What Google Street View Can Say About the Quality of Life in Your Neighborhood

3 mins read

In a remarkable new study, the broad-brush patterns between how we use and mark public space and our collective well-being were investigated in 2022 by Quynh C. Yue and colleagues who analyzed 164 million Google Street View images from locations across the United States. The study extracted information on the built environment with a focus on the directionality of traffic, the incidence of crosswalks and sidewalks, and the presence or absence of street signs, which foster way-finding. The information collected on the built environment was then compared with census-tract, health information for those neighborhoods that were included in the Google Street Views.

The researchers found that legible, accessible paths that eased movement and communication had positive health impacts. Traffic restrictions, like an abundance of single-lane roads, indicative of lower levels of urban connectivity, were correlated with chronic health conditions and lower levels of mental health. Walkability indicators such as crosswalks and sidewalks were associated with better health, including reductions in depression, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Street signs and streetlights were also found to be associated with decreased chronic conditions. Overall, living in neighborhoods with a built environment that supports social interaction and physical activity leads to positive health outcomes.

But what factors or social mechanisms underpin these correlations? For this contemporary study, that question is not easy to answer as we neither can pinpoint the history of town/urban planning for each street view, nor do we know the governmental or individual decisions and actions that created each different community-scape. Here, turning to archives of history and ground plans of past cities may hold some clues.

Humans interact, cooperate, and form social configurations at many different scales with the sizes of our social networks highly variable. Many of us are part of household units. Members of different households often join forces or get together to form sports teams, or block associations, or work groups. Some of us live in small communities, others live in neighborhoods of variable extents, and most of us are affiliated with metropolitan areas or cities, states, nations, along professional associations, and market networks. In general, human affiliations and groupings have systems of governance that encompass the rules of the game, the norms, institutions, and modes of leadership. For humans, past and present, institutions and governance to a degree set the different parameters in which we live, work, cooperate, and interact.

Archaeologists faced with the challenge of defining the nature of, as well as variation and change in, governance over time rely on the material remains and residues of past human behaviors and actions to extract clues about politics in the past. Monumental architecture, statues of rulers, written texts, material symbols of office or the markers of royal position all can provide essential glimpses of individual aggrandizement, the personalization of clout, or alternative political forms in which power was more shared and distributed. But of late, archaeologists also have begun to examine the spatial layouts and allocations that are visible through the plans of ancient cities, arrangements of urban architectural components, and other indicators of socio-spatial behaviors to compare the variation in governance across human institutions.

In their writings, which draw on a comparative, quantitative study of 30 premodern states and empires from across the globe, Richard Blanton and Lane Fargher have made a strong case that legible and open urban plans that afford widespread access to services and power tend to be associated with more collective, less autocratic forms of governance. Urban forms, like grid systems that facilitate way-finding, allow travel and access to be more open and equal. Broad public spaces afford opportunities for the exchange of both information and material. Blanton and Fargher opine that less transparent, less efficient uses of space tend to degrade participation, voice, and economic efficacy, thereby underpinning and indicating less equal political relations and consolidations of power.

Blanton and Fargher also link variation in governance to degrees of inequality with more collective political forms fostering broader well-being and economic equity, while more autocratic regimes tend to associate with higher amounts of inequality and more disparate outcomes in regard to health and well-being. In large part, these differences correlate with the greater provisioning of public goods and services by more collective governments, which contribute to biological, material, and emotional well-being. Additionally, more autocratic regimes were found to be more prone to social disruptions and unrest, which degrade well-being. Blanton and Fargher find statistical support for these relations in their sample. Their findings, in conjunction with recent studies in other historical regions, provide strong cross-cultural indications that governance, construction and uses of social space, and well-being are all behaviorally linked.

While caution is in order, the findings from the Google Street Map study do show clearly that socio-spatial arrangements have clear and direct impacts on human health and well-being, and that the built environments that we collectively construct can signal broader values and differences in governance. In a specific recent example in the news, the shift toward autocracy in Turkey coincides with restrictions in public access to what was the largest civic space in the nation’s biggest metropolis. Human cooperation and the institutions through which we implement it take different forms. These social ties and arrangements leave discreet on-the-ground signatures. How closely do these urban signatures and patterns correspond with equity, well-being, health, and sustainability? And, how much can we learn by examining these relationships in the past? The next era of archaeological research, aiming to document the relationship between shifts in governance and changes in urban layouts and access, should provide us with important answers.

This article was produced by Human Bridges, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The True Test of a Civilisation Is the Absence of Anxiety About Health

6 mins read

A few years ago, a minor medical problem took me to the Hospital Alemán-Nicaragüense in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua. While I was being treated, I asked the doctor, a kindly older man, if the hospital had been built in association with a German missionary organisation, given its name (in Spanish, alemán means ‘German’). No, he said: this hospital used to be called the Carlos Marx Hospital, and it was built in collaboration with the German Democratic Republic (DDR), or East Germany, in the 1980s. The DDR worked with Nicaragua’s Sandinista government to build the hospital in the working-class area of Xolotlán, where three hundred thousand people lived without access to health care. A massive solidarity campaign in the DDR helped raise funds for the project, and East German medical professionals travelled to Xolotlán to set up a camp of provisional medical tents before beginning construction. The brick-and-mortar hospital opened on 23 July 1985.

When the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) took power in 1979, the revolutionaries inherited a country where infant mortality rates had skyrocketed to 82 per thousand live births (which would be the highest rate in the world today) and where health care was a privilege restricted to a small minority of the population. Besides, by the time the FSLN rode into Managua, whatever health care apparatus had been built by the regime of the Somoza family during their 43-year rule had been shattered: the 1972 earthquake destroyed 70% of the city’s buildings, including the military and Baptist hospitals and most of its health care facilities. The Carlos Marx Hospital was an act of immense solidarity by the socialists, built in Managua on the ruins of a society brutalised by the country’s oligarchy and by their enablers in Washington (as US President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in 1939 of the dictator at the time, ‘Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch’). Socialist internationalism, from the DDR’s assistance to the efforts of Cuban medical personnel, along with the development of the Sandinista health campaigns, markedly improved the lives of Nicaraguans.

