We need robots to have morals. Could Shakespeare and Austen help? | John Mullan

Using great literature to teach ethics to machines is a dangerous game, says professor of English literature John Mullan

When he wrote the stories in I, Robot in the 1940s, Isaac Asimov imagined a world in which robots do all humanitys tedious or unpleasant jobs for them, but where their powers have to be restrained. They are programmed to obey three laws. A robot may not injure another human being, even through inaction; a robot must obey a human being (except to contradict the previous law); a robot must protect itself (unless this contradicts either of the previous laws). Unfortunately, scientists soon create a robot (Herbie) that understands the concept of mental injury. Like a character in a Thomas Hardy novel or an Ibsen play, the robot soon finds itself in a situation where truthfully answering a question put to it by the humans it serves will cause hurt but so will not answering the question. A logical impasse. The robot screams piercingly and collapses into a huddled heap of motionless metal.

As we enter what many are predicting will be a new age of robotics, artificial intelligence researchers have started thinking about how to make a better version of Herbie. How might robots receive an education in ethical complexity how might they acquire what we might call consciences? Experts are trying to teach artificial intelligences to think and act morally. What are the examples that can be fed to robots to teach them the right kind of behaviour?

A number of innovators in the field of AI have come to believe that these examples are to be found in stories. Scientists at the School of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology are developing a system for teaching robots to learn from fictional characters. With what is presumably a mordant sense of irony, they call their system Quixote. Don Quixote, of course, was the honourable but deluded Spanish gentleman who came to believe that the world was exactly as depicted in the chivalric romances that he loved reading. With disastrous if comical consequences.

If an artificial intelligence is to draw lessons from many of the stories with which we like to divert ourselves, there are some tough practical problems for the programmers to circumvent. Much fiction and drama will dizzyingly mislead poor robots about the world in which they have to make their decisions. Our favourite stories abound in ghosts, demons, wizards, monsters and every kind of talking animal. Human beings travel through time and fly through the air and get into or out of trouble by the use of magic. Most cultures myths and legends do indeed encode some of the most elemental human conflicts and predicaments that an electronic intelligence may need to understand, but they are populated with supernatural beings and would tend to teach the surely dangerous principle that there is always life after death.

Perhaps we can exclude such narrative material from robot reading lists, and be sure to ban Gullivers Travels (talking horses are better than humans) and Alices Adventures in Wonderland and any kind of magical realism. Yet even our less fantastic tales are potentially misleading. Quixote apparently encourages robots to behave like the admirable characters in the stories they are fed. But of course a literary work may be morally instructive without having a single character that you would ever want to imitate. Where is the person you would want a robot to use as a role model in Middlemarch or Othello or The Iliad? Where there is a clear protagonist, Quixote apparently learns that it will be rewarded when it acts like him or her. Steer clear, then, of many of the classics of the late 20th century: The Talented Mr Ripley (the protagonist is a resourceful and amoral killer) and John Updikes Rabbit novels (the protagonist is a lascivious and greedy philistine) and Lolita (no comment needed).

According to the AI scientist Mark Reidl: The thought processes of the robot are those that are repeated the most often across many stories and many authors. For him, published stories can provide robots with the lessons that human beings learn slowly over decades. Literature gives a computerised intelligence surrogate memories on which to base future decisions.

The scientists faith that a cultures narratives provide a repository of human values would be cheering, if the values were not so often thwarted or doomed. Even the most idealistic robot tutors may want to keep their charges away from King Lear or Jude the Obscure. Theatre directors were so convinced of the lack of moral direction of the former that until the mid-19th century the play was often performed with a rewritten happy ending, in which Cordelia survives and gets to marry Edgar. Victorian critics were so antagonistic to the moral nihilism of the latter that Thomas Hardy decided toabandon novel writing altogether when he saw the response.

Those narratives that do come with a strong sense of right and wrong may be even more confusing. The novels of Charles Dickens, and many of his Victorian peers, will demonstrate that all efforts possible should be undertaken to dissuade any young woman from sex before marriage, her fate if fallen being death, prostitution or emigration to Australia. Then what about books that end well? Tricky too. Arobot steeped in the greatest comedies from the last five centuries of European literature will certainly believe that marriage is the happiest end of all human endeavours. It will also get the idea that men and women can readily disguise themselves as someone else and that those who follow their hearts usually get a large cash reward to boot.

Some great literary works at least teach practical lessons, if not moral ones. The most common is: do not trust what people tell you. From the very glibness with which Goneril and Regan produce their testimonies of love, it is clear to any perceptive reader that they care for Lear not one jot. How does a robot reader get this? Or learn that, as is evident in Jane Austens novels, certain kinds of smoothness or plausibility (particularly in young men) should always be distrusted? And can it ever be made clear to an artificial intelligence that everything Mr Collins says reveals him to be a pompous twerp?

So maybe the robots should be given simpler set texts. What about Aesops Fables? Or the parables of the New Testament? Or the stories of Enid Blyton? The first may work if computer brains can grasp the conceit of animal characters. The second will be fine if the robots believe in God. The third, one fears, may introduce some dubious moral judgments. Among sub-literary genres, perhaps only the traditional detective story has a reliable moral arc, even if it will give our robot an utterly misanthropic view of human behaviour.

Do the best books make us better? I have my own slightly gloomy testimony to offer. As an English literature academic, I can report that those of us paid to spend their careers reading and then rereading the greatest literary narratives in the language are not obviously morally better, socially more skilled or psychologically more adept than our fellow citizens. If we were robots, we would be blundering robots. Perhaps it is wisest just to stick with Isaac Asimovs simple but elegant rules.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/24/robots-ethics-shakespeare-austen-literature-classics

Game of Thrones recap: season seven, episode one Dragonstone

Among the one-liners, the spooky moments and the Ed Sheeran cameo, an exposition-heavy opener perfectly set up questions for this season to answer

Spoiler alert: this blog is published after Game of Thrones airs on HBO in the US on Sunday night and on Foxtel in Australia on Monday. Do not read unless you have watched season seven, episode one, which airs in the UK on Sky Atlantic on Monday at 9pm, and is repeated in Australia on Showcase on Monday at 7.30pm AEST.

