Bobo has a question in “What Machines Can’t Do:” What human skills will become more valuable as computers take over more and more duties? “Gemli” from Boston had this to say in the comments: “This is one of Mr. Brooks’ favorite themes. His dystopian conservative visions always seem to end up with a few people of exceptional creative power running the show, while the rest of us polish their silver.” And I guess the people running the show will always need someone like Bobo to carry water for them, and fawn over them. Mr. Cohen, in “The Talks, Round Two,” says neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have fully embraced peace, but Kerry is making progress. In “The Gun Report, 1 Year Later” Mr. Nocera says when you track gun violence every day, a few things really stand out. Mr. Bruni ponders “Love, Death and Sochi” and says let these Olympics be a lesson. For too many gays, the heart is a prison. Here’s Bobo:
We’re clearly heading into an age of brilliant technology. Computers are already impressively good at guiding driverless cars and beating humans at chess and Jeopardy. As Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology point out in their book “The Second Machine Age,” computers are increasingly going to be able to perform important parts of even mostly cognitive jobs, like picking stocks, diagnosing diseases and granting parole.
As this happens, certain mental skills will become less valuable because computers will take over. Having a great memory will probably be less valuable. Being able to be a straight-A student will be less valuable — gathering masses of information and regurgitating it back on tests. So will being able to do any mental activity that involves following a set of rules.
But what human skills will be more valuable?
In the news business, some of those skills are already evident. Technology has rewarded sprinters (people who can recognize and alertly post a message on Twitter about some interesting immediate event) and marathoners (people who can write large conceptual stories), but it has hurt middle-distance runners (people who write 800-word summaries of yesterday’s news conference). Technology has rewarded graphic artists who can visualize data, but it has punished those who can’t turn written reporting into video presentations.
More generally, the age of brilliant machines seems to reward a few traits. First, it rewards enthusiasm. The amount of information in front of us is practically infinite; so is that amount of data that can be collected with new tools. The people who seem to do best possess a voracious explanatory drive, an almost obsessive need to follow their curiosity. Maybe they started with obsessive gaming sessions, or marathon all-night study sessions, but they are driven to perform extended bouts of concentration, diving into and trying to make sense of these bottomless information oceans.
In his book, “Smarter Than You Think,” Clive Thompson describes the work of Deb Roy, who wired his house with equipment so he and his team could monitor and record every word he and his wife uttered while his son was learning to speak. That is total commitment and total immersion in an attempt to understand the language learning process.
Second, the era seems to reward people with extended time horizons and strategic discipline. When Garry Kasparov was teaming with a computer to play freestyle chess (in which a human and machine join up to play against another human and machine), he reported that his machine partner possessed greater “tactical acuity,” but he possessed greater “strategic guidance.”
That doesn’t seem too surprising. A computer can calculate a zillion options, move by move, but a human can provide an overall sense of direction and a conceptual frame. In a world of online distractions, the person who can maintain a long obedience toward a single goal, and who can filter out what is irrelevant to that goal, will obviously have enormous worth.
Third, the age seems to reward procedural architects. The giant Internet celebrities didn’t so much come up with ideas, they came up with systems in which other people could express ideas: Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, etc. That is to say they designed an architecture that possesses a center of gravity, but which allowed loose networks of soloists to collaborate.
One of the oddities of collaboration is that tightly knit teams are not the most creative. Loosely bonded teams are, teams without a few domineering presences, teams that allow people to think alone before they share results with the group. So a manager who can organize a decentralized network around a clear question, without letting it dissipate or clump, will have enormous value.
Fifth, essentialists will probably be rewarded. Any child can say, “I’m a dog” and pretend to be a dog. Computers struggle to come up with the essence of “I” and the essence of “dog,” and they really struggle with coming up with what parts of “I-ness” and “dog-ness” should be usefully blended if you want to pretend to be a dog.
This is an important skill because creativity can be described as the ability to grasp the essence of one thing, and then the essence of some very different thing, and smash them together to create some entirely new thing.
