Thursday, March 23, 2017

Friday Thinking 24 March 2017

Hello all – Friday Thinking is a humble curation of my foraging in the digital environment. My purpose is to pick interesting pieces, based on my own curiosity (and the curiosity of the many interesting people I follow), about developments in some key domains (work, organization, social-economy, intelligence, domestication of DNA, energy, etc.)  that suggest we are in the midst of a change in the conditions of change - a phase-transition. That tomorrow will be radically unlike yesterday.

Many thanks to those who enjoy this.
In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.
Jobs are dying - work is just beginning.

“Be careful what you ‘insta-google-tweet-face’”
Woody Harrelson - Triple 9



It is a mistake to dismiss these stories as “fake news”; their power stems from a potent mix of verifiable facts (the leaked Podesta emails), familiar repeated falsehoods, paranoid logic, and consistent political orientation within a mutually-reinforcing network of like-minded sites.

Use of disinformation by partisan media sources is neither new nor limited to the right wing, but the insulation of the partisan right-wing media from traditional journalistic media sources, and the vehemence of its attacks on journalism in common cause with a similarly outspoken president, is new and distinctive.

Our analysis challenges a simple narrative that the internet as a technology is what fragments public discourse and polarizes opinions, by allowing us to inhabit filter bubbles or just read “the daily me.” If technology were the most important driver towards a “post-truth” world, we would expect to see symmetric patterns on the left and the right. Instead, different internal political dynamics in the right and the left led to different patterns in the reception and use of the technology by each wing. While Facebook and Twitter certainly enabled right-wing media to circumvent the gatekeeping power of traditional media, the pattern was not symmetric.

What we find in our data is a network of mutually-reinforcing hyper-partisan sites that revive what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics,” combining decontextualized truths, repeated falsehoods, and leaps of logic to create a fundamentally misleading view of the world. “Fake news,” which implies made of whole cloth by politically disinterested parties out to make a buck of Facebook advertising dollars, rather than propaganda and disinformation, is not an adequate term. By repetition, variation, and circulation through many associated sites, the network of sites make their claims familiar to readers, and this fluency with the core narrative gives credence to the incredible.
Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris and Hal Roberts of Berkman and Ethan Zuckerman of MIT

Breitbart-led right-wing media ecosystem altered broader media agenda

Approximately 15 percent of the world’s population—some 1 billion people—have a disability, according to the World Bank. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 in 5 people in the United States will be 65 or older by 2030. And 20 percent of Japan’s population is already 65 or older. Many elderly people develop conditions that affect their hearing and vision, making it more challenging for them to benefit from technology.

3 Life-Changing Technologies at the 2017 Assistive Technology Conference

This is a great 4 min video by RSA and David Graeber about work - a good piece for thinking about the future of work in a condition of the automation of all that can be automated.

‘Brand consultant’? ‘PR researcher’? Why the ‘bullshit jobs’ era needs to end

If capitalism is supposed to value work, why has it led much of the workforce into the age of seemingly meaningless tasks, titles and functions? This brief animation by the British artist Jack Dubben uses audio excerpted from a presentation at the RSA by the US-born, UK-based anthropologist and activist David Graeber advocating against what he frequently refers to as ‘bullshit jobs’, and in favour of an economic reformation that places greater value on meeting today’s most pressing human needs.

Here’s a great concept for creating secure and potentially a global form of ID for anyone.
Blockchain offers an immutable, transparent, and distributed ledger that can provide a secure means of identifying every person on Earth. Think of blockchain as a universal, secure digital lockbox that could store information with your legal ID, such as property title, education certificates, and medical records, all in one place.

How Blockchain Could Give Everyone a Legal ID

Digital identification can replace birth certificates and other legal documents
Nearly a fifth of the world’s population—about 1.5 billion people—do not have official identification documentation such as a birth certificate or social security card, including 230 million children younger than 5, according to the United Nations. Without a way to prove identity, it is more difficult to protect people’s human rights and to offer them the same opportunities as those who do have such documents. Refugees, for example, can be exploited, and undocumented children are more vulnerable to trafficking schemes. One way to solve the problem is to use blockchain technology to create a legal-ID system.

The possibles of the near future - in terms of cognitions and experience are very hard to imagine - from a cognitive interface with a world of sensor to choice of cognitive experience - imagination is the barrier we face in generation of a new sense of self.
As soon as the doctors turned his implant on, he felt different, cured — normal. The suddenness of the shift, he says, was bizarre. Gone, he says, were “the ball and chain” that he’d been “dragging around” for decades. “I only wish it had come 30 or 40 years ago,” he continues. “I would have had a different life.” His wife says it may have saved them. “John’s DBS has given the both of us our lives back,” she says.

Brain-Altering Science and the Search for a New Normal

An electrical implant known as a deep-brain stimulator is giving some patients a new start.
Together with an electrical pulse generator — a boxy rectangle, like a small external hard drive — sewn into Murphy’s chest cavity, the electrode would stimulate the region of her brain that the doctors believed to be responsible for her depression. The device, known as a deep-brain stimulator (DBS), is meant to regulate neural activity and bring the brain’s patterns back to normalcy. A wire from the pulse generator snakes up to the electrode, carrying electricity, which the electrode then transmits to the brain.