When I was Lord Commander of the Nights Watch I executed men who betrayed me. But I will not punish men for their fathers sins and I will not take a familys home from them.

Hello and welcome back everyone. How you felt about tonights opening episode, which was largely concerned with power and how to wield it, will probably depend on your tolerance for large chunks of exposition. Overall, I was OK with the odd clunky scene: at this stage in the game, there are a lot of pieces to manoeuvre into place and, by episodes end, things were nicely set up for the season.

In Winterfell, Jon and Sansa clashed over their very different notions of how to deal with the former treachery of the Karstarks and Umbers. Jons case that you do not punish the sons and daughters for the sins of the father was the more obviously relatable, and he was right too that the North needs to stand firm together in the face of a far greater enemy than the Lannisters. Yet Sansa, schooled by a harsher teacher, also had a point, difficult though it perhaps is to acknowledge: if you do not cut the root out then the branch will again flourish and what happens when the buds of that branch arrive, as Arya Stark did with the Freys, to choke your life away?

Kit Harington as Jon Snow. Photograph: Helen Sloan/HBO

Its worth noting, however, that Cersei hasnt quite managed to put the lessons she so assiduously taught Sansa into practice. Yes, shes wiped out most of the Tyrells but Olenna, the most dangerous, is still standing. In the south the Sand Snakes lurk, no doubt practising their sub-Lorca incantations, while Sansa and Jon are building an army in the North, and Dany and co have landed on Dragonstone. Has Cersei won the battle but not the war? Or will a potential alliance with the distinctly untrustworthy Euron be enough to save the day?

As for Dany, who has so far governed with a mixture of Jons compassion and Cerseis ruthlessness a third way, if you will (sorry) she landed on Dragonstone for an emotional homecoming, having also taken the time to kit out her invading army in some rather swish new clothes. Anyone whos anyone in Westeros is wearing black this season.

Do you believe me now Clegane? Do you believe that were here for a reason?

For all the power of its more epic moments, Game of Thrones is generally at its best when it takes time with its characters, allowing us to see them in new ways. Thus the evenings best scene came between three of the characters we know least: Sandor Clegane, Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, as they sat in the ruined house of the now dead farmer who the Hound and Arya encountered back in season four.

Switching between dark humour Its just my fucking luck I end up with a bunch of fire worshippers and touching moments (Sandors decision to bury the man and his daughter), the scene also gave us some interesting new information: Sandor, the man scarred by and terrified of fire, can read the patterns in it.

The moment when he described the Night Kings army marching north was a genuinely spooky one, and Rory McCann sold it well. Heres hoping he and the Brotherhood without Banners meet up with Jon in the North soon.

In the Citadel we live different lives for different reasons. We are this lifes memory.

If Sandor was busy discovering that sometimes the most unlikely things turn out to be true, poor Sam was undergoing one of those my dream job v the reality moments. Oh Sam, I understand: there you were dreaming of waltzing into the Citadel like a conquering hero, gaining access to all the books you might need, and instead you find yourself working in a particularly unpleasant care home with the odd autopsy thrown in. Weve all been there.

After spending far too long shifting shit and stew in some terrible movie Im tempted to call Bedpans and Soup-sick, Sam finally cracked and stole the keys to the forbidden library. To which I say, hurrah its all very well to have Jim Broadbents Archmaester correctly stressing the importance of history, learning and memory, but what good is remembering the past if you dont use it to avert danger in the future?

Additional notes

Anyone whos anyone in Westeros is wearing black this season: Emilia Clarke as Daenerys and Jacob Anderson as Grey Worm. Photograph: HBO

Violence count

Ben Crompton as Dolorous Edd in Game of Thrones. Photograph: Helen Sloan/HBO

A surprisingly unbloody start to the season saw only one real act of violence (two if you count Briennes knocking of Pod into the snow). That said it was a particularly good one, as Arya donned Walder Freys face to ensure that every single member of the Frey family was wiped out root and branch. I somehow think that she and Sansa might have rather a lot of common ground, when (if) they finally reunite.

Random Brit of the week

Sorry Ed Sheeran, but this can only go to the wonderful Jim Broadbent who turned up to dispense wisdom to Sam before frustratingly refusing to accept that The Wall could actually fall.

So what did you think? Will Jon and Sansa manage to compromise? Can Cersei possibly stay on the Iron Throne? And have you ever had a job as bad as Sams? As ever, all speculation and no spoilers are welcome below …

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/jul/17/game-of-thrones-recap-season-seven-episode-one-dragonstone

Museum risks wrath of Inuit with display from tragic Arctic voyage

Exhibition may solve riddle of Franklins lost expedition

After 165 years under icy seas, the lost secrets of Sir John Franklins doomed British Arctic expedition in search of the North-West Passage are to form the centrepiece of a major London exhibition, Death in the Ice. But who really owns these salvaged artefacts?

This weekend it has emerged that the historic items painstakingly retrieved from the wreck of HMS Erebus, one of Franklins two lost expeditionary vessels, were taken without permission from waters now owned by the Inuit people in Canada.

In 2014 the sunken wreck of the Erebus was found lying in a part of the Arctic Ocean that belongs to Canadas vast northernmost territory, Nunavut. A document made public in Canada in the past fortnight reveals that the premier of Nunavut has since protested directly to Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, about the actions of scientists working with the curators of the exhibition, which opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, south London, on 14 July.

In his formal letter of complaint, released at the request of a Canadian journalist, the premier, Peter Taptuna, argues that the contents of the Erebus are rightfully owned by his region and by the Inuit Heritage Trust. The letter alleges that Parks Canada, a government agency, ignored the fact the ship was submerged in Nunavuts internal waters when it removed the artefacts. This was unfortunate and inconsistent with past practice, it adds.

A spokeswoman for the National Maritime Museum said the new show would give visitors a clear sense of the role played by the Inuit in the original search for Franklin. It features Inuit oral histories relating to European exploration of the North-West Passage and many Inuit artefacts, including objects made using materials specifically from the Franklin expedition and other European sources. The stories of these items provide clues to the fate of Franklins men.

