Federico Pistono's blog
On Dec. 26, 2014 an opinion piece appeared in the Wall Street Journal titled “Science Increasingly makes the case for God.” As it happens with these things, it went viral. Since then, many rebuttals have been written, including a very detailed article by Ethan Siegel and a letter to the editor by Lawrence Krauss, disputing the WSJ specious science claims. Unfortunately the editors of the WSJ failed to print their response, so I posted them here for your convenience.
I shall refrain from commenting, aside from adapting a quote of the great Douglas Adam:
"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
"But," says man, "[that article in the Wall Street Journal says that science] proves that you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. Q.E.D."
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
Almost two years in the making. Finally finished my first novel. This is my Christmas present for you.
What will the future look like, and what can you do to change it?
A Tale of Two Futures is a sci-fi young adult novella that tells the story of an average day in life in two very different futures, one where things have gone terribly wrong, and the other where things have gone amazingly right.
The future will either be beautiful beyond imagination; or dismayingly horrifying, much worse than sci-fi dystopias have prepared us for.
The difference between the two futures lies in the choices we make.
Most people think that the world is too big, too immense for any individual to have an impact, because anything we do is merely a drop in the ocean. But what is an ocean, if not a multitude of drops?
Find out more on the book's page: http://federicopistono.org/books/tale2futures
How a nerdy kid from nowhere self-published a best-seller and got noticed by Google CEO Larry Page and The Wall Street Journal
Reading time: 12 minutes.
Last week Larry Page, the CEO of one of the largest corporations in the world, and possibly one of the most powerful people on the planet, released an interview with the Financial Times endorsing my work and research on the effect of artificial intelligence and automation in the job market. That's quite remarkable, given that my school teachers told me I had no talent, that I wasn't good at writing, and that I was not even that smart. But let me take a step back.
I was born in a small village near the mountains, on the Italian Alps. There were only two schools, and not very good ones. Like many kids who like to think a lot, obsessively study things they're fascinated about, and dream big, I felt very alienated in such a small, provincial environment. There were a few bullies at school whose fathers were in jail, according to some rumors they were in for murder, some even said mafia. I never checked, I just knew I didn't want to mess with them. It was a pretty harsh environment. For someone like me who wasn't good at football, didn't like football, whose favorite bedtime reading was the CIA World Factbook and whose most beloved show was the French animated science cartoon "Once open a time... [Space, Life, etc...]," life didn't get any easier.
Beside my classmates, with whom I could never relate with but didn't particularly care, the biggest problem was the school itself. The teachers, the academic program, the tests, in my mind everything was wrong. Any interest I had was either considered irrelevant, not part of the standard curriculum and therefore not worthy of my time, or just plain weird. It shouldn't be a surprise that I looked for a way to escape.
First, I began with computers. I started with building websites, I must have been 11 or 12, but when I installed a Debian Linux on my machine I fell in love with system administration and programming. I would obsessively type on the keyboard unix commands all day long, writing scripts, hacking things apart and together, often times until late at night. It was exhilarating and incredibly satisfying. I remember once my mother came to my room to check on me at 4AM. "What are you doing up at this hour!?" she asked, "Coding stuff," I replied. I guess she was expecting me to watch porn. To this day, I still don't know if she was relieved or preoccupied that I wasn't.
If working late at night on my computer and reading books on science, technology, and economics was like drinking from the fountain of youth and wisdom, going to school felt like gulping battery acid from a rusty can. When I finished middle school, one of the teachers told my parents that I would have been better off going to work right away, because I was not smart enough to go to high school. Needless to say, we didn't follow that advice.
What if everybody received every month enough money to live by? Will society collapse? Will we all become slackers? Myths and facts about Unconditional Basic Income, with analysis from a real world experiment conducted in India between 2011-2013. Keynote speech at the Future of Work Summit, NASA Ames Research Park, California, June 30, 2014.
I've yet to fully grasp the significance of what took place last night. I understand rationally what happened. I can recall quite clearly the events that came about. I can remember the details, each moment, but I don't think I have fully internalized the implications of it all.
Let me take a step back and describe it to you, perhaps writing it down will help me get a more gut feeling of the situation.
It's New York City, Harlem district, circa 3AM. I'm waiting for the metro train downtown, when I discover it's closed down due to construction, and I miss the shuttle bus. Bummer. I wait for the next shuttle, casually listening to the latest Freakonomics podcast. Then I suddenly see some lights at a distance. I quickly realize it's not normal, and I get closer. It's a fire.
On that moment a few thoughts run through my head. It is a very unusual feeling agonizing that you are about the break your routine and that a major event of your life is about to unfold. For a moment I think it isn't anything of particular significance. A couple of minutes before I heard a few teenage girls screaming and making noises, only to disappear and leave me alone on the empty streets of Harlem, in the middle of night, while thousands of unaware souls are being lulled to sleep in the arms of Morpheus.
The moment I approached and realized it was a fire.
Without indulging into my own train of thoughts, I grab my phone and dial 911. I give a detailed description of what I am seeing, give my coordinates and personal information. It's only after the phone call ends that a stream of thoughts begins to invade my head. Here I am, a young, foreign, white guy at the heart of the infamous Harlem neighborhood, in the middle of the night, calling the police. As I am constantly reminded by the locals here, the only white males in Harlem at that time of the night are either drug dealers, or dangerous criminals (or both). What if they think I started the fire? What if they ask what was I doing here? What if they don't believe me? What if they throw me in jail accusing me of a crime I didn't commit? What if.... All these thoughts and a lot more go through my head in a split second, only to be replaced by the more important thought of trying to help whoever is in the building.
I call the people I knew who lived there, and I instruct them to wake up, warn as many people as possible, get outside, and wait for the firefighters to arrive.
As I frantically type messages down on my phone and make calls, I see the flames increasing, moving up into the air, coming dangerously close to the copious trees that surround the building. It's in this moment that I understand things can get ugly very quickly: if the trees catch fire, the fire and most importantly the smoke (most deaths are due to carbon monoxide inhalation, not the fire itself) will spread into the building. Hundreds might die. I can't tell. All I know is that I'm glad I made that call right away, and now it's a race against time.