Amazon's new HQ2
We all know the tech behemoths (Amazon, Google, Facebook etc) pay basically nothing to contribute to the infrastructure and society they rely on so much.
What's often ignored is that governments love to help them do so.
Amazon is building a second 'HQ2' away from its current Seattle home, and US cities are throwing their citizen's hard earned money at its feet in attempt to entice it to build in their home town. It's like some sort of desperate, pathetic marriage proposal the most popular kid in school from literally everyone else. Except the popular kid isn't popular, and he already nicks everyone's lunch money and he not a kid but one of the most powerful corporations in the world.
Amazon pays just 0.0077% tax on its European revenues currently. It has UK sales totalling 4bn, and yet when queried by the UK public accounts committee, claimed that it didn't actually have any sales in the UK. I don't know about you, but I'm now confused about where all that stuff I order from amazon comes from if it's not amazon? It certainly looks like it has the amazon logo on. Certainly smells like amazon. Hmm...
Amazon received 238 offers from different cities ranging from $1.3bn in tax cuts in Chicago, to a strange scheme in Fresno, California that would give over control of spending the pathetic amount of tax Amazon pays to…well, amazon itself. Not really a tax then is it.
Boston have even offered to provide a 'city taskforce' of city employees who would work to protect amazon's interests in the city.
That's all very lovely, it's not like a 'city taskforce' could be doing other things in Massachusetts, it's not like there are 17,500 homeless people across the state, a doubling from 1990 and 2/3 of them in families with children. Yeah, it makes sense really, wouldn't want old Bezos to lose out on another few billion. Much more important.
More than 1/10 of amazon's employees in Ohio are on food stamps despite having jobs at Amazon. Looks like the nine figure sums of incentives you've given Amazon so far have really paid off Ohio?
This is all especially humorous when you note that Jeff Bezos (head of amazon and recent richest man in the world) loves to talk about a new 'golden era' of technology with plenty for all.
We really need to get our priorities straight, either we want these tech giants to be a positive social force or not. I love tech, and I love private enterprise, but it does need a helping hand to keep it's morals straight. Amazon, apple, google, they all need the stuff taxes are for, they use the roads so they can provide essential services like previous day delivery, they need the state provided health insurance (oh wait, sorry) to pick people up when they are broken from working inhumane shifts for inhumane pay, they need government education systems to teach their employees how to innovate and do more clever things that make the CEOs richer.
The federal system has broken down; all states are just competing in a race to the bottom to lick the shoes of massive corporations. We need collaboration to beat the big boys and secure a fair deal for all. Not only does this need to work at a federal level, it needs to work at an international level. If everyone agrees on a fair set of rules then the likes of Starbucks, google etc have nowhere to hide.
Oh look, Apple is building a second HQ, look forward to seeing where they choose!
Disclaimer: I do really love tech and I think the innovations we see are the most exciting things on the planet, I don't think large corporations are inherently bad, it makes sense they would try to pay less tax as they are profit maximising machines. I think the fault is really with the weakness of a international and federal collaboration, and weak-kneed politicians.
Ikigai is one of those beautiful Japanese words that encapsulates a whole paragraph of English in just one word. Roughly, it describes a reason for being, or that thing that gets you out of bed in the morning and really motivates you deep down. Now I want to ask you, what is your ikigai? Don't be disheartened if you're not sure, or if you have one but you're not sure it's what it should be. I spend a lot of time thinking about mine and I'm still struggling to define it. I suspect I'm not alone.
When we ask how one should live, we entertain the implicit assumption that there is some platonic form of 'the perfect life' that we must all model ourselves on and strive towards. Now that is clearly not the case and I'm sure we can all think of many varied lives that we can look at and say 'that person is doing it right'. Take the wildlife trust ranger you say hi to when walking your dog who loves being outdoors, is always happy and never stressed and brings his children along with him at weekends, and compare him to your lecturer at university who spends her morning discussing the hottest new interpretation of Wittgenstein over coffee before settling down to an afternoon of reading in the absence of distraction and then trying out that new tortellini recipe at home with her family. Without delving further into the subjective psychological state of each of these individuals, their lives both appear objectively 'good' but in very different ways. Now compare them both to your next door neighbour who leaves before the sun rises to stand in the doorway of a busy commuter train for 3 hours each day in order to get to the office where they work 50 weeks of the year with people they don't like on projects whose sole purpose is to create more wealth for the CEO who owns 95% of the company and has no time to visit their parents. Whilst there is clearly no such thing as a perfect life, I think some of us are doing it better than others. Which end of the spectrum are you on?
You can barely move in 2017 without hearing the buzzwords ‘AI’ or ‘neural networks’. It’s clear that we are hyped to be on the cusp of a great revolution. But what just what does this future hold?
We often forget that artificially intelligent machines are already ubiquitous in society: from calculators to email spam filters and Spotify’s automatically curated personalised playlists. But the AIs of the future are set to be entities with capabilities on an unprecedented scale. Today’s machines outperform humans at specific tasks, but AI thought leader Nick Bostrom envisages a future of artificially superintelligent machines (ASIs) that would be ‘much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills’. Essentially, machines that can think for themselves.
No theoretical barriers stand in the way of creating such a machine. After all, human brains are just bundles of neurons bathed in a load of chemicals that, when arranged in the correct way, produce the illusions of consciousness, free will and emotion. If we could reproduce the exact structure of the human brain down to an atomic level resolution, using transistors and software, there is really no reason that this silicon-based entity would not experience the same illusions of consciousness, free will and emotion as us carbon-based life forms.
Of course, getting to this point is no mean feat, but the hardware is already there: neurons run at 200Hz whereas the most standard microprocessors in your computer run at 2GHz (10 million times faster). Memory capabilities are many-fold greater without the space constraints of the human skull. Upload and download speeds are also incomparable (think of how long it takes you to read a book and how long it takes you to load one onto your kindle). Computers are also far higher fidelity than humans and simply don’t make mistakes, it’s always human error that produces malfunctions. It’s simply the software that we are still struggling to get right now.