Slate


The Meteorologist's Lament

Slate

Meteorologists on television and companies like AccuWeather provide the forecasts, while the government maintains the common meteorological infrastructure and provides storm warnings to the public at large. Businesses that require tailored forecasts and storm warnings receive them from private-sector companies. That way, the public is not subsidizing specialized services for business. The budget of the National Weather Service is $1,124,149,000 per year, or $3.45 per person.


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.


Dog Days of Summer Are Gone Again

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Aisha Harris headed down to the Dixie Stampede, Dolly Parton's "Medieval Times–style dine-in attraction where seven nights a week and at occasional weekend matinees, the South rises again." Christina Cauterucci points out that the dating service has long welcomed racists like Cantwell and that overall banning them won't make dating sites any safer. Aisha Harris headed down to the Dixie Stampede, Dolly Parton's "Medieval Times–style dine-in attraction where seven nights a week and at occasional weekend matinees, the South rises again." Christina Cauterucci points out that the dating service has long welcomed racists like Cantwell and that overall banning them won't make dating sites any safer.


The Racists of OkCupid Don't Usually Carry Tiki Torches

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In the days before white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Bumble had already been in the process of strengthening its anti-racism efforts, partly in response to an attack the Daily Stormer had waged on the company, encouraging its readers to harass the staff of Bumble in order to protest the company's public support of women's empowerment. Bumble bans any user who disrespects their customer service team, figuring that a guy who harasses women who work for Bumble would probably harass women who use Bumble. After the neo-Nazi attack, Bumble contacted the Anti-Defamation League for help identifying hate symbols and rooting out users who include them in their Bumble profiles. Now, the employees who respond to user reports have the ADL's glossary of hate symbols as a guide to telltale signs of hate-group membership, and any profile with language from the glossary will get flagged as potentially problematic.


Out of the Loop

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Like many of the other terms that crop up in conversations about artificial intelligence, neural network, which refers code designed to work like a brain, can be conceptually intimidating. Janelle Shane, however, makes the kind of neural networks that go viral. Her quirky creations autonomously stumble and grumble as they attempt to come up with names of Star Wars character, pick-up lines, and even recipes. Shane rightly warns that you should try the output of that last algorithm "at your own risk," though there's little danger that any human would attempt to: The network's recipe for Beothurtreed Tuna Pie, for example, includes such bafflingly unappetizing ingredients as "1 hard cooked apple mayonnaise" and "5 cup lumps; thinly sliced."


Dear Prudence: The "Panoply of Deviance" Edition

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Writer, commentator, and professor Roxane Gay joins Prudie this week for your questions! How do I avoid matching with my students on online dating apps? My boss won't stop telling me to smile. Should I report the places my ex-husband frequented for sex for human trafficking?