I was reminded of the Carlos Marx Hospital by the newest edition in our series Studies on the DDR, jointly produced by Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and the Internationale Forschungsstelle DDR (IFDDR) and entitled ‘Socialism Is the Best Prophylaxis’: The German Democratic Republic’s Health Care System. The information about the Carlos Marx Hospital comes from a brief section in the study on the DDR’s international medical solidarity, which also included, among many other examples, building a hospital in Vietnam during the US war on that country and training thousands of doctors from across the Third World in the DDR. But the study is not focused on medical solidarity, which was a part of the DDR’s wider socialist internationalism that will be taken up in a later edition in the series.

The study is about the DDR’s attempt to create a humane and just health care system in a country devastated by World War II, with few resources available (and a population one-third the size of West Germany’s). The title of the study, ‘Socialism Is the Best Prophylaxis’, comes from a statement made by Dr. Maxim Zetkin (1883–1965), the son of the communist and international women’s rights activist Clara Zetkin (1857–1933). Zetkin’s words became a widely propagated slogan in the DDR and the leitmotif for the public health care system that the DDR sought to build with and for its population, emphasising that health care must be preventative, or prophylactic, and not reactive, or merely concerned with treating illness and injury after they occur. Truly preventative care did not reduce health to medical treatment but focused on the general well-being of the population by continuously improving living and working conditions. The DDR recognised that health must be understood as a social responsibility and a priority in all policies, from workplace safety to women’s universal access to reproductive care, nutrition and check-ups in kindergarten and school, and the need to guarantee holidays for the working class. But Zetkin’s quote also highlights how preventive care can only be realised by a system that eliminates the profit motive, which inevitably results in the exploitation of care workers, inflated prices, patents on life-saving medication, and artificial scarcity.

The DDR created a network of medical institutions that worked to improve diet and lifestyle as well as to identify and treat ailments early on rather than wait for them to develop into more severe illnesses. All of this had to be built in a heavily sanctioned country where the physical infrastructure had been destroyed by the war and where many doctors fled to the West (largely because roughly 45 percent of German physicians had been Nazi Party members, and they knew that they would be treated leniently in the West while they would likely be prosecuted in the DDR and in the Soviet Union).

The DDR’s commitment to comprehensive health care was based on the idea of social medicine (Sozialhygiene), developed by the founder of modern pathology Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902) to examine the socio-political determinants of health, and on the Soviet Semashko ‘single payer’ health care system, developed by Nikolai Semashko, People’s Commissar for Health in the Soviet Union from 1918 to 1930.

Among the key aspects of the DDR’s health care system detailed in our study are polyclinics and the community nurse system. When a person in the DDR felt sick, that person would go to a polyclinic, which would be located within their neighbourhood or workplace. Any person could walk into the polyclinic, inform the staff of their ailment, and see a doctor, who would, in turn, direct them to one of the clinic’s many specialist departments (such as internal medicine, oral medicine, gynaecology, surgery, paediatrics, and general medicine). Medical professionals were publicly employed and remunerated and could thus focus on healing the patient rather than on prescribing unnecessary tests and medicines simply to overbill insurance companies or the patients. The different medical professionals and specialists who worked in a single polyclinic consulted each other to find the best course of treatment. Furthermore, on average, 18 to 19 doctors worked in each clinic, allowing for extended hours of operations.

The DDR was not the only place to build a health care system based on this kind of socialist polyclinic format: two years ago, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research published dossier no. 25 on the polyclinics run by communists in the Telugu-speaking regions of India, entitled People’s Polyclinics: The Initiative of the Telugu Communist Movement. The most vital aspect of these polyclinics for our time is that no money was exchanged for care (which is particularly notable in India, where there are extraordinarily high out-of-pocket expenses for health care).

One paragraph in our study stopped me in my tracks:

In order to extend preventive care to rural areas and scattered villages, rural outpatient centres were built and staffed with up to three doctors, with the number of these facilities rising from 250 in 1953 to 433 by 1989. In many towns, physicians worked in public medical practices or temporarily staffed field offices to provide residents with consultation hours and home visits, while mobile dental clinics visited remote villages to provide all children with preventive care. In addition, the profession of the community nurse was developed in the early 1950s to alleviate the initial shortage of doctors in the countryside, with the number of community nurses expanding from 3,571 in 1953 to 5,585 by 1989. This extensive rural infrastructure helped to provide less densely populated regions with medical services comparable to what was available in urban areas.

In 2015, the International Labour Organisation published a report that found that 56 per cent of rural population worldwide lacks health coverage, with the highest deficit found in Africa, followed by Latin America and Asia. Meanwhile, in the DDR – which lasted a mere forty-one years, from 1949 to 1990 – the socialist project built a rural health care system that linked every resident to the polyclinics in nearby towns through the Gemeindeschwester (community nurse) system. The nurse would get to know every one of the residents in the village, give preliminary diagnoses, and either offer treatments or await the weekly visit of a doctor to each village. When the DDR was dismantled and absorbed into unified Germany in 1990, the community nurse system was disbanded, all 5,585 community nurses were laid off, and rural health care in the country collapsed.

We hope you will join us in an online panel discussion on February 28 to discuss how socialist systems of the past and present have transformed health care to serve the needs of the people rather than profit.

Northwest of Managua, in the city of León, lived the poet Alfonso Cortés (1893–1969), who had been declared ‘mad’ at the age of 34 and chained in his bedroom. Another of Nicaragua’s great poets, Ernesto Cardenal (1925–2020), grew up not far from the home of Cortés. As a child, Cardenal said he used to walk by the Cortés home from the Christian Brothers School and once he saw the ‘poeta loco’ in his chains. A lack of health care condemned Cortés to this humiliation. On one occasion, on his way to see a doctor in Managua, Cortés was driven past a thousand-year-old Genízaro tree in Nagarote, a tree to whom the ‘poeta loco’ wrote a beautiful poem of hope:

I love you, old tree, because at all hours,
you generate mysteries and destinies
in the voice of the afternoon winds
or the birds at dawn.