In the 1950s, the bureaucracy was the computer. People were organized into technocratic systems in order to perform routinized information processing. But now the computer is the computer. The role of the human is not to be dispassionate, depersonalized or neutral. It is precisely the emotive traits that are rewarded: the voracious lust for understanding, the enthusiasm for work, the ability to grasp the gist, the empathetic sensitivity to what will attract attention and linger in the mind.
Unable to compete when it comes to calculation, the best workers will come with heart in hand.
Now here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Munich:
For six months now Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, led respectively by Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat, have been tied up in U.S.-mediated peace negotiations. For a few minutes at the Munich Security Conference participants caught a glimpse of how stormy those talks can be.
The catalyst was a little phrase from Erekat. “I wish the Israelis would stop running without being chased,” he said. “Am I a threat to you?”
Erekat’s an amiable fellow who has been jaw-jawing about a Middle East peace for so long he mumbles “Area C” in his sleep, but Livni was not about to let him have that one. Pulling her hair back she let him have it, a guttural volley about Palestinian rockets from Gaza on Sderot, terrorists in the West Bank, the perennial Israeli insecurity.
Then she was on to narrative — that overused word for the events, real or imagined, that define the nationhood of warring peoples — and warning Erekat that if there ever is a final-status, two-state peace ending all claims, “Don’t call Haifa by its Palestinian name” or give hope of return there to those “with keys around their necks” in Palestinian refugee camps.
This infuriated Erekat. Proclaiming himself a proud son of 10,000-year-old Jericho, he declared, “I’m not going to change my narrative, guys.” He demanded of Livni why she demanded of him that Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people when Egypt and Jordan made peace without doing so.
And on we go, enmeshed in the claims and counterclaims and neuroses of two peoples eyeing the same small scarred patch of Biblical land — Israelis convinced after the Second Intifada and the experience of the Gaza withdrawal that living in security beside a Palestinian state is near impossible, Palestinians convinced after almost a half-century of occupation that the Israeli boot on their heads will never be withdrawn. The claws of the past are tenacious; Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to prize them loose.
He has made a little headway. Something more unexpected was in the air between the two sides at Munich, a familiarity, a rejection of failure, a sense of modest momentum, all summed up by Livni when she said the current opportunity could not be missed because “the cost of not having an agreement is greater than the cost of having an agreement.” Kerry has now kept the two sides in the room long enough to reduce the room for — and raise the price of — leaving. Ehud Barak, the former Israeli defense minister, told me that “Kerry’s obsession is the most important thing.”
Within the next several weeks the United States will produce a framework setting out the broad terms of a peace agreement. This will reflect the work done and provide the scaffolding for an extension of the talks beyond the initial nine months, a deadline up in late March. I expect Israelis and Palestinians to agree, with serious caveats, to this American proposal and negotiations to proceed through most, if not all, of 2014.
Kerry and his envoy Martin Indyk have recently indicated, in public and leaked remarks, what will be in the framework. The elements include what Kerry has called “a full, phased, final withdrawal of the Israeli Army;” security arrangements in the Jordan Valley and elsewhere that leave Israel “more secure, not less;” a “just and agreed solution to the Palestinian refugee problem;” mutual recognition of “the nation-state of the Palestinian people and the nation-state of the Jewish people;” and a compromise for Jerusalem enabling the city to embody “the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
Borders established through equitable land swaps around the 1967 lines would place most settlers inside Israel, perhaps more than 70 percent of them, but the fates of the big settlements of Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim are deeply contentious.
This is not rocket science. The core elements of any two-state deal are well known. But neither side has been ready to embrace the suboptimal middle ground where peace is made. What is needed now are “pull factors” that begin to allay the core fears of both sides.
Palestinians need to feel the Israeli vise is loosening — that, for example, in the Israeli-controlled “Area C,” which accounts for some 60 percent of the West Bank, investment, construction and free movement become possible, creating jobs and stirring growth. Israelis need proof that their concerns about security are being heard. Palestinian agreement to a five-year phased Israeli withdrawal is a start, but Gaza under Hamas is a huge problem going forward. A Palestinian election is overdue; without one Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, lacks the authority to deliver the peace he seeks.
