Digital philanthropy | Interview: Bill Gates
Conversation about the work of the Gates Foundation, with a digression on Bitcoin and a coda on artificial intelligence. “The key is not Internet connectivity. It doesn’t in itself stop childhood mortality, or help farmers know what to plant. If it wasn’t for the digital revolution, we could not be so ambitious. But if you just stood back and watched those things take place, the children would still be dying of malaria.” (Steven Levy, Backchannel, 1,480 words)
Future of money | Deep web business models
Venture capitalist evaluates “deep web marketplaces”, which trade mainly in drugs. They differ from conventional sales platforms in three main ways: They use Bitcoin for settlement; they hold payments with a third party; they don’t seek customer data. “How can you build network effects while relinquishing control of the data? Do you compete on product and user experience? Is that defensible?” (Joel Monegro, 1,300 words)
Ageing | Blood to blood
The vampires were right. You can rejuvenate an old person’s tissues by pumping a young person’s blood into their veins. It’s not clear whether this technique increases lifespan, but it does seem to “turn back the effects of ageing”, and perhaps even those of Alzheimer’s. Researchers say they worry about creating black market in young blood; they want to do more testing; but so far there are “few known safety concerns in humans”. (Megan Scudellari, Nature, 3,000 words)
Psychology | The hard problem
Mind and brain are closely linked. “If you question this, try stabbing your brain repeatedly with a kitchen knife, and see what happens to your consciousness.” But nobody – scientist or philosopher – can even begin to explain how the linkage works. Twenty years ago a young Australian philosopher called this the “Hard Problem” of consciousness, and the name has stuck: Why, and how, do we have self-awareness? (Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, 5,000 words)
Suicide | Why don’t more people kill themselves?
How would you prefer to die? In relative comfort, at a time and place of your choosing? Or hooked up to machines in a hospital, dizzy and helpless? Put like that, the answer seems self-evident. Suicide is a rational option, the more so when hospitalisation can only defer death briefly at great physical and financial cost. “Those who choose to bring an already complete life to a dignified close are an example to us all.” (Emrys Westacott, 3quarks Daily, 2,100 words)
AI | Thinking about machines that think
The annual Edge symposium takes artificial intelligence as its theme. There are 122 responses, so no easy summary, but two contentions recur: that people are thinking machines, and that the imminence of AI has always been oversold. Daniel Dennett makes a useful point: We should worry less about super-intelligent machines controlling us, and worry more about stupid machines controlling us. (Edge, 122,000 words)
Internet | Cicada - solving the web’s deepest mystery
Despite the headline, I should point out that this mystery does not, in fact, get solved. Even so, do read on, because this is a fabulous tale about one of the great enigmas of the internet, the appearance in 2012 of a series of astonishingly esoteric cryptographic puzzles which quickly became an obsession for thousands of hackers. A handful solved all of the so-called Cicada puzzles; at which point, for them, the mystery deepened. (David Kushner, Rolling Stone, 6,700 words)
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