Urban Studies

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I’m always stunned how some Germans who supported the rise of Hitler maintain a naivete about their role in the horrors, even in retrospect. The denial of culpability runs so deep.

An AMA at Reddit with an unnamed 92-year-old woman (aided by her grandson) who’s spent her entire life in Stuttgart falls into this category, and it’s a fascinating discussion. “We were normal people who did not want to harm anyone,” she says of the Germans who pledged allegiance to Nazism, yet so many were hurt, so many killed. The collective delusion that allowed for such atrocities has never fully lifted. A few exchanges below.

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Question:

During Hitler’s rise to power before the war in 1933, did all Germans, including yourself, love him? I mean, he did bring back Germany’s lost honour and economy from World War I. When did the general mood toward Hitler change? What did he do? Did you support him during the war?

Answer:

Everybody was enthusiastic about Adolf, nobody hated him or anything like that. That did not change until the end. I don’t know, I was a young girl. We were young and naive.

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Question:

Did you ever see Hitler himself? At a rally or such?

Answer:

Yes at Obersalzberg I stood right beside him and when he visited the “Hitlerjugend” in Berchtesgaden (Upper Bavaria) I saw him again.

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Question:

What did you think of the SS?

Answer:

Of course: the elite. They were attractive men and every girl adored them. They were tall and sportive and good-mannered and their uniforms were great. (Grandson: I asked her if they heard bad things about the SS. She shook her head.)

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Question:

Looking back, what was the most shocking thing you experienced in the time of Nazi Germany?

Answer:

In the “Hindenburg-Bau” (a building in Stuttgart), there was a dance-cafe every Sunday. I was there many times with my friends. There was a musician who played his guitar singing: “Es geht alles vorüber, es geht alles vorbei, auch Adolf Hitler und seine scheiß Partei.” (Translation: “Everything, everything will come to an end. So will Adolf Hitler and his crappy party NSDAP.”) There was a table with officers in the cafe, one of them stood up, pulled out his gun and shot the musician in his breast. He was instantly dead and they pulled his dead body out of the cafe. That was very horrible.

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Question:

Are there any popular misconceptions about what average people were like in Nazi Germany? Was there some kind of normalcy and optimism around daily life, or was there a encroaching sense of dread regarding the horrendous things happening in Germany and abroad?

Answer:

We were normal people who did not want to harm anyone. Everybody was optimistic in terms of the war. There was a daily dose of fear, because so many men we knew were at war and we never knew if a bomb would hit the house. We stayed in the cellar and begged that we would survive.

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Question:

What was, if any, the punishment for knowing you lived around Jewish families but not declaring that to the government?

Answer:

We didn’t know of anyone who hid Jews. But if anyone did, they would have had bad times. There was a Jew named Arnold, who owned a nearby [factory], he was a good man. He gave anyone asking him work and paid his workers well. He never let anyone down. (Grandson: I asked her if they took him away. “Yes they came and arrested him.”)

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Question:

Did you see the trains filled with Jews or shops that were owned by Jews after Krystalnacht?

Answer:

No, I don’t know. They were arrested, but we didn’t know where they brought them or what happened to them at that time.

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Question:

Propaganda was undoubtedly used throughout the war. Was she and her colleagues, friends or family aware of what was propaganda/true/untrue? Was it even discussed at all at the time? I’m guessing it would be dangerous to do so, but that probably didn’t stop it being discussed completely.

Answer:

Yes we discussed a lot, but I don’t remember if anyone said that all the propaganda is false. They would not have been allowed to. Hitlerjugend and BDM were strong organisations, there was no chance for going against common beliefs.

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Question:

When did you realize Germany hadn’t a chance to win the war?

Answer:

We always believed in the victory. Even after Stalingrad. Absolutely.

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Question:

How do you feel about the trial of Oskar Groening? He is 93 and on trial for working at Auschwitz as a bookkeeper/accountant.

Answer:

Insane. You cannot judge anyone 70 years later. Life is hard enough at 93. They cannot imagine how hard. I bet he regrets the things he has done or had to do without a trial.

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Question:

Thinking back, does anything about the tense climate in today’s political scene remind you of anything that happened before the war broke out?

Answer:

We only get to know what happens in the world after it happened. We have no influence on the things happening and we have to rely on those men and women who do.•

 

If you want to stop bubonic plague, killing as many cats and dogs as possible is probably not the most effective gambit. But that’s what the Mayor of London opted to do in 1665, putting down nearly a quarter-million predators of rats, which carried the lethal fleas. 

