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I will tell you the secret to getting rich on Wall Street. You try to be greedy when others are fearful. And you try to be fearful when others are greedy. Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Stephen Hawking thinks we shouldn’t attempt contact with extraterrestrials because if they’re smarter than humans, they’ll likely view us the way we do simians in a zoo cage. But we may very well be manufacturing those “ETs” in our labs and garages. A little more about the potential threat of superintelligence, this time from Stuart Armstrong of the Conversation:

“There are clear reasons to suspect that a true AI would be both smart and powerful. When computers gain the ability to perform tasks at the human level, they tend to very quickly become much better than us. No-one today would think it sensible to pit the best human mind against even a cheap pocket calculator in a contest of long division and human-versus-computer chess matches ceased to be interesting a decade ago. Computers bring relentless focus, patience, processing speed and memory.

If an AI existed as pure software, it could copy itself many times, training each copy at accelerated computer speed, and network those copies together to create a kind of AI super committee. It would be like having Thomas Edison, Bill Clinton, Plato, Einstein, Caesar, Stephen Spielberg, Steve Jobs, Buddha, Napoleon or other humans superlative in their respective skill-set sitting on a higher human council. The AI could continue copying itself without limit, creating millions or billions of copies, if it needed large numbers of brains to brute-force a solution to any particular problem.

Our society is set up to magnify the potential of such an entity, providing many routes to great power. If it could predict the stock market efficiently, it could accumulate vast wealth. If it was efficient at advice and social manipulation, it could create a personal assistant for every human being, manipulating the planet one human at a time. It could replace almost every worker in the service sector. If it was efficient at running economies, it could offer its services doing so, gradually making us completely dependent on it. If it was skilled at hacking, it could take over most of the world’s computers. The paths from AI intelligence to great AI power are many and varied, and it isn’t hard to imagine new ones.”


I check the U.S. version of the Guardian site several times a day, something I can say about few other three-year-old publications–or ones of any vintage. It’s smart and brisk and the Edward Snowden story placed it at the center of global media landscape, even if the scoop didn’t actually produce revenue, something that was pointed out by Michael Wolff, when he briefly took a break from his busy schedule of farting into the open mouths of sleeping babies. Although the publication can rely on its considerable trust for the next several years, it will eventually have to divine a way to turn quality journalism into profit. It has plenty of company in trying to piece together that puzzle.

Joe Pompeo, the excellent media reporter for Capital New York, has the first interview with Guardian veteran Katherine Viner, who’s taking over the expanding American operation. An excerpt:

“Where does Guardian U.S. go from here? ‘Onwards and upwards and much bigger,’ Viner told me in her first interview of the new gig. It’s a tall order, and one that will place her under the microscope of skeptics questioning whether a big play for U.S. scale is worth the costs associated with such an effort—never mind that The Guardian has the luxury of being owned by a trust created expressly to ensure its survival while preserving editorial independence. (Look no further than Guardian Media Group’s whopping $1 billion sale this past January of its stake in Trader Media Group.)

In a June feature for British GQ, media critic Michael Wolff made a case that The Guardian’s sustained investment in the Snowden story for much of 2013 and 2014 stilted the New York newsroom’s broader mission without a real business benefit. ‘The success of the Snowden story, at the expense of the New York operation, has many people in the Guardian U.S. constellation … wondering about the future of New York,’ wrote Wolff, whose account was published a few months after his column for Guardian U.S. came to an end.

Viner offered a different take on the current moment and what The Guardian’s Snowden coverage has achieved in the U.S. ‘It means the site’s got this massive profile now,’ said the optimistic editor, ‘and I can build on that success, expand our coverage into lots of areas and deepen our relationships with American readers.’

She wouldn’t get into the nuts and bolts, telling me she didn’t want to publicize them in an article before having discussions with staff. She did however say that Guardian U.S. is ‘in a period of ambitious growth, and we are working on a number of serious plans.’Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger was ever so slightly more specific when I pressed him for details. Speaking by phone one night while on vacation in Tuscany, fireworks whizzing overhead, the 60-year-old said there are two U.S. expansion plans that Viner will be working on pending final board approval in mid-November. ‘It will get bigger,’ he said. ‘We’re just not ready to say in what ways.’”

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From the August 23, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Cairo, Ill.–Before Frank W. Wilson, an advertising solicitor of St. Louis, died here in a hospital yesterday, he told physicians he had swallowed several articles of a foreign nature, and that they had better put the X-ray at work. He was operated upon Sunday night on the theory that he was afflicted with appendicitis.

