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Best of the Web

The most scary thought experiment ever carried out?

(Thinkstock)

(Thinkstock)

Our picks of the week from around the web, including messing with minds, the secret of Minecraft and the fascinating history of autocorrect.

Medical research: Treat ageing
Luigi Fontana et al | Nature | 23 July 2014

Does getting old have to mean getting sick? Not if medicine raises its game and learns to stall the “incremental cellular damage and changes” associated with old age. This would be more efficient and more effective than treating diseases of old age on a case-by-case basis as we do now. Progress in this direction would be much faster if we broke down the divide between human testing and animal testing.

Fascinating history of autocorrect
Gideon Lewis-Kraus | Wired | 22 July 2014

The early Microsoft Word had a feature called ‘glossary’ which allowed a writer to insert stock phrases using short-cuts. Soon a Microsoft scientist twigged that ‘glossary’ could also remedy common spelling mistakes, and that the space bar could trigger substitutions automatically. Autocorrect was born. Not everyone was happy: “Goldman Sachs was mad that Word was always turning it into Goddamn Sachs.”

Mobile leverage
Benedict Evans | 22 July 2014

Some people are not ‘computer literate’, but everybody is ‘phone literate’. The spread of smartphones means many more connected devices, but also devices that get used much more often; as with computing when it moved from mainframes to desktops. “Smartphones don’t just increase the size of the internet by 2x or 3x, but more like 5x or 10x. It’s not just how many devices, but how different those devices are, that has the multiplier effect.”

The secret of Minecraft
Robin Sloan | Medium | 21 July 2014

The video game Minecraft has a steep learning curve. It isn’t intuitive; there is no in-game tutorial. The knowledge passes between players, and gets codified in third-party books and websites. The purpose of acquiring this arcane knowledge is not to beat the game, but to continue the game, to build new things. Minecraft is telling us something encouraging about our cultural needs.

Emerging from the colossal cave
Tom Cheesewright | 18 July 2014

Why technology has become more ‘human’. “The history of computing over the last half-century for me is one of evolution, of computers evolving towards a state where their interactions with us are not limited to the screen, and they can communicate with us on all the levels that we communicate with each other.”

The most terrifying thought experiment of all time
David Auerbach | Slate | 17 July 2014

Roko’s Basilisk. I admit right away that I don’t understand this. But I want to understand it, I’m reasonably sure that it ought to make sense, and I’m going to read it a couple more times in the hope that it does. It seems to involve a variant of the Monty Hall decision-making problem, crossed with the time-travel possibilities of Looper, within a computer-simulated world reminiscent of The Matrix.

Choosing a driving plan
Adrian Hon | A History Of The Future | 17 July 2014

The recommendation goes to the whole collection of articles on this site, which tells the story of the coming hundred years by describing the products and services which will be invented during that time. Driving plans are just like mobile phone plans, but for driverless car networks. Do you want fixed pricing or dynamic pricing? Miles or minutes? Low minimum and expensive overage, or high minimum?

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