Issue 29: from bioweapons to face-masks

The end of WMD's, face-mask invention, the missile trap, and AI Index & the Green New Deal

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 such as 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.

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80,000 Hours - Andy Weber on rendering bioweapons obsolete & ending the new nuclear arms race

Great podcast interview with Andy Weber, the previous US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical & Biological Defense Programs. He has a ton of experience in combating weapons of mass destruction, including going around a collapsed USSR in the nineties to find and remove them. He also notes that new technologies like mass sequencing and mRNA vaccines could make bioweapons ineffective, by rapidly allowing us to track and vaccinate against new diseases. Nevertheless this has undertones of mass biological surveillance, something with which Nick Bostrom has grappled before.

CNN - The trailblazing doctor who invented the face mask

Fun article about Dr. Wu Lien-teh, a Chinese-Malaysian doctor, who, while fighting an outbreak of pneunomic plague in Northern China in 1910, pioneered the use of face masks. There’s been a recent resurgence in interest in him, particularly since he’s been given a Google doodle. Epidemiological history helps us contextualise what we’re going through right now, and what we’ll face in the future. If you want to dig deeper, this paper seems a decent start as well.

Slate - The Missile Trap

Great piece by journalist Fred Kaplan on the ICBM replacement debate in the US. These ground-based nuclear missiles are up for a, very expensive, replacement, which Kaplan here traces back to the beginning of US nuclear strategy. Must-read if you want to better understand these missiles that might one day destroy us.

The AI Index Report

Stanford released its yearly AI Index Report, and this year’s edition contains some great data. The highlights can be found in this Twitter thread, and deal, among other things, with where AI investment is going, flows of AI researchers and ethical problems these technologies offer.

The Guardian - The Green New Deal's time has come – but what's happened to Labour's radicalism?

Interesting piece by Adam Tooze on the increase in government investment in both the UK and US, often aimed at stopping climate change. Interestingly this is now being implemented by centrist or right-wing forces, who for years scoffed at such ideas (which were mainly associated with the left). That left in turn is, particularly in the UK, in disarray, with the Labour Party making an unimpressive showing.

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.