Usually related to education, philosophy or society, I write these to give form to some of things I grapple with. If they can spur on debate and reflection so much the better.

September 24, 2019

Every now and then there comes a time when rhetoric coming out of the establishment starts to falter when faced with real life. Think of the Church asking Galileo to prove “beyond doubt” that the Earth orbits the Sun. Or Donald Trump’s response, when pressed on climate change (“I think it changes both ways”). Both are examples of what happens when one’s beliefs, values and actions are challenged by reality, causing a strange jarring effect. 

Such was the feeling when reading The Economist’s leader on climate change. On the one hand, it acknowledges the depth of crisis that the world is facing: it is costing lives, will affect most the poor and least responsible for the crisis, solving it is a matter for the whole of government not simply the environmental department, and that the world economy needs to be decarbonised, a feat...

March 16, 2019

On Friday March 15th, hundreds of thousands of children across the world went on strike. Not against their schooling system, nor against the increasingly draconian grading that imprisons them into a mould that makes no space for their own characters and dreams. Far less selfish than we might be inclined to think, these young souls went on strike for something that affects all of us: the earth's climate. 

The cynics amongst us may deride the whole affair as a passing fade. A nifty excuse to skip school. An opportunity to play some more video games at home. And perhaps some did. The vast majority however took to the streets, made banners denouncing systematic repression and political inaction and chanted empowering words together which, for many, must have been their first engagement with activism. 

It was hard, reading the...

July 25, 2018

Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the Universe. 

— Kurt Vonnegut

Ever since the end of WWII, the vast majority of world affairs has been fixated with one thing: economic growth. A relatively new concept, branded with the letters “G” “D” and “P”, growth has become synonymous with progress (another highly contentious word) and stands at the altar of modern man, homo economicus. Economic growth, the standard reasoning goes, enables nations to develop and reach a stage whereby things like poverty, illiteracy, illness and misery no longer exist. This is partially true. It is also partially true that economic growth enables nations to develop and reach a stage whereby things like poverty, inequality, illness and misery continue to exist. Reading and writing must...

June 12, 2018

An Israeli politician is found dead in his hotel room. The cause of death is identified as a lethal poison, injected through his arm while sleeping. No sign of breaking and entry. 

An American aircraft carrier is attacked by a swarm of drones. Its defences try to parry the attack but is ultimately overwhelmed by the 100,000-strong swarm. A terrorist group claims responsibility for the attack. 

France is the first country to impose a blanket ban on autonomous cars after a string of terror-related attacks in which automated cars were used as bombs, killing scores of civilians. 

Israel identifies the micro-robot responsible for the killing of their spy and traces it to a Korean robotics firm. Further investigation leads them to accuse an armed militia of perpetrating the attack, which the militia denies, and retaliate by sending o...

April 17, 2018

“The huge majority do not understand the historical significance of the moment. I wonder am I mistaken or not?”

— Vladimir Vernadskii, diary entry, July 12, 1940

“They did not see it until the atomic bombs burst in their fumbling hands.”

— H.G. Wells, The World Set Free, 1914

One of the longest running jokes about AI is that it is always only twenty years away. Its advocates swear that it will be a game-changer, that it will alter the world as we know it and in ways that we can hardly imagine. Others say that these prognoses are mislead, that the technological difficulties involved in emulating human-like intelligence are far too big to solve, and that it’s never going to happen.

The history of big, world-changing technological developments is fraught with such obituaries, from man’s dream to fly, to his fantasy of...

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© 2020 by Pierre Smith Khanna