While we have a far greater understanding of epidemiology than our counterparts in the 17th century, we still probably accept some asinine ideas as gospel. In a Medium essay, Weldon Kennedy questions our faith in ourselves, naming three contemporary beliefs he feels are incorrect.

I’ll propose one: It’s wrong that children, who are wisely banned from frequenting bars and purchasing cigarettes, are allowed to eat at fast-food restaurants, which set them up for a lifetime of unhealthiness. Ronald McDonald and Joe Camel aren’t so different.

Kennedy’s opening:

In 19th century London, everyone was certain that bad air caused disease. From cholera to the plague: if you were sick, everyone thought it was because of bad air. It was called the Miasma Theory.

As chronicled in The Ghost Map, it took the physician John Snow years, and cost thousands of lives, to finally disprove the Miasma Theory. He mapped every cholera death in London and linked it back to the deceased’s source of water, and still it took years for people to believe him. Now miasma stands as a by-word for widely held pseudo-scientific beliefs widely held throughout society.

The problem for Snow was that no one could see cholera germs. As a result, he, and everyone else of the time, was forced to measure other observable phenomenon. Poor air quality was aggressively apparent, so it’s easy to see how it might take the blame.

Thankfully, our means of scientific measurement have improved vastly since then. We should hope that any such scientific theory lacking a grounding in observable data would now be quickly discarded.

Where our ability to measure still lags, however, it seems probable that we might still have miasmatic theories.•

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If it quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck, and Jean-Marie Le Pen and his youngest daughter, Marine, are a couple of ducks.

The former and current leaders of the National Front Party are at odds these days, as Marine attempts to provide the far-right French political group with a more polished and professional face than her loose-cannon dad ever did. But the FN brand of nationalism, even when espoused more politely, is still loathsome and unsettling. From Lucy Westcott’s Newsweek interview:

Newsweek:

Can you see any comparisons between the French and U.S. immigration systems?

Marine Le Pen:

France is different from the U.S.A.’s El Dorado, American Dream image. Millions of people hope to find a better future here. There’s a big difference between France and the U.S. In the U.S., immigrants must work to live. In France, they’re taken care of by public finances. In France, there are millions of unemployed people already. We cannot house them, give them health care, education…finance people who keep coming and coming. The weight is very, very heavy now.

Newsweek:

Do you think France could benefit from an immigration system more like that of the U.S.?

Marine Le Pen:

In general, France always imports from the U.S., but this doesn’t really work. If we could, we’d import a measure that’s consistent: If you come, you’ll have to live by your own means. We do not have the means, the money, to give you free health care, free schools. [This would] dissuade immigrants from coming.

Newsweek:

You’re in the U.S. as European leaders are getting ready to meet to find a solution to the enormous crisis of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean en route to a better life in Europe. What can be done to find a solution and what role can France play?

Marine Le Pen:

Politics shouldn’t invite those deadly trips, all of them are very dangerous. We need to stop the boats and put the immigrants in safety, but also bring them back to their points of origin. In Europe it’s a huge call, an open call, for people to risk their lives in the Mediterranean. [The National Front released a statement after a boat capsized last weekend, killing up to 800 people, calling it aparticularly terrible and shocking tragedy.”]

But we should ask the right questions: Who is responsible for that? Who is responsible for this huge crisis in Libya, for example, for those massive waves of illegal immigration? American leaders and French leaders.

Sarkozy is the guilty one in this situation because he contributed to the Islamist fundamentalist in power over there, with all the consequences that you now know about. [Last Monday, Le Pen blamed former French president Nicolas Sarkozy for the migrant crisis due to his 2011 invasion of Libya.]•

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“They destroyed Ambersons, and it destroyed me,” Orson Welles said, lamenting RKO’s decision to chop up his 1942 adaptation of the Booth Tarkington novel The Magnificent Ambersons. The studio cut significant footage from the movie and changed the ending, and though some hold out hope that an original print was secreted to South America and survives today, no film cans have ever surfaced.

In an April 12, 1942 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article published three months before the company released the mutilated version, Welles told a story about the lengths he’d gone to make a work as great as Citizen Kane. He claimed that in order to get a shot no one had been able to previously master, he hired a circus strongman named Badajoz as a freelance cameraman.

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Comparing delivery drones to mobile phones seems an odd choice–or at least only half the answer.

