Science/Tech

You are currently browsing the archive for the Science/Tech category.

A trio of videos by (or about) Finnish philosopher, technologist and electronic music pioneer Erkki Kurenniemi. The first, about the next evolution, is from Mika Taanila’s 2002 documentary about the theorist, The Future Is Not What It Used to Be; the second is Kurenniemi’s own 1964 short, “Electronics in the World of Tomorrow”; and finally a demonstration of one of the DIMI synthesizers he created.

Boozy, skirt-chasing Leonid Brezhnev, a bearish man whose eyebrows continued where his fur hat left off, can be seen in retrospect as a relative calming influence in Soviet history despite the folly of the Afghanistan War. He may have been Nero fiddling, but the music soothed his people. In the Moscow Times, writer Pyotr Romanov sees some similarities between Brezhnev’s reign and Vladimir Putin’s, believing them both to be periods of gestation. An excerpt:

“These times are somewhat similar to the Brezhnev era. Once again, the Russian people are dozing, somewhere in the depths of society the distant lightning of future changes is flashing and a popular leader who has long remained in office has skillfully built a relationship with those around him and with his people.

Therefore, if the people forgave Brezhnev for the war in Afghanistan, today’s Russians will forgive President Vladimir Putin the Western sanctions imposed over the conflict in Ukraine.

Of course, there are also many differences between these two periods. For example, Brezhnev was no workaholic. As an experienced party apparatchik, he only retained personal control over staffing decisions. He considered everything else ‘secondary,’ although he applied that label to a great many important issues….

However, Putin is very different. Even during the four years that he formally worked as prime minister under former President Dmitry Medvedev, Putin never relaxed his grip on the levers of power. He has centralized power to an unprecedented degree.

We know what brought an end to the Brezhnev era, but we can only guess what will put an end to the Putin era. The two periods are also similar in that the opposition, as it tugs on the shoulder of the slumbering populace, once again has little idea of what it will do with those people once they finally awaken.

And that is why there is absolutely no guarantee that the perestroika of the future will ultimately succeed.

As writer Kurt Vonnegut rightly pointed out: ‘Considering the experience of past centuries, can a reasonable person entertain the slightest hope that humanity has a bright future?’

I share his lack of historical optimism.”

Tags: ,

No, we’re not living yet in a world of fully autonomous driving, but Elon Musk tells Bloomberg TV about his very aggressive timeline for when that will occur, which suggests, I suppose, that smart cars will not necessarily need smart roads.

Tags:

The Economist has an interesting baseball piece in wake of the Los Angeles Dodgers poaching the Tampa Bay General Manager Andrew Friedman, arguing that superstar chief executives aren’t as valuable as they’re made out to be, that the supply of them outstrips the demand, and that clubs left in the hands of mediocre GMs (e.g., Ruben Amaro Jr. of the Phillies) are the result of poor ownership decision rather than scarcity. It’s a broadside against the Great Man Theory, suggesting that while setting up a good organization and process are hallmarks of a talented exec, the organization then becomes bigger than the individual leader. An excerpt:

“Hiring the talented Mr Friedman is hardly the worst or most wasteful decision in recent Dodgers history. The gap between what he is paid and what he will contribute pales in comparison with what the club is squandering on Andre Ethier or Brandon League. And Mr Friedman’s sterling reputation may help Los Angeles to attract elite researchers and scouts, who are the real sources of competitive advantage, from other clubs.

But far from the $100m a year or so that Mr Morris suggests that Mr Beane deserves, no member of a front office is worth as much as even a half-decent MLB player. The reason GMs make less money than players do isn’t because owners are blind to the contributions of an elite executive. It’s because there are far more people capable of running an MLB team at a high level than there are people capable of playing for one, and less scarcity leads to less value. The only front-office decision that really matters is the owner’s choice to embrace modern management techniques. Once a club chooses to take the plunge into the 21st century, there will be no shortage of brainiacs ready, willing and able to implement that strategy.”

 

Tags:

We tend to equate wealth with intelligence in America, and that’s often a false association. Hiltons and Johnsons who inherit money often seem as dumb as posts, and even someone who has basic smarts like Mike Bloomberg has had many points added to his IQ erroneously because he amassed vast wealth by identifying a small shortfall in financial information which could be exploited. He was really great at one particular endeavor, much the same way as Harlan Sanders was with chicken, not an amazing Renaissance Man. It showed in the very uneven job he did as NYC mayor.

So it’s best not to take as gospel the opinions of the super-rich because knowing one thing isn’t knowing everything. That said, I’ll grant Bill Gates is far more intelligent and intellectually curious than your average person, monied or not. Here’s the opening of his review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which he agrees with overall:

“A 700-page treatise on economics translated from French is not exactly a light summer read—even for someone with an admittedly high geek quotient. But this past July, I felt compelled to read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century after reading several reviews and hearing about it from friends.