A diver surveys items from the Erebus. Photograph: Thierry Boyer/Parcs Canada

The London museums senior exhibitions curator, Claire Warrior, has also told the Canadian press that the role of Inuit will be highlighted. The enduring links between Britain and Nunavut will lie at its heart, she said, adding that her museum has no long-term claims on any of the artefacts.

Taptunas letter was sent last autumn, a few weeks after the sensational discovery of Franklins second ship, HMS Terror, in waters nearby. Since 2002, according to Taptuna, Canada has followed Nunavut regulations when searching for the lost ships and has not claimed title in specimens until the discovery of HMS Erebus in 2014. The premier also said his government now expected Canadian officials to consult and elaborate with our officials regarding the enforcement measures that will be employed at HMS Terror site.

For its part, Parks Canada maintains that both wrecks and their contents are still British property. The agency also cites a 1997 international memorandum of understanding between Canada and Britain that specifies that upon discovery the United Kingdom will transfer ownership of recovered artefacts to Canada, with the exception of gold items.

Among the well-preserved and often poignant items recovered from the Erebus are the ships bell, part of its wheel, several belaying pins, china plates, a cannon and a ceramic pot labelled anchovy paste.

The Greenwich show, which is jointly curated with the Canadian Museum of History, is set to solve many of the mysteries surrounding the 1845 expedition, which ended in tragedy and, most sensationally, in suspected cannibalism. A 59-year-old veteran of the seas, Franklin had sailed into the Arctic with 128 men on two Royal Navy ships in an attempt to find the North-West Passage the elusive trade route from Europe to Asia. Yet in 1848 both crews were forced to abandon ship to try to walk to safety when ice blocked their route. No survivors made it home.

Disputed Inuit claims that the desperate British survivors of the ships finally resorted to cannibalism will be examined in one section of the exhibition. A sign will warn visitors who wish to avoid these displays. The report, brought back to Britain in 1854, was controversial at the time, with Charles Dickens leaping to the defence of the explorers, but analysis of bones found on the surrounding terrain has suggested cannibalism is a real possibility.

Map of Franklin’s exhibition

It is handled with sensitivity and respect for the members of the expedition and their descendants, said a spokeswoman for the Greenwich museum. There are also reproductions of bones in the exhibition which show the difference between animal bite marks and evidence of cannibalism. We do also say in the exhibition labels that forensic evidence corroborates the Inuit testimonies of cannibalism.

The director of the Canadian Museum of History has given fresh weight to the Inuit contribution, recently announcing that the government of Nunavut and the Inuit Heritage Trust are collaborating with curators. It was Inuit knowledge that first revealed to European searchers where the expedition had become trapped and where its officers and men had struggled and failed to survive.

Inuit knowledge was to come to the fore again 150 years later when it helped direct modern marine archaeologists to the area around King William Island, close to the wrecks locations.

The exhibition will go to a Canadian museum in Ottawa in March next year. Discussions about building a visitor and research centre in Nunavut are also going ahead.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/01/franklin-arctic-voyage-tragic-inuit-wrath-museum

Hong Kong: How a ‘barren rock’ became an Asian powerhouse

Hong Kong (CNN)The Hong Kong Crown Colony was founded on January 26, 1841, when Britain’s Union Flag was raised over Possession Point, a then unremarkable headland in southern China.

Hong Kong defied these expectations. By 1997, when sovereignty was handed over to China, the city had a population of more than 6.5 million people and a booming economy the envy of its neighbors.
Twenty years later, Hong Kong has evolved again.
British Hong Kong originally only included the island itself (and nearby islets), which was officially ceded to the UK by the Qing Empire in the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, following China’s defeat in the First Opium War.
Eighteen years and another war later, the British assumed control over the Kowloon peninsula, while in 1898 London agreed to lease the New Territories from Beijing for a period of 99 years.
That last step would prove to be the undoing of British Hong Kong, as it set a time limit of July 1, 1997, for China to resume control over the leased land and eventually, after a series of secret negotiations, take over the entire territory.

Since handover, Hong Kong’s incredibly dense population has grown even further, to 7.4 million. or 6,790 people for every square kilometer. In the densest part of the city — the former industrial area of Kwun Tong, in Kowloon — there are 57,250 people per square kilometer, among the most densely populated places on Earth.

From the latter part of the 19th century, Hong Kong grew as an Asian financial center, becoming a major international trading hub from the 1950s onwards, acting as a regional headquarters for major banking and corporate firms, serving as a gateway to China.

Hong Kong’s economy has grown from strength to strength, as the housing, tourism and finance sectors have all boomed — though the last 20 years have also seen a marked increase in inequality and a rising unemployment rate. Housing prices have risen from an average of $770 per square foot in 1997, to more than $1,400 today.
On the luxury end, high-end apartments regularly sell for upwards of $4,895 per square foot. Hong Kong also regularly tops charts for the most expensive places to live in the world.

Tourism has also grown massively since 1997, with arrivals up to 56.6 million in 2016 compared to 10.4 million the year of handover, fueled by huge growth in mainland Chinese tourists coming to Hong Kong.

Finance however remains Hong Kong’s primary industry. The Hang Seng Index was launched in 1969 to serve as a “Dow Jones … of Hong Kong.” Today it has total value of $1.7 trillion. While in 1997 the majority of the biggest companies on the index were local conglomerates — or “Hongs” — today the Hang Seng Index is dominated by Chinese firms.

As well as increasing its population, Hong Kong has also grown in territory, adding to the amount of land available via extensive reclamation projects. Adding land has fundamentally changed the shape of Hong Kong’s geography. Possession Point, once on the northwest coast, is now several hundred meters away from the shore.

Since the handover, reclamation and redevelopment has continued apace, particularly in West Kowloon and the northwest New Territories, as well as ongoing expansion to Hong Kong airport.
Hong Kong’s skyline has also seen a dramatic change in the years since 1997, particularly with the rapid growth of Hong Kong Island’s eastern districts.

