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Monday, 31 October 2016

Needs-Wants-Beliefs (7): perception = reality

In his 25 October 2016 GPF newsletter, George Friedman makes a casual remark: "There is a saying that perception is reality." His comments are about the perceived and real strength of Russia and its army. Last week, I got upset with someone's behaviour as I perceived that behaviour to be a copy of my past experiences (ie, reality). I misread that person's behaviour because our perception is often our reality.

Independent, 2014: "Perception is reality. It's entirely appropriate that it was a political strategist who coined this phrase in the 1980s, and election campaigns ever since have been played out according to this tenet. Lee Atwater, the man responsible for the phrase, worked on George Bush Senior's campaign in 1988, in which Bush turned round a 17-point deficit to claim the White House."

Last week, I watched the crime movie "Nine Queens" (IMDb) on Netflix. During the movie, my perception of what was happening slowly changed and I did no longer believe the reality that I saw. I was convinced that there was a layer underneath. My perception became my reality. Fortunately, my belief in my perception did not let me down in the last few minutes of that movie.

The (vulnerability of the) complexity of the human mind allows us to create our own reality in which we then believe. Other primates (ie, apes, monkeys) show behaviour (eg, 3 minute TED video) that puts them in the Wants stage. Some of these other primates even come "close" to human beliefs. A 2016 Japanese study finally showed that apes have "the theory of mind - the ability to attribute desires, intentions, and knowledge to others" (eg, Nature, Science).

The "perception = reality" saying also applies to the ancient book The Art of War, by the Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher Sun Tzu. A Sun Tzu quote on "perception = reality": "All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near."

One could even argue that evil in this world is usually along the lines of perception, while good is often along the lines of reality. This might even explain why we spend time "reading" a person's true intentions (eg, the eyes are the mirror of the soul). Subconsciously, we are aware of this "perception = reality" trap. Still, financial crimes are often based upon deception and perception: embezzlement, forgery, fraud, identity theft, Ponzi schemes, scams, tax evasion.

I think, feel and believe that our ability to separate perception from reality is the fundamental reason why humans developed beliefs and the extreme beliefs of the 7 Belief systems (ie, Love, Money, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science and the Truth.

I am convinced that the (vulnerability of the) complexity of the human mind was leading in achieving that ability.

Note: all italic markings are mine.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Needs-Wants-Beliefs (6) - Carl Jung

Recently, I noticed an intriguing article by Frank M. Wanderer (blog, booksFB, LI) about Carl Gustav Jung's theory of "the three births of the human spirit" (eg, Wikipedia). I read that article as I felt a relation with my theory on Needs, Wants and Beliefs. I was not disappointed.

Our body, our mind, and our spirit face three stages: (1) psychical birth and outer bodily growth into adolescence, limited mental awareness and limited use of opportunities, (2) physical maturity, full mental awareness and full use of opportunities, birth of ego, (3) the period of inner development and growth, a.k.a. the spiritual birth of consciousness. Frank Wanderer states that "Unfortunately, the majority of people will never experience the spiritual birth for various reasons."

These 3 stages of body, mind and spirit mirror the 3 stages of Needs, Wants and Beliefs. 

When we grow up we are fully dependent on our parents (ie, Needs). When we reach mental and physical maturity, we tend to be focused on consumerism (ie, Wants). A minority of people loses interest in material fulfillment (ie, consumerism) and finds happiness and satisfaction in spiritual fulfillment (ie, Beliefs).

The various articles that I noticed about Carl Jung's theory of "the 3 births of the human spirit" seem to support my earlier idea that (1) the vulnerability of complexity of the human mind and (2) life altering events creating a vacuum (eg, burn-out/depression, loneliness) are the main drivers for migration from (1) Needs into Wants and (2) Wants into Beliefs. (Various relevant articles: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8).

FW: "Our spiritual birth is usually prevented by the conditioned deep programming of the mind. These programs place the development of the Ego in the foreground, and make efforts to sustain that development until the end of the life of the individual. The programmings support the progress of the Ego, they urge us to develop a powerful and efficient Ego for ourselves, and they make us believe that it is the ultimate goal in human life. These programmings regard any effort at suppressing the Ego as a sign of weakness that we should be ashamed of, and that we should avoid at any cost."

Initially, I thought, felt and believed that the migration towards the 3rd stage - Beliefs - was the dangerous path, considering the many examples of extreme beliefs that we see today. After writing this part 6, I am less sure now. It might also be our destined path in life. This view would be more in line with the final and last Book of Revelation, "an allegory of the spiritual path and the ongoing struggle between good and evil."

Friday, 28 October 2016

Needs-Wants-Beliefs (5) - Learning from Mistakes

A few days ago, I watched a 2016 TED video on machine learning as this topic felt relevant given my recent blogs on AI, consciousness and self-awareness. Suddenly, my casual phrase in part 4 of these blog articles made perfect sense: learning from mistakes. Let me start with a graphic that outlines the differences and similarities in human and machine learning.

The main difference between humans and machines is fear. "According to evolutionists, feeling fear is a crucial element in human survival", an excerpt of my 13 August 2015 blog - Who is afraid of whom? Fear taps into our unknown knowns (ie, intuition), known unknowns (ie, beliefs) and unknown unknowns (ie, imagination). Fear may also be based upon known knowns (ie, facts). See my 3 April 2016 blog on human firmware. I doubt that AI robots can learn about fear.

A second difference is the way of learning. Human learning is based upon teaching. Machine learning is mostly based on self-study. Teaching includes several important features: it explains why, when, what and how. There are some downsides to teaching: eg, attention span, bias, relevance, and subjectivity. Human self-study is often an integral part of teaching.

