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What it is: After making history in California in March by launching the first autonomous shuttle on public roads, French company EasyMile is seeking government funding to launch a set of autonomous shuttle trials in rural and suburban communities throughout Australia. Each shuttle will accommodate up to 14 passengers, plus a chaperone (as required by law). The intent is to provide access to those in need of essential services, with each community and local councils deciding where to set up stops. As an example, in Adelaide, where EasyMile will set up its Australian headquarters, trial buses will transport passengers to and from hospitals and shopping centers. So far, even people in their 80's and 90's who we might expect to be fearful have embraced the technology.
Why it's important: Evidence that our autonomously transported future will almost certainly have variety, from grocery delivery vehicles like Nuro to the shuttles created here. It's also worth noting that the adoption of "risky" technologies often find early acceptance where pain is greatest, particularly when regulatory bodies are involved. When you combine these two ideas and look within your industry, what opportunities emerge?Share on Facebook
Spotted by Morgan McDermott / Written by Jason Goodwin
What it is: Researchers from the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia built a new experimental search-and-rescue robot named Centauro. Centauro has four legs and two arms -- resembling the mythical centaur -- to help scientists find the most valuable and versatile body shape for robots to aid in disaster relief efforts. Robots designed to resemble a hybrid of different creatures offer flexibility advantages over purely anthropomorphic machines. For example, Centauro can take a number of different postures, including upright and on wheels for fast transportation, and crouched like a spider to provide a lower center of gravity while using equipment. Standing 1.5 meters tall (~5 feet) and weighing in at 93 kilograms (205 pounds), Centauro's design evolved from that of Momaro, another centaur-robot built by European researchers for the DARPA Robotics Challenge in 2015.
Why it's important: While the world as a whole becomes safer for humans every day, the threat of natural disasters to human life still looms large. Disaster relief is a dangerous job -- and we can save more lives, faster by supporting human relief workers with robot reinforcements.Share on Facebook
Spotted by Marissa Brassfield / Written by Max Goldberg
What it is: Digital -- that is, non-corporeal -- celebrities are on the rise and creating fans across a variety of audiences in advertising, music and modeling. As examples, Hatsune Miku began life as the anime mascot for a Japanese company making voice synthesizer software. She now performs songs in concert as a hologram drawing massive crowds, as does Aimi Eguchi, the holographic member of Japanese girl band AKB48. Over on Instagram, the bot Lil Miquela counts its followers in the millions, partners with Prada, and champions social causes like Black Lives Matter.
Why it's important: It might be easy to discount anime and girl bands, but this is a trend to watch. How will we interact with other AIs, such as service bots and autonomous vehicles, if social acceptance and admiration continue to grow? Is a humanlike interface all we need to form emotional bonds and trust in technology? And how will influencer marketing and the notion of "celebrity" change as AI proliferates?Share on Facebook
Spotted by Marissa Brassfield / Written by Jason Goodwin
What it is: A global team of researchers has built a machine learning algorithm that uses a person's eye movement to reliably determine their Big Five personality traits (neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, openness, and conscientiousness). The researchers demonstrated the correlation between eye movement and personality traits by tracking the eye movements of 42 participants as they did everyday tasks around their university. Then, a baseline set of personality traits was determined by a well-established questionnaire. After tracking eye movement and establishing a baseline, the collected eye movement data was fed to a machine learning algorithm to also infer personality trains. The results from the questionnaire and machine learning algorithm were well correlated.
