Slate


Retyping the Future's Past

Slate

It wasn't just the way they wrote that spoke to me, though; their puckish spirit also shone through in the things they wrote about. In the issue's book review column, an anonymous critic (its byline: "Ye Olde Booke Collector") sneers at a seemingly proto-fascist and anti-union novel by an editor at Time magazine titled General Manpower. Similarly, in the issue's concluding essay, Wollheim savages the venerable science fiction editor John W. Campbell for "defend[ing] the monopolists of this country," while arguing that capitalism holds back the course of scientific progress. Though they were written decades before Nick Denton was born, the catty snark and often undisguised anger evident in these pieces would not have been out of place in Gawker. Given the role that the Futurians and their fellow fans played in the rise of modern mass culture, their brio feels more prophetic than anything in the genre they loved.


Corrections

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In an Oct. 3 Future Tense blog post, Aaron Mak misstated that Uber had asked the judge in the Uber–Waymo lawsuit over self-driving car technology to bar the public from entering the courtroom for crucial portions of the trial. It was Waymo that made the request.


The Threat of Big Tech Is Real

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Google is free, Facebook is free. There are problems about the ways in which they intrude into our private lives, the ways in which they have amassed so much data, and that protects them from competition because nobody can amass as they can and achieve the machine-learning system that they have managed to create. Then it becomes a problem in the realm of information where these companies have become the biggest, most imposing gatekeepers in human history. That the filter bubbles that Facebook has created and nurtured have made a lot of people in this country susceptible to fake news, to propaganda, to demagogic appeals.


The Justices Have Questions About How to Fix Partisan Gerrymandering

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A partisan asymmetry means a map does not treat the parties equally in terms of how their votes translate into seats. At this final step, the gold standard is to use a computer algorithm to simulate many maps that satisfy the state's legitimate redistricting criteria. A partisan asymmetry means a map does not treat the parties equally in terms of how their votes translate into seats. At this final step, the gold standard is to use a computer algorithm to simulate many maps that satisfy the state's legitimate redistricting criteria.


All of the New Gadgets Google Just Announced

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Google also revealed other items like the Google Clips Camera, which automatically takes photos and soundless video based on A.I. programming that recognizes faces. The idea is that it will know when to take pictures for you, so you won't have to be preoccupied with your camera during get-togethers. There are also new Google Home Mini and Max smart speakers, which will compete with Amazon's Echo and Echo Dot, plus another generation of the Google Dream, a virtual reality headset that works with the Pixel phones.


Can Your Smartphone Read Your Mind?

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One oft-cited solution to the big data challenge of digital mental health data is to use artificial intelligence approaches like deep learning to help make sense of the raw data. Deep learning is the art and science of building enormous computer models--neural networks--that can be used to predict, classify, edit, describe, and create videos, images, and text. Artificial intelligence programs still struggle with cancer diagnoses, even when complete medical records are available and even with medical knowledge of that cancer well characterized at the genetic level. Creating meaningful categories of mental illnesses is complex, making it difficult to create or train diagnostic algorithms.


Why Science-Fiction Writers Couldn't Imagine the Internet

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If you had locked a group of theoretical physicists in a room 50 years ago and asked them to predict what we now know about the universe, they would have missed almost all the key discoveries we have made since, from the discovery of dark energy and dark matter to the ability to detect gravitational waves. Experiment determines what we must build our theories on, not a priori prejudice about elegance or beauty, or even what seems like common sense. Quantum mechanics defies common sense--so much so that Einstein never really accepted it. But as experiments today, from entanglement to quantum teleportation, demonstrate, quantum mechanics does describe the universe at fundamental scales.


Want to Help Shape the Future?

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Citizen science offers opportunities for people to engage in all sorts of fields, from biology and environmental science to astronomy and physics--whatever your interest might be. Participatory assessment of science and technology is a relatively new method of gaining public insight to help make technical and policy decisions. In partnership with the Kettering Foundation, for example, the Expert & Citizen Assessment of Science & Technology, or ECAST, network is organizing focus groups in which lay citizens can express their concerns about the deployment of self-driving cars in their communities. Patient advocacy groups can influence how medical technologies are developed (or even do the developing themselves) and how research money is spent.


Yesterland

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Building an experimental city from scratch was always going to be a complex, expensive, problematic task--even Walt would have struggled to pull this one off. But the Walt Disney Co. seems to have abandoned all efforts at serious futurology. Since the abandonment of the "2055" project, the original Tomorrowland--home of Walt's starry-eyed vision of space, atoms, and transit--has displayed little of Walt's futuristic spirit. It's been almost two decades since Tomorrowland debuted an attraction focused on scientific discovery.


Apple's Wrong Turn

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That helps explain why Apple's initial car plan involved designing and building a vehicle from the ground up. Google, Uber, and others have a long head start when it comes to the software, but very little experience designing and manufacturing machines that people want to buy. Perhaps Apple could gain an edge by marrying the software to beautiful hardware. Alas, Apple quickly realized that building cars is quite different from building computers, and it was at an insurmountable disadvantage in that realm, too.