News 25.05.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 25.05.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 25.05.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

When it comes to crypto, all the questions sort of boil down to one: What, actually, is the point of it? Crypto is supposed to be special, i.e., not like other markets — at least if you listen to its boosters. But what if it’s not? It’s felt pretty spectacularly unspecial lately.

The crypto market has been in a bit of a meltdown. The price of bitcoin, the godfather of the space, has fallen by more than half of its 2021 peak, and billions of dollars of value were lost from cryptocurrencies in a matter of hours. Coins that are supposed to be “stable” are looking anything but, and one of the major trading platforms in the space has warned users their money might not always be safe there.

The claims proponents have long made about cryptocurrency — that it’s an inflation hedge, that it’s digital gold — appear increasingly dubious. Well before the current downturn, a lot of what was going on was fishy. Hackers have stolen tens of millions of dollars in crypto, and the sector is rife with stories about various scams. One big trend in the space might pretty blatantly be a Ponzi scheme.

In other words, crypto is having … a time. The type of time that makes you question why anyone is even investing in it.

For a while, the drumbeat for getting into it felt too loud to ignore; the Larry David commercial in the Super Bowl for crypto trading platform FTX warned viewers “don’t miss out” on the next big thing — but what that big thing is isn’t clearly spelled out. Many people in crypto don’t want to outright say the point of the entire endeavor is to try to make money, which, thus far, has pretty much been the thing. (That and some crimes.)

If you’re a little bit destroying the planet in service of a thing that’s mainly a speculative asset and/or isn’t particularly useful, you know it’s not exactly the best look. Plus, you kind of need to say the value here is being derived from somewhere, not spun up out of thin air. So it’s important to say there’s utility to it, even if that utility is ill-defined, to insist that it does something.

Read the rest of this article at: Vox

News 25.05.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 25.05.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Four days ago, I filled out the paperwork to register my son for kindergarten. After I sent the email—filled with attachments of IDs, birth certificates, proofs of residence, and immunization records—I turned to my wife and said the ultimate parent cliché: “They really grow up so fast.”

I picked up my phone and began scrolling through photos of my son from the day he was born, almost five years ago, his pink-brown body awash with wrinkles and wonder. I kept scrolling and saw photographs of him in the crib where he slept (and too often did not sleep); photographs of him chasing a flock of birds in the park, his arms raised as he toddled toward them with breathtaking inelegance; photographs of him after he had applesauce for the first time, his eyes gleaming, his smile as wide as the sky, his lips covered in a chaos of golden mush.

The school where my son will attend kindergarten is just a few minutes’ walk away from our house. The other day (when his preschool class was closed because of a COVID case) we walked there during lunchtime so that he could see the students at “the big-kid school” he would be attending come fall.

The scenes were as you would imagine at an elementary school during recess. Soccer balls bounced against legs and grass and gates as a group of children chased the balls around with little regard for who was on whose team. Kids slid down the slide in every fashion—backwards, forward, headfirst on their back, headfirst on their stomach—before tumbling to the mulch waiting at the bottom and then running back up to do it all over again. Some chased one another with sticks, pretending to be wizards or superheroes or wizards who were superheroes. My son was thrilled by all of this. I mean, who wouldn’t be? Elementary school is a place where innocence abounds, where laughter ricochets off the walls in constant, endless cascades.

It is this innocence, this hope for laughter and levity in the halls that hold some of our smallest humans, that makes the news of the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, yesterday so devastating. At least 19 children and two adults were murdered by an 18-year-old gunman. It is the deadliest mass shooting this year, the second-deadliest school shooting of the past decade, and it comes just 10 days after what had previously been this year’s deadliest mass shooting, when a white-supremacist gunman murdered 10 people in a Buffalo grocery store, in an attempt to kill as many Black people as he could.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

At Barcelona’s Sónar festival last fall, artist and researcher Mat Dryhurst stepped up to the microphone and began to sing, but the voice of his wife—the electronic musician and technologist Holly Herndon—came out instead. When Dryhurst giggled, the sound was unmistakably hers, high and clear like a bell—and not, as far as anyone could hear, some kind of electronic trick, but as seemingly real as the sound of any human larynx can be.

The performance was part of a demonstration of Holly+, Herndon’s latest experiment in artificial intelligence, which takes one sound and, through the magic of a neural net, turns it into another. Imagine Nicolas Cage and John Travolta swapping visages in Face Off, only this time it’s their voices that trade places.

The effect—watching Herndon’s voice emit from Dryhurst’s mouth—was uncanny. It was also a likely sign of things to come, of a world of shapeshifting forms looming on the horizon: identity play, digital ventriloquism, categories of art and artifice we don’t even have names for yet. The audiovisual forgeries known as deepfakes have been around since the late ’10s, and the technique is becoming increasingly common in pop culture; just this month, Kendrick Lamar’s “The Heart Part 5” video eerily morphed the rapper’s likeness into the faces of O.J. Simpson, Will Smith, and Kanye West.

Read the rest of this article at: Pitchfork

News 25.05.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 25.05.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

There’s a new Big Tech antitrust bill in town, and this one is especially painful for Google.

A group of lawmakers led by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced the Competition and Transparency in Digital Advertising Act on Thursday. This bipartisan and bicameral legislation would forbid any company with more than $20 billion in digital advertising revenue — that’s Google and Meta, basically — from owning multiple parts of the digital advertising chain. Google would have to choose between being a buyer or a seller or running the ad exchange between the two. It currently owns all three parts, and has been dogged by allegations, which it denies, that it uses that power to unfairly manipulate that market to its own advantage.