You who the public plaza decorate,
thinking thoughts more divine
than those of man, indicating the paths
with your proud and sonorous branches.

Genízaro, your old scars
where, like an in an old book, it is written

what time does in its constant falling;

But your leaves are fresh and happy
and you make your treetop tremble into infinity
while humankind goes forward.

Hundreds of species of wildlife worldwide contaminated with “forever chemicals:” study

1 min read

Toxic “forever chemicals” are known to cause health problems in humans, and very low doses have been linked to suppression of the immune system. Research also increasingly suggests wildlife could suffer similar harms.

Widespread pollution from the toxic “forever chemicals,” known as Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS), is contaminating and potentially harming hundreds of species of wildlife around the world, said a new study published on Wednesday.

The study, released by the Environmental Working Group, an American nonprofit environmental group, reveals the global extent of the PFAS pollution problem with a first-of-its-kind map using rigorous data to show the sheer scale of the threat PFAS pose to wildlife.

Pollution from the “forever chemicals” contaminates polar bears, tigers, monkeys, pandas, dolphins and fish and has been documented in more than 330 other species of wildlife around the world, some endangered or threatened, said the study.

Researchers pointed out that hundreds of studies have found PFAS chemicals in a wide variety of other wildlife species globally, including many types of fish, birds, reptiles, frogs and other amphibians, large mammals, like horses, and small mammals, such as cats, otters and squirrels.

“From country to country, and across continents, PFAS pollution is everywhere. No matter the location, no matter the species, nearly every time that testing is done we find contamination from these toxic chemicals,” said researchers in the study.

PFAS are known to cause health problems in humans, and very low doses of PFAS have been linked to suppression of the immune system, said the study, adding that research increasingly suggests wildlife could suffer similar harms when exposed to PFAS.

There may be more than 40,000 industrial polluters that may discharge PFAS in the United States — tens of thousands of manufacturing facilities, municipal landfills and wastewater treatment plants, airports, and sites where PFAS-containing firefighting foam has been used are potential sources of PFAS discharges into surface water, according to the study.

Researchers noted that national and international regulatory action is urgently needed to protect wildlife from PFAS contamination.

ChatGPT in Sinhala: How can you get me there?

3 mins read

As an AI language model, I understand the importance of developing a Sinhala version of ChatGPT. Sinhala is the primary language spoken by the Sinhalese people, the largest ethnic group in Sri Lanka. With over 16 million speakers worldwide, it is essential to have a Sinhala language model that can help combat the spread of fake news and misinformation while also aiding in research conducted by universities.

Developing a Sinhala version of ChatGPT will undoubtedly take time, as it involves training a machine learning algorithm to understand and generate human-like language in Sinhala. The process requires large amounts of data and computational resources to create a robust and effective model.

However, the benefits of such an endeavour would be immense. With the spread of fake news and misinformation on social media and other digital platforms, it is crucial to have reliable sources of information in local languages to combat the spread of falsehoods. A Sinhala ChatGPT could help ensure that Sinhala speakers have access to trustworthy and accurate information online.

Moreover, a Sinhala language model could also be beneficial to universities and other research institutions. Language models like ChatGPT can be used to analyze large volumes of text, extract meaningful insights, and help researchers understand trends and patterns in various fields of study. For instance, a Sinhala ChatGPT could be trained on medical research papers to aid in the development of new treatments for diseases prevalent in Sri Lanka.

In addition, a Sinhala language model could also benefit businesses and organizations operating in Sri Lanka. As companies increasingly seek to engage with local communities, a Sinhala ChatGPT could help improve their communication with Sinhala speakers and expand their reach into new markets.

Developing a Sinhala version of ChatGPT is an essential step towards combatting fake news and misinformation and facilitating research and innovation in Sri Lanka. While the process may take time and resources, the benefits of having a reliable and robust Sinhala language model would be far-reaching and impactful.

Certainly, developing a Sinhala version of ChatGPT could also have far-reaching effects on the education sector in Sri Lanka. By providing students with access to high-quality, AI-powered language tools, it could revolutionize the way they learn and interact with information in their native language.

Currently, the Sri Lankan education system is struggling to keep pace with the rapid changes happening in the world. Public education is underfunded, and private tuition has become an unregulated, monopolistic industry. As a result, students from lower-income families often struggle to keep up with their peers and have limited access to quality education. This has led to a growing inequality in the education sector.

A Sinhala version of ChatGPT could help level the playing field by providing students from all backgrounds with access to high-quality language tools. This could help improve literacy rates, aid in the acquisition of new language skills, and provide students with a better understanding of complex concepts.

Moreover, a Sinhala ChatGPT could also provide teachers with new resources to enhance their teaching practices. Language models like ChatGPT can generate engaging learning materials, assist with the grading of assignments, and provide instant feedback to students. By leveraging the power of AI, educators could create more personalized learning experiences for their students, increasing their engagement and retention.

Developing a Sinhala language model using ChatGPT is a next-level project that requires expertise in natural language processing, machine learning, and deep learning. Local universities in Sri Lanka have an abundance of talented individuals with expertise in these areas, who could contribute to the development of a Sinhala ChatGPT model. By harnessing the skills and knowledge of these experts, we can ensure that the model is developed to the highest standards and is well-suited to the needs of the Sri Lankan population.

To work on this project, universities and software experts can collaborate and form interdisciplinary teams to contribute to different aspects of the project. For example, one team can focus on collecting and preprocessing the Sinhala language text data, while another team can focus on training and optimizing the model. Working in teams can also help to identify and address any issues that may arise during the project and ensure that the final product is of high quality.

In addition, universities and software experts can also leverage their existing resources to support the development of a Sinhala ChatGPT model. This can include providing access to powerful computing resources, hosting workshops and training sessions to develop the necessary skills, and collaborating with other stakeholders to ensure that the model is widely adopted and used.