Three incisions were made in the man’s stomach and according to the physician, the following articles were removed: One shoe button hook, a woman’s hatpin, three keys, one lead pencil, one belt buckle, one tin toy pistol, three nails (small), one needle and one thermometer.

Wilson, according to his physician, had been in a depressed mental state for some time, during which he swallowed anything that he could get down his throat.”


Muhammad Ali in 1972, after losing the “Fight of the Century” to Joe Frazier, on an Irish chat show hosted by Cathal O’Shannon. In Dublin to fight Alvin “Blue” Lewis, Ali was his usual mix of joking braggadocio and serious politics.

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Before the robot birds carry away you and your children, they will first be used to scare actual birds from airports and landfills. From Kyle Vanhemert at Wired UK:

“Birds are nice enough, unless you work at places like airports, farms, and landfills, in which case they’re the sworn enemy. Today, there are a variety of tools and technologies for spooking unwanted birds — we’ve graduated from scarecrows to flash-bang grenades and other sophisticated armaments — but Nico Nijenhuis is undoubtedly working on the coolest. He’s building robot hawks that trick lingering critters into thinking they’re about to get snacked on.

Nijenhuis, a 27-year-old based in the Netherlands, is the mind behind Robirds, a line of robotic birds of prey. He’s hoping to sell them to the aviation and waste management industries under the name Clear Flight Solutions. (Company tagline: ‘We create birds.’ Fair enough!) Nijenhuis is currently testing remote controlled Peregrine Falcons and eagles with promising results. By the end of the year, he’s hoping to have fully autonomous robot birds on offer.”

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Oh, we’re going to be quantified whether we like it or not, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy sledding for makers of fitness monitors, especially with so many people seemingly wired to hate exercise. It appears to be less laziness than a natural proclivity. From an Economist article about the steep climb ahead for Fitbit and the like:

“The immediate problem is their limited appeal. They are primarily aimed at fitness fanatics, yet well over half of all Americans do not exercise regularly, and thus have little interest in the product. Fitness trackers also fail to keep the attention of those health-conscious consumers who do go out and buy them. Strikingly, one-third of users discard their devices after six months, according to research by Endeavour Partners, a consultancy. Some industry insiders speculate that the true number may be much higher than that. Wearable fitness-trackers are just not as addictive as smartphones and the like, it seems. The novelty of being able to track your steps, calories or other metrics is appealing at first, but swiftly wears off. Use a fitness tracker regularly, and you get pretty good at guessing the numbers.”

Terrorism hasn’t ended traditional war, really, just expanded the “playing” field. But it certainly is now a standard part of the operating procedure, with a globalized, connected world full of cheap, tiny cameras able to be shaken by a single atrocity. From an interview with the late futurist Olaf Helmer in a 1981 Omni magazine:


Is there any other area where we seem to have a blind spot?

Olaf Helmer:

Yes, in the military budget. There’s a lot of talk now about inflation and the military budget, and I think rightly so. But what is being overlooked is the very strong possibility that war in the conventional sense might be completely obsolete, and we’re preparing for the wrong thing.


What do you mean?

Olaf Helmer:

It is possible that the new form of war will be terrorism, and I fear that we are inadequately prepared to deal with that kind of warfare. We were held up by the Iranians with the threat that some harm would come to the hostages unless we handed over billions of dollars. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture other variations on that theme, involving perhaps whole cities immobilized by credible terrorist threats.. Then what, would the President do? We have thus far had no effective mechanism and firm policy for dealing with that kind of attack. I hope our military planning includes a shift in this direction.”


In David Rothkopf’s recent Foreign Policy interview with Martin Indyk, two-time U.S. Ambassador to Israel, the diplomat predicted (accurately) the foundering of Benjamin Netanyahu’s popularity among Israelis and worried over the splintering of support for the country among Americans, especially young Jewish-Americans. Indyk also outlined the shifting political dynamics in the Middle East. An excerpt:

Martin Indyk:

Few people noticed that the Indian government came out in support of Israel in this war; social media in China was pro-Israel. It has developed strategic relations with both countries, and with Russia as well, that led Israel to absent itself from the vote of the U.N. General Assembly condemning Russia’s annexation of Crimea. I think there’s a sense in Israel, particularly on the right, that they can afford to be defiant of the United States. Israelis also sense a potential for a new alignment with Gulf Arab states that didn’t exist before that is generated by their common interest in curbing Iran’s nuclear program and countering Iran’s efforts to dominate the region, opposing if not overthrowing Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and combating Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, with its stepchild Hamas in Gaza. Israel shares this array of enemies with the Sunni Arab monarchs and the Abdel Fattah al-Sisi regime in Egypt. You can see it in this Gaza crisis quite clearly, where the Saudis and the Egyptians in particular wanted Israel to take down Hamas.

