February 24, 2011

The Answer Science Can't Give

For the past 100 years, a crisis has been brewing in physics.   Whether we study the current universe or its origin, whether we look at the very small or the very big, we find glaring contradictions and impossible coincidences.  Let's examine a few:

Suspicious Constants:  A staggering number of universal constants appear fine-tuned for life: the mass of a proton, the sum of the masses of quarks, the strong nuclear force, the electromagnetic force, the weak force, the number of spatial dimensions, the distribution of matter in the universe.  For most of these values, even a 1% change in any direction and presto:  Stars wouldn't burn.  Planets couldn't form.  Life couldn't develop.

"I do not believe that any scientist who examined the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard for the consequences they produce inside stars."    Sir Fred Hoyle, physicist

Latest Theory: Strong Anthropic Principle states that every possible universe exists, with every set of constraint values. It's mind-bendingly unlikely that we're in this universe (...it's about as likely as winning the lottery every second for a million years straight), but nobody complains in those other universes because nobody's there to complain.

Jump-Started Universe: Soon after the Big Bang was theorized, a snag was discovered:  The universe certainly appeared to be expanding outwards, but it couldn't have started from a single point, or else matter and heat would be so evenly-distributed that galaxies could not form. 

Latest Theory: Inflation Theory says that the universe grew from the size of an atom to the size of a galaxy in the first trillionth of a second.  Purportedly, this is due to an as-yet-undiscovered Higgs Field, which physicists are presently searching for using the Large Hadron Collider. We just got lucky that, had this temporary speed limit hiatus not occurred, galaxies, stars and life could never have existed.

Particles Know When We're Watching Them:  No matter how I explain this, you'll think I'm either phrasing it incorrectly or that I'm outright lying.  But I'll try anyway:  Particles act a certain way normally, but if you observe them directly, they act differently and had always acted differently.   They retroactively behave differently if they know they're being observed.  Yes -- backwards in time.

“I think I can safely say that nobody understands Quantum Mechanics."   - Richard Feynman, physicist

Latest Theories:  The Copenhagen Interpretation avoids the issue altogether, saying that particles behave predictably, and it's immaterial that it's not possible.  The alternative theory, Schrödinger's Cat, claim that every possible universe exists, and we choose which one we're living in by making an observation.   

Then there are a bunch of other bizarre observations, that scientists just kind of roll with:
  • Nothing can go faster than the speed of light.
  • Matter is energy.  Energy is matter. 
  • "Virtual Particles" pop in and out of existence everywhere, at all times.
Don't Forget What Science Is ...And What It Is Willing Tell Us
Have you ever read about all of the various minerals and vitamins that the body needs?  And how our body needs each of these for, like, a dozen reasons?  Well, I once asked my doctor why the profession rarely focuses upon a person's nutrition.  I mean, doctors rarely ask how well you're eating, nor do they commonly take blood samples to test for your nutrient levels.  How come? 

He replied: "You're thinking of a nutritionist.  Doctors diagnose and treat illnesses.  The goal of a doctor is not to keep you healthy, but to heal you when you're sick."  I realized that I had never really appreciated the distinction between "keeping me healthy" and "healing me when I'm sick," but it really is a subtly different thing.

Now consider scientists.  I'm an ardent atheist, and have always grown up relying upon science to tell me about the universe around me.  But I've recently realized that that's not precisely what scientists do.   Scientists define testable phenomena.  If something is not testable, it's not science.  As a result, even if a particular answer seems likely, if it's not testable then science will never say it.

The Answer Science Can't Give
 All of the phenomena listed above are fully consistent with a simple interpretation:  Our universe is a construct.  It is a programmed environment: a simulation, of sorts.  

However, before I demonstrate how all of the above phenomena make total sense through the lens of this interpretation, let me address some key points:

Intelligence Begets Simulation
Consider the human race -- a single intelligent species.  How many simulations have we created?  And how much more realistic have they become over just the past forty years? 