I’m glad I did. I encourage you to read it too, or at least a good summary, like this one from The Economist. Piketty was nice enough to talk with me about his work on a Skype call last month. As I told him, I agree with his most important conclusions, and I hope his work will draw more smart people into the study of wealth and income inequality—because the more we understand about the causes and cures, the better. I also said I have concerns about some elements of his analysis, which I’ll share below.

I very much agree with Piketty that:

  • High levels of inequality are a problem—messing up economic incentives, tilting democracies in favor of powerful interests, and undercutting the ideal that all people are created equal.
  • Capitalism does not self-correct toward greater equality—that is, excess wealth concentration can have a snowball effect if left unchecked.
  • Governments can play a constructive role in offsetting the snowballing tendencies if and when they choose to do so.

To be clear, when I say that high levels of inequality are a problem, I don’t want to imply that the world is getting worse. In fact, thanks to the rise of the middle class in countries like China, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, and Thailand, the world as a whole is actually becoming more egalitarian, and that positive global trend is likely to continue.

But extreme inequality should not be ignored—or worse, celebrated as a sign that we have a high-performing economy and healthy society.”

Tags: ,

Andreas Mogensen, Denmark’s first astronaut, answered questions from Andreas Digens of Vice, not straying far from conventional wisdom when considering the next 35 years of space exploration. An excerpt:

Question:

Do you believe we can send people to Mars? 

Andreas Mogensen:

I think we can send people to a new place in 2030. Whether it’s Mars, an asteroid, or to the moon again, I don’t know. But if we choose to send people to Mars, then we could easily do it. We are so much further ahead than when the US sent people to the moon. We can do it, but it’s a political decision. 

Question:

Do you think there’s life in space? 

Andreas Mogensen:

There are two further questions to that question. The first is: is there life on Mars? It looks like there’s been liquid water on the surface, which is the key to life. It also looks like the climate used to be warmer. That’s why we’re so interested in exploring it. We want to look for bacteria or microorganisms. If we find that, it would be huge, as it would be the first time we’d seen evidence of life on other planets.

Moreover, in the last 15 years we’ve been able to locate planets around other stars. Until 15 years ago, we only knew about eight or nine planets in our own solar system. Today, we’ve found 1,000 planets in orbit around other stars. What we want to do is to have powerful telescopes in orbit to look at all these planets that are very far away from Earth. Light years away. Then we can see if their atmospheres have oxygen and water, which is what a planet needs to sustain life. It could get very interesting in the next 50 years”

Tags: ,

Holy fuck, Wavy Gravy is still alive. Known as Hugh Nanton Romney (Romney 2016!) before adopting his meat-sauce moniker, he was the Woodstock Era’s psychedelic drum major, and he has some amazing stories to tell, none of which he can remember. WG just did an AMA at Reddit, in which he dosed the entire Internet. A few exchanges follow.

_______________________

Question:

Do you think the pranksters changed culture? What are your thoughts on the medical uses of psychedelics?

Wavy Gravy:

Absolutely. The Prankster changed the culture by driving ac across the country in these painted buses. That was something no one had ever seen before. It was like the universe on wheels.

I think that psychotropics should be available to any ADULTS with psychiatrist spirit guide to help them over the rough patches on the quest to enlightenment.

back in the day this was applicable for Henry Luce, the publisher of Life magazine, as he was pictured conducting an orchestra of daffodils in his garden, Psychiatric at the ready.

_______________________

Question:

Were you ever a fan of the group Pink Floyd? And have you heard of their new album coming out in a month? What are your thoughts on the group and what do you remember about them during their times in the late 60s/70s?

Wavy Gravy:

In 1970 we did what Warner Brothers hoped would be a sequel to the movie Woodstock. It involved a caravan of painted buses driving across America putting on shows. Sound familiar? Except this time Warner Brother would fly in their stable of amazing artists like BB King, Jethro Tull or Alice cooper, on tiny stages, or Joni Mitchel strumming around our camp fire. The tour ended with us flying Air India to England, where we did a concert outdoors with Pink Floyd. It was drop dead uber awesome and amazing.

Question:

Why hasn’t this been released?

Wavy Gravy:

It was released. It was called Medicine Ball Caravan with the sub title “We have come for your daughters.”

_______________________

Question:

Hi Wavy. I live in Sunland/Tujunga, California. There is a piece of property for sale on a hilltop here that is said to be the original home of the Hog Farm Hippie Commune in the 1960’s. Can you tell us any stories of the old days on the hog farm? Do you have any pictures you can share? Some people claim that Charles Manson was there. I find it hard to believe that you and Manson were ever friends. Can you clear that up? Thanks.