From a “barren rock” to a British colony of millions, to a Chinese territory with a booming economy and stratospheric property prices, Hong Kong has changed greatly over the decades.

Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/25/asia/hong-kong-change-1997-2017/index.html

The secret negotiations that sealed Hong Kong’s future

Hong Kong (CNN)The two leaders sat several feet apart at a long table covered in green silk.

The crowd behind applauded as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang signed large red-bound documents with black fountain pens and then shook hands.
With that, on December 19, 1984, the end of more than 150 years of British rule over Hong Kong was sealed and a timeline put in place for China to assume sovereignty over the city on July 1, 1997.
The people of Hong Kong were not party to the discussions, nor were they consulted about the final decision,which had a profound effect on their futures and freedoms.

Treaty territory

The UK acquired the territory that is now China’s Hong Kong Special Administrative Region via three treaties. Following the defeat of the Qing Empire in the first and second opium wars (in 1842 and 1860 respectively), the territories of Hong Kong and Kowloon were ceded to the UK.
In 1898, London agreed to lease what became known as the New Territories from the Qing, drastically expanding the amount of land governed by the Hong Kong colony, but also setting in motion the end of British rule.

While the Qing Empire — and its successors, the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China — had given up claims for Hong Kong and Kowloon, the lease for the New Territories was set to expire on 30 June 1997.
“We can only maintain sovereign powers in the New Territories up to 1997 in any case and the rest of the territory is not viable on its own,” a 1982 UK Foreign Office memo warned Thatcher.
In his memoirs, David Akers-Jones — chief secretary of Hong Kong from 1985 to 1987 — wrote that following the war and the gradual collapse of the British Empire, “Hong Kong recognized that the uncertain future would last until it was known what would happen when the lease of most of the colony, the New Territories, expired.”
That future would not include independence, as it did for most other British colonies. After the People’s Republic of China joined the United Nations in 1971, Beijing successfully pushed for Hong Kong (along with neighboring Macau, then a Portuguese colony) to be removed from a list of “non-self-governing” territories for whom all steps were to be taken by the UN “to enable them to enjoy complete independence and freedom.”

Secret talks

In 1982, Thatcher visited Beijing, becoming the first UK Prime Minister to enter Communist China, and formally established negotiations on the future of Hong Kong.
Initially, London hoped to maintain significant control over the city, even if it ceded legal sovereignty to China.
In secret discussions among Thatcher’s cabinet — since declassified — it was suggested land leases in the New Territories could be converted to indefinite ones in order to “make it possible for British administration to continue beyond 1997 if the Chinese so wish.”
That proposal was rejected by Beijing as “unnecessary and inappropriate” in what British ambassador to China Sir Percy Cradock described in a September 1979 memo as a “disappointing reply.”
As Thatcher prepared to visit Beijing three years later, a briefing document prepared for her said “there will be strong expectations that Hong Kong’s future will be discussed, if not decided” during her time there.
Despite this however, UK Foreign Ministry officials were still operating on the basis that British administration, if not rule, would continue. “Confidence in the territory, particularly among investors, is likely only to be maintained if autonomy is guaranteed by the administration continuing on the same lines, i.e. through the British,” a March 1982 memo said.
British law requires most cabinet documents to be declassified 20-30 years after they were initially created. While the documents do quote Chinese officials extensively, few accounts of Beijing’s side of the negotiations have been made public.

Prosperity vs stability

By April 1982, the future legality of Hong Kong was starting to come into place.
In a meeting between former British Prime Minister Edward Heath and Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, Deng said that a new Chinese constitution would “specifically allow for the creation of special administrative zones,” where different legal and economic systems could operate.
“Heath said that Britain received nothing from Hong Kong and suggested that Britain managed Hong Kong for the benefit of China and of mankind,” Cradock wrote in a secret memo to Thatcher.
Around this time, Deng put forward the principle that now governs Hong Kong, of “one country, two systems,” by which the city would retain its “capitalist” economy and limited democratic freedoms, but sovereignty would pass to Beijing.
On September 23, 1982, Thatcher met with Zhao Ziyang at the Great Hall of the People. “(Zhao) said that there were two principles (at stake) — sovereignty, and the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong,” a record of the meeting said. “If it came to a choice between the two, China would put sovereignty above prosperity and stability.”
The following day, Thatcher met with Deng, during which the old revolutionary warned her “in no more than one or two years time the Chinese government would formally announce their decision to recover Hong Kong.”
Talks continued after Thatcher left Beijing, and would eventually result in the Sino-British Joint Declaration that she and Zhao signed on that day in 1984.

No consultation

Throughout the discussions held by Thatcher’s cabinet, the chief concerns expressed in the secret memos were retaining market “confidence” in Hong Kong, and avoiding a situation like the Falklands, over which Britain went to war with Argentina in 1982.
Emily Lau, former chairwoman of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, said Hong Kongers knew that “all (the British) cared about was trade … and the well being of the Hong Kong people was of secondary importance.”
She too pointed to the Falklands, but to make a very different point. “There were only 1,800 people and hundreds of thousands of sheep” on the islands, Lau said, but nevertheless the Falklanders were given a seat at the table in negotiations between the UK and Argentina during the 1970s, before the failed Argentine invasion of 1982.
By comparison, Hong Kongers “could not play any part” in handover talks, though they were involved after the deal was done in drafting the city’s mini-constitution, Basic Law.
“The British and Chinese governments had already jointly decided to impose their agreement on the territory and were not willing to make amendments to it,” according to historian Ian Scott. Last ditch efforts in 1983 of Hong Kong legislators to represent the views of the city — which largely did not favor rule by China — “were fruitless.”
While Hong Kongers were invited to publicly comment on the negotiations, the secret nature of them made doing so nigh impossible.
“Both the Chinese and British governments have openly invited the people of Hong Kong to express their views,” lawmaker Wong Lam said in a session of the city’s parliament in March 1984. “Yet how can they express their views if they have very little or no knowledge of what is going on?”

