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In contrast to the new Economist report which argues that Silicon Valley carmakers will lose the race to traditional ones in creating the vehicle of tomorrow, automotive analyst Marc Winteroff contends, in Phil LeBeau’s CNBC post, that much of Big Auto will disappear once robocars are perfected. The opening:

Marc Winterhoff sees the great auto shake out coming over the next 15-20 years. That’s when self-driving, or autonomous drive, vehicles will take off, according to the head of the automotive practice for the business strategy firm Roland Berger.

“When we start to see critical mass with autonomous drive vehicles, there will be clear winners and losers in the auto industry,” said Winterhoff. “The losers will include the mass market auto brands.”

In a new study looking at the future of mobility and how we’ll transport ourselves in the future, Winterhoff sees a surge in demand for vehicles that offer a premium experience, like Mercedes-Benz or BMW.

He also expects tech firms like Google and Apple to be big winners because they can offer vehicles or branded models where we can take our “connected lives” into our cars in ways we may not be able to imagine right now.•

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At the beginning of 1970, directly following the Apollo 11 moon landing, Life published Rudi Gernreich’s predictions about the future of fashion. He foresaw a harsh landscape of environmental damage, overpopulation and traffic-clogged highways, all of which would inform designers who would create unisex protective garb made of alternative fabrics. While his fashion prognostications weren’t accurate, embedded in Gernreich’s ideas are some prescient remarks about technological innovations. An excerpt:

In cold, wintry weather, predicts Gernreich, “both men and women will wear heavy-ribbed leotards and waterproof boots. It will be impossible to drive to stores because of traffic, so all clothes will be ordered from a catalogue or TV set. And since animals which now supply wool, fur and leather will be so rare that they must be protected, and weaving fabric such as cotton will be too much trouble, most clothes will be made entirely of cheap and disposable synthetic knits.”

Clothing will not be identified as either male or female, says Gernreich. “So women will wear pants and men will wear skirts interchangeably. And since there won’t be any squeamishness about nudity, see-through clothes will only be see-through for reasons of comfort. Weather permitting, both sexes will go about bare-chested, though women will wear simple protective pasties. Jewelry will exist only as a utility–that is, to hold something up or together, like a belt or for information, like a combination wristwatch, weather indicator, compass and radio. The esthetics are going to involve the body itself. We will train the body to grow beautifully rather than cover it to produce beauty.

The present cult of eternal youth is not honest nor attractive, says Gernreich. “In an era when the body will become the convention of fashion, the old will adopt a uniform of their own. If a body can longer be accentuated, it should be abstracted. The young won’t wear prints but the elderly will because bold prints detract. The elderly will have a cult of their own and the embarrassment of old age will fade away.”•

 

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NYU psychologist Gary Marcus is one of the talking heads interviewed for this CBS Sunday Morning report about the future of robots and co-bots and such. He speaks to the mismeasure of the Turing Test, the current mediocrity of human-computer communications and the potential perils of Strong AI. To his comment about the company dominating AI winning the Internet, I really doubt any one company will be dominant across most or even many categories. Quite a few will own a piece, and there’ll be no overall blowout victory, though there are vast riches to be had in even small margins. View here.

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As is their wont, technologists would like driverless cars on the road yesterday, but traditional automakers would rather ease into the sector with assisted-driving functions introduced gradually. A new Economist report is bearish on Silicon Valley’s chances of becoming kings of the road even should the industry go electric and autonomous, citing the nouveau carmakers’ lack of infrastructure (in both manufacturing and corporate) in dealing with many problems inherent to the business. I think the piece’s prediction from Boston Consulting that “cars with even limited self-driving features will never exceed 25% of sales” will only be true if they’re eclipsed by fully autonomous models before surpassing that number. Otherwise most models will probably soon have numerous robocar features at the disposal of human drivers. An excerpt:

The head of Google’s autonomous-car project, Chris Urmson, nevertheless argues that the conventional carmakers’ incremental approach will slow them down, and that a leap straight into fully self-driving vehicles will pay off quicker. However, even if he is proved right in terms of developing the technology, there are two other big barriers to overcome: regulatory approval, and drivers’ nervousness at ceding control entirely to a computer.

Carmakers have had to become adept at handling mountains of regulations and fending off liability lawsuits. These will be huge issues when any self-driving car is involved in an accident—which they will be, even if less frequently than ones driven by humans. Slowly feeding in autonomy may be a better way of convincing road users and legislators of the technology’s benefits. In a pessimistic forecast, the Boston Consulting Group reckons demand for cars with even limited self-driving features will never exceed 25% of sales, and fully autonomous ones will account for just 10% of sales by 2035 (see chart 2).