Wavy Gravy:

Absolutely! We were given this mountaintop rent free if we would tend to 50 hogs the size of a davenport. One of which we later ran for president. She was the first female black and white candidate for that high office. On Saturday nights, we would go to the shrine auditorium and do light shows for all the great bands of the 60s. On Sundays, we would have a free show on our mountaintop with different themes. Kite Sunday, no wind until night time. Mud Sunday, it poured..who could slide in the mud the furthest! The hog rodeo where we painted these giant pigs with temper paint and rode around on them, we showed film of this to Salvador Dali in Paris. He loved the hog rodeo. Many pictures and stories are in my first book The Hog Farm and Friends and beautifully documented in Avant Garde magazine back in the day.

Oh yes, Charlie Manson was no friend of mine and was asked to leave which he did. Thank heavens!

_______________________

Question:

Just firstly would like to say thank you for sharing love. Secondly, I love being warm and social with everyone but I really want to make things better like you did; any idea why protests now a days aren’t being taken as serious?

Wavy Gravy:

Some are more seriously taken than others. A lot of demonstrations have gone electronic. I am amazed at how powerful a tool the computer has become and I am a self confessed luddite.•

Tags: , , ,

mannequin671

Freeman Dyson said that when the “games” begin, genetic engineering will be messy, and Nick Bostrom pointed out that it will be difficult for people (or nations) to recuse themselves from the proceedings. It’s, of course, important to remember that while the unnatural comes with dangers, so does the natural. The opening of “The Genetics Epidemic,” Jamie F. Metz’s Foreign Affairs meditation on the national-security angle of human enhancement, which might not be the most pressing consideration but is important nonetheless:

“The revolution in genetic engineering that will make it possible for humans to actively manage our evolutionary process for the first time in our species’ history is already under way. In laboratories and clinics around the world, gene therapies are being successfully deployed to treat a range of diseases, including certain types of immune deficiency, retinal amaurosis, leukemia, myeloma, hemophilia, and Parkinson’s. This miraculous progress is only the beginning. The same already existing technologies that will soon eliminate many diseases that have victimized humans for thousands of years will almost certainly be used eventually to make our species smarter, stronger, and more robust.

The prospect of genetic engineering will be exciting to some, frightening to others, and challenging for all. If not adequately addressed, it will also likely lead to major conflict both within societies and globally. But although the science of human genetic engineering is charging forward at an exponential rate, the global policy framework for ensuring this scientific progress does not lead to destabilizing conflict barely exists at all. The time has come for a meaningful dialogue on the national security implications of the human genetic revolution that can lay the conceptual foundation for a future global policy structure seeking to prevent dangerous future conflict and abuse.

The rate of recent progress in human genetics has been astounding.

Tags:

Marshall McLuhan and artist and ace typographer Harley Parker enjoyed a bull session in 1967’s “Picnic in Space,” which focused on meanings that shifted as spaces changed, a process that has speeded up exponentially in the years since it was shot, as many brick-and-mortar forms have gone digital. Film informed by the work of Warhol, Lichtenstein and Godard.

Google does many great things, but its corporate leaders want you to trust them with your private information–because they are the good guys–and you should never trust any corporation with such material. The thing is, it’s increasingly difficult to opt out of the modern arrangement, algorithms snaking their way into all corners of our lives. The excellent documentarian Eugene Jarecki has penned a Time essay about Google and Wikileaks and what the two say about the future. An excerpt follows.

_________________________

I interviewed notorious Wikileaks founder Julian Assange by hologram, beamed in from his place of asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. News coverage the next day focused in one way or another on the spectacular and mischievous angle that Assange had, in effect, managed to escape his quarantine and laugh in the face of those who wish to extradite him by appearing full-bodied in Nantucket before a packed house of exhilarated conference attendees.

Beyond the spectacle, though, what got less attention was what the interview was actually about, namely the future of our civilization in an increasingly digital world. What does it mean for us as people to see the traditional town square go digital, with online banking displacing bricks and mortar, just as email did snail mail, Wikipedia did the local library, and eBay the mom and pop shop? The subject of our ever-digitizing lives is one that has been gaining currency over the past year, fueled by news stories about Google Glasses, self-driving cars, sky-rocketing rates of online addiction and, most recently, the scandal of NSA abuse. But the need to better understand the implications of our digital transformation was further underscored in the days preceding the event with the publication of two books: one by Assange and the other by Google Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt.

