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Best of the Web

Why do we love to play?

Why do we love to play?

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Our pick of the week from around the web, including what makes humans unique, virtual reality in movies and everything Google is working on this year.

Everything Google is working on this year
Ron Amadeo | Ars Technica | 11 February 2014

Google tends to signal its areas of interest and its new projects pretty clearly, by announcements and acquisitions. This year’s priorities include: A big push further into gaming via Google Play; getting more of the developing world online, by building out new infrastructure; cheaper phones; home automation; healthcare and fitness; robots; self-driving taxicabs.

The future of virtual reality movies
Hugh Hancock | Charlie's Diary | 10 February 2014

“Oculus Rift does indeed deliver on the promise of Virtual Reality, a mere 20 years later than promised. I’ve got two in the studio at the moment, and they are absolutely not over-hyped. The Rift is the first technology in 20 years that has made me consider moving from producing straight-up CGI animated movies to a new artform. The sense of immersion is incredible, the technology’s workable.”

Human overkillers and the next great die-off
Kathryn Schulz | New York | 10 February 2014

Review of Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Great Extinction, which “makes a page-turner out of even the most sober and scientifically demanding aspects of extinction”. For “a work of what we might term mid-apocalyptic nonfiction”, her book is “remarkably restrained”. She explains, as a matter of fact, that humans are destroying themselves and their planet. “She declines to tell us how to feel about it or what to do.”

What’s the point if we can’t have fun?
David Graeber | The Baffler | 8 February 2014

Animals play. Humans play. To explain play in Darwinian or utilitarian terms means arguing that it is something else in disguise. But what if play is the real point of our lives? “Let us imagine a principle. Call it a principle of freedom. Let us imagine it to hold that the free exercise of an entity’s most complex powers or capacities will, under certain circumstances at least, tend to become an end in itself.”

What sets humanity apart
Stephen Cave | Financial Times | 7 February 2014

Are human beings irreducibly different from other living things? Henry Gee thinks not: “There is nothing special about being human, any more than there is anything special about being a guinea pig or a geranium”, he writes in his “persuasive” book The Accidental Species. Other thinkers disagree, but with diminishing confidence. “We are not the only species with, for example, language – we just have more of it.”

Journalists as Jedis
Izabella Kaminska | Dizzynomics | 5 February 2014

Alternative models for journalism. Some are already with us – for example, “the news service that’s also something else”. Here's one for purists: “We get a religious like order of volunteer journalists, who forge a network based on the observation of strict hierarchies and codes of conduct. Free from corruption because they are driven by a higher mission, like the Jedi, they defend the veracity, quality and truth of everything.”

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