Why it's important: Personality traits are complex; this machine learning application demonstrates that we can extrapolate personality traits from in-real-life situations. This new in-situ data collection can be contrasted with the standardized questionnaire method for determining personality -- where you sit and take a test, without in-the-moment environmental factors that might influence your personality results.Share on Facebook
Spotted by Morgan McDermott / Written by Max Goldberg
What it is: Leading the world in fintech disruption is Alibaba's Ant Financial Services Group, which controls the world's largest money-market fund, has made loans to tens of millions, handled more payments in 2017 than MasterCard, and completed over $8 trillion of transactions via its online payments platform last year alone. At the forefront of China's mobile payments revolution, Ant held billions of customer funds in escrow for Taobao transactions by 2013. What then? With 620 million users already on Alipay, Ant built out its Yu'e Bao money-market fund, allowing users to invest as little as a few cents, transfer cash in and out without fees, and get yields several points higher than bank payments on short-term deposits.
Why it's important: As Ant Financial builds out technologically superior financial services that threaten more traditional incumbents, China's central banks and finance players are beginning to push back. Able to invest in high-yielding products riskier than those which banks are allowed to tap, Yu'e Bao has siphoned off money from savings accounts, driven up banks' interest rates, and even contributed to the closing of branches and ATMs. But while central bank regulators hit back with restrictions on escrow fund use and Ant's more recent Zhima credit-scoring system, fintech models akin to Ant Financial's may be moving too quickly to contain, disrupting everything from personal loans and small-business lending to credit scoring and insurance. What new financial services will be possible? And how will the international finance community respond?Share on Facebook
Spotted by Marissa Brassfield / Written by Claire Adair
What it is: OpenAI researchers have just released Dactyl, an AI-driven robotic hand system trained to dexterously handle a cube with OpenAI's self-teaching algorithm. By practicing an equivalent of 100 years inside a virtual simulation (50 hours of training in real time), the robotic hand taught itself to maneuver a cube with near-human-level skill, honing its fine motor skills through trial and error until reaching desired cube positions. Using a trio of cameras and reinforcement learning, researchers were able to adapt the robot's grasping skills to countless different parameters.
Why it's important: OpenAI's Dactyl illustrates two major leaps forward in AI's convergence with robotics: development of fine motor skills and adaptive learning in the physical world. While not explicitly taught any handling strategies, Dactyl was able to teach itself intuitive motor skills and even adapt humanlike grasps to its own robotic architecture (such as favoring its thumb and pinky to rotate the cube). And perhaps most exciting, Dactyl was trained with the same algorithm used to play the computer strategy game DOTA 2, demonstrating that a more general-purpose algorithm can indeed teach AI to succeed at two vastly different tasks. A significant milestone, this means AI researchers may soon be able to repurpose old algorithms for a wide variety of novel goals.Share on Facebook
Spotted by Morgan McDermott / Written by Claire Adair
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President Trump escalated his trade war with China on Wednesday, ordering his administration to consider more than doubling proposed tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25 percent from 10 percent, as talks between Washington and Beijing remain at a standstill.
Mr. Trump instructed the United States trade representative to look into increasing tariffs on Chinese imports like fish, petroleum, chemicals, handbags, and other goods to 25 percent, a significant escalation in a dispute that is beginning to take a toll on industries and consumers in both countries. A final decision on the size and scope of the tariffs is not expected before September.
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The Deep State welcomes war. But, especially in the case of a trade war with China, it must be a phony war.
And here is a good test. We'll see how well, or badly, we have connected the dots.
According to the picture we see, the Deep State – the more or less permanent, but fluid and schismatic, group of insiders that controls U.S. public policies – uses war to gain public support for policies that actually serve only one purpose… to shift power, wealth, and status from the public to itself.
That's why the trade war has to be fake.
Real wars threaten the Deep State's survival. The wars in the Middle East (now also in Africa), for example, help justify trillions of dollars of wealth transfers to the military/industrial/surveillance complex.
But the U.S. has nothing really at stake in these fights; no matter what happens, it will not be invaded, bombed, or humiliated.
Likewise, the wars at home – against poor people and drug users – go on for decades. And no one is better off – except the Deep State industries engaged in the wars themselves (welfare agencies, prisons, police, drug pushers, etc.).