Assange’s book, When Google Met Wikileaks, is the transcript (with commentary by Assange) of a secret meeting between the two that took place on June 23, 2011, when Schmidt visited Assange in England. In his commentary, Assange explores the troubling implications of Google’s vast reach, including its relationships with international authorities, particularly in the U.S., of which the public is largely unaware. Schmidt’s book, How Google Works, is a broader, sunnier look at how technology has presumably shifted the balance of power from companies to people. It tells the story of how Google rose from a nerdy young tech startup to become a nerdy behemoth astride the globe. Read together, the two books offer an unsettling portrait both of our unpreparedness for what lies ahead and of the utopian spin with which Google (and others in the digital world) package tomorrow. While Assange’s book accuses Google of operating as a kind of “‘Don’t Be Evil’ empire,” Schmidt’s book fulfills Assange’s worst fears, presenting pseudo-irreverent business maxims in an “aw shucks” tone that seems willfully ignorant of the inevitable implications of any company coming to so sweepingly dominate our lives in unprecedented and often legally uncharted ways.•

Tags: , ,

In a Wall Street Journal interview conducted by Laura Hedli, Google driverless-car consultant Brad Templeton ponders how these new vehicles will be sold to the public. An excerpt:

WSJ:

How will this car be sold to people?

Brad Templeton:

You might sell it to people for a monthly fee. Plus they would have to pay per mile for gasoline, and to some extent, insurance and maintenance.

You also can sell this per mile like a taxi, except it would be much cheaper because 60% of the cost of running a taxi is the driver. It will basically be a cheap Uber [which allows a person to hail a private car or ride-share from a mobile phone], and with no need to talk to the driver.

WSJ:

If autonomous cars operated using a service model, as opposed to ownership, what will people pay per ride?

Brad Templeton: 

It will start somewhere between 50 cents and a buck. I think it could even get [to be] less than 50 cents a ride, but it won’t start cheaper.

For people who are going to make light use of it, then the per-mile price, rather than the monthly price, might actually be a good thing. Seniors stop buying cars because they don’t really feel like trading in anymore, and they cut their mileage by quite a bit.

WSJ:

Looking further down the road, what might we see in the self-driving market?

Brad Templeton: 

I think eventually people will build sleeper cars that can do an overnight trip. I don’t think it’s a very green vision, but you would probably be able to hire a car that doesn’t even have seats. It’s just got a bed. Get into it, lie down, and then eight hours later you wake up and you’re 400-500 miles away.”

Tags: ,

Somebody makes money from book sales, but those people, most of them, are not writers. Plenty of authors actually lose money publishing their titles, having to pay their own expenses and taxes. At The Popcorn Chronicles, novelist Patrick Wensink reveals the earnings for his Amazon bestseller, Broken Piano for President, and they truly are revealing. An excerpt:

“Even when there’s money in writing, there’s not much money.

I was reminded of a single page in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius; specifically, the section where Dave Eggers breaks down his $100,000 advance on sales from his publisher. He then lists all his expenses. In the end the author banked a little less than half. It wasn’t bad money — just not the ‘I bet Dave Eggers totally owns a Jaguar’-type of income I expected. I mean, his name was on the cover of a book! He must be rich.

That honesty was refreshing and voyeuristic. I always said if I ever had a chance, I’d make a similar gesture. As a person learning about writing and publishing, there was something helpful about Eggers’ transparency. So here is my stab at similar honesty: the sugar bowls full of cocaine, bathtubs full of whiskey, semi-nude bookstore employees scattered throughout my bedroom tale of bestseller riches.

This is what it’s like, financially, to have the indie book publicity story of the year and be near the top of the bestseller list.

Drum roll.

$12,000.

Hi-hat crash.

I just started getting my royalty checks from July the other day (the publishing industry is slow like that). From what I can tell so far, I made about $12,000 from Broken Piano sales. That comes directly to me without all those pesky taxes taken out yet (the IRS is helpful like that).

Don’t get me wrong; as a guy with a couple of books out on an independent publisher I never thought I’d see that kind of money. Previously, my largest royalty check was about $153. I’m thrilled and very proud to say I earned any money as a writer. That’s a miracle. It’s just not the jewel-encrusted miracle most people think bestseller bank accounts are made from.

The book sold plus or minus 4,000 copies. (The publishing industry is hazy like that. What with sales in fishy-sounding third-world countries like Germany and England.) Being on an indie press I receive a more generous royalty split than most: 50 percent after expenses were deducted.

You can do the math.”

Tags:

I wish it were true that space tourists who hop aboard Virgin Galactic would return immediately wanting to help and heal the planet they (temporarily) left behind, as that venture’s Head of Mission, George Whitesides, believes, but I don’t think human beings work that way. While having more globalized travel has slowly–painfully slowly–contributed to humanity’s improvement on Earth in some ways, let’s not forget that such far-flung voyages first led not to a desire to mitigate suffering but to genocide, enslavement and predation of every kind. While Galactic won’t cause such horrors, it may be more a Disneyland effect than a remedy. From Sarah Knapton at The Telegraph:

“Promising that the first commercial flights into space will begin next Spring, Mr Whitesides, said: ‘It’s a simple observation but there is something called the overview effect, which is scientifically documented. When people go into space they come back with a different perspective and I think many of the challenges we face over the next century are essentially planetary challenges and so we need to have that planetary perspective to solve them

‘So I think we are going to have tens of thousands of people who are leaders in their community coming back and bringing that planetary perspective with them. I think that perspective is really important to solving some of our biggest problems on Earth.’

