Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

Blog: awalkingdelight)

The Dragons of Eden

By: Carl Sagan

Narrated by: JD Jackson, Ann Druyan

Carl Sagan (1934-1996, Author, University of Chicago entry at 16 years of age, received a Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in astronomy and astrophysics in 1960.)

Carl Sagan died from a bone-marrow disease at the relatively young age of 62 in 1996. One generally associates Sagan with his Cosmos series, but his education went far beyond the study of astronomy. His book reflects as much on the philosophy of life as the future of society, science, and technology.

Today’s controversial abortion question is forthrightly addressed by Sagan. He suggests “Right to Life” and a “Women’s Right to Choose” are politically and philosophically extreme ends of a rational argument on abortion. “Right to Life” followers insist all life is precious even though humans kill animals for sport and consumption. “Women’s Right to Choose” followers insist birth of a baby in utero is the sole decision of women because their body and life are only theirs to control.

Sagan suggests a baby in utero in the first trimester may be tested for brain activity and if none is found, no personhood is formed. With no brain activity of a baby in utero, the right of a woman to choose is an equal rights decision. However, to Sagan if brain activity is present, life is present, and abortion is murder. Sagan infers a science based national law could be created that avoids the extremist positions of the “Right to Life” and “Women’s Right to Choose” movements.

Though Sagan may have overemphasized the difference between left brain and right brain function, he notes the advances that have occurred in how specific areas of the brain compete and can be electrically stimulated to elicit thought and action.

Sagan notes how computer gaming opens doors to the advance of computer capability and utility.

Nearly 50 years ago, Sagan’s book suggests much of what has happened in the science of brain function and technology. It seems a shorter step from Sagan’s ideas about computer function to what is presently called artificial intelligence. His view of brain and computer function might lead to a machine/brain confluence. It may be that Sagan’s belief in other forms of terrestrial life are secondary rather than primary interests of our human future.

In 1978, Sagan receives the Nobel Prize for nonfiction with “The Dragons of Eden”. In retrospect, it seems a wise decision by the Nobel panel of judges.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey Through the World’s Strangest Brains

By: Helen Thompson

Narrated by: Helen Thompson

Helen Thompson (British Author, journalist with a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience.)

“Unthinkable” is a series of interviews of people who have a reputation for seeing the world and their place in it, differently. The author is a journalist.

As an investigative reporter, Helen Thompson elicits human perceptions of the world that are different from what most people perceive.

Thompson argues perception of the world comes from the mind. As synaptic activity of the mind is better understood, she infers what is real or false may become more universally understood.

Though Thomson’s interviews are anecdotal, they suggest the mystery of consciousness holds a key to mental health.

An interesting highlight of Thompson’s investigation is the existence of synesthesia in some people. Synesthesia is a neurological condition where information meant to stimulate one of your senses, actually stimulates more than one of your senses. Thompson notes people who have synesthesia may be able to hear colors, feel sound, or taste shapes. Two people with the same diagnosis may not perceive the world in the exact same way but their brains are stimulated to see more than what most people see, hear, or feel.

Synesthesia may be a mixed blessing in that it can overwhelm one’s senses, but it implies a more multifaceted view of reality.

One of Thompson’s last interviews is of a doctor who has a form of synesthesia that magnifies his empathy for patients. He actually feels some of what a patient is experiencing. Presuming the doctor’s senses are not overloaded by empathy, the patient seems more likely to be better served. If the mind’s neurological pathways for synesthesia can be identified, could empathy become instilled in every thinking being? Possibly, but the question remains whether that would enhance or burden humanity by making people who serve society emotionally drained, tired, and demotivated.

An earlier chapter addresses people who can develop “mind palaces” like the fictional character Sherlock Holmes.

They can recall the minutest details of an incident and compare it with information and experience they have acquired over the breadth of their life. If neurological pathways of a mind palace can be replicated in every human mind, could humans use those pathways to recall what they have learned from past experience and education to solve human problems?

One wonders if that is not the direction of A.I. in the future. This leads to concern of life becoming more machine-like than human with the added dimension of life as machine.

A third story is of the man who believes he is dead. His conception of himself is reinforced by brain scans that show very little neuronal activity though he continues to wake up every morning and function like a human during the day. He has little emotion or hunger and feels comfortable spending the day in a cemetery among those whom he feels are fellow travelers. Through medication, his neuronal activity is re-established, and he becomes more aware of his existence among the living.

A third story is of the man who believes he is dead. This anecdotal story reinforces belief that life is all in the mind.

There are more bizarre stories, but the underlying theme is life is defined by consciousness. Examples are given to show how parts of the brain are interconnected by neurons that pass information to the body about human existence in the world. The inference is that as humanity gains knowledge of how this interconnection works and which parts of the brain control neuronal activity, it will be possible to change human life. The impossible question to answer is whether that change will have good or ill effects on society. Of course, that may be moot if humanity cannot come to grips with the harm that is being done to the world’s environment.

This is a book one may set aside as an anecdotal journey into bizarre human anomalies.  On the other hand, it affirms the importance of understanding everyone is part of humanity. It seems search for understanding of consciousness is essential for the continuation of human beings, whether mentally disabled, psychotic, neurotic, or diagnostically normal.


Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

The Data Detective

By: Tim Harford

Narrated by: Tim Harford

Tim Harford (British Author, Master’s degree in economics, journalist.)

Tim Harford gives listeners a practical application of “Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow” in the art of statistical analysis. Sounds boring, just as the title “The Data Detective” but in this day of media overload Harford castes a warning. Be skeptical of conclusions drawn by statistical data, whether accumulated by business interests, science nerds, or algorithms. Think slow because thinking fast obscures understanding of statistical analysis. Above all, be curious when reading a statistical analysis that either adds or subtracts from your understanding. With that admonition, Harford offers ten ways to question the veracity and truthfulness of statistical analysis.

Tim Harford gives listeners a practical application of “Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow” in the art of statistical analysis.

Harford argues it is important to investigate a writer’s qualifications as an analyst, and the “how, why, and when” data is collected. As the famous economist Milton Friedman said, “Statistics do not speak for themselves.” Or, as Mark Twain made famous, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” It appears Harford agrees with Friedman, but not Twain, because he believes understanding a statistical study can reveal possible or at least probable truth.

Dr. Cuyler Hammond and Dr. Daniel Horn were smokers up until they finished their statistical report that correlated smoking with cancer.

Harford gives an example of statistical reports that correctly correlated smoking with lung cancer. Cuyler Hammond’s and Daniel Horn’s 1952 statistical study led to the 1964 Surgeon General report that confirmed cancer’s correlation with smoking. The disheartening story Harford tells is the tobacco industry’s purposeful effort to deny correlation. The tobacco industry’s methods were to suggest other causes, like auto exhaust or other carcinogens, as likely causes of lung cancer. They created doubt, whether true or false, which poisons belief in statistical studies.

Like the cowboy Marlboro smoker demonstrating a healthy image of a smoker, advertising obscures facts. The smoking industry successfully created doubt.

Harford explains personal investigation based on curiosity and detective work is necessary if one is looking for a probability of truth.

American free enterprise is created to produce product, service and jobs while making enough profit to stay in business. Sometimes those goals interfere with truth.

As human nature would have it, some businesses care less about truth than profit. This is not meant as a criticism but as an affirmation of human nature.

Harford explains there are many statistical studies purporting rises in crime, inequality, poverty, and medical health that need to be closely examined for validity. He argues every conclusion drawn from statistical surveys that contradict interest-group’ or individual’ belief should be closely examined. The methodology of a good statistical study must be understood within its era, its compiler’s biases, its stipulated human cohort, its conclusion, and its tested repeatability by others.

Harford challenges the supposition that violence has increased in America. This is undoubtedly music to the ears of elected officials who resist national gun control measures. Harford and the famed psychologist, Steven Pinker, suggest statistical analysis shows violence of earlier history is greater than in the 21st century. Harford acknowledges this is no comfort to the heart-rending reality of a child lost to suicide by gun or the horrendous school shootings of the last 3 years. As Horford explains statistics do not register human grief. Statistics are an impersonal unfeeling view of human life.

Harford does not read statistical surveys as truth but as a roadmap for discovery. He looks at a statistical survey like a detective searching for details. Who are the gatherers of the statistics? How were they collected? Why are they relevant? What period do statistics represent and do they relate the present to the past? Without answers, Harford argues statistical surveys are no better than propaganda.

Harford offers a graphic example of the context needed to clearly illustrate the value of statistical studies. The history of America’s invasion of Iraq and its human cost is dramatically and comprehensively revealed in one statistical picture.

Harford’s story shows how graphics can capsulize a statistical truth that shocks one’s senses. Simon Scarr summarizes a statistical report on deaths from the Iraq war with one graph.

Harford advances his view of the metaverse and its growing role in the world. He gives examples of Target’ and Costco’ algorithms that tells a father his daughter is pregnant, and infers a wife’s husband is cheating. A Target algorithm sends a note to a father about the pending birth of a baby based on his daughter’s purchases at the store. Costco sends a rebuy message for condoms to a wife when she calls and explains they never use condoms. Both stores apologize for sending their notes and say their stores made auto-response mistakes. Harford notes email apologies are a common response of stores that use similar algorithms.

Harford notes the irony of a metaverse that invades privacy with algorithms that can easily mislead or affirm societal trends or personal transgressions.

The last chapters of Harford’s book reinforce the importance of statistical studies by recounting the history of Florence Nightingale’s heroic hospital service in Turkey during the Crimean war (1853-1856). Harford explains Nightingale’s interest in mathematics and association with luminaries like Charles Babbage (an English polymath that originated the concept of a digital programmable computer). Nightingale’s hospital service and interest in mathematics lead her to correlate patient’ diseases with causes. The hospital to which she was assigned by the U. K. was without proper food and water. The hospital was dirty, and disease ridden. She had two objectives. First to have food and water supplied, and second to clean the hospital. Her statistical analysis made her realize cleaning was as important as food and clean water in reducing contagion among her patients. Like the statistical analysis of smoking and cancer changed smokers, Nightingale changed nursing.

Florenvce Nightingale (1820-1910, English social reformer born in Italy, Founder of modern nursing.)

“The Data Detective” is a disturbing book that shows the power of media and how it can mislead as well as inform the public.