Intelligence needs simulations.  It needs them to entertain, to explore, to learn, and to experience.  This might be one of the few truly universal constants of intelligence, no matter where it exists.

Nevertheless, our simulations are little better than marionettes in a puppet show, compared to the level of depth we'll be capable of in a hundred years.  What about in a thousand years?  A million years?

Simulation Begets Intelligence
Scientists speculate that by 2020, machines will pass the Turing Test -- an intellectual line-in-the-sand that says, "If a machine can act so convincingly human that a person cannot perceive the difference, then we can conclude it is intelligent."  At that point, we might quibble over whether a machine is "truly" intelligent, but the last major milestone will have been passed.

Will our simulations soon become so real, so self-aware, that they, too, will wonder about their place in the universe -- and will create their own simulations?  The question appears to be when, not if.

Intelligence to Simulations:  1 to n
So, consider that intelligence is prone to creating simulations (which, before long, exhibit their own intelligence).  If one assumes that a single intelligence creates multiple intelligent simulations (keep in mind that, already, humans generate hundreds of thousands of simulations each year, which are progressively more complex), then most intelligences are simulations.

How it All Makes Sense
Allow me to take the physics dilemmas described earlier, and demonstrate how each makes sense, if viewed through the lens of our universe being a simulation:

Constraints & Jump Started Universe:  All of those suspiciously-perfect constants were all pre-set.  The simulator intentionally expanded the universe prior to applying further rules.  Basically, the simulator set it up to work properly.

Particles Know When We're Watching Them: The reason that this problem causes so much trouble is that physicists insist that particles act autonomously, and that the past is unchangeable.   Hence, they either cop out in one direction (making no judgment at all), or in the other (saying every possible universe exists).

If we exist inside a simulation, then the answer is obvious:
  • Particles do not act completely autonomously.  Some part of the simulation (possibly forever obscured from us) impels them to act differently when we observe them than when we don't.
  • Our definition of time does not exist outside of this simulation (since things can retroactively change).
Virtual Particles:  Consider any simulation: a photograph, a video, an audio file, etc.  If you inspect it at progressively finer levels of detail, at some point it would deviate from the real thing.  This point might be far beyond what is perceivable by our natural senses, but it always exists.  This is because simulations aren't "infinitely" real: they behave a certain way with certain boundaries.

Even the "digital" nature of our computers is a simulation:  Computer hardware doesn't truly operate on ones and zeroes, but upon electric currents around a key threshold.  Above this threshold is considered "on", below is considered "off".  If one were to look at a so-called "empty" space of memory (one putatively full of zeroes),  you'd find that it wasn't empty at all -- it would be alive with low-level current fluctuations.

My point is:  Every simulation has this point at which its illusion breaks down.  The only way to avoid having this point is to not be a simulation.   Virtual particles might be nothing more than this: the point at which our mind-bogglingly-realistic simulation gives away its true nature.

Matter is Energy:  This rule applies to every simulation that humans have ever made.  Inside a computer, there is no "matter," only a representation of matter -- and this representation is made with the substrate of the simulation, which is energy (in the case of computer simulations: patterns of electrons).

Speed of Light:  One problem that simulations have is the collision/interaction issue:   If any particle can interact with any other particle, the complexity and processing requirements spiral out of control.  As a result, simulations must limit the scope of interaction in some way -- and the more high powered the hardware, the more relaxed this limit can be.   The speed limit of light behaves precisely like one of these interaction-limiters.

What This Means (And Doesn't Mean)
If this theory were true, would it mean the Intelligent Design folks were right?  Does it mean that we're in the Matrix?   No.  

Both of You: Be Quiet
Intelligent Designers were never right, because they were never honest.  Proponents of Intelligent Design have an agenda: to sell you on their religion.  Intelligent Design is just an intellectual foot in the door, a starting point for conversion.  It is fundamentally dishonest.