That may be a bold promise, but it is one to which Mr Whitesides – and his boss – appear committed.

‘I truly feel that the things we are doing at Galactic are going to be very important for the future of the world, for the future of humanity,’ he said, speaking to The Sunday Telegraph to mark the 10th anniversary of the project.

That grand, almost spiritual, vision is being reflected in something very concrete, the design of the inside of the SpaceShipTwo craft currently being developed to shoot its passengers into space and back.

The spacecraft’s cabin – being designed by Adam Wells, who was responsible for the first-class cabin of Virgin Atlantic – will be beautiful but utterly minimal, so as not to detract from the passenger’s view of the Earth below.”

Tags: , ,

Software companies were bigger winners than their hardware counterparts during the personal-computing boom, and it’s worth wondering whether the same will be true of driverless cars. For instance, Google seems to have no interest in being an auto manufacturer (beyond prototypes) but is desperate to come up with the software for robocars that can be sold to other outfits. And what of companies that supply sensors and such, will they likewise be the true victors? From Chris Bryant and Andy Sharman of the Financial Times:

“Who will build the self-driving car of the future?

Fired-up by Google’s driverless prototype, carmakers such as Mercedes-Benz and Volvo are already testing autonomous vehicles on public roads.

But the advanced sensors and electronics that form the building blocks of self-driving cars are often made by suppliers, not the car manufacturer.

Some fear that, in the long term, carmakers that lag behind in autonomous vehicle technology face a future akin to today’s PC assemblers – with the big profits accruing to the companies behind the software and electronic content underneath.

‘It’s all the suppliers into the industry who, in the fullness of time, will gain the power,’ says a senior industry analyst, who works closely with the leading carmakers. ‘If I’m the buyer, I don’t care if it’s a 1.9-litre car or a 2.4 – because I’m not driving it.'”

 

Tags: ,

The excellent comic Aziz Ansari has a bit in which he talks about the way we’ve grown overdependent on Google, doing mindless searches for things like “the best toothbrush,” when we were perfectly capable of buying a toothbrush before search engines ever existed. We would just go to the store and buy a toothbrush that looked like it was good. And it always was.

Funny, yes, though I’ll argue fiercely that search engines don’t weaken our brains but give us every opportunity to improve them. (And if they’ve done the former rather than the latter, than the fault probably lies with us.) Never before have we had in our shirt pockets access to the storehouse of the world’s knowledge.

Ian Leslie’s well-considered Salon article, “Google Is Making Us All Dumber,” argues the counter, asserting that the efficiency of Google’s search has removed pretty much all of the actual search, weakening us neurologically. The piece starts with a Pablo Picasso quote about machines only being good for answers, which is amusing for its wit but also because more and more, that’s no longer true. The opening:

“In 1964, Pablo Picasso was asked by an interviewer about the new electronic calculating machines, soon to become known as computers. He replied, ‘But they are useless. They can only give you answers.’

We live in the age of answers. The ancient library at Alexandria was believed to hold the world’s entire store of knowledge. Today, there is enough information in the world for every person alive to be given three times as much as was held in Alexandria’s entire collection —and nearly all of it is available to anyone with an internet connection.

This library accompanies us everywhere, and Google, chief librarian, fields our inquiries with stunning efficiency. Dinner table disputes are resolved by smartphone; undergraduates stitch together a patchwork of Wikipedia entries into an essay. In a remarkably short period of time, we have become habituated to an endless supply of easy answers. You might even say dependent.

Google is known as a search engine, yet there is barely any searching involved anymore.”

Tags:

With computers so small they all but disappear, the infrastructure silently becoming more and more automated, what else will vanish from our lives and ourselves? I’m someone who loves the new normal of decentralized, free-flowing media, who thinks the gains are far greater than the losses, but it’s a question worth asking. Via Longreads, an excerpt from The Glass Cage, a new book by that Information Age designated mourner Nicholas Carr:

“There’s a big difference between a set of tools and an infrastructure. The Industrial Revolution gained its full force only after its operational assumptions were built into expansive systems and networks. The construction of the railroads in the middle of the nineteenth century enlarged the markets companies could serve, providing the impetus for mechanized mass production. The creation of the electric grid a few decades later opened the way for factory assembly lines and made all sorts of home appliances feasible and affordable. These new networks of transport and power, together with the telegraph, telephone, and broadcasting systems that arose alongside them, gave society a different character. They altered the way people thought about work, entertainment, travel, education, even the organization of communities and families. They transformed the pace and texture of life in ways that went well beyond what steam-powered factory machines had done.