Perhaps technology firms can accelerate the future of the car. But whatever happens, this is a difficult business to break into. Google would like the carmakers it hopes eventually to supplant to help seal their doom by building its vehicles under contract. Unsurprisingly, none seems too keen on this. Apple’s cash pile of $178 billion is more than enough to set up a carmaking division and tool up its factories. But the technology firms have no manufacturing culture, and the skills needed to market, distribute and provide after-sales service for cars is unlike anything they are used to.•

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Some people prep for hurricanes, earthquakes and rising sea levels, and it’s easy to understand their trepidation, while others are ready for more outré existential threats: imminent civilization collapse, religious end-of-days and zombie apocalypse. Both types convene at the National Preppers and Survivalists Expo in Lakeland, Florida. From Nicky Woolf’s Guardian report about the gathering of the God-fearing and the gun-toting: 

Chris refuses to tell me his last name. But he did he have opinions to share, beginning with Obama, who is apparently an augur of doom known as The Leopard.

“This is going to be as a result of Wormwood [an angel],” he barks in a thick Long Island accent. “Planet X. 3,357 years ago, it came about. How do you think the Mayan cities and the Pyramids under the Antarctic they just found ended up underwater? Because of Wormwood. Now Wormwood is coming again, we’re gonna get more water, less landmass, and then the fire that God said in the Bible – a solar storm.”

I nod, ticking off a conspiracy theory bingo card in my head.

“If Obama is indeed The Leopard,” Chris continues, ignoring the glazed look in my eyes, “then in the murals – the giant pictures in the Denver airport, have you ever seen that, with the murals with the leopard?” I nod vaguely.

He continues, shifting up through the conspiratorial gears with admirable rapidity. The Illuminati. The Rapture. The All-Seeing eye. Nostradamus. Aliens. Chemtrails. Tick, tick, tick.

I am interrupted from an almost trance-like state by his unorthodox but amusing pronunciation of Fukushima as “Fushushima” and decide that the conversation has gone far enough off-piste, so I ask him about the bug-out team. There are 12 of them, he tells me, plus families; retired law enforcement or military.

Standing uncomfortably close behind me, listening with rapt attention, is Darren Smith, who looks a bit like a movie star; he has the breezy air of the wealthy. He tells me he has already bugged-out – to Belize. There, he and his closed ones are almost completely sustainable, with 10,000 fruit trees, herds of goats, sheep and chickens. Nice, I think.

But Chris seizes on the opportunity to criticise. “Belize? Oh, no no no,” he says, rolling his eyes. “The south Pacific? No, you gotta be at the highest elevations. Colorado will be the highest.”

The news that Colorado would be a good place to go brings Smith to a stop. “But you gotta be out of America, right?” he says. “No, no,” says Chris. “Denver, Wyoming, New Mexico.” Smith looks discomfited.

Before we part, Smith tells me that economically, the western world’s about to fail. “It’s just a cyclical thing.” He says he’s not worried about bogeymen or anything, but says that when the economic system collapses, it could be decades before it’s rebuilt. He’s quite convincing.•

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Richard Waters’ new Financial Times piece anticipates a landscape of powerful digital assistants which don’t only respond to our thoughts but also do the thinking for us, making choices based on…who knows? What’s objectively best for us? Who “bribes” the next-level Siris to win our business? There’s plenty of room for abuse should apps no longer stand alone and erstwhile human decisions become disappeared into the 0s and 1s. The opening:

How smart do you want your smartphone to be? In designing Cortana, the voice-activated “virtual assistant” built into its mobile software, Microsoft is betting that most people are not yet ready to hand too much control of their lives to an artificial brain.

A soft-voiced presence with a slightly sassy attitude drawn from a video game character, Cortana is quite capable of reading your email to see if you have a flight coming up, then using the information to tell you when it is time to leave for the airport.

But Microsoft will not let “her” take the liberty. Instead, the system asks permission, like a discreet human assistant who does not want to assume too much — a step that also helps to confirm the software is on the right track in anticipating your wishes.

“At the moment it’s progressive intelligence, not autonomous intelligence,” says Marcus Ash, group program manager for Cortana, which is enabled on phones with the Windows operating system, including Microsoft’s Lumia devices. People do not want to be surprised by how much their phones are starting to take over, he says: “We made an explicit decision to be a little less ‘magical’ and a little more transparent.”

Niceties like this could soon be a thing of the past. The race is on between some of the biggest tech companies to come up with omniscient guides capable of filtering the complex digital world .

Like the browser wars of the 1990s, the outcome will help to set the balance of power in the next phase of the internet. By channelling attention and making decisions on behalf of their users, virtual assistants will have enormous power to make or break many other businesses. Many companies — from carmakers to entertainment concerns — aim to develop voice-powered assistants of their own to keep their customers loyal. But the future may belong instead to a handful of all-knowing assistants, much as Google’s search engine managed to suck in so many of the world’s queries on the web.

