Archive for Miscellaneous Thoughts

Automating Government, Global Economics and Democracy

I recently completed a course in Machine Learning from coursera.org offered by Stanford University with Andrew Ng as the professor. The course covers many aspects of machine learning, its purposes, including pattern recognition, data compression, and others,  various mathematical models including linear and logistic regression and neural networks, and the actual programming required for modeling, testing and validation. It has been a long time since I programmed anything very substantial so I was very happy to learn that the higher level languages that are now commonly in use handle matrix math like a breeze allowing for the development of very sophisticated neural networks with relatively few lines of code. Not very long before that, I took another course from coursera.org on Global Macro Economics. The diversity of the courses that I study is not simply due to curiosity.

After having observed how people handle the economies of the world and watching the results in terms of happiness, economic well-being, distribution of wealth and many other factors, it is clear that people are doing a mediocre job at best of governing. When you think about it, the reasons for this are not very surprising. When we elect representatives to our provincial governments, the Canadian Parliament, or in the US to the US to Congress, the Senate or the Presidency, we hope that these representatives have some idea of how to run a country. The reality is that most are from various walks of life and many of the higher level representatives have law backgrounds. They know very little of economic, environmental or psychological studies on what impacts the relative well being and most could certainly not be considered experts. No doubt their political life is an education unto itself, but what they learn is not necessarily based on any reality that impacts the masses. More likely their education is based on political influences.  So why on earth would we expect a very positive outcome of a mediocre democratic system?  Even the diversity of viewpoints which could be theoretically expected from a diverse group of people is generally stifled by party leadership.

As we are moving towards a world where artificial intelligence (AI) is utilized in everything from accurate medical diagnostics to ever safer and eventually self driving vehicles, where sensors are becoming ubiquitous in society and measures of everything are being taken, doesn’t it make sense to automate some of the functions of government? While I am not suggesting that we do away with any government, if we were to simply set the parameters of where we want society to go, and the many variables  that shift the course of economics and society, perhaps we can also create machine learning algorithms that can steer the economy more successfully than our governments have.

If climate can be modeled with some degree of accuracy and auto-driving cars can successfully navigate the complexity of safe driving on busy roads, the analysis of “Big Data” pertaining to government functions, political decision making and economics is surely not very far out of the grasp of current computer analysis and machine learning algorithms.

As an individual who understands the potential in Machine Learning and the basics of Global Macro Economics, I recognize the potential for growth in these combined fields of endeavor. Projects like the “Brain” project and other AI initiatives will undoubtedly improve the tools, the methods and the capacities of our AI engines. As we apply these ever more powerful tools to an ever more complex world model that is becoming increasingly difficult for our political systems and representatives to manage, perhaps we can find some new and interesting answers to questions such as: how do we eliminate the extremes of poverty, increase global happiness and develop better health care and educational systems and policies. And how do we do that while ensuring sustainability with a low ecological footprint? Undoubtedly, if we had the capacity to evaluate all of our historical data from the perspective of sequence of events, we would discover new relationships between initiatives and outcomes that might help us to steer the future course more effectively.

Like every other use of AI, such an application would need to be structured in bits and pieces at first, taking on the evaluation of specific areas of governance. Eventually, however, with access to far more information and measures than any one person can possibly make sense of, AI systems would be able to manage certain government functions more effectively than our elected representatives and would be able to respond to global shifts more effectively and safely.

As a relative novice in both the fields of AI and Global Economics, I would love to hear the comments of those who have more experience and expertise in each of these fields. A collaboration of government, scientific, health and economic experts would be a welcome start to such an initiative. For those who may already be aware of existing initiatives, I would love to hear from you, so please contact me at my e-mail: garth.schmalenberg@gmail.com

Garth

 

 

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A New Tagline for my Blog: The world according to Garth

This blog is an evolution in thought. Originally, my goal was to use the blog for sharing expertise that might lead to business. it was called OrganizationalUnity.com, at the time and my primary focus in writing was to look at ways to change how businesses operate and how they might gain operational efficiencies by improving the way they work, particularly from a human perspective. Having had a lot of business and coaching experience, I knew that businesses experienced a lot of internal turmoil and that competition between leaders of different divisions could be destructive and I was aware of this phenomenon also existing within the public sector. I was convinced that there was a better way and decided to write some articles on how organizations might change their cultures and I put together some program and coaching material to help bring about changes.

Over time, I was becoming more and more aware of the severity of the climate situation and the issues and opportunities related to creating more sustainable businesses which might also contribute to environmental sustainability. At that point the name of the blog changed to SustainabilityCulture.com. I wrote articles about how businesses might benefit from taking more sustainable approaches. But I didn’t just do it off the cuff, I studied, took courses, read about the issues, interviewed people who were deeply involved in creating awareness of the need for sustainability and wrote articles about them as well.

