Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

White Tigers, Olympics and Swarm Intelligence

, Seoul

Will this Olympics mark a key milestone in the realisation of a prediction we made a number of years ago that the first steps of Korean reunification will happen within 5-10 years? A member of the ruling Kim family has not set foot in South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953 and much is being made by the emerging detente between the North and South.

Olympics Opening Ceremony

I am still somewhat struggling to transition from the +45C I experienced in the Great Karoo desert South Africa to the -10C I am experiencing daily here in the Korean mountains.

I loved the opening ceremony of the Olympics, and the white tiger kicked it off as captured in the photo above (by the Denver Post). For the Korean people the white tiger is considered a very sacred animal, a divine spirit. In fact, I have one on my wall. According to Wikipedia:

“A tiger that has overcome trials and tribulations and understands the world is known to turn white, becoming a white tiger. Although it is a sacred creature that doesn’t harm people, it becomes angry when the ruler of the country conducts evil and inhumane deeds. Therefore, it has been told that powerful people become humble and rich people become generous when a white tiger appears.

As such, in Korean history and culture, a tiger is regarded as a guardian that drives away evil spirit and a sacred creature that brings good luck – the symbol of courage and absolute power.”

The other two animals that were prominent were the turtle and the dragon. Although in European mythology dragons are associated with fire and destruction, in Korean culture the dragon represents good luck, the expelling of evil and holy power.  They are considered benevolent beings especially related to water and agriculture. In Korean mythology the dragon often represents kings.

In Chinese and Korean culture the turtle shell is often the symbol of heaven whilst the underside symbolises earth. So the turtle literally carries the world on its back. But it also magically united Heaven and Earth. It is often associated with longevity and thought that these animals could foretell future events. Fortune tellers would use the patterns on turtle shells to read the future.

So these were some pretty auspicious signs! Lets hope they are enough to help bring peace to the peninsula.

The Detente

One can only hope that the symbolic gestures at the Olympics will result in peace.

I heard that the North Korean Leader’s sister, Kim Yo-Jong, wrote this in a guest book over the weekend:

 “I hope Pyongyang and Seoul will get closer in our people’s minds and that unification and prosperity will come in the near future.” 

That sounds very hopeful and perhaps not something anyone could have imagined in the middle of the the recent war of words and escalation of missile testing.

In order to get a clear view one really has to try and look beyond what the news media are saying. Most of them seem to have an agenda or just lack any basic information as what is transpiring. Some of the mainstream media just want to get at Trump and highlight the failure of his administration: the criticisms range from how rude Pence was to the sister of Kim Jong Un to the emerging division now between a peace loving South Korean President and a war mongering and/or incompetent Trump.  Those on the right are upset that the left leaning media are fawning all over the sister of a dictator and a murderous regime. I don’t have much time for either side! The losers have always been the Korean people who still have relatives on either side of the DMZ.  In a conventional diplomatic situation, there might have been some rationale for Trump making a lot of noise and initiating huge war games near North Korea in order to later extract the best deal. But at the end of the day, I always feel that if it wasn’t for politicians and special interests peace would have happened a long time ago. See how easy it is for the Olypmic athletes to suddenly join the same team and start snapping selfies with each other. I heard from an adviser to Kim Dae Jung that about 20 years ago they were extremely close to pulling something off. Then Dick Cheney decided it would be good to spend a lot of money on missile systems in Alaska so they needed a bogeyman to justify it. Suddenly North Korea appearred in Goerge Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ and all the hard work done by the 2 Koreas (and 2 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize) was unravelled. This is one view anyway. Either way, I do not believe that North Korea cannot be coaxed by diplomatic and economic means to come to the table. They must be terrified of the military forces lined up against them despite all their bluster. The arsenal that the US forces can deploy is way beyond the traditional nuclear weapons that were available in the last war.

What happens now? The north have invited the President of Suth Korea, Mr Moon, to come as quickly as possibly to meet Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang. However, listening to the reaction of the local media in Korea it would seem that there is a lot of criticism of Moon Jae In as many people think he has given the North some excellent propaganda opportunities but hasn’t extracted anything in return.  So President Moon is going to have to still persuade both a domestic audience and the US.  These steps are conceivable. I expect the US will keep the hardline approach for some time. And there is still a path which involves war. That said, I see the likelihood of a peaceful path to reunification as more likely now.

Bigger Picture

My view on reunification is based on some larger tectonic forces, not a knowledge of the exact mechanics of how it would happen, as well as many conversations with insightful former insiders over the years.  A reunification would seem to have some inevitability to it even if Korea has been messed around by other “Great Powers” for so long already. If one looks at the Belt and Road Initiative of the Chinese and the bigger plans for the transportation network of the region, it would seem obvious that North Korea will eventually be persuaded or want to link up. Allowing trains to pass from Europe through China or Russia to Korea, and then possibly by tunnel or bridge to Japan makes too much economic sense. This chart is from an article in the Diplomat.

One Belt One Road One Korea

There are many other reasons for our baseline assumption as well , but more on these another time. Lets just say that things are moving along in the right direction.

Technology of the Opening Ceremony – Swarm Intelligence

A lot of good technology was used in the Opening Ceremony.  I think Korea is always an interesting mix of the ancient and the future. Amongst many things I could discuss, including the interesting use of VR, there was the drone display . This article in Wired touches on them – they were quite impressive.