The TED video states that we (humans) do not even know what machines are learning to themselves in case of "machine learning". They are given a set of data and they start data crunching. Machines may thus develop logic that is not logical to humans. Machines may also find logic that is new to us or disregarded by humans, based upon emotional, ethical or moral arguments.

The TED video concludes that we need to teach ethics and morals to AI robots. In 1942, Isaac Asimov introduced the Three Laws of Robotics in his short story "Runaround". Essentially, these 3 laws prioritise human life over robots. These laws clearly conflict when robots transport human life, for example in autonomous, self-driving cars. Also see my 21 October 2016 blog.

Ethics and morals are part of 2 Belief systems: Philosophy (Knowledge domain) and Religion (Power domain). A 2014 question on ResearchGate supports my doubt whether ethics and morals are universal within humanity. Hence, ethics and morals in machines will face similar challenges.

The absence of fear in AI robots will cause premature self-destruction. This will become a problem given the limited availability of precious metals and/or rare-earth metals (eg, Phys) which are required to build them. Similar to humans, absence of fear in AI robots could - and thus will - become their biggest pitfall. An interesting and unexpected idea.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Accountability and responsibility in Corporates

Yesterday a past nuisance resurfaced. A Kenyan friend told me that she was upset as a new hire does not perform well. His underperformance affects her variable remuneration (ie, sales commission) as she may lose a key account. I asked her if his remuneration structure could be the underlying cause. She replied that the guy was new and wants to prove himself. I asked: "Who hired him??"

Her answer recalled my past nuisances: "Group HR". It was actually even worse as this new person had been hired without any involvement of the persons who need to work with him. Today, I realise that this situation is caused by a split in accountability and responsibility in the hiring of employees and managers. Decades ago, it was just a frustrating nuisance to me.

Usually, the words "Group and "HR" already stir up emotion when used separately. Together it's often worse. Group functions often live their own life, regardless of how much - or little - money is earned by the businesses. As a former CFO, I am an advocate of small group functions. Sometimes the discussions on intra-group cost charges even find remarkable solutions: group charges become non-responsible items for establishing the remuneration of managers (eg, bonuses, profit targets).

Hiring employees and managers by Group HR poses a problem when firing them becomes an issue. Non-performance of employees and managers causes accountability in the business (ie, front-office) while hiring and firing is a responsibility of Group HR (ie, back-office). These situations can - and thus will - easily escalate into corporate frictions - or outright wars between individuals and/or entire departments.

As mentioned in several earlier blogs, "efficiency, effectivity, user friendliness, and processing speed often conflict with internal control and/or risk management requirements". Setting up Group functions suggests better control and the use of economies of scale. In practice, Group functions just grow bigger and more expensive and control in the businesses starts to deteriorate.

In dealing with certain European countries, I noticed another striking phenomenon. The mere existence of Group functions is reason to blame them for not meeting local targets. The underlying mottos usually are: (1) divide and rule, and (2) if you can't beat them, confuse them. Such confusion is aimed at people who can't see the wood for the trees (NL: door de bomen het bos niet meer zien). It's amazing how long you can survive by just confusing the people around you.

Accountability and responsibility should be in one hand and exceptions should be minimised. This same principle also applies to the level of individuals: authority and responsibility should be in one hand. Accountability and responsibility for certain tasks without authority (eg, budget, manpower) is also meaningless. You require the tools to do your job properly.

I'm suddenly reminded how appropriate and similar Ronald Reagan's famous 1986 words are in the Corporate world: "I'm from HeadQuarters and I'm here to help you".

President Ronald Reagan - The 9 most terrifying words (1986) - video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Needs-Wants-Beliefs (4) - consciousness and self-awareness

In my 24 October 2016 blog Needs, Wants and Beliefs (3) - the vulnerability of complexity, I introduced the concepts of consciousness and self-awareness. Michael Crichton's Westworld (1973 movie and 2016 HBO series) views these 2 concepts as the main difference between Artificially Intelligent (AI) robots and humans. I did not address the origin of those concepts. I just stated: "The vulnerability of complexity must have opened the doors to consciousness and self-awareness."

In my 15 August 2016 blog on the human brain, I used a phrase from an 2014 Independent article: "Our brain is more mysterious than the least explored regions of the deepest ocean." It may seem weird but scientists know much more about the surface of the moon and other planets than our oceans, let alone the human brain. Consequently, the Wikipedia pages on consciousness and self-awareness mostly highlight philosophical debates rather than scientific facts.

HBO episode 3 of Westworld offers an explanation on the origin of consciousness and self-awareness: "mistakes". I have been digesting this remark and it indeed makes sense. 

In between the concepts of "the vulnerability of complexity" and "consciousness and self-awareness" are (fatal) human mistakes. To some extent, consciousness is similar to learning from mistakes. To another extent, self-awareness is realising that you are better or worse in preventing such mistakes, compared to others.

This view clearly has consequences. Many animals should then be considered conscious as they also learn from mistakes. In this view, we should not be surprised by a 2016 NYT article called: "German Forest ranger finds that trees have social networks, too".

I think, feel and believe that any life form should be deemed conscious - by definition. A 2016 Japanese study showed that apes even have "the theory of mind - the ability to attribute desires, intentions, and knowledge to others" (eg, Nature, Science). Another example that primates are in the 2nd level of Needs-Wants-Beliefs, please refer to my 20 October 2016 blog.

I think, feel and believe that the human fear for AI robots is related to the 3rd level of Needs-Wants-Beliefs. If AI robots would believe that humans are inferior (eg, vulnerability) to them then they might exterminate humans. To some extent, this is another example of reverse psychology: we fear AI robots because we fear ourselves. Why would their behaviour be any different from ours? Also see my 16 April 2015 blog: who is afraid of whom?

