Excerpts

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Before cars or even bicycles were perfected, there were walking machines like the Aeripedis, or Pedomotive Carriage. They aimed to remove much of the strain of ambulation though, of course, the process still had to be manged by your brain.

When I heard about Max Pfeiffer’s “cruise control for pedestrians” last month, I thought at first it might be an April Fools’ Day joke, but that’s not the case. The system combines smartphone GPS and electrodes attached to your legs to offload your navigational responsibilities to the cloud. More or less, it’s “automated walking,” and the movements can be remotely directed by another party. If you’re someplace unfamiliar and don’t know what direction in which to head, actuated navigation can do the thinking for you, guide your every step.

At Wired UK, Evan Selinger argues that the scheme is a road to hell. An excerpt:

In order to truly get a handle on the significance of “actuated navigation,” we need to do more than just imagine rosy possibilities. We’ve also got to confront the basic moral and political question of outsourcing and ask when delegating a task to a third party has hidden costs. To narrow down our focus, let’s consider the case of guided strolling. On the plus side, Pfeiffer suggests that senior citizens will appreciate help returning home when they’re feeling discombobulated, tourists will enjoy seeing more sights while freed up by the pedestrian version of cruise control, and friends, family, and co-workers will get more out of life by safely throwing themselves into engrossing, peripatetic conversation. But what about the potential downside?        

Critics have identified several concerns with using current forms of GPS technology. They have reservations about devices that merely cue us with written instructions, verbal cues, and maps that update in real-time. Nicholas Carr warns of our susceptibility to automation bias and complacency, psychological outcomes that can lead people to do foolish things, like ignoring common sense and driving a car into a lake.Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly lament that it’s “dehumanising” to succumb to GPS orientation because it “trivialises the art of navigation” and leaves us without a rich sense of where we are and where we’re going. Both of these issues are germane. But while, in principle, technical fixes can correct the mistakes that would erroneously guide zombified walkers into open sewer holes and oncoming traffic, the issue of orientation remains a more vexing existential and social problem.

Pfeiffer himself recognises this dilemma. He told WIRED.co.uk that he hopes his technology can help liberate people from the tyranny of walking around with their downcast eyes buried in smartphone maps. But he also admitted thatwhen freed from the responsibility of navigating…most of his volunteers wanted to check email as they walked.” At stake, here, is the risk of unintentionally turning the current dream of autonomous vehicles into a model for locomotion writ large.•

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“Actuated navigation is a new kind of navigation, reducing cognitive load.”

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When I was a child, my grandmother used to say, “There once was a girl named Patty Hearst who got kidnapped. Don’t you get kidnapped.” But nobody wanted me, so I went and played in traffic. 

These are scary times for the internationalist, with rogue states of no defined boundaries and narco-terrorism. America’s ability to set global order has waned after the disaster of the Iraq War and the rise of China. Who will keep you from being kidnapped and used as barter if you’re an executive on the go and the places you’re going include Belgrade and Caracas and Mexico City, or even more dangerous locales where drones are aimed at your head and knives at your throat? No one, that’s who. You’re on your own, MacGyver.

Luckily, Andy “Orlando” Williams of the private security firm Risks Incorporated is here to help save your ass with a three-day kidnap and ransom course. The journalist Mitch Moxley enrolled, participated in a variety of exercises, submitted briefly to a waterboarding, and filed a report for Slate. An excerpt:

As we drive to an office in nearby Pembroke Pines, [Andy “Orlando”] Wilson briefs me on the bourgeoning business of international kidnapping. The White House’s recent acknowledgment of the accidental killing of two al-Qaida hostages in Pakistan in January, as well as the dark news from Syria in recent months, both overshadows and underscores the fact that kidnappings are a global scourge. As incidents have increased worldwide, a parallel industry has emerged, one that includes insurance companies, negotiators, lawyers, and security firms like Risks Inc. In a 2010 investigation, London’s Independent newspaper dubbed this the “hostage industry,” and estimated its worth at about $1.6 billion a year.

“You don’t have to be rich. People will kidnap you for next to nothing,” Wilson says. “Venezuela is out of control. Mexico is out of control.” Most of his clients for the Florida course are executives or wealthy individuals who live in high-risk areas, primarily in Latin America. (Wilson also offers the course in Belgrade, Serbia.) Other students have included American businessmen who travel to potentially dangerous locations, security contractors, and an international yacht captain. (Lambros Y. Lambrou, a trial lawyer in Manhattan and a father of two, took Wilson’s kidnap course to help ensure his family’s safety when they travel to countries like Mexico and Serbia, where his wife is from. “We live in a very uncertain world sometimes,” Lambrou says. “Unfortunately, most of the time the only person you have to protect you is yourself.”)•

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Mike Jay has already demonstrated that mental illness is often expressed in the terms of the era in which it’s experienced. In a really smart London Review of Books piece about Laure Murat’s new title, The Man Who Thought He Was Napoleon: Towards a Political History of Madness, Jay writes of Philippe Pinel, a psychiatrist who reshaped and expanded the notion of insanity and its treatments in the wake of the French Revolution, when citizens who went mad often focused their anxieties on the guillotine, with one patient believing he’d been beheaded and subsequently had another victim’s skull attached to his neck.

In 1840, French heads became confused in a different sense, when Napoleon Bonaparte’s remains were laid to rest in an elaborate public ceremony, and soon enough, a quarter of all cases of mental illness in the nation were being diagnosed as delusions of grandeur. An excerpt:

Morbid terror of the guillotine was occasionally recorded in Bicêtre until the 1850s, but by that time it had been usurped by the most celebrated delusion of them all. On 15 December 1840 the remains of Napoleon Bonaparte, rumoured to be miraculously uncorrupted, were taken to the Invalides accompanied by vast crowds and laid to rest in a grandiose imperial ceremony. That same year, Bicêtre admitted at least a dozen Napoleons to its wards.

‘Delusions of grandeur’, of which believing oneself to be Napoleon became the archetype, rose to extraordinary medical and cultural prominence during the July Monarchy. By 1840 it accounted for a quarter of all diagnoses of insanity. It was a form of monomania, the term coined by Esquirol to describe an uncontrolled delusion or obsession (idée fixe) in one who might otherwise appear sane. He conceived it as a disease of the passions, a consequence of ‘self-love, vanity, pride and ambition’, and hence a moral failing as much as a pathology. Mad Napoleons were always irascible and imperious, reciting their interminable compositions, brooking no argument and demanding that everyone submit to their will. Doctors told tales of miraculous cures effected in the Pinelian manner by humouring them, but their blind rages were more commonly addressed with beatings, straitjackets, cold showers and solitary confinement.

During the 1830s monomania became a term of everyday speech, and delusions of grandeur inseparable from the Romantic spirit of the age. The return of Napoleon’s remains catalysed a sense that the era of heroism had passed, the passions of political struggle replaced by bourgeois dullness. Blockbuster novels traded in impossibly heroic narratives, their protagonists adopting grandiose false identities and concealing fateful secrets; Balzac claimed that what Napoleon ‘did with the sword, I will accomplish with the pen’. Characters embarked on fantastic quests that inevitably recalled Don Quixote, whom Esquirol had cited as the perfect example of the monomaniac. For some psychiatrists, ‘the impact of modern novels’ was itself becoming one of the leading causes of madness.

