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Obama’s big data win and the psychology of everything

Obama’s big data win and the psychology of everything

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Our pick of the week’s science and technology stories include election-winning geeks, the difficulties in defining death and a journey through the human mind.

Inside the secret world of data crunchers who helped Obama win
Michael Scherer | Time | 7 November 2012

It won't have escaped your attention that there was an election this week. But did you know what, and who, drove the Obama campaign? "The role of the campaign pros in Washington who make decisions on hunches and experience is rapidly dwindling, being replaced by the work of quants and computer coders who can crack massive data sets for insight. In politics, the era of big data has arrived."

Why we can't solve big problems
Jason Pontin | MIT Technology Review | 24 October 2012

The motivation for the Apollo space programme was partly about proving the superiority of American rocketry over Soviet engineering, says Pontin, but "the strongest emotion at the time of the moon landings was of wonder at the transcendent power of technology.” Somewhere along the way since then we seem to have lost that. The public has lost its appetite for high-risk, big-ticket projects. Governments have lost their nerve. And Silicon Valley has "ceased to be the funder of the future, and instead become a funder of features, widgets, irrelevances.” It's time we got back that ambition and determination to solve big problems through technology.

One man, one computer, 10 million students
Michael Noer | Forbes | 2 November 2012

Twenty-four months ago, Salman Khan had left his job and was working alone in a walk-in closet. He wanted to see if he could use internet-based technology to rethink the educational model that had prevailed for hundreds of years. Now it's no exaggeration to say that his Khan Academy, funded by some of the biggest names in tech, is upending assumptions about education. The potential is immense.

Beginnings of bionic
Meghan Rosen | Science News | 2 November 2012

Computers used to fill whole rooms; then they sat on desks; now they're in the palm of your hand. Joining them to the body is "the next logical step", says Princeton researcher Michael McAlpine. "People are going to be bionic." And, when the medical applications are considered, it could be very useful indeed.

Dead as a doornail?
Peter Rothman | H+ | 1 November 2012
Developments in technology could extend the lives of many of us (see above). But what happens when the end finally approaches? "Death is the ultimate binary condition. Black or white. Alive or dead. Right? In reality, death is not well defined and the definition of death has changed substantially over time." Today, it's a term with more legal than scientific meaning. And medical advances mean the definition of death will continue to change. Will a boundary have to be drawn somewhere?

How to stop illegal downloads
Dan Ariely | Dan Ariely | 3 November 2012

Dan Ariely is a behavioural economist who studies dishonesty; he even wrote a book about it. Then he discovered that book had been downloaded many times illegally. He was a little flattered, a little amused at the irony of people illegally downloading a book about dishonesty, and most of all he was curious. It changed his mind about digital piracy, and got him thinking about what might stop it. I won't claim that you'll find his remedy convincing, but this short blogpost does make for enjoyable reading.

The psychology of everything
Paul Bloom | Big Think | 24 October 2012

Now, as they say, for something completely different. This is a longish video: It's 48 minutes. But it's a biggish subject: The human mind. What compassion, racism and sex tell us about the human mind, as explained by Paul Bloom, professor of psychology at Yale.

Bonus read: A guide to consciousness
What is consciousness? Where did it come from? Is there such a thing as conscious choice? Read The Browser's special report on Consciousness to find out.

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