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  • feedwordpress 08:00:00 on 2022/07/05 Permalink
    Tags: , effective altruism, existential risk analysis, , , , , pork, progress studies, rationalism, spam,   

    “All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.”*… 


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    Descartes, the original (modern) Rationalist and Immanuel Kant, who did his best to synthesize Descartes’ thought with empiricism (a la Hume)

    As Robert Cottrell explains, a growing group of online thinkers couldn’t agree more…

    Much of the best new writing online originates from activities in the real world — music, fine art, politics, law…

    But there is also writing which belongs primarily to the world of the Internet, by virtue of its subject-matter and of its sensibility. In this category I would place the genre that calls itself Rationalism, the raw materials of which are cognitive science and mathematical logic.

    I will capitalise Rationalism and Rationalists when referring to the writers and thinkers who are connected in one way or another with the Less Wrong forum (discussed below). I will do this to avoid confusion with the much broader mass of small-r “rational” thinkers — most of us, in fact — who believe their thinking to be founded on reasoning of some sort; and with “rationalistic” thinkers, a term used in the social sciences for people who favour the generalised application of scientific methods.

    Capital-R Rationalism contends that there are specific techniques, drawn mainly from probability theory, by means of which people can teach themselves to think better and to act better — where “better” is intended not as a moral judgement but as a measure of efficiency. Capital-R Rationalism contends that, by recognising and eliminating biases common in human judgement, one can arrive at a more accurate view of the world and a more accurate view of one’s actions within it. When thus equipped with a more exact view of the world and of ourselves, we are far more likely to know what we want and to know how to get it.

    Rationalism does not try to substitute for morality. It stops short of morality. It does not tell you how to feel about the truth once you think you have found it. By stopping short of morality it has the best of both worlds: It provides a rich framework for thought and action from which, in principle, one might advance, better equipped, into metaphysics. But the richness and complexity of deciding how to act Rationally in the world is such that nobody, having seriously committed to Rationalism, is ever likely to emerge on the far side of it.

    The influence of Rationalism today is, I would say, comparable with that of existentialism in the mid-20th century. It offers a way of thinking and a guide to action with particular attractions for the intelligent, the dissident, the secular and the alienated. In Rationalism it is perfectly reasonable to contend that you are right while the World is wrong.

    Rationalism is more of an applied than a pure discipline, so its effects are felt mainly in fields where its adepts tend to be concentrated. By far the highest concentration of Rationalists would appear to cohabit in the study and development of artificial intelligence; so it hardly surprising that main fruit of Rationalism to date has been the birth of a new academic field, existential risk studies, born of a convergence between Rationalism and AI, with science fiction playing catalytic role. Leading figures in existential risk studies include Nicholas Bostrom at Oxford University and Jaan Tallinn at Cambridge University.

    Another relatively new field, effective altruism, has emerged from a convergence of Rationalism and Utilitarianism, with the philosopher Peter Singer as catalyst. The leading figures in effective altruism, besides Singer, are Toby Ord, author of The Precipice; William MacAskill, author of Doing Good Better; and Holden Karnofsky, co-founder of GiveWell and blogger at Cold Takes.

    A third new field, progress studies, has emerged very recently from the convergence of Rationalism and economics, with Tyler Cowen and Patrick Collison as its founding fathers. Progress studies seeks to identify, primarily from the study of history, the preconditions and factors which underpin economic growth and technological innovation, and to apply these insights in concrete ways to the promotion of future prosperity. The key text of progress studies is Cowen’s Stubborn Attachments

    I doubt there is any wholly original scientific content to Rationalism: It is a taker of facts from other fields, not a contributor to them. But by selecting and prioritising ideas which play well together, by dramatising them in the form of thought experiments, and by pursuing their applications to the limits of possibility (which far exceed the limits of common sense), Rationalism has become a contributor to the philosophical fields of logic and metaphysics and to conceptual aspects of artificial intelligence.

    Tyler Cowen is beloved of Rationalists but would hesitate (I think) to identify with them. His attitude towards cognitive biases is more like that of Chesterton towards fences: Before seeking to remove them you should be sure that you understand why they were put there in the first place…

    From hands-down the best guide I’ve found to the increasingly-impactful ideas at work in Rationalism and its related fields, and to the thinkers behind it: “Do the Right Thing,” from @robertcottrell in @TheBrowser. Eminently worth reading in full.

