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Tag Archives: Society

Can we stop AI outsmarting humanity?

Fifty thousand years ago with the rise of Homo sapiens sapiens.

Ten thousand years ago with the invention of civilization.

Five hundred years ago with the invention of the printing press.

Fifty years ago with the invention of the computer.

In less than thirty years, it will end.

Jaan Tallinn stumbled across these words in 2007, in an online essay called Staring into the Singularity. The “it” was human civilisation. Humanity would cease to exist, predicted the essay’s author, with the emergence of superintelligence, or AI, that surpasses human-level intelligence in a broad array of areas.

Tallinn, an Estonia-born computer programmer, has a background in physics and a propensity to approach life like one big programming problem. In 2003, he co-founded Skype, developing the backend for the app. He cashed in his shares after eBay bought it two years later, and now he was casting about for something to do. Staring into the Singularity mashed up computer code, quantum physics and Calvin and Hobbes quotes. He was hooked.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/mar/28/can-we-stop-robots-outsmarting-humanity-artificial-intelligence-singularity

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Posted by on May 29, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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Smart talking: are our devices threatening our privacy?

On 21 November 2015, James Bates had three friends over to watch the Arkansas Razorbacks play the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Bates, who lived in Bentonville, Arkansas, and his friends drank beer and did vodka shots as a tight football game unfolded. After the Razorbacks lost 51–50, one of the men went home; the others went out to Bates’s hot tub and continued to drink. Bates would later say that he went to bed around 1am and that the other two men – one of whom was named Victor Collins – planned to crash at his house for the night. When Bates got up the next morning, he didn’t see either of his friends. But when he opened his back door, he saw a body floating face-down in the hot tub. It was Collins.

A grim local affair, the death of Victor Collins would never have attracted international attention if it were not for a facet of the investigation that pitted the Bentonville authorities against one of the world’s most powerful companies – Amazon. Collins’ death triggered a broad debate about privacy in the voice-computing era, a discussion that makes the big tech companies squirm.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/mar/26/smart-talking-are-our-devices-threatening-our-privacy

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones, in its eighth and final season, is as big as television gets these days. More than 17 million people watched the season’s opening. Judging by the fan and critic reaction though, it seems that a substantial portion of those millions are loathing the season. Indeed, most of the reviews and fan discussions seem to be pondering where the acclaimed series went wrong, with many theories on exactly why it went downhill.

The show did indeed take a turn for the worse, but the reasons for that downturn go way deeper than the usual suspects that have been identified (new and inferior writers, shortened season, too many plot holes). It’s not that these are incorrect, but they’re just superficial shifts. In fact, the souring of Game of Thrones exposes a fundamental shortcoming of our storytelling culture in general: we don’t really know how to tell sociological stories.

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-real-reason-fans-hate-the-last-season-of-game-of-thrones/

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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Jared Diamond: There’s a 49 Percent Chance the World As We Know It Will End by 2050

Jared Diamond’s new book, Upheaval, addresses itself to a world very obviously in crisis, and tries to lift some lessons for what do about it from the distant past. In that way, it’s not so different from all the other books that have made the UCLA geographer a sort of don of “big think” history and a perennial favorite of people like Steven Pinker and Bill Gates.

Diamond’s life as a public intellectual began with his 1991 book The Third Chimpanzee, a work of evolutionary psychology, but really took off with Guns, Germs, and Steel, published in 1997, which offered a three-word explanation for the rise of the West to the status of global empire in the modern era — and, even published right at the “end of history,” got no little flak from critics who saw in it both geographic determinism and what they might today call a whiff of Western supremacy. In 2005, he published Collapse, a series of case studies about what made ancient civilizations fall into disarray in the face of environmental challenges — a doorstopper that has become a kind of touchstone work for understanding the crisis of climate change today. In The World Until Yesterday, published in 2012, he asked what we can learn from traditional societies; and in his new book, he asks what we can learn from ones more like our own that have faced upheaval but nevertheless endured.

I obviously want to talk about your new book, but I thought it might be useful to start by asking you how you saw it in the context of your life’s work.
Sure. Here’s my answer, and I think you’ll find it banal and more disappointing than what you might have hoped for. People often ask me what’s the relation between your books and the answer is there is none. Really, each book is what I was most interested in and felt most at hand when I finished my previous book.

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/05/jared-diamond-on-his-new-book-upheaval.html

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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Caster treated like Saartjie Baartman

Last week’s decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to uphold the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruling for female athletes with high testosterone to take hormone-suppressing drugs before competing puts a temporary end to Caster Semenya’s 10-year battle to be respected as a woman.

Ever since Semenya burst on to the global sporting scene as an 18-year-old when she won the 800m competition at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, she has been within the crosshairs of the white gaze. In the past decade, Semenya, who has hyperandrogenism, has faced public ridicule, discriminatory sex tests, sneers from competitors and sports commentators, leaks of medical information and invasion from a hostile media.

https://mg.co.za/article/2019-05-08-00-caster-treated-like-saartjie-baartman

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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“I am a woman and I am fast”: what Caster Semenya’s story says about gender and race in sports

“I am Mokgadi Caster Semenya. I am a woman and I am fast.”

So said the reigning Olympic champion in the women’s 800-meter last year, in a statement challenging rules that could threaten her athletic career.

The rules, issued by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), require some female runners whose bodies produce high levels of testosterone to take medication to lower those levels. Many saw the rules as a direct effort to target Semenya, who is believed to have a condition that produces high testosterone. The runner appealed the new regulations, but on Wednesday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled against her.

Semenya’s story is about the ongoing efforts by sports governing bodies to develop gender divisions that are fair to all athletes. But it’s also about what happens when an athlete — especially a black athlete — doesn’t conform to other people’s ideas about womanhood.

https://www.vox.com/identities/2019/5/3/18526723/caster-semenya-800-gender-race-intersex-athletes

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2019 in Reportages, Uncategorized

 

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How to reduce digital distractions: advice from medieval monks

Medieval monks had a terrible time concentrating. And concentration was their lifelong work! Their tech was obviously different from ours. But their anxiety about distraction was not. They complained about being overloaded with information, and about how, even once you finally settled on something to read, it was easy to get bored and turn to something else. They were frustrated by their desire to stare out of the window, or to constantly check on the time (in their case, with the Sun as their clock), or to think about food or sex when they were supposed to be thinking about God. They even worried about getting distracted in their dreams.

https://aeon.co/ideas/how-to-reduce-digital-distractions-advice-from-medieval-monks

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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The Guardian view on abortion: protecting a human right

No law can end abortions, however severe its restrictions and however harsh its penalties. Each day almost 70,000 unsafe abortions are carried out around the world, and they are vastly more likely to happen in countries with strict laws. What such legislation does do is force some women to continue pregnancies against their wishes, while risking the lives and wellbeing of others. Women in the US have seen their ability to terminate pregnancies dismantled piece by piece. Now states are racing to outlaw or dramatically curb abortions with extreme and unconstitutional bills. The aim is to directly challenge Roe v Wade, the US supreme court ruling that established that abortion is legal before the foetus is viable outside the womb, at around 24 weeks. Last Tuesday, the governor of Georgia signed a bill essentially banning abortions after six weeks from 2020. Some described it as a sign that men who wish to control women’s bodies have no idea of how they actually work. More likely, those who pushed hardest for the change understand all too well that many women will not know they are pregnant until it is too late.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/12/the-guardian-view-on-abortion-protecting-a-human-right

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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Workers Should Be in Charge

Earlier this month, Univision announced it was selling Gizmodo Media Group (a digital media company comprising former Gawker sites such as Gizmodo, Kotaku, Splinter, Jezebel, and The Root) as well as the Onion (including its eponymous site, The A.V. Club, Clickhole, and The Takeout) to a private equity firm, Great Hill Partners.

No further layoffs have been announced for the 233 unionized employees at the two properties. But workers and contributors are probably right to worry that some or all of the sites will see mass layoffs or closure as Green Hill seeks to strip the companies for their most profitable parts while burning the rest. This is the private equity business model, after all, and it would be naive to expect anything else.

But what if there was an alternative? Wouldn’t it be better if the workers at the Gizmodo Media Group and the Onion had the right to block the Great Hill sale and buy the company themselves, turning it into a worker-owned business, with financial and technical assistance from the government?

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2019/04/worker-ownership-private-equity-cooperatives

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2019 in Economy, Uncategorized

 

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What animals can teach us about politics

In July 2017, when Sean Spicer, then the White House press secretary, was discovered hiding in the bushes to dodge questions from reporters, I knew Washington politics had become truly primatological. A few weeks earlier, James Comey had intentionally worn a blue suit while standing at the back of a room with blue curtains so as to blend in. The FBI director hoped to go unnoticed and avoid a presidential hug. (The tactic failed.)

Making creative use of the environment is primate politics at its best, as is the role of body language such as sitting on a throne high above the grovelling masses, descending into their midst with an escalator or raising one’s arm so underlings can kiss your armpit (a pheromonal ritual invented by Saddam Hussein). The link between high evaluations of debate performances and the candidates’ heights is well known – taller candidates have a leg up. This advantage explains why short leaders bring along boxes to stand on during group photos.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/mar/12/what-animals-can-teach-us-about-politics

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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