“There was a good reason why technical manuals were so often titled ‘books of secrets’. Not only did they reveal closely guarded trade practices, they assumed a world in which there no longer are ‘secrets’ in the sense of mysterious hidden forces in nature.”
“Is it possible to get beyond both a naïve belief that the latest technology will solve social problems—and a reaction that rubbishes any attempt to offer novel technical solutions as inappropriate, insensitive, and misguided? Can we find a synthesis in which technologists look at their work critically and work closely with the people they’re trying to help in order to build sociotechnical systems that address hard problems?”
Virginia Heffernan: “Speed and expansiveness, to start. On expanse: The population of our ether – users of cell tech and wifi – is now just about coextensive with the population of the earth. This is fathomless by most minds. And speed: The illusion of near-absolute compression of time and space on the Internet is an illusion so beguiling we are virtually powerless to refuse it as real, except for short periods and with great mental or spiritual focus.”
“The U.S. Naval Observatory still offers a time-by-phone service. (Call 202-762-1401 today, and you’ll hear a pleasant ticking sound followed by the announcement of the exact time, delivered in an old-timey-broadcasting voice.) Not only does it still exist, but people still use it.” Adrienne LaFrance looks at why.
“Soon you could be chatting with your computer about the morning news. An AI has learned to read and answer questions about a news article with unprecedented accuracy.”
Louis Menand: “The science of preferences dates back to the origins of the advertising and public-relations industries, but the Internet has provided it with a vast new field of operations. Compared with television, which basically had advertisers throwing tomatoes at barns labelled, for example, ‘Women eighteen to thirty-four,’ the Internet is a precision instrument.”
“In the early nineteenth century, a few scenic destinations became hot spots for tourism … In fact, by the 1860s [the number-one attraction] was so popular that travelers complained that souvenir sellers and aggressive guides had spoiled the place.”
“Wouldn’t it, I mean, be a remarkable coincidence to find ourselves alive at just the moment where technology finally shows itself to be adequate to reveal to us the true nature of reality? And how are we supposed to interpret the equally certain claims of people in other times and places, who believed that reality in fact reflected some device or artifice of central importance to their own culture (e.g., horologia, mirrors, puppets, tjurungas…)?”
“Given the public awareness that science can be low-quality or corrupted, that whole fields can be misdirected for decades (see nutrition, on cholesterol and sugar), and that some basic fields must progress in the absence of any prospect of empirical testing (string theory), the naïve realism of previous generations becomes quite Medieval in its irrelevance to present realities.”
In general, there is a tension in our brains between exploration and exploitation. When we are exploratory, we attend to things with a wide scope, curious and desiring to learn. Other times, we rely on, or “exploit,” what we already know, leaning on our expectations, trusting the comfort of a predictable environment.
“A new field of research aims to deepen, and even quantify, our understanding of this intangible quality. Inherently interdisciplinary, visual stylometry uses computational and statistical methods to calculate and compare these underlying image features in ways humans never could before. Instead of relying only on what our senses perceive, we can use these mathematical techniques to discover novel insights into artists and artworks.”
“Item 15087 wasn’t much to look at, particularly compared to other wonders uncovered from the shipwreck at Antikythera, Greece, in 1901. … Who could have guessed that a shoebox-size mangled bronze machine, its inscriptions barely legible, its gears calcified and corroded, would be the discovery that could captivate scientists for more than a century?” (includes video)
“Interviewing 806 young professional men and women in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Brazil, Turkey, Russia, China, and India, the report highlights three key topics. First, it defines a new global definition of creativity—combining originality, meaningfulness, and value—and the way that this manifests itself around the world. Second, it reveals a surprisingly lower degree of creative self-confidence in Europe and, in contrast, the creative optimism on display in markets that are currently growing economically. And third, it highlights the increasing importance of seeing creativity as a process to engage in collaboratively, rather than rely on a lone creative genius to dream up a solution.”
