Issue 11: go read some books

Nuclear fusion, doomsday planes, AI dreams, vaccine ethics and semiconductor conspiracies

Dear reader,

Welcome to this week’s issue of the Anti-Apocalyptus newsletter. Each week I send you five links about some of the most important challenges of our time: climate change, weapons of mass destruction, emerging technologies, mass causes of death and great power wars. If you haven’t done so yet, feel free to subscribe at the button below, hit the heart button or share this email with anyone who could be interested.

Because of time constraints, and the quite crazy state of the world right now, I don’t have much to say in this introductory section.

I would rather like to give you this reading list. It’s made by the Strelka Institute for their 2021 postgraduate program, and it includes a lot of quite exciting books that overlap with the themes of this newsletter. It includes things like long-termist science-fiction, the book of Thomas Moynihan about the history of existential risk (about which I interviewed him) and the story of how the Apollo space suit was designed.

So if you are in need of some escapism, head over there and have a look.

1. Climate change

NY Times - Compact Nuclear Fusion Reactor Is ‘Very Likely to Work,’ Studies Suggest

Nuclear fusion would be a dream way of combating climate change, as the proposed technology would produce clean energy with much less of the radiation and waste associated with nuclear energy. Nevertheless nuclear fusion is very difficult to accomplish. A team in the US, however, claims they can achieve it by the next decade, and they have a bunch of peer-reviewed papers to back it up.

2. Weapons of mass destruction

Wired - Those ‘Doomsday Planes’ Have Nothing to Do With Trump's Covid-19 Test

Trump contracted COVID-19. And beyond the destabilisation that brings to the approaching US elections, it also caused some atomic anxiety. On social media, people were tracking E-6B Mercury planes who took off around the time of the announcement. These aircraft are command and control centres, that can communicate with nuclear submarines and land-based ICBM’s in case of a nuclear war. It turns out, however, the E-6B’s flights weren’t tied to Trump’s diagnosis, it’s just a symptom of a country permanently ready to engage in nuclear war.

3. Emerging technologies

The Overfitted Brain: Dreams evolved to assist generalization

Very interesting paper that uses insights from AI neural networks to explain why we dream. These types of networks are based on our brains, but also require the researcher to prevent ‘overfitting’ (where the algorithm depends too much on the training dataset, and cannot generalise beyond it). The researcher speculates that dreams fulfil this function in humans: it shows us experiences that are radically different from our day-to-day life, thereby allowing us to better prepare for situations outside of the daily.

4. Mass causes of death

Vox - Who should get the Covid-19 vaccine first? The equality vs. equity debate, explained

By now, we are deep into the COVID-19 pandemic, and researchers across the world are racing to develop a vaccine. But what should we do once we have it? This article explores the different models through which it could be distributed: from vaccine nationalism, to a system where all countries in the world equally divide it step by step, or even a model where the countries with the most cases get it first.

5. Great power war

My semiconductor conspiracy theories

Slightly eccentric, yet very insightful post, about worldwide geopolitical competition around computer chips. These chips are very hard to make, and require high-tech companies, yet at the same time are crucial for digital growth. Which has led to heavy competition between the US and China in this field. In this post someone who works in the area presents her theories about how this competition could go, including her idea that China and the US would go to war over TSMC, a Taiwanese chip-manufacturer.

I hope you enjoyed this newsletter. Feel free to send me comments or remarks by responding to this email. If you haven’t done so yet, please subscribe at the link below, hit the heart button or forward this email to anyone who could be interested.