This is a disturbing book that shows the power of media and how it can mislead as well as inform the public. With poorly or intentionally misleading statistical studies, opposing interest groups harden their political beliefs.

Harford concludes with an appeal to discordant interest groups to be curious about why they disagree with each other.  Reputable statistical analysis can improve one’s belief in probable truth and decrease echo chamber‘ adherence of disparate interest groups.


Audio-book Review
            By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

Heart of the Machine (Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence)

Release Date 3/14/17

By: Richard Yonck

Narrated by: Robertson Dean

Richard Yonck (Author, futurist, consultant, TED speaker, MA from London Film School 1981-1983, Attended Univ. of Wa. 1977-1980.)

Richard Yonck argues the next step in technology is to program emotion into machines. As a skeptic, one’s first reaction is to search for information on Yonck’s background. One finds it is eclectic and more literary than science driven.

Yonck notes human learning is intimately connected with emotion. Emotions of parents and offspring arguably shape children’s view of the world as much as genetic inheritance. Yonck explains parents’ and people’s faces become a school from which children learn the characteristics of emotion. Yonck explains emotional signals reinforce human’ memory, belief, and behavior.

Yonck notes as the growth of facial recognition expands, facial expressions can be programmed into machines to interpret human emotion. The troubling thought is that machines programed with emotions may either negatively react to human facial expression or worse, become unbalanced, like children who act out of anger. With the addition of emotion, machines become capable of learning but also of becoming psychotic just like humans. Yonck suggests a safeguard like Asimov’s three robot rules that argues for programing machines to protect humanity. These rules are meant to deny machines any right to harm humans.


Assimov creates a fourth rule to preserve humanity, but a recurrent theme in his stories show ways in which these rules fail. In the real world, even if the rules were effective, who ensures all machines are programmed with Asimov’s rules?

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992, Russian born American author and professor of biochemistry.)

Programming emotions into machines gives them an essential requirement for learning but that learning can be subverted. Human nature accompanies every decision made by human beings, whether a Hitler or Mahatma Gandhi. A non-conforming leader could refuse to program machines with Asimov’s rules. Government leaders could have machines programmed to kill anyone who disagrees with their leadership.

Money, power, and prestige incentivize both good and bad leaders. The same might be said for learning machines.

Putting concern with the history of human nature aside, Yonck notes some benefits from programming emotions into machines. Machines will be able to think and learn on their own with emotion programming. The demographics of countries like China and Japan suggest an aging cohort will hinder economic growth and diminish needed help for relatives of the working population. Much of that help could be provided by programmed intelligent’ machines. Just as happened with the industrial revolution, jobs will be lost, and retraining will be required. But, a benefit will inure to the elderly who need assistance and the working young who do not have the time or inclination to care for the elderly.

Yonck suggests machines will be partners and companions of human beings. Psycho-sexual relationships will develop between machines and humans. Machines will replace work for humans while increasing product research, development, and production. Machines will reduce social inequality by increasing the general wealth of the world. That is a best-case scenario.

A consequence of thinking-machine programming is that machines will either outlast their human companions or break down and be grieved by their survivors. Of course, machine death is not much different than the birth and death of humans. Humans break down (die) and are grieved by those left behind.

Another evolutionary possibility suggested by Yonck is the melding of human mind and machine. He notes a treatment for PTSD (actually approved by FDA) that involves electrical stimulation of a portion of the brain that appears to activate anxiety from recalled traumatic events. Yonck suggests continuing brain research will reveal neuronal pathways of thought and action that can be modified by electrical stimulation. He infers this is a first step in a journey toward a human/machine singularity like the transition from ape to humanoid to homo sapiens in geological history. He suggests a new human/machine society might be the next evolutionary change of humankind.

In the last chapters of Yonck’s book several examples of brain intervention are noted. Two interventions are direct with invasive insertions of wire into the brain and electrical stimulation from skull caps and clothing. A third type of intervention is with drugs. All have mixed results.

Yonck is a TED conference speaker. His writings have a quality of entertainment that makes him interesting if not steeped in science. On balance, Yonck appears more optimistic than pessimistic about the future of A.I. whether emotion programing for machines occurs or not.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

Rise of the Machines (A Cybernetic History)

Release Date 6/28/16

By: Thomas Rid

Narrated by: Robertson Dean

Thomas Rid (Author, political science Professor received Ph.D from Humboldt Univ. of Berlin in 2006.)

Thomas Rid’s history of the “Rise of the Machines” is a political perspective on society’s adoption of cybernetics (the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things).

Rid begins his history with the industrial age that created machines and increased worker productivity while displacing and retraining workers to meet the needs of a growing economy.

Rid’s history defines the origin and significance of cybernetics. It may be interpreted positively or negatively. Viewing the state of the world today, there is room for praise and criticism. On the one hand “Rise of the Machines” offered opportunities and prosperity, on the other, it promoted murder and mayhem. The irony of both is they come from the same source, military R & D. Like Willie Sutton said about robbing banks, military defense budgets are “…where the money is”.

Rid recognizes Norbert Wiener’s formative role in the cybernetic age. Rid notes Wiener develops communications engineering and cybernetic theory during WWII. Rid reminds listeners of the military’s radar refinement and jet pilot cybernetic helmets, long before virtual reality became available to the public. The key to Wiener’s success is experimenters’ recognition of the importance of environmental feedback when designing machines to precisely locate an enemy target or for pilots to engage an enemy plane.

