In the News 20.12.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


In the News 20.12.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 20.12.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 20.12.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The Case Against Reading Everything

The clichés that writers often share—“show, don’t tell,” “write what you know”—are harmless enough. Like popcorn, they cut a light and fluffy figure and probably got their start as a kernel of truth. Plus, everybody knows not to take them too seriously. When a writer urges you to “write every day” or “always keep a notebook,” you can safely assume that plenty of first-rate talents have broken with these bromides.

But there’s one tip that doesn’t seem optional, one tip that’s practically scripture, as if hunter-gatherers discovered it on clay tablets long ago and transmitted it, via oral tradition, down to your MFA instructor. “Read widely,” says Joyce Carol Oates. “Read widely,” says Stephen King. “Read widely,” says the Google hive mind in deafening, choral unison.

What does “read widely” mean? Perhaps it speaks to the importance of a balanced diet—a comedy of manners today, a concrete poem tomorrow. Or maybe it means toggling fashionably between high and low, between Mina Loy poems and Mini-Wheats boxes. Or maybe it means testing a spectrum of texts, like paint chips, against your monochromatic taste. Or expanding your bandwidth just enough to capture some pirate-radio clamour—to touch the fringe of something fringey and count yourself catholic. As injunctions go, “read widely” goes pretty wide.

Read the rest of this article at: The Walrus


Natural-Born Existentialists

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Questions about what matters, and why, and what exists in the world, are quintessentially philosophical. The answers to many of these questions are informed by how we conceive of ourselves. How has what is often described as the ‘Copernican revolution’ effected by Charles Darwin changed our self-conception? One particularly surprising feature of evolutionary biology is that it lends significant support to existentialism.

To make the journey from evolutionary biology to existentialism, let’s start with one of the oldest and most profound of philosophical questions: how do we decide what is right or wrong, good or bad? Many philosophers have warned that no facts about nature can ever provide grounds for claims about values. In A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40), David Hume made a compelling argumentthat an unbridgeable gap separates fact from value, ‘is’ from ‘ought’. To attempt to bridge that gap is to commit the ‘naturalistic fallacy’: no argument from factual premises can ever secure a conclusion about what is valuable, or about what to do.

In Principia Ethica (1903), the philosopher G E Moore adduced what he called an ‘open question argument’ for a similar constraint on any discourse about value. He claimed that any attempt to define ‘good’ in naturalistic terms – such as pleasure, or ‘utility’, or for that matter a divine commandment – must fail, because it always remains an ‘open question’ whether pleasure, or utility, or that particular divine commandment, really is good. If such a definition were sound, like the definition of a triangle as a three-angled plane figure, then the question would not make sense. ‘Is a triangle really a three-sided figure?’ would merely signal a failure to understand the definition.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

The Dark Optimism of Paul Thomas Anderson

After we first met, Anderson and I began exchanging e-mails. In one back-and-forth, we discussed how certain things in his work recur. Like nearly every other Anderson film, Phantom Thread is at heart about a blended family who can barely stand each other, but at the same time need one another—Woodcock and Alma are in love, or they hate each other; Manville’s character, Woodcock’s sister, Cyril, is in some ways even more unforgiving than either, but she’s also the one who teaches them how to survive. Like Boogie Nights’ Dirk Diggler, Woodcock’s character is shaped by a now absent mother and blessed with one special talent that leads him toward both doom and salvation; like Punch-Drunk Love‘s Barry Egan, Woodcock wants to be loved but has no idea how to ask. At its center, Phantom Thread is about a wounded man who finds it nearly impossible to bridge the gap between himself and everyone else. “It’s what flows out of me,” Anderson said, by way of explanation, or lack of one. “Turn on the faucet and that’s what comes out.”

In Punch-Drunk Love, there’s a scene in which the main character, played by Sandler, smashes a series of windows in his sister’s house, the result of a dinner party gone wrong. Afterward, he pleads with his brother-in-law for help with…well, he’s not really sure. His brother-in-law asks what’s wrong, exactly. Egan responds: “I don’t know if there is anything wrong, because I don’t know how other people are.”

“I can have that feeling sometimes of real joy in sadness,” Anderson said, “that kind of joy that you get from a sad song that’s got you crying your eyes out.”