As I wrote, I discovered some of the many challenges to creating a sustainable world and while focusing on business messages, started drifting more towards political, economic and cultural nuances that slow our collective progress towards a more sustainable world. So my articles changed yet again, although I felt the focus was still more business oriented than anything else. As I traveled in different continents, I began to become more aware of the social challenges faced by their people. My travels included Uganda, where I spent 6 months as part of an internship for my MA in Human Security and Peacebuilding, Chile, Vietnam, India, Kuwait, Bahrain and Curacao. My focus continued to shift. Not that I am any less aware of the environmental issues, but rather that creating a sustainable world requires much broader and deeper thinking than focusing on the environment alone. It was during this period that I began to write on other topics, many of which have very little to do with business or the environment, other than the fact that businesses have the financial power to influence political and economic outcomes. So for example, when I look at issues related to peace, it cannot be done without contemplating the relationship of political decisions to the economy, small arms and the military industrial complex. Peace is also impacted by employment, salaries and automation, which are all impacted by business decisions. The continuing growth in the fields of technology, additive manufacturing, communications, nanotech and artificial intelligence among others also contribute a great deal to our future outlook.

After much contemplation, I decided that at very least I could create a better tag-line. I recognize that most of what I am saying is generally relevant and reasonably well researched. But it also contains opinion that is designed to encourage contemplation of different view points. I generally endeavor to see situations from more than one view point but I’m also not afraid to put a different spin on any situation that is current in the world based on my experience and study. » Continue reading “A New Tagline for my Blog: The world according to Garth”

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The Case of the Missing Development: Chapter 3 : “Where has all the money gone? Long time passing”

I had left off in the last chapter (“North to Gulu”) having described some of the challenges leading to the missing development in Uganda. But to be fair, development is not really missing, there’s just not enough going on to offset all of the challenges. Many NGOs are working towards solutions and, as mentioned earlier, most are staffed with local people who know the culture and who have the capability to help solve the problems. In addition, most of the credit has to go to the people themselves, who struggle day to day to fix their problems, to get back to living a normal life, to rebuild their homes, re-establish their farms, re-start their education, find jobs and make their lives a little easier. These are, for the most part, hard working people who are open to being assisted, not people who are addicted to being assisted.  The challenge for them is that without the tools and facilities that we take for granted, life is naturally difficult. But to find solutions, it was necessary to dig deeper into the challenges.

In this chapter, I’ll look at a few of these challenges in depth.

  • Impact of Disease
  • Education Systems
  • Where has all the money gone? 
  • Who are the perpetrators in this case?

The answers may surprise you…

  » Continue reading “The Case of the Missing Development: Chapter 3 : “Where has all the money gone? Long time passing””

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North to Gulu: The Mystery Deepens

This is the second in my series about my trip to Uganda. As in my first post in The Case of the Missing Development, I had many questions to answer about factors that were contributing to a lack of development. Many of my answers would come during my journey to Gulu. (if you haven’t read that post, go there first for context).

First, for any first time travelers to Gulu, if you don’t have your own vehicle or private transportation, your best bet is to take the postal bus north from Kampala. The postal bus is well maintained and safety is considered. If you have trouble mixing with the local people or if you are shy, you may find this your best bet since more ex-patriots travel on the postal bus. As for me, I enjoyed the trip north, but quickly learned to love being with the Ugandan friends and after my first trip on the postal bus, I began venturing out to the other bus lines on which I generally found myself alone as the only foreigner. It was great.

The Ugandan people are extremely friendly. One smile, a friendly hello and I always found myself in deep conversations. It was on the way up to Gulu for the first time that I met Joyce, a woman who worked for the church in Gulu and who later introduced me to Patrick, a young man who had extra room in his (rented) house and with whom I found not only a place to stay, but who became like a younger brother to me. Patrick, I later learned was one of the many children who was abducted by the LRA and ended up spending 8 years serving, first as a soldier at the age of 13 and then after being shot in the leg, he served in the LRA medical camp. I still keep in touch with him on skype and facebook. This was an opportunity to learn first hand about the war and about child soldiers.

Topics for today? First, reconciliation after the war, second, some of my thoughts on the economy and corruption… Read More » Continue reading “North to Gulu: The Mystery Deepens”

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A Reflection on Trends towards Happiness and what it means to Business

As I’m reading and studying trends related to various world issues, I noticed a few trends that gave me cause to ponder. Beyond speculation, these trends may also give us clues as to how we might organize our businesses to contribute to the betterment of the world.

For example, on reading the World Values Survey, there appeared to be a trend toward individualism and secularism until 1980, after which the values seemed to take a little bit of a reversal at least in most cases. While there was no discussion on this point in the chart, I have to wonder if there was a pause to re-think the issue of continued movement towards secularism and individualism.  

