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Hacking the papal election

Hacking the papal election

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Our pick of the week’s science and technology stories, including a security expert on choosing the new Pope, Twitter's founder on when to sell your company, and when brain damage unlocks the genius within.

Will programmers rule?
Raghuram Rajan | Project Syndicate | 26 February 2013

Software is taking over the world, says Marc Andreessen. What does that imply for income distribution? Probably more inequality. Software is a winner-take-all world. "Those who are creative and competent enough to write that slightly better search engine will capture the global market." Equality of opportunity won't produce more equal outcomes.

Postscript: C. Everett Koop, 1916-2013
Michael Specter | New Yorker | 26 February 2013

Obituary for former American surgeon-general. A conservative scientist whom liberals could admire. "Everett Koop, the grumpy man who dressed like a nineteenth-century preacher and wore a beard that made him look like Lincoln, was the most utterly consistent public servant I have ever seen. He simply required scientific decisions to be governed by science."

Hacking the papal election
Bruce Schneier | Schneier On Security | 22 February 2013

The system is entirely manual, making it immune to the type of technological attacks that make modern voting systems so risky. If there's a weak step, though, it's the counting of the ballots. “There's no real reason to do a precount, and it gives the scrutineer doing the transfer a chance to swap legitimate ballots with others he previously stuffed up his sleeve. Shaking the chalice to randomise the ballots is smart, but spinning the ballots in a wire cage would be more secure."

Encapsulated universes
Lera Boroditsky | Edge | 19 February 2013

Does language shape thought, such that speakers of different languages think in different ways? Transcript of discursive talk with Stanford linguist, full of interesting anecdotes and observations, arguing that, yes, the structure of language and the structure of thought can be seen to mirror one another, and to differ across cultures.

When brain damage unlocks the genius within
Adam Piore | Popular Science | 19 February 2013

Sales manager suffers severe concussion in sports accident, recovers, and finds he can play the piano, which he never could before. Makes new career as musician. Such cases of "acquired savant" syndrome suggests that injuries to the left hemisphere of the brain may remove inhibitory functions, allowing right-brain creativity to flourish.

When to sell your company
Ev Williams | Medium | 20 February 2013

Founder of Blogger, Twitter, Medium, walks back through his rationale for dismissing an early bid for Twitter. It makes sense to sell your company when you get an offer so big that it captures all foreseeable upside; or when you face an imminent threat that you can't deal with alone; or when you've had enough of the business. Otherwise, hang on.

The end of the web, search, and computer as we know it
David Gerlernter | Wired | 1 February 2013

“People ask what the next web will be like, but there won’t be a next web.” The world wide web functions as a stock of data, a spatial construct. The next web will function as a flow of data, organised chronologically. "All the information on the internet will soon be a time-based structure. In the world of bits, space-based structures are static. Time-based structures are dynamic, always flowing – like time itself."

We aren't the world
Ethan Watters | Pacific Standard | 26 February 2013

American social scientists study American habits, and generalise from those to the world at large. Which is "the equivalent of studying penguins while believing that they were learning insights applicable to all birds". Americans are outliers. They are "Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic". Or, if you prefer: WEIRD.

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