So the combination of all of that leads Israelis to feel more independent of the United States, especially in the context of their sense that the United States is withdrawing from the region and therefore may be less reliable for Israel. These Arab states are also concerned about what they see as an American withdrawal and feel a greater need to cooperate under the table with Israel to help deal with the chaos and threats around them.”

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There’s something curious inside us all, a pre-program if you will, and it’s more prominent in some than others. It’s not that we don’t have free will, but it’s not absolutely free.

Harrington “Heavenly” Gates was everything his parents wanted him to be, but that wasn’t what he wanted to be. He left his excellence as a Dartmouth scholar-athlete behind one fine day, much to his family’s chagrin, and began a 72-year-old religious odyssey, something he seemed almost born to do. From an article in the November 2, 1938 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Boston–The family of Harrington (Heavenly) Gates, ‘as soon as we get our breath,’ will make a pilgrimage to his New Hampshire religious retreat and try to persuade the Dartmouth football star to go back to college and graduate with his class.

Gates’ father, mother, four brothers and five sisters will make the trip to the cult farm of the ‘Holy Ghost and Us’ Society at Amherst, N.H., Mrs. Elder Gates, the mother, said today.

Gates, after helping Dartmouth beat the Yale football team, left school for a religious colony because of the profanity of the team and commercialization of the game.

From her home at Saugus, Mass., Mrs. Gates, wife of an ironmolder, issued this statement on her son’s resignation:

Want Him to Graduate

‘Shocked as we are, we are all still proud of Harry for his splendid record as a student and athlete. When we get our breath we will all go to him and see if there is anything we can do. It has been quite a financial hardship for us, too, in spite of the scholarship and outside help that he received. We wanted to see him graduate next June with his class.’

No less astonished and disappointed than Gates’ family were members of the Saugus Lions Club and other hometown organizations which had donated to his college expenses.

Last December, when a football rally was scheduled at Saugus in his honor, he declined to attend despite the fact that the sponsors offered to pay his fare from Hanover, N.H.

Working on Cult Farm

Exchanging gridiron togs for overalls, the 24-year-old Saugus, Mass., youth, a senior student, was working today with fellow members of the religious cult, also known as the ‘Legion of God,’ on its Salem turkey farm at Amherst.

The cult believes that it alone can save souls from annihilation. Its regulations forbid the use of liquor, certain foods and contact with the outside world.”

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Two brief excerpts follow from Ashley Halsey III’s Washington Post article about a Carnegie Mellon driverless car being road tested in our nation’s capital, which highlight the challenges of making the vehicles completely autonomous.


The computers running the car, for example, can see the police officer bustling into the middle of Constitution Avenue at First Street NW. But they can’t figure out why he is doing it — and neither can the people riding in the car. It turns out the officer wants to wave off a driver in another car who was making an improper turn.

Could the car have handled it without [passenger Jarrod] Snider’s help?

“Yeah, it started to slow down before I took over,” Snider says, “and as he stepped out of [our] lane and walked across the street, the car would have continued to go. The car obviously doesn’t understand gestures like ‘Stop here.’ ”


The rest of the computers’ communication — currently and what’s planned in the future — come in chimes, beeps and vibrations. If the person in the driver’s seat touches the wheel or either of the floor pedals, much as with cruise control, the computer relinquishes control. If the computer needs the driver to take over, the steering wheel and passenger seat may vibrate.

“Sometimes, if it becomes not confident about something, it can tell you to take over, and if everything’s okay, it can tell you it’s ready to drive autonomous,” says Snider, lead engineer on the project at Carnegie Mellon. “It’s just providing some feedback to the driver.”

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On a recent Guardian “Science Weekly” podcast, host Ian Sample interviewed Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom, author of the new book, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, which looks at whether AI, often called “the last invention,” will be the death of us. I always think that we’ll end up extinct without the development of superintelligence, but Bostrom believes we can survive all in nature but not perhaps our own unnatural creations. He points out that AI would never enslave us because if it moves past our abilities it would continue improving until it would be able to execute any task we could do far better than us. Listen here.

