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News 20.04.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 20.04.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@thecarolinelin
News 20.04.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@ateliervime
News 20.04.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@viktoriiamazing

A few years ago, a computer scientist named Yejin Choi gave a presentation at an artificial-intelligence conference in New Orleans. On a screen, she projected a frame from a newscast where two anchors appeared before the headline “CHEESEBURGER STABBING.” Choi explained that human beings find it easy to discern the outlines of the story from those two words alone. Had someone stabbed a cheeseburger? Probably not. Had a cheeseburger been used to stab a person? Also unlikely. Had a cheeseburger stabbed a cheeseburger? Impossible. The only plausible scenario was that someone had stabbed someone else over a cheeseburger. Computers, Choi said, are puzzled by this kind of problem. They lack the common sense to dismiss the possibility of food-on-food crime.

For certain kinds of tasks—playing chess, detecting tumors—artificial intelligence can rival or surpass human thinking. But the broader world presents endless unforeseen circumstances, and there A.I. often stumbles. Researchers speak of “corner cases,” which lie on the outskirts of the likely or anticipated; in such situations, human minds can rely on common sense to carry them through, but A.I. systems, which depend on prescribed rules or learned associations, often fail.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 20.04.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

When the internet proliferated in the early 2000s, Chinese millennials saw it as a window to a bigger, wider world—one in which China was becoming more integrated. Back then, many Chinese still saw the West as a model to learn from. In my high school, right as the internet was becoming commonplace, I was taught how to browse news on Yahoo, search information on Google, and find videos on YouTube. Discussions on nascent online forums were somewhat similar to those in many Western democracies: open, free, and unfiltered. Netizens would organically criticize government policies. Public intellectuals who drew attention to societal problems were applauded.

The strengthening of China’s Great Firewall changed everything. Within a few years, free speech was first censored and then cracked down on. Dissent was no longer cool. Instead, it was seen as a weapon wielded by foreigners against China. As nationalism grew as a force and as China became wealthier, criticism of the state was seen more as a betrayal than as something that could be constructive.

When the internet proliferated in the early 2000s, Chinese millennials saw it as a window to a bigger, wider world—one in which China was becoming more integrated. Back then, many Chinese still saw the West as a model to learn from. In my high school, right as the internet was becoming commonplace, I was taught how to browse news on Yahoo, search information on Google, and find videos on YouTube. Discussions on nascent online forums were somewhat similar to those in many Western democracies: open, free, and unfiltered. Netizens would organically criticize government policies. Public intellectuals who drew attention to societal problems were applauded.

The strengthening of China’s Great Firewall changed everything. Within a few years, free speech was first censored and then cracked down on. Dissent was no longer cool. Instead, it was seen as a weapon wielded by foreigners against China. As nationalism grew as a force and as China became wealthier, criticism of the state was seen more as a betrayal than as something that could be constructive.

These trends are not just about government policy. Over time, policy changes people, too. It can shape a generation. The children in Chinese high school classrooms and colleges today are very different from what my classmates and I were like in the early 2000s. China’s Gen Zers—unlike the millennials of my era—are indoctrinated in jingoism and have a higher regard of their place in the world. For decades to come, these changes will have a profound impact not only on Chinese society and politics but the world.

Generational terms used in the United States—such as baby boomer, Generation X, millennial, and Generation Z—don’t quite match up with Chinese ones. In the West, the word “millennial” generally encompasses people born between 1981 and 1996. When I refer to Chinese millennials, the groups I’m describing are likely closest to what China calls balinghou, born between 1980 and 1989, and jiulinghou, born between 1990 and 1999. Gen Z, which in the West applies to people born after 1997, is best compared to younger jiulinghou and the linglinghou—people born after 2000.

Other than India, which has a lower median age than China, no other country has as many people under 25, the age of the oldest members of the global Gen Z. This generation of young Chinese have been taught to distrust the outside world and to be smug in their confidence that China’s system is the best. And while there’s always resistance to such ideas, those who push back against Beijing’s authoritarianism now have very few ways to show it.

Read the rest of this article at: Foreign Policy

You can call Elon Musk a lot of things. Agent of chaos. Savvy investor. Obsessive workaholic. But the tech-industry analyst Benedict Evans has a different suggestion. He calls Musk a “bullshitter who delivers.” I’d go even further: Musk exemplifies a new kind of bullshitter, one we haven’t really seen before. Call it the “bullionaire,” maybe: an unusual purveyor of infantile jackassery, whose unfathomable wealth makes it possible, and even likely, that he’ll carry out even the most ridiculous plan.

Musk didn’t start an electric-vehicle business, but the one he muscled his way into, Tesla, became one of the most valuable companies on Earth last July. Once in charge, he decided that “CEO” was a stupid title and made himself the “Technoking” instead. From that throne, Musk oversaw the manufacture of far fewer vehicles than Ford, a company worth one-16th as much (and which Musk once compared to a morgue). Musk also is the CEO of SpaceX, a private company with an impressive fleet of reusable rockets that land upright just like they take off, as in an episode of Jonny Quest. His capacity to rule such an organization might be explained partly by the technoking’s claim to have previously been an alien. Musk became so concerned that superintelligent machines—another kind of alien, really—might overtake humanity, he committed millions to defend against their rise.

