How Russia's Election Meddling Created a New Kind of Propaganda
Russian hacking is changing the game in global warfare by taking the battlefield to the internet, where Facebook is the front line.
Jordan is now in his 17th year of building disruptive technology companies, and is the co-founder and CEO of Neurohacker Collective.
Early in his career, he helped start the online digital video revolution as co-founder and CEO of DivX. After somewhat successfully navigating two financial crises and an IPO (and going down in flames at Stage6), he left the helm at DivX to return his attention to the big picture. He tried his hand at capitalism – combining Angel investment at the sharp edge of the Schumpeter wave — with participation in a number of think tanks and institutes; most notably, the Aspen Institute and the Santa Fe Institute where he served on the Board of Trustees for five sweet years.
This exposure led him to the conclusion that humanity is in the midst of a world historical transition which will likely kill all of us (see Mad Max) but just might end in a truly amazing future (see Star Trek). Getting there is going to require many things of us – most notably a significant upgrade of our individual and collective capacity for thought and action.
Although he has long benefitted from entheogens, Jordan had not spent much time on nootropics or other Neurohacking techniques. After one week on an early NHC stack, he was convinced about the power and potential of this new technology and co-created Neurohacker Collective to bring it to the world.
Jordan Greenhall: All right. So let's do Russian hacking. And what I want to do is I want to put quotes around "Russian hacking" because we're actually talking about a question of how we go about making sense of everything all together. So "Russian hacking" is not an event as much as it is a phenomenon that describes a very large number of things that different individuals, depending on the particular location in the social field, interpret differently.
So yes I think this is an excellent example of this new emergent mechanism of how we go about doing social control. And it's interesting because if you're looking at "Russian hacking" from the blue church perspective you're actually thinking about something that isn't actually how it's working and you're going to be making particular mistakes. So you will think I think, I mean certainly I'm defining the blue church so certainly if you are in the blue church modality you will think that there is some kind of hierarchical control structure with a small number of decision-makers, we will call them the Russians, who are principally responsible for the behavior of the system under investigation. So you are looking for an expertise hierarchy, somebody who is in charge and how their expertise hierarchy is percolating downward in its downward causation fashion to generate the results of what you're seeing.
And that's actually not an appropriate evaluation of what's actually going on. Instead "Russian hacking" and the degree to which there is a specific understanding on the part of the Russians, which there certainly is they're clearly, what is the phrase somebody used—“punching up”?—They're clearly dramatically more effective right now than one should expect them to be given their actual capacity and power in the world because of the higher quality strategy in this new decentralized environment is I think actually recognizing the obsolescence of that notion of a top down decision-making framework where one of the primary strategies is to find people who are operating in that fashion and throw effectively sand in their eyes, create obfuscation mechanisms that cause top down decision making trees to have a hard time either understanding what's coming up to them or having their actuation potentials move down while simultaneously being part of a very large decentralized, not centralized but a decentralized collective that is fluid and has an up-regulation behavior.
So modulating things like okay there seems to be an energy and a focus and an ambient interest among some group of decentralized individuals around certain ideas, how do I provide them with an increase in localized energy or capacity to enable them to focus in a certain area and engage in activation. So it's more of a potentiation strategy and much less of a control strategy.
And then the other side of it, and this is a deep insight that I don't think anybody is really grasping, including myself, is the distinction between, for example, mimetic warfare and information warfare. And I think many of the blue church folks are particularly missing in on this. Mimetic warfare is in many ways a legacy of the kinds of stuff that television does very well: “Let me tell you a story which is designed to create an effect in you that will move you emotionally and cognitively.” And that, of course, changes and the nature of mimetic warfare changes in the Internet domain and we've seen that broadly: Kids on 4chan generating images that flow out very rapidly and are selected for almost ecologically.
But there's also information warfare, which is the recognition that you can actually use very high-quality statistics and very high-quality precision to modulate subtle causation in the environment. So for example, I'll give you sort of a hypothetical. Let's say, for example, my statistics told me that there was a sensitive point in one of the Florida districts where the likelihood of decision making that say there was a 51/49, we don't know exactly, is open, the possibility space was open on how that would play out. And I could generate some kind of very lightweight intervention that would increase the rate of traffic jams in that environment by say hacking the stop lights so the stop lights are on a different frequency. And thereby decreasing the turnout and by decreasing the turnout could probabilistically affect that particular sensitive decision point.
That's information warfare at a very, very high level and the whole point is subtle, very distributed, highly probabilistic. It's much more like the way that one might do a distributed portfolio in finance as opposed to a concentrated bet. And that's another piece of this whole story the kind of thing that the blue church is very challenged to do because it's decision making structure requires that it make a small number of big bets, but that this new decentralized mechanism can in fact make a very large number of very small bets and they can be extremely fine-tuned.
