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Life under a lens

Life under a lens

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Our pick of the week’s science and technology stories explore our innermost fears, a world under surveillance and bringing Neanderthals back from the dead.

Awaiting a new Darwin
H. Allen Orr | New York Review Of Books | 21 January 2013

On Thomas Nagel's "Mind And Cosmos", which argues for seeing the universe as an entity with a purpose, though not necessarily a divine one, and adjusting the practice of science accordingly, treating evolution as merely a means towards a universal end that remains to be discovered. Scientists retort that Nagel doesn't understand science. 

Google and the Knowledge Graph
Tim Adams | Observer | 19 January 2013

Interview with Amit Singhal, head of Google Search, on philosophy and technology of search, and on this year's big new product — Knowledge Graph, database of 500m most searched-for things in the Google world. "We are a search people. The thing that motivates me is to build a search engine that will outdo all my previous creations." 

Can Neanderthals be brought back from the dead?
Philip Bethge and Johann Grolle | Spiegel | 18 January 2013

Jaw-dropping interview with George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard. His answer: "That depends on a hell of a lot of things, but I think so ... You would certainly have to create a cohort, so they would have some sense of identity. They could maybe even create a new neo-Neanderthal culture and become a political force." 

Enlightened surveillance
Stuart Armstrong | Practical Ethics | 18 January 2013

Cameras everywhere. We are moving towards a surveillance society. But is that all bad? Not necessarily. There are many ways in which society could benefit from inhabiting a panopticon. "We should at least consider the possibility that people who know that their words and deeds are recorded would behave in more pro-social and honest ways." 

Bruce Sterling: The complete interview
Cory Doctorow et al | Forty Key Books | 2 January 2013

If you know Sterling, you know what to expect: volleys of ideas about tech, society, writing. "It's mostly our paper that will survive us as data, while a lot of our electronics will succumb to erasure, loss, and bit rot. If we're like most civilizations, we're going to leave some of our most effective clues to ourselves in our garbage." 

Google’s Larry Page on why Moon shots matter
Steven Levy | Wired | 17 January 2013

Exhilarating interview with Google boss, on the need to think differently and plan big. "I feel like there are all these opportunities in the world to use technology to make people’s lives better. At Google we’re attacking maybe 0.1 percent of that space. And all the tech companies combined are only at like 1 percent." 

What we should fear
Gary Marcus | New Yorker | 15 January 2013

150 scientists and other intellectuals contribute to a symposium on what humanity should fear in the long term. Mostly conventional answers: demographics, computer hacking, rogue robots. But an interesting strand of "meta-worry": Do we worry too much, or too little? Are we good at identifying our problems? If so, why can't we deal with them?

Re-evaluating the value of tiles in Scrabble
DTC | Virtuosi | 20 January 2013

English lexicon has changed a lot in the 70 years since Scrabble was invented. Should the point-value of Scrabble letters be changed to reflect modern usage, and to correct earlier errors? Amid a recent flurry of pieces on the subject, this one is by far the best, grounding its conclusions on a computer simulation of 10m racks of letters. 

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