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Ukrainian man loses life savings in ‘stablecoin’ crypto slump | Cryptocurrencies

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A Ukrainian man who converted almost all his family’s money into the crypto “stablecoin” terra in April in an effort to protect against the risks of invasion or currency collapse has lost almost $10,000 (£8,000) after its sudden demise.

“It was impossible and unsafe to store funds in the form of banknotes,” said Yuri Popovich, who lives in Kyiv. Cryptocurrencies advertised as safe and “backed with fiat currency” suggested another option.

Unlike most cryptocurrency purchases, buying a stablecoin isn’t intended to be a risky investment. The tokens, with names such as “terra”, “tether” and “USD coin”, are supposed to maintain a fixed value of one token to one US dollar. “I am not a speculator; I just wanted to save money,” Popovich said.

But when terra collapsed in early May, as well as sparking a broader meltdown in the cryptocurrency sector, it wiped out the savings of retail investors. “I stopped sleeping normally, lost 4kg; I often have headaches and anxiety,” Popovich said. “My wife still doesn’t know about this loss. I don’t know how to tell her.”

His savings, according to a screenshot seen by the Guardian, are now worth less than $500. “This is a colossal amount for us, and in the current situation it is critically important for life. I fear for my wife’s health, my health and our relationship. I don’t even know how it will end.”

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Popovich is one an unknown number of retail investors who lost money in the collapse of terra, which at one point had almost $50bn invested in it and is now worth barely $1bn. As well as those looking for a safe place to keep their funds, others were lured in by the promise of interest rates topping 20% a year, in a currency that was theoretically pegged to the dollar.

But the interest rates, and ultimately the stability of the currency itself, relied on the continued interest of investors. That property led many to accuse terra, and other similar tokens, of effectively being a Ponzi scheme.

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The big idea: are we living in a simulation? | Philosophy books

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Elon Musk thinks you don’t exist. But it’s nothing personal: he thinks he doesn’t exist either. At least, not in the normal sense of existing. Instead we are just immaterial software constructs running on a gigantic alien computer simulation. Musk has stated that the odds are billions to one that we are actually living in “base reality”, ie the physical universe. At the end of last year, he responded to a tweet about the anniversary of the crude tennis video game Pong (1972) by writing: “49 years later, games are photo-realistic 3D worlds. What does that trend continuing imply about our reality?”

This idea is surprisingly popular among philosophers and even some scientists. Its modern version is based on a seminal 2003 paper, Are We Living in a Computer Simulation? by the Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom. Assume, he says, that in the far future, civilisations hugely more technically advanced than ours will be interested in running “ancestor simulations” of the sentient beings in their distant galactic past. If so, there will one day be many more simulated minds than real minds. Therefore you should be very surprised if you are actually one of the few real minds in existence rather than one of the trillions of simulated minds.

This idea has a long history in philosophical scepticism (the idea that we can’t know anything for sure about the external world) and other traditions. The Chinese Taoist sage Zhuangzi wrote a celebrated fable about a man who couldn’t be sure whether he was a man dreaming of being a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming of being a man. René Descartes imagined that he might be being manipulated by an “evil demon” (or “evil genius”) that controlled all the sensations he experienced, while the 20th-century American philosopher Hilary Putnam coined the term “brain in a vat” to describe a similar idea. But while Neo in the Wachowskis’ 1999 film The Matrix really is a brain (or rather a whole depilated body) in a vat, the simulation hypothesis says that you do not have a physical body anywhere. “You” are merely the result of mathematical calculations in some vast computer.

There are many possible objections to this idea even getting off the ground, as Bostrom notes. Perhaps it is simply not possible for computer-simulated beings to become conscious in the way we are. (This would defeat the “assumption of substrate independence”, according to which minds are not dependent on biological matter.) Or perhaps all civilisations destroy themselves before getting to the simulation stage. (Plausible if not necessarily comforting.) Or perhaps advanced civilisations are simply not interested in running such simulations, which would be surprising given the kinds of things humans do – such as developing video deep-fake technology or researching how to make viruses more virulent – even though they seem to be very bad ideas.

The simulation hypothesis is perhaps attractive to a wider culture because of its nature as a cosmic-scale conspiracy theory as well as an apparently scientific version of Creationism. The inconceivably advanced alien running its simulation of our universe is indistinguishable from traditional terrestrial ideas of God: an all-powerful being who designed everything we see. But is this god the god of deism (who sets up the laws of nature but then absents himself while creation runs its course), or a more interventionist figure? If the latter, it might make sense to court their favour.

