The Economist and the Human Potential

If TED is about “Ideas Worth Spreading,” then the Economist’s Ideas Economy conference series is – as the title would suggest – about ideas worth monetizing. It’s the Economist, stupid! The venerable publication, a notorious late adopter, has realized that despite solid market standing it must reinvent itself to survive, both through a suite of new digital products and by branching out into the conference business. The focus on Innovation (as in “a commercialized original idea,” as the excellent moderator Vijay Vaitheeswaran defined it in his opening remarks) is a natural fit: The Economist has always stood for liberal economic policies and liberal social values – which is typically the kind of fabric that innovation thrives in.


By Tim Leberecht – //designmind.frogdesign.com

If TED is about “Ideas Worth Spreading,” then the Economist’s Ideas Economy conference series is – as the title would suggest – about ideas worth monetizing. It’s the Economist, stupid! The venerable publication, a notorious late adopter, has realized that despite solid market standing it must reinvent itself to survive, both through a suite of new digital products and by branching out into the conference business. The focus on Innovation (as in “a commercialized original idea,” as the excellent moderator Vijay Vaitheeswaran defined it in his opening remarks) is a natural fit: The Economist has always stood for liberal economic policies and liberal social values – which is typically the kind of fabric that innovation thrives in.

The most recent event of the series (full disclosure: frog design was a sponsor) took place last week in New York: With the theme “Human Potential,” 250 business leaders, entrepreneurs, politicians, and academics discussed for two days how to foster and tap into the creativity and intellect of their employees, stakeholders, peers, and students. The cynic could object and ask “Do we indeed have potential?,” inferring that the term “potential” implies progress and betterment – but are we, humans, even good? And if so, can we get better?

According to Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, the answer is a clear yes. He presented a “history of violence,” arguing that violence is on the decline, which, as he readily admitted, appears to be somewhat counter-intuitive, knowing that there has not been a single day without war in the history of mankind. Attribute this to a recording bias: The magnifying effect of mass media makes violence more visible than ever before. Yet, Pinker cited empirical studies showing that the amount of actions which cause physical harm has steadily decreased over the past centuries. Despite the many atrocities it saw, the 20th century was not the most violent century in terms of absolute numbers (compared to the total world population), and acts of terrorism, Pinker pointed out, can only be described as (statistically) “insignificant.” Clearly, Pinker commented, the US overreacted in response to the 9/11 attacks. Before you cheer about the rise of human enlightenment and moral reasoning, however, consider that the way violence is committed may have become more subliminal, and that, more pressingly, weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a few rogue individuals (or states) can arguably do more harm nowadays – that is, cause ‘ultimate violence’ – than ever before. Additionally, it remains difficult to project future trends based on historical data so that an overly optimistic, non-violent concept of human potential might be flawed because of a bias of retrospective. In fact, the Rational Optimist‘s great blind spot is that it cannot look into the “heart of darkness,” that it has no means to explain or forecast truly irrational behavior.

On top of that, it is, of course, particularly hard to assess the human potential when you are human. Is human potential limited to humans? Can humans really fully unleash their own potential or will it take artificial intelligence to do so? Were the attendees in New York able to realize human potential or rather its impediment? The conference, for the most part, stayed away from such provocations. Notwithstanding the occasional excursion into macro-economic or philosophical debate, most of the program was devoted to more pragmatic topics such as employee motivation, knowledge management, institutional and non-institutional learning, and creative thinking. Leer más “The Economist and the Human Potential”

Sept. 11, 2010: The Right Way to Remember


Editorial

Nine years after terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, a memorial and a transportation hub are taking recognizable shape and skyscrapers are finally starting to rise from the ashes of ground zero.

That physical rebirth is cause for celebration on this anniversary. It is a far more fitting way to defy the hate-filled extremists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and to honor their victims, than to wallow in the intolerance and fear that have mushroomed across the nation. They are fed by the kind of bigotry exhibited by the would-be book burner in Florida, and, sadly, nurtured by people in positions of real power, including prominent members of the Republican Party.

The most important sight at ground zero now is Michael Arad’s emerging memorial. The shells of two giant pools are 30 feet deep and are set almost exactly in the places where the towers once were. Leer más “Sept. 11, 2010: The Right Way to Remember”

Mistrust and the Mosque

The furor over the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque near ground zero keeps giving us new reasons for dismay. As politicians and commentators work themselves and viewers into a rage, others who should be standing up for freedom and tolerance tiptoe away.

To the growing pile of discouragement, add this: A New York Times poll of New York City residents that found that even this city, the country’s most diverse and cosmopolitan, is not immune to suspicion and to a sadly wary misunderstanding of Muslim-Americans.

The poll found considerable distrust of Muslim-Americans and robust disapproval of the mosque proposal. Asked whether they thought Muslim-Americans were “more sympathetic to terrorists” than other citizens, 33 percent said yes, a discouraging figure, roughly consistent with polls taken since Sept. 11, 2001. Thirty-one percent said they didn’t know any Muslims; 39 percent said they knew Muslims but not as close friends.


Image representing New York Times as depicted ...

Editorial of the The New York Times, 3 september edition.

The furor over the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque near ground zero keeps giving us new reasons for dismay. As politicians and commentators work themselves and viewers into a rage, others who should be standing up for freedom and tolerance tiptoe away.

To the growing pile of discouragement, add this: A New York Times poll of New York City residents that found that even this city, the country’s most diverse and cosmopolitan, is not immune to suspicion and to a sadly wary misunderstanding of Muslim-Americans.

The poll found considerable distrust of Muslim-Americans and robust disapproval of the mosque proposal. Asked whether they thought Muslim-Americans were “more sympathetic to terrorists” than other citizens, 33 percent said yes, a discouraging figure, roughly consistent with polls taken since Sept. 11, 2001. Thirty-one percent said they didn’t know any Muslims; 39 percent said they knew Muslims but not as close friends. Leer más “Mistrust and the Mosque”

Top Secret America: Visualizing the National Security Buildup in the U.S.

“Top Secret America” [washingtonpost.com] is an extensive investigative project of the Washington Post
that describes the huge national security buildup in the United States after the September 11 attacks. More than
a dozen Washington Post journalists spent 2 years developing the database, which was put together by compiling
hundreds of thousands of public records of government organizations and private-sector companies.

top_secret_america.jpg
From these records, The Washington Post identified 45 government organizations (for example, the FBI) engaged in top-secret work and determined that those 45 organizations could be broken down into 1,271 sub-units (for example, the Terrorist Screening Center of the FBI). At the private-sector level, The Post identified 1,931 companies engaged in top-secret work for the government, ranging from the “nuclear operations” by AT&T to the “cyber operations” of Abraxas.


“Top Secret America” [washingtonpost.com] is an extensive investigative project of the Washington Postthat describes the huge national security buildup in the United States after the September 11 attacks. More thana dozen Washington Post journalists spent 2 years developing the database, which was put together by compiling hundreds of thousands of public records of government organizations and private-sector companies.

top_secret_america.jpg
From these records, The Washington Post identified 45 government organizations (for example, the FBI) engaged in top-secret work and determined that those 45 organizations could be broken down into 1,271 sub-units (for example, the Terrorist Screening Center of the FBI). At the private-sector level, The Post identified 1,931 companies engaged in top-secret work for the government, ranging from the “nuclear operations” by AT&T to the “cyber operations” of Abraxas. Leer más “Top Secret America: Visualizing the National Security Buildup in the U.S.”