“This lack of competition in digital advertising means that monopoly rents are being imposed upon every website that is ad-supported and every company — small, medium, or large — that relies on internet advertising to grow its business,” Sen. Lee said in a statement. “It is essentially a tax on thousands of American businesses, and thus a tax on millions of American consumers.” Google said in a statement that this is “the wrong bill, at the wrong time, aimed at the wrong target,” and that its ad tools produce better quality ads and protect user privacy.

You can add the new legislation to the growing pile of Google’s antitrust woes. While the media has given more attention to the antitrust issues of rivals Apple and Meta, Google is potentially in more trouble than any other Big Tech company. State and federal governments have filed four antitrust cases, all within a year of each other. In October 2020, the Department of Justice and 14 state attorneys general sued Google over alleged anti-competitive practices to maintain its search engine and search ad monopoly. That December, 38 other state attorneys general filed a separate, similar case. If you combine the two lawsuits, every state except Alabama, plus Puerto Rico, DC, and Guam, is suing Google over its search business.

Last July, another 37 state attorneys general sued Google over the Google Play mobile app store. And another set of 17 attorneys general is suing Google over the ad business that Lee’s bill targets; that suit was filed just a day after the state AGs’ search case. There are also lawsuits from Epic Games and Match Group over Google’s app store and the possibility of more cases from the DOJ to come. Oh, and there’s also a wave of Big Tech-focused antitrust laws and regulations around the world to contend with.

It’s too early to say how likely it is that Lee’s bill will go anywhere. But we do know that two bipartisan antitrust bills are very close to becoming law, likely by the end of the summer. Both of them would forbid Google from giving its own products preference on the platforms it owns and operates: The Open App Markets Act would force the Google Play app store to follow certain rules, while the American Innovation and Choice Online Act bans self-preferencing on platforms that Big Tech companies own and operate. Google wouldn’t be allowed to give its own products prominent placement in Google search results, for instance, unless those products organically earned that spot.

Read the rest of this article at: Vox

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News 25.05.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Some propositions are so obvious that no one takes the time to defend them. A few such propositions are that human life is good, that people can and often do provide more benefits to the world than they take away, and that we should design society to support people in leading lives that are good for themselves and others.

These ideas came under attack, sometimes subtly and sometimes overtly, by environmentalists in the 20th century who were worried about overpopulation. Although major organizations have abandoned population management as an explicit policy goal, the underlying fear that too many people are running up on the limits of too few resources and Well shouldn’t someone do something about that? has never fully been rooted out of American political thought. It is alive and well among NIMBYs. Of all the objections people raise to new housing and infrastructure, perhaps the most risible is that their community is already too crowded. Some even suggest that municipalities should limit housing supply explicitly to combat population growth.

At a recent Palo Alto city-council meeting, one resident argued against pro-housing policies, saying, “Does it make sense to be planning for more people? … More people on the planet spells more consequential implications for climate change, loss of biodiversity, stress, war, famine, etc. At a time when humans are in major ecological overshoot, doesn’t it make more sense to plan for a reduced population, plan for reducing population, not increasing it?”

Invariably, the problem is always other people. The man behind the organization that sued UC Berkeley to reduce its enrollment, Phil Bokovoy, told The New Yorker that he opposed building more housing in Berkeley in part because “I don’t think we’ll be able to tackle climate change unless we tackle population growth and rising living standards over a huge part of the world.”

Lest you worry that this is a California-specific brain disease, let me reassure you that this antihuman thinking has permeated discourses all over the nation—and the world.

But population growth is not the problem that so many people seem to think it is, not least because of the global decline in fertility; arguably, declining population growth is the real population-related concern of the century. And even if it were a concern, the policies that NIMBYs support not only fail to create a climate-conscious built environment but actually make fighting climate change more difficult.

Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book, The Population Bomb, catalyzed overpopulation concerns among the American public. Ehrlich, a Stanford biologist, also served as the first president of the group Zero Population Growth (ZPG). As the historian Keith Woodhouse recounts in his book, The Ecocentrists, “The group’s goal was an end to population growth; the means, troublingly, were not yet specified. Within three years [of its founding in 1970], ZPG had thirty-two thousand members.”

The Population Bomb opens not with a depiction of overconsumption by high-income Westerners but with the author’s memory of a taxi ride with his wife and daughter “one stinking hot night in Delhi.” Ehrlich describes the “crowded slum area” and proceeds to detail, in prose dripping with disgust, the view from his cab window of people just living their lives: “People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, and screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging.” This goes on and culminates in the almost-too-on-the-nose admission: “All three of us were, frankly, frightened.”

As Ehrlich’s family gawked at Delhiites, the U.S. was emitting 18.66 tons of carbon per capita to India’s .33, meaning that the average American was emitting 56 times more than the average Indian. If Ehrlich was genuinely concerned about overconsumption, why is the opening image of his book that of poor, brown people and not the suburban car-centric sprawl that characterizes his home country?

The book’s main argument is that an increasing population will run out of resources and if steps aren’t taken to reduce the population, then scarcity will make the world poor. In particular, Ehrlich was concerned about the world running out of food, and he foretold that mass starvation events would mark the waning decades of the 20th century.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

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