Push and pull

The treatment of Hong Kongers during the negotiations has left a great deal of residual anger towards the British from parts of the city’s pro-democracy movement.
“I think the British have a lot to answer for,” Lau said. “(Both in) not giving us democratic elections, and not allowing Hong Kong British citizens to go and live in the UK. We were third class citizens.”
After signing the treaty, Thatcher visited Hong Kong, where Lau, a journalist at the time, accused her of delivering “over five million people into the hands of a Communist dictatorship.”
Thatcher responded that Britain had “done everything we could for Hong Kong,” adding that Lau was likely the only person in the city unhappy with the deal.
Declassified documents from long before handover negotiations even began show that some British officials did seek to introduce more democracy in Hong Kong but were angrily rebuffed by Beijing.
Allowing Hong Kong people to govern themselves would be a “very unfriendly act,” premier Zhou Enlai reportedly told British officials in 1958. Another Chinese official in 1960 threatened potential invasion if the UK attempted to introduce greater democracy to the colony.
Chris Patten, the last colonial governor, did expand the amount of directly elected lawmakers in a 1995 parliamentary vote, over vociferous complaints from Beijing and promises to replace the newly returned legislature with an appointed body. It was the first and last time the city has had a majority pro-democracy parliament.
On July 1, 1997, after Patten sailed away on the yacht Britannia, the elected legislators sneaked onto the balcony of the city’s parliament building. Speaking to a large crowd below, Democratic Party Chairman Martin Lee and his colleagues promised the crowd they would return.
“The flame of democracy has been ignited and is burning in the hearts of our people,” he said. “It will not be extinguished.”

Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/18/asia/hong-kong-handover-china-uk-thatcher/index.html

Gideon: The Sound and The Glory

Story Summary:

Unsung heroes and murderous villains, hidden forever in ancient shadows, now leap to life – blazing onto the pages of revelation. Gideon, a lowly woodcutter, is blessed by an angel to be the savior of all Israel. He does not know why or how and shrinks from this dangerous mission. The commandment to conquer the Midian Empire as one man seems all but impossible. But Gideon’s confidence grows as God guides his every step until he stands fearless and faithfully fulfills his destiny as, “A mighty man of valor.” The fierce warriors, burning towers and devastated cities contained in Gideon’s Journey, are but silver threads that weave into a sweeping tapestry of ancient intrigue. Running through and stitching together the entire saga is The Lord of the Covenant, or The Baal-Berith, also known as Gideon’s mysterious Ephod of Gold.

Seattle Book Review – 4 Stars

Warriors and violent battles are present throughout Biblical times and beyond. Fueled by hatred of other tribes, the struggles for land, treasure, and resources permeate the landscape. The warrior Barak wages a vicious battle to take the village of Ophrah. With a little help from a female warrior named Jael, the tide of the battle turns. He is successful, but casualties are many. The casualties include the brothers of Gideon, a smart, unassuming woodcutter. Nothing much is expected of him; he is married to a woman who his father picked out. He is enamored of a young woman he encounters in his village named Drumah. She is set to be sacrificed to the God Baal. Gideon is visited by an Angel with a message from God. Gideon destroys the altar and saves Drumah from certain death. Gideon is chosen to fight for the Israelites. Gideon assumes command of his fellow people in battles against the people from the East such as the Midianites, who have fought for land in many pitched battles. Gideon is motivated by his brothers’ brutal deaths. He fights despite hunger and refuses help from cowering tribes. Gideon and his rag-tag group emerge victorious in their skirmishes. He takes vengeance on those who refused to help, emerging as a hero in his village. He takes Drumah as his concubine, along with many women he saved as well as widowed. He also sires many offspring, but his victory comes at a price that will echo throughout the coming years and decades with the Ephod of Gold. The worship of a new idol curses the family of Gideon, where one son engages in tyrannical rule. The son’s reign is typified by fear and power plays which include the wholesale slaughter of many brothers. By the time of the emergence of the underdog David, will the curse of this idol be broken?

Gideon: The Sound and the Glory is a vivid and violent take on the religious strife that spanned the BC era. Greed, paranoia, jealousy, and lust are the overwhelming characteristics running through the veins of the men who highlight this book. Violence is seen as a necessary means to an end, whether in war or in power-grabs. The false idol that is worshiped only brings about doom and destruction to the worshiper. An interesting historical fiction read that will make a companion read to the Bible. A-!


Taking his own path: The world’s leading maze designer – BBC News

Image copyright Adrian Fisher
Image caption Adrian Fisher sitting in one of his mirror mazes

Have you ever walked through a maze and wondered who makes them?

Adrian Fisher is the world’s leading maze designer, having created more than 700 mazes across 32 countries since 1979.

“I really do love my job,” says the 65-year-old. “It’s like I’m a big kid, and creating things that people can play in all day long – who wouldn’t want to do that?”

From his studio in Dorset, in south-west England, Mr Fisher has spent the past 38 years designing mazes in a wide variety of forms.

From classical hedge mazes, to vast maize mazes and mirror mazes full of special effects, he continues to be much in demand.

And there seems to be no job too small, or too outlandish, as his work ranges from tiny finger mazes that you can trace with a single digit, to an entire side of the 210m (689ft) tall Al Rostamani Maze Tower that was completed in Dubai in 2011.

But how do you ever become a maze designer? For Mr Fisher it was a lucky turn in the maze we all walk through in life.

Image copyright Adrian Fisher
Image caption Hedge mazes have to be grown for a number of years before they can open

Mr Fisher first made a maze as a child, when he and his dad build one in their garden just for fun, but he “never thought it would turn into a career”.

Instead he started his adult life working as an accountant, while designing mazes as a hobby.

His lucky break came aged 27 when he had a chance meeting with the late Lady Elizabeth Brunner, who said she wanted a maze built at her home Greys Court in Oxfordshire, which she had donated to the National Trust.

Mr Fisher managed to land the gig, and he co-designed and built the “turf maze”, a paved path cut into grass, with fellow maze designer Randoll Coate.

From there Mr Fisher never looked back and he quit the world of accountancy.