Norbert Wiener (American mathematician and philosopher, 1894-1964.)

Feedback is key to efficient machine performance because it provides information for changed response in the same way humans respond differently when circumstances or environments change.

Rid gives the example of pilot helmet refinement, partly related to ideas of the Star War’s movie.

Darth Vader’s helmet became a model for pilots of newer jet fighters.

The original helmets were unwieldy and uncomfortable. In Vietnam, the rough terrain led to GE research on motorized robots. However, what they found was the rough terrain and swampy land made them too vulnerable for practical use. GE’s research shows limitations but leads to robotic mechanization for repetitive work in fixed environments of industrial production.

Rid digresses with science fictions’ contribution to the advance of cybernetics. Timothy Leery, and Scientology were early endorsers of Wiener’s theory of cybernetics. Timothy Leery extolls the virtues of LSD as an entry to a different reality. One of Leary’s friends is Jaron Lanier who created an early version of virtual reality headwear.

L. Ron Hubbard claims Scientology’s connection to cybernetics. Wiener pointedly objects to Hubbard’s claim and forbids further association of Scientology with cybernetics.

The first computer is invented in the 19th century by an English mechanical engineer named Charles Babbage. It was an early form of number computation and analysis. It was a century ahead of its time. During WWII, British codebreakers needed to decipher German miliary communications. In 1936, Alan Turing writes a paper “On Computable Numbers…” that leads to employment by the British during WWII to decode German military communications. Turing’s computer decoded Germany’s secret enigma machine’ messages. As a result, Turing becomes known as the father of modern computer science.

The early internet years came in the 1960s from the need for a communications network for government researchers to share information.

That network is called ARPANET, which is financed by the U.S. Department of Defense. It is transformed into the world wide web, now known as the internet. Rid’s book is published in 2016. The potential of cybernetics in war is clearly demonstrated by Ukraine’s ability to resist a much larger and better equipped foreign power.

The role of the military in cybernetics research and development is shown as both critical and essential in Rid’s history.

Ukraine’s use of cybernetic surveillance for military equipment targeting and drone weaponization equalizes power and effectiveness of two mismatched powers.

Though not a subject of Rid’s history, the principal value of free speech is diminished by a cybernetic world that is not properly legislated, adjudicated and enforced by rule-of-law. Internet users have been influenced by media trolls who spew lies and disinformation. Young people kill themselves because of being dissed on the internet. The internet gives voice to hate groups around the world. Gaming is a principal revenue producer in the cybernetic world that patently discounts reality. Human value is discounted by the mayhem of computer gaming.

School children shoot teachers and students with impunity, as though they are creatures in a cyber world.

As late as yesterday, 3/27/23, another school shooting occurs in Nashville, Tennessee. Three adults and three nine-year-old children are killed.

Rid notes cybernetics’ military application both protects and exposes security of nations around the world. Rid writes about an American military intelligence penetration by foreign and domestic hackers during the Clinton administration. Hackers have the tools to disrupt both economic and military operations around the world. Of course, those tools are multiplying. With quantum computing, existing passwords will become obsolete. Intelligence services of all countries are becoming more and more capable of disrupting military or domestic affairs of any foreign power.


Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

The Chessboard and the Web

By: Anne Marie Slaughter

Narrated by: Jo Anna Perrin

Anne-Marie Slaughter (Author, foreign policy analyst, served as Director of Policy Planning under Hilliary Clinton.)

“The Chessboard and the Web” is not about rebuilding Ukraine. However, Slaughter presents an insightful view of diplomacy that confronts international conflict with an idea that applies to Ukraine’s future.

Ukraine is invaded by Russia in 2022, nearly 5 years after Anne Marie Slaughter’s book is published.

Inevitably, either Ukraine or Russia will sue for peace. Ukraine will survive as an independent nation-state. Neither Ukraine nor Russia will come away from this war with a satisfactory resolution. Ukraine’s challenge will be to rebuild their country within whatever boundary is part of a yet-to-be-determined peace agreement. No one knows what will happen to Putin, but President Zelensky will face the complex task of rebuilding Ukraine.

Slaughter gives several examples of how interconnectedness has changed the course of history in modern times and aided thousands of people impacted by natural disasters and internecine conflicts.

Slaughter argues natural disaster relief and international conflict is more constructively addressed by the interconnectedness of the world wide web.

Slaughter offers examples of how interconnectedness changes the nature of management. Though General Stanly McChrystal is discharged for disrespecting President Obama’s administration, he is instrumental in establishing a rebel fighting force in Afghanistan. McChrystal eliminates Al Qaeda’s leader by creating a web of interconnected Afghan rebels that advise the American military of Al Qaeda’s movements. McChrystal is widely acknowledged as an effective leader and accomplished soldier.

General Stanley A. McChrystal (Commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan.)

In one way, the world wide web is an unstoppable technological change that invades everyone’s privacy. On the other hand, it offers a tool for cultural understanding, team building, and actionable public policy to deal with natural disasters, war’s destruction and its aftermath.  

Slaughter gives the following example: With web interconnectedness, two former Marines create a 38,000-person volunteer group called Team Rubicon that aids Haiti survivors after a 7.0 earthquake.