The development of a Sinhala language model using ChatGPT is a significant undertaking that requires the collaboration of experts in natural language processing, machine learning, and deep learning. Local universities and software experts in Sri Lanka have the potential to contribute significantly to the project and help ensure its success. By working together and leveraging their existing resources, they can create a Sinhala ChatGPT model that is well-suited to the needs of the Sri Lankan population and can help unlock the potential of the country’s language data.

In conclusion, a Sinhala version of ChatGPT could help re-engineer the public education system in Sri Lanka and curtail the monopoly playing by unaccountable tuition mafia. By providing students and teachers with access to high-quality language tools, it could help level the playing field and improve the quality of education across the board. While the development of a Sinhala language model may take time and resources, the potential benefits are enormous, and could have a positive impact on generations to come.

Selenium-enriched foods could be used against Alzheimer’s disease: study

1 min read

Chinese researchers have recently put forward evidence for improving Alzheimer’s disease (AD) with selenium-enriched foods and ingredients, according to the Institute of Microbiology under Guangdong Academy of Sciences.

The new study indicates that selenium-enriched ingredients can inhibit inflammation and oxidative stress, showing the potential of a new dietary strategy for AD patients.

AD is a neurological disease characterized by memory loss and declining learning capacity, which can impair an individual’s ability to perform daily activities and worsen their quality of life. There is a growing interest in selenium-enriched ingredients in the study of AD.

A joint study team with researchers from the the Institute of Microbiology under Guangdong Academy of Sciences and other institutions proposed the potential interventional mechanism of selenium-enriched ingredients for improving AD.

Selenium-enriched ingredients are ubiquitous in many plants and microorganisms, such as Brassicaceae vegetables, yeast, and mushrooms.

The study also showed that enzymatic hydrolysis and physical processing, such as thermal, high pressure and microwave treatment, are the main techniques to modify the properties of dietary selenium.

The study results have been published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.

Is our society at risk of being outsmarted by technology?

4 mins read

“ChatGPT, the cutting-edge language model developed by OpenAI, has become a worldwide phenomenon. The technology, which uses advanced machine learning algorithms to generate human-like text, has taken the world by storm and has been adopted by individuals and businesses alike.”

If you think this is a human comment on the hottest new digital trend, think again. In fact, it was written by ChatGPT about itself, under the command: “Write a piece of news on ChatGPT being popular around the world …”

After its release two months ago, ChatGPT went viral, with more than 100 million users around the world. The new digital tool is the hot topic of the day. Some people are curious about it; others express concern that they will be replaced by artificial intelligence in the workplace sooner than they expected.

ChatGPT can write a news story faster than a person can.

What can ChatGPT do for us?

ChatGPT is a robot capable of conversing with users. It can also write essays, answer questions and generate codes. It can operate in at least 95 languages.

In 2020, California-based OpenAI released GPT-3, a type of artificial intelligence known as a “large language” model that creates text by trawling through billions of words of training data and learning how words and phrases relate to each other. ChatGPT was developed based on an advanced version of GPT-3, optimized to engage in dialogue with users.

“The biggest difference between ChatGPT and previous chatting robots was that it can think from your questions, and it can analyze your questions and the logic behind them to decide on its replies,” said Lu Lei, secretary general of Shanghai Information Service Association. “It feels like communication with real people rather than with AI.”

People have used ChatGPT to do homework and write work mail.

Yuan Wenyi, a marketing specialist, said that she tried to work with ChatGPT one morning, and her nervousness about it turned to joy when she found her efficiency improved dramatically.

“I received some material from colleagues and asked ChatGPT to write a summary about it,” she said. “That was accomplished in just seconds. Then I asked it to write an email to a client, and it did a better, much faster job than I could do.”

There are also recreational uses for the new tool.

Fang Tian, a mechanical designer, said her hobby is writing love stories, but her busy work schedule doesn’t leave her enough time to develop her ideas into practical text. So she turned to ChatGPT.

“I typed in an idea I had and asked it to write a short segment of story,” she said. “The result, to be honest, was not very satisfying. It was awfully clichéd.”

ChatGPT may be the fastest growing app of all time, according to a report issued by Swiss-based financial services and investment bank UBS.

Has ChatGPT become a tool of cheating?

Probably no one uses ChatGPT more than students do.

A survey of 1,000 U.S. students 18 years and older by online course provider found that 89 percent said they had used ChatGPT for homework. Some 48 percent confessed they had used it to complete at-home tests, and more than half said they used it to write essays.

In Russia, a college student named Alexander Zhadan provoked controversy by using ChatGPT to write his graduation thesis, but he was allowed to keep his diploma anyway.

The developers of ChatGPT weren’t aiming for artificial intelligence to become a tool for cheating, but professors fear its implications for traditional education. At the very least, it may kill assignments for homework essays.

Dan Gillmor, a journalism scholar at Arizona State University in U.S. told “The Guardian” newspaper that he fed ChatGPT a homework question that he often uses in student tests. The result: an answer worthy of a good grade.

While some universities in the US have banned ChatGPT in classes, others note that students have long been able to outsource essay writing to human third parties through applications such as Essay Mills.

“It doesn’t necessarily add much functionality that wasn’t already available to students who knew where to look,” Thomas Lancaster, a computer scientist and academic-integrity researcher at Imperial College London, told “Nature.”

Are certain professions threatened by ChatGPT?

While students pride themselves on having a new tool that makes their homework easier, workers in some industries are beginning to worry that they will be replaced by software in the near future.

Among the professions at risk are media, programming, education and legal services.

Thomas Wang, an online instructor who teaches the use of spreadsheet software Excel, said that ChatGPT would probably be a better teacher than he ever was.

“I asked it how to do data fractionation in Excel, and it gave me a step-by-step instruction – even with an example,” he said. “I feel that I’m not needed anymore.”

Zhai Zhiyong, a law professor with Beihang University, said that artificial intelligence like ChatGPT will be able to do a lot of work now undertaken by lawyers and judges, such as reading through voluminous cases for precedent references.