Drones may soon be ubiquitous as smartphones, as one analyst asserts in Lucy Ingham’s sanguine Factor-Tech piece, “Forget the Fear,” but they have the ability to be as destructive as guns, even more, actually. Is that a pizza or a book or a bomb that’s coming our way? Drones will likely be ever-present soon and will do a lot of good, but even if they’re closely regulated, it’ll be easy to rig up your own and deliver whatever you want to someone–even fear. 

The piece’s opening:

Drones are set for mass proliferation, despite commonly voiced concerns about privacy and use, according to a leading British aviation safety expert.

Speaking at a panel discussion during SkyTech, a UAV conference held today in London, Gerry Corbett, UAS programme lead for the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s Safety and Airspace Regulation Group, said that people would have to get used to the presence of drones in urban areas.

“Society has to accept that we’re going to see a lot more of these flying around towns and cities,” he said.

“We’ll have to get used to them, much like we did with mobile phones.”

However, in order for this to happen, regulation will need to improve in order to ensure that the drones are safe.•

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Recent law-school graduates are having a hell of a time securing jobs in their chosen profession. (According to the New York Times, only 40% of 2010 grads are currently employed in the field.) At Forbes, Reuven Gorsht wonders if things will soon get worse, whether middle-skill work, including law, will ultimately be largely automated. The opening:

Sarah is at the top of her game.  She’s been climbing the ladder at one of the top legal firms in the country.   If all goes according to plan, she will likely make partner in the next 5 years.   She worked hard to get to where she is today.   Working part-time jobs to put herself through law school and using her incredible work ethic and smarts to win the trust of clients and colleagues through clerking and as an associate.

“Won’t lawyers be replaced by computers in the next 10 years?” I say to her.   She rolls her eyes and brushes me off.   “I’m serious.” I said.   “There’s no way a machine can do what I’m doing! Sure robots can eventually replace low-end and repeatable job, but it can never match my education, work experience and relationships with my clients.” responds Sarah.

Is Sarah correct, or should highly skilled and educated professionals like Sarah be worried about their jobs being automated and done by robots and machines?•

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In America, the main difference between rich people and poor people is that rich people have money.

It sounds obvious, but think about it: Many of the behaviors said to be responsible for the financially challenged being in the state they’re in aren’t limited to them. Poor people sometimes are raised in broken homes and such families have greater obstacles to success. But well-to-do people also divorce; they just have more money to divide. Some poorer folks drink and use drugs which keeps them trapped in a cycle of poverty. True, but wealthier Americans suffer from all sorts of addictions as well and spend the necessary funds to get the help they need. There are people of lesser means who don’t work hard enough to thrive in school, but the same can be said for some of their wealthier counterparts. The latter just have families with enough money to create an educational path they don’t warrant based on their performance.

Pretty much any lifestyle blamed for poverty is lived by rich and poor folk alike.

You could say that if you’re coming from a less-privileged background you should be sure to avoid these habits because you can’t afford them like people with money can, and I suppose that’s true. But even if you stay on the straight path, we shouldn’t pretend we live in a perfect meritocracy which automatically rewards such clear-headed decisions. We all fall, but some have a net to catch them. Sometimes it’s been earned through hard work and luck, and often it’s woven from inherited money and connections.

From 

The director of Harvard admissions has said that being a ‘Harvard legacy’ – the child of a Harvard graduate – is just one of many ‘tips’ in the college’s admissions process, such as coming from an ‘under-represented state’ (Harvard likes to have students from all 50), or being on the ‘wish list’ of an athletic coach. For most applicants to Harvard, the acceptance rate is around 5 per cent; for applicants with a parent who attended Harvard, it’s around 30 per cent. (One survey found that 16 per cent of Harvard undergraduates have a parent who went to Harvard.) A Harvard study from a few years ago shows that after controlling for other factors that might influence admission (such as, say, grades), legacies are more than 45 per cent more likely to be admitted to the 30 most selective American colleges than non-legacies.

Preferential admission for legacies ought to be an anachronism, not least because it overwhelmingly benefits rich white students. Harvard’s admissions director defends the practice by claiming that legacies ‘bring a special kind of loyalty and enthusiasm for life at the college that makes a real difference in the college climate… and makes Harvard a happier place.’ That ‘special kind of loyalty’ can express itself in material ways. Graduates with family ties – four generations of Harvard men! – are assumed to be particularly generous, and they cut colleges off when their children don’t get in.•

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Can I interview you in the nude over the phone?

