrumental on, but in fact, he rose to a new level, I think, in recognizing what needed to be done to fix the financial system. And I think his bill was really very good. It has a few things I don’t like in it. It has a few exemptions for companies that don’t want to trade their derivatives on exchanges, but I think basically, it was very forward thinking of him to get it out so early to make a statement and pretty much the Senate came along with what he did.
Question: What else would you like to see from Congress?
Robert Engle: I’d like to see a little more action on the energy side of things. I’ve been pushing for some kind of a carbon tax for years, and it seems to me we’ve had lots of opportunities to do it. Today, we’re terribly worried about the size of the budget deficit. We’re talking about should we increase taxes? Why not put a tax on carbon emissions. It would raise a lot of money, it would reduce the environmental damages in the future, it would solve so many problems, and it would be a much more constructive thing to do than to think about raising the income tax.
Question: Will China cut off its credit line to the U.S.?
Robert Engle: I don’t think it can. The – I mean, what the only way China – China’s got this big problem, which is so much of its reserves are tied up in dollars so that if it were to cut off the credit line in dollars, how would it maintain the exchange rates, the fixed exchange rate that it has. I mean, it would only be able to do that if it allows the yuan to appreciate. And so, it’s accumulating dollars because they sell goods to the U.S., the dollars show up in China, what do you do with those dollars? Well, you can either buy Treasuries with them, you could hold them in green piles in the bank, but that’s really the same thing. You can buy goods in the U.S., which is what we would like them to do, and if – I mean I think ultimately that’s what should happen. I think ultimately China will decide they are a big player in the international economy, they will not be able to maintain the fixed exchange rate, they’ll have to go to a floating exchange rate and their dollars that they own will depreciate because yuan will appreciate relative to the dollar. So, in fact, some of their nest egg will be eroded by doing that. So, they’re not anxious to do this. They prefer the status quo. All the talk they have, in my opinion they have about the U.S. doing – moving to special drawing rights, or some other kind of reserve currency isn’t really what they want. They like the status quo, the way it is now and I think they’re going to continue this way as long as they possibly can, but ultimately are going to have to let the economy open. It’s just too big an economy. You can’t run it without allowing capital flows in and out.
Question: How will China’s growing middle class change the relationship between China and the U.S.?
Robert Engle: See now I think what’s going to ultimate happen. If the Chinese economy can be opened so that currencies are convertible, Chinese tourists can take money and go see the world. Chinese businessmen can go and buy property in the U.S. and France and every place. All of a sudden, it’s just going to be a blossoming global economy. I think it’s going to be good for everybody. And I think the Chinese consumers are going to ultimate drive that because they have a lot of money, many of them do now. And they don’t really have an easy way to spend it. They don’t have an easy way to travel.
When Japan was this big power in – and grew so rapidly in the, I guess the ‘80’s, we saw Japanese tourists everywhere for the first time. It was the first thing we saw. But we don’t see this large influx of Chinese tourists as what we would expect to see. And New York is one place where you might expect to see a lot more of them. It’s gonna happen, they travel all over China. You go to China and you see it’s all the tourist spots are full of people, but they’re all Chinese tourists because that’s where they go. That’s, you know, they can’t really go out of the country very easily. So, I think it’s going to be a happy day for everybody in China and outside of China when these borders are opened a little more.
Recorded May 25, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont
A conversation with the Nobel Prize-winning economist.
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live this Thursday at 1pm ET.
Astronomers spot an object heading into Earth orbit.