Though it has not reached the point of mass adoption yet, the potential of this new form of artificial intelligence has all the tech companies scrambling.•

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Perhaps it was the Space Race or just the oddness of the decade in general, but in 1966 a Michigan father of ten believed he spotted a UFO in the night sky and soon even the skeptical “girls” of Hillsdale were locating saucers with binoculars. Then the sightings went viral across the nation. Walter Cronkite devoted an hour of CBS airtime to confronting the ridiculous controversy. Rocketeer and space pioneer Willy Ley is interviewed and amusing IBM computer commercials are interspersed.

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Eventually the Big Bang goes bust, the Earth becomes uninhabitable and then eventually the air goes out of the whole tire that is the universe. The finitude galls me. You? A post at The Conversation has Complex System Simulation lecturer James Dyke answering questions about resources and the lack thereof. An excerpt:

Question:

If the world has a finite amount of natural resources, and these resources have been diminishing steadily since the industrial revolution, how is the model of infinite economic growth possibly expected to continue? Doesn’t it have to end eventually?

James Dyke:

This is a good question, however I think it’s possibly something of a red herring. That is, we don’t have to worry too much about ultimate or absolute limits to growth. What we need to worry about is how we move towards such limits from where we are right now.

We have an increasingly narrow space within which to operate, to organise ourselves on Earth. Essentially, we have seriously eroded our choices.

Question:

Do you agree that it is already too late to prevent global catastrophe caused by global warming?

James Dyke:

No. There is nothing physically insurmountable about the challenges we face. I think it’s very important to continually stress that. Yes, in about a billion years time the increase in the size of the sun will mean the death of the biosphere. We have plenty to play for until then.

Sometimes people talk about social transitions. For example in the UK, drunk driving and smoking in pubs/bars. It’s become the norm to do neither and that happened quite quickly. It always seems impossible before it is done.

Question:

Best estimate. How long do we have to spend all our savings before this hits?

James Dyke:

I find it hard to be optimistic about the welfare of some people around the middle to the end of this century if we continue as we are. If we maintain business as usual with regards carbon emissions, biodiversity loss, biogeochemical inputs (we keep exceeding planetary boundaries) then I find it hard to see how our current connected, distributed, industrialised civilisation can function in the way it currently does.

There is no natural law, no physical principle which means the tremendous increases in wellbeing, industrial output, wealth etc observed over the past 300 years have to continue. Consider the broader historical context and you realise we live in extraordinary times. But we have become habituated to this and simply expect the future to resemble the past – and that includes future rates of change.

What largely keeps our current civilisation aloft is fossil fuel use and an unsustainable consumption of natural capital (sometimes discussed in the context of ecosystem services). There are end points for both of these and these end points are decades not centuries away.•

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It’s pretty clear that Jeff Bezos doesn’t have a silver bullet to fire at the vampire world which has feasted on the Washington Post and every other traditional print newspaper, but he has plenty of gold to keep things running and growing until an answer materializes. For that reason, the Post’s chances are much rosier these days, a marked change from the recent period of steep decline. From Isabell Hülsen of Spiegel:

Until a little over a year ago, the Post was a newspaper in a “we’re still here” twilight state. Circulation was declining, as were sales, more than 400 jobs had been cut since 2003 and it was unclear whether the paper stood a chance of surviving. The editorial staff clung to the fact that the Post was still a good newspaper and was still winning Pulitzer prizes — in short, that it was still the Washington Post. But that “we’re still here” attitude was also tinged with an odor of decline.

Since August 2013, a new calendar has begun for the 137-year-old newspaper: B.B. — before Bezos, and A.B. — after Bezos. The Amazon CEO has injected new energy into the editorial staff. Instead of simply bringing in cash to allow the staff to continue the status quo, he plunged the Post into a period of cultural change, determined that the paper would reinvent itself and escape the confines of the printed page.

Bezos wants the paper’s editors and journalists to learn to think big. What does a digital newspaper have to look like in 10 or 20 years to keep millions of readers interested? He has given them time — and a lot of money – to come up with an answer.

Not surprisingly, there is a hint of Amazon in the air at the Post these days. Any experiment that promises to bring in millions of new readers is encouraged and paid for. Bezos reasons that once the Post has penetrated into the lives of millions of Americans, profits will somehow materialize on their own. He applied the same rationale to turn Amazon into the world’s largest Internet retailer, revolutionizing consumption and, with the Kindle, the way we read books.

No Magic Pill To Solve Industry’s Woes

But what exactly is Bezos up to at the Washington Post? Is he trying to turn the old world of newspaper publishers upside-down and provide them with an answer to the question on everyone’s mind: How can journalism survive on the Web? Or is the Post ultimately nothing but an exciting hobby for someone who doesn’t know what to do with all his money?