Citing the speed with which video games are improving, he suggested that the development of simulations “indistinguishable from reality” was inevitable. The likelihood that we are living in “base reality,” he concluded, was just “one in billions.”
“When the smartphone brings messages, alerts, and notifications that invite instant responses—and induces anxiety if those messages fail to arrive—everyone’s sense of time changes, and attention that used to be focused more or less distantly on, say, tomorrow’s mail is concentrated in the present moment.”
“Over just seven years, the games-maker Lumosity rocketed from zero to 50 million users, promising rapid improvements in general intelligence by playing brain-training video games for just a few weeks. (Lumosity recently settled with the United States Federal Trade Commission for making unsupported claims that its product was scientifically validated.) … So, does all this mean that there is no hope for cognitive enhancement? My view is that there is actually lots of hope, as long as we are not unrealistic about what we can achieve.”
“In just three and a half weeks, workers here built one of the world’s largest cultural performance spaces inside an abandoned power plant. There are stages for theater, dance and music, as well as multiple art galleries and a high-end French restaurant. And after 17 days, they’re going to tear it all down.”
“The original parade went down Dearborn Street, but for logistical reasons this one isn’t going to. Attendees won’t be emailed the location until a few hours before the event. This is the idea Blanchard and the city came up with to control the crowd and prevent freeloaders from camping out in the best seats.”
Very young infants tune in to the natural melodies carried in the lilting stream of language. These melodies are especially compelling in ‘motherese’, the singsong patterns that we tend to adopt spontaneously when we speak to infants and young children. Gradually, as infants begin to tease out distinct words and phrases, they tune in not only to the melody, but also to the meaning of the message.
“We might owe disgust a great debt for our manners, morals and religion - and ultimately our laws, politics and government, as the latter three can be built only on the former. Evolution got the ball rolling by making our ancestors revolted by parasites and any behaviour that exposed them to infection; then culture took over and transformed people into super-cooperators willing to abide by shared codes of conduct.”
“This is the very essence of regret – we can only regret things we think we have control over. If we had no choice, no agency, if we were but tossed about on the tides of fate, there’d be nothing to regret. And so, regret ends up being the emotional price we pay for free will.”
“This new research finds that an unexpected event also appears to clear out what you were thinking. This function of the brain served an important role when humans could be confronted with danger and needed a fight or flight response, but today it has negative consequences.”
“It’s an instruction so vague as to be fundamentally unhelpful. And in the absence of any standard measure, we’re each left to our own devices to figure out what moderation actually means. Which isn’t really a great strategy.”
“The theory suggests that consciousness arises as a solution to one of the most fundamental problems facing any nervous system: Too much information constantly flows in to be fully processed. The brain evolved increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for deeply processing a few select signals at the expense of others, and … consciousness is the ultimate result of that evolutionary sequence.”
The secret, as it turns out, comes from improv.
“The party crowd, for once, holds all the power.”
“I admire the chutzpah,. … Today, urban development lacks ambition. But you look at some of the st’ff from the 1960s, and you think: ‘Even if it didn’t work, these people were really going to do something, weren’t they?’ There was massive ambition there.”
“Mumbling ‘buy more paper towels’ into the air in your kitchen is about as frictionless as a user experience can get—compared to opening up Amazon on your computer or phone, searching for paper towels, adding them to your cart, and checking out. That makes Alexa—the machine-borne personality that lives inside Echo devices—the ultimate salesperson, and she’s just getting started.”
“What I tried to do was think about the present day using the criteria we use to think about, say, the 14th century because it doesn’t seem the same as the criteria we use for looking at the culture, you know, in a normal, sort of everyday way.”
“Tell me if this sounds familiar: you just turned off the light, your head is on the pillow, your eyes are closed, and yet, instead of drifting off to dreamland, you find yourself thinking about something that happened earlier in the day. Surprisingly, this process of reactivating your memories occurs even when you aren’t aware of it, and not only is it normal, it might actually improve your memory. As a second-language researcher, I am especially interested in harnessing this phenomenon to help people learn new languages.”