    [Image above: source]

    * Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

    ###

    As we ponder precepts, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that Hormel went public with its own exercise in recombination when it introduced Spam. It was the company’s attempt to increase sales of pork shoulder, not at the time a very popular cut. While there are numerous speculations as to the “meaning of the name” (from a contraction of “spiced ham” to “Scientifically Processed Animal Matter”), its true genesis is known to only a small circle of former Hormel Foods executives.

    As a result of the difficulty of delivering fresh meat to the front during World War II, Spam became a ubiquitous part of the U.S. soldier’s diet. It became variously referred to as “ham that didn’t pass its physical,” “meatloaf without basic training,” and “Special Army Meat.” Over 150 million pounds of Spam were purchased by the military before the war’s end. During the war and the occupations that followed, Spam was introduced into Guam, Hawaii, Okinawa, the Philippines, and other islands in the Pacific. Immediately absorbed into native diets, it has become a unique part of the history and effects of U.S. influence in the Pacific islands.

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  • feedwordpress 08:00:00 on 2022/07/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , carp, , copi, , , , , invasive carp, invasive species, John Tenniel, , , Tenniel,   

    “What’s in a name?”*… 


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    “Copi” (nee Carp)

    How to rid the Midwest of an invasive aquatic species? As Sarah Kuta explains, the State of Illinois hopes that it can convince its citizens to help…

    For decades, invasive species of carp have been wreaking havoc on lakes and waterways in the American Midwest. One way to help tackle the infestation is simply to catch, cook and eat the fish, but many diners turn up their noses when they hear the word carp.

    Now, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and other partners hope that giving the fish a fresh new image will make them more appealing to eat. They’ve given the invasive species a new name, “copi,” in hopes that people will order copi dishes at restaurants or even cook up the fish at home.

    … carp began to spread widely when the other four carp species were imported to the United States in the 1960s and ‘70s to eat algae in wastewater treatment plants and aquaculture ponds, as well as to serve as a source of food.

    The fish escaped into the Mississippi River, then continued their spread into other rivers and beyond. Their population grew quickly, and they began to crowd out native fish species, outcompeting them for food (different carp species feed on plants, plankton, on up in size to endangered freshwater snail species). Invasive carp are also thought to lower water quality, which ultimately harms underwater ecosystems and can kill off other native species like freshwater mussels. (The fish were once collectively called “Asian carp,” but state governments and federal agencies now refer to them as “invasive carp” because of concerns over bigotry toward Asian culture and people.)

    Federal, state and local officials have since spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to keep the invasive fish in check, and most importantly, out of the Great Lakes. If the fish swim into Lake Michigan, they could threaten the commercial fishing and tourism industries, which together are responsible for billions of dollars of economic activity…

    The new name comes from the word “copious,” a nod to the sheer abundance of these fish…

    From the Annals of Marketing: “Can Rebranding Invasive Carp Make It More Appealing to Eat?,” from @SarahKuta in @SmithsonianMag.

    * Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

    ###

    As we dig in, we might recall that on this date in 1862 (88 years after the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress on this same date), Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a young Oxford mathematics don, took the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church College– Alice Liddell and her sisters– on a boating picnic on the River Thames in Oxford.  To amuse the children he told them the story of a little girl, bored by a riverbank, whose adventure begins when she tumbles down a rabbit hole into a topsy-turvy world called “Wonderland.”  The story so captivated the 10-year-old Alice that she begged him to write it down. The result was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865 under the pen name “Lewis Carroll,” with illustrations by John Tenniel.

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  • feedwordpress 08:00:00 on 2022/07/03 Permalink
    Tags: DARPA, , , history of the web, , , , , ,   

    “History is who we are and why we are the way we are”*… 


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    What a long, strange trip it’s been…

    March 12, 1989 Information Management, a Proposal

    While working at CERN, Tim Berners-Lee first comes up with the idea for the World Wide Web. To pitch it, he submits a proposal for organizing scientific documents to his employers titled “Information Management, a Proposal.” In this proposal, Berners-Lee sketches out what the web will become, including early versions of the HTTP protocol and HTML.

    The first entry a timeline that serves as a table of contents for a series of informative blog posts: “The History of the Web,” from @jay_hoffmann.

    * David McCullough

    ###

    As we jack in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that the world first learned of what would become the internet, which would, in turn, become that backbone of the web: UCLA announced it would “become the first station in a nationwide computer network which, for the first time, will link together computers of different makes and using different machine languages into one time-sharing system.” It went on to say that “Creation of the network represents a major forward step in computer technology and may server as the forerunner of large computer networks of the future.”

    UCLA will become the first station in a nationwide computer network which, for the first time, will link together computers of different makes and using different machine languages into one time-sharing system.