Either by design or circumstance, Ukraine citizens set up decentralized teams of fighters to repel the Russian army. Ukrainian fighters’ interconnectedness came, in part, from Elon Musk’s satellites. With that interconnectedness, Ukrainians successfully fought off Russia’s invading army. Zelensky is the leader of Ukraine’s defensive effort. But it is individual group leaders, connected by the web, that have successfully defended Ukraine. Zelensky is the President and leader of the country, but he wisely allows respective team leaders to conduct the war against the Russian invaders. That same system can be used to rebuild Ukraine when peace is achieved.

What Slaughter reveals is an idea that should be adopted by President Zelensky to rebuild Ukraine when Putin’s criminal invasion is defeated. Zelensky has done a heroic job of leading his country in war. He shows the capability of being a leader for Ukraine’s reconstruction.

The team leaders of Ukraine’s defense are prime candidates for team leadership when the war is over. President Zelensky knows who the best team leaders have been during the war.

Slaughter is not arguing this is a simple way of rebuilding a country, managing re-construction after a natural disaster, or resolving political crises. Her point is the complexity of international relations, war, and reconstruction can be met by decentralized teams organized around competent leaders using the internet. Their interconnectedness can address complexity based on intimate knowledge and decentralized command. Zelensky would need to establish a financial review process to monitor team results and discipline bad actors, but field decisions would be left to interconnected on-site leaders.

Human nature is what it is, and some leaders will succumb to the lure of money, power, and prestige.  However, through careful oversight, theft can be mitigated, and team leaders can be replaced as circumstances demand.

No leadership system, interconnected or not, is full proof. Slaughter’s service in Obama’s government, under the wing of Hillary Clinton, did not eliminate mistakes. The murder of Libya’s leader created a political mess during Clinton’s and Obama’s watch. Syria’s use of chemical weapons killed Syrian civilians. Obama is certainly right to not have invaded Syria for that transgression, but Obama and his red-line comment unnecessarily made America look weak. There were Obama successes. By the same token, re-construction of Ukraine will suffer from mistakes, but Ukraine’s President has shown how mistakes can be corrected. Zelensky acted against corruption by Ukranian team leaders who tried to profit from war material scams.

Slaughter’s last chapters explain the difference between leadership styles of the past and present. In the internet age, wide interconnection of disparate interests suggests a new leadership style, more like being a gardener than a martinet who insists on followers doing it her or his way.

The world wide web and interconnectedness is a two-edged sword. As with all ideas, web interconnectedness can be good or evil.  As with any plan for action, there is always potential for unintended consequence. Re-building is going to be a major undertaking for the Ukrainian people and government. Every American hopes the war will be over soon and Ukraine’s reconstruction can begin.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

The Future of Money (How the Digital Revolution is Transforming Currencies and Finance.)

By: Eswar S. Prasad

Narrated by: Stephen R. Thorne

Eswar Prasad (Author, Economist.)

“The Future of Money” offers a short history and long explanation of the strengths and weaknesses of filthy lucre.

Prasad begins with the often-told story of how money began as a precious metal transforming to paper for easier exchange between seller and purchaser. The value of money has always been malleable. Its value changed in early times based on authoritarian rule and later in ways Prasad’s book explains as an evolutionary trust of money.

Genghis Khan is at one end of the spectrum where currency value is based on the value set by the ruler. If one disagrees with money’s mandated value, you are executed. Later the value of money is supported by full faith and credit of respective governments, inferring execution is less likely.

In modern times, value of money is turning to technology. Still, in every case, Prasad notes money’s value is based on trust.

Eswar Prasad explains money’s transformation from coin to paper to digital exchange. Prasad shows digital money is less tactilely filthy, but its form and value is as impactful as ever. In the remainder of Prasad’s long book, reader/listeners find how difficult it is to provide foundational legitimacy for digital currencies.

A number of chapters of Prasad’s book reveals the many financial transaction rails (electronic payment methods) that have been created with the widening use of the internet.

A cashless society began with credit cards and has proliferated to where “coin of the realm” is not accepted by some vendors. Prasad explains transaction fees on credit cards have led to alternative payment rails to reduce costs to both vendors and buyers.

As of 2021, the most commonly used alternative methods of payment are PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Bizum, WeChat, and Alipay. The number of users of these payment rails is increasing because of credit card’ fees.

Two with the most customers, WeChat and Alipay have over a billion users each.

Today, particularly after the FTX fiasco, digital money’s value has lost trust. All forms of value in money are subject to human fallibility. The fallibility of any form of money is in humankind’s nature which is subject to ignorance, greed, and power.

An attempt is made to mitigate greed and power with bitcoin. One suspects ignorance of digital currency remains for most of the public. Anyone can access the bitcoin platform. Theoretically no one can identify a singular person’s account without that person’s personal access code that can only be entered from the owner’s computer device. However, there remain fundamental reasons for one to be skeptical of a bitcoin owner’s security. Trust continues to be a concern for cryptocracy’s utility and value.

Aside from business ineptitude, having one’s own key to a bitcoin entity is no guarantee of security, even if any entry from another computer cannot use the key? What keeps a hacker from capturing a user’s code in blockchain and cloning a bitcoin computer to use the key to steal bitcoin value?  