Napoleon – who declared during his final years on St Helena that ‘my life is a novel!’ – was the figure in whom reality and fantasy were conjoined. He was the apotheosis of Rousseau’s new man, who had transcended the limits of history and taken his place among the immortals. Unlike any sovereign before or since he was entirely self-made, and thus uniquely compelling to the delusional. A pretender to the monarchy would always remain just that, but a fake Napoleon might through supreme effort of will become the real thing.

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I wish everyone writing about technology could turn out prose as sparkling and lucid as Nicholas Carr. In a New York Times opinion piece, he stresses that while people are flawed, so are computers, and our silicon counterparts thus far lack the dexterity we possess to react to the unforeseen. He suggests humans and machines permanently remain a team, allowing us to benefit from the best of both.

I think that’s the immediate future, but I still believe market forces will ultimately cede to robots anything they can do as well (or nearly as well) as humans. And I’m curious as to the effects of Deep Learning on the impromptu responses of machinery.

From Carr:

While our flaws loom large in our thoughts, we view computers as infallible. Their scripted consistency presents an ideal of perfection far removed from our own clumsiness. What we forget is that our machines are built by our own hands. When we transfer work to a machine, we don’t eliminate human agency and its potential for error. We transfer that agency into the machine’s workings, where it lies concealed until something goes awry.
 
Computers break down. They have bugs. They get hacked. And when let loose in the world, they face situations that their programmers didn’t prepare them for. They work perfectly until they don’t.
 
Many disasters blamed on human error actually involve chains of events that are initiated or aggravated by technological failures. Consider the 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447 as it flew from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. The plane’s airspeed sensors iced over. Without the velocity data, the autopilot couldn’t perform its calculations. It shut down, abruptly shifting control to the pilots. Investigators later found that the aviators appeared to be taken by surprise in a stressful situation and made mistakes. The plane, with 228 passengers, plunged into the Atlantic.

The crash was a tragic example of what scholars call the automation paradox. Software designed to eliminate human error sometimes makes human error more likely. When a computer takes over a job, the workers are left with little to do. Their attention drifts. Their skills, lacking exercise, atrophy. Then, when the computer fails, the humans flounder.

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One question asked of Bernie Sanders in his AMA yesterday that I failed to include was a query about technological unemployment. He gets it, even if some of the potential jobs for people he mentioned will be disrupted by robotics soon enough. Some already are. The exchange:

Question:

What do you think will have to be done regarding massive unemployment due to automation permanently killing jobs with no fault on the people losing these jobs?

Bernie Sanders:

Very important question. There is no question but that automation and robotics reduce the number of workers needed to produce products. On the other hand, there is a massive amount of work that needs to be done in this country. Our infrastructure is crumbling and we can create millions of decent-paying jobs rebuilding our roads, bridges, rail system, airports, levees, dams, etc. Further, we have enormous shortages in terms of highly-qualified pre-school educators and teachers. We need more doctors, nurses, dentists and medical personnel if we are going to provide high-quality care to all of our people. But, in direct response to the question, increased productivity should not punish the average worker, which is why we have to move toward universal health care, making higher education available to all, a social safety net which is strong and a tax system which is progressive.•

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Postmates wants to become the “Uber of goods,” but Uber also wants to fulfill that function, and the “venerable” rideshare company aims to upend the Silicon Valley upstart, founded by German-born entrepreneur Bastian Lehmann, which will deliver an iPad or eye drops to your home or office in under an hour, with the help of non-FT freelancers. The job is very flexible, which is helpful, because you might have time for another job that offers great benefits.

It’s amazing to reflect on services like UrbanFetch or Kozmo, which attempted the same business model during Web 1.0, a time before universally fast downloads, let alone smartphones. The reverse of Miniver Cheevy, they were born too early. Now we have the technology.

From Thomas Schulz’s Spiegel article about the potential Valley unicorn:

Postmates has set itself an ambitious goal — to be the Uber of goods, with a vast network of couriers, linked, like Uber’s drivers, via a sleek app, waiting for users to hit a button on their smartphones and send them forth to pick up anything that money can buy. Like Uber’s drivers, Postmates couriers aren’t employees but “independent contractors.” Anyone with a bike, car, truck, scooter or motorcycle can register and decide exactly when they want to work. …

Game-Changing

Postmates currently takes 70,000 orders a week. Available in 26 major metropolitan areas, the company has raised nearly $60 million in venture capital and presides over the world’s third largest network of couriers, after Uber and Lyft. A few weeks ago, Starbucks announced it would be teaming up with Postmates so that customers can now have their skinny lattes delivered to their door.

The loft premises in a brick building in downtown San Francisco, where the company has been headquartered for the last eight months, are already getting too small. A total of 198 staff members — many of whom boast IT degrees from Ivy League universities — sit at back-to-back computers crammed into two floors. Lunch is eaten al desko.

The start-up’s rise has been so meteoric that many in Silicon Valley thought Postmates could be the next addition to the Unicorn List — one of those rare companies that prove to be game-changers or build whole new markets, such as Airbnb and Uber.•

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While the 73-year-old Socialist Congressperson Bernie Sanders has to pretend he can win the Presidency, he probably realizes, unlike, say, Ted Cruz, that he has no real shot at victory. What points does he feel his protest candidacy is particularly positioned to make?

An Ask Me Anything at Reddit he just conducted reveals a number of priorities, including the issue of surveillance. It’s good Sanders mentions that the private sector, as much as government, is hopeful of turning society into an Orwellian state, though I don’t see any way such a reach is kept in check, regardless of law. The tools will almost definitely stay ahead of legislation, obliterate it. I’m more hopeful about remedying income inequality and electoral reform.

There are also questions about space-exploration funding and universal basic income. A few exchanges below.

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Question:

As the longest serving independent in congress, what are your thoughts about electoral reform in the United States?

Bernie Sanders:

The major issue in terms of our electoral system is truly campaign finance reform. Right now, we are at a moment in history where the Koch brothers and other billionaires are in the process of buying politicians and elections. We need to overturn Citizens United with a constitutional amendment. We need to pass disclosure legislation. We need to move toward public funding of elections. We also have got to see an increased federal role in the outrageous gerrymandering that Republican states have created and in voter suppression. These are the main issues that I’ll be tackling in the coming months.

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Question:

Do you think that wiretapping of American citizens is necessary for security of America?

Bernie Sanders:

I voted against the USA Patriot Act and voted against reauthorizing the USA Patriot Act. Obviously, terrorism is a serious threat to this country and we must do everything that we can to prevent attacks here and around the world. I believe strongly that we can protect our people without undermining our constitutional rights and I worry very very much about the huge attacks on privacy that we have seen in recent years — both from the government and from the private sector. I worry that we are moving toward an Orwellian society and this is something I will oppose as vigorously as I can.

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Question:

If you win in 2016, what will your first dispositions be?

