Nick Bostrom, of the Future of Humanity Institute, uses an evocative metaphor to describe the future of humanity’s technological development:

One way of looking at human creativity is as a process of pulling balls out of a giant urn. The balls represent possible ideas, discoveries, technological inventions. Over the course of history, we have extracted a great many balls — mostly white (beneficial) but also various shades of grey (moderately harmful ones and mixed blessings).

What we haven’t extracted, so far, is a black ball: a technology that invariably or by default destroys the civilization that invents it. The reason…


Crossing the Bay Bridge in the smoke

Smoke chokes the city, the nearby forests are on fire, and towns are burning down as I sit here writing this. It is the fall of 2019 in San Francisco and something is clearly broken. The most technologically innovative and productive city in the richest country in the world is covered in the ashes of its own environmental disaster.

Lighting up the night sky with a programmable display, our tallest skyscraper looms over streets covered in human excrement. We design the software that billions of people run on their laptops and phones, but we cannot upgrade our public transit system…


I wrote this for the 2018 bay area solstice celebration. A recording is available here.

When I was growing up, I used to watch this documentary about Mount Saint Helens. It started the summer of 1980; for the first time in a hundred years, the mountain was waking up. Starting in March, tremors began to shake the mountain. These quakes caused avalanches and over the next eight weeks the mountain began belching small clouds of ash. Static electricity generated from ash clouds sent out lightning bolts up to two miles long.

Early in April, Dixie Ray, the governor of Washington…


Until cryptocurrency has gained significant traction, prices will be volatile and unpredictable. This hurts the ability for normal consumers to use crypto-assets as actual currencies. Plenty of speculators hold Bitcoin and Ether; very few use them to buy anything. A handful of projects aim to solve this problem by using smart contracts to automatically stabilize the price of a currency by buying or selling assets as demand ebbs and flows. A necessary component of any such system is a price feed that provides real-time trading data to smart contracts.

Some projects report that they will use a “schelling network” to…


Criminal smart contract construction and defense

In the previous post I explained how smart contracts could make ransomware a lot more profitable and therefore a lot worse. However, the trustless key exchange model was oversimplified and has a fatal flaw. In this post, we’ll discuss the flaw, how criminals might get around it, and what we can do to mitigate those work-arounds.


Blockchains are not a good fit for many problems, but they are great for solving problems of trust. In the real world, if you make a contract with someone and they break it, your only recourse is a lengthy and expensive time in court. With a smart contract, both parties are held to their commitments automatically. The code executes and the contract’s conditions are fulfilled, no third party required. In industries where finding a trusted third party is next to impossible, blockchains open up a whole new set of tools. We should carefully consider who will benefit from these tools…


Stanislav Petrov may have saved the world when he refused to tell his superiors that five Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles were incoming from the United States. On 26 September 1983, thirty-three years and three days ago, Stanislav broke protocol and reported the detection as a false alarm, though he had no way of knowing this was the case. Rather than receiving thanks from Soviet command for saving the world, he was investigated and reassigned to an insignificant post, his career prospects ruined.

Vasili Arkhipov may have also saved the world when he refused to give his assent to launch a nuclear…


If you read the news, then you are confronted with daily updates on wars, diseases, and celebrity gossip. It’s hard to get a sense of how humans on this planet are actually doing. Are things getting better for the average person? Are they getting worse? You may have encountered articles like the BBC’s Five ways the world is doing better than you think, Cracked.com’s 18 undeniable facts that prove the world is getting better, and Why the world is better than you think in 10 powerful charts. Aside from the clickbait titles, the articles almost get it right. …


This post contains spoilers for the The Force Awakens, and possibly the future of humanity

Take a moment to remember the saddest scene in The Force Awakens. Was it Kylo Ren kills Han Solo? When R2D2 wouldn’t wake up, a loyal droid grieving for its missing master? How about the deaths of 35 billion innocent people? When the First Order’s new superweapon, ‘Starkiller’, destroyed five heavily inhabited planets, there was no disturbance in the force, at least none on screen. For a film that heavily followed the plot and motifs of the original Star Wars film, the lack of empathy…

Jeffrey Ladish

Applying the security mindset to everything

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