The Weekender, March 30, 2018

1) “This Multibillion-Dollar Corporation Is Controlled by a Penniless Yoga Superstar” (Bloomberg Businessweek, 16 minutes, March 2018). If that title doesn’t get you to click, nothing will. But just in case, here’s a preview. (To read the whole thing, you may need to register for a free account.)

Twenty-three years ago, when he was a poor young yoga instructor living at the foot of the Himalayas, Baba Ramdev pledged to spend the rest of his life as a sanyasi—a Hindu ascetic. He forswore possessions and renounced the material world.

But today he can be found in the most material of places.  Turn on an Indian TV, and there’s [Baba] Ramdev, a supple yoga megastar in saffron robes, demonstrating poses on one of the two stations he oversees. Flip the channel, and there’s Ramdev in commercials selling shampoo and dish soap. Walk any city on the subcontinent, and there’s his face in stores selling the wares of Patanjali Ayurved Ltd., the multibillion-dollar corporation he controls.

[ . . . ]

It might seem like an impossible arrangement—observing an oath of poverty while also being one of India’s top entrepreneurs. But Ramdev is a master of contortion. Patanjali is an omnipresent brand in India, and though everyone refers to it as Ramdev’s company, he’s not technically its owner or chief executive officer. It would be scandalous for a sanyasi to profit from a corporation, and Ramdev neither owns shares nor takes a salary. He says his net worth is zero. The company calls him merely its “brand ambassador,” a title that belies his power. 

2) Help me hit 500 Supporters on Patreon: As many of you know, I’ve been using Patreon as a way to help keep Now I Know financially sustainable. As of this writing, 459 of you have graciously chosen to pledge their support. My goal for April: I want to get that to 500 people. (Yes, it’s March; I’ve given myself a small head start.)

A $5 a month pledge comes out to about 25 cents per email I send; a $1 a month pledge is roughly a nickel.  And really, those nickels add up. So:

Please consider supporting Now I Know through Patreon by clicking here.

It’s entirely optional and you’re under no obligation to do so, so don’t feel bad if you can’t or don’t want to. But if you do, thanks! I greatly appreciate your support.

3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

Monday: Why You Shouldn’t Eat Those “Do Not Eat” Packets.

Tuesday: Why You Can’t Steal First Base.

Wednesday: The Race to Determine the Fastest Man Alive.

Thursday: The Therapeutic Value of a Not-Quite-Flying Pig. I screwed up the “From the Archives” link on this one. It’s “Bacon of the Sea,” about pigs that swim. It’s a great little story; you should read it.

4) “After 23 years in prison as an innocent man, former White Sox groundskeeper returns to his old job” (Chicago Tribune, 6 minutes, March 2018). Baseball season started yesterday (and the Mets won!!) so this is a great time to share this simultaneously upsetting and uplifting story.


5) “What Will Our Society Look Like When Artificial Intelligence is Everywhere?” (Smithsonian Magazine, 24 minutes, April 2018). This may be a little on the dystopian side but it’s interesting nonetheless.

The ultimate goal is artificial general intelligence, a self-teaching system that can outperform humans across a wide range of disciplines. Some scientists believe it’s 30 years away; others talk about centuries. This AI “takeoff,” also known as the singularity, will likely see AI pull even with human intelligence and then blow past it in a matter of days. Or hours.

Once it arrives, general AI will begin taking jobs away from people, millions of jobs—as drivers, radiologists, insurance adjusters. In one possible scenario, this will lead governments to pay unemployed citizens a universal basic income, freeing them to pursue their dreams unburdened by the need to earn a living. In another, it will create staggering wealth inequalities, chaos and failed states across the globe. But the revolution will go much further. AI robots will care for the elderly—scientists at Brown University are working with Hasbro to develop a “robo-cat” that can remind its owners to take their meds and can track down their eyeglasses. AI “scientists” will solve the puzzle of dark matter; AI-enabled spacecraft will reach the asteroid belts, while on Earth the technology will tame climate change, perhaps by sending massive swarms of drones to reflect sunlight away from the oceans. Last year, Microsoft committed $50 million to its “AI for Earth” program to fight climate change.

6) “The World’s Best Hitchhiker on the Secrets of his Success” (New York Times Magazine, 20 minutes, March 2018). Hopefully, you won’t need to put his tips into practice.

Have a great weekend!