The historian Thomas Hughes, in reviewing the arrival of the electric grid in his book Networks of Power, described how first the engineering culture, then the business culture, and finally the general culture shaped themselves to the new system. ‘Men and institutions developed characteristics that suited them to the characteristics of the technology,’ he wrote. ‘And the systematic interaction of men, ideas, and institutions, both technical and nontechnical, led to the development of a supersystem—a sociotechnical one—with mass movement and direction.’ It was at this point that what Hughes termed ‘technological momentum’ took hold, both for the power industry and for the modes of production and living it supported. ‘The universal system gathered a conservative momentum. Its growth generally was steady, and change became a diversification of function.’ Progress had found its groove.

We’ve reached a similar juncture in the history of automation. Society is adapting to the universal computing infrastructure—more quickly than it adapted to the electric grid—and a new status quo is taking shape. …

The science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once asked, ‘Can the synthesis of man and machine ever be stable, or will the purely organic component become such a hindrance that it has to be discarded?’ In the business world at least, no stability in the division of work between human and computer seems in the offing. The prevailing methods of computerized communication and coordination pretty much ensure that the role of people will go on shrinking. We’ve designed a system that discards us. If unemployment worsens in the years ahead, it may be more a result of our new, subterranean infrastructure of automation than of any particular installation of robots in factories or software applications in offices. The robots and applications are the visible flora of automation’s deep, extensive, and invasive root system.”

Tags: ,

Years before the World Wide Web was created and the Internet became a thing for us all, when we could all be found in a search engine, psychologist Theodore Roszak could see where things were heading: He knew the emergence of personal computers was fetishizing information and knowledge was becoming secondary. While he thought it fine that airplane reservations were computerized, he believed the algorithmic future posed a danger if info was more important than experience and morality. As he pointed out, “All men are created equal” isn’t supported by a body of fact but is as important as any linchpin of America. Of course, Roszak doesn’t mention that relying on an algorithmic-supported truth can also remove bias from an equation.

In 1986, Jeffrey Mishlove interviews Roszak about the oncoming information onslaught.

.

Tags: ,

Many of the new corporations of the Information Age have been ostensibly good for consumers, with costs neatly hidden. For instance: Google and Facebook are completely free products, until you consider that you are the product. Amazon’s deep discounts have put all manner of cheap goods in consumers’ hands, great tools like books and tablets and smartphones, but competitors and producers have felt an increasing pinch. Eventually the earth is scorched and prices are largely in the hands of one company and the pipeline seriously shortened. Do the benefits outweigh the costs or vice versa?

In a New Republic article, Franklin Foer makes a convincing case that Amazon is already a clear monopoly, which has brought a virtual Walmartization to America. Those cheap items–Sam Walton’s or Jeff Bezos’–come at a dear price, he argues, favoring the purchaser in the short run but obliterating competitors and suppliers all the while. (And that doesn’t even begin to mention the treatment of workers who are made small so that prices can be likewise tiny.) An excerpt in which Foer looks at the disconnect between Industrial Age laws which govern monopolies and the megacorporations of the Information Age:

“Shopping on Amazon has so ingrained itself in modern American life that it has become something close to our unthinking habit, and the company has achieved a level of dominance that merits the application of a very old label: monopoly. 

That term doesn’t get tossed around much these days, but it should. Amazon is the shining representative of a new golden age of monopoly that also includes Google and Walmart. Unlike U.S. Steel, the new behemoths don’t use their barely challenged power to hike up prices. They are, in fact, self-styled servants of the consumer and have ushered in an era of low prices for everything from flat-screen TVs to paper napkins to smart phones. 

In other words, we’re all enjoying the benefits of these corporations far too much to think hard about distant dangers. Besides, the ideology of Silicon Valley suggests that we have nothing much to fear: If these firms no longer engineer breathtaking technologies, they will be creatively destroyed. That’s why Peter Thiel, the creator of PayPal, has argued that the term ‘monopoly’ should be stripped of its negative connotation. A monopoly, he argues, is really nothing more than a synonym for a highly successful company. Insulation from the brutish spirit of competition even makes them superior organizations—more beneficent employers, better able to both daydream and think clearly. In Thiel’s phrasing: ‘Creative monopolies aren’t just good for the rest of society; they’re powerful engines for making it better.’

