Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens

Wired reports: On June 14, 2014, the State Council of China published an ominous-sounding document called “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System”. In the way of Chinese policy documents, it was a lengthy and rather dry affair, but it contained a radical idea. What if there was a national trust score that rated the kind of citizen you were? Imagine a world where many of your

China wants to shape the global future of artificial intelligence

MIT Technology Review reports: China isn’t just investing heavily in AI—its experts aim to set the global standards for the technology as well. Academics, industry researchers, and government experts gathered in Beijing last November to discuss AI policy issues. The resulting document, published in Chinese recently, shows that the country’s experts are thinking in detail about the technology’s potential impact. Together with the Chinese government’s strategic plan for AI, it

Putin treats Britain with disdain because the Russian government thinks it has bought the British elite

Anne Applebaum writes: “Londongrad” is the nickname, not entirely affectionate, that wealthy Russians have bestowed upon Britain’s capital. The term doesn’t just designate a physical place, though many Russians do indeed live here. Londongrad is more properly a state of mind — encompassing not only the nonresident owners of large houses in Kensington, but also the British institutions, banks, law firms, accountants, private schools, art galleries, and even the Conservative

Russia’s grasp on English football

Rory Smith writes: Both Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, and her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, have raised the possibility of striking back at Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, by targeting the assets of oligarchs living in London. Alexei Navalny, the most prominent opposition figure in Moscow, has suggested such a move would win public approval in Russia. Send a message by punishing those close to Putin, those who benefit from

Robert Mercer, the misanthropic billionaire who made Trump president

Jane Mayer writes: [Robert] Mercer is the co-C.E.O. of Renaissance Technologies, which is among the most profitable hedge funds in the country. A brilliant computer scientist, he helped transform the financial industry through the innovative use of trading algorithms. But he has never given an interview explaining his political views. Although Mercer has recently become an object of media speculation, Trevor Potter, the president of the Campaign Legal Center, a

Facebook is a company built around a misanthropic premise

Last August, John Lanchester wrote: [Mark Zuckerberg] is very well aware of how people’s minds work and in particular of the social dynamics of popularity and status. The initial launch of Facebook was limited to people with a Harvard email address; the intention was to make access to the site seem exclusive and aspirational. (And also to control site traffic so that the servers never went down. Psychology and computer

The secret police enforcing Silicon Valley’s code of secrecy

Olivia Solon reports: One day last year, John Evans (not his real name) received a message from his manager at Facebook telling him he was in line for a promotion. When they met the following day, she led him down a hallway praising his performance. However, when she opened the door to a meeting room, he came face to face with members of Facebook’s secretive “rat-catching” team, led by the

Cambridge Analytica: Whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, reveals data grab of 50 million Facebook profiles

  The New York Times reports: As the upstart voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica prepared to wade into the 2014 American midterm elections, it had a problem. The firm had secured a $15 million investment from Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But it did not

Putin has pioneered a politics of fictional threats and invented enemies

Timothy Snyder writes: Americans and Europeans have been guided through our new century by what I will call the politics of inevitability – a sense that the future is just more of the present, that the laws of progress are known, that there are no alternatives, and therefore nothing really to be done. In the American, capitalist version of this story, nature brought the market, which brought democracy, which brought

Evidence of complex cognitive abilities in humans more than 300,000 years ago

Gemma Tarlach writes: Three papers, published together in Science today, add up to a paradigm-shoving conclusion: Key aspects of what we think of as modern human behavior evolved more than 300,000 years ago, a radical revision to the evolutionary timeline. To understand the significance of the trio of studies, let’s take a brisk walk through recent changes in our understanding of human evolution. For decades, the consensus was that Homo

We develop the capacity to reason before we can speak

The Verge reports: One-year-old babies may not be able to speak, but they are able to think logically, according to new research that shows the earliest known foundation of our ability to reason. Legendary psychologist Jean Piaget believed that we didn’t have logical reasoning abilities until we were seven, but scientists scanned the eyes of 48 babies and found that they’re able to reason through the process of elimination. The

Police confirm that Nikolai Glushkov was murdered. But why?

Luke Harding writes: In recent months Nikolai Glushkov had been in good spirits. True, he had to go into hospital in December from an operation on his foot but remained characteristically cheerful, returning to his home in Kingston, south-west London, and hobbling round on crutches. Charming, with impeccable English, and debonair, Glushkov was well liked. He gave large parties attended by his friends and their children and chatted to his

Russian spy poisoning: chemist says non-state actor couldn’t carry out attack

The Guardian reports: The Russian chemist who revealed the existence of the novichok family of chemical agents to the world has dismissed the notion that a non-state actor could be behind the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, earlier this month. Vil Mirzayanov, 83, said the chemical was too dangerous for anyone but a “high-level senior scientist” to handle and that even he –

Russia has ability to shut off power in the U.S.

The New York Times reports: The Trump administration accused Russia on Thursday of engineering a series of cyberattacks that targeted American and European nuclear power plants and water and electric systems, and could have sabotaged or shut power plants off at will. United States officials and private security firms saw the attacks as a signal by Moscow that it could disrupt the West’s critical facilities in the event of a

Trump wants a torturer to run the CIA

Alberto Mora, a former general counsel of the Department of the Navy during the Bush administration, writes: Regardless of the other good a person may have done in the course of her career, the act of having tortured indelibly and forever defines the character and identity of that person. Is [Gina] Haspel [Trump’s nominee to become the CIA’s next director] a torturer? Yes, inescapably. The Justice Department may have approved

Steve Bannon’s fascination with fascism and Mussolini

Nicholas Farrell writes: We are in a hotel suite at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Zurich when Stephen K. Bannon tells me he adores the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. But let’s be clear. Bannon — as far as I can tell — is not a fascist. He is, however, fascinated by fascism, which is understandable, as its founder Benito Mussolini, a revolutionary socialist, was the first populist of the modern