Hello,

I am doing a project around the world. I would like to call you on the phone and in the nude.

I will ask you under 20 questions and hopefully you will answer them.

We will both sit in the nude but we will not see each other and neither of us will reveal our names.

The questions are of a non-sexual nature, just nice questions.

Please get in touch if you would like to take part.

Send your phone number and a day when you would like to receive the call.

Thank you,

Warm regards.

In “Dickheads,” an excellent Baffler essay, David Graeber measures the sociological and historical significance of the necktie, which he believes to be a phallus (how it’s shaped, where it points) full of cultural meaning about power. An excerpt:

So what does any of this have to do with neckties? Well, at first glance, the paradox has only deepened. If the message of the suit is that its wearer is a largely invisible, abstract, and generic creature to be defined by his ability to act, then the decorative necktie makes little sense.

But let’s examine other forms of decoration allowed in formal attire and see if a larger pattern of sartorial power begins to emerge. Decoration that’s specific to women (earrings, lipstick, eyeshadow, etc.) tends to highlight the receptive organs. Permissible men’s jewelry—rings, cuff links, fancy watches—tends to accentuate the hands. This is, of course, consistent: it is through the hands that one acts upon the world. There’s also the tie clip, but that’s not really a problem. The tie and the cuff links seem to fulfill their functions in parallel, each adding a little decoration to tighten a spot where human flesh sticks out, namely the neck and wrists. They also help seal off the exposed bits from the remainder of the body, which remains effaced, its contours largely invisible.

This observation, I think, points the way to the resolution of our paradox. After all, the male body in a suit does contain a third potentially obtrusive element that is most definitely not exposed, something that, in fact, is not indicated in any way, even though one does have to take it out, periodically, to pee. Suits have to be tailored to allow for urination, which also has to be done in such a way that nobody notices. The fly (which is invisible) is a bourgeois innovation, much unlike earlier aristocratic styles, such as the European codpiece, that often drew explicit attention to the genital region. This is the one part of the male body whose contours are entirelyeffaced. If hiding something is a way of declaring it a form of power, then hiding the male genitals is a way of declaring masculinity itself a form of power. It’s not just that the tie sits on precisely the spot that, in women’s formal wear, tends to be the most sexualized (the cleavage). A tie resembles a penis in shape, and points directly at it. Couldn’t we say that a tie is really a symbolic displacement of the penis, only an intellectualized penis, dangling not from one’s crotch but from one’s head, chosen from among an almost infinite variety of other ties by an act of mental will?

Hey, this would explain a lot…•

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From the October 29, 1889 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Putting ants to shame, Stanford University’s Biomimetics Dextrous Manipulation Laboratory has produced tiny robots, which operate similar to inchworms, that can haul 100 hundred times their weight. Huge long-term implications for construction and emergency rescues, like the one we’re currently witnessing in Nepal. From Aviva Rutkin at New Scientist:

Mighty things come in small packages. The little robots in this video can haul things that weigh over 100 times more than themselves.

The super-strong bots – built by mechanical engineers at Stanford University in California – will be presented next month at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle, Washington.

The secret is in the adhesives on the robots’ feet. Their design is inspired by geckos, which have climbing skills that are legendary in the animal kingdom. The adhesives are covered in minute rubber spikes that grip firmly onto the wall as the robot climbs. When pressure is applied, the spikes bend, increasing their surface area and thus their stickiness. When the robot picks its foot back up, the spikes straighten out again and detach easily.

The bots also move in a style that is borrowed from biology.•

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When people defend CEO pay, they often argue that business leaders like Steve Jobs deserve every cent they get, without mentioning how these are the most extreme outliers. There are also CEOs like probable Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, who did a really cruddy job running Hewlett-Packard, collected a monumental golden parachute when she was fired and was safely out the door when thousands of employees lost their jobs. Okay, maybe she’s an outlier also, but your average company leader isn’t an innovator (that word) but a steward. They’re very overpaid.

Automation has allowed many of these corporate titans to reduce staff over the past decade and the practice will likely continue apace, but that blade has two edges, and the received wisdom of the importance of the CEO will likely be threatened by technology as well. 

