News 16.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 16.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 16.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 16.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

When he was nine years old, my godson Adam developed a brief but freakishly intense obsession with Elvis Presley. He took to singing Jailhouse Rock at the top of his voice with all the low crooning and pelvis-jiggling of the King himself. One day, as I tucked him in, he looked at me very earnestly and asked: “Johann, will you take me to Graceland one day?” Without really thinking, I agreed. I never gave it another thought, until everything had gone wrong.

Ten years later, Adam was lost. He had dropped out of school when he was 15, and he spent almost all his waking hours alternating blankly between screens – a blur of YouTube, WhatsApp and porn. (I’ve changed his name and some minor details to preserve his privacy.) He seemed to be whirring at the speed of Snapchat, and nothing still or serious could gain any traction in his mind. During the decade in which Adam had become a man, this fracturing seemed to be happening to many of us. Our ability to pay attention was cracking and breaking. I had just turned 40, and wherever my generation gathered, we would lament our lost capacity for concentration. I still read a lot of books, but with each year that passed, it felt more and more like running up a down escalator. Then one evening, as we lay on my sofa, each staring at our own ceaselessly shrieking screens, I looked at him and felt a low dread. “Adam,” I said softly, “let’s go to Graceland.” I reminded him of the promise I had made. I could see that the idea of breaking this numbing routine ignited something in him, but I told him there was one condition he had to stick to if we went. He had to switch his phone off during the day. He swore he would.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

News 16.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 16.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In November 1967, Robin Farquharson ‘dropped out’. After losing his job as a computer programmer along with the flat he’d been renting, he decided to forgo the dwindling funds in his bank account and live on London’s streets. In his short memoir Drop Out! (1968), Farquharson recounted his homeless wanderings and loose associations with London’s underground scene, moving from all-night cafés to ‘psychedelic’ nightclubs; he described being robbed and beaten in the street, and his first experience of LSD. At 37, Farquharson felt too old to be a hippy, nonetheless he saw his disaffiliation within the context of a wider movement towards social and personal liberation, inspired by Timothy Leary’s injunction to ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’: words he interpreted as a call to ‘rid yourself of responsibility, quit the rat-race. Don’t obey society’s paralysing conventions … Step out of the trap.’

The year 1967 marked a high point in this history. That was when San Francisco played host to the ‘Summer of Love’, when thousands of young hippies descended on its Haight-Ashbury district, drawn to its carnivalesque atmosphere, psychedelic hedonism and alternative living. According to Leary, places like the Haight offered a redemptive starting point for ‘everyone that’s caught inside a television set of props, and made of actors’. In London, the major countercultural event that summer was the Congress on the Dialectics of Liberation at the Roundhouse in Camden. For two weeks in July 1967, thinkers and activists including R D Laing, Gregory Bateson, Stokely Carmichael and Herbert Marcuse (women speakers were notably absent) gathered to debate new ways forward. Though a more overtly political event than the Summer of Love, the idea that psychological liberation was a prerequisite of political change was a central theme. ‘[W]e are taught, and coerced, to see things through a filter of politically arrived at and socially sanctioned lies,’ said one announcement prior to the event. ‘The entire world as we “know” it must be demystified.’

Though differing in style and scope, both events emphasised dropping out as hinged on a particular set of anxieties about modernity and its threat to the liberal mind. In The Making of a Counter Culture (1969), the academic Theodore Roszak had celebrated this crucial point of resistance against what he called ‘the technocracy’, a regime of governance that sought to rationalise and control all aspects of society, including its citizens. His concerns were not idiosyncratic; Roszak’s worldview drew on other critics of technocratic modernity, including Leary, Marcuse, C Wright Mills, Paul Goodman, Norman O Brown, Alan Watts and Jacques Ellul. All manifested what Roszak regarded as a healthy suspicion of the power structures of Western democracy that, according to Marcuse, had become totalitarian in everything but name. The dropouts embodied in the writings and adventures of Farquharson, Jack Kerouac, and Ken Kesey offered a potential antidote. To drop out in this sense was to strive for internal freedom through processes of ‘deconditioning’ or ‘unbrainwashing’ and imagine a type of self that could not be controlled or contained.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

In 2019, a married couple went on Shark Tank to pitch something later referred to online as “the sex button.” Actually called LoveSync, the project aimed at reinvigorating the sex lives of long-term couples: It would take the fear of rejection out of initiating sex with a pair of buttons, one for each nightstand, which would light up if both partners tapped theirs within a given window of time (as with Tinder or Hinge, nothing happened when only one partner hit the button). The project was rejected outright by the Shark Tank panel, and widely ridiculed on the internet. Jokes largely hit on the idea that replacing verbal communication with the push of a button was desirable, and the assumption that the “anonymity” promised by the button was necessary in a relationship well past the honeymoon phase. It became one of those memes through which the internet collectively designates a boundary: How far can tech intervene in our love lives before it goes too far? Dating apps were okay, but a sex button for couples was off the cards.