Theft of passwords and private keys is hackable if information is kept anywhere in a computer file. This is not to mention the capability of social engineering by smooth-talking hackers.

FTX is in court today. Value of bitcoin assets has fallen to the point of FTX’s possible bankruptcy. It is unclear if the FTX collapse is from weakness of bitcoin transparency or its founder’s ineptitude. In any case, there is a precipitous loss of trust in bitcoin value.

How is bitcoin blockchain security significantly different in today’s tech-savvy world? One argument is that its control is decentralized rather than centralized. So what? Decentralized control carries its own set of risks.

The reality is bitcoin’ blockchain use and creation is part of what has led to the FTX mess. The so-called strength of not having centralized regulation of digital currency is shown to be a weakness. The pitch is that bitcoin is designed and intended not to require government regulation because of the mystical belief that regulation magically appears because of user transparency. Blockchain security does not appear to be any more trustworthy than a paper dollar in a tech-savvy world.

Another issue raised by Prasad is value instability of bitcoin.

Crypto currency is being tested by different governments around the world. These governments are trying to widen crypto currencies trust and value through greater diversification of support from nation-state’ assets. The idea may reduce instability, but there remains a question of oversight. Yes, oversight–that dreaded function labeled government regulation. User transparency is not enough as is proven by the failure of FTX.

Prasad tackles the complexity of inflation and the difficulty of controlling its negative impact on public welfare and economic health. Inflation often leads to a cycle of impoverishment that hits those who are poorest the most.

When inflation occurs, the cost of living (particularly food and shelter) is disproportionally lost by the poor. What is called helicoptering of money to families below a certain income level mitigated the worst consequence of unemployment during Covid in the United States. Covid’s impact and the decision to helicopter money caused a cycle of inflation in America, but it also reduced hardship and stabilized the economy.

Prasad notes inflation is being mitigated by Federal Reserve’s tightening of monetary policy by raising interest rates. The risk of that action is that those at the lowest end of the income market may lose their jobs because of industry layoffs. Prasad explains rising interest rates reduce business investment which can trigger a downward spiral in the economy.

It seems no coincidence that homelessness has become a national problem in America at the time of monetary policy disruption. Some argue change in monetary policy and Covid recovery have nothing to do with homelessness. Some argue citizens have just lost their motivation to work. Believing it is a loss of motivation seems ridiculous when one looks at conditions in which the homeless live. Whatever the cause, America is the wealthiest nation in the world and can reduce homelessness by acting responsibly.

Though not addressed by Prasad, homelessness is a national problem that should be funded by the national government at a local level so cities can adequately attack its multiple causes.

Prasad notes helicopter funding is only one arrow in monetary policies government quiver. Digital currency has made some people rich, but its control needs to be regulated to serve the needs of society more broadly.

One idea Prasad explains is the idea of a central bank digital currency (aka CBDC), presently being studied by the Federal Government.

Bitcoin, under the supervision of government, is a contradiction of the original inventor’s intent. However, the idea of blockchain, technology, and bitcoin opens a door to improving economic conditions of the poor around the world. The potential for CBDC, in concert with today’s access to internet payment rails, is a growing 21st century economic opportunity. It is not because of the idea of CBDC alone, but CBDC in concert with the internet and mobile phones could change the course of economic history. The evidence Prasad points to is Africa and the creation of a mobile phone service that offers the poor a way to pay bills without a checking account and collect income for product created for sale.

Prasad explains how people in the lowest economic classes have gained access to money for pay and income by using features of mobile phones.

Prasad explains the many experiments with digital currency are changing the world’s economy. Prasad notes the general concern is the amount of influence and regulation a government digital currency might have on its country of origin. On the one hand it offers opportunity for economic improvement. On the other, it creates a vehicle for an intrusive invasion of privacy. Anything entered into a computer potentially becomes public knowledge.

Further, Prasad notes the American dollar is already the most influential currency in the world. The idea of an American controlled digital currency is threatening to many countries, both in western and eastern blocs.

One who reads Prasad’s book is likely to conclude America will eventually create a digital currency. FTX shows digital currency cannot regulate itself without oversight. Whether America will remain the big dog in currency influence depends on an unknown future. No government’s digital currency has been successful as of this date.


Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

The Metaverse (And How It Will Revolutionize Everything)

By: Matthew Ball

Narrated by: Luis Moreno

Matthew Ball (Author, Managing Partner Epyllion Industries.)

“The Metaverse” is widely talked about but little understood by the public. In Matthew Ball’s densely packed review of todays and tomorrow’s tech future. Listeners will be surprised to find how far the metaverse is from today’s world but how life-changing it will be in the future. The metaverse has not achieved its potential but when fully developed, Ball implies the metaverse will be the most revolutionary societal change since the industrial revolution.

Ball infers metaverse’ virtual and augmented reality are at a “model T” stage of development.

Model T Ford built in October 1908.

For we who are ignorant of the inner workings of coding and computer hardware, Ball implies metaverse’ virtual and augmented reality are at a “model T” stage of development. Having to use a cumbersome headset or computer aided eyeglasses are far from accurately creating or recalling reality. Ball explains, to achieve reality in the metaverse, hardware and software development is many years from success. The computer power and coding requirements, not to mention political regulation, of a metaverse are limited by current human capability and knowledge. However, Ball notes that capability and knowledge are works in progress.