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Chris Dancy, who tracks and quantifies himself to the extreme, may not be exactly our future, but a significant amount of what is true in his life will become true in ours. Settling on common standards for the Internet of Things is an obstacle, but it only takes a single great product like the iPod or the iPhone to bring clarity. Apple and Google, meanwhile, are in a race to create the preeminent smarthome technology. We will be measured whether we want to be or not. The opening of Samantha Murphy Kelly’s Mashable article “The Most Connected Man Is You, Just a Few Years From Now“:

“DENVER, Colorado — Chris Dancy, the self-described ‘most connected guy in the world,’ reclines in a throne in the corner of his home office. The walls around him are a scrapbook of his life, pinned with foreign currency, concert tickets and pictures of his icons, like Michael Jackson and Andy Warhol.

In between stories of his travels, he mentions his newfound Internet fame. He has been thrown into the spotlight for using between 300 and 700 tracking and lifelogging systems at all times, from the fitness wristband Fitbit to the Beddit mattress cover.

But then the conversation shifts to his childhood, a time when Dancy (now 45) and his family struggled to make ends meet. While describing his mother’s role in helping them through a difficult time, he closes his eyes and cuts himself off. The lights in the room have started to flicker. It’s the only moment all day where you can hear a pin drop.

The blinking lights are a visual reminder for Dancy to slow down and focus on his breathing. The lights, like so many aspects of his unassuming, cozy home, are connected to the devices he wears; in this case, they sense his heart rate is up and signal it’s time for him to calm down. Similarly, classical music plays throughout the house if he loses his temper.

By looking at his data, he’s learned exactly what he needs to be his most productive self, such as setting the lights to a specific shade or programming the air levels in his bedroom so he can sleep soundly. He’s even monitored his heart rate while watching porn to become more aware of his sexual preferences: ‘I thought I was into certain types of people, but learned what I actually like most.’ He’s also lost more than 100 pounds along the way, just by tracking his daily habits and making small changes to be healthier.

Even his dogs are tracked; a product called Tagg logs their daily activities.

He’s been called everything from a cyborg to an alien for his extreme data collection routines, but Dancy is the future tech experts say is coming.

Dancy is the ultimate example of two revolutions underway in tech: the Internet of Things (smart thermostats, garage doors, toothbrushes, tennis racquets) and quantified self (what you learn about yourself from trackers). Apple and Google are the two biggest companies expanding their efforts in the ‘smart home’ market, which is projected to bring $1.9 trillion to the global economy by 2020, according to Gartner Research.”

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NCAA fighting college football players’ efforts to share in the huge revenue they produce would be maddening enough even if the sport didn’t leave a lot of these guys with a lifetime of serious health issues. The era when we thought of the game as a healthy way to build school spirit is over. It’s a destroyer. From Jimmy Golen at the Associated Press:

“BOSTON (AP) — Michael Keck played just two years of college football before he was knocked out during practice at Missouri State and gave the sport up for good.

He turned combative — punching holes in the wall. He began to struggle in school. Soon he was spending most of his time indoors, with blankets covering the windows to darken the room.

Keck died last year at age 25 of what doctors believe was an unrelated heart condition. His brain, at his request, was donated to the Boston University lab that has been researching a degenerative brain condition frequently found in contact-sport athletes.

The disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, had advanced to a stage never before seen in someone so young.

‘When you talk in terms of his age, being young, and you talk about his limited years of playing, it is one of the more severe cases,’ said Dr. Robert Cantu, a co-founder of the CTE Center at BU. ‘Had he lived to 70 or 80, we would have expected this to be a Grade 4 (the most severe form) case.’”

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It seems a cockamamie plan, one that has a reality TV show at its heart, but the Dutch space concern MarsOne is promising to send four pioneers on a one-way trip to our neighboring planet within a decade. They will live there and die there, as settlers once did in the untamed Western United States, except you’ll be able to watch it all on your smartphone. I seriously doubt it ever happens. The opening of “Ultimate Reality TV: A Crazy Plan for a Mars Colony,” by Spiegel’s Manfred Dworschak:

“If his greatest wish is fulfilled, then Stephan Günther will one day die on Mars. He’s already thought long and hard about the eventuality. He would like his companions to pack his remains in an airtight coffin before depositing him outside the colony among the rocks.