Bernie Sanders:

My first effort would be to rally the American people to demand that Congress pass a progressive agenda which reverses the decline of our middle class. We have got to create millions of decent-paying jobs rebuilding our infrastructure, we’ve got to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, we’ve got to overturn this disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision and we have to transform our energy system in order to protect us from climate change. If the American people are politically active and demand that Congress act on their behalf, we can accomplish those goals and much more.

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Question:

According to Votesmart.org in:

  • 2012: you voted to decrease spending on space exploration
  • 2000: you voted to decrease funding to NASA
  • 1996: you voted to decrease budget for NASA

What, if anything, has or will convince you to provide more funding to NASA in the future? Numerous breakthroughs in recent years and promising technologies being developed and brought to market have made it obvious that, outer space treaty what it is, the first trillionaires will be made in space. Wouldn’t it be best if the American People were part of that?

Bernie Sanders:

I am supportive of NASA not only because of the excitement of space exploration, but because of all the additional side benefits we receive from research in that area. Sometimes, and frankly I don’t remember all of those votes, one is put in a position of having to make very very difficult choices about whether you vote to provide food for hungry kids or health care for people who have none and other programs. But, in general, I do support increasing funding for NASA.

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Question:

What is your stance on Universal Basic Income (UBI)? If in favor how do you see the United States progressing towards realizing UBI? If against, what alternatives come to your mind for combating rising inequality and poverty in the United States?

Bernie Sanders:

So long as you have Republicans in control of the House and the Senate, and so long as you have a Congress dominated by big money, I can guarantee you that the discussion about universal basic income is going to go nowhere in a hurry. But, if we can develop a strong grassroots movement which says that every man, woman and child in this country is entitled to a minimum standard of living — is entitled to health care, is entitled to education, is entitled to housing — then we can succeed. We are living in the richest country in the history of the world, yet we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major country and millions of people are struggling to put food on the table. It is my absolute conviction that everyone in this country deserves a minimum standard of living and we’ve got to go forward in the fight to make that happen.•

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Predictions by technologists tend to be optimistic, their timeframes often as aggressive as their ambitions, but there’s no denying the Internet’s relentless attempts to quantify are being visited upon us more and more in the physical realm. Those efforts will only increase, even if it’s anyone’s guess when an “emotion chip” will be realized. We went to the cloud, and now the cloud is coming to us. It will be seamless.

From Neil Howe’s Forbes piece about the potential of a “digital fog”:

Long considered the stuff of science fiction, AI’s great leap forward has been driven by a perfect storm of technological change. First is a growth in capabilities: Rapid advancements in computing power and falling hardware costs have made AI-related computations much cheaper to perform. Second is the advent of Big Data, which has enabled deep-learning algorithms in which the systems themselves learn bottom-up from a vast, fast-expanding universe of digital information.

Tech gurus speculate that the marriage of Big Data, the Internet of Things, and AI will eventually result in “ambient intelligence”—an ever-present digital fog in tune with our behavior and physiological state. Affectiva’s founder, Rana el Kaliouby, predicts in The New Yorker that before long, devices will have an “emotion chip” that functions unseen in the background the way that geolocation does in phones. Verizon has drafted plans for a sensor-laden media console that could scan a room and determine a driver’s license worth of information about its occupants. All these data would then determine the console’s selection of TV advertising: Signs of stress might prompt a commercial for a vacation, while cheery humming could result in more ads with upbeat messages.

What kind of mark will AI ultimately leave on society?•

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Remember when workers were being nickeled and dimed? Ah, the good old days.

Barbara Ehrenreich, who’s spent much of her journalistic career studying the indignities of the working class, has penned a New York Times review of Martin Ford’s excellent book, Rise of the Robots, an extended diagnosis and concise prescription for the potential mass automation of work. The machines, he argues, are coming for your job, whether your collar is white or blue.

Ford is decidedly in the this-time-it’s-different camp who believe that unlike the the Industrial Revolution, which replaced farm jobs with better ones, this second machine age will not create new positions for people who have their careers disappeared. He also argues that the earlier fear of automation, a twenty-or-so-year period beginning in the late 1940s and cresting in the mid-1960s, wasn’t incorrect, just early.

The author’s argument is supported by academic research of all manner, but it’s a compelling and lucid one deserving of a wide readership. While he addresses the longer term possibility of Strong AI, which would clearly make the situation even more pressing, Ford focuses mostly on the type of Weak AI (non-conscious machines) set to invade every industry from taxi to delivery to law to medicine. In fact, the first inroads have already been made, and they’ve been dazzling. If Moore’s Law holds out a little while longer, the march of the non-wooden soldiers will come at a brisk pace, and the idea of near-universal employment will become an impossibility. No nickels for you, no dimes. What then?

Despite the alarmist topic of the book, Ford is reasoned and cautious, conservative even. Like myself, he argues against the most-quoted Piketty approach to combating income inequality, education, as a panacea. A worthwhile thing, sure, but not a broad answer. Ford asserts that we’ll most likely need to opt for a guaranteed basic income (incentivized to promote work whenever possible) to be funded in part from shifting tax responsibilities from workers to capital. (His feelings on the need for basic income have been shared by disparate thinkers: Andrew McAfee, Charles Murray, Friedrich Hayek, Eric Brynjolfsson, etc.) Easier said than done considering our political climate, but if wealth and productivity increase in the next few decades while employment continually ticks down, Americans at some point will likely not be pacified by bread and Kardashians.

From Ehrenreich:

In the late 20th century, while the blue-collar working class gave way to the forces of globalization and automation, the educated elite looked on with benign condescension. Too bad for those people whose jobs were mindless enough to be taken over by third world teenagers or, more humiliatingly, machines. The solution, pretty much agreed upon across the political spectrum, was education. Americans had to become intellectually nimble enough to keep ahead of the job-destroying trends unleashed by technology, both robotization and the telecommunication systems that make outsourcing possible. Anyone who wanted a spot in the middle class would have to possess a college degree — as well as flexibility, creativity and a continually upgraded skill set.

But, as Martin Ford documents in Rise of the Robots, the job-eating maw of technology now threatens even the nimblest and most expensively educated. Lawyers, radiologists and software designers, among others, have seen their work evaporate to India or China. Tasks that would seem to require a distinctively human capacity for nuance are increasingly assigned to algorithms, like the ones currently being introduced to grade essays on college exams. Particularly terrifying to me, computer programs can now write clear, publishable articles, and, as Ford reports, Wired magazine quotes an expert’s prediction that within about a decade 90 percent of news articles will be computer-­generated. …

This is both a humbling book and, in the best sense, a humble one. Ford, a software entrepreneur who both understands the technology and has made a thorough study of its economic consequences, never succumbs to the obvious temptation to overdramatize or exaggerate. In fact, he has little to say about one of the most ominous arenas for automation — the military, where not only are pilots being replaced by drones, but robots like the ones that now defuse bombs are being readied for deployment as infantry. Nor does Ford venture much into the spectacular possibilities being opened up by wearable medical devices, which can already monitor just about any kind of biometric data that can be collected in an I.C.U. Human health workers may eventually be cut out of the loop, as tiny devices to sense blood glucose levels, for example, learn how to signal other tiny implanted devices to release insulin.