Today’s metaverse is constrained by headset utility and code limitations.

The metaverse is an expansion of the internet. Once a metaverse reaches its full potential, it will create a three-dimensional network that will be different, if not new, reality. It will encompass the world as it was, as it is, and as it will be. Ball’s explanation of the metaverse is optimistic but burdened by an unlikely change in human nature.

The internet, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft seem at the head of the class for today’s metaverse.

Facebook creates social connection. Apple creates hardware with IPhone portability, Amazon creates a marketplace, Google and Microsoft create software. They all capitalize on internet use. They coordinate lesser-known businesses and code creators to chip away at the complexity of creating a virtual 3D world. Because five mega-corporations are at the center of metaverse’ research, they are an indicator of a political danger. Having singular controllers of the metaverse threaten societal independence and choice. Later chapters suggest a key to containing that danger is block chain computing.

Block chain is a list of interconnected records that everyone can see but cannot change. It offers transparency that theoretically allows one to judge its validity. What it does not consider is the oversight of records and how information may be hacked to distort reality or steal value.

The collapse of FTX in 2022/2023 is a prime example of block chain risk.

As coding achieves the goal of three-dimensional creation, the idea of augmented reality becomes real. The simple idea of replicating a 3D piece of clothing requires reams of ones and zeros written by teams of coders. No singular company can hire enough coders to create three dimensional animate and inanimate objects. Ball explains the key to successful metaverse creation is capitalist freedom. Coders are media users, some of which become independent contractors who create ones and zeros that detail characteristics of the world for established internet companies. They are compensated for code that details objects like a shoe with shoelaces, eyelets, a corrugated sole, colors for its various parts and everything that makes a shoe a real thing.

The roadblock to achieving virtual reality is in the laborious task of coding to replicate details of life in three dimensions.

Ball explains gaming is at the front end of today’s metaverse because it is a first step that does not require the massive input needed to create a three-dimensional world.

The irony of this observation is that the best future coders are today’s youth who are captured by the gaming industry. As these young people mature, their coding experience reinforces the future of the metaverse. Ball notes the gaming industry opens the door to a two-dimensional world which infers potential for creating the third dimension, i.e., the world in which we live.

Ball argues a key to create the metaverse is capitalism and its practice in a free society.

The wealth of nations owes its prosperity to the industrial revolution. Ball’s argument for “capitalism in a free society” as the prime mover for the metaverse is weakened by recorded history.

Authoritarian leaders like Joseph Stalin used force to industrialize Russia into the U.S.S.R. Not just capitalism in a free society is a prime mover for the metaverse. Authoritarianism is an equivalent (much harsher) prime mover for the potential of the metaverse.

President Xi in the 21st century appears to be heading in a more Stalinist authoritarian direction.

The metaverse may be the equivalent of the industrial revolution but whether that will be a good or ill omen is as difficult to know as whether A.I. will be an enhancement or threat to society.

Will the metaverse change human nature–doubtful. Money, power, and prestige have ruled the world since the beginning of history.

The metaverse is unlikely to change human nature. What Ball makes clear is the metaverse is here in a two-dimensional, gaming and internet sense. It will only become more powerful as the third dimension is added.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Extended Mind

By: Annie Murphy Paul

   Narrated by: Annie Murphy Paul

Annie Murphy Paul (Author, graduate of Yale and Columbia University with a Journalism major).

Annie Murphy Paul is a science writer who has lectured at TED TALK about learning, memory, and cognition. She has written articles for “Scientific American”, and several national newspapers. The interesting insight of “The Extended Mind” is that learning, teaching, and memory are significantly enhanced by physical activity.

From birth to maturity, Paul notes physical activity is a critical component of human thought, and action but memory is a critical dimension for both.

This seems tautological at first glance. After all, learning by doing is a self-evident truth. However, Paul explains learning by doing is only the tip of a much larger truth. She argues physical activity informs and extends the mind to ignore, remember, repeat, or forget everything we know or do. Without physical activity, minds atrophy, memories fade, and bodies die.

Paul explains learning is enhanced by physical activity.

Scientific experiments show that learning and memory are improved by association with physical movement. Reading about an experiment may enlighten the uninformed; however, being the experimenter enhances memory of the experiment’s proof. Sitting and thinking about doing is more forgettable than doing what one is thinking about.

Paul notes that association with physical movement is like a mnemonic that aids memory.

She suggests a defined hand gesture has more value than mnemonic association for memory. One might think of a “P” to remember Paul as the author of this book. On the other hand, one might physically form the letter “P” with three fingers and the memory of the author becomes more memorable.

Paul cites several examples of how teachers have improved their teaching skills by encouraging physical activity with interactive class assignments and subjects.

Paul suggests strict order in a classroom (e.g., sitting at one’s desk and reading an assignment or teacher dictation of lessons) limits memory of subjects covered in the school room. She suggests learning is enhanced by social interaction.

After brief experience as a high school teacher, some of what Paul explains makes sense. The difficulty is implementing her ideas when trying to balance the variety of student strengths and weaknesses with their social and economic difference.