‘Perhaps there are unknown forms of life on Mars,’ 45-year-old Günther says. ‘We can’t just intervene.’
It is a sentiment which displays the enlightenment of today’s conquerors. They want to take ownership of a planet, but they are concerned that their own remains could contaminate bacterial cultures in its dusty, rocky ecosystem.

Mars, to be sure, remains a deserted wasteland today, its ecology intact. But it could be that Günther could might be bouncing his way through rough craters beaming pictures back to Earth. Currently a flight trainer in Magdeburg, Germany, Günther has applied to take part in a unique voyage to our neighboring planet. A return trip is not part of the deal.

Conceiving the journey as one-way makes it vastly more feasible and less expensive. A Dutch foundation, led by businessman Bas Lansdorp, is behind the idea. ‘We want to send the first four settlers to Mars in 2024,’ he says, adding that ‘additional teams will follow.’

Some 704 candidates say they are prepared to leave Earth forever. A competition will decide which of them will be sent to be humanity’s permanent representatives on Mars. Lansdorp’s foundation, Mars One, plans to train those chosen for eight years as preparation for a radically new life.”

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When you have time, you want money. When you have money, you want time.

Life extension–immortality, even–is pursued by deep-pocketed technologists who are bad at saying goodbye. They believe the answers are a lot closer than they likely are. Of course, the defeat of death would pose myriad philosophical and ethical questions. From “The Eternal Problem Silicon Valley Can’t Solve,” Elizabeth Segran’s Fast Company feature about Dave Asprey and others trying to engineer an endless summer: 

“Over the last 15 years, Asprey has been tinkering with technologies in the hopes of slowing the aging process in his own body. He describes this as bio-hacking, using the hacker mentality to turbocharge his own biochemistry. And to hear Asprey tell it, that’s working: With a couple of scientific hacks, he’s lost hundreds of pounds, increased his IQ, and improved the quality of his sleep. All these things, he says, are also prolonging his life-span. He’s now sharing these techniques with others through Bulletproof Executive, the company he founded that creates coffee and other products to spike bodily performance, and as the chairman of the board of the Silicon Valley Health Institute, a group that meets monthly to discuss the latest developments in the study of longevity.

Asprey’s office, located just down the street from Google’s campus, is a microcosm of a growing Silicon Valley trend. Asprey is trying to stop individual bodies from aging–starting with his own–and investment is pouring into a growing number of companies whose stated goal is to increase human longevity and, in some cases, even cure death. Asprey freely admits that these are grandiose, quixotic endeavors. But in a place where geeks have changed the world with previously unthinkable breakthroughs in science, nothing seems impossible. ‘When you’re young and you’ve just created something amazing that makes you a ton of a money, you do egotistical things,’ Asprey says. ‘And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing: I want to swing for the fences. What is all of this cool technology we’re creating compared to getting an extra hundred years of life?’”

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Before I accept the challenge, I challenge Idi Amin's ghost, Charles Manson and Glenn Beck.

Before I pour ice water on myself, I challenge Idi Amin’s ghost, Charles Manson and Glenn Beck.

Ann Coulter, I accept your piss-bucket challenge.

Ann Coulter, I accept your Piss Bucket Challenge.

No, I said "ice bucket."

No, I said “Ice.”

I will now drench myself in my own urine.

I will now drench myself in my own urine.

It's the most warm, beautiful feeling.

It’s the most warm, beautiful feeling.

I would also liked to be doused by Idi Amin's urine.

I would also like to be soaked in Glenn Beck’s whiz.

Hands off my pee, Idi Amin's ghost.

Hands off my pee jug, Idi Amin’s ghost. It’s all mine.

From the May 17, 1916 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Kansas City, Mo. — John Arnold is today recovering from an operation in the Kansas City Emergency Hospital and the cause of his trouble–a lively and well-developed frog–is hopping about in a large jar at his bedside. Some time ago, Arnold says, he drank from a spring. He cannot tell whether the frog took up its abode in his interior as a tadpole or a small frog. The physicians who operated, liberating the frog and relieving Arnold of the nagging pain amidship, say Arnold is doing well. The frog speaks for itself.”


The more EV makers in the race with Tesla to create the first widely affordable long-range electric car, the better. Right now Elon Musk’s main competitor in GM; the former cannot lose and the latter can ill afford to. From Steve LeVine at Quartz:

“One of the hottest clashes in technology pits two pathmakers in the new era of electric cars—Tesla and General Motors. Both are developing pure electrics that cost roughly $35,000, travel 200 miles on a single charge, and appeal to the mass luxury market.