But Rise of the Robots doesn’t need any more examples; the human consequences of robotization are already upon us, and skillfully chronicled here.•

 

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Futurist and philosopher Melanie Swan has a thought-provoking and well-written Edge essay response to the question, “What do you think about machines that think?” She suggests a cafeteria approach to future intelligence, envisioning, among other things, a world in which humans enhanced cognitively would share terrain with those unenhanced.

I wonder about that. Today’s wealth inequality has caused problems and may lead to more serious ones (especially if Narrow AI is the job killer it appears to be), but that’s nothing compared to what would likely happen if superintelligent people were living aside those of much inferior thinking ability. Homo sapiens had company from several other species of humans at one point not too long ago, but we finished vanquishing them all with the fall of the Neanderthals, and perhaps we didn’t even do it on purpose. The sweep of our progress may have just swept everyone else away. Tremendous disparity in future intelligence may lead to something similar whether we’re talking about an intramural contest among humans, or humans vying with sentient machines, should they develop. The writer believes in “trust-building models for inter-species digital intelligence,” but I’m skeptical.

The opening of Swan’s essay:

Considering machines that think is a nice step forward in the AI debate as it departs from our own human-based concerns, and accords machines otherness in a productive way. It causes us to consider the other entity’s frame of reference. However, even more importantly this questioning suggests a large future possibility space for intelligence. There could be “classic” unenhanced humans, enhanced humans (with nootropics, wearables, brain-computer interfaces), neocortical simulations, uploaded mind files, corporations as digital abstractions, and many forms of generated AI: deep learning meshes, neural networks, machine learning clusters, blockchain-based distributed autonomous organizations, and empathic compassionate machines. We should consider the future world as one of multi-species intelligence.

What we call the human function of “thinking” could be quite different in the variety of possible future implementations of intelligence. The derivation of different species of machine intelligence will necessarily be different than that of humans•

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Uber’s emergence has meant good things for consumers, bad things for Labor and perhaps ruination for those who thought they’d purchased a piece of the American Dream in the form of a taxi medallion. Prices are reportedly falling precipitously, though even at a reduced rate, who wants to buy a piece of yesterday?

Two excerpts: one from earlier this year by Henry Blodgett at Business Insider about the reach of Uber in its home market of San Francisco, and the other from Aamer Madhani’s new USA Today report about beleaguered medallion owners.

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From Blodget:

In its most mature market, San Francisco, the four-year old Uber is already bigger than the local taxi market. Much bigger, in fact.

According to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who spoke at the DLD Conference in Munich on Sunday, the taxi market in San Francisco is about $140 million per year.

Uber’s revenues in San Francisco, meanwhile, are running at $500 million per year.

That’s more than three times the size of the taxi market.

And Uber’s revenues in San Francisco are still growing at about 200% per year.

Kalanick dropped some other startling statistics about Uber on Sunday:

  • Uber’s rides in San Francisco are growing 3X per year
  • Uber’s rides in New York are growing 4X per year
  • Uber’s rides in London are growing 5X to 6X per year

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From Madhani:

Until recently in America’s big cities, purchasing a taxi medallion—the city-issued license to operate cabs —was about as sound of an investment as they come.

But with the rise of Uber and other ridesharing services, the value of taxi medallions are plummeting, leading cabbies and fleet owners throughout the USA worried that their industry will be decimated if local and state government doesn’t intervene.

“I have had a pretty successful thing,” said Gary Karczewski, 65, a Chicago cabbie who inherited his medallion from his father 28 years ago and earned enough to purchase two homes and help send his two daughters to college by driving the equivalent of 80 times around the world. “My hope was to wind down soon and give whatever I could sell the medallion for to my mother. But I am not confident there’s a market now.”•

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Corporations have always sold “happiness,” realizing psychology was key to sales, but they did so with some guesswork involved, hoping that small focus groups were accurate, wishing that you would look at that advertisement in that magazine. They approximated as they preyed upon vanities and weaknesses.

Once the Internet made it possible to quantify eyeballs, there was a shift toward real-time engagement of what was going on inside of minds. Apps are just a further extension of that type of measurement. Corporations don’t want to estimate anymore–they want to know. 

In Vice, Rose Bretécher interviews William Davies’s about The Happiness Industry, his new book about the marketing of just about every moment of our lives. An excerpt:

Vice:

What techniques and technologies does the happiness industry use to monitor our emotions?

William Davies:

There are countless new apps and gadgets—way too many to name. To give a couple of examples, there’s Affectiva, which uses a webcam to track consumers’ smiles, and Beyond Verbal, which can analyze your tone of voice on the phone. Just this week I heard that IBM are working with a startup on a tool which analyzes your text messages in order to recommend you a therapist.

Then you’ve got wristbands like Jawbones and Fitbits, which seem to suggest that there’s a scientific answer to how to live: “If you start doing this, you’ll feel better.” And I think that’s very problematic, because there are complex reasons why people behave as they do—some people aren’t simply able to just change what they do in response to data. Sometimes you’ll just go and eat a McDonald’s because you’re feeling lonely. These gadgets claim to be completely evidence-based and have no philosophy in them, and I think that’s slightly disingenuous. Clearly there’s something missing in this data-led view of life—it doesn’t touch upon the transcendent, life-changing, life-affirming forms of happiness that really don’t lend themselves to science.

Vice:

And why is data about our happiness valuable to big business and governments?

William Davies:

Businesses have been trying to predict and influence how people will behave for over a hundred years now. But in the last 20 years there has been a surge of interest in happiness and positive emotion because there’s evidence that happiness in the workplace contributes to productivity, and because stress leads to absence from work. And there’s also growing awareness in the world of marketing—which has been supported by neuroscience since the 1990s—that the best way for brands to develop consumer loyalty is to illicit a positive emotional reaction from consumers.•

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“The romantic ideas of ‘home’ are collapsing all around us,” writes Ben Valentine in an h+ essay which meditates on the new book SQM: The Quantified Home. Well, most of us still live in homes similar to the previous generation, but the eyes of the Internet have begun to peep inside, and once every object is, in fact, a computer, it will be impossible to stop the prying. Valentine suggests that “free” products will be a trade-off in which we surrender privacy, the way Facebook costs nothing monetarily but is expensive in other ways. As Airbnb has shown, economic pressures have left doors ajar for strangers. More and more, the unfamiliar faces will be virtual. An excerpt:

In his essay, Bruce Sterling asks us how the architecture and architects of the home will be disrupted – like the music and publishing industries were disrupted – for data optimization? As we’ve done for social media, we’re opening up our homes to private companies for the sake of security and ease. We’re putting security cameras in our children’s bedrooms and connecting our home to the cloud with devices such as Amazon Echo. How will the home as networked site look when created to produce as much advertising data as possible? How can a home look more like an Amazon warehouse?