Bezos’s motives remain a mystery to those at the Post. “But it’s ridiculous to believe that Jeff Bezos came here with a magic pill to solve all the media industry’s problems within a year — that’s a preposterous notion. If he knew already what worked, we would not need any experiments,” says Executive Editor Marty Baron.•

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So sad to learn of Oliver Sacks’ terminal illness. I read The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat at a young age, and I didn’t know what the hell to make of it, so stunned was I to find out that we’re not necessarily in control of our minds. In this piece of writing and so many others, Sacks examined the brain, that mysterious and scary thing, and because of his work as an essayist as well as a doctor, that organ is today a little less mysterious, a little less scary. It doesn’t mean he was always right, but how could anyone be when sailing in such dark waters? Sacks was accused sometimes of being a modern Barnum who used as diverting curiosities those with the misfortune of having minds that played tricks on them–even stranger tricks than the rest of us experience–and sometimes I cringed at the very personal things he would reveal about his subjects, but I always felt he strived to be ethical. We certainly live in an era when the freak show still thrives, albeit in a slickly produced form, but I don’t think that’s where Sacks’ work has ever lived. His prose and narrative abilities grew markedly during his career as he he came to realize–be surprised by?–his own brain’s capabilities. I hope he has a peaceful and productive final chapter. 

A profile of Sacks by Diane Sawyer with good 1969 footage of his work as a young doctor.

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As surprising as it is that so many middle-class youths are drawn today via social media to ISIS, Patty Hearst, practically American royalty, being kidnapped in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army and then converted somehow to its terrorist cause, completely stunned the world. She didn’t go willingly, but she became a willing accomplice, brainwashed probably, though a lot of Americans were unforgiving. It seems like some of the same factors that work for ISIS may have helped the SLA remake the debutante as “Tania.” Whatever the situation, USC psychiatrist Dr. Frederick J. Hacker, whom the family hired while she was still on the lam to help them understand their daughter’s descent into terrorism, probably should not have discussed the case with Barbara Wilkins of People magazine while she was still at large, but he did. An excerpt:

Question:

Why did the Hearsts consult you?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

I had published a book on terrorism in Germany in 1973—dealing with the Olympic tragedy in Munich and the Arab-Israeli situation. In September ’73, I became a negotiator in Vienna between the government and two Arab terrorists. After that, I was invited to speak at Harvard and the State Department and to testify before the House Committee on Internal Security. That was how the Hearsts heard about me and my work.

Question:

When did you get involved in the case of Patricia Hearst?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

When a Mr. Gould of the Hearst newspapers called me up, on behalf of the family, about four weeks after the kidnapping. I went up to Hillsborough to visit the Hearsts. I told them to take the SLA at face value, to take the political message seriously. And I urged them to get a concession for every concession they made.

Question:

What have you discovered about Patty Hearst?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

I had not known her before, of course. By now everyone has read what her life had been. She was an average, intelligent girl. She lived an unspectacular life with her former tutor. She was more liberal than her family but was still relatively conservative. She was totally without political interests. She was sheltered. She’d gone to Europe with some other girls and, prior to Steve [her fiance Steven Weed], she’d had three or four other boyfriends. She was never very close to any of her sisters. The oldest sister, a polio victim, had deep religious convictions. Patty had a bad relationship with her mother, but a fairly good one with her father. They could talk. When she was kidnapped, Patty was picking out her silverware pattern, because she had talked Steve into marrying her.

Question:

What is the lure of the SLA for a girl like Patty Hearst?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

In spite of everything, the sense of close proximity among these people gives a feeling of family, of community and caring. There is shared danger and a sense of strong commitment that is very impressive to the uncommitted.

Question:

Was Patty’s conversion voluntary?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

Everybody asks how voluntary her conversion was. I raise the question, “How intentional was the SLA’s conversion of Patricia?” Maybe they didn’t want to convert her at first. Let’s look at it this way. She’s kidnapped, and she’s frightened and inclined to believe these people are really monsters. Then they treat her very nicely. She begins to talk to them, to the girls. She finds they are very much the kind of people she is—upper-middle-class, intelligent, white kids. She finds a poetess, a sociologist. They tell her how they have found a new ideal and how lousy it was at home. Perhaps she started to think, “Well, at my home it wasn’t so hot either.” This may be what happened. There is a strong possibility, of course, that she was brainwashed. Maybe they did use drugs, although none was found in the bodies after the L.A. shoot-out. …

Question:

Was Patricia in on the kidnapping from the beginning?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

She was undoubtedly a genuine victim. All the talk that she was in cahoots is nonsense. All the evidence, in fact, is against it, including the testimony of her boyfriend, who has no conceivable reason to lie. Why did she have her identification with her? A kidnap victim doesn’t—unless someone else grabs it and takes it along.