The stakes are enormous. Most electrics have less than 100 miles of range. Experts regard 200 miles as a tipping point, enough to cure many potential electric-car buyers of ‘range anxiety,’ the fear of being stranded when their battery expires. If GM and Tesla crack this, sales of individual electrics could jump from 2,000 or 3,000 vehicles a month to 15 to 20 times that rate, shaking up industries from cars to oil, which were until now certain that large-scale acceptance of electrics was perhaps decades away. 

It is a substantial gamble for both companies. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has more or less bet his company on the contest. GM’s existence is not in jeopardy if it loses, but the outcome could still determine its place in the next generation of automaking.

The potential prize is not only profit, but outright technology leadership—the intangible aura that made Apple under Steve Jobs an outsized triumph. In this respect, the parvenu Tesla—just a decade old—holds the advantage. Musk’s first two models, with their grace, attitude and electronic showmanship, have dazzled critics, buyers and especially Wall Street. GM has impressed critics, too, with its Chevy Volt, which led the advent of plug-in hybrids, but there are doubts that it can best Musk in direct competition. However, if it can show it is generally Tesla’s equal, it would achieve unexpected street cred, while Musk would appear much more mortal.”

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Artificial Intelligence doesn’t have to do things the way you and I do them to do them better. We only believe that to flatter ourselves. The opening of Christopher Mims new Wall Street Journal article about AI, which demonstrates how it has quietly wormed its way into our lives:

“The age of intelligent machines has arrived—only they don’t look at all like we expected. Forget what you’ve seen in movies; this is no HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it’s certainly not Scarlett Johansson’s disembodied voice in Her. It’s more akin to what happens when insects, or even fungi, do when they ‘think.’ (What, you didn’t know that slime molds can solve mazes?)

Artificial intelligence has lately been transformed from an academic curiosity to something that has measurable impact on our lives. Google Inc. used it to increase the accuracy of voice recognition in Android by 25%. The Associated Press is printing business stories written by it. Facebook Inc. is toying with it as a way to improve the relevance of the posts it shows you.

What is especially interesting about this point in the history of AI is that it’s no longer just for technology companies. Startups are beginning to adapt it to problems where, at least to me, its applicability is genuinely surprising.”


I think there are some people so awful that they deserve to die for the things they’ve done, but it’s still impossible to support the death penalty and its arbitrariness. In America, someone with wealth will never face execution, while the poor are prone. African-Americans are much more likely to suffer the ultimate consequences for a crime than white people who’ve committed the same. Males are much more likely to die than females. And because of prejudice and incompetence, the wrong people are sometimes put to death, which is the most sickening abomination.

And those who have to carry out the killing of the condemned are no doubt scarred by the process. In “The Witness,” Pamela Colloff’s Texas Monthly feature, she profiles former Texas Department of Criminal Justice Public Information Director Michelle Lyons, whose job it was to record the final moments of executed prisoners, an occupation that unsurprisingly came with hazards. An excerpt:

“Michelle already had a sense of what to expect. Fifteen months earlier, while covering for an absent colleague, she had entered the Death House for the first time to witness the execution of a convicted murderer named Javier Cruz. Years later, she would remember very little about it—only that she had dressed more formally than usual and that she had been unsure, at the outset, how she would feel when it was all over. The facts of Cruz’s case did not engender much sympathy: he had murdered two San Antonio men, one of whom he had gagged and bound, beaten with a hammer, and then strangled with the belt of a bathrobe. Michelle had found that watching Cruz slip into unconsciousness did not evoke any powerful emotions; she had scribbled in her yellow legal pad, typed up her story, and gone home. Covering executions was certainly no worse, she decided, than being a war correspondent or any other journalist who sees suffering up close; in fact, the cold efficiency of lethal injection made hers the easier job. When her father called her into his office the next day to check on her, she told him she was fine. As she saw it, her duty as a journalist was to be dispassionate. 

