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News 06.12.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 06.12.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 06.12.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 06.12.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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“Dear Sir,” the letter from Lord Sandwich to the English naturalist Joseph Banks began, “poor Captain Cooke is no more.” That was about all the Earl or anyone else could say with certainty, since word of the explorer’s demise had only just reached England’s shores, nearly a year after he died on the black-sand beach of Kealakekua Bay, on the island of Hawaii, on Valentine’s Day, 1779. Yet the passage of time did not clarify the matter: although thousands witnessed Cook’s death, exactly how he died is a matter of dispute to this day.

According to Cook’s journal, and to diaries kept by crew members aboard the Resolution, Cook first reached Hawaii in 1778, while searching for the Northwest Passage. When he returned, a year later, circling the islands for a few weeks before making landfall, the Hawaiians were celebrating Makahiki, a months-long harvest festival that honors Lono, a god who brings rain, peace, and prosperity. Like Cook, Lono travelled by sailing vessel and, before landing, circled Kealakekua—a coincidence that, the sailors later concluded, led the Hawaiians to call the Captain by the god’s name, take him into Lono’s temple, carve a ceremonial idol of him, and serve the crew feasts every day for nearly three weeks.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 06.12.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 06.12.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Elon Musk built his electric car company, Tesla, around the promise that it represented the future of driving — a phrase emblazoned on the automaker’s website.

Much of that promise was centered on Autopilot, a system of features that could steer, brake and accelerate the company’s sleek electric vehicles on highways. Over and over, Mr. Musk declared that truly autonomous driving was nearly at hand — the day when a Tesla could drive itself — and that the capability would be whisked to drivers over the air in software updates.

Unlike technologists at almost every other company working on self-driving vehicles, Mr. Musk insisted that autonomy could be achieved solely with cameras tracking their surroundings. But many Tesla engineers questioned whether it was safe enough to rely on cameras without the benefit of other sensing devices — and whether Mr. Musk was promising drivers too much about Autopilot’s capabilities.

Now those questions are at the heart of an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after at least 12 accidents in which Teslas using Autopilot drove into parked fire trucks, police cars and other emergency vehicles, killing one person and injuring 17 others.

Families are suing Tesla over fatal crashes, and Tesla customers are suing the company for misrepresenting Autopilot and a set of sister services called Full Self Driving, or F.S.D.

As the guiding force behind Autopilot, Mr. Musk pushed it in directions other automakers were unwilling to take this kind of technology, interviews with 19 people who worked on the project over the last decade show. Mr. Musk repeatedly misled buyers about the services’ abilities, many of those people say. All spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation from Mr. Musk and Tesla.

Mr. Musk and a top Tesla lawyer did not respond to multiple email requests for comment for this article over several weeks, including a detailed list of questions. But the company has consistently said that the onus is on drivers to stay alert and take control of their cars should Autopilot malfunction.

Since the start of Tesla’s work on Autopilot, there has been a tension between safety and Mr. Musk’s desire to market Tesla cars as technological marvels.

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

The Balmoral in Chestnut

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My grandfather Arthur Motzkin, a first-generation American Jew, liked to tell stories about his unlikely cameos in world history. When George Washington was crossing the Delaware and took a wrong turn, a voice piped up from the back of the boat: “Never fear! Arty’s here!” The day was saved. I thought about this tale while reading Mel Brooks’s new autobiography, “All About Me!” My grandfather was the same generation as Brooks—both were born in New York in the nineteen-twenties and served in the Second World War—and my grandpa’s running joke was, essentially, the same one that Brooks deploys, with a thousand times the wit, in his comedy routine “The 2000 Year Old Man” and in his 1981 film, “History of the World, Part I.” Possibly more than anyone else, Brooks epitomized American Jewish humor in the twentieth century, much of which rested on the idea that it’s funny when a kvetchy Jewish guy shows up where he doesn’t belong, which is most places. Case in point: when Kenneth Tynan profiled Brooks for this magazine, in 1978, the piece was titled “Frolics and Detours of a Short Hebrew Man.”

“When you parody something, you move the truth sideways,” Brooks writes in “All About Me!” The book, which comes out this week, covers his ninety-five years of life with a tummler’s panache: his childhood in Depression-era Brooklyn, his years writing for Sid Caesar, in the fifties, his creation (with Buck Henry) of “Get Smart,” in the sixties, his marriage to Anne Bancroft, and his remarkable run of movies, among them “The Producers” (he won an Oscar for the screenplay), “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein,” and “Spaceballs.” More recently, he modelled social distancing with his son, the zombie-fiction writer Max Brooks, and began work on the long-awaited “History of the World, Part II,” which will be a Hulu series. When I spoke to him, he was sitting in his den on a bright California day, watching “a great big tan-and-gray owl in one of my cypress trees outside.” In our conversation, which has been edited and condensed, we talked about comedy, sandwiches, and the truths he’s told sideways.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 06.12.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 06.12.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

On good days, the world seems like a well-run railway: things happen according to principles, laws, rules and generalisations that we humans understand and can apply to particulars. We forgive the occasional late trains as exceptions that prove the rule. But other times we experience the world as a multi-car pile-up on a highway. The same laws of physics and of governments apply, but there are so many moving parts that we can’t predict the next pile-up and we can’t explain the details of this one – ‘details’ that can let one car escape with a bent fender while another erupts in a fireball.

