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Can technology reduce our need to sleep?

Can technology reduce our need to sleep?

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Our pick of the week’s science and technology stories, including the search for sleep cures, why Facebook won’t install a Dislike button and medical crises on planes.

A beginner’s guide to immortality
Venkatesh Rao | Ribbonfarm | 10 April 2013

“Human life is like walking into a movie halfway through, and having to walk out again two minutes later. Your ability to derive satisfaction from your two-minute glimpse will depend partly on your ability to construct meaning out of it. One way to do this is to pretend to be immortal.”

The end of sleep
Jesse Gamble | Aeon | 10 April 2013

Imagine a disease that deprived people of a third of their conscious lives. We would be clamouring for a cure. We don’t have a cure for sleep yet: take 400mg of modafinil every eight hours, and you can sleep just one night in three. A mild version of electroshock therapy cuts the optimal nightly sleep time down from eight hours to four. As to what we would do with the extra waking hours, science is silent.

Choking on China: Superpower poisons the world
Thomas Thompson | Foreign Affairs | 9 April 2013

Home to 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities. Biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. Only 1% of urban residents breathe safe air. New strain of bird flu. Acid rain. And it will only get worse, as and when private car ownership rises tenfold. Unless the rest of the world can bring pressure to bear, China will poison its own population, and everyone else.

Great scientists aren’t always good at maths
E.O. Wilson | Wall Street Journal | 5 April 2013

A great scientist writes: “I have a professional secret to share: Many of the most successful scientists in the world today are mathematically no more than semiliterate.” According to Wilson, it is far more important to have good ideas than to have good maths. When you need maths skills, you can import them.

A history of like
Robert Gehl | New Inquiry | 27 March 2013

I missed this when it was first published; all the more reason to return to it now for a read. Facebook has turned “liking” into a driving force of social media and commerce. But why “like”? All is explained here. “The marketing subfield of Liking Studies, which began before Internet use became mainstream, is key to understanding how this somewhat bland, reductive signal of affect became central to the larger consumer economy we live in. It also explains why Facebook will never install a Dislike button.”

Cognitive biases and the trouble with local shopping
Jon Wilkins | Lost In Transcription | 4 April 2013

On the informational advantages that large businesses have over small ones. For example: Starbucks knows from A/B testing that unlimited wifi is better for business than metered wifi. An independent coffee shop can only guess what kind of wifi to offer, if any, and will probably guess wrong, worrying that unlimited wifi will attract freeloaders. The puzzle is, why don’t more small firms copy the practices of big ones, however counterintuitive these might seem, knowing that the big firms have already run the numbers?

Medical emergencies at 40,000 feet
Celine Gounder | The Atlantic | 4 April 2013

Airlines are woefully underprepared for onboard medical emergencies, writes a doctor who has had to cope with several of them. Common in-flight medical events include dizziness, fainting, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. Sometimes things get more serious, like heart attacks, seizures, and strokes. “I never take sedatives on flights because I feel like on almost every other international flight they ask if there's a doctor on board."

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