Question:

What makes a terrorist?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

A number of different things. Usually the terrorist is imbued with the righteousness of his cause, and fanatacized by the idea of remediable injustice. For example, as long as you could tell women that it was God’s will that they were mistreated by men and that it was irremediable, there was no movement to change things. As soon as it becomes clear that an injustice is not fated, is not obligatory, and that there are alternatives, then the dominant group is in trouble.

Question:

Are there different kinds of terrorists?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

I distinguish three categories—the criminal, the mentally deranged and the political. With the SLA, it is not easy to confine them to one category. They are criminally involved because some of their tactics are criminal. Some actions are loony and the details are ludicrous. When Cinque’s body was found, he was wearing heavy pants, army boots up to his calf and three pairs of woolen socks—in Southern California where the temperature was 80°. He had a compass and a canteen. That’s inappropriate. They stole from that sporting goods store, but they certainly did not need the money. Hundreds and hundreds of dollars were found on all the bodies. Only the outside of the folded money burned. There were nutty elements. What kind of an army is 20 people, or 10 people? They were also political, and that is what made it so hard.

Question:

These radical movements seem to attract middle-and upper-middle-class children rather than the lower-middle-class and poor. Why?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

You are asking who becomes a revolutionary. The leaders of a revolution don’t come from the class they are trying to liberate. The to-be-liberated group doesn’t have the means to lead itself out of oppression.

Question:

What can be done about terrorism?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

First, you must change the “remediable” conditions that produce the terrorist solution—for instance, somehow you get rid of the Palestinian refugee camps. Second, the mass media must effect restraint so that terrorist crime does not become fashionable. Finally, I believe we must establish task forces led by law enforcement executives who are advised by responsible behavioral scientists. •

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Performance Enhancing Drugs may not be fair, but the same can be said of genetics. You can train as hard as you want, but it’s unlikely you’ll ever run as fast as Usain Bolt (unless you are a sheep). Trying to counteract Mother Nature’s clear favoritism, a sporting competition using technology as an equalizer is planned to run concurrent to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, which hopes to have its own robotics angle. From Keiko Sato at Asahi Shimbun:

In a bid to level the playing field of the future, a group of researchers are creating sports that can be contested by anyone with the assistance of robotics and high-tech assistive technologies.

That will allow the young and old, disabled and able-bodied, and professional and amateur alike to compete on an equal footing.

“In line with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, we want to hold a ‘superhuman’ sporting event,” said Masahiko Inami, professor of human enhancement at Keio University Graduate School, at the inaugural meeting of the Superhuman Sports Committee in October, which was held 50 years after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

The group had been developing a plan for the creation of the committee since September 2013, when Tokyo was selected to host the 2020 Games.

Consisting of about 40 members including robotics researchers, prosthetic leg engineers, former professional athletes and game designers, the group aims to create new events, synthesizing various areas of expertise.

Using advanced assistive devices and robotic technologies, even children or those who are not adept at sports can acquire a “superhuman ability” and compete with superior athletes and adults.

But it is not interesting if technology alone determines the outcome, Inami said.

“It is important to create balanced rules so participants can compete using their own strength and sweat to a certain extent,” he said.•

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I was working as an editor at a magazine during Andy Samberg’s first year at SNL, and I’m still annoyed that I wasn’t allowed to run an interview with him like I wanted to in the weeks after the “Lazy Sunday” video he did with Parns had made Youtube into a sensation. I was already familiar with the Lonely Island stuff (The ‘Bu, especially), and I could see where those guys were going to take the show. I asked a talented friend who’s a music and comedy writer to conduct the Q&A, but when I pitched the story in a meeting, I was told this by another editor who had the power to nix such a piece: “I’ve seen Samberg on stage and he isn’t funny.” Oy gevalt!

Youtube, of course, has done much more than humor, finding a place in its decade of existence in major world events, a big piece of the puzzle that has undercut traditional media. It’s been a sword with two edges: Some of that has been great and some of it has been ISIS recruitment. I don’t think it would matter at all if Youtube disappeared today–there would just be other outlets to do the job–but it was the first to civilize (to a certain extent) the wild landscape of visual media on the Internet. And it still regularly amazes me. From Matt Schiavenza at the Atlantic

YouTube videos have played a significant role in many major world events. In Iran, footage of the death of Neda Soltan, a young protester, went viral and accelerated the country’s anti-government demonstrations in 2009. More recently, the Islamic State has relied on Internet videos for propaganda purposes. Earlier this month, ISIS released a film showing Muadh al-Kasasbeh, a Jordanian pilot held hostage by the group, burning to death in a cage. The video sparked widespread outrage in Jordan, whose government promptly vowed retaliation. Online video did not create terrorism—but it reduced the barriers to entry for groups like ISIS to broadcast their message.