How, though, should we please such a god? Not necessarily by being virtuous, but by being – assuming the simulator is watching us for its own pleasure – at least entertaining. This line of reasoning might imply, for example, that it is one’s duty to become a florid serial killer, or a guy who tries to colonise Mars and buy Twitter. “Be funny, outrageous, violent, sexy, strange, pathetic, heroic … in a word ‘dramatic’,” counsels the economist Robin Hanson, considering that assumption in his 2001 paper How to Live in a Simulation . “If you might be living in a simulation then all else equal it seems that you should care less about others,” he concludes, and “live more for today”.

One commonly despairing reaction to the idea that we might all be simulated is that this renders our lives meaningless, and that nothing we see or experience is “real”. The Australian philosopher David Chalmers, in his recent book Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy, argues otherwise. For him, a digital table in VR is a real table. It is no more disqualified from being “real” by the fact that it is, at bottom, made up of digital ones and zeros than a physical table is disqualified from being real by the fact that it is, at bottom, made up of quantum wave-packets. Indeed, some esoteric theories of physics consider “reality” itself to be at base quantum-computational or mathematical in nature anyway.

Is there any good reason to actually believe the simulation argument, though? Or is it just aesthetically piquant techno-religion? Chalmers observes that it is at least more plausible than earlier iterations of scepticism such as Descartes’s evil demon, simply because we now have functioning prototypes (video games, VR) of how such a simulation might work. Others have speculated that there may be clues to the fact that our universe is a simulation hidden in the very fabric of the “reality” that we can investigate: perhaps the simulation cuts corners at very small scales or very high energies. Indeed, experiments (for instance in Campbell et al., “On Testing the Simulation Theory”, 2017) have been seriously proposed that might reveal the answer.

But not so fast. Remember that we can’t know what the goal of the simulators is. Perhaps, for them, the game is not merely to observe us as an indefinite planet‑sized soap opera, but simply to see how long the sim-people take to prove that they’re in a simulation. At which point, the game ends and the simulation is turned off. Perhaps we’re better off not finding out.

Steven Poole is the author of Rethink: The Surprising History of New Ideas, published by Random House. To support the Guardian and the Observer order a copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

Further reading

Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy by David J Chalmers (Allen Lane)

Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos by Seth Lloyd (Vintage)

The Simulation Hypothesis: An MIT Computer Scientist Shows Why AI, Quantum Physics and Eastern Mystics All Agree We Are in a Video Game by Rizwan Virk (Bayview)



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Lego releases Atari Video Computer System set • The Register

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Lego has followed up its Nintendo Entertainment System retro throwback with one celebrating the Atari Video Computer System (VCS).

The set, retailing at a heart-stopping $239.99 (£209.99 in the UK), is a non-functional replica of the iconic game console, although only the model with four switches rather than the six of others in the range. Not that those switches do an awful lot in Lego form.

In fact, compared to the cheaper Nintendo Entertainment System set (with all its twiddly technic bits and separate television), we’d have to describe the VCS set as a bit of a disappointment if it weren’t for the nostalgia factor.

The plastic bricks also fail to include a mock cartridge of the best game on the VCS, Combat. Asteroids, Centipede, and Adventure simply don’t cut it in comparison even with the reproduction of the hopelessly optimistic cover art so beloved by ’80s and ’90s designers and some neat Lego vignettes themed after the games.

Lego also opted to skip E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, described as the worst game ever. We can imagine an appropriate model for that example and the impact it had on the industry of the time.

Still, the 2,500-plus pieces will make for a fun build and includes a replica of the classic Atari joystick and a mini-fig scale 1980s room which pops up when the front is slid forward.

The price does seem high for what is effectively a plastic throwback to simpler times. Then again, other attempts to recreate that retro magic could cost you a lot more and potentially leave you without even a pile of plastic bricks to play with.

Or one could always take the plastic assembly and stick something like a Raspberry Pi (preloaded with an emulator) into it. Similar things were done with Lego’s Nintendo Entertainment System where the Technic guts of the television were removed and replaced with a Pi and an LCD screen to create something on which one can play games (ROM ownership notwithstanding).

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It is a shame that Lego did not see fit to include a television with the Atari VCS in the way it did with the NES, and also limited interaction to a pop-up 1980s room and some switches. However, the design looks good and is a reminder of an age when sticking something that looked like wood on the front of the console and squeezing games into kilobytes rather than gigabytes was state of the art.

Otherwise there are many examples of the VCS that can be had on various auction sites for considerably less than Lego’s asking price that are a good deal more interactive. ®

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4 reasons hybrid working looks set to stay for young professionals

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From priorities to practicalities, Dr Amanda Jones of King’s College London explains why hybrid working may be here to stay and outlines the pitfalls that younger employees will need to avoid.

Click here to visit The Conversation.

A version of this article was originally published by The Conversation (CC BY-ND 4.0)

We’re in the middle of a remote working revolution. In the UK, though remote working was slowly growing before the pandemic, in 2020 the number of people working from home doubled.

