Economics Environment History Science Technology

Mattresses, Tombs, Nickel, 52, Algorithm, Machines

Inspiration comes – not surprisingly – from the Netherlands. The sea has been a threat in the Low Countries since long before climate change. The Dutch built their country partly at the bottom of the sea, drained it with windmills, and surrounded the new land with dykes. The Dutch coast has fine-grained, sandy soil that offers little resistance to the friction of the water. Currents, waves, and propellers of ships scour the bottom and can easily lead to the collapse of dykes, banks, quays, locks, and abutments.

It might go without saying, but for as long as humans have lived, we have also died. Our answers to the question of what to do with our earthly remains have evolved alongside religions and beliefs. Prehistoric humans buried their dead, sometimes with weapons or animal heads to offer some protection — against wild beasts, perhaps, or spirits — in the beyond. Some placed cadavers on mountaintops instead, trusting the elements, and scavengers, to scatter them (this practice persists in Tibet and in some parts of China and India). The first architect, the Egyptian Imhotep, is known for his mortuary constructions. Methods of interment have changed throughout the ages.

A Death Full of Life

Originally built as a resource colony by prisoners in the Soviet Gulag, Norilsk has been a metal making center for 80 years. Norilsk Nickel outlasted communism, embraced capitalism, and now aims to ramp up production to sell the high-purity metals needed for batteries and other technologies of the 21st century clean energy economy. The company’s ambitions coincide with those of Russian President Vladimir Putin for greater development in the Far North, which he maintains can be accomplished sustainably.

In the Russian Arctic, One of the Most Polluted Places on Earth

The world’s second most popular electric car (after the Tesla Model 3) is the Wuling HongGuang Mini, which costs $5,000 and outsells vehicles from Renault, Hyundai, VW and Nissan. [Brad Anderson & José Pontes]
Airline Food is a programming language whose programs look like Jerry Seinfeld stand-up routines. [Jamie Large]
Early versions of PowerPoint were created by a technical team that was 43% women, compared to an average of 10% in Silicon Valley at the time. [Russell Davies — buy his book here from Fluxx friends World of Books]

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Using the standard method devised more than 70 years ago by Richard Feynman, he had sketched diagrams of hundreds of possible ways the colliding particles might morph and interact before shooting out three jets. Adding up the individual probabilities of those events would give the overall chance of the three-jet outcome. But Gehrmann needed software just to tally the 35,000 terms in his probability formula. As for computing it? That’s when “you raise the flag of surrender and talk to your colleagues,” he said.

As early as 3,000 years ago we encounter interest in intelligent machines and AI that perform different servile functions. In the works of Homer (c. eighth century BCE) we find Hephaestus, the Greek god of smithing and craft, using automatic bellows to execute simple, repetitive labor. Golden handmaidens, endowed with characteristics of movement, perception, judgment, and speech, assist him in his work. In his “Odyssey,” Homer recounts how the ships of the Phaeacians perfectly obey their human captains, detecting and avoiding obstacles or threats, and moving “at the speed of thought.” Several centuries later, around 400 BCE, we meet Talos, the giant bronze sentry, created by Hephaestus, that patrolled the shores of Crete. These examples from the ancient world all have in common their subservient role; they exist to serve the desires of other, more powerful beings — either gods or humans — and even if they have sentience, they lack autonomy. Thousands of years before Karel Čapek introduced the term “robot” to refer to artificial slaves, we find them in Homer.

Surveillance, Companionship, and Entertainment: The Ancient History of Intelligent Machines

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“A Fascinating, Sexy, Intellectually Compelling, Unregulated Global Market.” (Ep. 484)

Tales of cross-species communication. When we gaze into the eyes of a wild animal or a beloved pet, can we know what they might be thinking? Selection bias may be at work here, but just about everybody in this podcast, from whale-rescuers to dog-walkers, says “Yes”

Economist Steve Levitt talks to cosmologist and physicist Max Tegmark, co-founder of the Future Of Life Institute, about the existential threats facing humanity