In the networked home of the future, will we enter a Facebook-like power relationship, willingly rendering all our most private moments visible to marketers for a tax break or a free networked fridge? It sadly doesn’t sound too unlikely to me. SQM: The Quantified Home sets up a history and context to considering the realities of this kind of future home, making the clear complex data and politics already intersecting within our home.

Much of this opening up of the home is economically focused. Given the financial collapse of 2008 and subsequent austerity measures around the world, of which all but the mega-wealthy are still reeling from, we’ve been forced to use our homes as economic tools of investment as much as private spaces for family and loved ones. An investment which fewer and fewer people can afford to make. If architecture, homes, and even cities follow the trend of social media’s economic disparity – exchanging some free services for huge swaths of powerful and valuable data – it’s only going to get worse.•

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Logic and logistics suggest autonomy will be introduced gradually into cars as it has been thus far, allowing for regulatory bodies and human ones to gradually release the wheel over the next two or three decades. But Google isn’t interested in much of an intermediate stage, hoping to make driverless the way to ease on down the road in just five years. From Alex Davies at Wired:

What’s important here is Google’s commitment to its all-or-nothing approach, which contrasts with the steady-as-she-goes approach favored by automakers like Mercedes, Audi and Nissan.

Autonomous vehicles are coming. Make no mistake. But conventional automakers are rolling out features piecemeal, over the course of many years. Cars already have active safety features like automatic braking and lane departure warnings. In the next few years, expect cars to handle themselves on the highway, with more complicated urban driving to follow.

“We call it a revolution by evolution. We will take it step by step, and add more functionality, add more usefulness to the system,” says Thomas Ruchatz, Audi’s head of driver assistance systems and integrated safety. Full autonomy is “not going to happen just like that,” where from one day to the next “we can travel from our doorstep to our work and we don’t have a steering wheel in the car.”

Google thinks that’s exactly what’s going to happen.•

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The driverless cars in 2004’s inaugural DARPA Grand Challenge were largely a joke, a debacle in the desert, but no one was laughing five years later when Google began testing autonomous vehicles on American roads. Almost every technologist now believes they’ll be a permanent part of the traffic within two or three decades. 

The machines competing in June’s DARPA Robotics Challenge will likely be awkward and jerky, but we’re really just in the prelude stage. These humanoids won’t necessarily follow the rapid trajectory of robocars, but they’ll certainly improve greatly over time–and maybe not so much time.

And that’s cause for some worry. Presently, the Pentagon is judging only rescue robots to be utilized as part of humanitarian missions, but the military isn’t in the peace business, and every industrialized nation will see its defense department be increasingly robotized. Not all of these machines will be jaws of life.

From Christian Davenport at the Washington Post

The competition comes at a time when weapons technology is advancing quickly and, with lasers that can shoot small planes out of the sky and drones that can land on aircraft carriers, piercing the realm of science fiction.

But some fear that the technological advancements in weapons systems are outpacing the policy that should guide their use. At a meeting last month, the U.N. Office at Geneva sponsored a multi-nation discussion on the development of the “Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems,” the legal questions they raise and the implications for human rights.

While those details are being hashed out, Christof Heyns, the U.N.’s special rapporteur, called in 2013 for a ban on the development of what he called “lethal autonomous robots,” saying that “in addition to being physically removed from the kinetic action, humans would also become more detached from decisions to kill — and their execution.”

Mary Wareham, the global coordinator for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a consortium of human rights groups, said the international community needs to ensure that when it comes to decisions of life and death on the battlefield, the humans are still in charge.

“We want to talk to the governments about how [the robots] function and understand the human control of the targeting and attack decisions,” she said. “We want assurances that a human is in the loop.”

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“Carver’s prose does not flinch,” Giles Harvey wrote in a 2010 NYRB piece of the short stories of the late deadpan tragedian Raymond Carver, which were marked by sinewy sentences that spoke truths which could not be altered nor were they protested. 

For decades there’s been a controversy over the role of Carver’s editor Gordon Lish in perfecting the lean stories, which were pruned and reshaped significantly from manuscript to publication. It’s a contretemps that survived Carver, who died at 50 in 1988, and one that continues to irk his widow, Tess Gallagher, though it does seem Lish’s participation was more meaningful than the average. And it also feels like stories were sometimes cut too much, that fragments of bone had been removed along with the fat.

More from Harvey’s piece, a passage about Carver receiving the edited copy of What We Talk About When Talk About Love: 

He had just spent the whole night going over Lish’s edited version of the book and was taken aback by the changes. His manuscript had been radically transformed. Lish had cut the total length of the book by over 50 percent; three stories were at least 70 percent shorter; ten stories had new titles and the endings of fourteen had been rewritten.•

Of course, we don’t let the questions of Shakespeare’s authorship ruin that canon, so eventually this literary feud will matter little, just the work will remain. But you can understand how it peeves the surviving principals. 

The opening of D.T. Max’s 1998 New York Times Magazine piece, “The Carver Chronicles“:

For much of the past 20 years, Gordon Lish, an editor at Esquire and then at Alfred A. Knopf who is now retired, has been quietly telling friends that he played a crucial role in the creation of the early short stories of Raymond Carver. The details varied from telling to telling, but the basic idea was that he had changed some of the stories so much that they were more his than Carver’s. No one quite knew what to make of his statements. Carver, who died 10 years ago this month, never responded in public to them. Basically it was Lish’s word against common sense. Lish had written fiction, too: If he was such a great talent, why did so few people care about his own work? As the years passed, Lish became reluctant to discuss the subject. Maybe he was choosing silence over people’s doubt. Maybe he had rethought what his contribution had been — or simply moved on.

Seven years ago, Lish arranged for the sale of his papers to the Lilly Library at Indiana University. Since then, only a few Carver scholars have examined the Lish manuscripts thoroughly. When one tried to publish his conclusions, Carver’s widow and literary executor, the poet Tess Gallagher, effectively blocked him with copyright cautions and pressure. I’d heard about this scholar’s work (and its failure to be published) through a friend. So I decided to visit the archive myself.

What I found there, when I began looking at the manuscripts of stories like ”Fat” and ”Tell the Women We’re Going,” were pages full of editorial marks — strikeouts, additions and marginal comments in Lish’s sprawling handwriting. It looked as if a temperamental 7-year-old had somehow got hold of the stories. As I was reading, one of the archivists came over. I thought she was going to reprimand me for some violation of the library rules. But that wasn’t why she was there. She wanted to talk about Carver. ”I started reading the folders,” she said, ”but then I stopped when I saw what was in there.”

It’s understandable that Lish’s assertions have never been taken seriously. The eccentric editor is up against an American icon. When he died at age 50 from lung cancer, Carver was considered by many to be America’s most important short-story writer. His stories were beautiful and moving. At a New York City memorial service, Robert Gottlieb, then the editor of The New Yorker, said succinctly, ”America has just lost the writer it could least afford to lose.” Carver is no longer a writer of the moment, the way David Foster Wallace is today, but many of his stories — ”Cathedral,” ”Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” and ”Errand” — are firmly established in the literary canon. A vanguard figure in the 1980’s, Carver has become establishment fiction.