    Creation of the network represents a major forward step in computer technology and may serve as the forerunner of large computer networks of the future.

    The ambitious project is supported by the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA), which has pioneered many advances in computer research, technology and applications during the past decade. The network project was proposed and is headed by ARPA’s Dr. Lawrence G. Roberts.

    The system will, in effect, pool the computer power, programs and specialized know-how of about 15 computer research centers, stretching from UCLA to M.I.T. Other California network stations (or nodes) will be located at the Rand Corp. and System Development Corp., both of Santa Monica; the Santa Barbara and Berkeley campuses of the University of California; Stanford University and the Stanford Research Institute.

    The first stage of the network will go into operation this fall as a subnet joining UCLA, Stanford Research Institute, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah. The entire network is expected to be operational in late 1970.

    Engineering professor Leonard Kleinrock [see here], who heads the UCLA project, describes how the network might handle a sample problem:

    Programmers at Computer A have a blurred photo which they want to bring into focus. Their program transmits the photo to Computer B, which specializes in computer graphics, and instructs B’s program to remove the blur and enhance the contrast. If B requires specialized computational assistance, it may call on Computer C for help.

    The processed work is shuttled back and forth until B is satisfied with the photo, and then sends it back to Computer A. The messages, ranging across the country, can flash between computers in a matter of seconds, Dr. Kleinrock says.

    UCLA’s part of the project will involve about 20 people, including some 15 graduate students. The group will play a key role as the official network measurement center, analyzing computer interaction and network behavior, comparing performance against anticipated results, and keeping a continuous check on the network’s effectiveness. For this job, UCLA will use a highly specialized computer, the Sigma 7, developed by Scientific Data Systems of Los Angeles.

    Each computer in the network will be equipped with its own interface message processor (IMP) which will double as a sort of translator among the Babel of computer languages and as a message handler and router.

    Computer networks are not an entirely new concept, notes Dr. Kleinrock. The SAGE radar defense system of the Fifties was one of the first, followed by the airlines’ SABRE reservation system. At the present time, the nation’s electronically switched telephone system is the world’s largest computer network.

    However, all three are highly specialized and single-purpose systems, in contrast to the planned ARPA system which will link a wide assortment of different computers for a wide range of unclassified research functions.

    “As of now, computer networks are still in their infancy,” says Dr. Kleinrock. “But as they grow up and become more sophisticated, we will probably see the spread of ‘computer utilities’, which, like present electronic and telephone utilities, will service individual homes and offices across the country.”

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    Boelter Hall, UCLA

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  • feedwordpress 08:00:00 on 2022/07/02 Permalink
    Tags: , British Navy, captain, , copyright trap, Francis Drake, , , , , marmot, , Sir Francis Drake, Thomas Doughty, treason,   

    “If the map doesn’t agree with the ground the map is wrong”*… 


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    Mercator’s depiction of Rupes Nigra

    Maps from hundreds of years ago can be surprisingly accurate… or they can just be really, really wrong. Weird maps from history invent lands wholesale, distort entire continents, or attempt to explain magnetism planet-wide. Sometimes the mistakes had a surprising amount of staying power, too, getting passed from map to map over the course of years while there was little chance to independently verify…

    Gerardus Mercator, creator of everyone’s favorite map projection, didn’t know what the north pole looked like. No one in his time really did. But they knew that magnetic compasses always pointed north, and so a theory developed: the north pole was marked by a giant magnetic black-rock island.

    He quotes a description of the pole in a letter: “In the midst of the four countries is a Whirl-pool, into which there empty these four indrawing Seas which divide the North. And the water rushes round and descends into the Earth just as if one were pouring it through a filter funnel. It is four degrees wide on every side of the Pole, that is to say eight degrees altogether. Except that right under the Pole there lies a bare Rock in the midst of the Sea. Its circumference is almost 33 French miles, and it is all of magnetic Stone (…) This is word for word everything that I copied out of this author [Jacobus Cnoyen] years ago.”

    Mercator was not the first or only mapmaker to show the pole as Rupes Nigra, and the concept also tied into fiction and mythology for a while. The idea eventually died out, but people explored the Arctic in hopes of finding a passage through the pole’s seas for years before the pole was actually explored in the 1900s…

    See five more confounding charts at “The Weird History of Extremely Wrong Maps.”

    And for fascinating explanations of maps with intentional “mistakes,” see: “MapLab: The Legacy of Copyright Traps” and “A map is the greatest of all epic poems.”

