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Best of the Web

How casinos get you to spend more money

(Thinkstock)

(Thinkstock)

Our picks of the week from around the web, including the science of slot machines, the secret behind BuzzFeed and the origin of laughter… and tears.

Why we procrastinate
Alisa Opar | Nautilus | 14 August 2014

We see our future selves as other people, as not-quite-us. This disconnect that we feel between our present and time-shifted selves influences the way we make decisions. When we choose to procrastinate, we are deciding to let another, future, version of our selves deal with problems or chores. But it’s not all bad. If we categorise our future selves as “other people”, that may make us kinder to other people in general.

The origin of laughter, smiles and tears
Michael Graziano | Aeon | 13 August 2014

Exciting amalgam of neuroscience and speculative anthropology. On crying: “My best guess, strange as it might sound, is that our ancestors were in the habit of punching each other on the nose.” Crying would mimic the effects of that injury, inviting comfort. On laughter: “Tickling is only the beginning of the story of laughter. If the touché theory is correct, then laughter can function as a kind of social reward.”

Edward Snowden: Most wanted
James Bamford | Wired | 13 August 2014

The tone is a touch breathless; but the story of Snowden’s work for CIA and NSA, and his disillusion there, are worth the price of admission. He snapped after hearing James Clapper, director of national intelligence, testify that the NSA did “not wittingly” collect information on millions of Americans.

The internet’s original sin
Ethan Zuckerman | Atlantic | 13 August 2014

A one-time programmer, now an elder statesman of the Internet, has a confession to make: “We created the pop-up ad. It was a way to associate an ad with a user’s page without putting it directly on the page, which advertisers worried would imply an association between their brand and the page’s content. I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I’m sorry. Our intentions were good.”

BuzzFeed’s business model
Felix Salmon | Medium | 12 August 2014

BuzzFeed is worth at least its latest $850m valuation, and probably much more. It’s a media company, but it’s not (primarily) a content company; its core competence is the technology of marketing. BuzzFeed proves with its content that it knows how to reach huge, young, mobile audiences. Then “it can then sell that secret sauce to advertisers, and help them reach the same audience, using the same tools.”

The next Siri
Steven Levy | Wired | 12 August 2014

A step closer to "Her". The trio that invented Siri voice-control software claim that their next big thing, “Viv”, will be like Siri but much, much better. Dag Kittlaus, one of the team, says they sold Siri to Apple because Steve Jobs talked them into it. Under Jobs, he says, everything was going well, but the post-Jobs regime at Apple stripped Siri of its functionality, which Viv will recreate. Interesting if true.

What does brain science mean for free will?
Carey Goldberg | Common Health | 7 August 2014

Interview with philosopher Daniel Dennett. “An important element of free will, not often publicly discussed, is that we keep our thinking to ourselves. If we wear our hearts on our sleeves all the time, then people will exploit that. They’ll charge us too much for everything we buy. If they know too much about what we’re thinking, if they can read our minds, then we are to some degree disabled as agents.”

Slot-machine science
Bradley Plumer | Vox | 7 August 2014

How casinos get you to spend more money. Slot machines are the key. Once marginal attractions, now they contribute 85% of US gaming industry profits. Computerisation has made them more involving, more responsive, more addictive. Multi-line machines deliver partial wins which provide the excitement of a win while still costing you money; they’ll even hand you a quick win if they calculate that you’re losing your money too quickly.

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