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The New Yorker


The Problem with Blaming Robots For Taking Our Jobs

The New Yorker

In the late nineteen-forties, Delmar Harder, a vice-president at Ford, popularized the term "automation"--a "nickname," he said, for the increased mechanization at the company's Detroit factory. Harder was mostly talking about the automatic transfer of car parts between machines, but the concept soon grew legs--and sometimes a robotic arm--to encompass a range of practices and possibilities. From the immediate postwar years to the late nineteen-sixties, America underwent what we might call an automation boom, not only in the automotive sector but in most heavy-manufacturing industries. As new technology made factory work more efficient, it also rendered factory workers redundant, often displacing them into a growing service sector. Automation looks a little different these days, but the rhetoric around it remains basically the same.


How I Started to See Trees as Smart

The New Yorker

A couple of decades ago, on a backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada, I was marching up a mountain solo under the influence of LSD. Halfway to the top, I took a break near a scrubby tree pushing up through the rocky soil. Gulping water and catching my breath, I admired both its beauty and its resilience. Its twisty, weathered branches had endured by wresting moisture and nutrients from seemingly unwelcoming terrain, solving a puzzle beyond my reckoning. I sensed a kind of wisdom in its conservation of resources.


The Turkish Drone That Changed the Nature of Warfare

The New Yorker

This content can also be viewed on the site it originates from. A video posted toward the end of February on the Facebook page of Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine's armed forces, showed grainy aerial footage of a Russian military convoy approaching the city of Kherson. Russia had invaded Ukraine several days earlier, and Kherson, a shipbuilding hub at the mouth of the Dnieper River, was an important strategic site. At the center of the screen, a targeting system locked onto a vehicle in the middle of the convoy; seconds later, the vehicle exploded, and a tower of burning fuel rose into the sky. The Bayraktar TB2 is a flat, gray unmanned aerial vehicle (U.A.V.), with angled wings and a rear propeller.


Kyiv After Dark

The New Yorker

In Kyiv, we have a very dark twilight, so dark that it is almost like night. Because of the curfew, most of my drawings are from my apartment window. Sometimes, I see an explosion reflected on the glass surface of a skyscraper, or silent flares going up and then burning out in a shower of sparks. One week, I saw anti-aircraft guns firing tracer rounds into the night sky, where a hunt for a Russian drone was under way. Since the Russian Army retreated from Kyiv, the mood in the city has noticeably changed.


The Hazard-Filled Ruling on the Transportation Mask Mandate

The New Yorker

"At first blush," Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle wrote in her order, on Monday, throwing out the federal mask mandate for people using public conveyances--planes, trains, Ubers--it might appear that the mandate was rather "closely related to the powers granted" to the federal health authorities by law. Indeed, it appears, at any blush, to be intimately related, which is why the ruling issued by Mizelle, a federal district-court judge based in Tampa, Florida, is so alarming. The Public Health Service Act of 1944 gives federal health authorities broad powers "to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases" by means of interstate modes of transport, and to do so by establishing rules related to "inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination, destruction of animals or articles found to be so infected or contaminated as to be sources of dangerous infection to human beings," as well as by "other measures" that in their "judgment may be necessary." Mizelle's ruling, which inspired social-media videos of people gleefully unmasking on airplanes, was sudden and startlingly broad. She did not rely on narrow ground such as the fact that, at this stage in the COVID-19 crisis, hospitalization rates are low and vaccines are widely available, and so a transportation mask mandate might no longer be justified. Instead, she found that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention never had the power to issue such a mandate and thus would not be able to do so in the future, no matter the shape of a future pandemic.


What Happens When Twelve Thousand Game Developers Converge?

The New Yorker

Nick Kaman, the co-founder and art director of Aggro Crab, an indie-game studio in Seattle, is twenty-six years old, with messy, brass-bleached hair, large round eyeglasses, and a small silver hoop in each earlobe; self-deprecating and sincere, with a sarcastic streak, he speaks with slacker chill. At the University of Washington, he studied human-centered design and engineering--"Pretty cringe," he said--while teaching himself how to make video games. Eventually, he started running the on-campus game-development club, which taught students how to build games along the lines of Flappy Bird using Unity, a game engine. "You can make that game in half an hour, but by doing that you've learned all these fundamentals of game-making," Kaman said. "Like, how do I do player input? How do I do jump physics? How do I spawn in pipes that move from the right to the left?"


Can Computers Learn Common Sense?

The New Yorker

A few years ago, a computer scientist named Yejin Choi gave a presentation at an artificial-intelligence conference in New Orleans. On a screen, she projected a frame from a newscast where two anchors appeared before the headline "CHEESEBURGER STABBING." Choi explained that human beings find it easy to discern the outlines of the story from those two words alone. Had someone stabbed a cheeseburger? Had a cheeseburger been used to stab a person?


Let's All Do the Lumbago: Download the LastDance Dating App Today

The New Yorker

So, you're suddenly single, or single by a series of humiliating and bewildering degrees, and you find yourself in the prime, final ten to fifteen per cent of your life alone. Also, you are allergic to cats. Or somehow cats are not enough. You've tried them all: Tinder, Grindr (not a hotter Tinder, it turns out), FurryFriends (not at all what you thought), PamperedGals, MidnightCowboys, ReasonableBrides, Unpicky, and DamagedGoods. And yet you have not secured a perfect mate to hold your hand when it happens.


What Can We Learn About the Universe from Just One Galaxy?

The New Yorker

Imagine if you could look at a snowflake at the South Pole and determine the size and the climate of all of Antarctica. Or study a randomly selected tree in the Amazon rain forest and, from that one tree--be it rare or common, narrow or wide, young or old--deduce characteristics of the forest as a whole. Or, what if, by looking at one galaxy among the hundred billion or so in the observable universe, one could say something substantial about the universe as a whole? A recent paper, whose lead authors include a cosmologist, a galaxy-formation expert, and an undergraduate named Jupiter (who did the initial work), suggests that this may be the case. The result at first seemed "crazy" to the paper's authors.


"The Outfit" Is Made to Measure for Mark Rylance

The New Yorker

A storefront so discreet that it could be the entrance to a funeral parlor. Look closely, however, and you see the words stencilled on the window: "L. And here comes Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance), making an early start. He is a tailor by trade, though he prefers to be called a cutter, and, as he brews a pot of tea, dons an apron, and oils his trusty shears, he talks us through the mysteries of his art, in a gentle voice-over. A suit, we are told, consists of thirty-eight separate pieces of material, and it should, in all respects, become its wearer. "Is this a man comfortable in his station?" he inquires. Leonard is the hero of Graham Moore's "The Outfit." It is a film preoccupied with stations--with the question of how people slot into society and, every so often, feel a compulsion to change slots. Leonard has a young assistant named Mable (Zoey Deutch), for instance, who grew up down the block. "One way or another, I'm getting out of here," she says, sounding as if she might burst ...