From Devin Fidler at Harvard Business Review:

For the last several years, we have been studying the forces now shaping the future of work, and wondering whether high-level management could be automated. This inspired us to create prototype software we informally dubbed “iCEO.” As the name suggests, iCEO is a virtual management system that automates complex work by dividing it into small individual tasks. iCEO then assigns these micro-tasks to workers using multiple software platforms, such as oDesk, Uber, and email/text messaging. Basically, the system allows a user to drag-and-drop “virtual assembly lines” into place, and run them from a dashboard.

But could iCEO manage actual work projects for our organization? After a few practice runs, we were ready to find out. For one task, we programmed iCEO to oversee the preparation of a 124-page research report for a prestigious client (a Fortune 50 company). We spent a few hours plugging in the parameters of the project, i.e. structuring the flow of tasks, then hit play. For instance, to create an in-depth assessment of how graphene is produced, iCEO asked workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to curate a list of articles on the topic. After duplicates were removed, the list of articles was passed on to a pool of technical analysts from oDesk, who extracted and arranged the articles’ key insights. A cohort of Elance writers then turned these into coherent text, which went to another pool of subject matter experts for review, passing them on to a sequence of oDesk editors, proofreaders, and fact checkers.

iCEO routed tasks across 23 people from around the world, including the creation of 60 images and graphs, followed by formatting and preparation. We stood back and watched iCEO execute this project. We rarely needed to intervene, even to check the quality of individual components of the report as they were submitted to iCEO, or spend time hiring staff, because QA and HR were also automated by iCEO. (The hiring of oDesk contractors for this project, for example, was itself an oDesk assignment.)

We were amazed by the quality of the end result — and the speed with which it was produced.•

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In “The World in 2025,” IKEA has a dozen predictions for how life will change a decade into the future. Perhaps by that year, IKEA will have hired copyeditors because the piece surprisingly has lots of typos (which I’ve removed below). You expect that kind of slapdash nonsense from Afflictor but not from Scandinavian perfectionists! A quartet of the preognostications:

Our homes will become physically smaller

As populations age and we have less children, there will be a trend toward less people per household. Increasing real estate and transport costs in cities will favour denser living. Spaces will have to work harder in order to accommodate multiple uses by multiple people.

How might we create multifunctional spaces?

Computers will be everywhere

Even simple devices will be equipped with sensors, CPUs and transmitting devices, allowing for communication with the user, but also with each other, creating self-regulating systems.

How might we ensure that a computerised kitchen doesn’t lose its humanity?

‘Shopping’ will mean ‘home delivery’

Shopping will be seamless and impulsive. The physical act of going into a shop will be more about learning and exploration than purchasing. Instead, we will be able to purchase items digitally and have them delivered by robots, wherever we are, within minutes.

How might we integrate outside services into our kitchen behaviours?

Food will be more expensive

As populations grow, and as developing countries’ diets incorporate more meat, supply constraints will push the cost of food higher, by 40% according to some estimates.

How might we ensure that we make the most of what we use?•

An excellent New York Times short-form video report “Cheaper Robots, Fewer Workers” by Jonah M. Kessel and Taige Jensen delves into the automation of labor in China, which claims it suffers a shortage of workers in some provinces and districts despite its immense population in the aggregate. Chinese firms say employees displaced by faster, cheaper machines are offered better positions, but that appears, unsurprisingly, to not be the case.

You probably wouldn’t want to live in a country left behind by robotics, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t great societal challenges for those nations that thrive in this new age.

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From the February 1, 1937 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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In a Harvard Business Review piece, Brad Power looks at the timetable of AI entering the business place in earnest. In the “What’s Next” section, he handicaps the horizon, though I caution that he bases part of his ideas on a bold prediction by Ray Kurzweil, who is brilliant but sometimes wildly inaccurate. An excerpt:

As Moore’s Law marches on, we have more power in our smartphones than the most powerful supercomputers did 30 or 40 years ago. Ray Kurzweil has predicted that the computing power of a $4,000 computer will surpass that of a human brain in 2019 (20 quadrillion calculations per second). What does it all mean for the future of AI?

To get a sense, I talked to some venture capitalists, whose profession it is to keep their eyes and minds trained on the future. Mark Gorenberg, Managing Director at Zetta Venture Partners, which is focused on investing in analytics and data startups, told me, “AI historically was not ingrained in the technology structure. Now we’re able to build on top of ideas and infrastructure that didn’t exist before. We’ve gone through the change of Big Data. Now we’re adding machine learning. AI is not the be-all and end-all; it’s an embedded technology. It’s like taking an application and putting a brain into it, using machine learning. It’s the use of cognitive computing as part of an application.” Another veteran venture capitalist, Promod Haque, senior managing partner at Norwest Venture Partners, explained to me, “if you can have machines automate the correlations and build the models, you save labor and increase speed. With tools like Watson, lots of companies can do different kinds of analytics automatically.”

