Motu on a new robot language, the impact of iGen, immigration and job creation, BS detectors for science and inoculating against misinformation, depressing facts on climate change, and an obligatory reference to Jacinda Ardern

Today's Top 10 is a guest post from Sally Owen, Kate Preston, Hannah Tuahine and Nathan Chappell of the Motu public policy and research institute

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to david.chaston@interest.co.nz.

And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 10 yourself, contact gareth.vaughan@interest.co.nz.

See all previous Top 10s here.

1. “Facebook shuts down robots after they invent their own language.”

Researchers at Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research built Artificial Intelligence chat bots earlier this year that were meant to learn how to negotiate by mimicking human trading and bartering. Two of these AI’s were then paired to trade against each other in order to learn how to trade balls, hats and books, assigning value to the objects and then bartering them between each other. The AI’s were assigned awards based on the trades they were making, however since no reward was assigned for conducting the trades in English the AIs quickly developed their own language and used it while making trades. The AIs were shut down once the team realised they could no longer understand what the chat bots were saying to each other. This is a phenomenal technological advancement for humankind which simultaneously amazes and terrifies.

2. Have smartphones destroyed a generation?

Jean Twenge, professor of psychology and author of this article, is worried about the fate of iGen – those born after 1995 who are growing up with smartphones. Twenge argues smartphones have changed the life of a typical teenager in ways never seen before. Most comfortable socialising online from their bedrooms, there are upsides: teens are physically safer, drink less, and are less likely to be in a car accident. But Twenge worries mental health crisis is looming. Since the iPhone was released in 2007 teens socialised less with friends; drove less; dated less and had sex less often; got less sleep; and felt more lonely. Some boundaries on phone-time could help.

3. Fewer immigrants mean more jobs? Not so, economists say.

One of the more pernicious beliefs about immigration is the lump of labour fallacy: the view that there is a fixed amount of work to be done in an economy. This view is wrong because new workers buy other goods and services and create further jobs (compare the populations and unemployment rates of New Zealand and Japan). This article points out the Trump administration, in proposing sharp drops in legal immigration to preserve jobs and increase wages, is falling for this very fallacy. The consensus among economists is that high-skilled immigration is good for economic growth and can complement lower-skilled native workers. There is fiercer debate on the effects of low-skilled immigration, though the majority of researchers find close to zero effects on native wages and unemployment.

4. Darpa wants to build a BS detector for science.

How do you know what’s true when science, the news, and social media all struggle with errors, advertising, propaganda, and lies? Social and behavioural science lacks strong standards for credibility of results. So, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (Darpa) is calling for proposals to find solutions to this. What they’re asking is capacious in its ambition. It name-checks other bulwarks of scientific validation—peer review, meta-analyses, statistical techniques, and even more modern approaches like impact factors, citation webs, and expert prediction markets. But only to say, incorporate these and surpass them.

5. Why fewer girls are studying economics.

The great economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s are fading into history. And, cushioned by the good economic times, this article posits that the Australian national public policy discourse has degenerated. Is New Zealand also losing our ability as a nation to have the great economic debates?

6. Jacinda Ardern and asking women about their childbearing in job interviews.

Tim Worstall from the Adam Smith Institute offers an argument that laws preventing employers from discussing the intentions of women to have children is unfair for women who don’t have them. Agree or disagree.

7. “Extreme weather ‘could kill up to 152,000 a year’ in Europe by 2100.”

A report from the European Commission's Joint Research Centre estimated that extreme weather could kill up to 152,000 a year in Europe by 2100. The research analysed the effects of the seven most dangerous types of weather-related events - heat waves, cold snaps, wildfires, droughts, river and coastal floods and windstorms - in the 28 EU countries as well as Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. Experts believe the predictions are overestimated as the report assumes no changes are made to curb greenhouse emissions and that communities do not adapt. However, the estimates highlight the importance of continuing to aim for the Paris Agreement Targets. If you’re interested about the impact of climate change in Wellington – check out the NIWA report that promises warmer weather, but alongside more frequent intense storms.

8. Climate change could get you bumped from a future flight.

Something that may not have crossed your mind is what climate change might do to the aviation sector. Curious? This article from the Scientific American details a number of possibilities, while explaining the physics of hot air and flight in an easily accessible way. Highly recommended for a peek into the economics of aviation in the future.

9. Inoculation theory: Using misinformation to fight misinformation.

Worried about the spread of misinformation? It’s real. But here’s how science communicators and educators can immunise their audiences against it.

10. Elemental Haiku.

Motu researchers have been describing our research in haiku for a few years now, but this is next-level kick-ass geek stuff. A review of the Periodic Table composed of 119 science haiku, one for each element, plus a closing haiku for element 119 (not yet synthesised).

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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13 Comments

- re post 3 on immigration, I read the link which trots out tired old stuff like immigration increases GDP. Surely the more relevant metric is GDP per capita. I suggest the writer read recent post on interest.co by Bernard Doyle which shows that this economic growth may be illusory once adjusted per capita, and for hours worked. Also I'm surprised about arguments justifying immigration based on low productivity - the link implies importing skilled low paid immigrants is preferable to capital investment to improve productivity. I'm thinking Michael Redell may have a point when he argues that NZ's very high immigration policy is based on poor evidence.