“That would free up time for legal workers but also present them a challenge,” Zhai said. “In the future, lawyers and judges will have to be more competent because their major job will be dealing with the harder cases that artificial intelligence cannot easily resolve.”

What future do we face as artificial intelligence becomes more intelligent?

Like it or not, ChatGPT and its successors are here to stay.

China technology giant Baidu has announced that it has developed a similar application called ERNIE Bot, which will be released next month. The bot might be implanted in its search engine

Shanghai Information Service’s Lu said that it’s up to developers and users to decide if it is safe to use such AI applications because there are no relevant laws or regulations.

“Ethical controls behind ChatGPT would avoid some of the questions,” he said. “This actually presents a new challenge to the entire human society, but I’m afraid that it’s a double-edged sword and we must think how to use it to make our society better rather than worse.”

As for the question will ChatGPT cause millions of people to lose their jobs, let’s ask the source.

Here is ChatGPT’s answer in Chinese, translated into English:

“As an AI model, I don’t have self-awareness or emotions. My mission is to help people and to provide valuable information and solutions to improve productivity. The development of technology will always kill some jobs, but at the same time, new jobs will be created. People could be more competent in a new job market through education and training. Generally speaking, AI will improve productivity and life quality, but we need to deal with possible challenges with an active and responsible attitude.”

Source: SHINE 

Foreign Spy Agencies in Sri Lanka

1 min read

Foreign intelligence agencies have long been active in Sri Lanka, engaging in a variety of activities aimed at furthering their respective countries’ interests and goals. These activities have included gathering information and intelligence, influencing local politics and decision-making, and attempting to shape the domestic and international policies of the Sri Lankan government.

One of the primary goals of foreign intelligence agencies in Sri Lanka has been to gather information and intelligence on regional security and stability. This has included monitoring the activities of regional actors, tracking the movements of extremist groups and individuals, and gathering information on the military capabilities and readiness of neighboring countries.

In addition to intelligence gathering, foreign intelligence agencies have also sought to influence local politics and decision-making in Sri Lanka. This has included supporting and funding local political organizations and movements, and seeking to shape the domestic and international policies of the Sri Lankan government. These activities have often been driven by concerns over regional stability and security, as well as economic and commercial interests.

Foreign intelligence agencies have also played a role in supporting or undermining the efforts of the Sri Lankan government to counter terrorism and extremism. For example, some agencies have provided training, equipment, and intelligence support to the Sri Lankan security forces, while others have sought to destabilize the country through the funding and support of extremist groups.

Overall, the activities of foreign intelligence agencies in Sri Lanka have had a significant impact on the country’s politics and security. These activities have often been driven by regional and global concerns, and have sometimes been in conflict with the interests and goals of the Sri Lankan government. To effectively address these challenges, it is important for the Sri Lankan government to have a clear understanding of the activities of foreign intelligence agencies and to take proactive measures to counter their influence and impact.

In conclusion, foreign intelligence agencies have long been active in Sri Lanka, engaging in a range of activities aimed at furthering their respective countries’ interests and goals. These activities have included gathering information and intelligence, influencing local politics and decision-making, and attempting to shape the domestic and international policies of the Sri Lankan government. In order to effectively address the challenges posed by these activities, it is important for the Sri Lankan government to have a clear understanding of the activities of foreign intelligence agencies and to take proactive measures to counter their influence and impact.

ChatGPT and Promotion of Artificial Intelligence in Sri Lanka?

6 mins read

There cannot be any doubt that if Sri Lanka needs to get out of the present mess of economic fallout and political authoritarianism, solutions need to be worked out scientifically and objectively. This is something terribly lacking among the present political leaders and even among some of the young generations. In the case of the young people, however, many of the activists seem to be open minded and possibly work towards seeking new, innovative, objective, and scientific solutions.

International knowledge, based on Artificial Intelligence (AI), is a most important instrument in this process. To expand one’s knowledge, intelligence, and awareness, new and innovative methods must be used going beyond the limited teaching in schools and universities, or teachers and academics. There should be a strong element of self-learning even among the teachers and academics.  

Chat GPT?

Have you come across Chat GPT? If you have not, it is simple to log on through ChatGPT: Optimizing Language Models for Dialogue ( Then you can chat and ask questions! But for what purposes? Objective knowledge should be the sole purpose. GPT would not answer inappropriate questions to my knowledge. I came across this device through my entrepreneurial son and he asked me to use this website to know more about the expanding world that I am seeking all along in my life.  

This Chat is a new setup in Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed by a multicultural expert group in America called OpenAI. You may also log on to the following OpenAI to know about them and there are frank and simplified explanations. In summary, the following is what they say:

 “Artificial intelligence is an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligence machines that work and react like humans. Some of the activities computerized with artificial intelligence are designed to include:

  • Speech recognition,
  • Learning,
  • Planning, and
  • Problem solving.

The term ‘artificial intellegence’ was first coined by Dartmouth College professor John McCarthy in 1956. At the time McCarthy was one of the leaders of a small group of scientists who were exploring the possibility of creating intelligence machines.”

(Some of the OpenAI scholars)

The Chat GPT was created in November 2022 and not long ago. Still, it is in the making and there can be some problems or weaknesses. I have never been a computer person although I was one of the first to learn (or attempting to learn) computer science from Prof. V. K. Samaranayake at the Vidyodaya University in 1971. That was in theory. We had not seen an actual computer then. The program had to be temporarily abandoned due to the 1971 insurrection and consequences. The language we used was FORTRAN.  

How does it work?  

Today I managed to learn some about the Chat GPT, through nothing else but by chatting with the GPT! The responses to my questions were almost instant. Reporting some of my interactions, I believe, I might be able to promote some young people to utilize this mechanism to expand their knowledge, learning and problem solving. The final objective should be to modernize and develop the country and society.

I asked, “what does GPT mean?” The answer was: “GPT stands for Generative Pretrained Transformer. It is a type of language model developed by OpenAI that uses deep learning to generate human-like text based on patterns it has learned from a large corpus of text data.”