    * Gordon Livingston

    ###

    As we find our way, we might spare a thought for Thomas Doughty; he was beheaded on this date in 1578. A nobleman, soldier, scholar, and personal secretary of Christopher Hatton, Doughty befriended explorer and state-sponsored pirate Francis Drake, then sailed with him on a 1577 voyage to raid Spanish treasure fleets– a journey that ended for Doughty in a shipboard trial for treason and witchcraft, and his execution.

    Although some scholars doubt the validity of the charges of treason, and question Drake’s authority to try and execute Doughty, the incident set an important precedent: according to a history of the English Navy, To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World by Arthur L. Herman, Doughty’s execution established the idea that a ship’s captain was its absolute ruler, regardless of the rank or social class of its passengers.

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  • feedwordpress 08:00:00 on 2022/07/01 Permalink
    Tags: accelerationism, , , , Futurist Cookbook, , , , Leibnitz, , , metaphysics, , , , , , , ,   

    “Speed and acceleration are merely the dream of making time reversible”*… 


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    In the early 20th century, there was Futurism…

    The Italian Futurists, from the first half of the twentieth century… wanted to drive modernisation in turn-of-the-century Italy at a much faster pace. They saw the potential in machines, and technology, to transform the country, to demand progress. It was not however merely an incrementalist approach they were after: words like annihilation, destruction and apocalypse appear in the writings of the futurists, including the author of The Futurist Manifesto, Filippo Tomasso Marinetti. ‘We want to glorify war – the only cure for the world…’ Marinetti proclaimed – this was not for the faint hearted! That same Marinetti was the founder of the Partito Politico Futuristo in 1918, which became part of Mussolini’s Fascist party in 1919. Things did not go well after that.

    Beautiful Ideas Which Kill: Accelerationism, Futurism and Bewilderment

    And now, in the early 21st century, there is Accelerationism…

    These [politically-motivated mass] killings were often linked to the alt-right, described as an outgrowth of the movement’s rise in the Trump era. But many of these suspected killers, from Atomwaffen thugs to the New Zealand mosque shooter to the Poway synagogue attacker, are more tightly connected to a newer and more radical white supremacist ideology, one that dismisses the alt-right as cowards unwilling to take matters into their own hands.

    It’s called “accelerationism,” and it rests on the idea that Western governments are irreparably corrupt. As a result, the best thing white supremacists can do is accelerate their demise by sowing chaos and creating political tension. Accelerationist ideas have been cited in mass shooters’ manifestos — explicitly, in the case of the New Zealand killer — and are frequently referenced in white supremacist web forums and chat rooms.

    Accelerationists reject any effort to seize political power through the ballot box, dismissing the alt-right’s attempts to engage in mass politics as pointless. If one votes, one should vote for the most extreme candidate, left or right, to intensify points of political and social conflict within Western societies. Their preferred tactic for heightening these contradictions, however, is not voting, but violence — attacking racial minorities and Jews as a way of bringing us closer to a race war, and using firearms to spark divisive fights over gun control. The ultimate goal is to collapse the government itself; they hope for a white-dominated future after that…

    Accelerationism: the obscure idea inspiring white supremacist killers around the world” (and source of the image above)

    See also: “A Year After January 6, Is Accelerationism the New Terrorist Threat?

    For a look at the “intellectual” roots of accelerationism, see “Accelerationism: how a fringe philosophy predicted the future we live in.”

    For a powerful articulation of the dangers of Futurism (and even more, Acclerationism), see “The Perils of Smashing the Past.”

    And for a reminder of the not-so-obvious ways that movements like these live on, see “The Intentionally Scandalous 1932 Cookbook That Stands the Test of Time,” on The Futurist Cookbook, by Futurist Manifesto author Filippo Tommaso Marinetti… which foreshadowed the “food as fuel” culinary movements that we see today.

    * Jean Baudrillard

    ###

    As we slow down, we might send a “Alles Gute zum Geburtstag” to the polymathic Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the philosopher, mathematician, and political adviser, who was important both as a metaphysician and as a logician, but who is probably best remembered for his independent invention of the calculus; he was born on this date in 1646.  Leibniz discovered and developed differential and integral calculus on his own, which he published in 1684; but he became involved in a bitter priority dispute with Isaac Newton, whose ideas on the calculus were developed earlier (1665), but published later (1687).