Thiel makes an important point: The Internet-age monopolies are a different species; they flummox our conventional ways of thinking about corporate concentration and have proved especially elusive to those who ponder questions of antitrust, the discipline of law that aims to curb threats to the competitive marketplace. Part of the issue is the laws themselves, which were conceived to manage an industrial economy—and have, over time, evolved to focus on a specific set of narrow questions that have little to do with the core problem at hand.”

Tags:

Despite employing some innovations that markedly improve commuter convenience–using a smartphone to hail a taxi, track it and pay for the ride–Uber seems to be the ickiest of the new Sharing Economy behemoths. It not only disrupts the livelihood of traditional drivers but squeezes its own operators and employs surge pricing when consumers are most vulnerable. Peter Thiel thinks it possible that the Silicon Valley business may be reckless enough to be the new Napster, driving itself out of business by flouting laws. But even though Sean Parker’s company was silenced, online sharing was the larger wave and unstoppable. It might be the same with Uber: The concern may not go forever, but what it represents won’t be stopped and will make things better and worse. From Mike Isaac at the New York Times:

“Uber, the smartphone-based hail-a-ride service, often claims it is cheaper than a ride in a taxi. It looks as if some Uber customers do not agree.

The company received an ‘F’ rating from the Better Business Bureau on Thursday, the lowest possible rating given by the organization.

The grade is based on, among other criteria, more than 90 Uber customer complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau over the last three years, most of them centering on Uber’s so-called surge pricing.

Customers still feel misinformed about how they are charged for their rides, according to complaints at the bureau’s website, and say they are not able to receive adequate customer service when they try to complain about their fares.

With its surge pricing, Uber’s temporarily increases fare prices anywhere from one and a half to 10 times the normal cost of taking an Uber ride, based on the demand for drivers. When many people in a particular area request Uber at the same time, for example, the price of rides in that area goes up.

‘I never knew about surcharges until after the fact and was unaware, confused and uninformed,’ one customer wrote on the bureau’s site.”

Tags: ,

In a Women’s Wear Daily interview conducted by Alexandra Steigrad, New Yorker EIC David Remnick reminds of something that is all but forgotten these days: During Web 1.0, the overwhelming consensus was that nobody wanted to read long articles (let alone books) on a computer screen, and they never would. I worked in some places that had 300-word limits on writing for this reason. It wasn’t mainly that there were slow downloads, rudimentary design and navigation and unwieldy devices (though all of that is true), but rather that industry professionals believed there was some neurological barrier to enjoying longreads online. It was like designing automobiles with the expectation that drivers would use them in their neighborhoods but never over great distances. Seems silly now, with certain adventurous readers devouring War and Peace on smartphones. Perhaps there was initially a neurological barrier, but if so we rewired our brains with repetition. An excerpt:

WWD:

Is long-form journalism still alive and well?

David Remnick:

I think it’s absolutely alive and well. I was interested in the Web from the get-go. I used to get invited to digital events, knowing I was being invited as a Brontosaurus editor from an old media outlet, The New Yorker. I would go to these sessions with really smart people, usually in there 20s, and, at the time, I was in my 40s. There were evangelical tenets to what was true and what was not true, and one of the things that was thought to be 100 percent true was that no one would read anything long on the Internet. That turned out to be absolute nonsense. Some of the most widely read things for The New Yorker on the Web are [around] 10,000 or 25,000 words long. When I think about our future, it’s an encouraging thing to know that this is what we’ve been trying to be great at for a very long time.”

Tags: ,

Like a lot of super-rich people, Carols Slim rearranges the world as he sees fit in his head–and sometimes in reality. I’ve previously posted about his idea for a 3-day work week. A little more on the topic from Matt Egan at CNNMoney:

“Carlos Slim, the Mexican telecom tycoon worth over $80 billion, believes life would be better with a three-day work week.

‘You should have more time for you during all of your life — not when you’re 65 and retired,’ Slim told CNNMoney’s Christine Romans on Tuesday.

But if Slim had his way, people would also work longer days and much later in life. He suggested 11-hour shifts and pushing the retirement age to 75.

Slim raised eyebrows over the summer by calling for a three-day work week, but he doubled down on that proposal on Tuesday.

‘I am sure it will happen,’ the 74-year-old told CNNMoney, though he conceded he’s not sure when.”

Tags: , ,

Why fight ISIS and not Assad? It’s certainly not for humanitarian reasons. Way more Syrians have been tortured and killed by the nation’s blood-soaked President than have been murdered in Syria and Iraq by the thoroughly modern, Rolex-wearing jihadists. It’s obviously for two reasons. One is strategic: While the crisis in Syria is horrifying, it’s contained within the state and doesn’t threaten other countries. The other is because of the ISIS marriage of medieval brutality (beheadings and mass executions) with modern marketing technology (Youtube, social media and video games). It’s hard to avoid the terror, and that’s the point. They’re not flying into your towers but into your head. From Christoph Reuter, Raniah Salloum and Samiha Shafy at Spiegel:

“In recent months, Islamic State has become known for its adept video production and its fighters are widely present on all manner of social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram and SoundCloud. If their accounts get closed down, they just register under new names.