I'm still puzzled what triggered humans to migrate to the 3rd level of Needs-Wants-Beliefs. Yet I think, feel and believe that it's rather "easy" to program a Belief system into an AI robot (ie, Love, Money, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science and the Truth). That is another reason why we subconsciously fear AI robots.

Interconnected, conscious and self-aware AI robots are likely to perceive humans for what we truly are: extremely vulnerable. If not, a human fool will teach them by programming one or more Belief systems. Another highly improbable and catastrophic (ie, Black Swan) event is in the making.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Climate change vs poverty & starvation - Science vs Philosophy

Late December 2015, a Dutch newspaper published an interview with the remarkable title: "It's okay if the earth would be a few degrees warmer". Initially, I ignored this interview but my curiosity won. The statement came from an unexpected source: Richard Tol, professor of economics at the University of Sussex, professor of the economics of climate change at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and contributor to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

One particular comment in this interview has stuck in my mind ever since: "Poverty is a bigger problem than climate change. Do you help the poor by reducing greenhouse gasses or by fighting poverty? It is an important question to which no one has a clear answer."

Climate change is a historical fact since the earliest of times, some 4 billion years ago. Scientists have identified 8 (known) causes for climate change (eg, BGS). Six are outside human control (ie, strength of the sun, changes in the Earth's orbit, changes in the orientation of the Earth’s axis of rotation, carbon dioxide content of the oceans, plate tectonics, and ocean currents). Two are affected by humans (ie, quantity of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, vegetation coverage on the land).

Despite the above, nobody questions whether (1) we can even prevent climate change, (2) if so, to what extent, and (3) what the Value-for-Money ratio would be of any money spent. Yet, each US$ or Euro spent on climate change cannot be spent on issues like global poverty and starvation. Why are long-term possible catastrophes (ie, climate change) more important than short-term certain catastrophes (ie, poverty and starvation)?

I did come up with a possible answer to this question and I doubt people will like it. I don't even like this answer myself. It's very confronting. In my earlier blog, I labeled the climate change debate as an example of Science as a Belief system - both its denial and its extreme belief. Lately, I have come to realise that there is another Belief system involved - Philosophy.

The climate change debate is primarily a Western debate (eg, Australia, Europe, USA). Poverty and starvation is a topic in different regions (eg, Africa, Asia). This observation - and contradiction - suggests that some lives are worth more than others. This is not a fact but an extreme belief. I think, feel and believe that it's related to the extreme belief in White Supremacy. Both are examples of Philosophy as a Belief system. 

In 2015, Richard van Tol didn't answer his own question and I now understand and even appreciate. My own answer leaves a bitter taste of irony: fighting climate change is in our own Western interest. Spending money to fight poverty and starvation is not. Perhaps this irony explains the self-proclaimed success of the UN's Climate Change Conference in Paris.

Note: translation from Dutch to English is at my best efforts and any mistake is my responsibility.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Needs-Wants-Beliefs (3) - the vulnerability of complexity

A heading in a recent Politico Transport article by Laurens Cerulus has stuck in my head for several days: "The vulnerability of complexity". I think, feel and believe it provides the key to the answer I was looking for: what triggers the "passage" from Needs to Wants in life & nature?

Most forms of life have natural defence mechanisms against attacks from predators (eg, birds fly, apes/monkeys climb, rabbits run and dig holes, some plants are toxic). Humans have hardly any natural defence mechanism compared to animals and plants. Humans are extremely vulnerable when they must live without tools (eg, clothing, shoes, weapons). Humans lack both strength (ie, fight) and speed (ie, flight). Essentially, the vulnerability of complexity (of human brains).

Extreme vulnerability, survival (of the fittest), and an ever-expanding human population, is no logical combination. The vulnerability of complexity must have opened the doors to consciousness and self-awareness. Human consciousness and self-awareness ultimately created technology: from the use of fire to cook, to warm and to scare off predators towards sending astronauts into space. The only other logical alternative would have been human extinction given our extreme vulnerability.

A line from Michael Crichton's Westworld (1973 movie and 2016 HBO series) had stuck in my mind for days: the main difference between Artificially Intelligent robots and humans is consciousness and self-awareness. In HBO episode 3 the AI robots become conscious and self-aware and start to remember parts of their ugly history. The episode suggests that a human was responsible for entering that software coding.

Since several days, I have been struggling to put these pieces together. I think, feel and believe that I finally managed to do so. Consciousness and self-awareness are also the logical drivers for migrating from Needs to Wants. A 2013 TED video of primatologist Frans de Waal shows that a primate recognises that another monkey gets more than (s)he does. Now (s)he wants the same and becomes angry when her/his wants are ignored in that short TED video

Human vulnerability in nature is probably the main - subconscious - reason why many of us live at least 20 out of 24 hours per day inside buildings (eg, Atlantic, NHAPS, RIBA). These buildings are also shelters to protect our human vulnerability. I now wonder if urbanisation is another example of the 7 Belief systems. The flip side of that same coin is that we lost touch with nature. It may even explain why we - subconsciously - use nature as a dump for our human waste. 

Nowadays, we perceive the vulnerability of complexity merely in technology and ignore ourselves. I think, feel and believe that our self-awareness is migrating into self-love. Psychology Today (2015): "A new study appearing in an upcoming issue of Personality and Individual Differences examined the relationship between selfie-posting, photo-editing and personality. Are people who post selfies on social media sites narcissistic and psychopathic, or self-objectifying, or both?"

Interconnected, conscious and self-aware AI robots would most likely perceive us for what we truly are: extremely vulnerable. Guardian, 19 October 2016: Professor Stephen Hawking has warned that the creation of powerful artificial intelligence will be “either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity”.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Coming to America - the sequel

On 18 October 2016, the Washington Post reported that "Donald Trump called for an amendment to the Constitution to implement term limits on members of Congress. Trump said that term limits and other reforms are needed to “end the cycle of corruption” in Washington." 