The Donald's new trade war is a delight, too; already, the sidewalks are slick with greasy swamp water; lobbyists line up around the block to ask for special favors and dispensations. The insiders gain power and money by controlling crony trade deals.
But neither the president nor his crackpot advisors may realize the danger. And here is where it gets interesting: They mustn't allow this war to get out of hand.
President Trump has mobilized his entire administration to battle this problem by declaring it a National Emergency under federal law. And Congress just approved $6 billion to fight it.
Now this company is joining the battle by tackling one of the biggest problems our country has ever faced. In the past, companies in this niche saw peak gains of 96,900%, 196,500% and 787,400%. Could this new company be the next to ride this unique wave?
A real trade war with China would be disastrous – for the Deep State itself. That's why we predict it won't happen. The 25% tariffs will more than likely never be fully implemented.
Mr. Trump will follow a pattern that is already familiar. He will talk tough. He will stir things up. He will announce victory. And he will quietly back down.
Or else he will not survive as president to the end of his term.
The world now has nearly $250 trillion of debt. Typically, an economy can comfortably carry about 1.5 times as much debt as it has output (GDP).
Global GDP is estimated to be about $90 trillion. That means anything above $135 trillion of world debt is excess, made possible only by the manipulation of the credit system by central banks that have added some $18 trillion to the world's monetary foundation since 1997.
Total world debt was about $40 trillion back in the late 1990s. Now, it is more than six times as much. World output was only about $27 trillion two decades ago. It has grown, too, but at $90 trillion today, only half as fast.
Main Street is where ordinary people work. They get their incomes and living standards from GDP. As it grows, they grow.
But Wall Street is where the credit flows… and where the elite get their money – from rising asset prices.
Super investor Warren Buffett famously gauges the stock market by comparing Wall Street to Main Street – stock market capitalization to GDP. The stock market value should be about even with annual GDP, he says.
An increase in credit heats up stock prices but leaves Main Street GDP cold. During the dot-com bubble, for example, stocks rose to 145% of GDP – indicating an oversold market ready for a correction.
And now, according to some calculation, the ratio is even more out of whack, with stocks at 149% of GDP.
Bonds and real estate are similarly overpriced. Wall Street and Main Street have never before been so out of balance. The rich have never been richer, compared to the average guy.
According to classic theory, increasing the supply of money faster than the supply of goods (GDP) causes prices to go up.
Consumer prices did rise in recent years… but not nearly as much as the explosion of the base money supply would imply. Why not?
The answer is in China… where dirt-cheap labor and an export-led economy met America's fake-money regime.
In effect, the U.S. exported its inflation… It exchanged its major export item – dollars – for cheap Chinese-made goods.
This kept U.S. consumer prices from rising and prevented the working stiffs from noticing that they were getting ripped off.
By contrast, prices rose sharply for things the Chinese couldn't export – medical care and college educations, for example.
But that's not the last dot. We need to look at what happened to the dollars sent to China.
They left the country as consumer spending. But they didn't stay abroad for long. Chinese merchants deposited them at the Bank of China, which used them to buy U.S. bonds.
They went out from the pockets of Main Street households, in other words, and came back into the pockets of Wall Street investors in the form of higher asset prices.
And there you have the gist of the whole world economic boom of the last 30 years: Big increases in the money supply, with low consumer prices and low interest rates. The China trade was an essential part of the whole fake-money flimflam.
Fake money was created by central banks… and flowed into the pockets of the elite, where it could be converted to real wealth. (Some reports show the top 10% of families making 100% of the wealth gains in the entire 21st century.)
Meanwhile, the masses were kept quiet with cheap consumer items from China (available from Walmart or Amazon), along with mindless distractions like YouTube and Facebook.
But imagine a real trade war… No more "everyday low prices" at Walmart. Inflation would spike up. And no more low interest rates, either.
China – either by necessity or revenge – would dump its $1.2 trillion worth of U.S. bonds. Bond prices would crash as a massive supply came to the market. Bond yields would soar, forcing stocks down, too.
