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Best of the Web

Best of the web: Brains, internet pains and automobiles

Best of the web from The Browser

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Enjoy the pick of the week’s science and technology stories from around the web, as selected by Bob Trevelyan, editor of The Browser.

Creative blocks
David Deutsch | Aeon | 3 October 2012
The laws of physics tell us that artificial intelligence must be possible. And yet, says physicist David Deutsch, "I cannot think of any other significant field of knowledge in which the prevailing wisdom, not only in society at large but also among experts, is so beset with entrenched, overlapping, fundamental errors." So why does the field of artificial intelligence have such a long record of failure? What is it that may unblock our understanding? And could there be a role for philosophy?

The Internet blowhard's favourite phrase
Daniel Engber | Slate | 2 October 2012

A brief history of the use, and misuse, of the phrase "correlation does not imply causation". First appeared in print in the 1890s, not long after correlation became an established mathematical concept; for decades it was barely mentioned, but the dawn of computers gave it new life. Someone who used it in a statistics class once has a lot to answer for: now it crops up with predictable regularity in online comments, to the considerable irritation of scientists and statisticians. Engber starts the backlash.

Why your car isn't electric
Maggie Koerth-Baker | New York Times | 2 October 2012

Why do we end up embracing one technology while another, better one struggles or fails? "The easiest assumption," says Maggie Koerth-Baker, "is that some powerful entity suppresses one technology and favours another, and so the wheel of progress slowly turns. But historians of science and business will tell you that this isn’t the whole story." In practice, technological advance is a messy and unpredictable process. Winners and losers can be determined by all sorts of factors, including unlikely ones. As was the case with the car industry.

The energy-water nexus
Tom Murphy | Do The Math | 2 October 2012

Water. Do you know how much you use? You might be horrified if you did. Physicist Tom Murphy takes a measuring stick to personal and public usage and makes a few calculations. He's particularly interested in the connections between water and energy. As he says, "shortages in either could have major impacts, and their entanglement means that a shortage in one could trigger a shortage in both." Don't worry, your survival's not at stake. But the way you live might have to change. 

Out there: Digging up the early universe
Sean Carroll | Discover | 1 October 2012

Cosmologists have reconstructed the history of the universe back to a few seconds after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. Impressive stuff. But now the push is on to go back further still, to a tiny fraction of a second after what we think of as the beginning to time. "This will help us address the deepest questions about our place in the cosmos: How did it all begin? Is our universe the only one? And if not, why this universe rather than some other one?"

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