Wednesday, January 20, 2021

In The News (9)

Why a dawn of technological optimism is breaking The 2010s were marked by pessimism about innovation. That is giving way to hope .......... For much of the past decade the pace of innovation underwhelmed many people—especially those miserable economists. Productivity growth was lacklustre and the most popular new inventions, the smartphone and social media, did not seem to help much. Their malign side-effects, such as the creation of powerful monopolies and the pollution of the public square, became painfully apparent. Promising technologies stalled, including self-driving cars, making Silicon Valley’s evangelists look naive. Security hawks warned that authoritarian China was racing past the West and some gloomy folk warned that the world was finally running out of useful ideas. .................  Today a dawn of technological optimism is breaking. The speed at which covid-19 vaccines have been produced has made scientists household names. Prominent breakthroughs, a tech investment boom and the adoption of digital technologies during the pandemic are combining to raise hopes of a new era of progress: optimists giddily predict a “roaring Twenties”. ..........  The 18th century brought the Industrial Revolution and mechanised factories; the 19th century railways and electricity; the 20th century cars, planes, modern medicine and domestic liberation thanks to washing machines. In the 1970s, though, progress—measured by overall productivity growth—slowed. The economic impact was masked for a while by women piling into the workforce, and a burst of efficiency gains followed the adoption of personal computers in the 1990s. After 2000, though, growth flagged again. ............ Humans are increasingly able to bend biology to their will, whether that is to treat disease, edit genes or to grow meat in a lab. Artificial intelligence is at last displaying impressive progress in a range of contexts. A program created by DeepMind, part of Alphabet, has shown a remarkable ability to predict the shapes of proteins; last summer Openai unveiled gpt-3, the best natural-language algorithm to date; and since October driverless taxis have ferried the public around Phoenix, Arizona. Spectacular falls in the price of renewable energy are giving governments confidence that their green investments will pay off. Even China now promises carbon neutrality by 2060. ............... Such is the market’s optimism about electric vehicles that Tesla’s ceo, Elon Musk, who also runs a rocket firm, is the world’s richest man. ............ The pandemic has also accelerated the adoptions of digital payments, telemedicine and industrial automation ............. Eventually, synthetic biology, artificial intelligence and robotics could up-end how almost everything is done. .......... Ensuring that the whole economy harnesses new technologies will require robust antitrust enforcement and looser intellectual-property regimes. ......... The 2020s began with a cry of pain but, with the right policies, the decade could yet roar.

Biden Treasury pick Janet Yellen says additional stimulus and expanded unemployment insurance will provide the 'biggest bang for the buck'   Yellen emphasized the extent of the economic and human devastation the virus has inflicted on the US over the past year and warned of another recession without a set of fiscal policies to address the issues those most impacted by the pandemic face everyday. ......... Her plans align with Biden's $1.9 trillion relief proposal, which calls for bigger benefits for Americans struggling with hunger and $400 weekly federal unemployment benefits. Yellen called for the government to "act big" when it comes to providing stimulus, going along with Biden's $1,400 boost to the $600 stimulus checks.   ........ She will be the first woman to lead the Treasury in the nation's history. 

China builds massive Covid-19 quarantine camp for 4,000 people as outbreak continues  On Tuesday, China reported 103 new confirmed cases and 58 asymptomatic infections, which are counted separately, spread out across four provinces. Hebei province now has a total of 818 active locally transmitted cases, and more than 200 asymptomatic infections, according to the provincial health commission. Last Wednesday, a patient died in Hebei -- the country's first Covid-19 related death in 242 days. The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 88,557, while the official death toll is 4,635. ........ In an effort to contain the outbreak, authorities placed Shijiazhuang under lockdown on January 8, with all 11 million residents barred from leaving the city. ........ In northeastern Jilin province, 102 cases have been linked to a so-called "superspreader," a salesman who traveled from his home province of Heilongjiang.

What a ‘wrecked’ polar vortex means for winter-starved Americans It’s been an easy winter on the East Coast, but that’s not guaranteed to continue ........... Experts now say that although the bout of unsettled wintry weather is delayed, it’s too soon to count it out. ........ surprises can be in store when the polar vortex is weak and wobbly — as is currently the case. ....... The stratospheric polar vortex is a whirlpool of high-altitude cold air that swirls around a low-pressure area near the North Pole. It’s born as a result of polar night, a months-long dark spell that accompanies the dead of winter in the Far North. The lack of sunlight chills the air, jump-starting the gyrating icebox’s spin every winter. It vanishes once spring returns, only to re-form by September or October. ..........  It’s not guaranteed that each polar vortex disruption or stratospheric warming event will yield unusually cold and snowy conditions, given how unique each event is. ......... The ongoing event, which kicked off in early January, has been complex. “Typically, when you get a large disruption, that’s it,” said Judah Cohen, a polar vortex specialist and director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research. “[But this time] we got a split, then it recovered; it kind of split again, and now it’s displaced, and it could split a third or fourth time.” ........ One of the lobes has already brought extreme cold to Siberia, where temperatures in Yakutia, in eastern Russia, haven’t climbed above minus-40 in more than a month, according to the Associated Press. Delyankir, in northeastern Russia, dropped to minus-73 degrees Jan. 18. The concentrated cold has been fierce and extreme, and looks to remain in place in eastern Russia through at least early next week. ........ the messy split of the polar vortex may be causing it to play out differently than other years when the vortex was displaced. ........ “While the polar vortex has become very stretched out and wobbly, it has not displaced as strongly southward or split as clearly into two lobes as in other events,” wrote Butler. “[That] means it might not be able to influence the underlying jet stream quite as well.” ............... Signs also point to the vortex remaining unsteady and unstable for the remainder of the season. That bolsters the odds of wintry weather in the northeastern United States .......... it’s just too late in the season to expect the polar vortex to regain its former strength. “We will not get to the cold temperatures in Arctic [stratosphere]; the vortex will stay in a weakened warm state.” .......... “If it becomes disturbed enough, it could help nudge the jet stream south, allowing cold air to spill from Canada into the U.S. But this prediction is for a couple of weeks from now, which is still too far in the future for any guarantees.” .......... His gut tells him late January into February could be interesting. “It’s not over,” Cohen said. “I think it’s just getting started.” 

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