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In the News 13.05.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets

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In the News 13.05.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets
In the News 13.05.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets
In the News 13.05.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets

Democracies End When they are Too Democratic

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As this dystopian election campaign has unfolded, my mind keeps being tugged by a passage in Plato’s Republic. It has unsettled — even surprised — me from the moment I first read it in graduate school. The passage is from the part of the dialogue where Socrates and his friends are talking about the nature of different political systems, how they change over time, and how one can slowly evolve into another. And Socrates seemed pretty clear on one sobering point: that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.” What did Plato mean by that? Democracy, for him, I discovered, was a political system of maximal freedom and equality, where every lifestyle is allowed and public offices are filled by a lottery. And the longer a democracy lasted, Plato argued, the more democratic it would become. Its freedoms would multiply; its equality spread. Deference to any sort of authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat; and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would create a city or a country like “a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues.”

Read the rest of this article at New York

Facebook and Fear

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks on stage during the Facebook F8 conference in San Francisco, California April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam - RTX29NQL

In an April 27 conference call to discuss Facebook’s extraordinary first quarter results this year, Mark Zuckerberg announced a high point in his company’s history. Advertising revenue grew by more than 50 percent since 2015, the company was hard at work on a future for artificial intelligence and virtual reality, and the average Facebook user is spending 50 minutes per day on Facebook and its other products, Instagram and Messenger. That means that each day, more than a billion people—more than 170 million of them in the U.S. and Canada, alone—spend an hour with one company. James Stewart, the New York Timescolumnist, noted that this is “more time than people spend reading (19 minutes); participating in sports or exercise (17 minutes); or social events (four minutes).” In short, Facebook is so dominant, it’s almost scary.

Two weeks later, on Monday, several former Facebook news “curators” who edited the Trending section beside the News Feed told Gizmodo that they were asked to suppress stories about Republicans and withhold news from predominantly conservative websites, like RedState.com. Twitter lit up with outrage, sadness, and I-saw-this-coming gloats. Several people, many of them journalists, saw their fears of Facebook’s influence validated. “Politics is downstream from culture, which is downstream from Mark Zuckerberg,” Ross Douthat wrote. In short, Facebook is so dominant that people are scared.

These two stories about Facebook—the extraordinary earnings and the unfortunate accusations—are part of a larger narrative. Facebook so dominates the market for mobile attention that it is projected to command almost 30 percent of total display advertising revenue in the world this year. (With Google and Alibaba, the top three display ad companies control half of the global market.) This is mastery that borders on monopoly, and it is for precisely this reason that Facebook is both revered on Wall Street and feared among publishers, whose business is more fragile each year. Even before Facebook’s takeoff, newspaper advertising revenue had fallen by 70 percent between 2000 and 2014.

Facebook is a media company, but more than that, it is a utility, an integral piece of information infrastructure upon which hundreds of publishers and media companies rely to reach their audience. A television channel like MSNBC can directly criticize Republicans all it wants and nobody really cares. But Facebook was roundly criticized for allegedly suppressing conservative news stories, because Facebook is not like a television channel. It is like something we’ve never really seen before: a super-powered cable operator for the mobile future.

Read the rest of this article at The Atlantic

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Humans versus robots: How a Google computer beat a world champion at this board game – and what it means for the future

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In a cavernous ballroom at the Four Seasons Hotel in Seoul, a slight 33-year-old Korean man sits hunched over a wooden board speckled with smooth black and white pieces, considering his next move carefully.

The room he sits in is sparse – it contains just match referees, a handful of VIP guests and his opponent – but he is being watched by 100 million people around the world via a live video feed. This game is not mere entertainment.

Reluctantly, he surrenders by placing his opponent’s white stone on the board, and hangs his head in defeat.

The Korean player in Seoul is Lee Se-dol, a youthful world champion of an ancient Chinese board game called Go, which many consider one of the most complex games ever to be mastered by humankind.

Read the rest of this article at The Telegraph

Why Aging Isn’t Inevitable

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Humans age gradually, but some animals do all their aging in a rush at the end of life, while others don’t age at all, and a few can even age backward. The variety of aging patterns in nature should be a caution sign to anyone inclined to generalize—particularly the generalization that aging is inevitable.

Bacteria reproduce symmetrically, just dividing in two. What could “aging” mean for bacteria since, after reproduction, there is no distinction between parent and child? Single-cell protists like the amoeba also reproduce symmetrically, but curiously, they invented a way to age nevertheless. And even among macroscopic life forms, life spans of organisms are immensely variable in a way that is finely tuned to local ecologies and reproduction rates. This can hardly be the result of a universal, inexorable process; in fact, such fine-tuning to circumstance is the signature of an adaptation.

Read the rest of this article at Nautilus

‘I’m 16. Five months ago, I was diagnosed with terminal cancer’

Now I measure time in distinct chunks, focusing on events – a holiday or a party. Although it has been an intense few months, I’ve tried not to dwell on it

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Five months ago, I was diagnosed with terminal cancer aged 16. It was rather as I’d pictured GCSE results day to be: a lot of stress waiting for potentially awful results, although, as it happened, GCSE results day was a pleasant surprise. But, like many whose grades came as a disappointment, I got over it soon enough. I think it’s surprisingly easy to adapt to this kind of news. After all, while I’m not going to deny its personal significance, it doesn’t really change anything important.

In the past, I have imagined terminal illness as the short and depressing period before a person’s premature death, but it somehow doesn’t feel nearly as dramatic or upsetting. I don’t feel as though normal life has ceased, or that my perception of it has changed drastically. In fact, if it weren’t for my loss of mobility following an operation, my life would have probably settled back to normal long before now. The assumed tide of unimaginable suffering that rests hand in hand with these kinds of situations is rather less dramatic in reality.

Being told you are going to die is a shock, but I was largely over it in a week, and as for breaking the news to friends and family around me, the guesswork on my part of trying to assess the other person’s emotional fragility, their guesswork at trying to assess mine, and the background danger – perhaps felt by both of us – that your partner in conversation is about to break down in tears, made the experience not so much sad as really quite awkward.

This isn’t to say that it hasn’t been an intense few months, but I can’t say that this experience has truly changed me as a person. People have told me how well I’m coping and how they couldn’t have done the same in this situation, as though I’ve faced an unimaginably horrendous set of circumstances and managed to do the impossible (remain positive), but I don’t see it that way.

Read the rest of this article at The Guardian

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