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Bleeding Edge Roundup

DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGY

Who’s reading pirated papers? Everyone.
By John Bohannon
Science Magazine

In increasing numbers, researchers around the world are turning to Sci-Hub, which hosts 50 million papers and counting. Over the 6 months leading up to March, Sci-Hub served up 28 million documents. More than 2.6 million download requests came from Iran, 3.4 million from India, and 4.4 million from China. The papers cover every scientific topic, from obscure physics experiments published decades ago to the latest breakthroughs in biotechnology. These statistics are based on extensive server log data supplied by Alexandra Elbakyan, the neuroscientist who created Sci-Hub in 2011 as a 22-year-old graduate student in Kazakhstan.

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The "C" Word
By Gillian Tett
Foreign Policy

These days, the trendy word “disruption” casts fear into many business leaders’ hearts. As the Internet has reordered commerce with startling speed, mighty companies have found themselves upstaged by tech newcomers, from Spotify to Amazon to Uber, which see a fresh way to meet an old demand. As this revolution gathers pace, however, there is a second word that deserves more attention than it currently gets: “convergence.” The “c” word is generally understood in geographical terms—the Internet links disparate parts of the world, and so economies are drawn closer together. But there is a second, equally important meaning: the collapsing together of product categories and business sectors.

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Homo Sapiens 2.0?
By Jamie Metzl
TechCrunch

After 4 billion years of evolution by one set of rules, our species is about to begin evolving by another. Overlapping and mutually reinforcing revolutions in genetics, information technology, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, and other fields are providing the tools that will make it possible to genetically alter our future offspring should we choose to do so. For some very good reasons, we will. Nearly everybody wants to have cancers cured and terrible diseases eliminated. Most of us want to live longer, healthier and more robust lives. Genetic technologies will make that possible. But the very tools we will use to achieve these goals will also open the door to the selection for and ultimately manipulation of non-disease-related genetic traits — and with them a new set of evolutionary possibilities.

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SUSTAINABILITY & ENVIRONMENT

Three ways artificial intelligence is helping us save nature
By Erin Biba
Vox

When you think of artificial intelligence, the first image that likely comes to mind is one of sentient robots that walk, talk, and emote like humans. But there’s a different kind of AI that’s becoming prevalent in nearly all of the sciences. It’s known as machine learning which enlists computers in the task of sorting through the massive amounts of data that we now generate. One of the places machine learning is turning out to be the most beneficial is in the environmental sciences, which have generated huge amounts of information from monitoring Earth’s various systems — underground aquifers, the warming climate, or animal migration, for example. A slew of projects have been popping up in this relatively new field that combine data gathered about the environment with a computer’s ability to discover trends and make predictions about the future of our planet.

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These States Don’t Want You to Get Solar Power
By Julian Spector
CityLab

There’s plenty to celebrate as solar installations smash records and the industry grows 12 times faster than the US economy. At the same time however, many people live in places where the government is either not facilitating a solar market or is actively smothering it. Solar obstructionism takes center stage in a Center for Biological Diversity report, aptly titled “Throwing Shade.” The organization advocates for an energy system that’s clean, equitable, and wildlife friendly, so the report set out to rank states based on how well their policies encourage rooftop solar panels. Analyzing the 10 worst-scoring states with the highest solar potential demonstrates how the absence or obstruction of state-level policies hampers the growth of solar markets.

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India’s waste management problems are piling up
By Sudhakar Yedla
East Asia Forum

India’s rapid economic growth has resulted in a substantial increase in solid waste generation in urban centres. Urban areas in India alone generate more than 100,000 metric tonnes of solid waste per day, which is higher than many countries’ total daily waste generation. Large metropoles such as Mumbai and Delhi generate around 9000 metric tonnes and 8300 metric tonnes per day respectively. Due to sustained rapid economic growth, Indian cities are expected to only intensify their consumption patterns. However, India’s per capita waste generation is significantly lower compared to that of developed world.