What’s true of a car pile-up is also true of an uneventful autumn walk down a path arrayed with just exactly those leaves and no others. They are both accidents in which interdependencies among uncountable particulars overwhelm the explanatory power of the rules that determine them. One outcome we curse. The other in a quiet moment we may marvel at.

Now our latest paradigmatic technology, machine learning, may be revealing the everyday world as more accidental than rule-governed. If so, it will be because machine learning gains its epistemological power from its freedom from the sort of generalisations that we humans can understand or apply.

The opacity of machine learning systems raises serious concerns about their trustworthiness and their tendency towards bias. But the brute fact that they work could be bringing us to a new understanding and experience of what the world is and our role in it.

Machine learning works radically differently from traditional programming. Indeed, traditional programs are the apotheosis of the rule-based, railroad understanding of our world and experience. To use a common example of the most iconic type of machine learning, to write software that recognises handwritten numbers, the programmer would, traditionally, instruct the computer that a ‘1’ is written as an upright straight line, an ‘8’ consists of a smaller circle on top of a larger one, and so on. That can work well, but its reliance on Platonic ideals of handwritten numbers means the program is going to misidentify a relatively high percentage of numerals written by mortal hands in this imperfect realm.

Machine learning models instead are programs that are written by programs that know how to learn from examples. To create a machine learning model to recognise handwritten numerals, the developers don’t tell the machine anything about what we humans know about the shapes of numerals. Instead, in one common approach, the developers give it images of thousands of examples of handwritten numbers, each different and each labelled correctly as the number it represents. The system then algorithmically discovers statistical relationships among the pixels that compose the images that share a label. A series of pixels in a somewhat vertical line adds statistical weight to the image being a ‘1’, diminishes the probability that it’s a ‘3’, and so on.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

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News 06.12.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

So you’ve been scrolling through Facebook for a while—dull, dull, dull—when you hear the sound of tropical bird chatter. You glimpse a 20-something woman floating in a natural pool of water with her eyes closed, and then she starts to talk to you about her passion for “manifesting money” and how every little thing she’s ever wanted is now hers. What’s this? She’s looking out the window of an airplane, through the clouds at a mossy mountaintop; she’s scooping up sand and blowing it at the camera as if the grains were dandelion seeds; she’s biking in a white dress on a secluded path, no handlebars. She has more time and wealth than she knows what to do with—and so now she will pause to bathe an elephant. Wait a minute, you say to yourself. Could this be my life too?

Maybe, because this video is “your invitation to experience lasting abundance” and “financial freedom” and the opportunity to travel the world, ethically, while eschewing plastic water bottles. Amelia Whelan, founder of the Breakaway Movement, shared it to Facebook on her company’s launch day, in the summer of 2019, when she was 25 years old. “I’ve dedicated the last 12 months of my life to this project, so I know you’ll love it,” she wrote at the time. “I invite you to join me and breakaway …”

Doing so would cost just $33.33 a month, in exchange for access to a private Facebook group, invitations to weekly group calls, an assigned mentor, and dozens of hours of video-course materials about how to create a social-media brand, how to form an LLC, how to maintain a “money mindset,” and, sort of, how to sell $5,000 K8 water-ionizing machines to your friends and followers on commission for a Japanese tech company called Enagic. (Enagic says it does not have a formal relationship with the Breakaway Movement or Whelan, beyond her being an independent distributor for the company.)

Whelan, the self-made (and self-declared) millionaire at the center of the movement, grew up in a small town in New York and moved to Hawaii for college. When she first started selling water-ionizing machines for Enagic, she joined a sales community on Facebook but didn’t vibe with it. The group had a “very predominant male presence,” she’d later say, and its members’ approach to spending money—“they were flashing checks and they were buying Yeezys”—did not appeal to her. “I knew I was tired of working for corporations that did very little for the things I truly care about,” she told me when I first got in touch with her last April. So she decided to start her own Enagic group, built around those things: “holistic health, sustainability, and the environment.” This would be the Breakaway Movement, an expansive community with good vibes and great aesthetics, offering coursework teaching newbies how to set up effective Instagram ads and “attract” a small fortune. Together, they would sell more than they could sell alone, and they would make Enagic machines into something cool.

Read the rest of this article at: The  Atlantic

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