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WIRED


Klara and the Sun Imagines a Social Schism Driven By AI

WIRED

Kazuo Ishiguro's latest novel, Klara and the Sun, presents us with a world in which not one but two kinds of artificial intelligence have arrived. In the book's strangely familiar near-future, AI has upended the social order, the world of work, and human relationships all at once. Intelligent machines toil in place of office workers and serve as dutiful companions, or "Artificial Friends." Some children have themselves become another form of AI, having had their intelligence upgraded via genetic engineering. These enhanced, or "lifted," humans create a social schism, dividing people into an elite ruling order and an underclass of the unmodified and grudgingly idle.


Ubisoft's Valhalla Is Too Long, Too Big, and Too Repetitive

WIRED

Tempted by the promise of an epic Viking saga for the ages, a wave of positive reviews, and a need for something new to play on my PlayStation 5 (sorry), I bought Assassin's Creed Valhalla. It's an enormous open-world action RPG that casts you as Eivor of the Raven Clan, on a mission to conquer England during the Dark Ages. The snowy mountains and sparse settlements of Norway serve as an ideal tutorial environment. By the time you load up the longship to settle in a beautifully realized and atmospheric Anglo-Saxon England, you feel like a real Viking raider. The forests of England are teeming with wildlife, and the towns are peppered with Roman ruins.


Microdosing's Feel-Good Benefits Might Just Be Placebo Effect

WIRED

In 2018, volunteers with an interest in microdosing--regularly taking tiny amounts of psychedelic drugs such as LSD--began taking part in an unusual experiment. For four weeks, researchers at Imperial College London asked them to swap some of their drugs with empty capsules--placebos--so that when they took them, they didn't know if they were microdosing or not. They then completed online surveys and cognitive tasks at regular intervals, aimed at gauging their mental well-being and cognitive abilities. The idea: to explore if microdosing produces the benefits to mood and brain function that some people claim. This story originally appeared on WIRED UK.


Privacy-First Browser Brave Is Launching a Search Engine

WIRED

Google's grip on the web has never been stronger. Its Chrome web browser has almost 70 percent of the market and its search engine a whopping 92 percent share. This story originally appeared on WIRED UK. But Google's dominance is being challenged. Regulators are questioning its monopoly position and claim the company has used anticompetitive tactics to strengthen its dominance.


Facebook's New AI Teaches Itself to See With Less Human Help

WIRED

Most artificial intelligence is still built on a foundation of human toil. Peer inside an AI algorithm and you'll find something constructed using data that was curated and labeled by an army of human workers. Now, Facebook has shown how some AI algorithms can learn to do useful work with far less human help. The company built an algorithm that learned to recognize objects in images with little help from labels. The Facebook algorithm, called Seer (for SElf-supERvised), fed on more than a billion images scraped from Instagram, deciding for itself which objects look alike.


The Rise of Unapologetically Erotic LGBTQ Games

WIRED

Video game characters do not have great sex lives. The sex in Cyberpunk 2077, one of the biggest releases of the decade, was lambasted by PC Gamer as "horrifying" and "truly awful" for its weak writing and general clunkiness; character models designed to run and shoot just look strange when made to contort in moments of intimacy. But while Cyberpunk was criticized for its bad sex--and for flubbing LGBTQ representation--the erotic indie title Hardcoded was gathering praise for its explicit, queer-friendly sexuality set against a dystopian cyberpunk backdrop. Sex has been part of gaming from the beginning--Atari 2600 owners could buy Custer's Revenge, a heavily criticized rape fantasy that sold 80,000 copies--but for most of the medium's history, any sexuality was aimed at straight white men with all the subtlety of a horny sledgehammer. It was seen as a mark of maturity for the God of War franchise when its 2018 installment abandoned the subject entirely rather than return to the cringeworthy "Here are some tits, you rube" minigames of previous entries.


The Murder Hornets Nature Doc Disguised as a True-Crime Show

WIRED

To be perfectly clear: Insects aren't evil. They don't have morals or ethical guidelines. They certainly cannot commit murder. That said, there's a reason why the Asian giant hornet was nicknamed the "murder hornet" in the North American press and not, say, "gentle sweetie bee." These apex predators look like they flew in from the Carboniferous era.


The 'Girl Games' of the '90s Were Fun and Feminist

WIRED

Love her or hate her, you can't deny that Barbie has always been a game changer, and not just because she was the first doll with a waistline. In the mid-1990s, she changed games literally--computer games, that is. Women played a pivotal role in the development of arcade and early console-based video games. In the PC gaming industry, on the other hand, they were outnumbered and outranked by men, who almost always balked at the prospect of games for girls. As time passed, though, more and more research confirmed that girls were playing computer games, such as Myst and The Oregon Trail; they simply lacked games expressly created for them.


Valheim Is Changing How We Play Survival Games

WIRED

With four million games sold on Steam Early Access in three weeks and overwhelmingly positive reviews, Valheim became a commercial and critical darling at an almost unprecedented speed. The viking survival game, developed by a small Swedish team at Iron Gate Studio, might appear to be an overnight success, but CEO Richard Svensson has been directly communicating with the gaming community about this project for years. In September of 2017, Svensson posted a video to his personal YouTube page that captures what seems to be the infancy stages of Valheim and demonstrates Svensson's philosophy of public communication concerning the game's ongoing development. When the game's working title was changed from Fejd (Swedish for "feud") to Valheim in 2018, Svensson noted the switch in the YouTube comments section. Video game studios can often be tight lipped during the development process, but Iron Gate Studio took the opposite approach, directly listened to what their players wanted, and built a vibrant community on Discord.


As China Rises, the US Builds Toward a Bigger Role in AI

WIRED

For decades, the US government has let the private sector and the free market do their thing, betting this is the surest way to spur innovation and conjure up the advances needed to keep the American economy on top of the world. Now, with China ascendant, the approach is starting to change. Washington is taking baby steps towards something closer to central planning--seeking to inspire, guide, and protect advances in key areas like artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and quantum computing. The latest evidence of a shift in thinking is the final report of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI). The commission was created by the Pentagon in 2018 to study the national security implications of AI and related technologies, and outline a plan to keep the US ahead.