On 17 October 2016, the Financial Times reported that "Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has informally approached one of the media industry’s top dealmakers about the prospect of setting up a Trump television network after the presidential election in November."

Donald Trump was planning for some major announcements through Trump News Network (TNN). Mr Kushner had been doing much more research for the past couple of months. He had been to Germany and Scotland to establish the deep hidden roots of the Trump Family. He had discovered something which would finally confirm one of the many beliefs of his father-in-law.

One of TNN's minor announcements would be the nationalisation of MacDonald's, the American hamburger and fast food restaurant chain.

Donald Trump was proud of his Scottish roots but was even more interested in the golden arches symbol of MacDonald's.

Watching the 1988 movie Coming to America had inspired one of his newest beliefs. Donald Jr, Eric, Ivanka and Tiffany had immediately realised the full potential of their father's latest and greatest dream.

The Trump Family agreed that the United States Constitution of 17 September 1878 required a major overhaul in order to facilitate their plans. The best way was to come up with some smart diversions like limiting the term of members of Congress and to put "the devil in the details".

John Oliver's very successful 2016 HBO episode on Donald Drumpf had given Jared Kushner a marvellous idea. German nobility still provides for lots of barons, counts, dukes, and princes. What if Drumpf stems from ancient German royal and noble ranks? Given the family's resources, it would be easy finding evidence of Donald Trump's latest belief. It was just like Obama's birther story.

After the rigged 2016 U.S. Presidential election, Donald Trump was elected as the 45th President. Shortly after Barack Obama's presidency expired on 20 January 2017, the constitutional amendments were approved with an overwhelming majority.

The word "constitution" and "constitutional" had been inserted as often as possible in order to prevent anyone from noticing that America had become a constitutional monarchy as of 21 January 2017. Donald Jr, Eric, Ivanka and Tiffany were already arguing and pleading to their father, who should take over from King Donald Drumpf I, after his abdication.

Coming to America (1988) - IMDb, trailerWiki

Noteitalic markings are mine.

Nasty woman


Gimme a beat! Sittin' in the movie show, thinkin' nasty thoughts, huh
Better be a gentlemen or you turn me off, huh
That's right, a-let me tell it

Nasty boys, don't mean a thing, huh
Oh you nasty boys
Nasty boys, don't ever change, huh
Oh you nasty boys

I don't like no nasty car, I don't like a nasty food, huh
Ooh ooh yeah
The only nasty thing I like is the nasty groove, huh
Will this one do?
Uh huh, I know

Nasty boys, don't mean a thing, huh
Oh you nasty boys
Nasty boys, don't ever change, huh
Oh you nasty boys
Nasty boys, give me your nasty groove, huh
Oh you nasty boys
Nasty boys, let me see your nasty body move, huh
Oh you nasty boys

I could learn to like this
Listen up.

I'm not a prude (no)
I just want some respect (that's right)
So close the door if you want me to respond (ooh ooh yeah)
'Cause privacy is my middle name
My last name is Control
No my first name ain't baby
It's Janet
Miss Jackson if you're nasty

Nasty boys, don't mean a thing
Oh you nasty boys
Nasty boys, don't ever change, huh
Oh you nasty boys

Nasty boys, don't mean a thing
Oh you nasty boys
Don't mean a thing to me, uh
Don't mean a thing, huh
Oh you nasty boys

I love this part

Who's that thinkin' nasty thoughts?
Nasty boys!
Who's that in that nasty car?
Nasty boys!
Who's that eating that nasty food?
Nasty boys!
Who's jamming to my nasty groove?
Nasty boys!

(Nasty boys)
Don't mean a thing

Oh you nasty boys

Janet Jackson - Nasty (1986) - artistlyricsvideo, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Interconnectedness (3) - 2016 U.S. election - Black Swan events

TIME Magazine of 10 October 2016 features an 8 page cover story about "rigging" the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. It mentions "six ways that outside forces could try to rig the election": (1) hacking voting machines, (2) stealing from campaigns and candidates, (3) changing voter registration data, (4) limiting polling places, (5) new voter restrictions and (6) playing dirty. Each of these 6 has a probability and none of these chances is even close to zero.

Rigging the 2016 U.S. Presidential election would clearly be a Black Swan event, or the extreme impact of the highly improbable. TIME rates the probability of 5 of these 6 methods as somewhat below average and one even above. Despite these rather high probabilities, TIME concludes: "[] six ways that outside forces could try to rig the election, none of which are likely to change the outcome of a national race."

In my 19 October 2016 blog on Interconnectedness, I wrote the following: "It is increasingly likely that the resulting future clash will create a Black Swan network event: an extreme impact of rare and unpredictable events. A combination of a prolonged national power grid hack, a national internet blackout, and a banking heist might give some idea. To some extent, this already happened in Ukraine on 23 December 2015 (eg, Reuters, Wired). Interconnectedness is a beautiful concept in our nature. It's also a powerful and dangerous tool in the hands of humans."

On 21 October 2016, only 2 days later, something remarkable happened. NYT: "Major websites were inaccessible to people across wide swaths of the United States on Friday after a company that manages crucial parts of the internet’s infrastructure said it was under attack. Users reported sporadic problems reaching several websites, including Twitter, Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, Reddit, Etsy, SoundCloud and The New York Times."

