exclusives | April 21, 2016

Lavin Weekly #34: Levin, Ford, Kantayya, & Pinker

1. What Does the Cosmos Say? Janna Levin’s Black Hole Blues Profiled in The NYT

Yesterday’s New York Times had some high praise for Janna Levin’s new book, Black Hole Blues, saying that it “dismantles the eureka convention of science, exposing the invisible, incremental processes that produce the final spark we call genius.” Black Hole Blues goes behind the scenes of last year’s hottest scientific discovery: the landmark detection of gravitational waves. The book profiles the key players in the search—visionary inventor Rainer Weiss, Scottish mastermind Ron Drever, and Lavin’s own Kip Thorne—and documents their efforts with LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) to hunt down the elusive phenomenon theorized by Einstein in 1915. It’s a book about scientific achievement, to be sure, but it’s also about the idiosyncratic and often eccentric personalities that sit behind the curtain. In Black Hole Blues, and in her fascinating keynote speeches, Levin “harmonizes science and life with remarkable virtuosity” (NYT). 

2. Martin Ford on Automation, Job Security, and Donald Trump

What do robots have to do with Donald Trump? More than you would think, argues Martin Ford. In a new interview with the BBC, Ford discusses the growing prevalence of automation—as he does in his acclaimed book Rise of the Robots. “Machines are now in some sense beginning to think,” says Ford, “and what that means is we’re seeing machines encroach on the kind of capabilities that set humans apart.” In the next 10 to 20 years, Ford sees machine-learning making untold advances, and even beginning to replace traditionally middle-class jobs. For those of an average skillset, he says, this appears troublesome. And this incipient erosion of the middle class is already manifesting itself in our politics: populist leaders like Trump and Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders are gaining ground as everymen and women look to see their interests represented in congress. In talks that are realistic (but not fatalistic), Ford examines the opportunities and threats that come with an increasingly automated world.

3. Shalini Kantayya’s Catching the Sun Hits Netflix—with a Surprising Executive Producer

It’s Earth Day—and Shalini Kantayya’s documentary Catching the Sun, produced by Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio, is coming to Netflix! In Catching the Sun (“Must-see”—Mark Ruffalo), we’re afforded an insider’s look at America’s solar energy industry and the people pushing it forward. Through the stories of aspiring solar workers in Richmond, California, Catching the Sun examines solar’s boundless potential to both fight climate change and spur job creation. It’s a snapshot of working-class America, but just as much, it’s a fascinating study of the global race to lead a green-energy tomorrow.  With an economy still mired in fossil-fuel dependency, can the U.S. make the switch to clean energy? Watch the film and find out.

4. Is War on the Decline? And Can We Keep it That Way? Steven Pinker in The Boston Globe

From the end of World War II until 2011, says Steven Pinker—bestselling author of The Better Angels of Our Nature—war was on the decline. The global death rate, hovering around 22 per 100,000 people in 1945, had fallen to 0.3. But with a spate of new conflicts in the last five years—the Syrian civil war, tribal violence in South Sudan, Boko Haram’s terrorizing of Nigeria, and Russia’s flagrant annexation of Crimea—that number rose once again, standing at 1.4 in 2014. But 2016 has seen a promising start: several cease-fires and abatements in violence have made for a (relatively) peaceful first quarter. In fact, the physical geography of war is shrinking; nearly all war is now confined to a corridor between Nigeria and Pakistan. While “progress is shaky and incomplete,” says Pinker and co-author Joshua S. Goldstein, “recent cease-fires and peace talks are an existence proof that the violence of war can be reduced.” As one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, Pinker is a recognized thought leader. In enthralling keynotes, he weaves psychology and history together to demystify violence, war and the underpinnings of human nature.

To book a keynote from Janna Levin, Martin Ford, Shalini Kantayya, or Steven Pinker, contact The Lavin Agency, their exclusive speakers bureau.

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social change | April 20, 2016