That sentiment—that we are locked into ourselves in some fundamentally tragicomic way, that we’re all trying to find out whether or not we’re in it alone, is the big idea that knits all of Anderson’s films together, from the young lovers played by Gwyneth Paltrow and John C. Reilly in Hard Eight to the questing bundles of id that Phoenix plays in both The Master and Inherent Vice, all the way to Phantom Thread‘s Reynolds Woodcock.

Read the rest of this article at: Esquire

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Silicon Valley Is Turning Into Its Own Worst Fear

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This summer, Elon Musk spoke to the National Governors Association and told them that “AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.” Doomsayers have been issuing similar warnings for some time, but never before have they commanded so much visibility. Musk isn’t necessarily worried about the rise of a malicious computer like Skynet from The Terminator. Speaking to Maureen Dowd for a Vanity Fair article published in April, Musk gave an example of an artificial intelligence that’s given the task of picking strawberries. It seems harmless enough, but as the AI redesigns itself to be more effective, it might decide that the best way to maximize its output would be to destroy civilization and convert the entire surface of the Earth into strawberry fields. Thus, in its pursuit of a seemingly innocuous goal, an AI could bring about the extinction of humanity purely as an unintended side effect.

This scenario sounds absurd to most people, yet there are a surprising number of technologists who think it illustrates a real danger. Why? Perhaps it’s because they’re already accustomed to entities that operate this way: Silicon Valley tech companies.

Consider: Who pursues their goals with monomaniacal focus, oblivious to the possibility of negative consequences? Who adopts a scorched-earth approach to increasing market share? This hypothetical strawberry-picking AI does what every tech startup wishes it could do — grows at an exponential rate and destroys its competitors until it’s achieved an absolute monopoly. The idea of superintelligence is such a poorly defined notion that one could envision it taking almost any form with equal justification: a benevolent genie that solves all the world’s problems, or a mathematician that spends all its time proving theorems so abstract that humans can’t even understand them. But when Silicon Valley tries to imagine superintelligence, what it comes up with is no-holds-barred capitalism.

Read the rest of this article at: BuzzFeed

What Happens When We Let Tech Care For Our Aging Parents

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Arlyn Anderson grasped her father’s hand and presented him with the choice. “A nursing home would be safer, Dad,” she told him, relaying the doctors’ advice. “It’s risky to live here alone—”

“No way,” Jim interjected. He frowned at his daughter, his brow furrowed under a lop of white hair. At 91, he wanted to remain in the woodsy Minnesota cottage he and his wife had built on the shore of Lake Minnetonka, where she had died in his arms just a year before. His pontoon—which he insisted he could still navigate just fine—bobbed out front.

Arlyn had moved from California back to Minnesota two decades earlier to be near her aging parents. Now, in 2013, she was fiftysomething, working as a personal coach, and finding that her father’s decline was all-consuming.

Her father—an inventor, pilot, sailor, and general Mr. Fix-It; “a genius,” Arlyn says—started experiencing bouts of paranoia in his mid-eighties, a sign of Alzheimer’s. The disease had progressed, often causing his thoughts to vanish mid-sentence. But Jim would rather risk living alone than be cloistered in an institution, he told Arlyn and her older sister, Layney. A nursing home certainly wasn’t what Arlyn wanted for him either. But the daily churn of diapers and cleanups, the carousel of in-home aides, and the compounding financial strain (she had already taken out a reverse mortgage on Jim’s cottage to pay the caretakers) forced her to consider the possibility.

Jim, slouched in his recliner, was determined to stay at home. “No way,” he repeated to his daughter, defiant. Her eyes welled up and she hugged him. “OK, Dad.” Arlyn’s house was a 40-minute drive from the cottage, and for months she had been relying on a patchwork of technology to keep tabs on her dad. She set an open laptop on the counter so she could chat with him on Skype. She installed two cameras, one in his kitchen and another in his bedroom, so she could check whether the caregiver had arrived, or God forbid, if her dad had fallen. So when she read in the newspaper about a new digi­tal eldercare service called CareCoacha few weeks after broaching the subject of the nursing home, it piqued her interest. For about $200 a month, a human-powered avatar would be available to watch over a homebound person 24 hours a day; Arlyn paid that same amount for just nine hours of in-home help. She signed up immediately.

Read the rest of this article at: Wired

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

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