News 11.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 11.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 11.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 11.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 11.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Isaac Newton apocryphally discovered his second law – the one about gravity – after an apple fell on his head. Much experimentation and data analysis later, he realised there was a fundamental relationship between force, mass and acceleration. He formulated a theory to describe that relationship – one that could be expressed as an equation, F=ma – and used it to predict the behaviour of objects other than apples. His predictions turned out to be right (if not always precise enough for those who came later).

Contrast how science is increasingly done today. Facebook’s machine learning tools predict your preferences better than any psychologist. AlphaFold, a program built by DeepMind, has produced the most accurate predictions yet of protein structures based on the amino acids they contain. Both are completely silent on why they work: why you prefer this or that information; why this sequence generates that structure.

You can’t lift a curtain and peer into the mechanism. They offer up no explanation, no set of rules for converting this into that – no theory, in a word. They just work and do so well. We witness the social effects of Facebook’s predictions daily. AlphaFold has yet to make its impact felt, but many are convinced it will change medicine.

Somewhere between Newton and Mark Zuckerberg, theory took a back seat. In 2008, Chris Anderson, the then editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, predicted its demise. So much data had accumulated, he argued, and computers were already so much better than us at finding relationships within it, that our theories were being exposed for what they were – oversimplifications of reality. Soon, the old scientific method – hypothesise, predict, test – would be relegated to the dustbin of history. We’d stop looking for the causes of things and be satisfied with correlations.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

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Holly Whitaker, author of the 2019 New York Times best seller Quit Like a Woman, compares the moment she realized that a life without alcohol was possible to entering the Matrix. Whitaker has never been comfortable with the term alcoholic and didn’t necessarily drink to the extent we imagine many alcoholics do. She drank a lot — sometimes more than a bottle of wine a night* — but not enough, she thought, that it was a problem. Sure, she needed to learn how to moderate, but she wasn’t the sort of person for whom abstinence was necessary. “I really never loved alcohol,” she tells me, but “it didn’t even occur to me that I could quit drinking. I just had to control it better.”

If, in reading this now, you decide your drinking isn’t a problem because you drink less than a bottle of wine a night, Whitaker has your number; she did this too. As long as someone, somewhere, was drinking more than she was, Whitaker writes, she could count herself among the normal drinkers. But when she chose to stop, she decided there was no such thing as “normal” drinking. Friends and acquaintances were disappointed and oddly defensive. “I’m not an alcoholic,” writes Whitaker of reactions to that first attempt at sobriety. “I am someone who has broken our social contract.”

Read the rest of this article at: The Cut

News 11.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Shortly before it changed its name, the tech company formerly known as Facebook experienced what the company called an “inconvenience.” Which is a fairly mild way of describing “configuration changes on the backbone routers” that resulted in Facebook (along with the Facebook-owned platforms Instagram and WhatsApp) being unavailable for roughly six hours on October 4, 2021. The experience of the outage was not uniform: What for some was mainly an excuse to scoff at another batch of bad news for Facebook, for others was a serious loss of access to essential platforms. Once Facebook was back online, Mark Zuckerberg apologized “for the disruption,” noting “I know how much you rely on our services to stay connected with the people you care about.” And soon enough the outage was just another pothole in the rearview mirror as Facebook sped toward the metaverse.

It was not that the “disruption” was unimportant, but that (as the proverb goes) “shit happens.”

Websites become unavailable, chargers stop charging, smartphones don’t turn on, laptop keyboards inexplicably stop working, routers stop routing, applications suddenly close (taking your unsaved progress with them) — and when these things occur it is hard not to feel a twinge of panic. You can turn it off and turn it back on again, you can check for news of outages, or you can run to the store (or call IT) in the hopes that the “geniuses” or “geeks” can make it work again. Few things reveal the extent of our reliance on a particular technology quite like having that piece of technology suddenly and unexpectedly stop working. And though our days are punctuated by small and mildly annoying malfunctions, there is always the risk of more serious technological breakdowns, the sort that can truly turn our world upside down: the plane that crashes, the ship that gets stuck in the canal, the web platform outage that leaves us unsure how to communicate with the people we care about, or the power plant that melts down.

Conversations about technology tend to be dominated by an optimistic faith in technological progress, and headlines about new technologies tend to be peppered with deterministic language assuring readers of all the wonderful things these nascent technologies “will” do once they arrive. There is endless encouragement to think about all of the exciting benefits to be enjoyed if everything goes right, but significantly less attention is usually paid to the ways things might go spectacularly wrong.

In the estimation of philosopher Paul Virilio, the refusal to seriously contemplate the chance of failure can have calamitous effects. As he evocatively put it in 1997’s Open Sky, “Unless we are deliberately forgetting the invention of the shipwreck in the invention of the ship or the rail accident in the advent of the train, we need to examine the hidden face of new technologies, before that face reveals itself in spite of us.” Virilio’s formulation is a reminder that along with new technologies come new types of dangerous technological failures. It may seem obvious today that there had never been a car crash before the car was invented, but what future wrecks are being overlooked today amidst the excited chatter about AI, the metaverse, and all things crypto?

Read the rest of this article at: Real Life

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News 11.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The most haunting of these pre-Nazi novels is Werfel’s “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh” (1933), which was not translated fully into English until 2012. The book honors the valiant resistance of an Armenian community during the genocide of the First World War and after. Werfel accomplishes a feat of large-scale narrative control, replete with hair-raising battle scenes. He also delivers the first great fictional reckoning with the psychology of genocide. At one point, the German protestant missionary Johannes Lepsius, based on a real-life figure, encounters Enver Pasha, one of the chief agents of the genocide: “What Herr Lepsius perceived was that arctic mask of the human being who ‘has overcome all sentimentality’—the mask of a human mind which has got beyond guilt and all its qualms.”

After 1933, the exiles had to come to grips with a world that surpassed their most extravagant nightmares. One popular stratagem was to insert contemporary allegories into historical fiction, which was enjoying an extended vogue. Heinrich Mann produced a hefty pair of novels dramatizing the life of King Henry IV of France. A gruesome description of the Bartholomew’s Day Massacre makes one think of pogroms in Nazi Germany, and the leaders of the Catholic League radiate Fascist ruthlessness. Döblin, by contrast, immersed himself in recent history, undertaking a novel cycle titled “November 1918.” It examines the German Revolution of 1918-19, with the Communist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht featured as principal characters. Döblin seems almost to be reliving the Revolution and its aftermath, in the hope that it will have a better outcome.

A handful of émigré novels have emigration itself as their subject. Seghers’s “Transit” is the classic example of the genre, but others are worth revisiting. Feuchtwanger’s “Exil,” translated into English as “Paris Gazette,” is a soulful satire, set among disputatious emigrants in Paris. Sepp Trautwein, the protagonist, is a high-minded German composer who transforms himself into a belligerent anti-Nazi newspaper columnist. His finest hour comes when he invents an absurd speech by Hitler on the subject of Wagner. Exile is a humiliation, Feuchtwanger writes, but it makes you “quicker, more ingenious, subtler, harder.”

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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