That doesn’t capture his claim on us, though. It goes deeper than his work. Born in the rural Northwest, Carver was the child of an alcoholic sawmill worker and a waitress. He first learned to write through a correspondence course. He lived in poverty and suffered multiple bouts of alcoholism throughout his 30’s. He struggled in a difficult marriage with his high-school girlfriend, Maryann Burk. Through it all he remained a generous, determined man — fiction’s comeback kid. By 1980, he had quit drinking and moved in with Tess Gallagher, with whom he spent the rest of his life. ”I know better than anyone a fellow is never out of the woods,” he wrote to Lish in one of dozens of letters archived at the Lilly. ”But right now it’s aces, and I’m enjoying it.” Carver’s life and work inspired faith, not skepticism.

Still, a quick look through Carver’s books would suggest that what Lish claims might have some merit.•

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Of the two things that could transform the world, Tesla and SpaceX, the former is far more plausible to succeed in its goal, which would be to environmentally remake the home and roads, but Elon Musk sees each as equally necessary for the human race to survive. Bloomberg has published an excellent segment from Ashlee Vance’s new book about Musk in which the writer makes clear how close the industrialist/technologist came to losing both the electric-and-solar empire and a shot at colonizing Mars.

SpaceX began with a dream of sending mice to our neighboring planet in a rocket purchased from the Russians, but consumer frustration forced Musk to build his own mini-NASA start-up, and for his ambitions to grow exponentially. 

An excerpt:

Elon and Justine decided to move south to begin their family and the next chapter of their lives in Los Angeles. Unlike many Southern California transplants, they were drawn by the technology. The mild, consistent weather made it ideal for the aeronautics industry, which had been there since the 1920s, when Lockheed Aircraft set up shop in Hollywood. Howard Hughes, the U.S. Air Force, NASA, Boeing, and a mosaic of support industries followed suit. While Musk’s space plans were vague at the time, he felt confident that he could recruit some of the world’s top aeronautics thinkers and get them to join his next venture.

Musk started by crashing the Mars Society, an eclectic collection of space enthusiasts dedicated to exploring and settling the Red Planet. They were holding a fund-raiser in mid-2001, a $500-per-plate event at the house of one of the well-off Mars Society members. What stunned Robert Zubrin, the head of the group, was the reply from someone named Elon Musk, whom no one could remember inviting. “He gave us a check for $5,000,” Zubrin said. “That made everyone take notice.” Zubrin invited Musk for coffee ahead of the dinner and told him about the research center the society had built in the Arctic to mimic the tough conditions of Mars and the experiments they had been running for something called the Translife Mission, in which there would be a capsule orbiting earth carrying a crew of mice. It would spin to give them one-third gravity—the same as Mars—and they would live there and make babies.

When it was time for dinner, Zubrin placed Musk at the VIP table next to himself, the director and space buff James Cameron, and Carol Stoker, a planetary scientist for NASA. Musk loved it. “He was much more intense than some of the other millionaires,” Zubrin said. “He didn’t know a lot about space, but he had a scientific mind. He wanted to know exactly what was being planned in regards to Mars and what the significance would be.” Musk took to the Mars Society right away and joined its board of directors. He donated an additional $100,000 to fund a research station in the desert.

Musk’s friends were not entirely sure what to make of his mental state at that time. He’d caught malaria while on vacation in Africa and lost a tremendous amount of weight fighting it off. Musk stands 6-foot-1 but usually seems much bigger than that. He’s broad-shouldered, sturdy, and thick. This version of Musk, though, looked emaciated and with little prompting would start expounding on his desire to do something meaningful with his life. “He said, ‘The logical thing to happen next is solar, but I can’t figure out how to make any money out of it,’ ” said George Zachary, an investor and close friend of Musk’s, recalling a lunch date at the time. “He started talking about space, and I thought he meant office space like a real estate play.” Musk had already started thinking beyond the Mars Society’s goals. Rather than send a few mice into earth’s orbit, Musk wanted to send them to Mars.

“He asked if I thought that was crazy,” Zachary said. “I asked, ‘Do the mice come back? Because, if they don’t, yeah, most people will think that’s crazy.’ ” Musk said that the mice were not only meant to go to Mars and come back but they also would come home with the baby mice, too.•

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I’ve been on the receiving end of puzzling looks more than once for saying Catch-22 isn’t the best novel Joseph Heller wrote. That work is a classic American novel in the sense that it overflows and sprawls, attempting almost too much–it’s brilliant and flawed. On the other hand, Something Happened, Heller’s devastating, little-read 1974 book is a precise masterpiece without a wasted word. I haven’t re-read either since my college years, so perhaps my feelings would be reversed now, but both deserve at least equal attention, which is certainly not how it’s worked out. 

In an essay at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Carmen Petaccio agrees with me, encouraging readers to discover Heller’s forgotten novel. The opening:

THE MOST CRIMINALLY OVERLOOKED great novel of the past half century is a book called Something Happened, which this year celebrates the 40th anniversary of its publication. Joseph Heller spent more than a decade writing the novel and was so convinced of its genius that he stashed manuscripts all over Manhattan, ensuring that Something Happened would survive in the event his apartment burned down. When he finally brought the completed draft to his agent, he forced his daughter to accompany him on the trip — so she could deliver the pages in case he suffered a coronary or got hit by a bus. In 1974, 13 years after Catch-22 began its gradual ascent into the rarefied realm of idiom, Something Happened was released to a collective cultural shrug, delivering the book its first firm nudge down the slippery slope that bottoms at obscurity. Today, the novel is perhaps best remembered for Kurt Vonnegut’s artfully impartial appraisal in The New York Times Book Review, which described it as “one of the unhappiest books ever written.” Vonnegut wasn’t entirely wrong.

Something Happened is, by design, a punishingly bleak novel. It’s dense and overlong, sometimes sadistically so, and it offers a minimum in the way of resolution or plot. If the novel’s worldview were a color, the human eye would likely fail to perceive its darkness. What is surprising, though, is how by virtue of that same bleakness, Something Happened becomes one of the most pleasurable, engrossing, and in retrospect moving American novels ever written. If you’ve read Something Happened, and you get why others haven’t, then you make it your little mission to convince people that they should.•

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Here’s an example of what Andrew McAfee wrote about tech toys of the rich becoming tools of the masses: An article from Peter H. Lewis in the July 19, 1992 New York Times, which was prescient about the emergence of smartphones (if a decade too early), without realizing they’d be for everyone. Andy Grove, quoted in the piece, thought it all fantasy. An excerpt:

Sometime around the middle of this decade no one is sure exactly when — executives on the go will begin carrying pocket-sized digital communicating devices. And although nobody is exactly sure what features these personal information gizmos will have, what they will cost, what they will look like or what they will be called, hundreds of computer industry officials and investors at the Mobile ’92 conference here last week agreed that the devices could become the foundation of the next great fortunes to be made in the personal computer business.

“We are writing Chapter 2 of the history of personal computers,” said Nobuo Mii, vice president and general manager of the International Business Machines Corporation’s entry systems division.

How rich is this lode? At one end of the spectrum is John Sculley, the chief executive of Apple Computer Inc., who says these personal communicators could be ‘the mother of all markets.’

