A master class in Google
Steven Levy | Backchannel | 7 October 2014
Interview with executive chairman Eric Schmidt about how Google runs its business. Part one of three. Key point: It’s Larry Page’s company now. “With scale has come the need for clarity of decision-making and frankly Sergey and I are gone. Sergey shows up for the staff meetings but he is busy working on Google X. But I think the principles of alignment are still there. Everyone is still in alignment.”
The moment of uncertainty
Philip Ball | Homunculus | 8 October 2014
Interview with Robert Crease, historian of science, about Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, formulated in 1926 while Heisenberg was visiting Niels Bohr in Copenhagen. The bewildering implications of the principle caught the public imagination. “Suddenly, quantum mechanics was not just another scientific theory – it showed that the quantum world works very differently from the everyday world."
Opt out of food
Nicola Twilley | Aeon | 6 October 2014
The implications of the food substitute Soylent. You don’t have to cook; you save 60-90 minutes in your daily routine and make some economies in cognitive effort and nervous energy. But at what cost? Social, obviously, and perhaps physical, too. “The replacement of food with a liquid substitute could result in dramatic changes to the human jaw. Soylent-face might become a recognisable look. Teeth themselves might become obsolete."
The height of folly
Ken Weiss | The Mermaid's Tale | 8 October 2014
Our genes help to make us what we are. But the process by which they do so is far too complicated to allow for any tracing of particular cause and effect. “You have six billion nucleotides, each potentially variable in one or any unspecified number of a trillion cells. Your genotype is the aggregate of these possible variants." The number of factors which make one person taller or shorter than another is “truly infinite”.
The conversation that matters most
Atul Gawande | Slate | 6 October 2014
A doctor discusses end-of-life care, and managing death. You should not overload very sick people with technical choices; you have to find out what their remaining priorities are, and work with those as best you can. A patient may well prefer a quicker and easier death at home, over a life extended marginally by therapy or surgery in hospital. That’s OK. Death is a normal part of life. Death is not a defeat for the doctor.
The closed mind of Richard Dawkins
John Gray | New Statesman | 4 October 2014
Scathing review of Dawkins’ book An Appetite for Wonder. Dawkins “sees himself as a Darwin-like figure”. But “no two minds could be less alike”. Darwin “understood science as an empirical investigation in which truth is never self-evident and theories are always provisional”. Dawkins sees science as the triumph of certainty over superstition. But he “shows very little interest in asking what scientific knowledge is or how it comes to be possible”.
Why not eat octopus?
Silvia Killingsworth | New Yorker | 3 October 2014
In form and function octopuses are “far more distant from humans than the animals we tend to have moral quandaries about consuming”. But their intelligence is “well documented”. They have relatively large brains. They can open jars and deter predators; even “demonstrate personalities”. Here’s one way to think about it: Would you want to eat an alien? The octopus is “probably the closest we’ll get to meeting an intelligent alien”.