I mean the point is that you don't actually have to take this “I’m super good at understanding how to make complicated things,” which is the older model, and just throw shit out and just see what happens. I'll throw something out, which kind of works and somebody else will grab it and modify it and it kind of works better, and somebody else will grab it and modify it and it pops, and then a whole bunch of people up-regulate it.
So it's a collective search algorithm with the ability to modify because remember we're dealing about symmetry and communication. So I can grab what you did, I can modify it and push it back out, and this enables a completely different invention, construction and dissemination function. I think that's fundamental. Like if you're not understanding how to engage in that strategy you're going to be selected against increasingly over the next even short period of time like three or four years.
Russian hacking is less "guys-in-hoodies-doing-big-nefarious-things" than it is a few dozen people trying hundreds of smaller things to see what catches on and gets sent up the information ladder. Jordan Greenhall explains that what the Russian hacking units are doing is being ever changing and ever fluid and essentially flooding misinformation into parts of the internet—governments and companies and individuals included—so that the traditional American "top down decision making" process gets confused. After all, you're much more likely to believe an email coming from your boss than one coming from "firstname.lastname@example.org".
And while it may seem overwhelming, Jordan goes on to explain that this kind of information warfare is much more attune to how one might invest a financial portfolio than make a singular bet. The Russian hackers make small, diverse picks and then see which one pays off. It's a strategy that, well, if you'll look at who our President is right now, seems to have paid off.
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A machine learning system lets visitors at a Kandinsky exhibition hear the artwork.
Have you ever heard colors?
As part of a new exhibition, the worlds of culture and technology collide, bringing sound to the colors of abstract art pioneer Wassily Kandinsky.
Kandinsky had synesthesia, where looking at colors and shapes causes some with the condition to hear associated sounds. With the help of machine learning, virtual visitors to the Sounds Like Kandinsky exhibition, a partnership project by Centre Pompidou in Paris and Google Arts & Culture, can have an aural experience of his art.
An eye for music
Kandinsky's synesthesia is thought to have heavily influenced his painting. Seeing yellow summoned up trumpets, evoking emotions like cheekiness; reds produced violins portraying restlessness; while organs representing heavenliness he associated with blues, according to the exhibition notes.
Virtual visitors are invited to take part in an experiment called Play a Kandinsky, which allows them to see and hear the world through the artist's eyes.
Kandinsky's synesthesia is thought to have heavily influenced his 1925 painting Yellow, Red, Blue.Image: Guillaume Piolle/Wikimedia Commons
In 1925, the artist's masterpiece, "Yellow, Red, Blue", broke new ground in the world of abstract art, guiding the viewer from left to right with shifting shapes and shades. Almost a century after it was painted, Google's interactive tool lets visitors click different parts of the artwork to journey through the artist's description of the colors, associated sounds and moods that inspired the work.
But Google's new toy is not the only tool developed to enhance the artistic experience.
Artist Neil Harbisson has developed an artificial way to emulate Kandinsky by turning colors into sounds. He has a rare form of color blindness and sees the world in greyscale. But a smart antenna attached to his head translates dominant colors into musical notes, creating a real-world soundtrack of what's in front of him. The invention could open up a new world for people who are color blind.
A new study suggests that private prisons hold prisoners for a longer period of time, wasting the cost savings that private prisons are supposed to provide over public ones.
- Private prisons in Mississippi tend to hold prisoners 90 days longer than public ones.
- The extra days eat up half of the expected cost savings of a private prison.
- The study leaves several open questions, such as what affect these extra days have on recidivism rates.
The United States of America, land of the free, is home to 5 percent of the world's population but 25 percent of its prisoners. The cost of having so many people in the penal system adds up to $80 billion per year, more than three times the budget for NASA. This massive system exploded in size relatively recently, with the prison population increasing by six-fold in the last four decades.
Ten percent of these prisoners are kept in private prisons, which are owned and operated for the sake of profit by contractors. In theory, these operations cost less than public prisons and jails, and states can save money by contracting them to incarcerate people. They have a long history in the United States and are used in many other countries as well.
However, despite the pervasiveness of private contractors in the American prison system, there is not much research into how well they live up to their promise to provide similar services at a lower cost to the state. The little research that is available often encounters difficulties in trying to compare the costs and benefits of facilities with vastly different operations and occasionally produces results suggesting there are few benefits to privatization.
A new study by Dr. Anita Mukherjee and published in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy joins the debate with a robust consideration of the costs and benefits of private prisons. Its findings suggest that some private prisons keep people incarcerated longer and save less money than advertised.