At the other end is Andrew Grove, the chairman of the Intel Corporation, the huge chip maker based in Santa Clara, Calif. He says the idea of a wireless personal communicator in every pocket is “a pipe dream driven by greed.”

These devices are expected to combine the best features of personal computers, facsimile machines, computer networks, pagers, personal secretaries, appointment books, address books and even paperback books and pocket CD players — all in a hand-held box operated by pen, or even voice commands.

Stuck in traffic on a business trip, an executive carrying a personal communicator could send and receive electronic mail and facsimile messages from anywhere in the country. She could also call up a local map on a 3-inch by 5-inch screen, draw a line between her current position (confirmed by satellite positioning signals) and her intended destination, and the device would give her specific driving instructions (as well as real-time warnings about traffic jams or accidents). Certainly, these are just predictions for now, but they sure are fun to think about.•

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To the naked eye, Marc Andreessen appears like a giant mass removed from the base of Steve Ballmer’s spine. The Netscaper-cum-V.C.er is an interesting guy, but he’s also an extreme techno-optimist, a true believer to an obscene degree in the transformative power of Silicon Valley, and like most deeply devoted souls, he can be annoying as fuck. 

Tad Friend, an enormously enjoyable New Yorker writer who’s uncommonly gifted at simultaneously telling a macro and micro story, profiled the Northern California idolmaker and his milieu, an enchanted land where men (almost exclusively) with money dare to divine the next Google or Facebook, gambling in casinos still under construction, trying to identify black swans and ride unicorns. Along the way, Friend vividly depicts this modern strain of capitalism as well as reveals his subject, of whom he writes these two sentences: “Marc Andreessen mentions Thomas Edison often, his family never” and “Andreessen represents the Valley—both in its soaring vision and in its tendency to treat people as a fungible mass.”

The opening:

On a bright October morning, Suhail Doshi drove to Silicon Valley in his parents’ Honda Civic, carrying a laptop with a twelve-slide presentation that was surely worth at least fifty million dollars. Doshi, the twenty-six-year-old C.E.O. of a data-analytics startup called Mixpanel, had come from San Francisco to Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, where many of the world’s most prestigious venture-capital firms cluster, to pitch Andreessen Horowitz, the road’s newest and most unusual firm. Inside the offices, he stood at the head of a massive beechwood conference table to address the firm’s deal team and its seven general partners—the men who venture the money, take a seat on the board, and fire the entrepreneur if things go wrong.

Marc Andreessen, the firm’s co-founder, fixed his gaze on Doshi as he disinfected his germless hands with a sanitizing wipe. Andreessen is forty-three years old and six feet five inches tall, with a cranium so large, bald, and oblong that you can’t help but think of words like “jumbo” and “Grade A.” Two decades ago, he was the animating spirit of Netscape, the Web browser that launched the Internet boom. In many respects, he is the quintessential Silicon Valley venture capitalist: an imposing, fortyish, long-celebrated white man. (Forbess Midas List of the top hundred V.C.s includes just five women.) But, whereas most V.C.s maintain a casual-Friday vibe, Andreessen seethes with beliefs. He’s an evangelist for the church of technology, afire to reorder life as we know it. He believes that tech products will soon erase such primitive behaviors as paying cash (Bitcoin), eating cooked food (Soylent), and enduring a world unimproved by virtual reality (Oculus VR). He believes that Silicon Valley is mission control for mankind, which is therefore on a steep trajectory toward perfection. And when he so argues, fire-hosing you with syllogisms and data points and pre-refuting every potential rebuttal, he’s very persuasive.•

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For pretty much my entire adult life, I’ve taken in at least 250-300 movies a year, though I’ve hardly watched any in the last twenty-four months. I needed a break. But a new piece of Alex Pappademas’ routinely wondrous writing at Grantland has convinced me to see Mad Max: Fury Road. Early on, the writer mentions “The Futurist Manifesto” by Marinetti, a tract that glorifies war and scorns women, before explaining how George Miller’s dystopic film reverses at least half of that mindset. An excerpt:

The key moment comes in the calm after the storm. Max drags himself across the desert, still connected by a length of chain and a blood-transfusion tube to an unconscious War Boy and his car door. He spots the wives, bathing in radiator water like nymphs at a pond while taking bolt cutters to their chastity belts. Half-wrapped in diaphanous linen, they resemble America’s Next Top Model competitors who’ve somehow escaped Tyra’s clutches before the makeover episode. You can read the movie’s politics loud and clear in the fight scene that follows, in which Max’s literal blood tie to a foot soldier of the phallocracy becomes both action beat and telling metaphor. Miller came close to shooting a Gibson-led version of Fury Road back in 2001 before 9/11 and the fall of the dollar torpedoed his budget; presumably, he can’t have anticipated Gamergate making representational parity and misogyny into third-rail issues within the core audience for postapocalyptic action movies any more than he saw Boko Haram coming. But the “men’s rights” crusaders now gnawing their fedora brims in righteous apoplexy over the thought of Mad Max’s manly iconography being perverted to serve a misandrist agenda aren’t actually imagining things. This is an unambiguously and unapologetically feminist, Bechdel test–passing sci-fi blockbuster that begins, I’ll say again, with Charlize Theron commandeering an 18-wheeled battle-dong in order to free some sex slaves and ends by explicitly linking the liberation of humanity in general to the dismantling (and, in some cases, dismemberment) of the patriarchy.•

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E.O. Wilson is championing a goal of “Half Earth” for maintaining biodiversity, meaning we would set aside fifty percent of the planet’s land for preserves and parks where non-human species could thrive. Wonderful idea though it is, that will be a steep climb. Audacity is necessary, however. At the Biodiversity Foundation website, Wilson has republished a Mosaic piece in which he and molecular biologist Sean B. Carroll engage in a wide-ranging conversation about conservation, among other scientific matters. An excerpt:

E.O. Wilson: 

You probably haven’t heard of it, but I’ve been in from the beginning of the campaign in Alabama to create a national park of hundreds of thousands of acres. [The Mobile-Tensaw Delta] would be the most biodiverse park in America, with a tremendous variety of organisms: 350 species of fish and then, to the north, the Red Hills and the Appalachians – deeply divided terrain with relic plants and animals that were left behind during the retreat of the glacier 10,000 years ago. The people down there have just woken up to what we have.

Sean B. Carroll:

I was in Yellowstone National Park in August with Liz Hadly from Stanford University, and it still possesses all the mammal species that were there 3,000 years ago. We know this from what the pack rats put into the caves in Yellowstone – and if all the mammals are there, you can feel pretty comfortable that lots of the other things are there too.

So there’s a very old park, a very large piece of ecosystem set aside, it’s enjoyed by four million people a year, but it’s a success story. It says that the first thing you do is preserve a big ecosystem and then manage it. It can be done, and it can be managed scientifically.

It doesn’t mean everything that was ever done in Yellowstone was correct, but I was impressed when Liz explained that she knows that all the mammals that were here before European settlement are still here because she’s done the cave work to look at the microfossils. We should feel good about that: grizzly bears, bisons and wolves are in Yellowstone, and they’ve been removed from almost the rest of their entire range.