In the first year that Michelle served as the Item’s prison reporter, Texas executed forty inmates—the most people put to death in a single year, by one state, in American history. Governor Bush also happened to be making a run for the White House. This confluence of events caused hundreds of journalists to descend on Huntsville in the months leading up to the 2000 presidential election, mostly to issue withering assessments. On the night that Billy George Hughes, a man who had fatally shot a state trooper, was put to death, a TV show hosted by filmmaker-provocateur Michael Moore arranged for a pom-pom-waving cheerleading squad to stand outside the Walls and chant, ‘Texas, Texas, you’re so great, you kill more than any state!’ beside an illuminated execution scoreboard that read ‘George 117, Jeb 2.’ Rolling Stone published a blistering takedown of Huntsville in a piece called ‘Five Executions and a Barbecue.’ The media glare was relentless, transforming one execution that June—of an obscure Houston street criminal named Gary Graham, whose murder conviction had turned on the word of a single eyewitness—into an international cause célèbre. Riot police armed with tear gas stood outside the Walls on the night of his death while hooded Klansmen and rifle-toting members of the New Black Panther Party played to the cameras. At Graham’s invitation, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Bianca Jagger served as witnesses.

During this time, Michelle kept a journal in which she recorded her own personal observations of the executions she witnessed, which had no place in the straightforward accounts she wrote for the Item. Rarely did she mention the media spectacle outside. Instead she cataloged the disquieting details that she noticed as she watched a succession of inmates be put to death. There was Betty Lou Beets, the second woman to be executed in Texas since the Civil War, who had shot not one but two of her husbands and buried them in her yard. (‘I couldn’t help but notice her tiny little feet,’ Michelle wrote. ‘She looked like somebody’s grandma—she was somebody’s grandma.’) There was Ponchai Wilkerson, who had once nearly managed to break out of death row, who stunned onlookers when he spit out a handcuff key as he lay on the gurney. (‘I felt sick,’ Michelle wrote the next day. ‘For a few seconds I had the crazy thought, ‘He’s going to get off that table and kill us.’ ’) And there was Robert Earl Carter, who had murdered six people, including his four-year-old son, and falsely implicated his friend Anthony Graves in the crime. (‘His last words were, ‘It was me and me alone. Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it,’ ’ Michelle wrote.) Carter’s admission on the gurney would later help exonerate his co-defendant, who was, at the time, awaiting his own execution date. 

Throughout her journal, she made mention of the anguish felt by both the inmates’ and victims’ families, who stood in witness rooms adjacent to each other, looking into the death chamber.”

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In vitro foods are happening now and will become a staple of our diets in the future, as a growing global population and environmental concerns demand it. Meat, of course, is the hardest to approximate, but that will also happen. Considering the processed crap we eat now, the so-called Frankenfoods may be significantly healthier. From Katie Murphy at the New York Times:

“Whether for moral reasons or because of a Jobsian belief in the superiority of their vision, high-tech food entrepreneurs are focusing primarily on providing alternatives to animal protein. The demand is certainly there. Worldwide consumption of pork, beef, poultry and other livestock products is expected to double by 2020. Animal protein is also the most vulnerable and resource-intensive part of the food supply. In addition to livestock production’s immense use of land and water, runoff pollution and antibiotic abuse, it is responsible for 14.5 percent of greenhouse gases, according to the United Nations.

Venture capital firms like Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Closed Loop Capital, Khosla Ventures and Collaborative Fund have poured money into Food 2.0 projects. Backing has also come from a hit parade of tech-world notables including Sergey Brin of Google, Biz Stone of Twitter, Peter Thiel of PayPal and Bill Gates of Microsoft, as well as Li Ka-shing, Asia’s wealthiest man, who bought early stakes in Facebook and Spotify.

‘We’re looking for wholesale reinvention of this crazy, perverse food system that makes people do the wrong thing,’ said Josh Tetrick, the vegan chief executive of San Francisco-based Hampton Creek. His company has created an egg substitute using protein extracted from the Canadian yellow pea, incorporating it into Just Scramble, Just Mayo and Just Cookie Dough, which are starting to find their way onto grocery store shelves nationwide.”

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Remember when Al-Qaeda were the evildoers? Ah, the good old days. The opening of Samiha Shafy’s Spiegel interview with Brookings Institution fellow Charles Lister about the seemingly sudden rise of the Islamic State:


How do you explain the history of the Islamic State (IS) to people who are stunned by its seemingly sudden rise to power?