“Extremists don’t need a middleman anymore,” wrote Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic last December. “Journalists have been replaced by YouTube.”

The meteoric rise of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter has bolstered the dreams of idealists who want to use technology to solve the world’s problems, a point of view frequently skewered by skeptics like writer Evgeny Morozov. While YouTube’s spread has allowed people to see the world from more points of view, the powers of democratized video can only go so far in pushing along change.•

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A highly automated society needs coders until there is a critical mass of code and then the machines can take over. Whither will the high-tech worker go? From Victoria Stilwell at Bloomberg:

Have you ever worried that robots would one day be the ruin of humanity? According to a newly published paper, you might not be too far off base. 

Four researchers from Boston University and Columbia University simulated an economy featuring two types of workers – high-tech employees who produce new software code, and low-tech workers who produce human services (people such as artists, priests, psychologists and the like). 

At first, high demand for code-writing high-tech employees increases their wages. However, over time, the amount of legacy code grows. As this happens, and as some smart machines become better able to learn tasks, writing new code becomes redundant, the authors state.

Demand for code-writing high-tech workers then becomes limited to those who are needed for general code maintenance like updates and repairs. The rest of the high-tech workers end up going into the service sector, which consequently pushes down wages for employees in that industry. And lower incomes reduce the amount of goods and services that workers are able to buy.

While there can be several of these so-called “boom-bust” tech cycles, over time robots “can leave all future high-tech workers and, potentially, all future low-tech workers worse off,” the paper states. “In short, when smart machines replace people, they eventually bite the hands of those that finance them.”•

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Artist/urban philosopher Liam Young, working with sci-fi writers, has created a trio of dystopian, futuristic cities, including one that exaggerates–somewhat–the intrusion of corporations on metropolitan life, an avenue Ray Bradbury earnestly suggested we pursue in the 1990s. From Shaunacy Ferro at Fast Company, Young’s description of his moving-yet-static vision of “Samsung City”:

“The Samsung city is based on this strange condition in Korea where Samsung, the tech company, had moved into property development,” Young explains, describing a series of Samsung-branded tower blocks that got him thinking about the fact that Apple has revenues comparable to the GDPs of some nations. “What would happen if we started to form brand and nationalistic allegiances to tech companies in the same way we do in countries?”•

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From the September 23, 1895 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Dr. Edward W. Burnette, a New York physician, has died from cancer of the face, contracted from a patient whom he had treated.•

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Oy pioneers! Mars One, which is really unlikely to begin establishing a human colony on our neighboring planet in the next ten years, has just chosen 100 finalists who hope to die on another planet (perhaps sooner than later). One of the “lucky” potential astronauts, Hannah Earnshaw, a UK Ph.D. student who seems like a swell and idealistic person, writes at The Conversation about what will hopefully be a voyage of self-discovery rather than an actual voyage. An excerpt:

When I applied for Mars One, I applied to dedicate my life to the creation of a colony that will have enormous implications for the future of the human race. It’s in many ways a monumental responsibility, a life’s work much bigger than myself, and one for which I feel no qualms about the fact that it’s journey from which there’s no coming back.

I feel very aware of the dreams of all those people who wished to travel in to space, to colonise other planets – and I do so on their behalf, as well as for myself. I want to have lived my life doing something that wasn’t only what I wanted to do, but something that will have a lasting impact on our collective future.

I’m 23, and the past couple of years have been uncertain: stepping through the application for Mars One, even though I’ve made the shortlist of 100 I’m still unsure whether I’ll be selected. Hoping that I am suitable, but ultimately wanting the very best and most capable people to go, I have had to hold two possible futures in my mind.

In one, I complete my PhD, get a place of my own, pursue a career in research or maybe in politics. I get really good at playing piano, I find time to travel to Norway, Italy, Canada, and Japan, and maybe find a husband or wife.

In the other, I leave behind the possibilities of Earth for the possibilities of Mars. Alongside my crew I pioneer planetary scientific research and, as the founding member of a new civilisation, I plant the seeds of a diverse and generous society. I communicate our life to followers on Earth, help establish new policy through which humans explore and settle the stars ethically and responsibly… and maybe find a husband or wife.

Both futures hold so much potential that there will be a real sense of loss when I know which path I am on, but also a real sense of purpose.•

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Newspapers, no longer wanted, are complimentary in hotels, whereas Wi-Fi, desperately desired, comes at a cost. Sounds intuitive, but it actually makes little sense. Chains and boutiques alike are probably better off giving the Internet away for free, using it for marketing and tracking (though, of course, I wish they wouldn’t). From the Economist:

Social media is the single biggest marketing tool these firms have. Not in the sense of setting up a corporate page, but because of guests sharing their experiences in real time with their friends. A report by the European Travel Commission found that about a quarter of leisure travellers turn to social media to check out hotels before booking. They place even more store by looking at travel-review websites like TripAdvisor. 