The study focuses on prisons in Mississippi. Despite its comparatively high rate of incarceration, Mississippi's prison system is very similar to that of other states that also use private prisons. Demographically, its system is representative of the rest of the U.S. prison system, and its inmates are sentenced for similar amounts of time.
The state attempts to get the most out of its privatization efforts, as a 1994 law requires all contracts for private prisons in Mississippi to provide at least a 10 percent cost savings over public prisons while providing similar services. As a result, the state seeks to maximize its savings by sending prisoners to private institutions first if space if available.
While public and private prisons in Mississippi are quite similar, there are a few differences that allow for the possibility of cost savings by private operators — not the least of which is that the guards are paid 30 percent less and have fewer benefits than their publicly employed counterparts.
The results of privatization
The graph depicts the likelihood of release for public (dotted line) vs. private (solid line) prison inmates. At every level of time served, public prisoners were more likely to be released than private prisoners.Dr. Anita Mukherjee
The study relied on administrative records of the Mississippi prison system between 1996 and 2013. The data included information on prisoner demographics, the crimes committed, sentence lengths, time served, infractions while incarcerated, and prisoner relocation while in the system, including between public and private jails. For this study, the sample examined was limited to those serving between one and six years and those who served at least a quarter of their sentence. This created a primary sample of 26,563 bookings.
Analysis revealed that prisoners in private prisons were behind bars for four to seven percent longer than those in public prisons, which translates to roughly 85 to 90 extra days per prisoner. This is, in part, because those in private prison serve a greater portion of their sentences (73 percent) than those in public institutions (70 percent).
This in turn might be due to the much higher infraction rate in private prisons compared to public ones. While only 18 percent of prisoners in a public prison commit an infraction, such as disobeying a guard or possessing contraband, the number jumps to 46 percent in a private prison. Infractions can reduce the probability of early release or cause time to be added to a sentence.
It's unclear why there are so many more infractions in private prisons. Dr. Mukherjee suggests it could be the result of "harsher prison conditions in private prisons," better monitoring techniques, incentives to report more of them to the state before contract renewals, or even a lackadaisical attitude on the part of public prison employees.
What does all this cost Mississippi?
The extra time served eats 48 percent of the cost savings of keeping prisoners in a private facility. For example, it costs about $135,000 to house a prisoner in a private prison for three years and $150,000 in the public system. But longer stays in private prisons reduce the savings from $15,000 to only $7,800.
As Dr. Mukherjee remarks, this cost is also just the finance. Some things are a little harder to measure:
"There are, of course, other costs that are difficult to quantify — e.g., the cost of injustice to society (if private prison inmates systematically serve more time), the inmate's individual value of freedom, and impacts of the additional incarceration on future employment. Abrams and Rohlfs (2011) estimates a prisoner's value of freedom for 90 days at about $1,100 using experimental variation in bail setting. Mueller-Smith (2017) estimates that 90 days of marginal incarceration costs about $15,000 in reduced wages and increased reliance on welfare. If these social costs were to exceed $7,800 in the example stated, private prisons would no longer offer a bargain in terms of welfare-adjusted cost savings."
It is possible that the extra time in jail provides benefits that counter these costs, such as a reduced recidivism rate, but this proved difficult to determine. Though it was not statistically significant, there was some evidence that the added time actually increased the rate of recidivism. If that's true, then private prisons could be counterproductive.
A Harvard professor's study discovers the worst year to be alive.
- Harvard professor Michael McCormick argues the worst year to be alive was 536 AD.
- The year was terrible due to cataclysmic eruptions that blocked out the sun and the spread of the plague.
- 536 ushered in the coldest decade in thousands of years and started a century of economic devastation.
The past year has been nothing but the worst in the lives of many people around the globe. A rampaging pandemic, dangerous political instability, weather catastrophes, and a profound change in lifestyle that most have never experienced or imagined.
But was it the worst year ever?
Nope. Not even close. In the eyes of the historian and archaeologist Michael McCormick, the absolute "worst year to be alive" was 536.
Why was 536 so bad? You could certainly argue that 1918, the last year of World War I when the Spanish Flu killed up to 100 million people around the world, was a terrible year by all accounts. 1349 could also be considered on this morbid list as the year when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe, with up to 20 million dead from the plague. Most of the years of World War II could probably lay claim to the "worst year" title as well. But 536 was in a category of its own, argues the historian.
It all began with an eruption...
According to McCormick, Professor of Medieval History at Harvard University, 536 was the precursor year to one of the worst periods of human history. It featured a volcanic eruption early in the year that took place in Iceland, as established by a study of a Swiss glacier carried out by McCormick and the glaciologist Paul Mayewski from the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono.
