On the origin of money (and crypto)

A recent article on Science News magazine offers a new, revisionist approach to the origin of money, that is somewhat contrary to what we believe in economics:

That well-worn story gets money all wrong, anthropologists and archaeologists say. “Adam Smith based his ‘creation myth’ of financial systems on ignorance of what actually happened in the past,” says archaeologist Robert Rosenswig of the University at Albany in New York.

A stone money bank, Yap, Micronesia, Pacific
Source: http://en.theoutlook.com.ua/article/6857/lost-island-of-yap-the-land-of-big-money.html

Early governments created money to pay off public works debts and to collect taxes […] Bartering had nothing to do with it.

The article is titled “Conflict reigns over the history and origins of money” and is available online.

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Making sense of AI

Tech anthropologist Genevieve Bell discusses how to “make sense” of AI – essentially how an ethnographic interview with an AI (entity?) would look like. Her presentation was a keynote address on O’Reilly AI conference in New York City September 26-27, 2016.

Bell addresses basic ethnographic questions of origin and upbringing, current role and prospects, only this time she is facing an AI, trying to make sense of it. So, for an AI or a machine-learning entity, the issues are: where it comes from, what role it plays in our today’s world, and where it is going. A whole world of possibilities opens, including issues on art, intent and dreams.

Also check out Satya Nadella (CEO, Microsoft) talking on intelligent agents, augmented reality and the future of productivity.

Michael Shermer on patterns and self-deception

Another excellent TED talk by Michael Shermer, founder and publisher of the Skeptic Magazine and author of “Why People Believe Weird Things” and “The Mind of the Market“. Shermer’s main argument is that…

Belief is natural. Disbelief, skepticism, science, is not natural. It’s more difficult. It’s uncomfortable to not believe things. So like Fox Mulder on “X-Files,” who wants to believe in UFOs? Well, we all do. And the reason for that is because we have a belief engine in our brains. Essentially, we are pattern-seeking primates.

Shermer explains why and how we impose patterns to things and how these patterns serve as a bias for new information – issues that are particularly important for cognitive and behavioral economics.

Changing perspectives

A very enjoyable three-minute video with Derek Sivers about the implicit subconscious assumptions we make every day and changing perspectives.

He provides examples from Japan where the streets have no names, Chinese doctors that get paid only when you are healthy and counting music the west African way (i.e., 2,3,4,1).

On Japan topography –

[in Japan] they say, Well, streets don’t have names. Blocks have names. Just look at Google Maps here. There’s Block 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19. All of these blocks have names, and the streets are just the unnamed spaces in between the blocks.

Chinese doctors –

…sometimes we need to go to the opposite side of the world to realize assumptions we didn’t even know we had, and realize that the opposite of them may also be true. So, for example, there are doctors in China who believe that it’s their job to keep you healthy. So, any month you are healthy you pay them, and when you’re sick you don’t have to pay them because they failed at their job. They get rich when you’re healthy, not sick.

West African music –

In most music, we think of the ‘one’ as the downbeat, the beginning of the musical phrase: one, two, three, four. But in West African music, the ‘one’ is thought of as the end of the phrase, like the period at the end of a sentence. So, you can hear it not just in the phrasing, but the way they count off their music: two, three, four, one.

Confronting stereotypes

Binyavanga Wainaina is a Kenyan writer and founding editor of the literary journal Kwani? in Kenya. A couple of years ago one of his articles appeared in Granta and since then it continues to inspire and provoke the literary world.

The article was titled How Not to Write About Africa where he confronts outdated and dangerous Western stereotypes of African-ess.

After celebrity activists and aid workers, conservationists are Africa’s most important people. Do not offend them. You need them to invite you to their 30,000-acre game ranch or ‘conservation area’, and this is the only way you will get to interview the celebrity activist. Often a book cover with a heroic-looking conservationist on it works magic for sales. Anybody white, tanned and wearing khaki who once had a pet antelope or a farm is a conservationist, one who is preserving Africa’s rich heritage. When interviewing him or her, do not ask how much funding they have; do not ask how much money they make off their game. Never ask how much they pay their employees.

Thought provoking, inspirational and humbling.

The fact of the matter is that many writers tend to use clichés when writing on cultures they are least used to. Not bothering to make the distinction between one headgear and another, between one type of dance and the next.

Not willing to take the time and put the effort for such distinctions results in just bad writing, and this holds not only when writing for different cultures but genders too.