Introducing the long-distance-kissing robot
A theme that tends to obsess futurists is robot sex, the idea that humans could someday satisfy their baser urges with machines. But what about our more delicate desires? To satisfy them, Lovotics, a Singaporean robotics firm, has invented the “Kissing Messenger”—an egg-shaped robot with lips that allows you to kiss remotely.
The robot records the physical impression your lips make, and transmits it over the Internet to another Kiss Messenger, which delivers the kiss to your recipient. It also allows for video-game-based kissing—which means it’s now possible to kiss fictional people.
A new twist in the IQ debate
IQ is a continual source of controversy. Invented around the turn of the 20th century, the intelligence quotient is supposed to measure a person’s baseline mental abilities. It makes sense that individuals would have widely varying scores, but things get messy when statistics show differences in IQ between whole nations or ethnicities. Do these expose innate differences, perhaps driven by genetics? Or do they tell us that IQ scores really depend on other factors, like wealth or education?
In a new essay in The American Conservative, “Race, IQ, and Wealth,” Ron Unz, the magazine’s publisher, pores through the data in an attempt to discover “what the facts tell us about a taboo subject.” He comes to surprising conclusions.
Unz draws on a huge global dataset of scores created by two eminent IQ scholars, Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen, for their controversial 2001 book “IQ and the Wealth of Nations.” Their dataset showed that IQ was heavily correlated with per-capita gross domestic product, and the authors, in their book, suggested that the distribution of wealth around the world was driven by the distribution of intelligence, which was in turn genetically determined.
Now, in this new essay, Unz takes a careful look at the very same data—and in a surprising twist, comes to exactly the opposite conclusion. For people who believe that IQ is genetically determined, Unz says, the numbers are actually “a game-ending own-goal.”
The IQ data, Unz explains, is broken up by country: It shows, for example, that there’s been a historical IQ gap between test-takers in Austria and test-takers in Croatia. But Austrians and Croatians are almost genetically identical—which means that genetics simply can’t explain the 12-point difference in scores. That pattern is repeated around the globe. Genetics also can’t explain the phenomenon of a group’s IQ scores rising when members immigrate to the United States.
What’s really going on? Urbanization, Unz thinks, is a big factor: The data show a meaningful gap between urban and rural test-takers, both here and around the world. It’s not that city dwellers are fundamentally smarter, he argues; instead, city life might prime us for “the strongly abstract and analytical thinking required on an IQ test.”
What remains, Unz writes, is “a mystery arguably greater than that of IQ itself”: How people on both sides missed the real meaning of Lynn and Vanhanen’s data. Maybe, he writes, no one bothered to look. “Pro-racialists” felt vindicated by the book, and skipped the numbers. And their opponents skipped them, too, out of fear that “the vast quantity of data within prove that the racialist analysis [was] factually correct after all.”
Doves in camouflage, hawks with pens
When we think about the source of America’s more militaristic impulses, it’s easy to assume that it’s generals who push us towards war, and civilians who need to rein them in. Writing for the Council on Foreign Relations, Micah Zenko, a national security scholar, argues that the opposite is true. In fact, he says, generals tend to be cautious about solving problems with force, while civilians are the loudest hawks. And “[t]here is no body of civilians that more consistently makes unrealistic demands for the use of military force than editorial boards and opinion-page writers of major American news outlets.”
Op-ed writers are often warmongers, Zenko says, because they have little to lose if military action does take place. They blithely prescribe complex military interventions (“no fly/drive/kill zones are particularly hot commodities these days”). And they tend to vastly overestimate the “psychological benefits” of contemplating military action—just the prospect of an American invasion, writers claim, will spur defections and even overthrow dictators. Needless to say, that never happens.
By way of contrast, Zenko quotes former
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s memoir:
“In more than twenty years of attending meetings in the Situation Room,” Gates wrote, “my experience was that the biggest doves in Washington wear uniforms.”