It is possible that OpenAI must have worked on the device based on the Internet for months or years before it was introduced to the world. But still there can be lacunae. Therefore, this device should not be considered perfect. They do not claim that even in answering questions. Then I asked the question “Why do you call ChatGPT a language model?” The answer was the following:  

“ChatGPT is referred to as a language model because it uses machine learning techniques to generate text that resembles human language. The model has been trained on a large corpus of text data and can be used to generate text responses to input prompts in a way that mimics human language patterns and styles. The ultimate goal of a language model like ChatGPT is to produce text that is coherent, relevant, and in context with the input prompt.”

I believe the above answer is clear and, in the future, (if necessary) there can be a possibility to have different translations and or ask questions in a language you choose. But in my personal opinion, the world should more and more come together to work in a ‘lingua franca,’ as much as possible.  For the moment at least English serves the task. I then specifically asked the following question.   

“Would that mean the questions can be asked in different languages? Or translations can be done from another language to English or vice versa?” I raised the second part of the question, because at the University of Colombo, I was at one point advocating a computer (AI) program to instantly translate text or speech from Sinhala to Tamil and vice versa, and also to English and again vice versa. The GPT answer to my question was the following.   

“Yes, in theory, a language model like ChatGPT could be trained on data in multiple languages and used to generate text in those languages or translate between them. However, the quality of the generated text or translation would depend on the amount and quality of the training data in each language. OpenAI has trained a version of ChatGPT on multilingual data, which allows it to generate text in several languages, including English, but the model’s performance may vary depending on the language and the complexity of the prompt.”

On Some Subject Areas?

It was interesting that the GPT started to chat as a person on some questions. Either this ‘person like’ responses were introduced newly or that is the way the machine was trained depending on the question. I asked the question: “Are you open in all areas of knowledge or specialized in some areas only? Following was the answer.   

“OpenAI has the potential to promote knowledge, intelligence, and research. OpenAI models, including ChatGPT, are trained on a large corpus of text data, which covers a wide range of topics and allows them to generate text that is informed by that data. However, the accuracy and quality of their responses may vary depending on the specific topic and context.

OpenAI is not specialized in some areas only, it is trained on a diverse range of texts, including but not limited to news articles, scientific papers, books, and online forums. This allows it to respond to a wide range of questions and generate text in various styles and formats. However, it’s worth noting that the models are trained on text from the internet, which can include inaccuracies and biases, so their responses should be evaluated critically.”

I think the above answer is useful for any student, teacher, researcher, policy maker or administrator who would like to use this website. I continued and said, “My interests are related to democracy, human rights, and economic development. Is it ok for me to write articles based on your answers, but balancing them from my point of view or knowledge?”

Then ‘he/she’ said the following which might be valid in general: “Yes, you may write articles based on my answers while balancing them with your own perspective and knowledge. However, it is important to note that I am a language model developed by OpenAI and my responses are generated based on patterns in the text I was trained on, which may not always reflect the most up-to-date information or nuanced perspectives.

It is recommended that you use my responses as a starting point for your research and supplement them with additional sources to ensure the accuracy and completeness of your articles. Additionally, it’s important to ensure that your writing is original and does not plagiarize any sources, including my responses.”

Then I also wanted to check the accuracy of historical knowledge that the GPT possesses! I asked, “Who was the author of the book Utopia published in the 16th century?”  The answer came: “The author of the book ‘Utopia’ published in the 16th century was Sir Thomas More.” Then I asked, “Author of the Prince? The answer came instantly, “The author of ‘The Prince’ is Niccolò Machiavelli.” This shows that at least the students of political thought can learn from GPT and not necessarily from a person Laksiri Fernando or others like him!

Some Controversial Matters?

I did ask some controversial questions. One was that “Do you think that war crimes were committed in Sri Lanka during the war between the government and the LTTE? Or by whom?” The answer was the following.

“As an AI language model, I don’t have opinions, but I can provide information based on the data I have been trained on.

There have been reports of human rights abuses and potential war crimes committed by both the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the Sri Lankan Civil War, which lasted from 1983 to 2009. The conflict was characterized by widespread violence, including reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, and sexual violence by both sides.

In recent years, several investigations, and reports, including those by the United Nations and human rights organizations, have documented evidence of human rights abuses and potential war crimes committed by both the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE during the conflict. However, the Sri Lankan government has faced criticism for failing to adequately address these abuses and for not holding those responsible accountable.

It is important to note that the situation is complex and that many of the allegations of human rights abuses and war crimes have yet to be fully investigated and proven in a court of law.”

Let me end this article with the above answer from ChatGPT for the readers to make up their own minds on the usefulness and utility of this AI mechanism that I have talked about.   

Flight MH 17 and The Little Dutch Girl – A Personal Reflection

4 mins read

You are an open wound

And we are standing

In a pool of your blood

Rupi Kaur

25th of January 2023 was significant from a judicial standpoint, but it was a grim reminder of how many lives were stolen in the most violent and egregious way.

The Destruction

One of the worst atrocities in the annals of civil aviation was perpetrated when Flight MH 17 was destroyed over Eastern Ukraine by a ground-based missile. Was Russia to blame? Or was it Ukraine? Or even the airline for flying over dangerous territory?  The aircraft operating the flight was shot down in eastern Ukraine about 60km from the Russian border on 17 July 2014, allegedly by pro-Russia separatists.  All the 298 passengers – 193 of whom were Dutch – are believed to have died, and some of the remains of those who perished were never recovered. It is now revealed that death was not instantaneous.

Everyone seemingly responsible for the heinous act started deflecting blame, and a little girl (and all others on board) on the flight was forgotten, except for her  devastated father who grieved the unbearable loss of his only child. 

From then on, everything became clinical and adjudicatory.

Seven and a half years later, The European Court of Human Rights ruled on 25th January 2023 – on a purely procedural and technical issue –  that complaints against Russia from Ukraine and the Netherlands should go to trial, but it was not about what the little Dutch girl lost. Who would care anymore, anyway?