    As it happens, Leibnitz was a wry and incisive political and cultural observer.  Consider, e.g…

    If geometry conflicted with our passions and our present concerns as much as morality does, we would dispute it and transgress it almost as much–in spite of all Euclid’s and Archimedes’ demonstrations, which would be treated as fantasies and deemed to be full of fallacies. [Leibniz, New Essays, p. 95]

    28134677537_d79a889e6a_o

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  • feedwordpress 08:00:00 on 2022/06/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Bismarck, , , hydrothermal vents, , , predators, PT-109, Robert Ballard, , , shipwrecks, , Yorktown   

    “Sharks. I never saw that coming.”*… 


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    While many land-based predators (like wolves) avoid cities, scientists tracking sharks in Florida’s Biscayne Bay found the fish spent just as much time near Miami as away from it. Warren Cornwall explains…

    Certain kinds of wildlife are notorious for thriving in urban settings. Think rats, rock pigeons and even the occasional coyote. Now, Florida scientists have added another creature to the list: sharks.

    While many large predators show little appetite for city living, an intriguing project tracking the movements of sharks as fearsome as hammerheads revealed the fish are unexpectedly tolerant of life up close to the 6 million humans of greater Miami.

    “We were surprised to find that the sharks we tracked spent so much time near the lights and sounds of the busy city, often close to shore, no matter the time of day,” said Neil Hammerschlag, director of the University of Miami’s Shark Research and Conservation Program.

    Ecologists group animals into two main categories when it comes to their tolerance for human development. Some, like raccoons or rats, have figured out how to capitalize on the trash we make and the nooks and crannies we build. They are “urban exploiters.” Then there are the animals like mountain lions, lynxes and wolves that generally give human infrastructure a wide berth, often abandoning habitat where roads or buildings encroach. These are the “urban avoiders.”

    As that list suggests, on land, big, toothy predators generally keep their distance from the din of the city. But less is known about their aquatic counterparts. So, a group of researchers set out to see if the sharks of Miami’s Biscayne Bay might shed some light on the matter…

    The new wildlife in town: Sharks,” from @WarrenCornwall in @AnthropoceneMag.

    Sharknado

    ###

    As we hug the shore, we might send deep birthday greetings to Robert Ballard; he was born on this date in 1942. An oceanographer, explorer, retired naval officer, and professor, he noted for his work in underwater archaeology: maritime archaeology and archaeology of shipwrecks. He is probably best known for his discoveries of the wrecks of the RMS Titanic in 1985, the battleship Bismarck in 1989, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown in 1998, and the wreck of John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 in 2002. But he believes that his most important discovery was the existence of hydrothermal vents.

    Ballard at TED, 2008

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  • feedwordpress 08:00:00 on 2022/06/29 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , bots, , , , , , , , , , Steamboat Willie, Steven Johnson,   

    “O brave new world, that has such people in ‘t!”*… 


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    The estimable Steven Johnson suggests that the creation of Disney’s masterpiece, Snow White, gives us a preview of what may be coming with AI algorithms sophisticated enough to pass for sentient beings…

    … You can make the argument that the single most dramatic acceleration point in the history of illusion occurred between the years of 1928 and 1937, the years between the release of Steamboat Willie [here], Disney’s breakthrough sound cartoon introducing Mickey Mouse, and the completion of his masterpiece, Snow White, the first long-form animated film in history [here— actually the first full-length animated feature produced in the U.S; the first produced anywhere in color]. It is hard to think of another stretch where the formal possibilities of an artistic medium expanded in such a dramatic fashion, in such a short amount of time.

    [There follows an fascinating history of the Disney Studios technical innovations that made Snow White possible, and an account of the film;’s remarkable premiere…]

    In just nine years, Disney and his team had transformed a quaint illusion—the dancing mouse is whistling!—into an expressive form so vivid and realistic that it could bring people to tears. Disney and his team had created the ultimate illusion: fictional characters created by hand, etched onto celluloid, and projected at twenty-four frames per second, that were somehow so believably human that it was almost impossible not to feel empathy for them.

    Those weeping spectators at the Snow White premiere signaled a fundamental change in the relationship between human beings and the illusions concocted to amuse them. Complexity theorists have a term for this kind of change in physical systems: phase transitions. Alter one property of a system—lowering the temperature of a cloud of steam, for instance—and for a while the changes are linear: the steam gets steadily cooler. But then, at a certain threshold point, a fundamental shift happens: below 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the gas becomes liquid water. That moment marks the phase transition: not just cooler steam, but something altogether different.