It gets worse: "And in a troubling development, the attack appears to have relied on hundreds of thousands of internet-connected devices like cameras, baby monitors and home routers that have been infected — without their owners’ knowledge — with software that allows hackers to command them to flood a target with overwhelming traffic. A spokeswoman said the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security were looking into the incident and all potential causes, including criminal activity and a nation-state attack." (GuardianNYT)

NYT: "Security researchers have long warned that the increasing number of devices being hooked up to the internet, the so-called Internet of Things, would present an enormous security issue. And the assault on Friday, security researchers say, is only a glimpse of how those devices can be used for online attacks."

The timing of Friday's event suggests a relation with the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. This internet hack might be a first attempt for a Black Swan event on 8 November 2016. At the very least, it supports Donald Trump's claim that the election and system is "rigged". A 21 October 2016 Reuters poll confirms this: "Half of Republicans would reject election result if Clinton wins".

Given Trump's reputation and use of reverse psychology, any "rigging" will be in his favour.

The Republican GOP

My blogs on the 2016 American presidential election have been anti-Trump for long. Early 2015, my blogs were still positive on The Donald. I doubt I have ever written a pro-Clinton blog. I have never voted for a left party in any election in my entire life and doubt it will ever happen. In principle, I would probably be a Republican if I would live in the USA.

There's a huge problem though.

It's quite rare to hear or read about a reasonable and sensible Republican. Most Republicans seem extreme believers: they deny climate change and evolution (Science), they believe in creationism (Religion, Science), they believe that greed is good (Money), they believe in White Supremacy (Philosophy), they believe in their Truths (e.g., birtherism, conspiracies), and they call Democrats left-wing liberals but admire the Russian President and his authoritarian kleptocracy (Politics).

There are some other candidates, like Gary "Aleppo" JohnsonEvan McMullin, and Jill Stein. Their media coverage has been quite low and probably for a good reason, according to comedian John Oliver in his HBO show Last Week Tonight. This show scrutinised several other candidates and came up with a hilarious video. Evan McMullin's campaign was fully ignored though.

The perceived weirdness of Republicans is probably the main reason why most Europeans have always supported the Democrats. From a European view, the alternatives are not realistic, ridiculous or even frightening. This really makes me wonder: What's wrong with America??

I could blame the American media and its fear-driven sensationalism. These media can however only thrive once there is a willing recipient. To some extent, it's a chicken-and-egg situation between American media and its audience. You can always switch channel as there are plenty of them. In my view, Fox News and its audience are a clear example of symbiosis.

Donald Trump has finally removed the facade of moral decency within the Republican Party. For decades, it appealed to a majority of (white male) voters during many former American presidential elections (e.g., Nixon, Ford, Reagan, GHW Bush, GW Bush). Despite Trump's continuous lies, he still has the support of some 40% of American voters. What's wrong with the GOP??

Back in 2015, I once predicted that Donald Trump would cause the Republican Party to split into 2 parties: an extreme nationalist party and a conservative libertarian party. I wouldn't be surprised if something similar will happen in the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein might create a new and successful Green-Left party, left of the Democrats.

Coalition governments may become the future American reality. This may bring back some moral decency in American politics. It would prevent people like Trump saying: “I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election — if I win,” (eg, CNNNYT). In 1887, Lord Acton wrote these famous words: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

In less than 3 weeks it’s finally over. Before and after, things might get physical.

Olivia Newton-John - Physical (1981) - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Let's get physical, physical
I wanna get physical
Let's get into physical
Let me hear your body talk, your body talk
Let me hear your body talk

I've been patient, I've been good
Tried to keep my hands on the table
It's gettin' hard this holdin' back
If you know what I mean

Note: this song is a female wink to The Donald's version of let's get physical

Friday, 21 October 2016

The 3 Laws of Robotics in Automotive

Several recent news reports caught my interest: the scaleback of Apple's Project Titan, Mercedes to prioritise driver over pedestrians, Tesla related accidents, a critical German government report from its Transport Ministry on Tesla's AutoPilot, Westworld's self-aware cyborgs, and Wired on remote hacking of car software. They felt related. It took me some time to figure out how.

The German newspaper Der Spiegel reports on a critical report of its Transport Ministry on Tesla's AutoPilot. Apparently, Tesla's AutoPilot is a danger in itself. It doesn't warn the driver for situations it cannot handle. Tesla's sensors do not have adequate reach when taking over another vehicle, and its automatic brake system is deemed inadequate (eg, AM, der Spiegel, Guardian).

On 17 October 2016, Bloomberg reports that "Apple Inc. has drastically scaled back its automotive ambitions, leading to hundreds of job cuts and a new direction that, for now, no longer includes building its own car, according to people familiar with the project."

Early October 2016, Mercedes made a remarkable announcement at the Paris Motor Show: "All of Mercedes-Benz’s future Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous cars will prioritize saving the people they carry, according to Christoph von Hugo, the automaker’s manager of driver assistance systems and active safety." (eg, Car and Driver, the Street).

Politico Transport reports that the car industry is in a race to build defenses against hackers: "our own cybersecurity expert Laurens Cerulus reports [that] modern vehicles are essentially computers with wheels — containing more embedded computer code than a space shuttle." (eg, Politico Pro, Wired, timeline on vehicle hacks). This Politico report suggests that Apple has finally realised that an autonomous car is far beyond an iPhone, iPad or iMac.

Last Monday's episode 3 of Westworld addressed the issue of consciousness and self-awareness in robotics. It separates machines from humans. I think, feel and believe these same issues are also relevant in autonomous, self-driving cars. Mercedes' recent remarkable announcement might also relate to these fundamental issues of consciousness and self-awareness. 

Consciousness and self-awareness imply that you learn from mistakes and that your first goal is to protect yourself (ie, self-preservation) and only afterwards also others. The pre-flight safety demonstration and parental instruction regarding emergency oxygen masks is a clear example. 