But the group’s marketing gurus do much more than simply repeat the same message ad infinitum on different platforms. They design each video and each message to correlate exactly to the target audience. For Western observers, they are cool, clean and coherent. For locals, they are bloody, brutal and fear-inducing.

Bringing People Together

When it works to their advantage, they exaggerate their own massacres. Sometimes they falsify the identity of their victims. The thousands of fellow Sunnis they killed in Syria were branded simply as ‘godless Shiites’ on television. They even market themselves to kids, manipulating popular video games such as Grand Theft Auto V so that Islamic State fighters and the group’s black flag make an appearance.

In short videos from the series ‘Mujatweets,’ an apparently German fighter talks about his supposedly wonderful life in the Caliphate. Such scenes, depicting the multicultural Islamic State brotherhood, are clearly meant for Muslims in the West. ‘Look here,’ the message is, ‘everyone is equal here!’ The images suggest that jihad has no borders; that it brings people together and makes them happy. Other blogs include women gushing about family life in wartime and the honor of being the widow of a martyr.

Islamic State’s propaganda offers something for every demographic — it is so professionally produced that al-Qaida looks old-fashioned by comparison. It is, as the New York Times recently dubbed it, ‘jihad 3.0.'”

Tags: , ,

One way to drastically reduce the cost of a mission to Mars is to render unconscious the astronauts, inducing them into hibernation, into a cave of their own dreams. From Jordan Pearson at Wired Motherboard:

“NASA is bankrolling research into the technology necessary to put people to sleep for months at a time via SpaceWorks, an Atlanta-based company that presented their work at last week’s International Astronomical Congress in Toronto.

According to the company, inducing torpor in a crew of astronauts would eliminate the need for space-wasting accommodations like food galleys, exercise equipment, and large living quarters. Robots that electrically stimulate key muscle groups and intravenously-delivered sustenance will take care of all that.

By eliminating the extra room required for people to live and move around in, ships could be smaller, and more safety features like better shielding could be added. According to SpaceWorks’ mockups, the size of astronaut crew living quarters for a Mars mission could be reduced from their currently proposed size of 8.2×9 metres to just 4.3×7.5. That drastic reduction in size means huge savings on build materials and lift costs for the cash-strapped agency.”

Tags:

It would be tremendous for animals and the environment, not to mention people, if vegetable faux meat replaced the kind from stock that is living. The key to winning that war isn’t just to appeal to ethics but to make the tastes equal. The answer might be “plant blood.” From Evelyn M. Rusli at the Wall Street Journal:

“Patrick Brown, a 60-year-old Stanford University professor turned first-time entrepreneur, says he has found the secret to replicating the taste of red meat: plant ‘blood.’

On a recent afternoon in his company’s expansive laboratory, Mr. Brown poured a deep-red liquid into a plastic cup. The thin concoction looks like blood, has the same distinct metallic taste, and is derived from the molecule found in hemoglobin that makes blood red and steak taste like steak.

But this bioengineered blood comes from plants and is the crown jewel of Mr. Brown’s three-year-old company, Impossible Foods, which has so far created a hamburger that looks, feels, tastes and cooks almost like the real thing.

‘Livestock is an antiquated technology,’ said Mr. Brown, a biochemistry scientist known for his genetic research.

Impossible Foods is part of a wave of well-funded startups seeking to replicate meats, eggs, cheese and other animal-based foods with plant matter. Their aim is not only to upend the trillion-dollar animal farming industry but to also create a more sustainable source of food amid mounting environmental pressures.”

Tags: ,

I disagree with that holy fool Slavoj Žižek on some issues, but I agree with him that philosophy is far from dead, our technological and economic situations requiring ethical speculation more than ever. From his Guardian AMA:

Question:

What is the future of philosophy – both within academia and in the so-called ‘collective consciousness’?

Slavoj Žižek:

I think philosophy will become more important than ever, even for so-called ‘ordinary people’. Why? The incredible social dynamics of today’s capitalism, as well as scientific and technological breakthroughs, changed our situation so much that old ethical and religious systems no longer function. Think about biogenetic interventions, which may even change your character, how your psyche works. This was no even a possibility considered in traditional ethical systems, which means that we all in a way have to think. We have to make decisions. We cannot rely on old religious and ethical formulas. Like: are you for or against biogenetic interventions? In order to decide, to take a stance, you have somehow implicitly to address questions like: do I have a free will? Am I really responsible for my acts? And so on. So I think that 21st century will be the century of philosophy.”

Tags:

« Older entries § Newer entries »