    It is possible—maybe even likely—that a further twist awaits us. When Charles Babbage encountered an automaton of a ballerina as a child in the early 1800s, the “irresistible eyes” of the mechanism convinced him that there was something lifelike in the machine.  Those robotic facial expressions would seem laughable to a modern viewer, but animatronics has made a great deal of progress since then. There may well be a comparable threshold in simulated emotion—via robotics or digital animation, or even the text chat of an AI like LaMDA—that makes it near impossible for humans not to form emotional bonds with a simulated being. We knew the dwarfs in Snow White were not real, but we couldn’t keep ourselves from weeping for their lost princess in sympathy with them. Imagine a world populated by machines or digital simulations that fill our lives with comparable illusion, only this time the virtual beings are not following a storyboard sketched out in Disney’s studios, but instead responding to the twists and turns and unmet emotional needs of our own lives. (The brilliant Spike Jonze film Her imagined this scenario using only a voice.) There is likely to be the equivalent of a Turing Test for artificial emotional intelligence: a machine real enough to elicit an emotional attachment. It may well be that the first simulated intelligence to trigger that connection will be some kind of voice-only assistant, a descendant of software like Alexa or Siri—only these assistants will have such fluid conversational skills and growing knowledge of our own individual needs and habits that we will find ourselves compelled to think of them as more than machines, just as we were compelled to think of those first movie stars as more than just flickering lights on a fabric screen. Once we pass that threshold, a bizarre new world may open up, a world where our lives are accompanied by simulated friends…

    Are we in for a phase-shift in our understanding of companionship? “Natural Magic,” from @stevenbjohnson, adapted from his book Wonderland: How Play Made The Modern World.

    And for a different, but aposite perspective, from the ever-illuminating L. M. Sacasas (@LMSacasas), see “LaMDA, Lemoine, and the Allures of Digital Re-enchantment.”

    * Shakespeare, The Tempest

    ###

    As we rethink relationships, we might recall that it was on this date in 2007 that the original iPhone was introduced. Generally downplayed by traditional technology pundits after its announcement six months earlier, the iPhone was greeted by long lines of buyers around the country on that first day. Quickly becoming a phenomenon, one million iPhones were sold in only 74 days. Since those early days, the ensuing iPhone models have continued to set sales records and have radically changed not only the smartphone and technology industries, but the world in which they operate as well.

    The original iPhone

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  • feedwordpress 08:00:00 on 2022/06/28 Permalink
    Tags: 1000 true fans, , creative economy, creators, , , , , , Kevin Kelly, Labor Day, Long Tail, , podcasting, podcasts, , ,   

    “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function”*… 


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    The Long Tail

    One the one hand: Ted Gioia suggests that, while ‘The Long Tail’ was supposed to boost alternative voices in music, movies, and books, the exact opposite has happened…

    When I first heard people predict the rise of the Long Tail, I was amused. Not only did it seem wrong-headed, but it ran counter to everything I saw happening around me.

    It pains me to say this—because the Long Tail was sold to us as an economic law that not only predicted a more inclusive era of prosperity, but would especially help creative people. According to its proponents, the Long Tail would revitalize our culture by expanding the scope of the arts and giving a boost to visionaries on the fringes of society.

    Alternative voices would be nurtured and flourish. Music would get cooler and more surprising. Books would become more diverse and interesting. Indie films would reach larger audiences. Etc. etc. etc.

    Hey, what’s not to like?

    But it never happened. More to the point, it was never going to happen because the story was a fairy tale. I knew it back then because I had been hired on a number of occasions to analyze the Long Tail myself. But the flaws in the reasoning are far more obvious today, even to me.

    Nonetheless many believed it—and many still do. So it’s worth digging into the story of the Long Tail, and examining exactly why it never delivered its promise.

    And maybe we can find some alternative pathway to that lost cultural renaissance by seeing how this one went off the rails.

    On the other hand: Cal Newport suggest that Kevin Kelly‘s fourteen-year-old prediction that an artist could make a living online with a thousand true fans is (finally) coming true…

    In his “1,000 True Fans” essay, Kelly explains that he wasn’t as excited about this new economic model as others seemed to be. “The long tail is famously good news for two classes of people: a few lucky aggregators, such as Amazon and Netflix, and 6 billion consumers,” he writes. “But the long tail is a decidedly mixed blessing for creators.” If your work lives in the long tail, the introduction of Internet-based markets might mean that you go from selling zero units of your creations to selling a handful of units a month, but this makes little difference to your livelihood. “The long tail offers no path out of the quiet doldrums of minuscule sales,” Kelly writes. “Other than aim for a blockbuster hit, what can an artists do to escape the long tail?”

