Archive | August 17th, 2017

Will Artificial Intelligence Make Society Obsolete?

  • Incredible computer processing power is being applied to heteronomous governance.
    Incredible computer processing power is being applied to heteronomous governance. | Photo: Reuters
Many are concerned about the application of computer processing power to automation of work and the impact on jobs and joblessness.

Source: Le Monde diplomatique

It was Greek/French philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis who argued that individuals in most societies do not depend on themselves to lay down their own law — what he called autonomy.

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Instead, they assume that law is created by some external force found beyond themselves whether it be gods, nature, history, or reason — heteronomy. As an increasingly influential force regulating social, electoral and economic outcomes, algorithms are among today’s new heteronomous powers. In October 2016, the White House, European parliament and UK House of Commons each independently explored how to prepare society for the widespread use of algorithm-driven artificial intelligence (AI).

Reviewing these governments’ reports, researchers argued that the design of a “good AI society” should be based on ‘holistic respect’ that considers ‘the whole context of human flourishing’ and ‘nurturing of human dignity as the grounding foundation of a better world.’ However, they concluded that all three reports lacked an understanding of how this technology can engender responsibility, co-operation and similar values to steer the development and inform the design of a ‘good AI society’.

The word “algorithm” comes from the 9th-century Persian mathematician Muḥammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi. Among his many innovations, al-Khwarizmi’s work led to the creation of algebra and advanced the Hindu-Arabic numeral system that we use today. It is the Latin translation of al-Khwarizmi’s name to “Algoritmi” — combined with an etymological mashup with the Greek word for number (ἀριθμός,pronounced ‘are-eeth-mos’) — that gives us ‘algorithm’.

Oxford University’s Dictionary of Computer Science defines an algorithm as a prescribed set of well-defined rules or instructions for the solution of a problem, such as the performance of a calculation, in a finite number of steps. It is common to describe an algorithm as being similar to a recipe, say, for cooking pasta: 1) boil water, 2) add noodles, 3) stir. More precisely, the instructions need to be detailed enough for a computer to process, such as steps to play a game of tic-tac-toe: “If you occupy two spaces in a row, play the third to get three in a row.”

The work that al-Khwarizmi produced led to solutions for quadratic equations that are today applied to (among other uses) aircrafts taking flight and circuitry for computers and mobile devices. Despite these innovations, algorithms are playing a new role in the social-historical creation of societies, a contest between heteronomy and autonomy. Three interesting and very different books explore their potential use across a wide array of possibilities, from human domination to human liberation.

In his book The Master Algorithm Pedro Domingos, professor of computer science and engineering, provides an exhaustive overview of five rival orientations toward algorithms: 1) the Symbolists, who view learning as the inverse of deduction and take ideas from philosophy, psychology, and logic; 2) the Connectionists, who aspire to reverse engineer the brain and are inspired by neuroscience and physics; 3) the Evolutionaries, who simulate evolution on the computer and draw on genetics and evolutionary biology; 4) the Bayesians, who believe that learning is a form of probabilistic inference and have their roots in statistics; and 5) the Analogisers, who learn by extrapolating from similarity judgments and are influenced by psychology and mathematical optimisation. In his search for the Master Algorithm, Domingos declares his ultimate desideratum: a single algorithm that combines the key features of them all. This is important, he argues, because if it exists, “the Master Algorithm can derive all knowledge in the world — past, present, and future — from data.”

Domingos’s book not only sheds light on the inner technical workings of different types of algorithms that Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Google and other platform capitalisms use to shape our modern heteronomous experiences, but he also provides a sample algorithm — “Alchemy” — to take for a test drive. His proposal for a Master Algorithm is rooted in pragmatic debates in the field as well as ideas for how to move them forward.

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However, the focus on abstract models distracts from discussion of real world negative impacts of this technology. For instance, Domingos’s discussion of “overfitting,” a problem where an algorithm “finds a pattern in the data that is not actually true in the real world,” seemed a woefully insufficient acknowledgment of the dangerous consequences of unaccountable algorithms — their data inputs and code — and the disastrous impact that they can have on people and communities — such as when the postal code you live in helps determine your credit score and whether or not you qualify for a student or home loan. The book provides a window to see what is possible with a Master Algorithm in a general sense, but it delivers a techno-optimistic message when today’s world of vast inequality and global precarity urgently demands that we ask how to leverage such technology for positive social change toward a classless world.

