Numlock News: June 7, 2019 • Dystopias, Icebergs, AI

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!

Boulder, Colorado

This past Memorial Day weekend an 8.5 million pound boulder fell off a cliff in a rockslide and damaged a highway connecting Cortez and Telluride, Colorado. On top of the $1.3 million to fix the highway, the additional cost to blow up the boulder — about $200,000 — was a bit too high for the tastes of the the state government. Instead, Governor Jared Polis has made the best out of a bad situation and declared the boulder Memorial Rock and designated it a tourist attraction. The highway will be widened and a new guardrail will be installed. Police are presumably still searching for the wiley coyote responsible for the boulder’s fall.

Jean Lotus, UPI

Robotic Telephony

The FCC commissioners have voted and unanimously agree that this is a society, dang it, authorizing carriers to automatically identify and block robocalls. The measures are voluntary and the phone companies can charge for them, a component opposed by the two Democrats on the board. The FTC logged 5.8 million Do Not Call complaints in 2018, up from 3.6 million in 2015, and last year it was estimated that 48 billion robocalls bugged the American people. The measure won’t interfere with political robocalls or ostensibly permissible ones, like when your bank contacts you with a fraud alert to warn you that some mad man used your credit card and spent an unseemly quantity of money on liquor and appetizers last weekend at all the places you went to.

Todd Shields, Bloomberg

Miscellaneous -topias

A new survey of 2,201 adults found effectively equal interest in watching media about dystopias — where characters live “in a society of great suffering or injustice” — as they found in watching media about utopias, where characters live “in a near-perfect society,” like in Star Trek or Zootopia (a pun I literally just now understood.) While 28 percent preferred utopian fiction, 30 percent liked stories about dystopian nightmares, like Black Mirror or The Handmaid’s Tale or Mad Max: Fury Road or the inability to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy or The Hunger Games. Looking into the crosstabs, millennial respondents were nearly twice as likely to prefer dystopias to utopias — 41 percent vs. 23 percent — which is a real credit to the importance of representation in the media.

Sarah Shevenock, Morning Consult

Car Service

An urban car service has four cost centers: 15 percent is spent on corporate costs, fuel costs 9 percent, driver compensation is 58 percent and vehicle costs, like purchasing and maintenance, is 18 percent. Uber’s key innovation is that it shifts all the vehicle costs onto its drivers. The reality is that makes Uber actually less efficient than a typical car service, as the myriad drivers can’t manage those maintenance costs as efficiently as a cab company. All told, a study found 20 percent of drivers for app-based companies needed public income supplements like food stamps to survive.

Herbert Horan, American Affairs Journal

Ice To Meet You

A marine salvager is attempting to solve the freshwater needs of Cape Town by hauling a 125 million ton Antarctic iceberg to South Africa. Such a mass of ice would supply 20 percent of Cape Town’s water for a year, and it’s estimated it would cost $200 million. This underscores a worthy question: with 2.1 billion people lacking safe access to drinking water, and water demand projected to outpace supply by 40 percent by 2030, how are we going to get out of this one? Desalination plants are one idea, but globally they produce 51.8 billion cubic meters of brine annually, and the product also tastes super crummy. With 100,000 Antarctic icebergs melting every year for, uh, reasons, hauling a few north to melt near Cape Town is dang near sensible, said the villain of the Bond movie in a monologue.

Caroline Winter, Bloomberg

This Was A Triumph. I’m Making a Note Here: Huge Success

University of Massachusetts, Amherst researchers looked at the total computational costs of training several natural language processing AI models, and the reality is that making AI has some significant environmental costs. Extrapolating from measured power requirements and the training hours listed in the papers introducing four AI models — Transformer, ELMo, BERT, and GPT-2 — the researchers estimated how much energy was needed to complete the process of training the models, and, based on the average energy mix in the U.S., how much CO2 was generated to birth the bots. The process of building and testing a publication-worthy model — a process that required training 4,789 models over a 6 month period — would emit an estimated 78,000 pounds of CO2.

Karen Hao, MIT Technology Review


The controversy broiling over a new abortion law in Georgia has some in the entertainment industry signaling that they may exit the state if they can’t persuade talent to travel there. The (often futile) competition between states to secure film productions through incentives is bareknuckle as is, but Georgia has the most to lose should producers eye the departures board at the clean and efficient Atlanta airport. In 2017, Georgia doled out $800 million in production tax credits, which is more than the combined amount given by California ($330 million) and New York ($420 million). As a result, Georgia hosted 455 film and television productions last year.

Bryan Elise Sandberg, The Hollywood Reporter

Last week in the Sunday subscriber special, I had a riveting discussion with Joshua Sukol, who wrote that absolutely fascinating story in Science about the controversial amber fossils smuggled out of Myanmar into China, and the ethical questions associated with one of the most scientifically exciting amber deposits on earth. Josh also recently wrote a great story about two women instrumental in developing chaos theory.

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Previous 2019 Sunday special editions: Amber Fossils ·  Self-Improvement ·  Box Office Forecasting ·  Crazy/Genius ·  Scrubbers ·  Saving the World ·  Summer Movies ·  No One Man Should Have All That Power ·  Film Incentives ·  Stadiums & Casinos ·  Late Night ·  65 is the new 50 ·  Scooternomics ·  Gene Therapy ·  SESTA/FOSTA ·  CAPTCHA ·  New Zealand ·  Good To Go ·  California Football ·  Personality Testing ·  China’s Corruption Crackdown ·  Yosemite

2018 Sunday Editions: 2018  ·  Game of Thrones  ·  Signal Problems · CTE and Football · Facebook · Shark Repellent · Movies · Voting Rights · Goats · Invitation Only · Fat Bear Week · Weinersmith · Airplane Bathrooms ·  NIMBYs ·  Fall 2018 Sports Analytics ·  The Media  ·  Omega-3  ·  Mattress Troubles  ·  Conspiracy Theorists  ·  Beaches  ·  Bubbles  ·  NYC Trash  ·  Fish Wars  ·  Women’s Jeans  ·  Video Stores