    This question might seem fatalistic, but Kelly had a solution. If your creative work exists in the long tail, generating a small but consistent number of sales, then it’s probably sufficiently good to support a small but serious fan base, assuming you’re willing to put in the work required to cultivate this community. In an earlier age, a creative professional might be limited to fans who lived nearby. But by using the tools of the Internet, Kelly argued, it was now possible for creative types to both find and interact with supporters all around the world…

    A shining example of the 1,000 True Fans model is the podcasting boom. There are more than eight hundred and fifty thousand active podcasts available right now. Although most of these shows are small and don’t generate much money, the number of people making a full-time living off original audio content is substantial. The key to a financially viable podcast is to cultivate a group of True Fans eager to listen to every episode. The value of each such fan, willing to stream hours and hours of a creator’s content, is surprisingly large; if sufficiently committed, even a modest-sized audience can generate significant income for a creator. According to an advertising agency I consulted, for example, a weekly podcast that generates thirty thousand downloads per episode should be able to reach Kelly’s target of generating a hundred thousand dollars a year in income. Earning a middle-class salary by talking through a digital microphone to a fiercely loyal band of supporters around the world, who are connected by the magic of the Internet, is about as pure a distillation of Kelly’s vision as you’re likely to find…

    The real breakthroughs that enabled the revival of the 1,000 True Fans model are better understood as cultural. The rise in both online news paywalls and subscription video-streaming services trained users to be more comfortable paying à la carte for content. When you already shell out regular subscription fees for newyorker.com, Netflix, Peacock, and Disney+, why not also pay for “Breaking Points,” or throw a monthly donation toward Maria Popova? In 2008, when Kelly published the original “1,000 True Fans” essay, it was widely assumed that it would be hard to ever persuade people to pay money for most digital content. (This likely explains why so many of Kelly’s examples focus on selling tangible goods, such as DVDs or custom prints.) This is no longer true. Opening up these marketplaces to purely digital artifacts—text, audio, video, online classes—significantly lowered the barriers to entry for creative professionals looking to make a living online…

    But can this last? Is it destined to fall prey to the forces that Gioia catalogues?

    The recent history of the Internet, however, warns that we shouldn’t necessarily expect the endearingly homegrown nature of these 1,000 True Fans communities to persist. When viable new economic niches emerge online, venture-backed businesses, looking to extract their cut, are typically not far behind. Services such as Patreon and Kickstarter are jostling for a dominant position in this direct-to-consumer creative marketplace. A prominent recent example of such attempts to centralize the True Fan economy is Substack, which eliminates friction for writers who want to launch paid e-mail newsletters. Substack now has more than a million subscribers who pay for access to newsletters, and is currently valued at around six hundred and fifty million dollars. With this type of money at stake, it’s easy to imagine a future in which a small number of similarly optimized platforms dominate most of the mechanisms by which creative professionals interact with their 1,000 True Fans. In the optimistic scenario, this competition will lead to continued streamlining of the process of serving supporters, increasing the number of people who are able to make a good living off of their creative work: an apotheosis of sorts of Kelly’s original vision. A more pessimistic prediction is that the current True Fan revolution will eventually go the way of the original Web 2.0 revolution, with creators increasingly ground in the gears of monetization. The Substack of today makes it easy for a writer to charge fans for a newsletter. The Substack of tomorrow might move toward a flat-fee subscription model, driving users toward an algorithmically optimized collection of newsletter content, concentrating rewards within a small number of hyper-popular producers, and in turn eliminating the ability for any number of niche writers to make a living…

    The future of the creative economy: “Where Did the Long Tail Go?,” from @tedgioia and “The Rise of the Internet’s Creative Middle Class,” from Cal Newport on @kevin2kelly in @NewYorker.

    * F. Scott Fitzgerald (“The Crack-Up,” Esquire, February, 1936)

    ###

    As we contemplate culture and commerce, we might recall that it was on this date in 1894 (after 30 states had already enshrined the occasion) that Labor Day became a federal holiday in the United States.

    labor day
    The country’s first Labor Day parade in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882. This sketch appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

    source (and source of more on the history of Labor Day)

     
  • feedwordpress 08:00:00 on 2022/06/27 Permalink
    Tags: , agronomy, , , chorophyll, , , food supply, , , organic chemistry, pollen, Robert Burns Woodward, ,   

    “Plants can’t move, yet the insects come to them and spread their pollen”*… 


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    A canola plant damaged by heat and drought in Saskatchewan, Canada last July

    The impact of climate change on agriculture is much discussed– but mostly at the level of yields. Carolyn Beans looks into what a warming planet means for fertilization and reproduction…

    … heat is a pollen killer. Even with adequate water, heat can damage pollen and prevent fertilization in canola and many other crops, including corn, peanuts, and rice.