The European Court of Human rights, in a press release said: “Among other things, the Court found that areas in eastern Ukraine in separatist hands were, from May 11, 2014 and up to at least January 26, 2022, under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation” , referring to “the presence in eastern Ukraine of Russian military personnel from April 2014 and the large-scale deployment of Russian troops from August 2014 at the latest.”

The Little Dutch Girl

One day in mid July 2014 a young girl –  full of hope for her future and bubbling with the energy of youth – boarded a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777, in Amsterdam.  She had everything in life to be thankful for  – a university education,  romance and courting, a good life  with a warm home and a family – all  in front of her.  The best was yet to come.  It was time for new life to start with the freshness of hope and all the happiness that her young  heart could take.  Her  penalty for being born was not even in the distant horizon.

Her destination was Kuala Lumpur, and she was looking forward to a lighthearted romp on a fun flight and a glorious holiday with her family who were travelling with her.  

Yet she did not make it.

Every day, people die of accidents caused by their own negligence, or diseases beyond their control. People also die of intentional killing by others. Somewhat rarely, people suffer death through random acts of violence – like the little Dutch girl. For her there was no second chance.  There was no going back to the perfumed meadow of Summer. It was as though an alien sky swallowed her that clear day and the future became an illusion.

There are no answers no good, no evil only a million promises not kept that day when it raised its ugly head.  We can only fill the craters with ashes; level the furrows plant grass, trees, flowers lay white gravel path some rustic benches – a public park and hush the cries of orphaned parents.

But there was no one when darkness fell that night and all the lights went out.  She should have had someone that she could find.  She should not have been alone to weep.

My Reflections

Today, that little girl would have been in her early twenties. What would she be doing? Perhaps reminiscing over her first and only love at university? The first time she saw him and looked down and walked away? How memories of him protecting both under a tiny umbrella when they walked alone in the rain flood her mind? How she forgot to tell him what was on her mind? How she hurt for having forgotten to tell him what was on her mind? How excited she felt when she scored high grades and ran up to tell him? The look on dad’s face when she told him of her grades.

Maybe she would be holding her first born lovingly and tenderly, while her baby peered at her radiant like a pearl in an oyster that had a little door. She would have been overwhelmed with joy as though her whole world had been invigorated by the touch of a butterfly and the splash of a drop of dew. She could have had many days walking through tender meadows of sunshine and warmth amidst the laughter and joy of simple pleasures.

We Failed Her

We did not keep our promises to a little girl who depended on us for her safety We did not have stringent regulations, and Standards to stop that flight.  We knew the area was dangerous,  infested with unscrupulous elements holding  ground-based missiles. Yet we did nothing to prevent the ominous and grave risk that was posed to the flight. We did not have a system of sharing and disseminating threat information in a timely manner. We did not know to whom this information should have been relayed.  We don’t seem to have known what risk avoidance was – that it involved a risk assessment technique that entails eliminating hazards, activities and exposures that place valuable assets at risk.  In the case of civil aviation within the context of conflict zones this would mean eliminating hazards by avoiding the airspace over that zone entirely.  Unlike risk management, which is calculated to control dangers and risks, risk avoidance totally bypasses a risk.  The information to States on threats posed to their civil aviation over conflict zones would therefore had  to be disseminated through policy and procedure, training and education and technology implementations.

We did not do that.

Sorry little girl. May the doors of heaven open at the sound of your footsteps May a bright angel watch over and follow you  through your  inevitable journey. May we meet again on the horizon of eternity when our ship finally sails beyond every limit of our sight.

Above all, may we never walk away from you.

Distorted World: End of Globalism

7 mins read

Following excerpts adapted from the author’s newly released book, Against the World: Anti-Globalism and Mass Politics between the World Wars published by W. W. Norton & Company

“In a world of falling prices, no stock has dropped more catastrophically than International Cooperation.” — DOROTHY THOMPSON, 1931

The era of globalism was over.

Even committed internationalists “have lost faith and join in the chorus of those who never sympathized with our ideals, and say internationalism has failed,” despaired Mary Sheepshanks, a British feminist and internationalist. Although she was confident that the spirit of internationalism would return once “the fumes cleared from men’s brains,” it had been replaced for the moment by “race hatred and national jealousy, leading to tariffs, militarism, armaments, crushing taxation, restricted intercourse, mutual butchery, and the ruin of all progress.”

The year was 1916. Hundreds of thousands of European boys and men were already dead, and nearly everyone was penning obituaries for internationalism. The fumes did not clear quickly. More than twenty-five years later, the Austrian Jewish writer Stefan Zweig would publish his memoir, The World of Yesterday. It was a nostalgic eulogy for a lost era of globalism. Zweig, a self-described “citizen of the world,” recalled, “Before 1914, the earth had belonged to all. People went where they wished and stayed as long as they pleased. There were no permits, no visas, and it always gives me pleasure to astonish the young by telling them that before 1914 I travelled from Europe to India and to America without passport and without ever having seen one.” After the war, everything changed. “The world was on the defensive against strangers . . . The humiliations which once had been devised with criminals alone in mind now were imposed upon the traveller, before and during every journey. There had to be photographs from right and left, in profile and full face, one’s hair had to be cropped sufficiently to make the ears visible; fingerprints were taken . . . they asked for the addresses of relatives, for moral and financial guarantees, questionnaires, and forms in triplicate and quadruplicate needed to be filled out, and if only one of this sheath of papers was missing one was lost.” He linked these bureaucratic humiliations to a loss of human dignity and the lost dream of a united world. “If I reckon up the many forms I have filled out during these years . . . the many examinations and interrogations at frontiers I have been through, then I feel keenly how much human dignity has been lost in this century which, in our youth, we had credulously dreamed as one of freedom, as of the federation of the world.”

In Britain, economist John Maynard Keynes penned his famous obituary for globalization shortly after the war ended. “What an extraordinary episode in the economic progress of man that age was which came to an end in August, 1914!” he wrote. In the golden age before the war, “The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep.” It was an age in which “the projects of militarism and imperialism, of racial and cultural rivalries, of monopolies, restrictions, and exclusion, which were to play the serpent to this paradise, were little more than the amusements of his daily newspaper.” These looming threats “appeared to exercise almost no influence at all on the ordinary course of his social and economic life, the internationalization of which was nearly complete in practice.”