The 3 Laws on Robotics essentially claim the very opposite: first protect humans and lastly the robot. Mercedes now clearly steers away from this principle as it realises that Isaac Asimov's Law 1 and 3 fundamentally conflict in autonomous, self-driving cars which - by definition - carry human life.

The new HBO series and 1973 movie Westworld shows what could - and thus will - happen when we introduce consciousness and self-awareness to machines. Early December 2014, Stephen Hawking warned that efforts to create thinking machines pose a threat to our very existence (eg, BBC, Guardian, Independentmy 12 January 2015 blog).

Jean-Michel Jarre - Oxygène (1976) - artist, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Jean-Michel Jarre - Equinoxe (1978) - artistvideoWiki-1Wiki-2

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Needs - Wants - Beliefs (2)

In my 19 September 2016 blog, I finally figured out how my concept of the 7 Belief systems fits into a much bigger concept of Needs, Wants and Beliefs (part 1). I did not prepare a diagram as I was still digesting my breakthrough. Several weeks later, I presented a preliminary diagram of the 3 levels Needs, Wants and Beliefs in my 13 October 2016 blog.

Today I present a sophisticated version of that same diagram with 4 additional levels: building blocks, chemistry, birth, and death.

The willingness to sacrifice your own life for a certain cause, defines the 7 Belief systems: Love, Money, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science and the Truth.

The other 3 additional levels (building blockschemistrybirth) represent the fundamentals of Life and thus complete my diagram and everything else.

Each level contains a "passage" to the next level, similar to computer games. Depending on your personal belief, you will either call this luck, or destiny - or perhaps both. That ingredient is most visible in the 2nd layer - chemistry. Chemistry is also the ingredient that brought your parents together and was responsible for your birth. Life itself is characterised by Needs, Wants and Beliefs and the human struggle in each of these three layers.

The recent Dutch government proposal to legalise assisted suicide for elderly persons who are still healthy but feel that they have lived a complete life (eg, GuardianNCBINYTReuters), is a striking example of the top level in my pyramid. I will use another blog for discussing the pros and cons of this proposal as I am still digesting this remarkable government plan.

I still wonder if some of these "passages" could also have intermediate levels. There might be a mezzanine level between Wants and Beliefs, which I call the Vacuum for now. This Vacuum level could then be filled with Loneliness and Depression. The cleansing of the mind could then trigger a downward or a potentially dangerous upward migration.

I am also still puzzled about what triggers the "passage" from Needs to Wants in life & nature. Only primates (ie, apes/monkeys, humans) appear to be at the Wants level and only humans at the Beliefs level. Most likely, the increasing complexity in brains is the root cause for this development in primates, and especially in humans (eg, Business Insider, CNET, Independent, LiveScience).

The human brain's capability to self-destruct (or self-sacrifice) might be the most puzzling of all. It seems to contradict everything else in my pyramid.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Interconnectedness (2)

On 29 January 2016, I wrote my first blog about Interconnectedness. After writing yesterday's blog on "Blockchain and Black Swan events", I realised that there are two kinds of interconnected networks: the ones in nature (eg, Ecology) and human copycats (eg, Internet).

My recent "Westworld" blog mentioned its writer Michael Crichton. A certain line in that blog has stuck in my mind for several days: "As usual in Michael Crichton's stories, the advanced technology is abused by humans with disastrous consequences (eg, cloned dinosaurs, eco-terrorists, genetics, nanotechnology and viruses)."

Scientists sometimes refer to the Perfect Universe as everything around us is geared towards creating and sustaining life. This natural form of "Interconnectedness" can only be admired for its beauty, balance and symmetry. The human version of "Interconnectedness" is often praised for its efficiency and effectivity, user friendliness and speed (eg, Internet of Things).

There is however a big difference between these 2 versions of Interconnectedness.

Nature is based on an interconnectedness of Needs while human interconnectedness is based on Wants and Beliefs.

Humans have 7 Belief systems: Love, Money, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science and the Truth.

The Bible states: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." Money is one of the 7 extreme human beliefs, or Belief systems. Its typical modern proverb is "Greed is Good".

The primatologist Frans de Waal has shown that chimpanzees are also capable of evil (eg, Passion & Pom, Puist). Please see my 24 May 2016 blog on Evil for further details. My blog of 13 October 2016 already showed that primates (eg, apes/monkeys, humans) represent the 2nd layer of the pyramid of Needs, Wants and Beliefs.

These human Wants and Beliefs make this version of interconnectedness a perfect tool for misuse and abuse (eg, deception, fraud, scamming, theft). It is where the human belief in Science (in the Knowledge domain) will meet the human belief in Money (in the Power domain).

It is increasingly likely that the resulting future clash will create a Black Swan network event: an extreme impact of rare and unpredictable events. A combination of a prolonged national power grid hack, a national internet blackout, and a banking heist might give some idea. To some extent, this already happened in Ukraine on 23 December 2015 (eg, Reuters, Wired).

Interconnectedness is a beautiful concept in our nature. It's also a powerful and dangerous tool in the hands of humans. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Blockchain and Black Swan events

Blockchain technology appears to be the new Holy Grail in several industries (eg, banking). Being peer-to-peer (P2P) technology, one of its alleged main advantages is that it cuts out the intermediaries (eg, banks). In my view, that is an oversimplification of the intermediary's role. Banks are not only intermediaries in nominal volume but also in (foreign) currency, duration, interest rates, and risk appetite. It's hard to see anything beyond simple P2P matches in Blockchain.

During my 30+ years in Audit and Finance, I have noticed that issues like efficiency, effectivity, user friendliness, and processing speed often conflict with internal control and/or risk management requirements. A Dutch billionaire once told me his view on the contamination risk following interconnectedness. His arguments were convincing and I took his lesson to heart. Enterprise Risk Management may not like a silo approach but businesses may survive using it.