Learning may be improved by social interaction, but human nature often gets in the way. For example, social interaction may be viewed as a threat to an introverted student. The introvert is unlikely to participate in a social grouping. The same can be said of those with a different religion, heritage, ethnicity, or gender.

On the other hand, there is wisdom in requiring social interaction even when involving students who are introverted or challenged by their familial upbringing. People grow and educate others from uncomfortable emotional and physical circumstances.

Paul extends her argument to business office environments and how collaborative office orientations improve company creativity and performance.

She tempers that argument based on group preferences where some may be more comfortable in an environment that is more structured than unstructured. This is not contradicting the argument of physical activity as essential for enhanced productivity in the office. She goes so far as to suggest treadmills at workstations for some offices.

Several years ago, this critics preference for audiobooks came from boredom associated with activity that required little directed attention.

Personal experience confirms Paul’s argument. Though detailed memory is far from ideal, exercise while listening to an audiobook has been rewarding.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Journey to the Edge of Reason (The Life of Kurt Gödel)

By: Stephen Budiansky

Narrated by: Bob Souer

Stephen Budiansky (American writer, historian, and biographer with B.S. in chemistry and S.M. in applied mathematics, Yale and Harvard.)

Stephen Budiansky offers a biography of one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century. His name was Kurt Gödel.

Kurt Gödel (Logician, mathematician, philosopher 1906-1978.)

It is the biographic details and good writing that make “Journey to the Edge of Reason” interesting. Budiansky sets a table for what becomes Gödel’s life.

Budiansky explains the history of Austria before WWI and WWII. Gödel’s family lives an upper-middleclass life when their son Kurt is born. That lifestyle is interrupted by WWI and destroyed by WWII. In the mid-19th century, the Austro-Hungarian empire, particularly Vienna, is a center for education and culture in Europe. Unlike much of the continent, equality of opportunity, regardless of religion and ethnicity, were available in the Austro-Hungarian’ capitol of Vienna. For a short time, Vienna became a magnate for Jewish immigrants seeking education and opportunity.

Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria (Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary 1848-1916)

When the heir to Franz Joseph’s throne, Archduke Francis Ferdinand is assassinated, religious and ethnic difference becomes increasingly disparate and nationalistic. After WWI, it becomes impossible for the empire to stay together, but Vienna remains a cultural and educational center for Europe. It is in this environment that Gödel is born and formally educated.

The culture changed with the death of Emperor Francis Joseph I in 1916. The change began with Austria’s defeat by the German state of Prussia in 1866. Francis Joseph’s leadership required accommodation to hold the empire together, but seeds of discontent and discrimination were sown. The empire’s population is constituted by Austrians, Czechs, Croats, Serbs, Slovenes, and others, with different religious affiliations.

Gödel is an excellent student who attends studies among many who were increasingly discriminated against, particularly Jews. Though not Jewish, Gödel is not infected by growing anti-Jewish sentiment of the times. Budiansky reminds listeners that Hitler grows up in this Austrian Viennese environment.

WWII arrives and the Gödel family falls on hard times. Before the second world war, in 1931, Kurt Gödel develops the “incompleteness theorem” of mathematics. He is only 25. He is soon recognized by leading mathematicians for this foundational theory.

Kurt Gödel developed two theorems of mathematical logic that limit the provability of mathematics. One plus one makes two, but Gödel’s fundamental theories claim its truth is mathematically unprovable. To one steeped in mathematics that may make sense. To this reviewer, it does not.

Budiansky explains how Gödel eventually escapes Vienna at the beginning of WWII. He arrives at Princeton in 1940. Gödel becomes close friends with Einstein and Oskar Morgenstern. Budiansky notes how instrumental other geniuses, like John von-Neumann, were in advancing Gödel’s career.

John von Neumann (1903-1957, Hungarian American mathematician, physicist, computer scientist, engineer and polymath with an eidetic memory.)

A striking fact in Budiansky’s biography of Gödel is how many geniuses came to America from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Without its education system, the Viennese equal opportunity, and the attraction of western freedom, the advance of science and its role in the world would be diminished.

Gödel’s life story revolves around math and its provability limits. Gödel’s life waivers between paranoia and accommodation with periods of terror and intermittent tranquility. Gödel’s paranoia is relieved at times and Budiansky notes his friends recognized his genius while noting his episodic behavioral abnormality.

A listener begins to believe Gödel’s personal life becomes defined by a consciousness of unprovable actions and intentions of others, exacerbated by events over which he has little control.

A surprising sidelight to Budiansky’s biography is Gödel’s odd marriage to what Budiansky characterizes as an uneducated Austrian woman named Adele.

Budiansky explains Adele saves Gödel’s life by bringing him back to reality when he nearly starves himself to death with a paranoid belief that someone is trying to poison him.

Gödel takes daily walks with Einstein. Their walks are legendary according to Budiansky.  They were frequently seen together at Princeton. Einstein recognizes Gödel’s paranoia for what it is but acknowledges the brilliance of his understanding of mathematics, its logistic continuity, and its limitation.

There often seems a fine line between genius and normality. One is reminded of the unheralded Paul Dirac who is compared by some to Einstein but, because of his isolationist behavior, is largely unknown to the general public.

As a non-mathematician one may not understand the importance of Gödel’s theory, but Budiansky does a great service to the public by writing Gödel’s biography.