What’s even more interesting is that the Happiness Index taken by the World Values Survey suggested decreasing happiness in the US until 1980 (this same period of trending toward secularism and individualism) after which there was a reversal. The US happiness index also increased from 1980 onward peaking at 2006 during the Bush administration, although perhaps by that point with the anticipation of change on the horizon.
happiness-in-us
 Still, I have to wonder whether the reversal in trend toward secularism and individualism suggests. » Continue reading “A Reflection on Trends towards Happiness and what it means to Business”

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Individual (Legal?) Responsibility and Liability for Global Economic Justice

Over the weekend, I had the great privilege of attending a conference on “Rethinking Human Nature”, an incredible array of scholars and activists who, rather than protesting in the streets, demonstrated, by their examples of dedicated service, through their studies and their occupations, their deep and abiding concern for humanity. The conference theme was about evolving and developing the capacities of the higher human nature.

Among the many brilliant presenters was a young lady who is working on her PhD thesis whose presentation was entitled “What Can Justify Duties of Global Economic Justice? Individual Responsibility, Human Consciousness, and the Oneness of Humankind”. Her name is Shahrzad Sabet. In asking the question, she began by sharing with us the globally accepted UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights. She the began to dissect the responsibilities for the implementation of these rights. To be fair to Shahrzad, I will state that the remaining text is my perhaps feeble understanding of the arguments she so simply and brilliantly presented and perhaps, at some point, I will have a chance to speak with her further to clarify or to refer on-line to her thesis work, but I can only say that after hearing what she had to say, I was completely overwhelmed by her convincing arguments recognizing that there really isn’t a minute to lose in beginning to bring this argument forward on a wide basis, and I am also quite convinced that someday this young lady will be amongst the Nobel Peace Prize winners because these same arguments will force all nations and all people of conscience to take action. Such action will come in the form of adopting laws and practices which will require all citizens of the world (or at least those who have the freedom to vote or make buying decisions), all business leaders and all government leaders to act forcefully in upholding these Human Rights by taking practical, direct and personal responsibility for implementing Global Economic Justice through their votes for responsible government representatives, those who will make the necessary revisions in government institutions, and in turn, through laws which will require all people to make these Human Rights a reality.

In nations such as Pakistan, Haiti, India, Indonesia and many others, billions suffer under the oppression of poverty, the lack of a suitable infrastructure, and through catastophic environmental impacts, while much of the world continues to enjoy their freedoms without paying much attention and governments pay immense amounts of money towards military spending and the expansion of environmentally destructive practices which only serve to further human suffering.

Her arguement goes something like this: » Continue reading “Individual (Legal?) Responsibility and Liability for Global Economic Justice”

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The impacts of Technology and Ethics on Sustainability and Business

What impact do businesses and other organizations have on the Environment?

Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren developed a formula for examining environmental impact stating that I = f(PAT) where I is impact, P is Population, A is Affluence, T is Technology. In other words, if we increase global population, which is inevitable, in order to maintain environmental impact, we must reduce either the Affluence, or create Technologies that reduce individual and collective impact. Brown and Garver changed the formula to I = f(PATE) and added the influence of Ethics. They also conclude that each of these variables have an influence on the others. Without going into a deeper description of the variables, we can generally agree that from a world population view, this view of human impact of the planet seems fatalistic because we know that the planet is already stressed beyond limits and on average, Population and Affluence are both increasing.

This would seemingly leave the entire hope of humanity resting upon the ability of Technology or a sudden swell of Ethics to decrease our net impact on the planet. Recent flooding in Pakistan disrupting the lives of 12 million people and leaving 4 million with food shortages, the worst in 80 years, mudslides in China, and a massive block of ice (260 square km and half the height of the empire state building) which recently fell off the ice shelf in Iceland into the water suggest that our climate is still shifting in uncontrolable and potentially dire directions. Ice falling off a land based shelf, by the way, does contribute to elevated ocean levels, cooling of oceans in the immediate vacinity of the ice, and vast amounts of fresh water (i.e. desalination) being dumped into the ocean and affecting ocean flows.

So here’s the question: Can we solve the issues facing us with only Technology and Ethics before our planet is irrepairably damaged and forces our hand on the factors of Affluence and Population?