In Munich, Henry Kissinger growled to Indyk: “Martin, you have a job for life.” He’s probably right. Nobody ever lost money betting against a Middle Eastern peace; I’ve done so myself. But Kerry has moved the ball.
Next up we have Mr. Nocera:
It has been a year since my assistant, Jennifer Mascia, and I started publishing The Gun Report, an effort to use my blog to aggregate daily gun violence in America. Our methodology is pretty simple: We do a Google News search each weekday morning for the previous day’s shootings and then list them. Most days, we have been finding between 20 and 30 shootings; on Mondays, when we also add the weekend’s violence, the number is usually well over 100.
From the start, we knew we were missing a lot more incidents than we found. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after all, says that nearly 32,000 people are killed by guns each year. Slate, the online magazine, which tried to tally every gun death in the year after the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., arrived at a number of 12,042, far higher than ours. (We include gun injuries as well as gun deaths.)
Part of the issue, as Slate has noted, is that it is impossible to track suicides using news media accounts — and suicides, according to the C.D.C., account for some 60 percent of gun deaths. But it was also obvious that a Google News search was bound to miss plenty of examples; that’s just the nature of the beast. Comprehensiveness was never really the point, though. Mostly we were trying to get a feel for the scale and scope of gun violence in America. A year later, it seems like a good time to take stock.
First, the biggest surprise, especially early on, was how frequently either a child accidentally shot another child — using a loaded gun that happened to be lying around — or an adult accidentally shot a child while handling a loaded gun. I have written about this before, mainly because these incidents seem so preventable. Gun owners simply need to keep their guns locked away. Indeed, one pro-gun reader, Malcolm Smith, told me that after reading “about the death toll, especially to children” in The Gun Report, he had come to believe that some gun regulation was necessary. He now thinks gun owners should be licensed and “should have to learn how to store guns safely.” No doubt he’ll be drummed out of the National Rifle Association for expressing such thoughts.
Second, the N.R.A. shibboleth that having a gun in one’s house makes you safer is demonstrably untrue. After The Gun Report had been up and running for a while, several Second Amendment advocates complained that we rarely published items that showed how guns were used to prevent a crime. The reason was not that we were biased against crime prevention; it was that it didn’t happen very often. (When we found such examples, we put them in The Gun Report.) More to the point, there are an increasing number of gun deaths that are the result of an argument — often fueled by alcohol — among friends, neighbors and family members. Sadly, cases like the recent shooting in a Florida movie theater — when one man killed someone who was texting during the previews — is not all that uncommon.
Third, gang shootings are everywhere. You see it in the big cities, like Chicago, Detroit and Miami, and you see it in smaller cities in economic decline like Flint, Mich., and Fort Wayne, Ind. Drive-by shootings are prevalent in California, especially Los Angeles and Fresno. As often as gang members shoot each other, they kill innocent victims, often children who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Among the readers who post daily comments to The Gun Report are a number of gun rights advocates. What has been astonishing to me is the degree to which they tend to dismiss inner-city violence, as if to say that such killings are unavoidable. The code word they often use is “demographics.”
It is unquestionably true that the most gun homicides occur in the inner cities — the anecdotes we collect in The Gun Report are confirmed by such studies as a May 2013 Bureau of Justice Statistics report. And, yes, plenty of them are the result of gang violence. But why should that make them any less lamentable, or preventable?
There are an estimated 300 million guns in America, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. But to read The Gun Report is to be struck anew at the reality that most of the people who die from guns would still be alive if we just had fewer of them. The guys in the movie theater would have had a fistfight instead of a shooting. The momentary flush of anger would pass. The suicidal person might have taken a pause if taking one’s life were more difficult. And on, and on. The idea that guns, on balance, save lives — which is one of the most common sentiments expressed in the pro-gun comments posted to The Gun Report — is ludicrous.