Manoj Saxena, former head of IBM’s Watson efforts and now a venture capitalist, believes that analytics is moving to the “cognitive cloud” where massive amounts of first- and third-party data will be fused to deliver real-time analysis and learning. Companies often find AI and analytics technology difficult to integrate, especially with the technology moving so fast; thus, he sees collaborations forming where companies will bring their people with domain knowledge, and emerging service providers will bring system and analytics people and technology. Cognitive Scale (a startup that Saxena has invested in) is one of the new service providers adding more intelligence into business processes and applications through a model they are calling “Cognitive Garages.” Using their “10-10-10 method” they deploy a cognitive cloud in 10 seconds, build a live app in 10 hours, and customize it using their client’s data in 10 days. Saxena told me that the company is growing extremely rapidly.•

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How soon will it be until robots walk among us, handling the drudgery and making us all unemployed hobos? It probably depends on how much time the geniuses at MIT waste conducting Ask Me Anythings at Reddit. Ross Finman, Patrick R. Barragán and Ariel Anders, three young roboticists at the school, just did such a Q&A. A few exchanges follow.

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Question:

  1. How far away are we from robo-assisted “personal care”?
  2. Given the chance, would either of you augment (with current and newly developed equipment) yourselves, and if so: to what extent?

Ross Finman:

1) Well… cop out answer, but it depends. Fully autonomous health care robots that would fully displace human health care professionals will be decades. The level of difficulty in that job (and difficulty for robots is deviation) is immense. Smaller aspects can be automated, but as a whole, a long time.

2) I would love to augment my brain with access to the internet. When hitting a problem and then taking the time to go and search online for the solution is so inefficient. If that could be done in thoughts, that would be awesome! Also, one of my friends is working on a wearable version of Facebook that could remind you when you know someone. Would avoid those awkward situations when you pretend to know someone.

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Question:

What is currently the most challenging aspect of developing artificial intelligence? (i.e. What are the roadblocks to me getting a mechanical slave?)

Patrick R. Barragán:

This question is pretty general, and most people will have different answers on the topic. I think there are many big problems with developing AI. I think one is representation. It is hard in a general way to think about how to represent a problem or parts of a problem to even begin to think about how to solve it. For example, what are the real differences between a cup and bowl even if humans could easily distinguish them. There is a representation question there for one very specific type of problem. On the other end of the spectrum, how to deal with the huge amount of information that we humans get every moment of every day in the context a robot or computer is also unclear. What do you pay attention to? What do you ignore? How much to your process all the little things that happen? How do you reuse information that you learned later? How do you learn it in the first place?

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Question:

I remember reading this article about robot sex becoming a mainstream thing in 2050, according to a few robotics experts:

http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/256430

Do you agree or disagree with this assertion?

Patrick R. Barragán:

I guess it’s possible, but if that is where we end up first on this train, I would be surprised. The article that you linked to suggests that people have built robots for all kind of things, and it suggests that those robots work, are deployed, and are now solutions to problems. Those suggestions, which pervade media stories about robotics, are not accurate. We have produced demonstrations of robots that can do certain things, but those sorts of robots that might sound like precursors before we get to “important” sex robots don’t exist in any general way yet.

Also, I don’t know anyone who is working on it or thinks they should be.

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Question:

Do you think programming should be a required course in all American schools? Do you believe everyone can be benefited by knowing programming skills?
 

Ariel Anders:

Required? No. Beneficial? Definitely.

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Question:

Will a computer be able to learn from it’s mistakes in the future?

Ross Finman:

Will humans be able to learn from their mistakes in the future?•

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The upside to the financial crisis of a medium, say like magazines with their economic model tossed into the crapper by technological progress, is that publications are forced to reinvent themselves, get innovative and try offbeat things. In that spirit, the resuscitated Newsweek assigned Wikileaks editor (not “self-styled editor”) Julian Assange to review Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man.

And what a gleefully obnoxious pan he delivers, making some salient points along the way, even if it’s not exactly unexpected that he would be bilious toward traditional media in favor of alterna-journalists like himself. Additionally: Assange proves he is a very funny writer. You know, just like Bill Cosby.