Intermediaries are like hubs in a network. In my 15 January 2015 blog, called "Internet - dependency, fragility and protection" I stated: "In most networks (e.g., airlines, internet) there are hubs (transfer points) as full interconnectedness would not be cost efficient. While hubs create efficiency, they also create risks and threats." I should have added that hubs can also mitigate contamination risk unlike in full interconnectedness.

In my 17 June 2016 blog on the U.S. nuclear codes, I stated that: "The beauty of this technology is that it is entirely offline. Nowadays, anything online is highly susceptible of breaches by domestic or foreign hackers." Several weeks later I read that this is exactly the reason why these ancient US defense systems have not been upgraded to modern technology.

In 2003, Warren Buffett compared Credit Default Swaps to financial weapons of mass destruction. He reiterated his concerns about the contracts during Berkshire Hathaway’s 2016 AGM, calling the group of complex derivatives a “potential time bomb” on the balance sheets of banks that is vulnerable to economic shocks. According to Fortune Magazine, he finally took his own advice in 2016 and dumped most of them (ie, offline).

Essentially, risk management is about 2 main event parameters: Probability and ImpactNassim Nicholas Taleb introduced the term black swan events in his 2007 book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Wiki: "The book focuses on the extreme impact of certain kinds of rare and unpredictable events (outliers) and humans' tendency to find simplistic explanations for these events retrospectively." Note: all italic markings by me.

Guardian, 2014: "The alternative [Bitcoin] currency has been plagued by hacks, ponzi schemes and increasingly professional thefts since 2011." This history does not help in assessing the risk of the underlying Blockchain technology.

I am concerned that Blockchain technology might be another "financial weapon of mass destruction" and potentially creating "black swan" events. In my 8 February 2015 blog, I concluded that "In situations that could and - thus - would involve a catastrophic risk [], the Impact should be leading in discussions and decisions rather than its "statistically insignificant" Probability."

OST Black Swan (2010) - IMDb, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2Wiki-3

Monday, 17 October 2016

Banks are bleeding

Early October 2016, Dutch based ING Bank announced that it will cancel 7,000 jobs over the next 5 years. A trade union even stated: “We understand that due to digitalization and automation jobs must disappear” (eg, DutchNews, NL Times). A less popular explanation is that banks are also downsizing because of cheap money from the European Central Bank (ECB).

Essentially, banking is not much different from trade: banks borrow (buy) money at low interest rates (ie, consumer savings) and they lend (sell) money at higher rates (ie, corporate loans, mortgage loans). The difference between both interest rates is called the interest spread. Further complexity is added by differences in duration (eg, fixed vs variable term), currency, and volume.

The ECB quest to stimulate the European economy by lowering interest rates is hurting the banking business model. Despite low interest rates, consumers still expect to be rewarded for maintaining bank balances. Banks are unwilling to charge interest rates to consumers for their savings and deposits. Low ECB rates and banking competition does not allow banks to charge high interest rates on corporate or mortgage loans. Hence, the interest spread is decreasing. 

For centuries, the interest spread has been the main source of income for traditional (savings & loans) banks, unlike investment or trading banks. The banking business model relied on a high interest spread to pay for the high overheads (eg, electronic data processing, fancy headquarters, large number of banking network outlets, employee remuneration). 

The high interest income allowed banks to innovate in automation but stopped them from downsizing the number of human jobs. The international banking crisis following the housing crisis of 2007 was the first realistic opportunity to start downsizing the number of banking jobs. Society would finally understand and accept the job fallout.

The current second wave of banking job losses is to a large extent caused by the ECB. Early 2015, I wrote two blogs in which I expressed my anger about the forthcoming government bond purchases by the ECB (part 1, part 2). However, I failed to foresee the future disruption in the banking business model. Early 2017, the 2016 Annual Reports of banks will paint a dire picture.

On 7 June 2016, the President of the Dutch Central Bank acknowledged in Dutch Parliament that banks, insurers and pension funds are suffering from this long period of low interest rates. He expected that this will erode the banking profits and will force insurers to recalculate their long term commitments to policyholders and thus their solvency (eg, FD).

The situation at traditional banks is further complicated by (1) an avalanche of new accounting and banking legislation, regulation and supervision, (2) extreme penalties from non European banking supervisors (eg, Deutsche Bank, RBS), and (3) the competition from successful financial technology (aka "fintech") start-ups (eg, KPMG).

The banking reputation never really recovered from the 2007 banking crisis. The recent banking scandals at Wells Fargo and RBS suggest that the banking culture didn't really change since 2007. Some people may see this bleeding as revenge. Confucius once stated: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” The bleeding of banks will hurt all of us.

Midnight Oil - Beds Are Burning (1987) - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

How can we dance
When our earth is turning
How do we sleep
While our beds are burning

Sunday, 16 October 2016


Op 13 september 2016 nam de Tweede Kamer, met de kleinst mogelijke meerderheid, een wetsvoorstel aan dat automatische orgaandonatie mogelijk maakt. Voorheen waren niet geregistreerde personen automatisch géén donor. Straks zijn mensen die zich niet registreren, wel automatisch donor. De Eerste Kamer moet het wetsvoorstel overigens nog goedkeuren voordat de wet kan worden ingevoerd.