On the contrary: The clearest message The Gun Report sends is the most obvious. Guns make killing way too easy.
And now we get to Mr. Bruni:
There are few moments sweeter, more humbling or more thrilling than telling someone you love how you feel.
As soon as Roger Mbede did that, he was damned.
This happened in Cameroon, which, like many African countries, treats homosexuality as if it were a curse, a scourge. He lost sight of that, and made the mistake of sending several text messages that were too candid, too trusting.
“I’m very much in love with you,” one of them said, and the man who got it, apparently worried that he was being set up, turned Roger in. Law enforcement officers scrutinized all of his correspondence for suggestions of sexual activity with people of the same gender, which can lead to a prison sentence of five years.
One of his lawyers, Alice Nkom, told me that they also made him strip so that they could examine his anus, as if the ultimate proof would be there. This isn’t unusual in such interrogations, she said, and it was just the start of his degradation after his March 2011 arrest. The end came last month, when he died at 34.
I’ll come back to that. But first, the reason I’m sharing his story.
On Thursday the Olympics begin. Worldwide attention will turn to Sochi, Russia, and there will be a spike in commentary about Russia’s dangerously homophobic climate, which has already prompted discussion and protest.
But while this will be an important reminder of the kind of persecution that L.G.B.T. people endure in a country openly hostile to them, it will also be an incomplete one. Russia’s hardly the worst.
Although it has an easily abused and utterly ridiculous law against so-called gay propaganda, it doesn’t technically criminalize same-sex activity. About 75 other countries do, and by the laws or customs of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania, Sudan and certain parts of Nigeria and Somalia, such activity is even punishable by death. Gays, it turns out, are handy scapegoats, distracting people from the grave problems that really hold them back.
In Nigeria, the president signed new legislation last month that establishes 14-year prison sentences for anyone who enters into a same-sex union and 10-year sentences for people who publicly display same-sex affection or who simply participate in gay groups. There have since been accounts of gay people being rounded up. A man in northern Nigeria was publicly whipped for having had sex with another man seven years earlier. A BBC reporter described how the man screamed during the 20 lashes.
L.G.B.T. people in Jamaica live in fear, despite a fresh, hopeful push by some Jamaicans to repeal a law that permits long prison sentences for sodomy. Mobs there have chased people believed to be gay, and last year a transgendered teen was reportedly killed — stabbed, shot and run over with a car — in a hate crime.
Strains of Russia’s florid bigotry can be found in its neighbors, too: Lithuania, Latvia, Moldova, Ukraine. Ty Cobb, the director of global engagement for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, which is about to publish a world report, noted that many traditionalists in these countries cast L.G.B.T. people as the emblems and agents of a decadent Western culture.
Human Rights Watch recently examined Kyrgyzstan and found that while the country doesn’t criminalize same-sex activity, the police there detain, taunt and shame gay men routinely and with impunity.
The group also investigated Cameroon, where it says a gay rights activist was killed last summer after being tortured with a hot iron. Over the last three years, according to the group, at least 28 people in Cameroon have been prosecuted for homosexual conduct.
Two men were hauled in for questioning because lubricant and condoms had been found in their house. Another two men aroused suspicion because of their feminine dress and beverage choice. They drank Baileys Irish Cream.
Nkom was involved in their case, as she was with Roger, whose story she and another of his lawyers, Michel Togue, fleshed out for me.
In prison, where he spent more than a year, he was apparently roughed up. Raped, too. He got sick, and while news reports mentioned a hernia, Nkom told me that he also had testicular cancer. He didn’t get proper treatment, she said, not even after his release, partly because he went into hiding, terrified of being put away again.
His relatives didn’t intervene in his medical care. They spurned him, she said, contributing to the isolation that hastened his deterioration.
Back before the text message, back before the dread label of homosexual was hung on him, Roger had confidence. He had respect. He studied philosophy at a local university, with an eye on a teaching career.
“He was the hope of the family,” Nkom told me. “He was the one who had a future.”
Then he shared what was in his heart. And that future was gone.