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Higgs: The man as elusive as the particle

Higgs: The elusive Nobel genius

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Our pick of the week’s articles, including a profile of Peter Higgs, humans versus robots and how big a bet Apple made on its iPhone.

Doctors should tell people they are fat
Max Pemberton | Spectator | 10 October 2013

“For too long, my fellow doctors have pussyfooted around their obese patients, too scared to confront the, er, elephant in the room. They don’t want to cause offence. But nice euphemisms mean that people don’t confront reality. I’m not going to stop diagnosing cancer just because people don’t like hearing the dreaded word. So why should it be different when informing people that they are obese?”

As elusive as the Higgs Boson
Ian Sample | The Guardian | 8 October 2013

Charming sketch of Nobel laureate. “Peter Higgs is portrayed as the reclusive genius but that is as flawed as any stereotype. He can be hard to get hold of, but a busy life and an aversion to modern technology are mostly to blame for that. He has no computer, and no email. He answers the phone only when he knows who is calling. To arrange an interview took a letter to his apartment in Edinburgh followed by a wait of several months.”

The ethics of autonomous cars
Patrick Lin | Atlantic | 8 October 2013

How can we programme cars to cope with life-and-death decisions? “It would be an unreasonable act of faith to think that programming issues will sort themselves out without a deliberate discussion about ethics. Is it better to save an adult or child? What about saving two (or three or ten) adults versus one child? We don’t like thinking about these choices, but programmers may have to do exactly that.”

Thinking about emotions
John Wilkins | Evolving Thoughts | 7 October 2013

Instead of positing our basic emotions as separate things, we can map them on to a two- or three-dimensional framework in which they form a continuum. “They are not distinct and unique qualitative features of the human psyche. Fear and frustration are just coordinate locations in that space”. Bonus fact: these taxonomies do not include “love” as a basic emotion. Love is “just a social name for a variety of states.”

Humans 1, Robots 0
Farhad Manjoo | Wall Street Journal | 6 October 2013

Why human cashiers beat check-out machines at the supermarket. “The human is faster. The human has a more pleasing, less buggy interface. The human doesn’t expect me to remember or look up codes for produce, bags my groceries, and isn’t on hair-trigger alert for any sign that I might be trying to steal toilet paper. Best of all, the human does all the work while I’m allowed to stand there and stupidly stare at my phone.”

And then Steve said: Let there be an iPhone
Fred Vogelstein | New York Times | 4 October 2013

“It’s hard to overstate the gamble Jobs took when he decided to unveil the iPhone back in January 2007. Not only was he introducing a new kind of phone – something Apple had never made before – he was doing so with a prototype that barely worked. In truth, the list of things that still needed to be done was enormous. A production line had yet to be set up. Only about a hundred iPhones even existed.” (Metered paywall)

Isaac Newton: The divided self
Jonathan Ree | London Review Of Books | 3 October 2013

While still a sulky and relatively young Cambridge mathematician, Newton astonished the world with a work of natural science that was soon recognised as one of the greatest books ever written. A few years later he was a sleek London gentleman devoting his intellectual energy and considerable wealth to esoteric studies of the Bible. Was he the first of the world’s modern scientists, or the last of its great magicians?

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