Minimoons<p>Scientists have confirmed just two prior minimoons. One was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_RH120" target="_blank">2006 RH120</a>, which orbited us from September 2006 to June 2007. The other was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_CD3" target="_blank">2020 CD3</a>, which got stuck in the 2015–2016 timeframe, and is believed to gotten away in May 2020.</p><p>2020 SO, the new kid on the block, is expected to arrive in October 2020 and pop out of orbit in May 2021.</p><div id="37962" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4c0fc8a2cba6536ea4cd960ebed3e6e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1307729521869611008" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Asteroid 2020 SO may get captured by Earth from Oct 2020 - May 2021. Current nominal trajectory shows shows capture… https://t.co/F5utxRvN6Z</div> — Tony Dunn (@Tony Dunn)<a href="https://twitter.com/tony873004/statuses/1307729521869611008">1600621989.0</a></blockquote></div>
Identifying 2020 SO<p>The first clue 2020 SO isn't your ordinary asteroid is its exceptionally low velocity. It's traveling much more slowly that a typical asteroid — their <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank">average rate of travel</a> <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a>is 18 kilometers (58,000 feet) per second. Even <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_rock" target="_blank">moon rocks</a> sent careening into Earth orbit by impacts on the lunar surface outpace pokey 2020 SO.</p><p>For another thing, 2020 SO has an orbital path very similar to Earth's, lasting about one Earth year. It's also just slightly less circular than our own orbit, from which it's barely tilted off-axis.</p><p>So, what is it? <a href="https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/" target="_blank">NASA estimates</a> that the object has dimensions very reminiscent of a discarded Centaur rocket stage from the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveyor_2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Surveyor 2 mission</a> that landed an unmanned craft on the moon. Back in the day, rocket stages were jettisoned as craft were aimed toward their desired position. This stuff, if released high enough, remains in space. It appears that this Centaur rocket, launched in September 1966, is now making its way back homeward, at least for a little bit.</p><p>When 2020 SO arrives at its closest point in December, the rocket is expected to be about 50,000 kilometers from Earth. Its next closest approach is much further: 220,000 kilometers, in February 2010.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzMDk3NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyODg1MTQ1MX0.HGknDwqp0GmeuczKY_AS7vrPG7KMFUc_XO95tNoI2xo/img.jpg?width=980" id="e5cda" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="85eb1f790d8c3ee5b261f7ba13eaa5e1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Centaur rocket stage" />
Centaur rocket stage
What we may be able to learn<p>Earthly space programs being as young as they are, scientists would love to know what's happened to our rocket during a half century in space.</p><p>While 2020 SO won't get close enough to drop into our atmosphere, its slow progress has scientists hopeful that they'll still get some kind of a decent look at it.</p><p>Spectroscopy may be able to reveal what the rocket's surface is like now — has any of its paint survived, for example? Of course, being out in space, it's likely to have been hit by lots of dust and micrometeorites, so the current state of its surfaces is also of interest. Experts are curious to know how reflective the rocket is at this point, valuable information that can help planners of future long-term missions anticipate how well a craft out in space for extended periods will remain able to reflect sunlight.</p>
From cryonics to time travel, here are some of the (highly speculative) methods that might someday be used to bring people back to life.
- Alexey Turchin and Maxim Chernyakov, researchers belonging to the transhumanism movement, wrote a paper outlining the main ways technology might someday make resurrection possible.
- The methods are highly speculative, ranging from cryonics to digital reconstruction of individual personalities.
- Surveys suggest most people would not choose to live forever if given the option.
Immortality and identity<p>The paper defines life as a "continued stream of subjective experiences" and death as the permanent end of that stream. Immortality, to them, is a "life stream without end," and resurrection is the "continuation of that same stream of experiences after an arbitrarily long gap."</p><p>Another key clarification is the identity problem: How would you know that a downloaded copy of yourself really was going to be <em>you? </em>Couldn't it just be a convincing yet incomplete and fundamentally distinct representation of your brain?</p><p>If you believe that your copy is not <em>you</em>, that implies you believe there's something more to your identity than the (currently) quantifiable information contained within your brain and body, according to the researchers. In other words, your "informational identity" does not constitute your true identity.</p><p>In this scenario, there must exist what the researchers call a "non-informational identity carrier" (NIIC). This could be something like a "soul." It could be "qualia," which are the unmeasurable "subjective experiences which could be unique to every person." Or maybe it doesn't exist at all.</p><p>It's no matter: The researchers say resurrection, in some form, should be possible in either scenario.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If no 'soul' exist[s], resurrection is possible via information preservation; if soul[s] exist, resurrection is possible via returning of the "soul" into the new body. But some forms of NIIC are also very fragile and mortal, like continuity," the researchers noted.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The problem of the nature of human identity could be solved by future superintelligent AI, but for now it cannot be definitively solved. This means that we should try to preserve as much identity as possible and not refuse any approaches to life extension and resurrection even if they contradict our intuitions about identity, as our notions of identity could change later."</p>