His business Adrian Fisher Design has four permanent employees, with a further 15 people typically working with them at any given time, including illustrators, designers and builders.

Image copyright Adrian Fischer
Image caption He designs everything from finger mazes to giant cornfield mazes

Over the past decade he says that modern technology and particularly the internet has made his job much easier.

“I work with animators in Spain and designers in Asia, and things like Skype make it so easy to feel like you’re in the same room as them.

“This has really allowed me access to worldwide collaborators and markets including the US and [Asian cities such as] Kolkata, Shanghai and Yokohama.

“This gives us the flexibility to adjust production methods and timescales to suit each project. Also, local fabrication minimises import duties within our principal markets.”

The cost of each maze varies greatly. A simple finger maze can be commissioned for just 100, but Mr Fisher’s biggest projects, such as huge hedge mazes, will set you back more than 1m.

Image copyright Adrian Fisher
Image caption Mr Fisher’s mazes are installed around the world, such as this one in the Czech Republic

In addition to deep pockets, patience is also required, particularly for the hedge mazes, which can take years to grow before they can be used.

One such project, the Murray Star Maze at Scone Palace in Scotland, is made of beech trees which took seven years to grow into hedges of sufficient height.

Some 90% of Mr Fisher’s business is overseas, and he says that so far the UK’s decision to leave the EU has had a beneficial impact on his company.

“Brexit has been positive even in the short term, since with a keener pound we are winning more export deals.”

Image copyright Adrian Fisher
Image caption Mr Fisher works with designers and other workers around the world to make his creations

In terms of competitors, Mr Fisher says he has around 20. “But many of them just concentrate on one type of maze, and we do pretty much it all.”

Mr Fisher has also built up his profile with some record-breaking exploits, and has held the world record for the world’s largest cornfield maze no less than six times.

Earlier this year, his Butterfly Maze in Ningbo, China set the world record for the largest permanent hedge maze, with a total area of 33,565 sq m (8.3 acres) and total path length of 8.38 km (5.2 miles).

In addition he has written 12 books about mazes, and gives both after-dinner talks on the subject, and talks to design students.

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Design expert Ania Choroszczynska, founder of London-based Anya Fennet Design, says Mr Fisher has taken mazes to “new levels”.

“They [Adrian Fisher Design] understand the scope of the industry and the demands of the consumer or client, and create designs that have had a great reaction,” she says.

Image copyright Adrian Fisher
Image caption Mr Fisher has held the record for the world’s largest cornfield maze six times

With technology playing an increasing role in people’s lives, does Mr Fisher feel that physical mazes will have a lasting future?

“We’ll always have competition from new computer games etc, but nothing beats solving a real puzzle. Plus, it’s a bonding experience as a group of people have to make choices and act together on the collective decision.”

But if anyone has ever got lost in a maze and panicked, Mr Fisher can empathise. When his yew tree maze opened at Leeds Castle in Kent in 1988 he was leading a royal party including Princess Alexandra (a cousin of the Queen) around when he couldn’t find his way out.

“Unfortunately since my previous visit the head gardener had closed a gap in one place,” he says. “With such confidence I led them into the maze but then got us all stuck. Thankfully I got us all out of there though.

“Somehow I managed to regain my composure and say it was so difficult a puzzle that even a maze designer could get lost.”

Related Topics

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-39998551

Blockchains are the new Linux, not the new Internet

Cryptocurrencies are booming beyond belief. Bitcoin is up sevenfold, to $2,500, in the last year. Three weeks ago the redoubtable Vinay Gupta, who led Ethereums initial release, published an essay entitled What Does Ether At $100 Mean? Since then it has doubled. Too many altcoins to name have skyrocketed in value along with the Big Two. ICOs are raking in money hand over fist over bicep. What the hell is going on?

(eta: in the whopping 48 hours since I first wrote that, those prices have tumbled considerably, but are still way, way up for the year.)

A certain seductive narrative has taken hold, is what is going on. This narrative, in its most extreme version, says that cryptocurrencies today are like the Internet in 1996: not just new technology but a radical new kind of technology, belittled or ignored by by most, which has slowly and subtly grown in power and influence over the last several years, and is about to explode into worldwide relevance and importance with shocking speed and massive repercussions.

(Lest you think Im overstating this, I got a PR pitch the other day which literally began: Blockchains 1996 Internet moment is here, as a preface to touting a $33 million ICO. Hey, whats $33 million between friends? Its now pretty much taken as given that were in a cryptocoin bubble.)

I understand the appeal of this narrative. Im no blockchain skeptic. Ive been writing about cryptocurrencies with fascination for six years now. Ive been touting and lauding the power of blockchains, how they have the potential to make the Internet decentralized and permissionless again, and to give us all power over our own data, for years. Im a true believer in permissionless money like Bitcoin. I called the initial launch of Ethereum a historic day.

But I cant help but look at the state of cryptocurrencies today and wonder where the actual value is. I dont mean financial value to speculators; I mean utility value to users. Because if nobody wants to actually use blockchain protocols and projects, those tokens which are supposed to reflect their value are ultimately well worthless.

Bitcoin, despite its ongoing internal strife, is very useful as permissionless global money, and has a legitimate shot at becoming a global reserve and settlement currency. Its anonymized descendants such as ZCash have added value to the initial Bitcoin proposition. (Similarly, Litecoin is now technically ahead of Bitcoin, thanks to the aforementioned ongoing strife.) Ethereum is very successful as a platform for developers.

But still, eight years after Bitcoin launched, Satoshi Nakamoto remains the only creator to have built a blockchain that an appreciable number of ordinary people actually want to use. (Ethereum is awesome, and Vitalik Buterin, like Gupta, is an honest-to-God visionary, but it remains a tool / solution / platform for developers.) No other blockchain-based software initiative seems to be at any real risk of hockey-sticking into general recognition, much less general usage.