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Re #3; not sure what the good folk at Motu actually do in the way of local research but, since we have recently enjoyed (endured?) one of the worlds highest rates of non citizen immigration, the local experience would have to be more significant than 1960's tomato pickers in the USA I would suggest. The NZ economy and situation is very different (e.g. exports as a share of the economy) and many indications are that the high levels of inward immigration have done nothing for productivity or incomes or for exports. We now have some very serious real issues with public infrastructure (roads, hospitals, schools) and housing and the very real possibility of soaring unemployment (locals and immigrants) in the next recession. The prospects for social cohesion in that situation are not good.

Re #3 I did as asked and searched the internet for OECD unemployment comparisons. Japan has 3% and NZ 5% (see https://data.oecd.org/unemp/unemployment-rate.htm) . Doesn't this contradict the writer?

Maybe more important is under-employment - in NZ you can work 1 hour and be considered employed.

The concept of high skilled immigration is great but after 70 years of high immigration in NZ it has never actually been tried. If it was tried how would we persuade the top Indian tech PhDs to come to NZ instead of joining Google, Apple, Microsoft or further study at MIT, Harvard etc?

Low-skilled immigration: here they are right. The argument is fierce and I will keep it that way because these upper middle class writers have no concern about my three adult children currently trying to make a living in Auckland.

After the next election a party that cares about all Kiwis may gain power and the immigration faucet will be turned down. Yes building fewer roads, houses, school, hospitals will hit the economy and will reduce employment but it will be better in the long run.

#9 Inoculation theory: Using misinformation to fight misinformation. So that was why they added the subtle misinformation about Japanese unemployment rates.
See http://www.ifitweremyhome.com/compare/NZ/JP for a comparison that makes Japan look rather successful despite minimal immigration.

What a fun site Lapun. http://www.ifitweremyhome.com/compare/NZ/JP
And we have all these folk telling us Japan is a basket case because it's population is not increasing. Just not true.

The point was about population and unemployment rates. Japan and NZ are two similar sized islands. Japan has 127 million people, NZ has 4.7 million, and Japan's unemployment rate is lower. Clearly the lump of labour idea is a fallacy in the long run (there isn't a fixed number of jobs in an economy).

Is there any coincidence that there is an article on DARPA building a BS detector (#4) and girls not wanting to study economics(#5)? Perhaps girls are just better at knowing BS when they see it?

Most economists seem to be too enamoured of their own opinions, hence the high level of BS.

Their basic premise that lies are the best tool to overcome lies is very deeply flawed. Truth is always its own defence because reality doesn't care about your opinion.

I think a better name for that theory would be indoctrination theory. Which always ends badly.

#3
Other economists, however, have sharply disputed Mr. Borjas’s research.
Paul Krugman supports Borjas
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2006/03/27/notes-on-immigration/?_
As far as I can see the lump of labour fallacy says nothing about pay rates. There seems to be a narrative that in economics there is a right way and a wrong way. It is usually unions and other interest groups that cause policy to head the sub-optimal way. However, there is no guarantee that an economy will trend forever upwards making everyone wealthy?
.........
I think we should treat these economists with a big grain of salt
http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-18519395

The ICT industry is touted as a reason for immigration. On RNZ's A Slice of Heaven, they said it is our third largest export industry. This is an industry for which we have no special advantage (as far as I can see). What's more, we import and export ICT services (as do all OECD countries). Something doesn't quite add up? Why would we aspire to punch above our weight?

Thanks for the links jh. It's pretty clear that immigration is going to be (already is) a huge issue. The use of the original NY times article hardly helps clarify our situation and a bit tacky for a NZ "research" outfit to be linking to it at all given that paper's well known obsessive opposition to anything the current US administration proposes; notice it's from their politics section.
The example of the 60's tomato pickers is important but not in the way presented . The labour shortages of the post war era contributed to the biggest productivity and wealth gains in human history as mechanisation and method efficiency raised production and lowered labour input. That's a huge wealth benefit (to say nothing for the increased opportunity for much more pleasant employment) completely ignored.
As for the alarming BBC article you linked to and that @#$% from the UN, (Goldman Sacs International chairman and 1%er Globalist) and this comment in particular: "The EU should "do its best to undermine" the "homogeneity" of its member states, the UN's special representative for migration has said."
I'm sure the Brits will be pleased they're leaving the EU but note this is where the UN are heading. With huge problems already in Europe from immigration and the immense pressures from population overshoot in Africa and the ME, Western Europe is going to make a stand on whether they protect their cultures and values from collapse or not. Eastern Europe have the very good sense to not want anything to do with being over run by illiterate single young men with a medieval mindset.
Apparently the views of the native people, the ones that will be living with the immigrants, giving employment and sharing their country are not to be canvassed or considered. That's going to work!

Yes thanks for the links. Not exactly relevant to NZ but with much to ponder. This point made me think " "shift from states selecting migrants to migrants selecting states" " firstly how lucky we are not to have boat people washing up on our shores and secondly this is what we have when immigrants pay employers $20,000 to qualify for permanent residency.

As a retired computer professional I'd suggest NZs success at ICT is (a) good education (b) no 8 wire tradition (williness to adapt) (c) English speaking (d) low pay. All four are only marginally in favour of NZ and the most significant may be the low pay. If I had a great computer idea (something like Xero) I would do most of the development in NZ. This is based on my experience working for a long time in PNG where all high level staff were expats (some good localisation since then) and we recruited from all over the world - NZ was a best value for money solution; recruits from Asian countries certainly could on occasion be very good but it was hard to identify the good from the bad and secondly they were very reluctant to work themselves out of a job by passing on their skills to locals.