Er zijn in Nederland circa 17.000.000 mensen waarvan 15.000.000 van 12 jaar en ouder. Van circa 9.000.000 (60%) mensen is geen keuze bekend in het donorregister. Circa 6.000.000 (40%) mensen hebben hun keuze wel vastgelegd in het donorregister, daarvan  geven op dit moment ongeveer 3.700.000 (25%) mensen wel toestemming voor volledige of beperkte orgaandonatie. In dit wetsvoorstel zouden de 9.000.000 (60%) niet geregistreerde mensen  straks ook allemaal automatisch donor worden, tenzij ze alsnog een "nee" zouden registreren. (CBS, Metro, Rijksoverheid)

In de week van 13 september veranderden bijna 4.500 mensen direct hun JA in een NEE, aldus het Ministerie van Volksgezondheid (NRC). Dit aantal is vervolgens hard opgelopen. Op 8 oktober 2016 schrijft dagblad Trouw: "Sinds de nieuwe donorwet door de Tweede Kamer is aangenomen, geven bijna 30.000 mensen per week te kennen dat zij géén donor willen worden." In september 2016 hebben 67.647 mensen een NEE geregistreerd. En 22.470 anderen hebben hun JA in een NEE veranderd (o.a. MetroNOSNUTelegraaf).

Voorzitter Menno Loos van het Burgerinitiatief 2 miljoen handtekeningen ziet het "NEE" van duizenden niet als een ramp, maar zelfs als "goed nieuws" (Telegraaf-1Telegraaf-2). De argumentatie van Menno Loos (zie Telegraaf-2) is inhoudelijk juist maar het venijn zit in zijn woorden "bewust" en "onbewust".

Rijksoverheid, 7 oktober 2016: "De Donorweek (10 – 16 oktober 2016) is erop gericht zoveel mogelijk mensen te vragen om zich te registreren als donor. [] Minister Schippers: "Als je zèlf een orgaan wil ontvangen als dat nodig is om te blijven leven, dan is de keuze niet zo vrijblijvend. [] En ongeveer 70.000 nieuwe Nederlanders hebben deze week een brief van minister Schippers ontvangen met de vraag of ze donor willen worden." Noot: cursivering door mij.

In mijn recente blogs, Yes unless en Gezocht: dood of levend, heb ik uitgelegd waarom ik een "NEE" heb geregistreerd. Eerlijk gezegd kan ik nog steeds boos worden over dit onderwerp. Alle officiële berichtgeving is gericht op hoe goed orgaandonatie is voor de ontvanger van organen. Toen iemand mij wees op de gevolgen voor de donor/"overledene" en voor de achterblijvers was ik vol ongeloof.

De officiële informatieverstrekking over dit onderwerp is eenzijdig, onvolledig, en komt dicht in de buurt van doelbewuste misleiding. Het Rijksoverheid bericht suggereert tevens emotionele chantage. De Donorweek van 2016 richt zich specifiek op allochtonen. Gezien het bovenstaande vind ik dat ronduit schandalig. Zelfs autochtone Nederlanders zijn ontsteld en vol ongeloof als ze horen/lezen over de gevolgen van orgaandonatie voor de donor/"overledene" en voor de achterblijvers.

Orgaandonatie is prima maar wees je dan wel bewust van ALLE consequenties.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

May's Machiavellian Moves

The use of reverse psychology and projection in politics is well illustrated by Donald Trump. Often when The Donald says something unbelievable about other people, his words regard himself (eg, actions, behaviour, character). For other people such statements represent outrageous lies (PolitiFact) but he believes in what he says. This mismatch obviously suggests that Donald Trump suffers from psychological problems (eg, my blogs of 28 May and 18 July 2016).

While Donald Trump's use of reverse psychology is easily detected, Theresa May seems to use a sophisticated - Machiavellian - way of reverse psychology to get what she wants: a B-return.

In 1513, Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli wrote his most renowned work The Prince. A world famous proverb from that book is that "the end justifies the means". This proverb implies that "morally wrong actions are sometimes necessary to achieve morally right outcomes; actions can only be considered morally right or wrong by virtue of the morality of the outcome" (Wiki).

Theresa May used to be against Brexit and now pushes Great Britain towards a "hard exit". That only makes sense if she aims for the opposite of what she claims. Hence, a Machiavellian way of applying reverse psychology. Let me elaborate on this thought, feeling and belief.

Firstly, the outcome of the Brexit referendum cannot be ignored: Leave won by 52% to 48%. The referendum turnout was 71.8%, with more than 30 million people voting (BBC).

Secondly, a second Brexit referendum would only open the door to a 3rd and 4th referendum as people are unlikely to accept whatever outcome of such a referendum. 

Thirdly, the EU has no other option than to push for a hard Brexit - or no Brexit - in order to penalise the British decision for listening to extreme nationalists like Nigel Farage (UK). Going soft on the Brits would open the doors for other European extremists like Geert Wilders (NL)Robert Fico (Sk), Norbert Hofer (AT), Viktor Orban (HU), Marine Le Pen (FR), and Milos Zeman (CZ).

Fourth, while Brexiteer promises (eg, NHS) were swiftly retracted, the doom scenarios of the opposite camp have still not transpired. The dramatic fall of Pound Sterling (eg, FT) will only delay these doom scenarios as export will thrive, local production will flourish, and foreigners will buy cheap assets. Import related prices will go up (eg, Marmite) but will not create doom. British voters will only believe that Brexit was a wrong decision once they realise that promises were false and doom scenarios were true.

Fifth, Brexit opposition is finally mounting: in the City, in court, in parliament, and also in UK territories (eg, Gibraltar, Scotland). Their combined force should be enough to stop Theresa May from leaving the EU. Obviously, some 50% of British voters will feel betrayed but at least not by Theresa May. 

Theresa May is playing dangerous Machiavellian mind games to keep the UK inside the European Union. I doubt she will personally survive after winning her game as it's unlikely that she can admit this anytime before her memoirs. People may only remember her for pushing a hard Brexit. I think, feel and believe she wouldn't mind as her end(ing) justified her means.

Frank Sinatra - M(a)y Way (1967) - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain
I've lived a life that's full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this, I did it m(a)y way