Archive for the ‘technology’ tag
Really interesting story from Brendan Koerner in Wired about a speaker installer whose side business in putting secret compartments into vehicles landed him in jail. The heart of the issue in the case:
Alfred Anaya’s case makes clear that the government rejects [the “technology is morally neutral”] worldview. The technically savvy are on notice that they must be very careful about whom they deal with, since calculated ignorance of illegal activity is not an acceptable excuse. But at what point does a failure to be nosy edge into criminal conduct? In light of what happened to Anaya, that question is nearly impossible to answer.
Venkat Rao remains one of the most interesting future-focused thinker I regularly read. This little idea definately seems sound to me:
I am calling it Godwin’s Corollary for Technology: every online discussion about technology that goes on long enough will eventually mention the Singularity or Collapse.
He goes on to say a number of other wise but less pull-able things about the role of both “good” and “bad” waste in the advance of technology that I really would encourage you to give some time.
Alternate title: Why Humans Would Lose the Robot Wars
Seriously, these things are impressive. Like, scary impressive. The presentation style is dry, but the last few demonstrations are awesome. (And again, a little disturbing.)
Peter W. Singer, not the famous Australian utilitarian philosopher, considers some of the ramifications of the seemingly risk-free war the United States is carrying out in Pakistan.
And now we possess a technology that removes the last political barriers to war. The strongest appeal of unmanned systems is that we don’t have to send someone’s son or daughter into harm’s way. But when politicians can avoid the political consequences of the condolence letter — and the impact that military casualties have on voters and on the news media — they no longer treat the previously weighty matters of war and peace the same way.
(via The Browser)
Tom Vanderbilt has an enjoyable piece in Wired about the convergence between Google’s famous driverless car, and the progress toward a similar goal being made by traditional automakers. He spends some time, as well, considering the legal wasteland that exists around these technologies. The crucial point though:
[As we ride, Google’s driver-less] Prius begins to seem like the Platonic ideal of a driver, against which all others fall short. It can think faster than any mortal driver. It can attend to more information, react more quickly to emergencies, and keep track of more complicated routes. It never panics. It never gets angry. It never even blinks. In short, it is better than human in just about every way.
(via The Browser)
The basis of “I, Pencil” is one of the most important ideas you’re likely to ever encounter. Anyone who, encountering its premise for the first time, is not at least a little awed is probably dead inside.
I am a mystery—more so than a tree or a sunset or even a flash of lightning. But, sadly, I am taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril. For, as a wise man observed, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”
[I refer in my generous praise to the first two-thirds of the piece. While the bit about the mail isn’t obviously wrong, it’s much less obviously right than the part about the pencil. While I won’t here mount a strong defense of the US Postal Service, I believe one can adequately be mounted. I favor wonder and awe, not militant libertarianism in all matters.]
(via Google, The Rational Optimist, and an email I was drafting)
This story is first and foremost a good yarn. It’s entertaining and unknown enough to keep you interested, while it teached you some valuable things about the seldom regarded infrastructure that keeps human civilization pushing foreword, and the risks of nuclear terrorism within that system.
(via Hacker News)
I’ve mostly ignored pieces about Google in the last five years, but when I gave this one a shot it left me a little dumbfounded (emphasis mine):
What was it getting with GOOG-411? It soon became clear that what it was getting were demands for pizza spoken in every accent in the continental United States, along with questions about plumbers in Detroit and countless variations on the pronunciations of ‘Schenectady’, ‘Okefenokee’ and ‘Boca Raton’. GOOG-411, a Google researcher later wrote, was a phoneme-gathering operation, a way of improving voice recognition technology through massive data collection.
That answer had seriously never even started to possibly be a glimmer in my mind.
Perhaps you’ve heard it:
The Americans spent millions of dollars developing a pen that would write in space; the Russians just used pencils.
Thing is, that’s not really a good explanation of why Space Pens were invented, or how human have written in space. I long suspected these facts, but I never actually bothered to confirm them, which io9 has conveniently done.
These anomalies caused by the algorithms Google uses to turn maps into pictures are surprisingly interesting and fun.
An interesting idea: one of the reasons that the Japanese nuclear disaster has been so bad is that early industry and regulatory adoption of inferior light-water reactors means that the worldwide nuclear industry is quite nearly forced to use a design that is less disaster-resistant than most other known options.
Also of note on the nuclear issue, Jeremy Bernstein’s point that radioactive iodine is a relatively good problem to have.
This Wired story about how a freelance crew righted a giant ship with over $14 million of cars inside it was linked everywhere when it was first published. (What I’m saying is that you may have seen this two years ago.) I didn’t read it then, but I just did and it’s fantastic.
A charming little piece.
(via The Browser)
I really liked this look at the realities of how and where exploratory geology for oil is done, and how it’s changing. Not massively exciting, but it’ll tell you things you didn’t know and might be interested to. Things like this:
According to United States Geological Survey data, the earth, as it was before oil companies started drilling, held between five trillion and six trillion barrels of oil, most of which has been discovered or remains inaccessible. In 2000, the U.S.G.S. estimated that there were around 650 billion barrels on the planet yet to be found, and most analysts say that the estimate is a pretty good one.
Farhed Manjoo accurately captures the latest “Google killer”:
As it kept coming up empty, Wolfram Alpha came to seem less like HAL 9000 and more like a chatbot. It’s been trained to respond to some kinds of queries, but any variations leave it stammering. It’s a savant, smart about a few things but profoundly ignorant about large swaths of human knowledge.
If you manage to input a query that’s it’s well-suited to answer, the results can be deeply interesting — a seach for “weather” and my zip code gave data I’d never seen anywhere — but it’s a very limited tool.
Shirky should be required and regular reading for anyone involved in the transmission of ideas. His latest has a number of good lines. A severely pruned list of the quotes I pulled from it:
“When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.”
…the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.
The newspaper people often note that newspapers benefit society as a whole. This is true, but irrelevant to the problem at hand; “You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model.
I’ve noticed that Google now adds to the search results of some searches a timeline of when that term is mentioned in sources — apparently a combination of newspapers, books, and websites. A few observations made using the tool:
- Many events have peaks in ten-year anniversaries of their first happening. See for example: Hiroshima, Apollo 11.
- Recession seems reasonably well correlated with market feelings.
- The historical usage of some terms in interesting. Try for example, piracy and Black Friday.
- “Apollo 13” got a definite boost when the movie came out.
- Some terms show the tool still has bugs. Mesozoic for example. (The peak at 2000BC, for example appears to be caused by a misinterpretation of a citation.)
Obviously the validity of all of these observations is limited by my limited understanding of how the thing works and its bugs.
Want to send visitors straight to the incessant song in Charlie the Unicorn 2? Now you can: