News — At The Edge — 1/11

Doc Huston
5 min readJan 11, 2020

As civilization grows increasingly complex — complexity war, real war, AI war, war of the worlds — the number and diversity of existential risks increases faster still.


Software and the war against complexity —

“’The world has grown more complex recently…[in] three key categories: difficulty of description, difficulty of creation, and degree of organization…[making] our societies and our technologies…far more complex than they ever have been, and rapidly growing even moreso.

The thing is, complexity is the enemy. Ask any engineer….

Adding complexity to solve a problem may bring a short-term benefit, but…invariably comes with an ever-accumulating long-term cost.

Any human mind can only encompass so much complexity before it gives up and starts making slashing oversimplifications with an accompanying risk of terrible mistakes….

[T]he simple concept of democracy has grown highly complex — party registration, primaries, fundraising, misinformation, gerrymandering, voter rolls, hanging chads, voting machines — and mapping a single vote for a representative to dozens if not hundreds of complex issues is impossible, even if you’re willing to consider all those issues in depth, which most people aren’t….

[Most] people deal with complexity by coming up with simplified models close enough to the complex reality to be workable. These models can be dangerous…’democracies are benevolent’…[but] useful enough to make fitful progress.

In software, we…[call] complexity ‘technical debt’…[that] needs to be paid down someday.

‘[Globalization’s] a series of adapting and co-evolving global systems, each characterized by unpredictability, irreversibility and co-evolution’….[I]f we can make software simpler…[helps] the world [to be] simple enough such that crude mental models will continue to be vaguely useful.

Conversely, if we can’t, then it seems likely that our reality will just keep growing more complex and unpredictable, and we will increasingly live in a world of whole flocks of black swans.

[Un]sure whether to be optimistic or not. My mental model…is failing me.”


Money for war, but not for the poor —

“’Why does America always seem to have trillions of dollars for wars, but basic things like raises for teachers, healthcare and social security are always in danger?’….

Our failure to invest in or prioritize the safety and health of 327 million people living in the United States is also a threat to our safety and well-being — and an extreme one.

More than 17 percent of children live in poverty….

[U.S.] has turned into a ‘can’t do‘ society, always seeking an excuse for why something that could help millions of people can’t be accomplished…[yet] there is always money for the priorities of the wealthy and powerful, be they individuals, corporate interests or the military industrial complex….

Republicans, who howl about the need to live within a budget when out of power, but once in control, enacted a tax reform package that sent the budget deficit surging while giving corporations and the wealthiest Americans a break…[and] the military budget increased….

[A]t the same time, Trump’s pushed for punishing cuts…to the indigent…making it harder to access SNAP…food stamps — and attempting to cut the number of students receiving a free or reduced cost meals at school….

Tupac Shakur rapped more than two decades ago, ‘They got money for wars, but can’t feed the poor.’

As a society, we’ve been told our health and well-being are a secondary concern….

[U.S.] continues to lag in international education comparisons…[and] typical college graduate enters adulthood…owing so much money for their education it impacts everything from home buying to retirement savings….

[I]f you say fixing all this is of equal importance to traditional military spending, you risk getting accused of lacking patriotism, or wanting to give comfort to the enemies…. That’s ridiculous.

Investing in ourselves, protecting the economically vulnerable and improving our society are more…important and we know it.”

The World Has a Plan to Rein in AI — but the US Doesn’t Like It —

“[2018] a new international body to study and steer the effects of artificial intelligence on the world’s people and economies…modeled on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change…[called] Global Partnership on AI….

Six of the G7 are on board — with the United States the lone holdout…[saying] the body is unnecessary bureaucracy that threatens to dampen AI development by being overly cautious….

[Of course] without international coordination, unsavory uses of AI [flourish]…[way] China has used facial recognition and other technologies to strengthen its authoritarian security apparatus….

’If you don’t want a Chinese model…you need to set up some rules that must be common’….

[Still] he Global Partnership wouldn’t be legally binding….

[Also] OECD has established a network of AI experts to advise members on policy, and it has produced a set of AI principles endorsed by more than 40 countries, including the US.”

NASA launches new mission to search for killer asteroids and prevent human extinction —

“[Plan] to launch a new space satellite…that will hunt for asteroids in the vicinity of Earth…[and] are at least 140 meters in diameter, judged to be the point they would have a regional or global impact if they collide with the Earth….

[I]t’s inevitable a large asteroid will smash into Earth, potentially with devastating consequences, unless leaders take action….

[Every] year an asteroid roughly the size of a car entered the Earth’s atmosphere, but usually burn up without causing damage….

[T]he impact of a much larger rock could…fundamentally changing the planets environment…’[so] if we do nothing, sooner or later, there’s a one hundred percent chance that one will get us.’”


‘Alexa, pay for gas’ command to work at over 11,500 Exxon and Mobil stations this year —

“When the customer arrives at the pump, they’ll just have to say, ‘Alexa pay for gas’…[and it] will then confirm the station location and pump number…and] be processed using Amazon Pay….

[Fiserv’s] technology will help to power the transactions by activating the pump and facilitating the token generation to ensure a secure payment experience.”



Doc Huston

Consultant & Speaker on future nexus of technology-economics-politics, PhD Nested System Evolution, MA Alternative Futures, Patent Holder —