Weapons of Math Destruction by data scientist Cathy O’Neil offers a more sceptical view of algorithms focussed on their negative social costs and consequences. O’Neil documents how algorithms — WMDs — can punish the poor and elevate the privileged in a cycle that worsens capitalism’s class and racial disparities. It is widely believed that in the US, for instance, non-white prisoners from poor neighbourhoods are more likely to commit crimes, and also poised to commit additional crimes and land themselves back in prison.

Recidivism models tracking the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend suggest that these people are more likely to be jobless, lack a high school diploma, and have had, with their friends, previous run-ins with police. Another way of looking at the same data, however, is that these people come from poor areas with terrible schools and little opportunity. “So the chance that an ex-convict returning to that neighborhood will have another brush with the law is no doubt larger than that of a tax fraudster who is released into a leafy suburb.” In this system, O’Neil observes, “the poor and non-white are punished more for being who they are and living where they live.”

Weapons of Math Destruction provides many insightful examples of how algorithms can be deployed as an invisible, yet powerful tool to dominate people’s everyday lives. The book is written better than you might expect a quant to write. O’Neil’s human sources provide vivid material illuminating stories of pain and suffering that the algorithm powered predatory lending strategies of credit companies inflict on people.

Drawing from her experience as a data scientist, she reveals problems with data inputs into algorithms and explains how these problems can lead to the destruction of whole communities, from teacher evaluations to those looking for jobs and sending their resumes out. O’Neil’s deployment of thought experiments to imagine how algorithms could inform police tactics in white wealthy neighbourhoods and to combat white collar crime brings the privilege, and immunity from the consequences of poverty that these communities enjoy, to the surface. She reviews examples for how algorithms could be audited and held to standards for accountability. O’Neil’s book has many strengths, highlighting the structural problems of algorithms as a technology, and today’s obscene reality of how the wealthy are still processed by people, while the vast majority are increasingly managed by machines.

RELATED: Global South to Be ‘Potential Losers’ as Robots Replace Workers: Report

Taking a broader view of how algorithms impact societies, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by historian Yuval Noah Harari considers the paradigm shifting proposal that life is all about data processing and that all organisms are machines for making calculations and taking decisions. In this analogy, not only are beehives, bacteria colonies and forests data processing systems, but so too are individuals and human societies. Through this lens, your biochemical algorithms would process an image of George Clooney by collecting data on his facial features such as hair and eye colour, and nose and cheek bone proportions, to cause feelings of attraction, indifference or repulsion.

On a larger scale, whole economies could be seen as data processing centres, mechanisms for gathering data about desires and abilities and turning this data into decisions. Drawing historical comparisons, Harari writes: “According to this view, free-market capitalism and state-controlled communism aren’t competing ideologies, ethical creeds or political institutions. At bottom, they are competing data-processing systems. Capitalism uses distributed processing, whereas communism relies on centralized processing.”

This argument relegates to ghosts wandering history’s graveyard the old debates about technology and equality, such as the “calculation debates” of the 1920s and 30s — between socialists who believed that a central authority could use all available knowledge to arrive at the best possible (in their minds) economic plan for society and those free marketeers who countered that, because the problems of modern society are so complex, economic planning is impossible and only markets could coordinate economic activity.

Harari’s book does not so much make comparative critiques of capitalism and communism based on their desirability, equity or class structures, but leads readers to an altogether different set of questions: are organisms really just algorithms and life really just data processing? More broadly, Harari considers the possibility that technology could emerge to displace existing ideologies to form a new Data Religion. This new religion places all authority in data-driven decision-making and displaces religions that place all authority in God; liberal humanism which places authority of the individual in the self and free will; state communism which places authority in the party and state trade union; and evolutionary humanism which places authority in the survival of the fittest.

In this view, data is the new heteronomous force and technology: in particular, the power of algorithms to process data in intelligent ways could render the ideological foundations of society, as we know them, obsolete, regardless of what we think of them: “As data-processing conditions change again in the twenty-first century, democracy might decline and even disappear. As both the volume and speed of data increase, venerable institutions like elections, parties and parliaments might become obsolete — not because they are unethical, but because they don’t process data efficiently enough.” This argument raises questions about the role of technology in an unethical world built on vast and unjust disparities in power and privilege. Harari’s argument seems to avoid reverting to such concerns, since that would mean a reversion to humanism. But the technology seems to present new utopian possibilities.

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So-called “Smart Cities” and the Internet of Things are indicators that data processing power and algorithms are gaining traction in our seemingly breakneck stampede into the future, but the question remains if this technology will facilitate the self-conscious creation of societies that produce equitable outcomes or enable new and worse configurations of old injustices.

Incredible computer processing power is being applied to heteronomous governance. In the 2012 US presidential election, the Obama campaign collected tremendous amounts of data to create voter models and, using these models, ran 66,000 simulations per night to help determine the optimal campaign strategy. Many are concerned about the similar application of computer processing power to automation of work and the impact on jobs and joblessness.

Imagine instead this technology applied to facilitate autonomous governance by helping determine the best economic inputs and outputs for a classless and ecologically friendly society. While proposals for a universal basic income dominate debates across the left and right, there are no more technological excuses inhibiting the revolutionary possibility of self-governing, directly democratic and scalable autonomous societies. Models such as Castoriadis’s 1957 Workers’ Councils and the Economics of a Self-Managed Society, which proposed a “Plan Factory” relying on computers to decide how the material means of life would be distributed for economic production and consumption no longer need economic planners and managers.

Such a system, and others like it, could allow algorithms — in the form of blockchain style Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs) and “smart contracts” — to do the heavy lifting of economic planning, and other rote jobs, so that people could get on with enjoying the free social and individual time that an autonomous society would allow. The question now is whether algorithm driven artificial intelligence will know society and people better than we know ourselves or will it empower self-organisation and direct democracy in ways that consider the whole context of human flourishing and dignity as the foundation of a better world?

Chris Spannos is digital editor at New Internationalist.


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Venezuela Can Give US ‘Free and Fair Elections’ Lessons!

  • Voters line up to cast their ballot in Venezuela
    Voters line up to cast their ballot in Venezuela’s dry run vote ahead of the National Constituent Assembly, July, 16, 2017. | Photo: EFE
When it comes to holding free and fair elections, Venezuela has shown, with 22 under its belt since 1998, that it is Caracas that can give Washington a lesson or two.

U.S. President Donald Trump has been using the Venezuela crisis to try to preach lessons to and make threats against the nation about its adherence to democracy. Trump and Washington have absolutely rejected the National Constituent Assembly elected by eight million Venezuelans as “a sham,” taking the country towards “dictatorship” and announced new sets of measures to not only outlaw the ANC but also to punish anyone or any country doing business with it.

RELATEDVenezuela to Install Truth, Justice and Reparations Commission

But, how does the leader of a nation in which winning a majority of votes does not necessarily guarantee victory preach to any other country about free and fair elections?

Where does the U.S. president derive the legitimate authority to dictate to Venezuela about respecting democracy and democratically established institutions?

The U.S. record of unfair representational politics is long, but recent history can demonstrate many instances of the will of the majority being thwarted by or for a minority. Take the following three examples:

1. President Trump and his Republican Party have shown, in just six months, how they will resort to changing established rules to get their way in congressional or senate votes anytime they feel threatened by a Democratic numerical challenge.

2. The Republicans also left the U.S. Supreme Court in an interminable tie for eight years under President Barack Obama, refusing to appoint a ninth judge until it could have been a Republican, under Trump.

3. George W. Bush was elected U.S. president despite Democratic Party candidate Al Gore winning the majority of the votes cast, in an election in which thousands were also mechanically disenfranchised.

The increasing use and faulty exercise of Westminster and other traditional Western-style European-designed election models in developing nations continues to throw up direct challenges to the acclaimed veracity of their representational reliability.

But their bewildered patrons continue to loudly preach advice — that they don’t take themselves — to developing nations with larger slices of success in the exercise of truly democratic home-grown election exercises.

Uncle Sam has always told his crony allies: “Do as I say, not as I do!”