E.O. Wilson:

And if you go from the USA – which, relative to the rest of the world, is in pretty good shape in terms of biodiversity and sustainability – to the tropics, everything gets worse.•

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From the early attempt to quantify community in the The Woodlands to the sensor-centric, next-level Songdo, smart cities are an accepted (if vaguely defined) aspect of urban experimentation. But only one state, Singapore, is attempting to be a “smart nation.” It never truly was Disneyland with a death penalty, as William Gibson dubbed it in 1993, but it is a city-state saturated with smartphones, seemingly comfortable with surveillance. This ease with connectivity and quantification is one reason why the island nation feels it can transform itself into a techno-topia free of traffic jams and other such urban annoyances. From Anthony Cuthbertson at International Business Times:

The idea of everyone being connected to everything all the time might sound like a dystopian nightmare for some, but {Infocomm Development Authority head Steve] Leonard and [Prime Minister Lee] Hsien Loong believe it is key to creating a healthy and happy society.

Whether or not the citizens of Singapore have much of a say in the matter is another question. The country’s autocratic style of government has faced criticism in the past for stifling freedom, however it has also been recognised for overseeing Singapore’s remarkable economic growth over the last 50 years. If the ambitious smart nation vision is ever to be realised, it will play a key role. 

“Our advantage is that we are compact, we have a single level of government, we can decide efficiently, we can scale up successful experiments and pilots without any delay,” Lee said in a speech in April.

“Also we are able to take a long term view and see through big transformations to the end until they bear fruit for our citizens.”

There are legitimate issues that Singaporeans might have when faced with the prospect of living in Lee’s new nation, most notably those of privacy and security. For Leonard, this is the biggest challenge currently faced. 

When asked what the biggest hurdle is in implementing new technologies, it isn’t laws or regulation, it’s mindset.•

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I’ve said this before, but before we vote for any politician it would be really instructive to study where they stood at the time of the 2008 economic collapse and in its aftermath. Those who argued for austerity, for taking money out of a greatly diminished economy, should have to answer serious questions about that stance. 

In a similar vein, the Dubya tragedy of the Iraq War is playing out again with Jeb Bush running for President. That’s not merely because his brother oversaw the disaster–though he agreed, if fleetingly, that he would still have supported the invasion knowing what we now know–but also due his staffing up with some of the “stars” of his sibling’s inner circle. You shouldn’t be damned for making a mistake but perhaps you should be if it was such a damnable one.

From Paul Krugman at the New York Times:

Jeb Bush wants to stop talking about past controversies. And you can see why. He has a lot to stop talking about. But let’s not honor his wish. You can learn a lot by studying recent history, and you can learn even more by watching how politicians respond to that history.

The big “Let’s move on” story of the past few days involved Mr. Bush’s response when asked in an interview whether, knowing what he knows now, he would have supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He answered that yes, he would. No W.M.D.? No stability after all the lives and money expended? No problem.

Then he tried to walk it back. He “interpreted the question wrong,” and isn’t interested in engaging “hypotheticals.” Anyway, “going back in time” is a “disservice” to those who served in the war.

Take a moment to savor the cowardice and vileness of that last remark. And, no, that’s not hyperbole. Mr. Bush is trying to hide behind the troops, pretending that any criticism of political leaders — especially, of course, his brother, the commander in chief — is an attack on the courage and patriotism of those who paid the price for their superiors’ mistakes. That’s sinking very low, and it tells us a lot more about the candidate’s character than any number of up-close-and-personal interviews.

Wait, there’s more: Incredibly, Mr. Bush resorted to the old passive-voice dodge, admitting only that “mistakes were made.” Indeed. By whom? Well, earlier this year Mr. Bush released a list of his chief advisers on foreign policy, and it was a who’s-who of mistake-makers, people who played essential roles in the Iraq disaster and other debacles.•

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I loved video games as a child and have no interest in them as an adult, and I wonder sometimes if that’s because it seems like we live inside one 24/7 now. Our heads are in the cloud, our lives held in devices, and that experiment in anarchy we encounter on the Internet is going to increasingly career back into the physical world, as real and virtual forge a new partnership. What a game it will be.

Even to a non-gamer like myself, No Man’s Sky, a video game universe being built by a small team of designers and coders and artists outside London, sounds amazing. The interplanetary game has an essentially infinite playing field and a butterfly effect of interdependence so profound that even the creators are surprised by the causes and effects. Raffi Khatchadourian of the New Yorker visited the Hello Games offices and brings a remarkable clarity to a runaway ambition that’s not yet fully realized. One example: He lucidly explains how “procedural generation”–producing content algorithmically rather than manually–allows a small independent company to turn out a blockbuster-sized vision. 

As for what I said above about feeling like we’re becoming players inside of a game, Khatchadourian said this in a Reddit AMA tied to his piece: “Your character won’t be defined as it is in many other games. In other words, you won’t have an avatar that you can build. You will be you.” And at the same time, you will not be you, not exactly. In that sense, the game seems appropriate to the moment.

An excerpt from “World Without End“:

We were in a lounge on the second floor of the renovated studio; concept art hung beside a whiteboard covered with Post-its. The furniture was bright, simple, IKEA. Sitting in front of a flat-screen TV the size of a Hummer windshield, [Sean] Murray loaded up a demo of the game that he had created for E3: a solar system of six planets. Hoping to preserve a sense of discovery in the game, he has been elusive about how it will play, but he has shared some details. Every player will begin on a randomly chosen planet at the outer perimeter of a galaxy. The goal is to head toward the center, to uncover a fundamental mystery, but how players do that, or even whether they choose to do so, is open to them. People can mine, trade, fight, or merely explore. As planets are discovered, information about them (including the names of their discoverers) is loaded onto a galactic map that is updated through the Internet. But, because of the game’s near-limitless proportions, players will rarely encounter one another by chance. As they move toward the center, the game will get harder, and the worlds—the terrain, the fauna and flora—will become more alien, more surreal.

Sitting in the lounge, we began on a Pez-colored planet called Oria V. Murray is known for nervously hovering during demos. “I’ll walk around a little, then I’ll let you have the controller for a bit,” he said. I watched as he traversed a field of orange grass, passing cyan ferns and indigo shrubs, down to a lagoon inhabited by dinosaurs and antelope. After three planets and five minutes, he handed me the controller, leaving me in a brilliantly colored dreamscape, with crystal formations, viridescent and sapphire, scattered in clusters on arid earth. Single-leaf flora the height of redwoods swayed like seaweed. I wandered over hills and came to a sea the color of lava and waded in. The sea was devoid of life. With the press of a button, I activated a jet pack and popped into the air. Fog hung across the sea, and Murray pointed to the hazy outline of distant cliffs. “There are some sort of caves over there,” he said, and I headed for them. The No Man’s Sky cosmos was shaped by an ideal form of wildness—mathematical noise—and the caves were as uncharted as any material caves. I climbed into one of them. “Let’s see how big it is,” Murray said.•

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