An excerpt:

In recent years, we have seen The Guardian consult itself into cinematic history—in the Jason Bourne films and others—as a hip, ultra-modern, intensely British newspaper with a progressive edge, a charmingly befuddled giant of investigative journalism with a cast-iron spine.

The Snowden Files positions The Guardian as central to the Edward Snowden affair, elbowing out more significant players like Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras for Guardian stablemates, often with remarkably bad grace.

“Disputatious gay” Glenn Greenwald’s distress at the U.K.’s detention of his husband, David Miranda, is described as “emotional” and “over-the-top.” My WikiLeaks colleague Sarah Harrison—who helped rescue Snowden from Hong Kongis dismissed as a “would-be journalist.”

I am referred to as the “self-styled editor of WikiLeaks.” In other words, the editor of WikiLeaks. This is about as subtle as Harding’s withering asides get. You could use this kind of thing on anyone.

Flatulent Tributes

The book is full of flatulent tributes to The Guardian and its would-be journalists. “[Guardian journalist Ewen] MacAskill had climbed the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc and the Jungfrau. His calmness now stood him in good stead.” Self-styled Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger is introduced and reintroduced in nearly every chapter, each time quoting the same hagiographic New Yorker profile as testimony to his “steely” composure and “radiant calm.”

That this is Hollywood bait could not be more blatant.•

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In China, the leading cause of death is now cancer (and the mortality rate from the disease considerably higher than the world average), so you’d think the government would have its hands full with that issue. But they still have time to be concerned about “funeral strippers,” an admittedly strange lure to draw mourners to a service. There’s an official crackdown on the practice. From Te-Ping Chen and Josh Chin at WSJ:

In China, friends and family of the deceased may have to do without a special form of funereal entertainment: strippers.

According to a statement from the Ministry of Culture on Thursday, the government plans to work closely with the police to eliminate such performances, which are held with the goal of drawing more mourners.

Pictures of a funeral in the city of Handan in northern Hebei province last month showed a dancer removing her bra as assembled parents and children watched. They were widely circulated online, prompting much opprobrium. In its Thursday statement, the Ministry of Culture cited “obscene” performances in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu, as well as in Handan, and pledged to crack down on such lascivious last rites.

In the Handan incident earlier this year, the ministry said, six performers had arrived to offer an erotic dance at the funeral of an elderly resident. Investigators were dispatched and the performance was found to have violated public security regulations, with the person responsible for the performing troupe in question detained administratively for 15 days and fined 70,000 yuan (about $11,300), the statement said. The government condemned such performances for corrupting the social atmosphere.•

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Driverless cars, when and if they’re perfected, won’t require as much protective weight since crashes would be greatly reduced. That will somewhat restrain the costs of this new machine, but there are other reasons why the hardware won’t be prohibitive once the software is a reality. It will cost more initially, but perhaps not as much as expected. From Alex Davies at Wired:

The cost of self-driving cars isn’t often discussed, mostly because we’re still years from commercial production, and because there are much tougher questions to answer before we can talk money. But a new report on the market for and development of self-driving cars, by the Boston Consulting Group, offers some estimates. And partly thanks to that affordable hardware, they’re not that high.

According to the group’s research, urban and autopilot will each add about $5,500 to a car’s price tag. You can have a car that parks itself for an extra $2,000. If you want full autonomy—the ability to drive anywhere, with no human input—get ready to add $10,000 to the price tag, at least in the first 10 years the technology’s on the market.

“The technology is already there,” says Xavier Mosquet, head of Boston Consulting Group’s North America automotive division.

Hardware falls into three categories: sensors, processors, and actuators. Given the high level of electronics in today’s car, actuators—the bits that allow a computer to physically do things like brake, change gears, and steer—don’t pose a problem.•

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The price of space travel has never fallen as precipitously as some predicted, so the cost of transporting building materials to set up permanent colonies is prohibitive. The answer is to construct communities once travelers reach the moon and planets and asteroids. NASA is planning to begin that phase of nation-building in space in the next couple of years with the aid of 3D printers. From Conor Gaffey at Newsweek:

NASA are aiming to introduce 3D printers into spacecraft within two years, allowing astronauts to set up permanent habitats on other planets and even print their own food.

In an interview with Newsweek, NASA’s 3D printing chief Niki Werkheiser says the technology will revolutionise space travel by allowing astronauts to be away from year for years on exploration missions without relying on ground control.