Unbeknownst at the time, the sex button was at the unfortunate vanguard of a whole range of technologies that targeted not singles, but couples. As the pandemic subjected relationships to countless fresh perils, many of these apps gained a solid user base. There’s Paired (2019), a tracking app that allows couples to “discover relationship strength and growth areas” and offers question packs, games, quizzes and tips. Swedish app Coupleness (2019) provides a “shared micro-journal for couples,” generating a rating out of 10 for each partner’s day and sharing it with the other. Love Nudge (2019), based on the “five love languages,” encourages users to fill up their partner’s “love tank” by completing tasks generated from an in-app quiz. There’s also Emi (late 2018), which prompts users to give their partner compliments, offering “bite-sized exercises for busy schedules” and Facebook’s app Tuned (2020), a private messaging app for couples with scrapbook-like features.

Read the rest of this article at: Real Life

News 16.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 16.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In 1770, the German chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele performed an experiment and noticed that he’d created a noxious gas. He named it “dephlogisticated muriatic acid.” We know it today as chlorine.

Two centuries later, another German chemist, Fritz Haber, invented a process to synthesize and mass-produce ammonia, which revolutionized agriculture by generating the modern fertilizer industry. He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918. But that same research, combined with Scheele’s earlier discovery, helped create the chemical-weapons program that Germany used in World War I. This is an example of what’s known as the “dual-use dilemma,” in which scientific and technological research is intended for good, but can also, either intentionally or accidentally, be used for harm.

In both chemistry and physics, the dual-use dilemma has long been a concern, and it has led to international treaties limiting the most worrisome applications of problematic research. Because of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (otherwise known as the Chemical Weapons Convention, or CWC), a treaty signed by 130 countries, many dangerous chemicals that are sometimes used in scientific or medical research have to be monitored and inspected.

One example is ricin, which is produced naturally in castor seeds and is lethal to humans in the tiniest amounts. A brief exposure in a mist or a few grains of powder can be fatal, so it is on the CWC list. Triethanolamine, which is used to treat ear infections and impacted earwax, and is an ingredient to thicken face creams and balance the pH of shaving foams, is listed as well because it can also be used to manufacture hydrazoic acid, otherwise known as mustard gas.

Similar international treaties, enforcement protocols, and agencies exist to monitor dual uses in chemistry, physics, and artificial intelligence. But synthetic biology—which seeks to design or redesign organisms on a molecular level for new purposes, making them adaptable to different environments or giving them different abilities—is so new that such treaties don’t yet exist for it, even though discussions about how to prevent harm have been happening for decades within the scientific community.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

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News 16.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

While engineering, finance, and commerce have profited immensely from novel algorithms, they are not the only ones. Large-scale computation has been an integral part of the toolkit in the physical sciences for many decades – and some of the recent advances in AI have started to change how scientific discoveries are made.

There has been a lot of excitement about prominent achievements in the physical sciences, like using machine learning to render an image of a black hole or the contribution of AlphaFold towards protein folding. This article will cover some of the more prominent usages of AI in chemistry, the parent discipline of the aforementioned protein folding problem.

One of the chief goals of chemistry is to understand matter, its properties, and the transformations it can undergo. Chemistry is what we turn to when we are looking for a new superconductor, a vaccine, or any other material with the properties we desire.

Traditionally, we think of chemistry being done in a lab with test tubes, flasks, and gas burners. But it has also benefited from developments in computing and quantum mechanics, both of which rose to prominence in the early-mid 20th century. Early applications included using computers to help solve physics-based calculations; by blending theoretical chemistry with computer programming, we were able to simulate (albeit far from perfect) chemical systems.  Eventually, this vein of work grew into a subfield now called computational chemistry. The subfield started to gain momentum in the 1970s and was featured in the Nobel Prizes of 1998 and 2013. Even so, while computational chemistry has gained more and more recognition over the past few decades, its importance has been largely overshadowed by that of lab experiments – the cornerstone of chemical discovery.

However, with current advancements in AI, data-centric techniques, and ever-growing amounts of data, we might be witnessing a change where computational approaches are used not just to assist lab experiments but to guide them.

Read the rest of this article at: The Gradient

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