The short answer is “probably not”! But there are ways in which Technology and Ethics can have an a positive impact on affluence and ethics and here’s how one idea of how a solution could unfold from an individual, business and global perspective. » Continue reading “The impacts of Technology and Ethics on Sustainability and Business”

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Sailing! An interesting tack on achieving Sustainability

My extended visit to British Columbia has enabled me to enjoy many of the blessings of the Vancouver Island. It is a place of tourism, boating and every sort of adventure, caving, sailing, kayaking, swimming, crabbing, whale watching, you name it. An island paradise to be sure. That having been said, there is a tremendous amount of traffic and obvious contributions to the CO2 levels which impact climate. After having taken part in some of these adventures, I have to ask myself, besides paying for carbon offsets, what would actually get me, never mind anyone else, to stop traveling up and down island between my parents home, my sisters homes and the many other points of interest the island has to offer. No question that, at least in my family, we are driving smaller 4 cylinder cars thus reducing fuel consumption over larger vehicles and we drive slightly older cars (my parents car is a 1992). Maintaining vehicles extends their life and reduces manufacturing and resource requirements. But even with many smaller cars on the road, their is a pollution problem in certain congested spots especially along Highways 1 and 17 and, even with the tremendous number of trees, the island traffic still contributes to the global CO2 problems.

It’s fairly clear that people are just not ready to give up their holidays, their retirement freedoms or their independent modes of transportation. Even those of us who are aware of the severe issues have difficulty giving up our carbon habit. A book called “Right Relationship” by Peter G. Brown and Geoffrey Garver discusses how we have, for the most part, failed to maintain a right relationship with the planet and suggests how we might re-establish such relationships. But if we are going to maintain “Right Relationship” with our planet while maintaining “Right Relationship” with our friends and our families (who often live some distance from us) and our own sense of well-being which requires exercising some level of freedom, we will need to take a different “tack” than just sitting at home. For those not familiar with this use of the word “tack” it is a method used by sailors when sailing against the wind, whereby they zigzag diagonally across the line of the opposing wind in order to reach their up-wind destination. Ironically, the other way of going up-wind is to motor. Even though sailboats for the most part are powered by the wind, most have on-board diesel motors for travelling in harbors where using wind power is unreliable. Yet another source of CO2.

If we imagine Sustainability as our up-wind destination (i.e. the wind of our personal freedoms seems to blow in the opposite direction). What are the “tacks” we might take in order to reach our desired destination? We want to arrive at a place where we are in “Right Relationship” with our planet and where we have the freedoms we desire. We want to get their without having to motor all the way and creating a problem for the planet and for future generations. » Continue reading “Sailing! An interesting tack on achieving Sustainability”

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Beautiful British Columbia

For the past 10 or so years, I’ve come annually to British Columbia to visit members of my family. I’m writing from Victoria, which for those who don’t know is on Vancouver Island.

My current home is in Bolton, Ontario which, for those who have not visited,  is a great place to live. Ontario has been a wonderful home to me and my family most of my life after starting off in Saskatchewan. In fact, if you have lived in any part of Canada, you know that you’ve been blessed.

But British Columbia, for many reasons, is where my heart is. This is where my parents are, as well as my sisters and their families, and it is difficult to express with the limited words of the English language the intense love I feel for them all.  B.C. is also where my entire family, including my brothers (one from China and the other also from Ontario) gather when we have family get-togethers. One of my brothers is also here right now. And I have some very dear friends here as well.

But there’s much more to British Columbia than family, as the many hundreds of thousands if not millions of annual visitors will attest. British Columbia is rich in resources; forests, mountains, clear glacial waters, fisheries, minerals, and the most spectacular scenary you will find anywhere on earth with it’s blend of rich green forests, majestic grey snowpeaked mountains and jagged coast lines reaching into the green-blue oceans all filled with life. The Okanogan region is a fertile ground for growing fruits of many varieties and the climate is temperate and ideally suited for vegetation and farming. It’s incredibly rich with green growth everywhere along the coastlines and in the valleys. They have old growth forests that boast some of the tallest trees in the world and rainforests in the northern regions of Vancouver Island that are rich in wildlife and biodiversity.   » Continue reading “Beautiful British Columbia”

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The Argument for Global Governance (and why businesses should ecourage it)

Creating World Leading Business

Initially, my goal in putting this blog together was to help business leaders in developing sustainable workplaces, providing tips on how to encourage a change in the culture of the organization that would support such efforts, and sharing concepts of communication and psychology of the work place that would help workers adopt sustainable goals, become more productive and be more passionate about their work. It’s still about that, but in the process of studying the many issues related to creating sustainable businesses in a sustainable world economy, I’ve come to believe that there are other considerations that are perhaps even more important.

All the traditional business arguments still exist that sustainability is really about eliminating waste and reducing expenses and that this is ultimately good for the business and the environment. So keep up the good work if you are deploying LEAN processes, adopting LEED standards for your buildings, using renewable energy sources, developing green teams, encouraging recycling and doing what you can towards water and energy conservation. You’re on the right path.

But let’s look at the bigger picture!

The goal of our economy » Continue reading “The Argument for Global Governance (and why businesses should ecourage it)”

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