Current costs for space transportation are $10,000 per pound of mass. The development therefore has the potential to save millions of dollars as astronauts can travel light and print essentials on demand whilst in space.

NASA is currently developing its largest rocket yet, the Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS is due to make its first test flight in 2017 and Werkheiser says her team are working to get a 3D printer on-board.

So far, Werkheiser’s team at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama have produced several rocket components and a small wrench with the technology and yesterday the team announced the first successful print of a copper engine part for rockets.

However, they are working on much more exciting projects, including printing parts for a small shelter using substitutes for Martian and lunar sand – the theory being that astronauts could one day use the printers to build themselves habitats on extraterrestrial surfaces.•

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Obamacare, as it was derisively labeled by those who wanted to scare us from it, has been one of our nation’s most successful large-scale pieces of legislation in recent memory. It’s expanded insurance tremendously, slowed formerly ballooning costs and would seem to be a long-term job creator. (Diagnostics and service aspects of medicine may soon be automated, but many other positions will require a human element for the foreseeable future.) Even Tea Party representatives have enjoyed the benefits.

You would think the populace would be thrilled, but poll numbers stubbornly suggest that the Affordable Healthcare Act has turned off much of the nation to a further sharing of our responsibility for one another. I don’t think of this as a victory for the GOP PR machine. I’m not one of those people who believe that the matter with Kansas is that the citizens have been hoodwinked. The matter with Kansas is Kansans, and to extrapolate that, the matter with America is Americans. I don’t believe we’re fooled. I think we often see things through ideology rather than by results, and that’s a dangerous stance, especially if we are headed for greater wealth inequality, encouraged by AI which will reduce employment opportunities. Perhaps futurists in Silicon Valley believe we’re entering an age of technological socialism, but the people are not enamored with such an idea, even if it would benefit them. From Thomas Edsall at the New York Times:

With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, the share of Americans convinced that health care is a right shrank from a majority to a minority.

This shift in public opinion is a major victory for the Republican Party. It is part of a larger trend: a steady decline in support for redistributive government policies. Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at Berkeley and one of the nation’s premier experts on inequality, is a co-author of a study that confirms this trend, which has been developing over the last four decades. A separate study,The Structure of Inequality and Americans’ Attitudes Toward Redistribution,” found that as inequality increases, so does ideological conservatism in the electorate.

The erosion of the belief in health care as a government-protected right is perhaps the most dramatic reflection of these trends. In 2006, by a margin of more than two to one, 69-28, those surveyed by Gallup said that the federal government should guarantee health care coverage for all citizens of the United States. By late 2014, however, Gallup found that this percentage had fallen 24 points to 45 percent, while the percentage of respondents who said health care is not a federal responsibility nearly doubled to 52 percent.•

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I would love to know if Elon Musk originally viewed Tesla as solely an automaker and realized he had another business, maybe a better one, selling batteries consumers could use to power their homes when some began to repurpose them to do just that.

Electric cars often need power stations between points A and B, houses and commercial buildings don’t have that challenge, and while the company still has plenty of near-term challenges, a developing non-mobile market could ultimately be gigantic. And that’s a market that Tesla has now fully dived into. The opening of Klint Finley’s astute Wired piece labeling Tesla as primarily a battery company:

TESLA IS ADMIRED for building the cars of the future. But it’s not really a car company. It’s a battery company that happens to make electric cars.

At least, that’s the trajectory suggested by the news that Tesla will soon sell mega-batteries for homes and electric utility companies. CEO Elon Musk mentioned the possibility during an earnings call last February, and the plan was reportedly confirmed in an investor letter revealed yesterday. The official announcement is set to come next week.

Selling batteries for homes, businesses, and utilities may seem like a departure for a car company. But for Tesla, it makes perfect sense. An electric car is only as green as the electrical grid that powers it. And if Tesla’s batteries become widespread, they could help utilities take better advantage of inconsistent renewable energy sources like wind and solar. As demand for renewables rises, whether through regulatory mandate or consumer desire, so would utilities’ demand for batteries that could help maintain a consistent flow—a demand Tesla is well-positioned to meet.•

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From the June 1, 1923 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Apart from a few exceptions, any job that can be automated will be automated. Weak AI may seem dull, but it’s capable and relentless. Hanson Robotics is trying with “Han” and “Eva” to make things more interesting while rolling the future forward, developing machines that look like us and can react to voices and recognize faces. Perfect for customer service and myriad other services.

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