But those days are long gone — and when it comes to holding free and fair elections, Venezuela has shown, with 22 under its belt since 1998, that it is Caracas that can give Washington a lesson or two

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French Police Attack Protest Against Nuclear Waste Site

  • French National Radioactive Waste Management Agency digging a tunnel in Bure, France, June 11, 2012.
    French National Radioactive Waste Management Agency digging a tunnel in Bure, France, June 11, 2012. | Photo: Reuters
Protest organizers said 36 people were injured, with six gravely hurt.

Police in northeast France used water cannons and fired tear gas and stun grenades Tuesday against demonstrators protesting plans to store nuclear waste at an underground site.

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The issue has been raging for years as the waste is the dangerous long-term by-product of France’s extensive nuclear energy program.

Around 300 protesters took part in the demonstration in Bure, a commune in the Meuse department, against plans to store highly radioactive waste 500 meters underground.

Protest organizers said 36 people were injured, with six gravely hurt in the clashes, while the local prefecture said at least three demonstrators had been injured, according to calls to emergency services.

The protest was one in a series to try to block the waste site.

France’s Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot has said he needs more information before he gave his position on the project.

Earlier this month, the Nuclear Safety Authority said it had “reservations” about the project, known as Cigeo, citing uncertainty about the potential danger from highly inflammable material in the case of rising temperatures.

In July, the National Agency for the Management of Radioactive Waste said construction of the storage site would start in 2022 at the earliest.

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Russia, Bolivia Reject US Military Threat Against Venezuela

  • Supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro attend a rally against U.S. President Donald Trump in Caracas.
    Supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro attend a rally against U.S. President Donald Trump in Caracas. | Photo: Reuters
The foreign ministers of Russia and Bolivia met to discuss U.S. aggression against Venezuela and strengthening bilateral relations.

Russian and Bolivian foreign ministers Sergei Lavrov and Fernando Huanacuni have participated in a joint press conference, reaffirming support for Venezuela’s sovereignty.

RELATED: Bolivia, Russia Defend Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly

Lavrov and Huanacuni denounced U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat of military intervention against Venezuela as “unacceptable,” reaffirming the South American country’s right to self-determination. Both leaders also stressed that the only solution to the country’s political turmoil is dialogue.

“We agree on the need to overcome, as soon as possible, the discrepancies existing in that country through national dialogue, without any external pressure,” Lavrov said.

“Also the inadmissibility of threats of military intervention in the internal affairs of that country, which has been condemned by the overwhelming majority of Latin American countries.”

During the press conference, Huanacuni said that Venezuela is “seeking its own democratic process” and that is important to “be able to generate dialogue with respect for sovereignty and rejecting any intervention in the country.”

Both diplomats are expected to discuss issues of common interest, such as the upcoming Forum of Gas Exporting Countries to be held on Nov. 24 in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. Forum participants include Algeria, Bolivia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Qatar, Libya, Nigeria, Russia, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.

Huanacuni also stressed the importance of cooperation between Russia and Bolivia in military affairs and said Sucre is preparing for the visit of the country’s Deputy Minister of Defense.

Since Bolivian President Evo Morales took office in 2006, the South American country has enjoyed friendly relations with Moscow.

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Mexican Workers March in Protest at NAFTA Renegotiations

  • NAFTA has frequently been criticized by labor activists for reportedly lowering wages, hurting agriculture profits and eliminating workplace protections across North America.
    NAFTA has frequently been criticized by labor activists for reportedly lowering wages, hurting agriculture profits and eliminating workplace protections across North America. | Photo: EFE
Trade unions believe they have a right to know the terms and conditions of the NAFTA renegotiations, which they claim are inaccessible.

Mexican workers representing broad sections of their country’s labor force are marching in Mexico City against renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA.

RELATED: NAFTA Renegotiation Talks Arrive Amid Diverging Interests, Neoliberal Goals

The National Association of Farmers Marketing Companies called on all social sectors to participate, labeling diplomatic sessions held in Washington this week to change the tri-national trade agreement between Canada, Mexico and the United States an “undemocratic process.”

Protesters representing the National Union of Workers, the Union of Telephone Operators of the Mexican Republic, the Union of Workers of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the National Guild of Education Workers and the Mexican Electricians Union began demonstrations at 10 a.m. local time.

The labor groups are pushing for “a new cooperation and complementarity agreement.”