One day in 2016, Musk got irritated at traffic. “Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging,” he tweeted. “It shall be called The Boring Company.” That would have been a funny joke if he hadn’t actually started a company by that name and secured contracts to bore tunnels under actual U.S. cities, such as Las Vegas and Miami. The tunnels carry—get this—Tesla vehicles, which create traffic jams when enough of them fill the tunnel (which is really just an expensive road).

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

News 20.04.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 20.04.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

“It was at Rome, on the 15th of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind.” Those are the words of Edward Gibbon, and the book he imagined was, of course, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”

The passage is from Gibbon’s autobiography, and it has been quoted many times, because it seems to distill the six volumes of Gibbon’s famous book into an image: friars singing in the ruins of the civilization that their religion destroyed. And maybe we can picture, as in a Piranesi etching, the young Englishman (Gibbon was twenty-seven) perched on the steps of the ancient temple, contemplating the story of how Christianity plunged a continent into a thousand years of superstition and fanaticism, and determining to make that story the basis for a work that would become one of the literary monuments of the Enlightenment.

Does it undermine the gravitas of the moment to know that, as Richard Cohen tells us in his supremely entertaining “Making History: The Storytellers Who Shaped the Past” (Simon & Schuster), Gibbon was obese, stood about four feet eight inches tall, and had ginger hair that he wore curled on the side of his head and tied at the back—that he was, in Virginia Woolf’s words, “enormously top-heavy, precariously balanced upon little feet upon which he spun round with astonishing alacrity”? Does it matter that Gibbon’s contemporaries called him Monsieur Pomme de Terre, that James Boswell described him as “an ugly, affected, disgusting fellow,” and that he suffered from, in addition to gout, a distended scrotum caused by a painful swelling in his left testicle, which had to be regularly drained of fluid, sometimes as much as three or four quarts? And that when, late in life, he made a formal proposal of marriage, the woman he addressed burst out laughing, then had to summon two servants to help him get off his knees and back on his feet?

Cohen thinks that it should matter, that we cannot read “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” properly unless we know the person who wrote it, scrotal affliction and all. Gibbon would not, in theory, at any rate, have disagreed. “Every man of genius who writes history,” he maintained, “infuses into it, perhaps unconsciously, the character of his own spirit. His characters . . . seem to have only one manner of thinking and feeling, and that is the manner of the author.” When we listen to a tale, we need to take into account the teller.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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News 20.04.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

On December 6, 1949, a government official named Kingsley Kay signed a confidential memo. Kay worked at the Department of National Health and Welfare, and he had just completed an inspection of Yellowknife’s two young gold mines, Con and Giant.

His ten-page report detailed how the industrial roasting process that separated gold from rock had created a dangerous by-product: arsenic trioxide, a colourless, odourless powder known for centuries as a poison. Though the roasting at both mines was similar, each handled the toxic results differently. Located on the southern edge of Yellowknife, Con Mine attempted to contain the arsenic by dumping it into a small lake. Giant Mine, from its waterfront location a few kilometres north of the city, blew the arsenic out a tall smokestack, hoping to disperse it through the air.

Neither method seemed ideal. Kay noted that six cows had died of arsenic exposure near Con that spring and that widespread poisoning of horses, dogs, and wild animals had been observed in the area. Kay also remarked that, in January 1949, soon after Giant started roasting, “the first human case of poisoning reached hospital.” Kay concluded that mining should not continue until both companies installed equipment to prevent further environmental pollution. “Roasting,” he wrote, “should be stopped.”

But it wasn’t. Together, the mines operated for more than half a century before going cold. At Giant, engineers installed increasingly effective mechanisms to prevent the escape of the toxic dust into the air: emissions dropped from roughly 7,300 kilograms per day in 1949 to 3,000 in 1957 and eventually down to only one or two dozen kilograms in the last years of the operation. Still, roasting went on until the mine went bankrupt, in 1999. Con, which had continued to experiment with dumping the arsenic into water, closed four years afterward, in 2003. Privately owned, it hasn’t drawn much public attention. (The lakes in its immediate vicinity, including Kam Lake and Frame Lake, remain a no-go zone for swimming.) Giant, however, was harder to ignore. For years, its officials collected arsenic dust that had blown out the mine’s smokestack, free to drift on the wind before settling back to earth, and buried it underground in unused chambers called stopes. It’s still there today: 237,000 tonnes of a powder so deadly that it takes less than a teaspoon to kill a human.

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation has borne the brunt of that danger. One of its two main communities, N’dilo, lies directly across a small bay from where Giant’s smokestack stood for decades. The present-day city of Yellowknife has been part of the First Nation’s home territory for more than 7,000 years. This is Canadian Shield country: a wide-open Tom Thomson landscape of wind-gnarled conifers and ancient, eroded rocks dividing lake after lake. Yellowknife Bay, before the onset of colonial settlement and mining, lay on a caribou migration route, and moose abounded too. The area was known for its berries and plants and for fish, which bounced through the rocks of a clear creek before pouring into what’s now called Back Bay. It had, according to Yellowknives Dene chief Fred Sangris, “everything we need.” But then it was occupied and mined, and the flora and fauna were poisoned or driven away. What was once Giant is now a fenced-off toxic waste site and a permanent threat. The Yellowknives Dene have never been compensated for the 7 million ounces of gold their land yielded—or for the wreckage left behind.

Read the rest of this article at: The Walrus

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