In the Company of Monsters

There have been monsters in fiction ever since there was any fiction at all. They are — always — scary, and sometimes attractive. But during the last years they have also began to be something else, something never seen before: they are our colleagues. Buffy’s Scooby Gang of monster-hunters ended up including, at different times, vampires (with and without souls), witches, demons, werewolves, and even the occasional cyborg. Hannibal Lecter went from threatening monster in a cage to lionized anti-hero, and this not because the character changed, but Continuer la lecture de « In the Company of Monsters »

Peak oil and climate change: between too soon and not soon enough

We are going to burn all of the oil and coal we have, because their benefits as energy sources are concrete, immediate, and local, while their costs are gradual, delayed, and global. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when facing similar choices, humankind has never chosen the more long-term view. Continuer la lecture de « Peak oil and climate change: between too soon and not soon enough »

Twilight, or Bram Stoker’s Final Triumph

The Twilight series of books and movies is the latest stage, and perhaps the culmination, of a daring philosophical exploration that began in its most public aspect with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Stoker, of course, did not invent the vampire, as most cultures have, most appropriately, dreaded blood-sucking nocturnal monsters. What Stoker did most successfully was to highlight how attracted we are to them, to their power, their sexuality, and their immortality. He didn’t came up with that, either, but his story would henceforth shape the question for Western civilization. Continuer la lecture de « Twilight, or Bram Stoker’s Final Triumph »

The legality of ‘the computer did it’

The distributed self is already here, from small automated bits of our greed attempting to snipe away coveted rare toys in eBay, to large automated bits of our greed attempting to grab billions in electronic financial markets. Even without artificial intelligence advanced enough to fully replicate, extend, or simulate consciousness, we’re already not wholly in any single place, and we probably will be even less so in the future. The advantages of doing multiple things at the same time, or doing things we couldn’t otherwise do, are obvious. Continuer la lecture de « The legality of ‘the computer did it’ »

A better way to program people (on Mechanical Turk)

An interview with Greg Little, one of the creators of TurKit, a programming interface that makes it easy to write programs that automatically hire people on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform to perform complex series of tasks. Continuer la lecture de « A better way to program people (on Mechanical Turk) »

The Dangerous Metaphysics of Apple

The secret behind the power of the things we make is that they aren’t single things. The cheapest no-brand MP3 player is millions of times more complex than the most sophisticated mechanical clock ever built. At this level of complexity our perceptions and intuitions break down, and it’s only through the utmost efforts at abstraction and modularity that engineers are able to conceive and build our everyday consumer items. Continuer la lecture de « The Dangerous Metaphysics of Apple »