Wired: Olympics Opening Drone Show

The idea of swarm intelligence has long been on my mind. Singularity Hub recently wrote:

“As a group, simple creatures following simple rules can display a surprising amount of complexity, efficiency, and even creativity. Known as swarm intelligence, this trait is found throughout nature, but researchers have recently begun using it to transform various fields such as robotics, data mining, medicine, and blockchains.

Ants, for example, can only perform a limited range of functions, but an ant colony can build bridges, create superhighways of food and information, wage war, and enslave other ant species—all of which are beyond the comprehension of any single ant. Likewise, schools of fish, flocks of birds, beehives, and other species exhibit behavior indicative of planning by a higher intelligence that doesn’t actually exist.

It happens by a process called stigmergy. Simply put, a small change by a group member causes other members to behave differently, leading to a new pattern of behavior.

When an ant finds a food source, it marks the path with pheromones. This attracts other ants to that path, leads them to the food source,  and prompts them to mark the same path with more pheromones. Over time, the most efficient route will become the superhighway, as the faster and easier a path is, the more ants will reach the food and the more pheromones will be on the path. Thus, it looks as if a more intelligent being chose the best path, but it emerged from the tiny, simple changes made by individuals.

They then go on to discuss the swarm intelligence of robots where the same principles of ants would work – if each member has a simple set of rules to adhere, this would result in self-organ isatin and self-sufficiency:

“For example, researchers at Georgia Robotics and InTelligent Systems (GRITS) created a small swarm of simple robots that can spell and play piano. The robots cannot communicate, but based solely on the position of surrounding robots, they are able to use their specially-created algorithm to determine the optimal path to complete their task.

This is also immensely useful for drone swarms.

Last February, Ehang, an aviation company out of China, created a swarm of a thousand drones that not only lit the sky with colorful, intricate displays, but demonstrated the ability to improvise and troubleshoot errors entirely autonomously.

Further, just recently, the University of Cambridge and Koc University unveiled their idea for what they call the Energy Neutral Internet of Drones. Amazingly, this drone swarm would take initiative to share information or energy with other drones that did not receive a communication or are running low on energy.”

And of course the implications are huge for the military:

“Last year, the US Department of Defense announced it had successfully tested a swarm of miniature drones that could carry out complex missions cheaper and more efficiently. They claimed, “The micro-drones demonstrated advanced swarm behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing.”

How Swarm Intelligence Is Making Simple Tech Much Smarter

Expect to hear a lot more about swarm intelligence.

Brexit

Although Emerging Future did anticipate the result of the Brexit referendum, shortly afterwards it was our view that the Establishment and the EU would endeavour to turn around the result just like we saw with the Lisbon Treaty. A reformed EU or a well-executed Brexit by a statesman or stateswoman both seemed the optimal outcome. But from the outset the Theresa May administration seemed like a farce and almost designed to fail. With the other option a hard left Corbyn, we expected the emergence of a third party. And this is exactly what it happening, and apparently George Soros, the socialist/marxist billionaire hedge fund manager is funding it. Best For Britain might well aim to copy what Macron’s En Marche managed to do in France.

Interestingly, though, despite all the doom and gloom in the headlines, the UK is really starting to benefit from the weak pound. Some people might remember all the negativity around Japan in the past 2 decades but when one looks at the hard corporate data see that the nation has done very well indeed, and at the GDP level has still managed to remain as the third largest global. There is a conspiracy that the Japanese authorities love talking the Japanese economy down as it helps their manufacturers.

According to the Economist magazine this week: “Manufacturers large and small are bullish. Boeing, an American aerospace company, recently broke ground on a new facility in Sheffield, to be its first in Europe. Alpkit is an outdoor-clothing company which makes 15-20% of its wares in-house. In November it opened a new factory in Nottingham, customising boulder pads, backpacks and bags for its discerning customers.

Not everything is going well. British car production fell by 3% in 2017. But the stories of Boeing and Alpkit hint at a wider positive trend. In the fourth quarter of 2017 manufacturing output rose by 1.3%, the second strong quarter in a row. (The dominant services sector is growing less than half as fast.) Exclude data around the financial crisis of 2008-09, which see-saw, and manufacturing is seeing its strongest growth since the late 1990s. Employment is rising. Manufacturing’s strength helped push GDP growth in the fourth quarter to 0.5%, above expectations.

What explains the turnaround? The coalition government of 2010-15 was keen on getting universities and manufacturers to work closely together. Those efforts are paying off. The Boeing facility will take on 19 apprentices, who are being trained at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Rotherham, a joint initiative between the company and Sheffield University.

Yet external factors play a bigger role. Manufacturing is an export-intensive business. The world economy is enjoying its first synchronised upswing since 2010. The pound’s fall since the Brexit referendum of 2016 is an added bonus, making firms’ wares cheaper in foreign markets. Alpkit’s exports, to everywhere from Australia to America, are growing at 50% a year, says David Hanney, its chief executive.”

Manufacturing Gains in the UK

One longer term – lets say 20 year – scenario is that powers are increasingly devolved or decentralised to cities or local areas at the same time new regional blocks are formed along the lines of language and philosophical approach. I could easily see the UK being part of an English-speaking former Commonwealth bloc which included Australia, New Zealand, USA, and Canada etc. Over time, this pull has more gravitational power than the pull towards the EU, however much we love their culture etc.

Markets

We are at an important time for financial markets – I have yet to change my base case that the turning point will happen towards mid year. So for the time being, I see the recent moves down as a long-overdue correction. I will update some thoughts tomorrow.

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