And no, we're not in the Matrix.  That would presume that we exist in that other universe already.  There is no evidence to suggest that.

If this theory is correct, we still know nothing about whatever it was that created us. 

So, I guess this theory doesn't mean much at all.  It's not testable in the foreseeable future, which is why science has no interest in it.  And it (hopefully) won't help anybody hawk their religion and/or sci-fi scripts.

It's nothing more than the best answer I presently have, that seems to explain a fairly extensive array of coincidences and otherwise odd behavior of the universe. I think it fits pretty well.

February 21, 2011

Chinese Geopolitics

Whither Japan?

He used to seem pretty scary.
Do you remember the big Japan scare in the 1980's?  When it seemed like Japan was poised to take over the entire world?  It was once said that the Imperial Palace of Japan was worth more than all of the real estate in California. Americans were scared.

Fast forward 30 years -- how does Japan look now?  Answer: Fine, still certainly impressive, but not exactly world-dominating.  It has a sluggish economy.  Its Generation-X equivalents have spurned the "salary man" lifestyle (as they call it), and its iron-clad work ethic.

As an aside, it was just reported last week that China overtook Japan as the second largest economy in the world.  Most Americans, the same ones freaking out over Japan in the 1980's, failed to notice.

From what I hear, in the 1960's, even Japan was considered decidedly second-rate.   The Soviet Union was the big concern, in the world-domination department.  As we all know, by the early 90's, this once-biggest fear collapsed under its own weight.   That was before my time, though (I was born in 1972).

Today's Worry:  Made in China

Worry D'Jour
So who are we fretting these days?  China, of course.  Listen to any financial talk show, and it seems China will be taking over the world any day now. 

Let me put your mind at ease:  Don't worry about China.  China has bigger issues of its own.

Within 30 years, China's trajectory may not have fallen as severely as the Soviet Union's between 1960 and 1990 -- but neither will it have fared as well as Japan.  Meanwhile, the United States will remain strong, despite the ever-present doom-and-gloomers.

How can I make such a prediction?  Geopolitics.

Geopolitics 101
Last year, George Friedman, president of the foreign intelligence firm STRATFOR, published his prediction for the next century, aptly titled The Next 100 Years.  STRATFOR produces situational reports on various countries, conducting analysis on who's stable, and who's not.

In this book, he lays out the clearest argument I've observed for why China's star can't continue shining so brightly.

First off, "geopolitics" isn't just a fancy way of saying "international affairs."  It is the study of how geography impacts politics.  Geopolitics explains why Great Britain and Japan amassed empires (and remain two of the most influential countries in the world), despite their small sizes.  It also explains seemingly-strange issues, like why Russia is so obsessed over keeping Chechnya.
    To understand why China will have difficulty remaining a world power for very long, we must first examine the dynamics between internal (land-locked) and coastal areas.  For a variety of reasons (lavishly described in Friedman's book) these areas radically differ from military, economic and cultural perspectives:
    It sure helps to live on the coasts...
    Geopolitics in Action: Red States vs. Blue States
    Still a bit skeptical about how geography can impact politics?  Consider the Red State vs. Blue State issue through the lens of geopolitics.
    Can't we all just get along?
     If we consider the states bordering the Great Lakes to be Coastal, then virtually every Blue State was coastal, and almost every Red States was Internal.

    Alaska is quite coastal, but given its remote location, it acts more like an Internal state.  (Siberia, its sole neighbor across the Bearing Strait, isn't exactly a great trading partner.)   States bordering the Gulf of Mexico act similarly, given that they receive a disproportionately small share of international trade.
    These geopolitical dynamics between provincial Internal areas and cosmopolitan Coastal areas have existed throughout history.  You might have read comparisons between provincial, warlike Sparta vs. cosmopolitan, educated Athens.  Sparta was a land-locked Internal city-state; Athens was Coastal.