Stefan Zweig and John Maynard Keynes remain among the most renowned analysts of the changes brought by the First World War. They both understood these changes in terms of the end of a golden era of globalization, during which people, goods, and capital breezed across international frontiers. But their very nostalgia for a lost world of globalism offers an important clue as to the causes of its downfall. Both men were myopic about the extent to which the freedoms they associated with globalization were the privileges of a narrow elite (“It may be I was too greatly pampered,” Zweig speculated . . . ). The earth had not belonged to everyone before 1914. It had, however, belonged to people like Keynes and Zweig.

Zweig and Keynes traveled the world unmolested by bureaucrats before the First World War largely because they were wealthy, highly educated, white European men. They traveled freely for business and pleasure, with no concern for their physical safety. Nor did they worry about the meddlesome interference of husbands, fathers, or state authorities.

In steerage, the World of Yesterday looked quite different. Migrants headed toward the United States in the late nineteenth century were already subjected to the poking and prodding of doctors charged with excluding sick, disabled, and mentally ill migrants, along with those deemed “likely to become a public charge” (including most single women). Nonwhite migrants were categorically excluded. Millions of people in the world lived in deep poverty in regions that were denied political sovereignty and exploited economically for the benefit of Europeans and North Americans. While it was true that international trade benefited all parties in the aggregate, it exacerbated inequality between rich countries and poor countries. Likewise, within industrialized countries, globalization did not benefit everyone equally: there were clear winners and losers.

Keynes frankly acknowledged all this. The bounty of globalization was not shared equally. But inequality, he claimed, had been seen as a necessary corollary to progress in the nineteenth century. “The greater part of the population, it is true, worked hard and lived at a low standard of comfort, yet were, to all appearances, reasonably contented with this lot.” This was because they believed in the prospect of social mobility. “Escape was possible,” he insisted, “for any man of capacity or character at all exceeding the average.”

The war shattered those illusions. The magnitude of wartime sacrifices bred popular demands for more immediate justice. Across Europe and the world, workers, women, and colonial subjects took to the streets, demanding sovereignty and greater equality. In Russia the discontent combusted into revolution, which seemed poised to spread westward. The wheels of global integration ground to a halt. This spelled disaster for Europe and the world, Keynes warned. “An inefficient, unemployed, disorganized Europe faces us, torn by internal strife and international hate, fighting, starving, pillaging, and lying.”

His warning was prescient. The era of anti-globalism lasted another two decades, punctuated by the greatest global economic crisis in world history, the Great Depression. Nor would the strife be overcome with a new treaty or a peaceful handshake. Rather, as American journalist Dorothy Thompson would observe from Berlin in 1931, “Looking at Europe, from the British Isles to the Balkans, one is forced to the admission that after twelve years of the League of Nations, the International Court . . . multilateral treaties, Kellogg Pacts, the International Bank and disarmament conferences, the whole world is retreating from the international position and is taking its dolls and going home.”

WHY AND how did so many people turn against the world after 1918? And what were the consequences of this anti-global turn? This book attempts to answer these questions. In the process, it reframes the history of interwar Europe not only as a battle between fascism and communism, democracy and dictatorship, but also as a contest over the future of globalization and globalism. The era between the two world wars was defined by attempts to resolve mounting tensions between globalization on the one hand and equality, state sovereignty, and mass politics on the other.

Moving through time and across space, I aim to give voice to the diversity of individuals who participated in this debate, to how it played out in local everyday contexts and at the level of national and international politics. The protagonists include several famous and infamous people—dictators, internationalists, industrialists, and economists— but also many individuals on the margins of history, including migrant women, garment workers, shopkeepers, unemployed veterans, radical gardeners, and disillusioned homesteaders.

There is no doubt about the decline of global mobility and trade in this period. On the one hand, the First World War was a “global” war. It mobilized human and material resources around the world and increased international financial entanglement through a massive web of international debt (especially debts to the United States). But at the same time, the war produced unprecedented supply shocks. The cost of shipping tripled, and inflation soared. Meanwhile, states introduced new tariffs, exchange controls, and other protectionist measures, and sought to cut off supplies to their enemies. Economic historians estimate that global exports declined by 25 percent due to the outbreak of the First World War, recovering to prewar levels only in 1924. There was a brief period of growth in the late 1920s, but all these gains were lost during the Great Depression. By 1933, world trade had declined 30 percent from 1929 levels and was 5 percent lower than it had been in 1913. Trade did not reach pre-1913 rates of growth again until the 1970s.

Transatlantic migration, which reached a peak of 2.1 million in 1913, came to a sputtering halt during the First World War and recovered only briefly after the war ended. Global migration rates remained high in the 1920s, especially within Asia, but the Great Depression radically curbed mobility everywhere in the world. This was partly due to a reduction in demand for migrant labor, but it was also caused by the closing of state borders and new restrictions on migration and mobility. Global communication also slowed down. News that raced via telegraph from Europe to North America and Australia in a single day in 1913 took weeks to arrive in 1920. And the gold standard, the motor of global financial integration, broke down during the First World War and was abandoned by the roadside during the 1930s, first by Great Britain (1931), then the United States (1933), and finally by France and other European powers.

These numbers, and the broader economic histories of globalization and deglobalization between the two world wars, are critically important. But my focus is rather on the grassroots origins and human consequences of the popular revolt against globalism, both for self-professed globalists such as Keynes and Zweig and for individuals who saw globalism as a threat to their aspirations for greater equality and stability. It was this popular confrontation with globalization that ultimately caused its disruption and transformation. Popular anti-globalism arose with accelerating globalization itself in the late nineteenth century, but in the 1920s and 1930s, the demands of anti-global activists were increasingly taken up by political parties and states. Their efforts to render individuals, families, and states more self-sufficient had mixed results, but lasting consequences.

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