Potential resurrection methods<p>Turchin and Chernyakov outline seven broad categories of potential resurrection methods, ranked from the most plausible to most speculative.<br></p><p>The first category includes methods practiced while the person is alive, like cryonics, plastination, and preserving brain tissue through processes like chemical fixation. The researchers noted that there have been "suggestions that the claustrum, hypothalamus, or even a single neuron is the neural correlate of consciousness," so it may be possible to preserve just that part of a person, and later implant it into another organism.</p><p>Other methods get far stranger. For example, one method includes super-intelligent AI that uses a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyson_sphere#:~:text=A%20Dyson%20sphere%20is%20a,percentage%20of%20its%20power%20output." target="_blank">Dyson sphere</a> to harness the power of the sun to "power enormous calculation engines" that would "reconstruct" people who collected a sufficient amount of data on their identities.</p>
Turchin<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The main idea of a resurrection-simulation is that if one takes the DNA of a past person and subjects it to the same developmental condition, as well as correcting the development based on some known outcomes, it is possible to create a model of a past person which is very close to the original," the researchers wrote.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"DNA samples of most people who lived in past 1 to 2 centuries could be extracted via global archeology. After the moment of death, the simulated person is moved into some form of the afterlife, perhaps similar to his religious expectations, where he meets his relatives."</p><p>Delving further into sci-fi territory, another resurrection method would use time-travel technology.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If there will at some point be technology that allows travel to the past, then our future descendants will be able to directly save people dying in the past by collecting their brains at the moment of death and replacing them with replicas," the paper states.</p><p>How? Sending tiny robots back in time.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"A nanorobot could be sent several billion years before now, where it could secretly replicate and sow nanotech within all living being[s] without affecting the course of history. At the moment of death, such nanorobots could be activated to collect data about the brain and preserve it somewhere until its future resurrection; thus, there would be no need for forward time travel."</p>
Pixabay<p>The paper <a href="https://www.academia.edu/36998733/Classification_of_the_approaches_to_the_technological_resurrection" target="_blank">goes on to outline some more resurrection methods</a>, including ones that involve parallel worlds, aliens, and clones, along with a good, old-fashioned possibility: God exists and one day he resurrects us. </p><p>In short, it's all extremely speculative.</p><p>But the aim of the paper was to catalogue known potential ways humans might be able to cheat death. For Turchin, that's not some far-off project: In addition to studying global risks and transhumanism, the Russian researcher heads the <a href="http://immortality-roadmap.com/" target="_blank">Immortality Roadmap</a>, which, similar to the 2018 paper, outlines various ways in which we might someday achieve immortality.</p><p>Although it may take centuries before humans come close to "digital immortality," Turchin believes that life-extension technology could allow some modern people to survive long enough to see it happen. </p><p>Want a shot at being among them? Beyond the obvious, like staying healthy, the Immortality Roadmap suggests you start collecting extensive data on yourself: diaries, video recordings, DNA information, EEGs, complex creative objects — all of which could someday be used to digitally "reconstruct" your identity.</p>But odds are you're not interested. Although Turchin and other scientists are bent on finding ways to avoid death and extend life indefinitely, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/may/16/dying-still-taboo-subject-poll" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">surveys</a> <a href="https://quillette.com/2018/03/02/would-you-opt-for-immortality/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">repeatedly</a> <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutesvanity-fair-poll-the-afterlife/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">show</a> that most people would not opt to live forever if given the choice.
Welcome to the world's newest motorsport: manned multicopter races that exceed speeds of 100 mph.
- Airspeeder is a company that aims to put on high-speed races featuring electric flying vehicles.
- The so-called Speeders are able to fly at speeds of up to 120 mph.
- The motorsport aims to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector, which could usher in the age of air taxis.
Credit: Airspeeder<p>To prevent crashes, Airspeeder is working with the companies Acronis and Teknov8 to develop "high-speed collision avoidance" systems for its Speeders.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"As they compete, Speeders will utilise cutting-edge LiDAR and Machine Vision technology to ensure close but safe racing, with defined and digitally governed no-fly areas surrounding spectators and officials," Airspeeder wrote in a <a href="https://airspeeder.com/news/2020/9/7/airspeeder-worlds-first-flying-electric-car-racing-series-partners-with-cyber-protection-leader-acronis-34g4k" target="_blank">blog post</a>.</p>
Credit: Airspeeder<p>Beyond motorsports, Airspeeder hopes to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector. This sector is where companies like <a href="https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/business-aviation/2020-01-07/hyundai-and-uber-announce-evtol-air-taxi-partnership" target="_blank">Uber, Hyundai</a>, and Airbus are working to develop air taxis, which could someday take the ridesharing industry into the skies. By 2040, the autonomous urban aircraft industry could be worth $1.5 trillion, according to a <a href="https://www.morganstanley.com/ideas/autonomous-aircraft" target="_blank">2019 report</a> from Morgan Stanley.</p><p>Still, many technical and regulatory hurdles remain. Matt Pearson, Airspeeder's founder and CEO, thinks the futuristic motorsport will help to not only speed up that process, but also pave the way for self-driving cars.</p>
Archaeology clues us in on the dangers of letting viruses hang around.