    Geopolitical Analysis:  China vs. the United States
    So, let's compare China and the United States from a geopolitical perspective, and see what it tells us.
    In the illustrations below, I annotated each country's richest cities, to show you where the money (and hence influence) is.  For the United Sates, I show every city in the top 25 highest GDP cities in the world (as reported by Wikipedia).  For China, I show every city in the top 100 highest GDP cities in the world. 

    American Geopolitics
    The United States has two coasts, which (as we saw above) share similar values, and contain almost all of the richest cities.  Because both coasts share such similar values, it's much easier to keep the country unified.  

    But the Internal states have their own advantage: central location.  If you're going to distribute goods throughout the country, it helps to be centrally located.  It should come as no surprise that Wal-Mart and Target are headquartered in Arkansas and Minnesota, respectively.   

    Plus, the Internal states benefit from direct access to international trade with Mexico and Canada (our two biggest trading partners).

    Summary:  The Internal and Coastal states make excellent trading partners -- each benefiting from the other's strengths.   So, while they might see the world differently, they get along, and the country stays strong.

    Chinese Geopolitics
    China's geopolitical landscape is completely different.  Here, there is a single coast, and it controls almost all of the wealth.  When people say that China is booming, what they mean is that Coastal China is booming.

    Internal China is not centrally located, and has a dreadful array of neighbors -- mostly impoverished nations with shaky diplomatic relations.  Instead of trading partners like Mexico and Canada, the Internal Chinese provinces get North Korea, Burma, Mongolia, and a handful of other economic disasters. 

    The citizens of Internal provinces of China face a terrible choice: 
    • Stay impoverished, in the middle of nowhere.
    • Move to the coastal cities, which can neither employ nor support them. 
    The Chinese government is working desperately to channel money from the rich coasts to the poor internal states.  So far, they have been able to redistribute the wealth quickly enough to keep the peace.   Most of this redistribution has been in the form of widespread financing Internal public works, which has resulted in massive levels of off-the-books bad debt (i.e., loans that will never be paid back).

    So far, the Chinese government has kept the music playing.  But it can hardly maintain this pace, much less maintain it with an economic slowdown.  What happens next is anybody's guess.

    How Bad Could It Really Get?
    You might be thinking that every country goes through downturns.  The Internal provinces will just have to deal with it, right?   What's the worst that could happen?

    China's history is fraught with this exact problem -- the dissonance caused by rich coastal areas and stagnant internal areas leading to upheaval and massive, forced economic redistribution.   When was the last time it happened?  A scant sixty years ago.   Search online for "The Great Leap Forward", and you can read all about it.  Here is a quick summary:
    • Coastal wealth forcibly redistributed
    • Intellectuals killed or deported
    • 20-30M deaths by starvation, due to enormous resource mis-allocations
    • Greatest destruction of real estate in history (more than all damage from WW2)
    • 2.5M beaten/tortured to death; 1-3M committed suicide
    Summary:  Yet again, China faces intractable geopolitical problems, as it struggles to balance its overheated Coastal provinces and its stagnant Internal ones.  Nobody (with a decent sense of history) wants to see what will happen if its government can no longer maintain this balance.  ...But, at some point, we probably will.

    People have been predicting that the United States' best days are over since July 5, 1776.  And, to be sure, we have no shortage of challenges -- first and foremost, our massive debt.  De-leveraging will be a painful process, and there's really no way around it.

    Yet, we have some permanent geopolitical advantages that will be here long after we've resolved our debt: We have two coasts; we border peaceful, developed trading partners; and we're located between eastern Asia and western Europe.   Plus we remain far and away the most technologically innovative country on the planet.  (More on that later.)

    So, should the United States be worried?  Sure, a little worry is a good thing.  But I don't think the Chinese dragon will devour the US any time soon.

    February 14, 2011

    US Real Estate Will Never "Recover"

    These days, most people believe that the current real estate downturn is due to rampant speculation.  At some point it will recover from this excess of speculation, and will resume its upward trend.   How realistic is this expectation?

