Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Why moths learn so much faster than machines

Technology Review reports: One of the curious features of the deep neural networks behind machine learning is that they are surprisingly different from the neural networks in biological systems. While there are similarities, some critical machine-learning mechanisms have no analogue in the natural world, where learning seems to occur in a different way. These differences probably account for why machine-learning systems lag so far behind natural ones in some aspects

Google Chrome now blocks ads in order to promote advertising

The New York Times reports: Google did not become the creator of the world’s most popular browser and a dominant advertising force by running its business in a manner that did not serve its own interests. With the Chrome update, the company hopes to come out ahead by lessening the temptation of web users to install more comprehensive ad-blocking software. In other words, Google is betting that ridding the web

Vietnam’s internet is in trouble

Dien Luong writes: Vietnamese authorities have harped of late on the urgency of fighting cybersecurity threats and “bad and dangerous content.” Yet the fight against either “fake news” or misinformation in Vietnam must not be used as a smoke screen for stifling dissenting opinions and curtailing freedom of speech. Doing so would only further stoke domestic cynicism in a country where the sudden expansion of space for free and open

Facebook poses an increasing threat to journalism

Mathew Ingram writes: Author and journalism professor Dan Gillmor recently described a future in which “we will be living in the ecosystem of a company that has repeatedly demonstrated its untrustworthiness, an enterprise that would become the primary newsstand for journalism and would be free to pick the winners via special deals with media people and tweaks of its opaque algorithms. If this is the future, we are truly screwed.”

Amazon behaves like a planned economy

Malcolm Harris writes: Although they attempt to grow in a single direction, planned economies always destroy as well as build. In the 1930s, the Soviet Union compelled the collectivization of kulaks, or prosperous peasants. Small farms were incorporated into a larger collective agricultural system. Depending on who you ask, dekulakization was literal genocide, comparable to the Holocaust, and/or it catapulted what had been a continent-sized expanse of peasants into a

The case for impeaching Clarence Thomas

Jill Abramson writes: [Clarence] Thomas, as a crucial vote on the Supreme Court, holds incredible power over women’s rights, workplace, reproductive, and otherwise. His worldview, with its consistent objectification of women, is the one that’s shaping the contours of what’s possible for women in America today, more than that of just about any man alive, save for his fellow justices. And given the evidence that’s come out in the years

Pistachio trees ‘talk’ to their neighbours, reveals statistical physics

Philip Ball writes: The number of nuts on pistachio trees in any given year could be explained with a model from statistical physics that is normally used to study magnetic materials. That is according to researchers led by Alan Hastings, a mathematical ecologist from the University of California, Davis, who have used the “Ising model” to analyse the yields of pistachio trees in one particular orchard in California. Their work

Facebook gave Russia everything it needed to help Trump become president, but we gave Facebook its power

By the admission of Facebook’s own VP of advertising, Rob Goldman, Russia’s goal of sowing division in America has been served “incredibly well” through its use of Facebook: The main goal of the Russian propaganda and misinformation effort is to divide America by using our institutions, like free speech and social media, against us. It has stoked fear and hatred amongst Americans. It is working incredibly well. We are quite

Inside the two years that shook Facebook — and the world

At Wired, Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein report: One day in late February of 2016, Mark Zuckerberg sent a memo to all of Facebook’s employees to address some troubling behavior in the ranks. His message pertained to some walls at the company’s Menlo Park headquarters where staffers are encouraged to scribble notes and signatures. On at least a couple of occasions, someone had crossed out the words “Black Lives Matter”

As the U.S. weakens protections for wilderness, Peru moves to protect ‘one of the last great intact forests’

The New York Times reports: The remote rain forests in Peru’s northeast corner are vast — so vast that the clouds that form above them can influence rainfall in the western United States. The region contains species, especially unusual fish, that are unlike any found elsewhere on Earth. Scientists studying the area’s fauna and flora may gain insights into evolutionary processes and into the ecological health and geological history of

Just 3% of Americans own more than half the country’s guns

Paul Ratner writes: Americans are not as gun-obsessed as some would like their countrymen to believe. Linking gun ownership to the identity of being an American has been a successful sales tactic that is more myth than reality. The numbers show that a small, unrepresentative, but disproportionately vocal portion of the American population, aided by self-serving politicians and a powerful lobby organization, has enacted its agenda over the majority of

Music: Matt Bianco ft. Basia — ‘Golden Days’

 

Zeynep Tufekci: We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads

 

How New Zealand became a new Ararat for Silicon Valley’s misanthropic billionaires

Mark O’Connell writes: Early last summer, just as my interests in the topics of civilisational collapse and Peter Thiel were beginning to converge into a single obsession, I received out of the blue an email from a New Zealand art critic named Anthony Byrt. If I wanted to understand the extreme ideology that underpinned Thiel’s attraction to New Zealand, he insisted, I needed to understand an obscure libertarian manifesto called

Mass shootings highlight nexus between masculinity and gun violence

Laura Kiesel writes: The year 2017 brought the deadliest mass shooting in modern history to the United States, which has become home to more gun massacres than any other country in the world. The response offered by many of our political leaders, both Democrat and Republican, has been to focus on the role of mental illness in such shootings. The day after Stephen Paddock took to a hotel room in

As climate change intensifies droughts, Cape Town’s water crisis may signify a new normal

Laura Poppick writes: Last June, Piotr Wolski began transforming his Cape Town swimming pool into a water storage tank for his home. By September, he had directed all gutters from his roof to flow into the pool and had installed a pump to transport water into the house where he lives with his family of four. Wolski works as a hydrologist studying regional rainfall patterns at the University of Cape