In 2016 and 2017, Andrea Silenzi hosted and produced the hit dating podcast Why Oh Why, with the mission to chronicle her hilarious, maddening, and sometimes disastrous expedition into online dating. For guy listeners like me, it was also a window into what single women had to put up with when they were looking for love (or even just a decent date) on the internet. Her excruciatingly detailed exploration of how men and women approach digital courtship led Vulture to dub her "a genius of the cringe." After the show went on hiatus, Silenzi continued to post about the horrors of online dating on her Instagram account, a lifeline for fans who missed the show. But then this week, something else appeared on the account: She posted a very sweet engagement story, announcing her impending nuptials to a man reportedly from Hinge. Who will post screenshots of men saying things like, "Yeah i got the cure for coronavirus! I called Silenzi to ask.
Sunday will mark 35 years since the Nintendo Entertainment System arrived on America's shores, saving a crashed video game industry and making a generation of gamers out of people who first learned to "play Nintendo" on the NES. For this 35-year-old, it's striking how Nintendo's breakout home game system, which my parents bought for my older brothers and which I literally grew up with, remains not only the bedrock of the company's corporate identity--witness the 8-bit Mario on your browser tab if you visit the Big N's website--but its creative wellspring too. Witness how Super Mario Bros. 35, Nintendo's new contender in the über-popular battle royal genre, is a thin remix of 1985's Super Mario Bros., an NES launch title. Or see the NES Classic, the recent bestselling miniversion of the console with 30 games packed in. While very few people may have the original gray-on-gray NES hooked up to their TV anymore, the titles designed for it will remain relevant for Nintendo fans of all ages as long as the company stays in the game.
While I was making dinner, I yelled at Alexa. But the recipe was a little complicated, and I kept having to repeat myself to get the damn Amazon Echo to turn off the timer. And when I used my computer communication voice to ask it to play NPR One so I could catch up on the news--it had been a whole eight or nine minutes since I had checked in with the world--it tried three times to instead play "The Austin 100: A SXSW Mix From NPR Music." I feel a little bad about it, remembering Rachel Withers' (very persuasive!) 2018 piece for Future Tense about why she won't date men who are rude to Alexa: It matters how you interact with your virtual assistant, not because it has feelings or will one day murder you in your sleep for disrespecting it, but because of how it reflects on you. Alexa is not human, but we engage with her like one.
"Congratulations, you have been selected for an interview for the professional minigamer position at Open Mind Corporation," a robotic voice announces over a blank screen. I will be guiding you through the interview. The whole process will take no more than 10 minutes. This is the start of An Interview With Alex, a dystopian online interactive experience taking viewers through a "job interview" conducted by an A.I. hiring manager--one that measures tone to score users on a "State of Mind Index." Carrie Sijia Wang, the multimedia artist behind the project, writes that her work is meant to "criticize the present by speculating about the future." But it's not that far off how your next job interview might look, if you're applying for high-volume, low-skilled roles (or even some high-skilled ones).
The trailer for Sacha Baron Cohen's long-awaited sequel Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan was released by Amazon this morning, and the biggest question it leaves is: Who's that playing Borat's daughter? The trailer has no credits, and there's no Internet Movie Database page for the film, but Amazon's press release says that the movie, to be released on Oct. 23 on Amazon Prime Video, is "starring Sacha Baron Cohen & Irina Nowak," which would seem to be that. The internet is surprisingly little help on this point. There's no Irina Nowak on IMDb, and the closest search return is an actress named Irina Novak, who's 39--far too old, assuming there's no Irishman-type de-aging budget involved. Baron Cohen used relative unknowns as his castmates in the first Borat, including character actor Ken Davitian as Azamat Bagatov and comedian Luenell Campbell as the sex worker whom Borat eventually marries, but even the latter had a previous bit part in Nash Bridges on her CV.
"What in the name of Paypal and/or Palantir did you just say about me, you filthy degenerate? I'll have you know I'm the Crown Prince of Silicon Valley, and I've been involved in numerous successful tech startups, and I have over $1B in liquid funds. I've used that money to promote heterodox positions on human enhancement, control political arenas, and am experimenting with mind uploading. I'm also trained in classical philosophy and was recently ranked the most influential libertarian in the world by Google. You are nothing to me but just another alternative future. I will wipe you out with a precision of simulation the likes of which has never been seen before, mark my words."
An expert on machine learning responds to Yudhanjaya Wijeratne's "The State Machine." The world of software has a long-held, pernicious myth that a system built from digital logic cannot have biases. A piece of code functions as an object of pure reason, devoid of emotion and all the messiness that entails. From this thesis flows an idea that has gained increasing traction in the worlds of both technology and science fiction: a perfectly rational system of governance built upon artificial intelligence. If software can't lie, and data can't inherently be wrong, then what could be more equitable and efficient than the rule of a machine-driven system?
Politics are in the air, like that ominous reddish glow suffocating much of the West in recent weeks on account of all those tragic wild fires. This coming week we get our first presidential debate. A chance for Donald Trump and Joe Biden to shake hands and have a respectful, reasoned exchange of views on the future of the unfairly maligned Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act; the need to reform the Stored Communications Act; the wisdom of replicating Europe's General Data Privacy Regulation; the merits of taking antitrust action against Google for its manipulation of search results or against Amazon for its treatment of third-party sellers on its platform. Maybe we will even see the candidates reflect humbly on humanity's place in the universe, in light of the breaking news from Venus. The debate will probably be all tense, no future--maybe not as heated as a debate between 2016 Lindsey Graham and 2020 Lindsey Graham, but close.
A New Mexico man gets a call from federal child welfare officials. His teenage brother has arrived alone at the border after traveling 2,000 miles to escape a violent uncle in Guatemala. The officials ask him to take custody of the boy. He hesitates; he is himself undocumented. The officials say not to worry.
The mid-'80s was a notable time for women in computer science--because that was when they started disappearing. From 1970 into the start of the 1980s, the percentage of computer science degrees conferred to women rose, peaking at 37.1 percent in 1984. But this number then dipped drastically, and we've never recovered. The most recent report from the Computing Research Association shows the number of women graduating with computer science bachelor's degrees, in its sample of U.S. institutions, in 2019 at 21 percent. So, after decades of women representing both pioneers of computing and a large percentage of the day-to-day programming workforce, what happened in the '80s?