Demonstrators were seen holding signs bearing the words “The TLC (NAFTA) hurts you, Mexico is better without the TLC” as they marched towards the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Trade union leaders said they have a right to know the terms and conditions of the NAFTA renegotiations, claiming that they are not properly represented by the Confederation of Mexican Workers and the Labor Congress.

Mexican Senator Marcela Guerra Castillo, however, claimed her country will ensure that Mexican workers will be represented in the first round of NAFTA renegotiations.

“Mexican interests and workers’ rights must be put before the benefits of the commercial agreement directly benefit society, above any other interest, whether private or group,” Guerra Castillo said.

NAFTA has frequently been criticized by labor activists for reportedly lowering wages, hurting agriculture profits and eliminating workplace protections across North America.

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Smartphone Separation Anxiety or ‘Nomophobia’ Is Very Real, and on the Rise



CC0 / Pixabay

Researchers at Hong Kong City University and Seoul’s Sungkyunkwan University have concluded smartphone separation anxiety or “nomophobia” is becoming an increasingly widespread problem, with users feeling panic and stress when they’re unable to access or use their devices, and not merely because they can’t make or receive calls.

Nomophobia has been touted as the 21st century’s leading fad diagnosis — scientists, lawyers, therapists and even legislators have been quick to suggest claims of smartphone addiction are at best exaggerated, at worst self-serving fiction. However, the researchers believe they have conclusively identified the syndrome, based on how individuals perceive and value their smartphones — their research model found a clear link between personal memories and user attachment to phones, leading to pronounced tendencies to phone proximity-seeking behavior.

​Obsessional relationships with phones stem from their highly advanced and increasingly personalized nature — they in effect become an extension of their owner. After all, as well as storing meaningful photos and messages, mobiles act as a gateway to an enormous array of apps, websites and services that let users quickly access content that’s important to them.

While the researchers used a relatively small sample group, of 300 students, and conceded their findings may not be transposable to all smartphone users, they nonetheless contend the symptoms they identified will undoubtedly become more widespread in the future, as technology becomes even more personalized and humans grow ever more reliant upon it.

“As smartphones evoke more personal memories, users extend more of their identity onto their smartphones. When users perceive smartphones as their extended selves, they are more likely to become attached to the devices, which, in turn, leads to nomophobia by heightening the phone proximity-seeking tendency. Recent smartphone and app development seems to inevitably increase users’ attachment, as the technology and related services become increasingly personalised and customisable. This suggests that users should be conscious not to become overly dependent on smartphones while benefitting from the smartness of the technology,” the authors state.

The good news for those infatuated with their iPhones and Android devices is nomophobia is is far from incurable — the team believe “defined and protected” periods of individual separation from smartphones (not unexpected periods of separation) may allow users to “perform better” — not just by reducing interruptions but also by increasing available cognitive capacity.

​Nonetheless, while the syndrome is not officially classified as a specific mental disorder by any medical or psychological body or textbook, numerous studies have shown that smartphone attachment can cause significant problems.

For instance, in 2015 excessive smartphone use was found to facilitate cognitive dysfunction — and a June McCombs School of Business report found simply having a smartphone within reach, even if it’s switched off or placed face-down, reduces brain power. Even putting a smartphone in a different room was found to give brains a boost.

​Despite its lack of medical recognition, in time nomophobia may, along with fear of missing out (FoMo) and fear of being offline (FoBo), join international lists of recognized phobias and neuroses.

In May, the World Health Organization named spending too much time staring at digital screens a major health risk. Their report noted there has been a dramatic increase in the time people spend staring at digital screen time since the turn of the century, and spending a mere two hours in front of tablets, computers and smartphones daily is causing people as young as 11 to suffer an increased risk of poor mental and physical health.


: health risks and solutions (Fact Sheet) 

Photo published for Adolescents: health risks and solutions

Adolescents: health risks and solutions

WHO fact sheet on adolescents health risks and solutions: includes key facts and provides a definition, information on specific health issues, WHO response.

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Iran’s Intel Minister Nominee Says Dozens of Terrorist Plots Foiled in 4 Years


A general view of northern Tehran taken from Tabi'at (Nature) bridge on Modares highway. (File)


Over past four years, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry has arrested over 120 terrorist cells that were plotting attacks in Iran, former Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alawi said Wednesday.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — According to the IRNA news agency, Alawi was addressing the parliament, which is supposed to vote whether he would retake the position in the next cabinet.