    Well, consider the following:
    • Real estate hasn't always appreciated. Indeed, from 1890 to 1970, while being equally volatile, real estate appreciated at almost exactly the rate of inflation -- making it a paltry investment, indeed.
    • Baby Boomers went into hock, too. Ask any Baby Boomer about their home-buying experience in the 1970s, and it sounds just like what Generation X'ers are going through today:  Both groups bought as much as they could afford, and fretted over making the payments.
    • Economics 101:  For an asset's value to appreciate, someone else has to be both willing and able to pay more for that asset.
    So, given that every generation spends as much as it can on home prices:

    How does the 2010 home buyer afford so much more than the 1970 home buyer?

    When we can answer this question, we can assess whether the 2050 home buyer will afford proportionately more than the 2010 home buyer.

    It turns out that are four reasons why real estate has appreciated so much since 1970.  All have abruptly ended.

    1. Family income greatly increased.
    This is likely the largest reason why real estate has appreciated.  Women entered the workforce in the 1970s in great numbers -- first in lower-paying jobs, but over the past 30 years their salaries have been steadily increasing.  
    Can family income continue to increase?  Barring selling our children into slavery, the US family will not experience any additional income earners.   Moreover, any residual increases in second-earner income (as the gender salary gap further declines) are more than offset by increasing childcare and education costs.

    2. The cost of borrowing declined.
    In 1982, the 30 year mortgage rate hit 21.50%.  Over the past 30 years, it has coasted down to the mid-4%s.  This allowed people to borrow more money while leaving their monthly payments unchanged, and implicitly increased the amount they could spend on their homes.
    Can the cost of borrowing substantially decline further?  Highly unlikely, interest rates are already at 60 year lows.  All indications is that the US is flirting with losing its triple-A debt rating over the next few years, which would cause interest rates to skyrocket.
    3. People borrowed more money.
    In the 1950s and 60s, mortgage debt was seen as a temporary evil.   You could not purchase a house with less than a 20% down payment -- and the goal was to pay it off quickly.  Since then, people have progressively financed larger percentages of the home price, and are far more comfortable holding long-term debt.   This has allowed people to spend more money on their homes.
    Can people borrow even greater sums of money?   People already often put 0% down, and routinely upgrade their homes once they get enough equity in their current homes (i.e., keep themselves constantly leveraged to the hilt).  I don't see how people could borrow more than they do today.

    4. People borrowed on more risky terms.
    In 1982, Congress deregulated savings and loan associations and allowed banks to provide adjustable-rate mortgage loans (via the Garn St. Germain Depository Act).  This act was cited as a major factor in the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s.  Nevertheless, it stuck around, and even more risky terms have appeared: No Disclosure Loans, Option Arms, Interest Only Loans, to name a few.
    Can people borrow on even riskier terms?  The market has already dabbled with insanely risky loans, and only backed off because they're wholly impractical.  There is no room to lower payments (and consequently increase home prices) by incurring more risk.

    Appreciation between 1970 and 2010 didn't happen by magic.  Speculation played a role, but most appreciation was due to long-term trends of increased household income, cheaper borrowing, more leverage and more risk.

    If these trends have halted, we can expect a reversion to the longer term trend:  real estate appreciation equal to the rate of inflation.  However, if these trends have reversed, we can expect appreciation even lower than that.

    It this pleasant news?  No.  Is it realistic?  Probably.

    February 13, 2011

    Vis-ume: Visual Resume

    A while back, I used Visio to spice up my resume a bit.  I took all of the questions that people normally have to piece together for themselves when reading a resume, and presented them in a picture format:
    • A timeline of where I've worked, for how long, and my title(s).
    • A separate timeline of all degrees and certifications.
    • My technical/business skills by category.
    • All of the regular resume details are still there, but only for reference.
    As a result, 90% of people's questions can be answered in the first minute.  When they have specific questions, they can reference the details.