With all due respect to Fred Wilson, another true believer and, to be clear, an enormous amount of respect is due it says a lot that, in the midst of this massive boom, hes citing Rare Pepe Cards, of all things, as a prime example of an interesting modern blockchain app. I mean, if thats the state of the art

Maybe Im wrong; maybe Rare Pepe will be the next Pokmon Go. But on the other hand, maybe the ratio of speculation to actual value in the blockchain space has never been higher, which is saying a lot.

Some people argue that the technology is so amazing, so revolutionary, that if enough money is invested, the killer apps and protocols will come. That could hardly be more backwards. Im not opposed to token sales, but they should follow If you build something good enough, investors will flock to you, not If enough investors flock to us, we will build something good enough.

A solid team working on an interesting project which hasnt hit product-market fit should be able to raise a few million dollars or, if you prefer, a couple of thousand bitcoin and then, once their success is proven, they might sell another tranche of now-more-valuable tokens. But projects with hardly any users, and barely any tech, raising tens of millions? That smacks of a bubble made of snake oil one all too likely to attract the heavy and unforgiving hand of the SEC.

That seductive narrative though! The Internet in 1996! I know. But hear me out. Maybe the belief that blockchains today are like the Internet in 1996 is completely wrong. Of course all analogies are flawed, but theyre useful, theyre how we think and maybe there is another, more accurate, and far more telling, analogy here.

I propose a counter-narrative. I put it to you that blockchains today arent like the Internet in 1996; theyre more like Linux in 1996. That is in no way a dig but, if true, its something of a death knell for those who hope to profit from mainstream usage of blockchain apps and protocols.

Decentralized blockchain solutions are vastly more democratic, and more technically compelling, than the hermetically-sealed, walled-garden, Stack-ruled Internet of today. Similarly, open-source Linux was vastly more democratic, and more technically compelling, than the Microsoft and Apple OSes which ruled computing at the time. But nobody used it except a tiny coterie of hackers. It was too clunky; too complicated; too counterintuitive; required jumping through too many hoops and Linuxs dirty secret was that the mainstream solutions were, in fact, actually fine, for most people.

Sound familiar? Today theres a lot of work going into decentralized distributed storage keyed on blockchain indexes; Storj, Sia, Blockstack, et al. This is amazing, groundbreaking work but why would an ordinary person, one already comfortable with Box or Dropbox, switch over to Storj or Blockstack? The centralized solution works just fine for them, and, because its centralized, they know who to call if something goes wrong. Blockstack in particular is more than just storage but what compelling pain point is it solving for the average user?

The similarities to Linux are striking. Linux was both much cheaper and vastly more powerful than the alternatives available at the time. It seemed incredibly, unbelievably disruptive. Neal Stephenson famously analogized 90s operating systems to cars. Windows was a rattling lemon of a station wagon; MacOS was a hermetically sealed Volkswagen Beetle; and then, weirdly beyond weirdly there was

Linux, which is right next door, and which is not a business at all. Its a bunch of RVs, yurts, tepees, and geodesic domes set up in a field and organized by consensus. The people who live there are making tanks. These are not old-fashioned, cast-iron Soviet tanks; these are more like the M1 tanks of the U.S. Army, made of space-age materials and jammed with sophisticated technology from one end to the other. But they are better than Army tanks. Theyve been modified in such a way that they never, ever break down, are light and maneuverable enough to use on ordinary streets, and use no more fuel than a subcompact car. These tanks are being cranked out, on the spot, at a terrific pace, and a vast number of them are lined up along the edge of the road with keys in the ignition. Anyone who wants can simply climb into one and drive it away for free.

Customers come to this crossroads in throngs, day and night. Ninety percent of them go straight to the biggest dealership and buy station wagons They do not even look at the other dealerships.

I put it to you that just as yesterdays ordinary consumers wouldnt use Linux, todays wont use Bitcoin and other blockchain apps, even if Bitcoin and the the other apps build atop blockchains are technically and politically amazing (which some are.) I put it to you that the year of widespread consumer use of [Bitcoin | Ripple | Stellar | ZCash | decentralized ether apps | etc] is perhaps analogous to the year of [Ubuntu | Debian | Slackware | Red Hat | etc] on the desktop.

Please note: this is not a dismissive analogy, or one which in any way understates the potential eventual importance of the technology! There are two billion active Android devices out there, and every single one runs the Linux kernel. When they communicate with servers, aka the cloud, they communicate with vast, warehouse-sized data centers teeming with innumerable Linux boxes. Linux was immensely important and influential. Most of modern computing is arguably Linux-to-Linux.

Its very easy to imagine a similar future for blockchains and cryptocurrencies. To quote my friend Shannon: It [blockchain tech] definitely seems like it has a Linux-like adoption arc ahead of it: Theres going to be a bunch of doomed attempts to make it a commercially-viable consumer product while it gains dominance in vital behind-the-scenes applications.

But if your 1996 investment thesis had been that ordinary people would adopt Linux en masse over the next decade which would not have seemed at all crazy then you would have been in for a giant world of hurt. Linux did not become important because ordinary people used it. Instead it became commodity infrastructure that powered the next wave of the Internet.

Its easy to envision how and why an interwoven mesh of dozens of decentralized blockchains could slowly, over a period of years and years, become a similar category of crucial infrastructure: as a reserve/settlement currency, as replacements for huge swathes of todays financial industry, as namespaces (such as domain names), as behind-the-scenes implementations of distributed storage systems, etc. while ordinary people remain essentially blissfully unaware of their existence. Its even easy to imagine them being commoditized. Does Ethereum gas cost too much? No problem; just switch your distributed system over to another, cheaper, blockchain.

So dont tell me this is like the Internet in 1996, not without compelling evidence. Instead, wake me up when cryptocurrency prices begin to track the demonstrated underlying value of the apps and protocols built on their blockchains. Because in the interim, in its absence of that value, Im sorry to say that instead we seem to be talking about decentralized digital tulips.

