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The New Yorker


The Coronavirus, Climate Change, and the End of Seasons as We Knew Them

The New Yorker

There's a Staples store on Fourth Avenue, in Gowanus, a part of Brooklyn that lately feels less and less like New York City and more like the rest of the United States. I went there the other day to send a package via UPS. Then I ducked into a familiar aisle and got three boxes of yellow pencils to bring home for my three sons, a back-to-school ritual. I braced for a long line: some years, buying school supplies at Staples, I've waited half an hour to reach the register. Two minutes later, I was paid up and cycling home, some lyrics from Talking Heads's "Life During Wartime" running through my head: "Burned all my notebooks / What good are notebooks?


Coffee with Sasquatch and a Couple of Robots

The New Yorker

In 2011, Don Moyer, a retired graphic designer, inherited a Blue Willow plate from his grandmother. Washington, and draws every day. "I got this plate and I was studying it, and I really kind of liked it," he said. "The design was very busy, like doodling--no place was at rest." At the end, for no particular reason, he added a small pterodactyl.


Trump Fails Cognitive Test When Asked to Remember Steve Bannon

The New Yorker

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)--Donald J. Trump's stellar reputation for mental acuity took a hit on Thursday when he failed a cognitive test in which he was asked to remember Steve Bannon. According to the White House physician, Trump was shown several pictures and asked to identify them, including ones of a woman, a man, a camera, a TV, and Steve Bannon. "He nailed woman, man, camera, and TV but drew a blank when it came to Steve Bannon," the physician said. "He said he was unfamiliar with that picture and could not remember ever seeing that person before." After repeated attempts to jog Trump's memory concerning the identity of Steve Bannon, including writing the name Steve Bannon on a notecard and showing it to him, the physician gave up trying.


What Can America Learn from Europe About Regulating Big Tech?

The New Yorker

Last October, a couple of days before joining Stanford University as the international policy director at the Cyber Policy Center, Marietje Schaake, a former member of the European Parliament, spoke alongside Eric Schmidt, the ex-C.E.O. of Google, to a large audience of tech employees and academics. It was the keynote event at a conference hosted by the newly launched Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (H.A.I.), at which Schaake would also have a co-appointment. Beneath the scalloped panels of a blond wood ceiling, people sipped coffee and typed on laptops in the plush chairs of a new auditorium at the heart of campus. Schmidt spoke first, striking expected notes. He said that artificial intelligence would power "extraordinary gains" in the next five years and stressed just how central Google--which had helped fund H.A.I.--would be to those advances.


How China Controlled the Coronavirus

The New Yorker

Afew days before my return to classroom teaching at Sichuan University, I was biking across a deserted stretch of campus when I encountered a robot. The blocky machine stood about chest-high, on four wheels, not quite as long as a golf cart. In front was a T-shaped device that appeared to be some kind of sensor. The robot rolled past me, its electric motor humming. I turned around and tailed the thing at a distance of fifteen feet.


How Vulnerable Is G.P.S.?

The New Yorker

In the cool, dark hours after midnight on June 20, 2012, Todd Humphreys made the final preparations for his attack on the Global Positioning System. He stood alone in the middle of White Sands Missile Range, in southern New Mexico, sixty miles north of Juárez. All around him were the glowing gypsum dunes of the Chihuahuan Desert. On a hill about a kilometre away, his team was gathered around a flat metal box the size of a carry-on suitcase. The electronic machinery inside the box was called a spoofer--a weapon by another name. Soon, a Hornet Mini, a drone-operated helicopter popular with law-enforcement and rescue agencies, was scheduled to appear forty feet above them.


Obama Passes Cognitive Test by Reciting the First Fifty Digits of Pi

The New Yorker

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)--Barack Obama recently passed a cognitive test that required him to recite the first fifty digits of Pi, the former President has disclosed. Obama took the test voluntarily, he said, in order to reassure his employers at Netflix that he was "of sound mind." "Netflix has made a big investment in me as a producer, and I thought it was important for them to know that I was all right upstairs," Obama said. The former President said that he enjoyed taking the test, including a section that required him to memorize and then recite a hundred verses of the Iliad. "That was actually a lot of fun," Obama said.


The Long Game of Coronavirus Research

The New Yorker

Last month, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke at a biotech conference, where he emphasized how much is still unknown about the coronavirus. "I thought H.I.V. was a complicated disease," he said. "It's really simple compared to what's going on with COVID-19." To anyone who knows the history of AIDS research--Fauci has spent much of his career studying the disease--this was a dismaying thing to hear. In 1984, President Reagan's Health and Human Services Secretary, Margaret Heckler, said, "We hope to have a vaccine ready for testing in about two years."


How Harvard's Star Computer-Science Professor Built a Distance-Learning Empire

The New Yorker

Gabriel Guimaraes grew up in Vitória, Brazil, in a yellow house surrounded by star-fruit trees and chicken coops. His father, who wrote software for a local bank, instilled in him an interest in computers. On weekends, when Guimaraes got bored with Nintendo video games, he programmed his own. In grade school, he built a humanoid robot and wrote enough assembly code to make it zip around his home. In Vitória, an island city, his most ambitious peers dreamed of attending university in São Paulo, an hour away by plane.


Slate Star Codex and Silicon Valley's War Against the Media

The New Yorker

On June 22nd, visitors to Slate Star Codex, a long-standing blog of considerable influence, discovered that the site's cerulean banner and graying WordPress design scheme had been superseded by a barren white layout. In the place of its usual catalogue of several million words of fiction, book reviews, essays, and miscellanea, as well as at least as voluminous an archive of reader commentary, was a single post of atypical brevity. "So," it began, "I kind of deleted the blog. The farewell post was attributed, like virtually all of the blog's entries since its inception, in 2013, to Scott Alexander, the pseudonym of a Bay Area psychiatrist--the title "Slate Star Codex" is an imperfect anagram of the alias--and it put forth a rationale for this online self-immolation. "Last week I talked to a New York Times technology reporter who was planning to write a story on Slate Star Codex," the post continued. "He told me it would be a mostly positive piece about how we were an interesting gathering place for people in tech, and how we were ahead of the curve on some aspects of the coronavirus situation." In early March, Alexander had suggested that his readers begin to prepare for potential catastrophe, and his extensive review of the available medical literature led him to the conclusion that, despite the early guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the contrary, masks were likely to prove more useful than not. A month later, he looked back at his forecast and awarded himself a "solid B-"--not perfect, but at least more accurate than the news media, which, with some notable exceptions, he wrote, "not only failed to adequately warn its readers about the epidemic, but actively mocked and condescended to anyone who did sound a warning." Journalists, in his view, were guilty of an inability or a refusal to weight the possible outcomes. As he put it, if there was even a ten per cent risk of a ruinous pandemic, shouldn't that have been the headline? Alexander, who prefaces some of his own posts with an "epistemic status," by which he rates his own confidence in the opinions to follow, thought the media, too, should present its findings in shades of gray. The final post went on, "It probably would have been a very nice article.