Hence, no matter how much revenue hotels are earning by squeezing guests, the opportunity cost of making access to the internet expensive is huge. According to Resonance, 24% of Americans update social media at least once a day while travelling. For 18-to-34-year-olds, that figure rises to 51%. An even higher proportion post photos. If customers are not sharing thoughts about hotels during their stay because they do not want to pay for Wi-Fi, firms such as Hilton are chopping their marketing off at the knees. Even more shortsightedly, they are left hoping that those guests who do begrudgingly stump up $19 for 24 hours’ Wi-Fi access are still going to write something nice about their room while waiting in the bar for their equally expensive Coco Locos to arrive.

The good news is that these are the dying days of paid-for Wi-Fi. “In the 19th century hotels charged extra if you wanted hot water for a bath,” says Chris Fair president of Resonance. “In less than a decade, I suspect the idea of paying for internet access at a hotel will seem as ridiculous as the idea of paying for hot water seems to us now.” Some things never change, however. During every business revolution, there will always be those who adapt too late to survive.•

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Because of computerized autopilot systems and a greater understanding of wind shears, flying has never been safer than it is right now. Boarding a domestic carrier in the United States is a particularly low-risk means of travel. But increasingly automated aviation can cause human pilots to experience skill fade, something which has alarmed Nicholas Carr, and now Steve Casner of Slate is concerned about two-pilot cockpits being halved. My assumption is that if accidents remain the rare exception, the automation process will continue apace. An excerpt:

Now that we’ve gone from four pilots to two, and with more automation on the way, you don’t need to be a mind reader to know what the industry is thinking next. The aircraft manufacturer Embraer has already revealed plans for a single-pilot regional jet, and Cessna has produced several small single-pilot jets. (I’m rated to fly this one.) And as my colleagues at NASA are busy studying the feasibility of large single-pilot airliners, a Delta Air Lines pilot made it look easy a few weeks ago when the other pilot was accidentally locked out of the cockpit. But should we be a little nervous about the idea of having just one pilot up there in the front office? The research says maybe so.

Studies show that pilots make plenty of errors. That’s why we have two pilots in the airline cockpit—to construct a sort of human safety net. While one pilot operates the aircraft’s controls, the other pilot keeps watch for occasional errors and tries to point them out before they cause any harm. NASA engineer Everett Palmer likes to sum up the idea with a quip: “To err is human, to be error-tolerant is divine.” Keeping the error-maker and getting rid of the error-catcher may not prove to be very error-tolerant.

Besides, automation doesn’t eliminate human error—it just relocates it. The engineers and programmers who design automation are humans, too. They write complex software that contains bugs and nuances. Pilots often speak of automation surprises in which the computers do something unexpected, occasionally resulting in accidents. Having only one pilot in the cockpit might compromise our ability to make sense of these technological noodle-scratchers when they pop up.•

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Delivery drones may be delayed by legislation driven by fear of injuries and a court system unprepared for such nouveau liabilities, but new federal rules are likely to allow their use by farmers who want to keep a remote eye on their crops. From a Harvest Public Media piece:

On a breezy morning in rural Weld County, Colo., Jimmy Underhill quickly assembles a black and orange drone with four spinning rotors. The machine sits on a dirt patch right next to a corn field, littered with stalks left over from last year’s harvest.

Underhill is a drone technician with Agribotix, a Boulder, Colo.-based drone start up that sees farmers as its most promising market. Underhill is in charge of training his fellow employees how to work the machine in the field.

Punching a few buttons on a remote control with two joysticks, the machine whirs to life. The quadcopter, a toaster-sized machine with four rotors, zips 300 feet into the air directly above our heads, pauses for a moment and then begins to move.

“So it just turned to the east and it’s going to start its lawnmower pattern,” Underhill said.

What makes the drone valuable to farmers is the camera on board. It snaps a high-resolution photo every two seconds. From there, Agribotix stitches the images together, sniffing out problem spots in the process, using infrared technology to look at plant health. Farmers hope that more information about their fields can lead to big savings in their bottom lines. Knowing what’s happening in a field can save a farmer money.•

Producing an infinite bounty of healthy food and clean energy through “artificial photosynthesis” was the stated near-term goal of a group of University of California scientists featured in an article in the January 27, 1955 Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Even the dietary needs of space travelers was given consideration.

