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Everything is broken
Quinn Norton | The Message | 21 May 2014

There is no security online. None. “It’s hard to explain to regular people how much technology barely works, how much the infrastructure of our lives is held together by the IT equivalent of baling wire. The number of people whose job it is to make software secure can practically fit in a large bar, and I’ve watched them drink. It’s not comforting. It isn’t a matter of if you get owned, only a matter of when.”

The inside story of Oculus Rift
Peter Rubin | Wired | 20 May 2014

Founded by a Californian teenager, bought by Facebook for $2bn, Oculus seems to have cracked the 30-year-old challenge of virtual reality. Its Rift headsets use 360-degree visuals and stereoscopic 3D to “hack your visual cortex … As far as your brain is concerned, there’s no difference between experiencing something on the Rift and experiencing it in the real world”. A game-changing technology; perhaps life-changing.

Waiting for the revolution
Caleb Gardner | Lapham's Quarterly | 20 May 2014

Psychiatry still awaits its scientific revolution, like genetics before Mendel. Freud was a false dawn. Medication helps manage symptoms. But we still don’t know the rules, the principles, of mental illness. Epigenetics holds promise; it argues for behaviour as the product of complex and idiosyncratic interactions between genes and environment. But for that very reason it is less likely to yield general therapeutic breakthroughs.

Find a cat that looks like your old one
Josh Constine | Tech Crunch | 19 May 2014

“Still mourning the loss of your little buddy Chairman Meow? Upload a photo of him or your favourite Lolcat into PetMatch, and the app’s machine vision algorithms will find a similar looking kitty in your area that you can adopt. Sounds adorable, but PetMatch is no joke. It’s the first consumer app from Superfish, a $20m-funded start-up with a dozen PhDs working to teach computers to see like humans.”

Stretch genes
H Allen Orr | New York Review Of Books | 15 May 2014

Polite but firm slapping-down of Nicholas Wade’s book: A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History; which argues that “human races likely differ in social behaviour for genetic reasons as a result of recent evolution”. There are divergences between the genomes of population groups on different continents; but Wade produces no evidence that this causes, or is caused by, different patterns of behaviour.

What do we save when we save the internet?
Ian Bogost | Atlantic | 15 May 2014

The arguments over net neutrality are too little, too late. The supposedly “free and open” internet is already so corrupted and corporatised that most of us might be better off without it. “What new growth might erupt if we let the Internet as we know it burn? Shouldn’t we at least ponder the question? Perhaps we’d be better off tolerating the venial regret of having lost something, than suffering the mortal regret of enduring it.”

Billionaires’ fantasia
Gene Seymour | Baffler | 15 May 2014

The visions of libertarian tycoons such as Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page come straight out of science fiction: Space travel, eternal life, floating cities. “These ambitious, mogul-driven projects all mimic one of science fiction’s raisons d’être: World-building – imagining self-contained planets, space colonies, social relations that operate on radically different principles from the ones we know.”

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