Alawi told the lawmakers that the ministry forces also managed to seize almost 6,600 pounds of explosives, as well as 1,000 weapons, bombs and suicide vests.

“During the past four years at the Intelligence Ministry, we took measures to maintain the independence of the ministry, avoided dependence on [political] parties, and did expert work, [as] some of our main strategies,” Alawi said, as quoted by the Tasnim news agency.

He also noted that the Iranian intelligence services had been closely cooperating with security forces.

On Tuesday, the Iranian parliament started sessions to vote on reelected Irainian President Hassan Rouhani’s nominees for the positions in cabinet. If one of the candidates fails to win a vote a confidence in the parliament, the president will have up to three months to offer a replacement.Iran was recently hit by a major terrorist attack. On June 7, a twin terrorist attack in the Iranian capital of Tehran left at least 70 people dead and more than 40 injured. A group of four people in women’s clothing opened fire in the Iranian Parliament building, which was followed by a deadly explosion. Another attack involved an explosion near the Imam Khomeini shrine.


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Cambodian Human Rights Groups Face Threats, Surveillance Ahead of Election


Cambodian National flags flutter over an opposition party supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) during the last day of campaigning ahead of communal elections, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, June 2, 2017

© AP Photo/ Heng Sinith

Members of Cambodian human rights groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are facing surveillance on daily basis, with the government tapping their phones or using security agents to follow the activists, according to media reports.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Members of Cambodian human rights groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are facing a wave of threats, abuse and surveillance, as the general election in the country approaches, local media reported Wednesday.

According to the Cambodia Daily, the organizations’ leaders and key members are facing surveillance on daily basis, with the government tapping their phones or using security agents to follow the activists. The government’s security forces have also repeatedly disrupted the organizations’ events and threatened to jail the activists. The NGO leaders raised an alarm, saying that not only themselves, but their family members also started to receive threats, the media outlet said.Besides, the newspaper itself claimed that the government was hindering its work and work of other media by presenting huge tax bills and bureaucratic procedures regarding registration as media outlets. According to a number of accounts, quoted in the newspaper, the government had previously tried to intimidate the activities of NGOs, however surveillance and abuse threats have intensified since previous general election in 2013.

The newspaper noted that amid the increased intimidation and government’s attempts to silence the activists, the NGOs had made efforts to adjust to the environment and continue their work. In particular, a number of organizations, such as the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and Transparency International Cambodia, had adopted encrypted emails and messengers.

The general election will be held in Cambodia in July 2018. The opposition, led by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), believes it has an opportunity to win the vote, claiming that the previous election in 2013 was rigged. In February 2017, the Cambodian parliament amended criteria for those running for the prime minister’s office, barring individuals with convictions and thus preventing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s chief political rival Sam Rainsy, president of the CNRP, from holding any office.The pressure on the rights defendants has particularly intensified in 2016, as Adhoc 5, five current and former human rights activists were arrested over corruption-related charges in April 2016. Tep Vanny, environmental activist, organized a protest demanding their release, but was jailed herself over allegedly insulting security guards. In July 2016, political analyst Kem Ley was assassinated two days after he spoke on the radio about the report, revealing the wealth of the prime minister’s family. Kim Sok, another political analyst, openly accused the government of his colleague’s assassination and faced defamation charges in February 2017.


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Independent Iraqi Kurdistan: ‘It Will Be Easier to Conduct Economic Policy’


Iraqi Kurdish youths wave a national flag


Independence of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan would allow to solve economic problems of the region and improve the relations with other states, Rowsch Shaways, head of the delegation holding talks with Baghdad on the independence referendum, told Sputnik.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — The High Electoral and Referendum Commission (IHEC) of Iraqi Kurdistan on Monday approved September 25 as the date for the referendum on the region’s independence from Iraq. In June, Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, announced his intention to hold an independence referendum in late September.

“I think that the situation after the referendum will not be worse than it is now… The relations with other states will improve, and it will be easier to conduct economic policy and interact with the World Bank… There will be hope for improvement of the economic situation,” Shaways said.Shaways stressed that the Iraqi government failed to fulfill its financial obligations to Kurdistan, and added that the region’s economic problems began in 2014.

