Aliens, Nuclear Power and Tech-Enabled Community Health

Your weekly dose of nerdy, world-positive techno-optimism and other goodness.

Happy Saturday! Here are your 5 things from the mind of Miles for this week.

  1. Extraterrestrial Book - Let’s say our solar system were visited by an object of extraterrestrial origin. What would that be like? Would it be debated in scientific journals and the popular press? Would we definitely know and agree? I finally got around to reading the book by Harvard astronomy department chair Avi Loeb. He lays out a clear argument for why we’ve likely been visited by an alien device. For example, the object moved through our solar system by some force in addition to gravity. He also argues that it is odd that the object was at the local standard of rest when it entered the solar system. Both of those sound like oddities in need of an explanation. (See the summary of the rest argument from my notes.) The debate rages on with some claiming it is a piece of a small exoplanet with Prof Loeb arguing back.

  2. Ban the Bomb and Embrace Nuclear? The more I learn about nuclear weapons, the more terrifying they are. For example, read Command and Control to go deep on some of the American history here. Yet, I think that we can use nuclear power for electricity in a safe carbon-free way. (And make it even better with new smaller plant designs or ocean based nuclear power plants. Apparently, earthquakes and tsunamis would be less likely to cause issues.) So, ban nuclear weapons and embrace fission. What if we used isotopes that are not useful for weapons? Fission could get even safer. (Nuclear fusion still seems amazing although hard to know when it becomes viable. Best test reactor has gotten only 67% output of the energy put in. And I think that record was set two decades ago,)

  3. Timely vs Timely Advice. Farnham Street does a great job cataloging timeless advice and mental models. To contrast, I recently read a piece listing advice that may be more timeful than timeless. A provocative read questioning homeownership, property insurance, travel, etc. Pairs well with Epsilon Theory’s podcast about how low inflation may be a deep assumption of our investment products and investment industry. How much of the investment advice we have given holds true if inflation increases?

  4. Instant Vaccines? Could we distribute the mRNA vaccines within days of sequencing a new virus? Imagine “printing” the vaccine locally, perhaps even at home. Or what if they could be generated centrally, placed in micro-patches that could be mailed to everyone for self-administration. It would be an interpersonal tech-enabled planetary immune system. A defensive shield against intentional or accidental pandemic. Is this the Strategic Defense Initiative of our time or is it more practical than that?

  5. Living Goods. Enough of the speculation. For an example of community healthcare that currently works and saves lives today, check out Living Goods. Harnessing the power of open-source smartphone-based health software, accessibly priced and relevant healthcare products and door-to-door outreach, Living Goods works in Sub-Saharan Africa to reduce child and maternal mortality. GiveWell lists them as a standout charity and the cause area of health, inclusive family planning and maternal/infant health ranks highly on the Copenhagen Consensus list. Plus, Living Goods offers economic empowerment as the community health workers in their network earn additional income. So much goodness.

As a reminder, my work projects are:

Until next week,

Miles