Commodity prices would collapse. And most of the world would enter a depression – including the U.S.
And which group would lose most? Those with the most to lose, of course – the rich… the well-connected… and the Deep State insiders.
Earlier this week, we passed on economist Martin Feldstein's estimate that $9 trillion will be lost in the U.S. stock market when prices revert to the mean. But that is just the beginning.
At least that much… and more… would be lost in bonds and real estate, too, in the U.S. alone.
When this picture becomes clear to Mr. Donald J. Trump… our prediction is that he will turn his attention elsewhere.
Economic INSIGHT: COMMERCIAL CONSTRUCTION SPENDING PLUMMETS
By Joe Withrow, Head of Research, Bonner & Partners
Spending on commercial construction projects is flatlining…
That's the story of today's chart, which tracks the growth of commercial construction spending from 2006 to today.
When we say "commercial construction," we're referring to new construction of office buildings, warehouses, and retail stores. When construction spending is picking up for these types of buildings, it suggests that the businesses associated with them are growing, too.
As you can see, growth in commercial construction spending has plummeted since peaking in December 2016. It's down 95% since then.
This doesn't mean that commercial construction projects have dried up. But it does tell us that businesses are spending less in this area, a sign that growth in the Main Street economy could be slowing down
– Joe Withrow
"The World Is Governed by Market Forces" That's how former Fed chair Alan Greenspan described how policy decisions were made in the U.S. in 2007. In other words, politics take a back seat to global market trends when shaping what happens in the U.S. Ten years later, that assumption is being proven wrong at every turn…
Where Amazon Is Vulnerable New data shows that e-commerce giant Amazon gobbles up nearly half of every U.S. dollar spent online. Amazon is the world's biggest online retailer… but it might not be the best.
What Ends Civilizations As Bill has oft reported, the political ideologies of many Americans are shifting further and further left. A majority of millenials – people in their twenties and early thirties – now identifies as socialist. Casey Research analyst Nick Giambruno thinks he knows what's behind this trend…
This loss of the republic has already happened. We have the lowest kind of people in Congress (both houses), no matter their beginnings or net worth, which keeps growing the longer they are there.
We have a Constitution which was written by people who experienced other kinds of government and saw the fallacy; so they created a republic, not a democracy – not even a democratic republic, which is an oxymoron. Bill, you know no one in government even knows what the Constitution says; therefore, they pay no attention to what is in it. They are a mob out for themselves. Therein lies their destruction.
– Edgar H.
Here's a suggestion to deal with the possibility of preventing a disputed election: Add "None of the above" to every race. "None of the above" might actually have won the last presidential election if that had been an option.
The outcome of "None of the above" winning is that it counts more of the people who don't like any of the candidates. And if they're polling high enough in advance, those who are simply voting against somebody may even join them, rather than vote for the lesser evil. When "None of the above" wins, none of the candidates who were in that race can run again. All new candidates have to be found and another election held.
"None of the above" often gets a few votes in the Libertarian Party's internal elections. We also put "None of the above" on all ballots for our nominees for office, including for president. I can't remember the last time "None of the above" won, so it doesn't happen very often.
– Sandra K.
You have been, and remain, spot-on! I would add that the U.S. demise has been going on since World War II ended. Since the demise of vacuum tubes, attic fans, slide rules, black and white movies, accountability, and "reading, writing, and arithmetic" (to identify just a few), what once was just a toilet bowl overflow now resembles a tsunami! Please keep your candid and truthful observations coming. Thank you.
I liked Billy T.'s letter and share many of his sentiments. But as to the picture of the barn framing, it did worry this architectural engineer. The collar ties are so high as to not be of much use, and the connections thereto also would be a concern. But perhaps there is no real snow load in that part of Ireland, unlike here in Woodstock, New York. I wish you well and will continue to enjoy your writing, both on- and off-topic.
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