    Note: Nobody's going to hire someone based upon an unorthodox resume format.  ...But if it sets a resume apart from a stack of 50 similar candidates (and maybe gets that person called in for an interview), that's nothing to sneeze at.

    What do you think?

    Persuading Mike to get Skype

    Years and years ago, I persuaded and cajoled and wheedled and begged my friend Brendan to install Skype, so we could chat at work.

    Nothing doing; Brendan would have no part of it.  He thought it was intrusive; perhaps he thought his work would suffer; perhaps he feared change.

    After about four years of constant nagging, he finally joined the goddamned 21st century.  And he LOVES it.  We don't Skype constantly or anything, but every few days we chat over it.  It's a great way to stay in touch.  My hard work paid off for me, and for my friend.  I can only assume that he realizes the sacrifice I made for him.

    Today, I face a far greater challenge:  My techno-phobe friend Mike, armed with his Radio Shack cassette-driven answering machine, and his unhealthy aversion to any technology younger than the last Mike & The Mechanics album.  Can I convince Mike to do the same -- to sign up for Skype?  Am I starting down another long road of persuasion and cajoling and wheedling and begging, just so that Mike can do something that most people figured out years ago, and which he'll most assuredly conclude in retrospect is (a) quite nice, and (b) not really a big deal at all?   Perhaps so.  But I am willing to take that risk.  For Mike.  For our friendship.

    This email will chronicle every email I send to Mike until he finally relents and installs Skype.

    Email 1:  Direct
    Install Skype, dammit.
    - Brett
    Email 2: Faux Static
    I _m havg trou l w*th ths conne*on.  Stat*c 0n the IntErnet, I th*nk.

    Dwnl0ad Skype, it's m*ch easr to spk on Skype
    - Brt
    Email 3: Emergency
    You are in grave danger!  Visit this link and do what it says at once, I'll explain later.

    They will arrive at your office any moment now, and all will be lost!   Do it before it's too late! 

    Quick, there's no time to think!!
    - Brett

    Email 4: Shame
    Technology is changing the world.  If you're going to be a success in your career, you've got to keep up with the latest technologies.  I'm serious!  I don't necessarily like texting, Twitter, Facebook, del.icio.us, etc. but I am comfortable with it all. 

    Your brain will get brittle if you can't deal with change.  You owe it to yourself and your future to install Skype now.

     - Brett

    Email 5:  Mocking
    I got your note about "potential aggravation" of using Skype.  That's a good point. Given that you're in Bermuda, your IM's will be hand-delivered by an international operator, which can be a bit aggravating. Like so:
    12:19pm Mike: Operator, please tell Brett that I'm hung over at work, and that FML.
    12:21pm Operator:  I have conveyed the message.
    12:22pm Operator: Sir?  I have a reply from Brett.  Shall I read it now?
    12:22pm Mike:  Please.
    12:22pm Operator:  He says 'LOL'.
    12:23pm Mike:  Ah.  Please draft an immediate response of a single winky face.  Thank you.
    12:23pm Operator:  Sent.

    Oh, wait, that's just some fantasy application that doesn't really exist.  Skype is just a normal IM client.  No aggravation. Pls install, thx.
    - Brett

    The (American) Kids Are All Right

    For the past 30 years, we've all heard how American kids are alarmingly behind in mathematics.  This  inevitably leads to economic disaster, as we fall technologically behind.  ...Or, so the argument goes.

    Is it too late for the US to catch up?
    Yet over that period, what has happened?  The United States has extended its lead in technology over the rest of the world, in every meaningful category.  Take a look at the (admittedly unofficial) leaders in the most influential high-technology areas.

    So, if we're so bad at math, why are we utterly dominating in high technology?  ...And those countries with the superstar math students for the past 30 year -- where are they in this list? 

     Here's my theory, and it may sound crazy at first, but give me a chance to justify it:

    Perhaps it's possible to be "good enough" in math, where any further obsessing hurts a country more than helping it.