- A University of Otago researcher investigates the spread of disease in ancient Vietnam.
- The infectious disease, yaws, has been with us for thousands of years with no known cure.
- Using archaeology to investigate disease offers clues into modern-day pandemics.
History-Changing Archaeological Finds<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ed6ad05071e93f257aa0b73f4001c805"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gydYHHfnLhE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>While we rightfully look toward infectious disease experts during times such as now, archaeologists also have plenty to offer. A <a href="http://journals.upress.ufl.edu/bioarchaeology/article/view/1173" target="_blank">new research article</a>, published in the journal, Bioarchaeology Journal, turns back the clock to ancient Vietnam. The findings offer important clues about why we need to eradicate COVID-19.</p><p>Lead author Melandri Vlok, a PhD student at the University of Otago in New Zealand (with support from researchers in Australia, Vietnam, Japan, and the UK), investigated a case of yaws that ran through the Neolithic archeological site of Mán Bạc in Northeast Vietnam. </p><p>Yaws remains a common infectious disease in at least 13 tropical countries, with up to a half-million infected each year. Hard skin lesions form on the victim's bodies; they can form painful ulcers. While lesions usually subside within six months, bone and joint pain and fatigue are common. Some cases last many years and result in permanent scars. On occasion, death follows a long battle. </p><p>Subsistence farmers in mainland China have long battled the environment. Finding the right soil and water sources for their crops has been a generational battle. Roughly 4,000 years ago, such farmers made their way into Mainland Southeast China (modern day Vietnam), where, as Vlok writes, "genetic admixture and social transition occurs between foragers and farmers." In 2018, Vlok traveled to Mán Bạc to study the remains of seven skeletons, which included two adults, two adolescents, and two children.</p><p>Her findings help give us perspective on today's proliferation of the coronavirus. As she <a href="https://www.otago.ac.nz/news/news/releases/otago744185.html" target="_blank">says</a>, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This matters, because knowing more about this disease and its evolution, it changes how we understand the relationship people have with it. It helps us understand why it's so difficult to eradicate. If it's been with us thousands of years it has probably developed to fit very well with humans." </p>
My Son Sanctuary, Quang Nam, Vietnam.
Credit: Mrkela / Shutterstock<p>Yaws is not the only disease considered in the article. Tuberculosis, brucellosis, and cancers were also discussed. The goal of the research was to identify disease spread through cultures and the chronic problems left behind, sometimes for millennia. Vlok notes how temperature fluctuations in the Mán Bạc region affected a variety of diseases. Yaws appeared to have spread easily due to an abundance of water and vegetation, combined with increased population density—children are more likely to spread this disease.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Pre-industrialized agricultural communities have also been associated with increased incidence of yaws. The coastal region is also slightly warmer and more humid than inland northern Vietnam and therefore more conducive to the spread of yaws."</p><p>The Climate Clock is <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/09/21/climate-change-metronome-clock-nyc/" target="_blank">ticking down</a>. We're already experiencing the ravages of this global shift, and it's not going to get any easier if interventions are not immediately legislated. While no single science will help us wrap our heads around the immediate future, Vlok suggests factoring in archaeology. Past precedent matters.</p><p>Gazing back a few hundred generations offers important clues for the future—really, the present—that we must confront. A concerted effort by the World Health Organization in the 1950s couldn't eradicate yaws. Diseases that have an opportunity to hang around will exploit every advantage it can. The blasé attitude too many Americans currently hold about the novel coronavirus's dangers is going to have a reverberating effect through the generations. As Vlok concludes, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This shows us what happens when we don't take action with these diseases. It's a lesson of what infectious diseases can do to a population if you let them spread widely. It highlights the need to intervene, because sometimes these diseases are so good at adapting to us, at spreading between us."</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>