Charles Lister:

In 1999, the IS father figure Abu Musab al-Zarqawi established a training base for his group in Afghanistan. After the United States invaded Afghanistan in late 2001, the group fled through Iran and ended up in northern Iraq. By 2003, it had effectively become Iraq’s main jihadist resistance movement. During the US occupation of Iraq, Zarqawi made a name for himself and his group. It implemented sharia law to such an extreme level that the various tribal forces rose up and drove them out in a movement called the ‘Awakening.’ The group suffered significant losses at the time. When the US began initiating its withdrawal, it marked the beginning of an opportunity for a revival of Zarqawi’s group. From about mid-2009 onwards, it began establishing a sort of shadow influence. It launched an escalating level of attacks against security forces, a campaign of intimidation against local officials — within the military, police and local governments — and one of extreme violence. The extent of the campaign created significant leverage for the Islamic State. It also helps to explain why the IS was able to take Mosul so quickly.


You’ve said that the Islamic State has succeeded in doing essentially everything al-Qaeda had previously done, only better, with the exception of carrying out a foreign attack. How do the two groups compare?

Charles Lister:

Both seek to establish an Islamic state governed by sharia law, but they have very different strategies. Al-Qaeda has adopted a much more patient and long-term approach to implementing social control and governance, focused on creating the socio-political conditions for such a reality. The IS is much less patient in terms of this objective. Both in the mid-2000s and now, IS has always immediately sought to implement sharia law and govern the population just as soon as it takes control of a territory. Syria offers the best comparison in terms of strategy. Al-Nusra, the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate, has extensive influence across the country at a social level, but they did not choose to implement sharia directly until quite recently because they felt the social conditions weren’t ready and that they would be rejected if imposed too soon. They have instead considered the long view.


Would you say al-Qaeda is somehow less extreme than IS?

Charles Lister:


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When editors at the old Brooklyn Daily Eagle thought about the world’s technological future, they mostly imagined how robots would help them get drunk. That explains so much about that newspaper in those days.

In the October 30, 1927 edition, E.K. Titus wrote an article about Roy J. Wensley’s Televox robot, which received instructions via its built-in telephone. The Westinghouse inventor promised the mechanical man would be able to deliver to you bottles of scotch through pneumatic tubes, drive your car from your garage to your front door, spy on your children, vacuum your floors and warn you of plummeting stock prices. A couple of excerpts follow.


“‘Peep, buzz, buzz, toot, peep!’ you say into the telephone transmitter, with your tuning forks, which translated, means:

‘It’s devilishly cold over here and I want a bottle of Scotch.’

These simple sounds which you have emitted put the mechanical man to work. It is over in the woods of your country estate somewhere, where you keep your stock for the sake of privacy. The mechanical man hears and acts. He moves a mechanical arm to the exact box where your Scotch is segregated from the rest of your drinks, lifts it into an air-pressure tube, closes the tube and in a moment your phonograph is turned on to say:

‘Here I am!’

You then open your end of the tube and there is your Scotch.

Dr. Edward E. Free, president of the New York Electrical Society, offers to install such a system for any Brooklynites provided they pay him enough money.

It Can Be Done

‘It can certainly be done,’ Dr. Free declared. ‘The mechanical man can be made fully as versatile as that. I will fix up such a system so that they can get their drinks from as far as a mile away without moving out of their apartments.

‘For $40,000 or so it would be possible to rig up an apparatus through the mechanical man that would make it possible for a person to call up his garage half a mile distant, give instructions to the mechanical man and have the car at his front doorstep in a few minutes. 

The mechanical man is an electrical fellow who can hear, take orders and do hundreds of things if he is only trained in advance. He is a radio turned inside out. Instead of receiving electrical energy and transforming it into sound, as the ordinary radio receiving apparatus does, he receives sound and transforms it into electrical energy.

Roy J. Wensley, 29-year-old engineer of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, is the inventor.

Has ‘Brain Box’

Wensley’s child does not look like a man, but he has a sort of head or small box in which is located a ‘brain,’ or directing apparatus, capable of performing 20 separate acts when he is ordered to do so. And what is better, he takes orders over the telephone!”


“Delivering a motorcar from one’s garage to one’s home would be a more expensive performance.

Mr. Johnson would lift his telephone receiver and give Televox the signal for a car.

Steer Car by Radio

Televox would then electrically start an apparatus which would open the doors of the garage, start the motor and steer the car over the garage driveway to the house.

‘You have heard of cars being steered by radio, haven’t you?’ asked Dr. Free. ‘Well, once Televox was on the job the actual work of steering could be handled by radio.’

Televox, indeed, sounds like one of the ‘Fairy Tales of Science‘ that the poet, Tennyson, talks about.

When it is remembered the Televox only responds to noise in the same way that previous apparatus has responded to the pressing of buttons setting up electrical impulses, his work does not appear so much like a fairy tale.”


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