    Here's why:  Yes, we need math, but we don't need everybody to know the advanced stuff.  Hell, my friends are a pretty impressive economic-value-adding cross section: lawyers, salespeople, engineers, scientists, and financiers.  Do any of us use math more advanced than algebra and maybe basic trigonometry?

    The answer:  Very few.  I have one friend who works at Lincoln Labs, doing defense work for the government, who has a Phd in Physics from Harvard.  He uses some pretty complex math.  That's about it.

    My guess is that if a society has 5% of its population capable of performing advanced math , that's probably plenty.   This doesn't mean that a modern society doesn't use lots of it, but just that usually a hyper-specialist develops it, and the rest of us use it.  That's just how technology works:  I don't need to reinvent the wireless packet loss optimization algorithm every time I send a text message from my iPhone.  A small team of mathematicians did it once, and the rest of us just use it.

    So I can foresee several counter arguments, allow me to address them:

    "Maybe advanced mathematics isn't important, but basic mathematics is."  
    I  agree to a point.  Most blue collar jobs likely require strong basic math (e.g. multiplication & division).  White collar jobs could benefit from a strong grounding in algebra.  Nevertheless, this doesn't appear to be a big technological bottleneck:  It didn't stop any of the aforementioned companies from dominating the technology world.

    The concept of Contraint Theory tells us that if you improve an area that is not your the largest bottleneck, you'll receive subdued benefits.  Mathematics isn't the economic bottleneck any longer: Innovation is.

    "Sure, we're leading now, but in [insert 5-30 years here] we'll feel the impact."
    Oh puhleeze.  That's what they said 30 years ago.  The technology companies started above were founded by the students raised in this purportedly backwards mathematics educational system.  What's more, if you consider the attributes that led to their success, it wasn't the mathematics anyway.  No major companies are founded because someone somewhere was really good at integration.

    "People don't need advanced mathematics very often, but when they do, they really need it. "
    These days, most all advanced mathematics (that has any remotely practical use) can be done automatically.  

    In fact, one of the few remaining pillars of mathematics academia just collapsed a few months ago, when Mathematica founder Stephen Wolfram released a free Calculus app for the iPhone.  You can put in any equation, and it charts its integral and differential.

    And presto.  Just like that, all the mathematics that people struggled through in High School AP Math can now done automatically and for free.  Debates are now ongoing about whether students should be allowed to use this technology in schools, based upon the age-old arguments of using calculators in general.  But, until recently, calculus teachers everywhere could rally around the argument that "Sure, you can do some math on a calculator, but if you need to calculus, you have to do it yourself!"   For the first time in human history, that argument is now, permanently, dead.

    "Even if we don't absolutely need to be #1 in mathematics, surely it doesn't hurt.  It can only help to be better in math."
    One need look no farther than your typical IIT  (Indian Institute of Technology) graduate to see the flaw in this argument.   IIT is, by far, the most difficult school to gain admittance in the world -- dwarfing Harvard, Standford and MIT's admission percentages by a factor of ten (.6% vs. 6% admission).   Its focus upon math is off-the-chart: you have to be practically a savant to get in, and the math inside only gets harder.  Yet, as a result, their students are human calculators, not innovators.   (And yes, I am aware that Infosys was started by an IIT grad, but that's the exception, not the rule.)

    I have worked with many IIT grads, and if you can fully constrain the boundaries of a problem on a mathematical level, they're awesome.  But unfortunately, in the real world, that virtually never happens.  Most business problems are at least partially obscure, and partially philosophical or strategic -- and, here, hyper-quant-jocks (like IIT grads) do NOT shine.

    A national emphasis on math comes at a cost.  If a country's best and brightest spend years pounding complex calculations, as in India and China, they are not spending years learning how to make things that are beautiful (Apple), innovative (Google), social (Facebook) or economically-game-changing (eBay).   As a nation, The United States must not throw out what's really important, in pursuit of something that just seems important.