Disclosure, since it seems requisite: I mostly avoid any financial interest, implicit or explicit, long or short, in any cryptocurrency, so that I can write about them sans bias. I do own precisely one bitcoin, though, which I purchased a couple of years ago because I felt silly not owning any while I was advising a (since defunct) Bitcoin-based company.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/05/28/double-double-cryptocoin-bubble/

Elmina’s Fire by Linda Carleton

Story Summary:

What happens when a troubled young woman dares to follow the stirrings of her soul in turbulent times? Elmina begins life with a troubled childhood in a medieval French town-a childhood that turns her into a spiritually seeking young woman who dares to follow the stirrings of her soul. Her idealism and love lead her to leave a Cathar school and follow the man who will become Saint Dominic. As the world around her erupts into the Albigensian Crusade, Elmina finds herself complicit in its horror, and her spiritual and emotional life begins to unravel. With the aid of the counsel of her wise prior, Brother Noel, Elmina learns to paint her experiences within a sacred circle- a practice that helps her discover the origins of her lifelong fears and wrestle with questions that are as divisive today as they were eight centuries ago: the nature of God, the purpose of creation, the nature of evil, and the possibility of reincarnation.

Amazon Link: http://amzn.to/2qfb4eA


YouTube Link -https://youtu.be/1PB5TSsdd5w

YouTube Embed – <iframe width=”560″ height=”315″src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/1PB5TSsdd5w?rel=0&amp;controls=0&amp;showinfo=0″frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

5 Star Good Reads Review- https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1975193677

Historical fiction at it’s best! Women of Medieval times had few options, marry, or be a nun. As a troubled child of an impoverished family Elmina found the Cathars, a sect that supported her idealism and the seeking of her soul. Her love and devotion for the man who would become Saint Dominic led her to follow him and help him start his own monastery, setting the stage for division in her family. Her sister stayed with the Cathars. Elmina watched helplessly as the Albigensian Crusade rolled onward, she lost her sister and her spiritual and emotional life began to unravel. Elmina learns to paint her experiences within a sacred circle ȉ a practice that helps her discover the origins of her lifelong fears.

Read this book if you wrestle with questions about the nature of God, the purpose of creation, the nature of evil, and the possibility of reincarnation.

Taiwan’s same-sex marriage ruling could cement its place as Asia’s liberal beacon

Landmark court case this week is likely to determine the success or failure of draft laws currently before parliament

Chi Chia-wei will find out on Wednesday if his decades long fight to make Taiwan the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage has been a success.

Chi, 59, a pioneering Taiwanese gay rights activist, is the celebrated face behind one of the most controversial legal cases the island democracy has seen in recent years, where 14 judges must rule if the civil code, which states that marriage is between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional.

The constitutional courts landmark ruling will not only determine the success or failure of draft new parliamentary laws to introduce marriage equality, but could cement Taiwans reputation as a beacon of liberalism in a region where the LGBT community faces increasing persecution.

Chi, an equal rights campaigner since he first came out as a gay teenager in 1975, remains pragmatic about making civil rights history. If it doesnt work out this time, Ill keep on fighting for the people, and for human rights, he said in an interview with The Guardian.

But he is determined that one day, the fight will be won.

Somebody has to do it. I dont want to see any more people commit suicide because they dont have marriage equality, he said.

Last October the suspected suicide of French professor, Jacques Picoux, who was unable to marry his Taiwanese partner of 35 years, Tseng Ching-chao, became a rallying call for Chi and other LGBT activists.

His struggle is also personal. Chis lawsuit, launched two years ago and supported by the municipal government in the capital, Taipei, is the latest of several attempts to get legal recognition for his 30 year relationship with his partner, who wishes to remain anonymous.

In 1986, when the nation was still under martial law, Chi was imprisoned for five months after submitting his first petition asking for gay marriage to be recognised.

As a flag bearer for equality, he hopes to inspire other LGBT activists fighting a crackdown across Asia.

On the eve of Taiwans court ruling, two gay men face a public caning in Indonesia. In South Korea, the military has been accused of carrying out a witch-hunt against gay recruits. In Bangladesh, 27 men were arrested last week on suspicion of being gay, a criminal offence.

Back in Taiwan, the political stakes of Wednesdays decision are also high.

When President Tsai Ing-wens ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) passed the first draft of a bill to legalise same-sex marriage in December, it prompted a fierce conservative backlash.

The issue has split Taiwanese society and vocal protests from a coalition of religious and right-wing family groups have caused many legislators to have second thoughts.

The fate of the legislation, soon to face a second reading, now lies in the hands of the court, believes Yu Mei-nu, the DPP parliamentarian who drafted it.

If the court ruled clearly in support of same-sex marriage and President Tsai offered her unequivocal support, it would embolden wavering legislators to vote in favour of the new laws, she argued.

If the grand justices make a decision that is not very clear, and it depends on a legislative yuan [parliament] vote, then it will be difficult. I think most legislators will abstain, she said.

We want her (Tsai) to be braver. If she can come out and say yes I support it then it will be passed.

Ahead of her election last year, Tsai voiced her support for marriage equality in a Facebook video. In the face of love, everyone is equal, she said.

But as she marked the first anniversary of her inauguration this weekend with low public approval ratings, Tsai faced criticism from all sides over her handling of gay marriage.

Its a little bit depressing for us. Before the election, she was really pro-gay rights. But now she has kind of disappeared, said student Vic Chiang, 23, at a Taipei rally last week on the International Day Against Homophobia.

Meanwhile, Robin Chen, a spokesman for the Coalition For Happiness of Our Next Generation, which links support for gay marriage with increased HIV infections, criticised the government for rushing the laws through.

The majority of the population does not know whats happening, he said. We need to discuss things on different levels because family is the foundation of society.

His fears were shared by Father Otfried Chan, secretary-general of the Chinese Regional Bishops Conference, who believes the court will likely back gay marriage. There is no debate, he said. Its a one-sided game.

Nerves are frayed ahead of the ruling, with both sides intending to demonstrate outside the court.

But for

Chi, the choice is simple.

To legalise marriage would mean that Taiwans civil code and constitution will say that gay people are people, he said. If the law can be changed, Taiwans gay community will have human rights.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/22/taiwans-same-sex-marriage-court-ruling-asias-liberal-beacon

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