Welcome to my round-up of recent causes for some optimism, as found in the media and among the think-tanks and sometimes on podcasts. I also add occasional links to debunking of alarmism, to more general opinion articles on the curious gaps between optimists and pessimists, and occasionally to genuine causes for pessimism.
* A fresh tally of asteroids by NASA’s JPL lab brings good news for the Earth. The possibility of a major impact by any known space objects is now deemed to be just 1:30,000, including the mile-wide rubble-asteroid named 1950 DA. Which once had a somewhat scary chance of hitting the Earth in the year 2880. The more imminent asteroid 2009 JF1 has also just been removed from the ‘major risks’ list.
* There’s a been a big leap forward in gigabit Internet coverage in the UK. Homes here now have gigabit broadband in 66% of them, compared to just 37% last year.
* Interesting Engineering on how “a breakthrough in fibre-optics turned an undersea cable into 12 seismographs”. A 3,600-mile-long cable from Canada to the UK can now detect earthquakes as far away as the jungles of Peru in South America. Now that such dual-uses are proven, the researchers suggest that… “a large network of hundreds or thousands of permanent and real-time seafloor sensors could be implemented without modification of the existing sub-sea infrastructure”. Might also be useful for detecting submarines, approaching with ill-intent and cable-cutters, I’d suggest.
* Across Europe last year, 239 dams were removed from rivers with the aim of improving the local ecology. Admittedly, not all of the dams were big ones, and Europe is also a big place. Freshwater fish will likely only start to be happy when the removal figures are above 100,000. But it’s a start.
* A “new breakthrough in cooling computers offers up to 740% more power”. A copper wrapping… “integrates the device and its heat spreader into one piece, eliminating the need for additional heat sinks … this translates to much higher power … We were able to demonstrate a 740% increase in the power per unit volume”. So chips will run faster, live longer, and more of them will be able to be in the same PC case without needing expensive cooling units. Which may be one way around Moore’s Law, I guess.
* Reason reports that the UK finally seems ready to take the next steps toward accepting gene-edited plants and plant products. There are no plans to add special labels to food produced from such sources.
* The UK government is legislating to protect cash by enforcing the “continued availability of cash withdrawal and deposit facilities” in local communities.
* In a skills boost for UK communities, local colleges to partner with the Open University. The Open University being the UK’s long-standing and very experienced distance-learning provider. “Colleges” in the UK context means 16-18 colleges that also provide local adult education, rather than universities.
* Nature reports that “Researchers Sequence Genome of the Oat”. Researchers at Lund University told the press… “We have created the potential for targeted breeding, since we are now able to tell which oat varieties are compatible with one another.”
* In The Wall Street Journal ($ paywall) “After Three Stormy Decades, Some Reasons to Still Find Optimism”… “The genius of American democracy is that it is not static. It adjusts and adapts over time to changing circumstances. Is renewed.” Practical measures are offered to help this along, as the U.S. heads toward the next Presidential election. Firstly involving basic things like voting reform to boost trust in elections, alongside bolder politicians and more involved voters. Bloomberg chips in some more cheeriness, with “A Recession Won’t Be as Scary as It Sounds”.
* Bjorn Lomborg, in The Spectator, tells the UK “What the new GCSE in global warming should teach”. He, or the sub-editor is being ironic here. By assuming that the UK’s new schools exam in Natural History will be immediately hijacked by doom-mongers.
* The conservative One America News Network launches its own freedom-of-speech oriented social-media platform.
* The latest Reason magazine on the artist… “creating heroic portraits of machines and defending individualism and creative expression in Silicon Valley”. There’s a podcast interview.
* An opinion article in a little newspaper in Iowa (blocked from all but the US) this week notes… “An article in Psychology Today suggests that most people don’t start as pessimists; instead, they become pessimists”. For some people, it’s claimed that setbacks and/or lack of ability lead them to… “set low expectations for their performance to protect against disappointment. The pessimism [then] takes a toll on one’s mental and physical health” as it becomes ingrained. The increasingly cynical pessimist then decides that positive news is not even worth noticing, let alone evaluating. Lack of sleep is shown to aid this, by blocking receptivity to positive words.
* Conservative Woman suggests this week that “Optimism is the only sane response to Davos”. The hubris involved in the woke globalist’s … “implicit assumption that everything in nature can be known, ordered and controlled via technology [and that there is a socialism-like] general theory that they claim applies to everyone and everything everywhere” is doomed to fail in the face of humanity’s intellectual and cultural diversity. The optimistic conservative response, it is suggested, is to promote grassroots and localist… “ground-up, emergent, decentralised adaptations to the challenges of our times”.
* A genuine cause for pessimism is that the ‘job hiring’ algorithms and AIs used by HR staff are (you guessed it) based on pseudo-science. As shown by a paper in the Cell journal Patterns, “A Silicon Valley love triangle: hiring algorithms, pseudo-science, and the quest for auditability”.
* And here’s another genuine cause for pessimism that relates partly to algorithms, as well as to campus politics. There are new figures on the ridiculously high numbers of first-class degrees still being given out like candy-bars in the UK. Why? The Office for Students (OfS) last week published new research showing that… “more than half of first-class degrees awarded in 2021 could not be explained”.
* On the other hand, AIs and algorithms may have their uses. Not least in things like robo-surgery and transport. This week… “Autonomous cargo ship completes 500 mile voyage, avoiding hundreds of collisions”. And the UK government rolls out a £40 million government-funded competition for self-driving buses, shuttles and delivery vans.
* A Manchester University spin-out promises UK self-sufficiency in lithium, an important material for batteries… “countries with access to lithium-rich brines and recycled batteries, like the UK, [could] become self-sufficient in this strategically vital raw material.” “Brines” here meaning salty water, which the British Isles has rather a lot of around the edges.
* Another large chunk of the UK’s free-access Coastal Path around the entire coastline takes a step forward, with the Shoreham-by-Sea to Eastbourne being officially opened.
* The UK’s grand Chelsea Flower Show returned, this being the nation’s main expo for designer show-gardens.
* And lastly, in remote Cornwall here in the UK, a new “Stone circle discovered in prehistoric henge”. Meanwhile, over at the well-known Stonehenge, almost daily new discoveries.
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