While this rapid rise can be explained by Covid lockdowns, a recent survey my colleagues and I conducted with 2,000 London workers found that six in 10 employees still regularly work from home despite restrictions no longer being in place. And most don’t want that to change.

Findings from other parts of the world similarly point to a substantial increase in the number of work days being undertaken from home.

For young professionals, the shift has been particularly significant. Before the pandemic, employees in their 20s were by far the least likely to work from home.

In 2022, 64pc of 16 to 24-year-olds we surveyed reported working at home for at least part of the week. This figure is in line with 25 to 49-year-olds (65pc) and in fact higher than for people over 50 (48pc).

Other research also shows that young professionals now engage in hybrid working – dividing their time between their home and their workplace – and may prefer this model to being in the office full time.

US and European data shows that around four in 10 jobs can be conducted from home. But this figure may be higher if we consider that some jobs could be at least partly done from home. In particular, jobs in finance and insurance, information and communication and education are among the most conducive to being performed remotely.

Technologies which support remote working, such as Zoom and Slack, have been available for a number of years. While the pandemic has served as a catalyst for the rise in remote working among younger employees, I would argue that other factors have also contributed to this shift – some of which were already evident before the pandemic.

Importantly, each of these factors suggest this change to the way young professionals work is here to stay.

1. Priorities

Evidence suggests that even before the pandemic, young people were becoming more focused on their own goals, wanted greater flexibility and control, and sought a better work-life balance compared with previous generations. The reasons for this may be related to the changing nature of organisations and careers, which I’ll discuss later.

Our own and other research indicates that remote working, especially working from home (as opposed to, say, at client sites), can boost feelings of flexibility and control and enhance work-life balance. So working remotely could help younger people achieve these goals in a way that traditional working arrangements can’t.

In fact, research indicates that many young people would now rather switch jobs than compromise on the flexibility they gain from hybrid working. So for employers, supporting hybrid working may be necessary to attract and retain the best employees.

2. Practicalities

Across all age groups, participants in our research picked avoiding the commute as the biggest benefit of working remotely. While this has long been a recognised advantage of remote working, it’s important to note that we surveyed London workers – and the commute may be less of an issue for people in other places.

Aside from the time and hassle involved in commuting, travelling to work every day can be expensive. The cost of working in the office goes up if you also factor in lunches, coffees and after-work social activities.

This may be difficult for younger people – who are contending with the rising costs of living, often on lower salaries – to manage. Working remotely can help reduce spending, making it an attractive option – and even a potential lifeline – for younger employees.

3. Career trajectories

Studies show that a move towards less hierarchical, more efficient and flexible organisations results in a “new deal” of employment. Employers no longer guarantee job security and progression for employees, but gain their commitment by providing opportunities – including training programmes – that enhance their employability.

The onus then moves to employees to manage their own career progression, which remote working may help them with. For example, we know working from home can reduce distractions and improve productivity.

Taken with the commuting time saved, young professionals may have more time to dedicate to development opportunities, such as studying for additional qualifications. This could increase their attractiveness in the job market.

Indeed, young professionals seem to be the most likely to switch jobs. If they don’t expect to remain with an organisation long term, they may be less motivated to build strong relationships with colleagues and managers, and unwilling to put their own goals aside for those of the organisation.

4. Managers’ behaviour

Research shows many more managers now work remotely compared with before the pandemic. This change has two important effects.

First, managers who work remotely are likely to find it harder to stop juniors from doing the same. Managers’ ability to monitor and develop their junior staff in person, a common reason for prohibiting remote work in the past, is also reduced if managers are away from the office themselves.

Second, as more managers work remotely, younger employees may feel more confident that doing so won’t prevent them achieving success. Managers serve as role models to junior employees and evidence shows that younger professionals seek success by copying role models’ behaviour.

Avoiding the pitfalls of hybrid working

Despite the positives, younger employees, with comparatively limited experience and networks, may face disproportionately negative outcomes from remote working in terms of recognition, development and networking opportunities.

So if you’re a young professional working remotely, how can you avoid the pitfalls of hybrid working?

Setting your own goals can keep motivation and performance high. Meanwhile, proactively communicating your challenges and achievements to senior and peer-level colleagues can ensure that you receive guidance and recognition.

It’s a good idea to plan some of your time in the office to coordinate with team members or managers. At the same time, it’s useful to try to schedule office visits on different days of the week. This can help maintain key relationships but also help build networks through bumping into colleagues you don’t necessarily work as closely with.

Finally, upping attendance at external conferences and events could increase your value to the organisation through encouraging innovation and fresh ideas, while keeping you aware of external employment opportunities.

The Conversation

By Dr Amanda Jones

Dr Amanda Jones is a lecturer in organisational behaviour and human resource management at King’s College London.

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