    For this reason, many growers aim for crops to bloom before the temperature rises. But as climate change increases the number of days over 90 degrees in regions across the globe, and multi-day stretches of extreme heat become more common, getting that timing right could become challenging, if not impossible.

    Faced with a warmer future, researchers are searching for ways to help pollen beat the heat. They’re uncovering genes that could lead to more heat-tolerant varieties and breeding cultivars that can survive winter and flower before heat strikes. They’re probing pollen’s precise limits and even harvesting pollen at large scales to spray directly onto crops when weather improves.

    At stake is much of our diet. Every seed, grain, and fruit that we eat is a direct product of pollination…

    Farmers and scientists are increasingly observing that unusually high springtime temperatures can kill pollen and interfere with the fertilization of crops. Researchers are now searching for ways to help pollen beat the heat, including developing more heat-tolerant varieties: “Pollen and Heat: A Looming Challenge for Global Agriculture,” from @carolynmbeans in @YaleE360.

    * Nahoko Uehashi

    ###

    As we try to stay cool, we might recall that it was on this date in 1960 that chlorophyll– the green pigment responsible for photosynthesis in plants– was first synthesized. The feat was accomplished by Robert Burns Woodward, the preeminent synthetic organic chemist of the twentieth century, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1965 for this and other syntheses of complex natural compounds (including Vitamin b12).

    Robert Burns Woodward
     
  • feedwordpress 08:00:00 on 2022/06/26 Permalink
    Tags: 3M, Art Fry, bookmarks, church music, , , hymnal, hymnbook, , , , post-it, post-it notes, Shirley Jackson, short story, Spencer Silver, The Lottery, The New Yorker,   

    “Culture is not only passed on orally or by instinctive imitation, but above all through reading and study, hence also through the assistance of such a small object as a bookmark”*… 


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    Arthur Fry, inventor of the Post-it Note, found inspiration in the pages of his hymnal

    Siena Linton explains how a failed invention and a choir hymnbook led to one of the most iconic office staples of the 20th century…

    The year is 1968, and in a laboratory in the midwestern state of Minnesota, US, Dr Spencer Silver is hard at work, attempting to develop an extra-strong adhesive for 3M, then called the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company.

    Instead of the super-sticky substance he had hoped to create, Silver was left with a ‘low-tack’ adhesive, albeit a reusable one which could be stuck and unstuck when pressure was applied.

    Keen not to let his time and efforts go to waste, Dr Silver searched far and wide for a use for what he called his “solution without a problem”.

    For five years, he brought his invention to the table at various seminars and summits, but ultimately failed to make his idea stick.

    Little did Silver know, one of his colleagues at 3M had attended one of these many seminars, and was interested to find out more about the oddly-behaving adhesive. Arthur ‘Art’ Fry, who worked to develop new products at 3M, was a keen singer, and sang in his church choir in his downtime.

    Fry often used small slips of paper to mark important pages in his hymnbook, but with nothing to keep them in place they frequently fell out, causing Fry to lose his place and costing him precious time.

    One Sunday in 1973, during choir practice, he remembered Dr Silver’s seminar. He wondered if he could somehow coat his bookmarks with the adhesive in a way that could help save his page more effectively, without damaging the delicate, wafer-thin pages of his hymnbook.

    In the spirit of encouraging creative collaboration and inventiveness, 3M operate a “permitted bootlegging” initiative, which Fry made use of to further develop his design.

    Using scrap paper borrowed from the lab next door – which just so happened to be canary yellow – Fry experimented with different ways of applying the adhesive to the paper, eventually settling on a strip of glue along one edge of the paper: enough to allow it to stick, without any tackiness left on the part of the bookmark that extended from the page.

    Silver and Fry later began leaving each other notes, stuck to various surfaces around the office. It was then that they realised the full potential of their discovery…

    The rest of the extraordinary story at “The surprising role classical music played in the invention of the Post-it Note,” from @sienalinton at @ClassicFM, via @tedgioia.

    Marco Ferreri

    ###

    As we mark our progress, we might recall that it is on this date in 1948 that Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery,” was published in The New Yorker. In her tale, each year (on June 27– so just as the issue was landing) the the roughly 300 residents of a small village participate in a drawing that determines who will be sacrificed to insure a good harvest…

    The story evoked strong initial negative response: subscriptions were cancelled; much hate mail received throughout the summer; and the Union of South Africa banned the story.  It is now considered a classic of short fiction (and among the most famous American short stories); it spawned several radio, television, and film adaptations, and inspired voluminous analysis, both literary and sociological.

    lottery

    source

     
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