Science and Technology

Decision Engines

Decision Engines

Behind him, a self-driving car approaches.

Scenario Three. It is a sunny day. On a one-lane road in upstate New York, a young boy is riding his bicycle toward a blind curve. A self-driving car rounds the corner carrying two passengers: a teenage girl and her boyfriend, both of whom attend the same high school. Although the self-driving car is driving at a safe speed, it cannot brake quickly enough to avoid hitting the boy on the bicycle. The car can either hit the boy, killing him instantly, or it can swerve off the road and crash into a large oak tree, sending the car’s passengers through the windshield and into the woods. Knocked unconscious by the impact, both passengers will die before an ambulance arrives. The boy will flee the scene.

Until They Inevitably Find and Kill Each Other

Video games roundup

What has changed, two decades on, is the thrust of these games. There has been, in video-game sports as in the culture at large, an astonishing administrative bloat. The first time I noticed the shift was in playing GameDay 2000, a basic NFL simulator. Sure, you could play an NFL game, watch the tightly-packed polygonal men glitch through one another, watch the victory dances to buttrock anthems. But GameDay also let you start a franchise. Now, instead of calling plays and moving small men around, you were the GM. The game let you simulate entire seasons, no longer bothering with the incidental back-and-forth of moving a ball across a field, but playing football on a world-historic level. In the offseason you would trade and draft new players, based on stats generated by the computer, new rookies with computer-generated names populating your team, until your Chicago Bears were unrecognizable, the year was 2020, and your franchise had won the past decade of Super Bowl rings.

Not a Techno-Thriller

Not a Techno-Thriller

The Volkswagen scandal was more diffuse, technical and tedious than most journalists allow.

Scandal always captivates, and the VW news captivated Americans for months—even those Americans who usually skip past the automobile section. Reporters like Ewing published updates nearly every day. John Oliver even jumped aboard with a comedy bit mocking the German language and ended with the line, “Hitler trusted us, why won’t you?” With the market prepared, Faster, Higher, Farther has been published simultaneously in English and German, and the author has been appearing on the morning shows to talk corporate scandal. Leonardo DiCaprio bought the movie rights.

Notes from the Third Annual Drone Film Festival

Notes from the Third Annual Drone Film Festival

What better device than a drone to pursue a man running away?

The ability to move a camera through the air is not much younger than cinema itself, but the technology has never been so cheap and accessible, or so smooth in its execution. Even in a festival designed to celebrate it, the drone does its job so well that it’s easy to forget.

Monstrous, Duplicated, Potent

Monstrous, Duplicated, Potent

On Donna Haraway

By the end of the book, we’ve learned all manner of detail about the Acacia tree genus, made up of fifteen hundred species, living in climates ranging from desert to tropics and found in ice cream, beer, and postage stamps. We learn about the Pimoa chthulu spider, Haraway’s neighbor in the North Central California redwoods and another inspiration for the Chthulucene. We learn about the history of Premarin estrogen tablets, made out of horse urine, and their effects on both midcentury reproductive politics and Cayenne Pepper’s bladder.

Ghost in the Cloud

Ghost in the Cloud

Transhumanism’s simulation theology

A new, more pernicious thought had come to dominate my mind: transhumanist ideas were not merely similar to theological concepts but could in fact be the events described in the Bible. It was only a short time before my obsession reached its culmination. I got out my old study Bible and began to scan the prophetic literature for signs of the cybernetic revolution. I began to wonder whether I could pray to beings outside the simulation. I had initially been drawn to transhumanism because it was grounded in science. In the end, I became consumed with the kind of referential mania and blind longing that animates all religious belief.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation Bias

Did big data sink the Clinton campaign?

Why did Ada fail in Michigan? The primary and the general election were different contests, but both suggest that the failure lay in Ada’s model of the electorate—or more precisely, her inability to update her model of the electorate. In the general election, Ada told Clinton that Wisconsin was a lock, that Michigan was not a problem. But it wasn’t so much that Ada’s cake arbitrarily failed to rise; the failure was in the recipe. In an election where a great realignment took place—where thousands of voters in Rust Belt states who had voted for Obama twice now turned to Trump—Ada had not been programmed to detect the possibility of that realignment. The oracle had been hamstrung from the start.

Every Body Goes Haywire

Every Body Goes Haywire

It’s inconceivable to most people that this is it—there is no other, underlying condition. The headaches are the condition itself.

A migraine attack blurs the distinction between “sickness” and “health.” Headache, dizziness, nausea, trouble concentrating, fatigue, poor verbal skills—these symptoms could just as easily result from a hangover or a bad night’s sleep. That the same symptoms can result from irresponsible decisions gives patients an air of culpability.

Episode 29: Slow Wars

Episode 29: Slow Wars

On this episode of the n+1 podcast, Moira Weigel joins us to talk about her essay “Slow Wars” about the slow cinema movement in foreign art films, the impact changes in filmmaking and film viewing technology have on the art form, and the nebulous terms of debate in slow cinema’s film criticism.