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In the News 25.03.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets

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In the News 25.03.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets
In the News 25.03.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets
In the News 25.03.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets

Death by Gentrification: the Killing that Shamed San Francisco

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On 4 March, on what would have been his 30th birthday, Alejandro Nieto’s parents left a packed courtroom in San Francisco, shortly before pictures from their son’s autopsy were shown to a jury. The photographs showed what happens when 14 bullets rip through a person’s head and body. Refugio and Elvira Nieto spent much of the rest of the day sitting on a bench in the windowless hall of the federal building where their civil lawsuit for their son’s wrongful death was being heard.

Alex Nieto was 28 years old when he was killed, in the neighbourhood where he had spent his whole life. He died in a barrage of bullets fired at him by four San Francisco policemen. There are a few things about his death that everyone agrees on: he was in a hilltop park eating a burrito and tortilla chips, wearing the Taser he carried for his job as a bouncer at a nightclub, when someone called 911 on him a little after 7pm on the evening of 21 March 2014. When police officers arrived a few minutes later, they claim Nieto defiantly pointed the Taser at them, and that they mistook its red laser light for the laser sights of a gun, and shot him in self defence. However, the stories of the four officers contradict each other, and some of the evidence.

Read the rest of this article at The Guardian

The Life Biz

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Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” (Random House) is Charles Duhigg’s follow-up to his best-selling “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” which was published in 2012. The new book, like its predecessor, has a format that’s familiar in contemporary nonfiction: exemplary tales interpolated with a little social and cognitive science. The purpose of the tales is to create entertaining human-interest narratives; the purpose of the science is to help the author pick out a replicable feature of those narratives for readers to emulate.

What enabled the pilot to land the badly damaged plane? How did the academic dropout with anxiety disorder become a champion poker player? What made “West Side Story” and Disney’s “Frozen” into mega-hits? All that was necessary, it turns out, was one key tweak to normal mental functioning or group dynamics. “Mental models” helped the pilot land the plane. “Bayesian thinking” transformed the basket case into a winner at cards. An “innovation broker” brought “West Side Story” together, and “Frozen” became the highest-grossing animation film of all time because of a principle known as “intermediate disturbance.”

Other tweaks on offer in “Smarter Faster Better” include “creating disfluency,” “a bias toward action,” “SMART goals” versus “stretch goals,” and the concept of “psychological safety.” There are a few mind-sets to avoid as well (side effects may include crashed aircraft and the Yom Kippur War): “cognitive tunneling,” “reactive thinking,” and an exaggerated disposition for “cognitive closure.” Basically, the good stuff boils down to organizational buzzwords like “lean,” “nimble,” “flexible,” “innovative,” and “disruptive.” Negative stuff has to do with mindless routines, mechanical thinking, and the need for certainty.

There is not much to disagree with here, and that is one of the intriguing things about the genre this book belongs to. Not dozens or hundreds but thousands of titles like “Smarter Faster Better” are published every year, and they account for a disproportionate percentage of total book sales. Yet they mainly reiterate common sense.

Read the rest of this article at The New Yorker

The Comedian’s Comedian’s Comedian

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Toward the end of February, in the first-class cabin of a United flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles, the only man on the planet who has hosted late-night talk shows, appeared on late-night talk shows, and created an iconic TV series that parodied a late-night talk show encountered the man who had just been famously ousted from a late-night talk show.

Garry Shandling was in 1A. Conan O’Brien and his family were three rows back. The two men are close friends, and their unexpected proximity made Shandling happy—so happy, he says, that he asked a flight attendant to deliver O’Brien a present. “Mr. Shandling can’t finish his cookie, and he thought you might want to have the rest,” the woman told O’Brien, presenting the crumb-littered plate. Minutes later, Shandling looked up—way up—to see the six-foot-four-inch redhead planted in front of him, an exaggerated scowl on his face.

“This is the way you treat me, with the broken cookies?” O’Brien asked Shandling, his voice slightly raised to make sure the comedy could be heard over the jet engines. “When I let you get in line with me and my wife and get your ticket ten minutes earlier? This is what you do?”

Read the rest of this article at GQ

The Luxury Of Tears

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When he became a father, Charles Darwin began taking notes on the emotional development of his children. Such record-making was part of the rhythm of the household. He logged the weather, his farts and sneezes, and the behaviour of the earthworms he kept in a jar on the piano. His offspring were too compelling a source of data to ignore.

Willie was his first-born. Darwin tickled his feet with a spill of paper and watched for laughter. Annie arrived 14 months later. Darwin observed the moment when she first responded to her own reflection in the polished case of his fob watch; and her consternation when a wafer biscuit became stuck to her hand. It was the crying, though, that most aroused his curiosity. Darwin kept a careful record of these outbursts, noting when eyes were dry, when filled with tears – and concluded that though we may wail from the moment we emerge from the womb, it takes time to develop the facility for weeping. “I first noticed this fact”, he wrote, “from having accidentally brushed with the cuff of my coat the open eye of one of my infants, when 77 days old, causing this eye to water freely; and though the child screamed violently, the other eye remained dry, or was only slightly suffused with tears.” Crying, he decided, “required some practice”.

Read the rest of this article at 1843 Magazine

Where do minds belong?

Intelligence could have been moving back and forth between biological beings and machine receptacles for aeons

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As a species, we humans are awfully obsessed with the future. We love to speculate about where our evolution is taking us. We try to imagine what our technology will be like decades or centuries from now. And we fantasise about encountering intelligent aliens – generally, ones who are far more advanced than we are. Lately those strands have begun to merge. From the evolution side, a number of futurists are predicting the singularity: a time when computers will soon become powerful enough to simulate human consciousness, or absorb it entirely. In parallel, some visionaries propose that any intelligent life we encounter in the rest of the Universe is more likely to be machine-based, rather than humanoid meat-bags such as ourselves.

These ruminations offer a potential solution to the long-debated Fermi Paradox: the seeming absence of intelligent alien life swarming around us, despite the fact that such life seems possible. If machine intelligence is the inevitable end-point of both technology and biology, then perhaps the aliens are hyper-evolved machines so off-the-charts advanced, so far removed from familiar biological forms, that we wouldn’t recognise them if we saw them. Similarly, we can imagine that interstellar machine communication would be so optimised and well-encrypted as to be indistinguishable from noise. In this view, the seeming absence of intelligent life in the cosmos might be an illusion brought about by our own inadequacies.

There is also a deeper message laid bare within our futurist projections. Our notions about the emergence of intelligent machines expose our fantasies (often unspoken) about what perfection is: not soft and biological, like our current selves, but hard, digital and almost inconceivably powerful. To some people, such a future is one of hope and elevation. To others, it is one of fear and subjugation. Either way, it assumes that machines sit at the pinnacle of the evolution of consciousness.

Superficially, the logic behind the conjectures about cosmic machine intelligence appears pretty solid. Extrapolating the trajectory of our own current technological evolution suggests that with enough computational sophistication on hand, the capacity and capability of our biological minds and bodies could become less and less attractive. At a certain point we’d want to hop into new receptacles, custom-built to suit whatever takes our fancy. Similarly, that technological arc could take us to a place where we’ll create artificial intelligences that are either indifferent to us, or that will overtake and subsume (or simply squish) us.

Read the rest of this article at aeon

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.