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The 1960s video report embedded below about computers includes footage of American college students asking concerned questions about automation and the coming technological unemployment. No different than today, really. Luddite-ism is never the answer, though some political solutions may be required. A couple weeks back, Newsweek referred to its 1965 cover story, “The Challenge of Automation.” An excerpt:

In 1965, America found itself facing a new industrial revolution. The rapid evolution of computers provoked enormous excitement and considerable dread as captains of industry braced themselves for the age of automation.   

Newsweek devoted a special edition to discussing “the most controversial economic concept of the age” in January 1965. “Businessmen love it. Workers fear it. The government frets and investigates and wonders what to do about it,” the report began. “Automation is wiping out about 35,000 jobs every week or 1.8 million per year.”•

DARPA, which put the Internet and its endless cat photos and trolls into our lives, would now like to implant a “modem” in our brains. The department, under the direction of Dr. Arati Prabhakar, has announced its intentions to ambitiously dive into biotechnology with an array of projects. The aforementioned cortex device is not just meant for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s but also to make possible a form of Google Glass without the external hardware. From Peter Rothman’s breathless report at h+:

Dr. [Geoff] Ling portrayed DARPA’s ambitious goals and set out what was one of the clearest presentations of the proactionary principle which I have heard. But that was just the opening volley; DARPA is going full on H+.

Following the inspirational presentation by Dr. Ling, the individual program managers had a chance to present their projects.

The first Program Manager to present, Phillip Alvelda, opened the event with his mind blowing project to develop a working “cortical modem.” What is a cortical modem you ask? Quite simply it is a direct neural interface that will allow for the visual display of information without the use of glasses or goggles. I was largely at this event to learn about this project and I wasn’t disappointed.

Leveraging the work of Karl Deisseroth in the area of optogenetics, the cortical modem project aims to build a low cost neural interface based display device. The short term goal of the project is the development of a device about the size of two stacked nickels with a cost of goods on the order of $10 which would enable a simple visual display via a direct interface to the visual cortex with the visual fidelity of something like an early LED digital clock.

The implications of this project are astounding.

Consider a more advanced version of the device capable of high fidelity visual display. First, this technology could be used to restore sensory function to individuals who simply can’t be treated with current approaches. Second, the device could replace all virtual reality and augmented reality displays. Bypassing the visual sensory system entirely, a cortical modem can directly display into the visual cortex enabling a sort of virtual overlay on the real world. Moreover, the optogenetics approach allows both reading and writing of information. So we can imagine at least a device in which virtual objects appear well integrated into our perceived world. Beyond this, a working cortical modem would enable electronic telepathy and telekinesis. The cortical modem is a real world version of the science fiction neural interfaces envisioned by writers such as William Gibson and more recently Ramez Naam.

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As soon as George Washington University economist Steve Rose looked at the numbers and determined that income inequality has actually decreased since the Great Recession, others in the field immediately pushed back. More certainly will. Whomever you believe, even the bearish on the topic think wealth inequality is still at dangerous levels. Of course, depending on how policy is enacted, it’s not destiny. From a post about Rose’s conclusions by David Leonhardt in the New York Times:

The income of the top 1 percent – both the level and the share of overall income – still hasn’t returned to its 2007 peak. Their average income is about 20 percent below that peak. Yet we have all become so accustomed to rising inequality that we seem to have lost the ability to consider the alternative. Maybe it’s because many liberals are tempted to believe inequality is always getting worse, while many conservatives are tempted to believe that the Obama economy is always getting worse.

The numbers, however, make clear that inequality isn’t destined to rise. Not only can economic forces, like a recession, reduce it, but government policy can, too. And Washington’s recent efforts to fight inequality – as imperfect and restrained as they’ve been – have made a bigger difference than many people realize.

The existing safety net of jobless benefits, food stamps and the like cushioned the blow of the so-called Great Recession. So did the stimulus bill that President Obama signed in 2009 and some smaller bills passed afterward. “Not only were low-income people protected – middle-income and some higher income-households had much lower losses because of these public policies,” Mr. Rose said. “For those who think government programs never work, maybe they need to think again.”

Before diving into the numbers on the government’s role, let’s start with the pretax statistics. These are the data on what’s happened before the government redistributes income through taxes and benefits.•

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Here’s a real rarity: Walter Cronkite and Bill Stout of CBS News interviewing authors Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke about the future of space exploration on the day of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The two writers (and Cronkite) were inebriated by the excitement of the moment, believing we would in short shrift colonize the universe. Clarke thought travel to other planets would end war on Earth, which, of course, has not yet come close to occurring. Heinlein called for female astronauts, saying “it does not take a man to run a spaceship.” Both believed the first baby born in space would be delivered before the end of the twentieth century, and Heinlein was sure there would be retirement communities established on the moon in that same time frame. Go here to view the video

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