“The Iraqi government has constitutional obligations to which it does not adhere, and it does not carry out payments, while the region pays taxes. Kurdistan has been prosperous and safe, it cannot be compared to other Iraqi regions, and now the situation is becoming worse and worse,” Shaways said.

The Kurds are an ethnic minority group occupying also parts of Turkey, Iraq and Iran. They make up about 20 percent of the Iraqi population, and have been seeking self-governance for decades. In 2005, Iraq’s Constitution recognized Kurdistan as an autonomous region that was run by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Since then, Kurdistan’s authorities have repeatedly raised the issue of the region’s independence.


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Smart’s Dark Side: More Intelligent People More Likely to Judge on Stereotypes


Darth Vader

CC0 / Pixabay

Those blessed with brains with strong “pattern matching” capabilities enjoy a number of benefits, including a greater aptitude for learning languages, better understanding the feelings of others, and spotting opportunities. However, a New York University (NYU) study suggests they also may have a dark side.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that pattern matching is a major contributor to intelligence, and the greater the capability, the more likely an individual is to work more effectively, earn more money, be physically and mentally healthier, be more independently minded and less likely to subscribe to authoritarian beliefs.

​However, the NYU study suggests it also makes individuals more likely to learn and apply potentially damaging stereotypes. The team theorized people with superior cognitive abilities may be equipped to efficiently learn and exploit stereotypes about groups, be they ethnic, gender, social or otherwise — to test out their hypothesis, they conducted six online studies involving 1,257 individuals, recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk survey website.

In the first two, volunteers saw pictures of aliens that varied on four dimensions (color, face shape, eye size, ears), with most blue aliens associated with an “unfriendly” behavior (such as spitting in another alien’s face) and most of the yellow aliens associated with a friendly behavior (such as giving another alien a bouquet of flowers). The volunteers also completed items from Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices, assessing pattern-matching ability.

​A subsequent memory test charged the participants with pairing previously seen faces with their earlier behaviors — but there were also some new blue and yellow faces that hadn’t been seen before in the mix too. Participants better at pattern-matching were more likely to attribute unfriendly behaviors to new blue aliens than new yellow aliens — suggesting they’d learned color-behavior stereotypes more readily, and applied them.

In the third and fourth studies, volunteers were shown realistic pictures of male human faces, manipulated so most with a wide nose (for some participants) or a narrow nose (for others) were paired with negative behaviors such as jeering at a homeless person. Most of the faces with the other nose type were paired with friendly behaviors, such as, again, sending flowers to someone.

​After viewing the faces, the volunteers played a trust game, involving sharing money, which they were led to believe was an interlude unrelated to the study. Before the game began, they each chose an avatar from a large group of faces to represent them online, they played 12 rounds the game, each time with a different partner who was represented by their own avatar.

The volunteers were not in fact playing with real partners, and the researchers manipulated their “partners'” avatars, so some had wider noses, and others had narrower noses. There were also female “partners” whose nose width did not systematically vary. The team found volunteers who did better on the test of pattern detection gave less money to partners whose avatars had a nose width related, in the earlier trial, to unfriendly behavior.

​Such results suggest there may be a dark, depressing side to greater intelligence, although they run contrary to previous research, such as a 2012 Brock University paper that found a strong correlation between lower abstract reasoning abilities and homophobia, and a 2016 University of Toronto study which concluded individuals with better verbal abilities were less likely to be prejudiced against other races, more likely to acknowledge racial discrimination, and more likely to support racial equality in principle.

Indeed, results in other areas were more promising, when these volunteers were given new information that contradicted stereotypes they had developed, the better pattern-detectors were also quicker to update their stereotype, reversing their biases in the process.

In a final experiment, the team used real-world stereotypes, traits believed to be commonly associated with men (such as being more authoritative) and with women (such as being more submissive).After counter-stereotype training, being told being authoritative is more associated with women rather than men, for example — good pattern-detectors showed a stronger decrease in stereotyping. In essence, individuals with superior pattern detection abilities are naive empiricists, learning and updating their conception of stereotypes based on changing information.

​However, there are almost certainly drawbacks to greater pattern-recognition, including an increased propensity for obsessive-compulsive behavior.


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