Our picks of the week from around the web, including Apple’s ‘dumb’ watch, China’s cunning censorship, and the risks of putting a plane on autopilot.

Be terrified of superintelligent machines
Nick Bostrom | Slate | 11 September 2014

The arrival of high-functioning artificial intelligence will be like an alien invasion. “We have little reason to believe a superintelligence will necessarily share human values, and no reason to believe it would place intrinsic value on its own survival either. These arguments make the mistake of anthropomorphising artificial intelligence, projecting human emotions on to an entity that is fundamentally alien.”

Why is Peter Thiel pessimistic?
Dan Wang | 10 September 2014

Digest of arguments made by venture capitalist Peter Thiel that America has entered an era of economic and technological stagnation. “You have as much computing power in your iPhone as was available at the time of the Apollo missions. But what is it being used for? It’s being used to throw Angry Birds at pigs; it’s being used to send pictures of your cat to people halfway around the world.”

China’s smart censorship
Andrew Brown | Guardian | 10 September 2014

China has perfected censorship that makes the state smarter. Citizens can say what they like online, provided they make no attempt to support or incite protest action in the physical world. A dictatorship thus gets the benefits of honest public debate which used to be the prerogative of liberal democracy. “The information signalling part of a market economy is co-opted to the service of an authoritarian state.”

Apple’s dumb watch
Felix Salmon | Medium | 9 September 2014

The Apple Watch may get much better in its future iterations, as previous Apple products have done; but it’s off to a bad start; Apple has been surprisingly maladroit in the basic design. The watch is overloaded with features; which makes it too complicated to use intuitively; and creates big issues with battery life and charging. “Put it this way: no one who only has one wrist is going to be wearing an Apple Watch.”

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a spreadsheet
Chadwick Matlin | FiveThirtyEight | 9 September 2014

OKCupid looks like a dating agency but it’s really a data agency. Co-founder Christian Rudder rescued the site from imminent collapse by discovering that he could refashion his user data into publicity-grabbing factoids about modern love. The piece includes, from his hand, probably the funniest pair of charts you will see this year — showing, in effect, that women age gracefully in their desires, but men never age at all.

Were we happier in the Stone Age?
Yuval Noah Harari | Guardian | 5 September 2014

Perhaps. Stone Age-foragers knew great hardship but also great freedom. A peasant in 1800 knew great hardship but very little freedom. The 20th Century brought material comforts, but also great wars and famines. The past few decades have been a golden age by comparison, but “it is too early to know whether this represents a fundamental shift in the currents of history, or an ephemeral wave of good fortune”

The hazards of going autopilot
Maria Konnikova | New Yorker | 4 September 2014

Cockpit automation systems designed to make flying safer and easier have the perverse effect of increasing risk, because they remove the constant pressure on the pilot to pay attention to the plane. Errors go undetected. “If anyone needs to remain vigilant, it’s an airline pilot. Instead, the cockpit is becoming the experimental ideal of the environment most likely to cause you to drift off.”

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