The ash spewed out by the volcano likely led to a fog that brought an 18-month-long stretch of daytime darkness across Europe, the Middle East, and portions of Asia. As wrote the Byzantine historian Procopius, "For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year." He also recounted that it looked like the sun was always in eclipse.
Cassiodorus, a Roman politician of that time, wrote that the sun had a "bluish" color, the moon had no luster, and "seasons seem to be all jumbled up together." What's even creepier, he described, "We marvel to see no shadows of our bodies at noon."
...that led to famine...
The dark days also brought a period of coldness, with summer temperatures falling by 1.5° C. to 2.5° C. This started the coldest decade in the past 2300 years, reports Science, leading to the devastation of crops and worldwide hunger.
...and the fall of an empire
In 541, the bubonic plague added considerably to the world's misery. Spreading from the Roman port of Pelusium in Egypt, the so-called Plague of Justinian caused the deaths of up to one half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire. This, in turn, sped up its eventual collapse, writes McCormick.
Between the environmental cataclysms, with massive volcanic eruptions also in 540 and 547, and the devastation brought on by the plague, Europe was in for an economic downturn for nearly all of the next century, until 640 when silver mining gave it a boost.
Was that the worst time in history?
Of course, the absolute worst time in history depends on who you were and where you lived.
Native Americans can easily point to 1520, when smallpox, brought over by the Spanish, killed millions of indigenous people. By 1600, up to 90 percent of the population of the Americas (about 55 million people) was wiped out by various European pathogens.
Like all things, the grisly title of "worst year ever" comes down to historical perspective.
A new study finds an unusual genetic difference in people over 105.
- Researchers conduct genetic analyses of 81 Italian people who are over 105 years in age.
- Five unusual genetic differences were discovered.
- The differences are implicated in the routine repair of DNA, which seems to work unusually well in these people.
The oldest living person is Kane Tanaka of Fukuoka, Japan, who just celebrated her 116th birthday. The handful of people who live to be 105 years old or older are called "semi-supercentenarians." (Supercentenarians live to the ripe old age of 110 or older.)
New research, published in the Aging, Geroscience and Longevity: A Special Issue of the journal eLife, examines the genomes of semi-supercentenarians and has discovered what may be the key to their unusually long lives: Their DNA is exceptionally good at repairing itself.
People involved in the study
Men play cards in Martina Franca, ItalyCredit: sabino.parente via Adobe Stock
The researchers recruited 81 volunteers for genetic analysis from across Italy. Some participants were semi-supercentenarians and others were supercentenarians. Researchers compared the genetic makeup of the older volunteers with those of 36 healthy people from the same areas who were 68 years old, plus or minus 5.9 years.
"Aging is a common risk factor for several chronic diseases and conditions. We chose to study the genetics of a group of people who lived beyond 105 years old and compare them with a group of younger adults from the same area in Italy, as people in this younger age group tend to avoid many age-related diseases and therefore represent the best example of healthy aging."
The authors of the study collected blood samples from both groups and conducted whole-genome sequencing. Additionally, they compared their findings with the conclusions drawn in previously published research describing the genetic makeup of 333 Italian people older than 100 years and 358 who were approximately 60 years old.
Co-first author of the new research Massimo Delledonne of the University of Verona said, "This study constitutes the first whole-genome sequencing of extreme longevity at high coverage that allowed us to look at both inherited and naturally occurring genetic changes in older people."
It's all in the genes
In the semi-supercentenarians and some supercentenarians, the researchers discovered five unusual genetic changes that were often present in two genes, COA1 and STK17A, data that was consistent with the previous research.
Most intriguing, the genetic variations appear to be linked to increased activity of the STK17A gene in some tissues, a gene involved in three critical cell repair activities: managing cells' response to DNA damage, prompting badly damaged cells to die off, and controlling the amount of dangerous reactive oxygen species in a cell. Cells unable to perform these types of repair activities are more likely to become cancerous.
The COA1 gene is involved with energy production by promoting communication between the cell nucleus and mitochondria. The researchers believe that the genetic variants they detected reduce the level of COA1 activity, which in turn reduces energy production as well as aging. (One of the leading theories of aging is that energy production produces reactive oxygen species that damage cells and promote aging.)
Finally, the researchers noted that the genetic variants they identified are also linked to increased expression of he BLVRA gene in some tissue. This gene is also involved in the elimination of dangerous reactive oxygen species.
"Our results suggest that DNA repair mechanisms and a low burden of mutations in specific genes are two central mechanisms that have protected people who have reached extreme longevity from age-related diseases."