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LABOR, TRADE, & ECONOMY

T-Mobile Accused Creating a Fake Union
By Josh Eidelson
Bloomberg

For more than a decade, the Communications Workers of America has been trying to unionize T-Mobile, the U.S. subsidiary of German giant Deutsche Telekom, which is now the third-largest U.S. wireless carrier. The campaign has so far won only two union contracts, covering about 30 of T-Mobile’s roughly 45,000 employees. Now CWA is alleging to the National Labor Relations Board that T-Mobile has adopted an anti-union tactic that’s been illegal since 1935: creating a company-controlled union to drain support for an independent one.

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One Top Taxpayer Moved, and New Jersey Shuddered
By Robert Frank
The New York Times

Our top-heavy economy has come to this: One man can move out of New Jersey and put the entire state budget at risk. Other states are facing similar situations as a greater share of income—and tax revenue—becomes concentrated in the hands of a few. Last month, during a routine review of New Jersey’s finances, one could sense the alarm. The state’s wealthiest resident had reportedly “shifted his personal and business domicile to another state.” If the news were true, New Jersey would lose so much in tax revenue that “we may be facing an unusual degree of income tax forecast risk.” The New Jersey resident (unnamed by Mr. Haines) is the hedge-fund billionaire David Tepper. Tax experts say his move to Florida could cost New Jersey hundreds of millions of dollars in lost payments.

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GLOBAL CONFLICT & DEVELOPMENT

Islamic State-linked hackers post target list of New Yorkers
By Joseph Ax
Reuters

A group of hackers linked to Islamic State has posted online a list of thousands of New York residents and urged followers of the militant group to target them, according to a source with knowledge of the matter. Federal agents and New York City police officers have been contacting the individuals on the list to inform them of the posting, but the source said law enforcement does not believe there is any credible threat.

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The Age of Transparency
By Sean P. Larkin
Foreign Affairs

Transparency has long been a rare commodity in international affairs. But today, the forces of technology are ushering in a new age of openness that would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago. Governments, journalists, and nongovernmental organ­izations (NGOs) can now harness a flood of open-source information to reveal hidden activities in contested areas—from Ukraine to Syria to the South China Sea. Over the next decade, the market-driven explosion of surveillance sensors and data analytics will bring an unprecedented level of transparency to global affairs.

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How American enables its allies’ bad behavior
By Jeremy Shapiro & Richard Sokolsky
Vox

It is satisfying and certainly trendy to complain about America's allies. The truth is that our allies behave the way they do because we let them. We provide billions of dollars in military and other aid to countries in order to protect and advance US interests, yet we fail to use this leverage to induce the recipients of this aid to behave in a way that actually advances US interests. That's because the US has become so focused on maintaining its relationships with its allies above all else that it's forgotten what the relationships were for in the first place: securing US interests.

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AMERICAN COMMUNITIES

How Hyperconnected Cities Are Taking Over the World
By Tanvi Misra
Citylab

In the medieval period, empires battled and colluded with each other in the quest for land. The resulting system, in which nations became the main actors on the global stage, is perhaps the one most of us know best. All that is changing, however, and it seems we’re now moving toward a new era where insular, political boundaries are no longer as relevant. More and more people are identifying as “global citizens,” and that’s because we’re all more connected than we’ve ever been before. As a result, a “systems change” is taking place in the world today in which cities—not nations—are the key global players.

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Money, Race, and Success: How Your School District Compares
By Motoko Rich, Amanda Cox, and Matthew Bloch
The New York Times

We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools. We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socio economic conditions matter. Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts. Even more sobering, the analysis shows that the largest gaps between white children and their minority classmates emerge in some of the wealthiest communities in America.

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How authoritarian voters will change US politics
By Amanda Taub
Vox

The Republican Party, for the past several months, has been struggling with an increasingly urgent disaster: Its presidential primary has been hijacked by a bellowing demagogue who, despite his electrifying effect on a large swathe of Republican primary voters, has the worst favorability ratings ever measured for a national political candidate. Donald Trump's abysmal national polling will probably ensure a crushing defeat for the GOP in November, but the voters who have rallied behind his candidacy aren't going away, and will, in all likelihood, continue to shape the Republican Party for years to come. They are the American authoritarians, a newly coalesced Republican constituency, and this primary has shown that they are now too powerful for the party to manage — and too significant for it to ignore.

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