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Sunday, Oct 08, 2017 - 20:26 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Staying On The Move

"Young adept, you must not walk behind me,
for I shall not always lead.
Nor shall you walk in front, for you know not the way.
You cannot walk beside me because the path is too narrow.
In fact, f**k off and find your own path.
"

- the wise kung fu master's refrain
(the original advice's not half bad either)


Mr. Ham: *puffing on cigar* Yo, human. Long time no see. Figured I'd just drop by and bum a few bucks off ya, see.

Me: And I'd say you'd almost deserve it, for such direct honesty. Which brings me to some weeks ago, when a fellow approached me with his Singaporean passport for purposes of panhandling, with a cover story of having to catch a ferry back to Batam to visit his daughter, whose photo appeared slightly-suspiciously to have been extracted from a magazine. To be frank, I'm kind of torn on the proper response to such efforts, given that my continued investigations into practical economics reveal no particular justice in wealth distribution.

*Mr. Ham proffers upturned hat impatiently*

Me: Eh, we'll see about that later.

Mr. Ham: Sure, fob me off; it's not like I got anything else important to do.

Me: As a matter of fact, you don't.

Mr. Ham: Fine, I'll come straight with ya, my cards are all maxed out for the month, but there's this Steam game I wanted...


Expeditiously banned in Malaysia, like all the other fun stuff


Me: Say no more fam, I gotcha covered. Never been much use at them myself, but fighting scrollers - and gaming in general - is an area that Singapore has potential in, what with a new crop coming out; the real thing can be dangerous, though, going by the tragic Steven Lim vs. Pradip bout. In any case, Singapore probably will be needing a new national sport pronto, given how totally messed-up the football scene is. Massive funding cuts, bare months after apparent support? It's time for our aspiring youngsters to high-tail it out of here, like Schooling.

Mr. Ham: Yeah, last I heard, he's well on the way to becoming a Manchester United all-time great...

Me: Not that one, the other one. Can't complain about Mourinho's second season, by the way. The first wasn't all that nice save for some bright spots, but swapping a fading Rooney for a rising Lukaku - who's duly earned the adulation of the faithful - was some top business. It's looking like the old days again. Goes without saying, of course, that even Mourinho wouldn't be able to salvage the crocked local game.

Mr. Ham: Meh, it's an attitude problem, and it goes very deep. Like, the remote controls in Brazil come with a "football" button, and then there's all the pride, dedication and sardonic humour living and breathing the British version. But I suppose you lot can come up with a catchy slogan the next time a newly-installed sports minister needs to boost his stock...

Me: No need to rub it in to that extent, hamster. Myself, I'm reduced to anticipating a possible Ronaldo return.


Chances improved by developments in Catalonia?


There have been some downers in other aspects too - for example, they actually killed off Littlefinger in the show! Come on, he was the only largely-competent strategic thinker with any balls in the entire series, to the extent that despite the show's writers dumbing him down to a ridiculous extent, the only way they could write him out was by playing Magic Seer Boy as a cheat code?! The way it's going, it's a good bet that a formerly mould-breaking tale is gonna end with the tired cliché of Dispossessed Prince with Heart of Gold Reclaims Birthright, Slays Dragon/Evil King, Marries Princess, Lives Happily Ever After, when instead it could well have been Visionary Reformer Overturns Feudalism, Ushers in New Political Age to Westeros.

Here's to hoping George R. R. Martin doesn't stoop to that in the actual books, but as for the show, barring the appearance of Lord Stoneheart, I'm just staying for Cleganebowl, and any last few straggling memes.

Mr. Ham: Turns out, Mr. Ducky's a re-enactment hobbyist, and he's taken part in a fair few scenes.

Me: Nice of hear that. Real life's still f**ked as ever, for that. I mean, read the newspapers, and you'll come across headlines such as "Fed's Yellen expects no new financial crisis in our lifetimes", and wonder if so-called experts are actually capable of learning anything. But it's not all bad - occasionally you get heartwarming news like TRUMP's green energy infrastructure projects getting funded, while he's proven correct - as usual - on wiretapping suspicions. My instincts tell me Little Rocket Man's next on the hitlist. It's a pity in a way, our government was always oddly friendly with them, but that's business.

Truth be told, every profession - even academia - has its problems: presenting Nobel laureate Jeffrey Hall scrabbling for funding, with a good point about loving one's research subjects... no, not you, Mr. Ham. However, doing academic scitech does have its benefits, with fairly decent job benefits and prospects for now at least, but more importantly a ton of cool shit happening in the space, e.g. actual gene editing.


Now enabling cross-cultural disputes!


Google has just launched its new Pixel smartphone, but it was the claim of real-time speech translation across languages that caught my imagination. Upon closer inspection, however, it probably isn't quite there yet - snooping about with Google Translate, which deals with the rather simpler task of text translation, suggests that the latest much-improved neural techniques ain't all there either, with a load of contextual... strangeness remaining. Good, I guess, in the sense that there's plenty more open research available.

Sadly, from broad observation, tech titans are not at all immune to the old dictum that "power corrupts". Wailing on Microsoft's monopoly behaviour is of course old hat, but it turns out that the new generation of hippy-change-the-world startups ain't much different once they get big... which increasingly many are, and to near-unprecedented scale. Bezos is now more-or-less the richest guy on Earth, as Amazon plans multi-billion dollar HQs and commandeers fleets of taxis, twenty years after he started selling books out of his garage. Heck, Reddit's valued at near two bil, and even Walmart's feeling the heat.

Google, for one, appears to be blanking out dissenters and silently tailoring search results to drive desired narratives. Ditto Facebook. Then there's all the cloak-and-dagger corporate espionage, exemplified by Uber's supposed poaching of Google's - themselves perhaps not exactly that innocent either - self-driving tech. And, on top of all that, the over-promising of results by hype-merchant marketing departments, as happened to Tesla in the same field (the engineers will just fix it!)

Given the potential of A.I. to be the new nuke in global power balance terms - as recognized by Putin and the CCP - even without considering a looming Singularity, there has been some hysteria about A.I. leadership possibly passing out of the more-democratic bloc, with China singled out for special concern. However, while China can certainly move and build fast when committed, I remain less sanguine about their longer-term true-innovative prospects, for reasons that will be gradually revealed. Just a tidbit - their own chatbots were killed for praising America and criticizing communism, following which WhatsApp got blocked. Make what of that you will.

And, unfortunately, the situation here is smelling like China, and without the humongous domestic market that would allow a control-centric ecosystem to survive; paid tech transfer has brought us some distance, and while we may have some interesting startups, it's also not untrue that the staunchly risk-averse culture - propagated from the very top - has led to a market heavily saturated by copycat clones. But I suppose we could gangpress the media in to support local apps...



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