Together with an electrical pulse generator — a boxy rectangle, like a small external hard drive — sewn into Murphy’s chest cavity, the electrode would stimulate the region of her brain that the doctors believed to be responsible for her depression. The device, known as a deep-brain stimulator (DBS), is meant to regulate neural activity and bring the brain’s patterns back to normalcy. A wire from the pulse generator snakes up to the electrode, carrying electricity, which the electrode then transmits to the brain.

These success stories are touching. But deep-brain stimulation doesn’t always work for depression. On a large scale, in fact, it has been so unsuccessful that at least two trials have been discontinued, including the 2013 Brodmann Area 25 Deep Brain Neuromodulation trial, overseen by St. Jude Medical. A mid-study analysis reportedly revealed that the trial had a maximum 17.2 percent chance of succeeding. Nonetheless, new research projects are underway, some funded by the Obama administration’s BRAIN Initiative, which has invested millions in research designed to provide a real-time understanding of how the brain works in sickness and in health. Agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have used some of this money to fund deep-brain-stimulation projects.

This is a very interesting develop - the use of Blockchain technology to provide a ledger of all uses of a patient’s personal medical data. Transparency and privacy.
“Our mission is absolutely central, and a core part of that is figuring out how we can do a better job of building trust. Transparency and better control of data is what will build trust in the long term.” Suleyman pointed to a number of efforts DeepMind has already undertaken in an attempt to build that trust, from its founding membership of the industry group Partnership on AI to its creation of a board of independent reviewers for DeepMind Health, but argued the technical methods being proposed by the firm provide the “other half” of the equation.
“There are a lot of calls for a robust audit trail to be able to track exactly what happens to personal data, and particularly to be able to check how data is used once it leaves a hospital or NHS Digital. DeepMind are suggesting using technology to help deliver that audit trail, in a way that should be much more secure than anything we have seen before.”
In the long-run, Suleyman says, the audit system could be expanded so that patients can have direct oversight over how and where their data has been used. But such a system would come a long time in the future, once concerns over how to secure access have been solved.

Google's DeepMind plans bitcoin-style health record tracking for hospitals

Tech company’s health subsidiary planning digital ledger based on blockchain to let hospitals, the NHS and eventually patients track personal data
Google’s AI-powered health tech subsidiary, DeepMind Health, is planning to use a new technology loosely based on bitcoin to let hospitals, the NHS and eventually even patients track what happens to personal data in real-time.

Dubbed “Verifiable Data Audit”, the plan is to create a special digital ledger that automatically records every interaction with patient data in a cryptographically verifiable manner. This means any changes to, or access of, the data would be visible.

DeepMind has been working in partnership with London’s Royal Free Hospital to develop kidney monitoring software called Streams and has faced criticism from patient groups for what they claim are overly broad data sharing agreements. Critics fear that the data sharing has the potential to give DeepMind, and thus Google, too much power over the NHS.

Another of an endless flood of articles on automation of jobs.
What determines vulnerability to automation is not so much whether the work concerned is manual or white-collar but whether or not it is routine
those worried that automation will cause mass unemployment are succumbing to what economists call the “lump of labour” fallacy. “This notion that there’s only a finite amount of work to do, and therefore that if you automate some of it there’s less for people to do, is just totally wrong,

Automation and anxiety

Will smarter machines cause mass unemployment?
Dr Barani (who used to be an oncologist) points to some CT scans of a patient’s lungs, taken from three different angles. Red blobs flicker on the screen as Enlitic’s deep-learning system examines and compares them to see if they are blood vessels, harmless imaging artefacts or malignant lung nodules. The system ends up highlighting a particular feature for further investigation. In a test against three expert human radiologists working together, Enlitic’s system was 50% better at classifying malignant tumours and had a false-negative rate (where a cancer is missed) of zero, compared with 7% for the humans. Another of Enlitic’s systems, which examines X-rays to detect wrist fractures, also handily outperformed human experts. The firm’s technology is currently being tested in 40 clinics across Australia.

A computer that dispenses expert radiology advice is just one example of how jobs currently done by highly trained white-collar workers can be automated, thanks to the advance of deep learning and other forms of artificial intelligence. The idea that manual work can be carried out by machines is already familiar; now ever-smarter machines can perform tasks done by information workers, too. What determines vulnerability to automation, experts say, is not so much whether the work concerned is manual or white-collar but whether or not it is routine. Machines can already do many forms of routine manual labour, and are now able to perform some routine cognitive tasks too. As a result, says Andrew Ng, a highly trained and specialised radiologist may now be in greater danger of being replaced by a machine than his own executive assistant: “She does so many different things that I don’t see a machine being able to automate everything she does any time soon.”

Figures published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis show that in America, employment in non-routine cognitive and non-routine manual jobs has grown steadily since the 1980s, whereas employment in routine jobs has been broadly flat (see chart). As more jobs are automated, this trend seems likely to continue.

This is an interesting blog - this issue talks about the difference between politics adopting software and software disrupting politics - it very short and accessible. It is a very sparsely formated site - but worth the read.

Software "Adoption" is Bullshit

I have spent a good deal of time in the last decade involved one way or another in enterprise software: helping to build it, helping to sell it, helping to buy it, writing about it, reading about it. The world of enterprise software runs on the doctrinal antithesis to the idea that software is eating the world: the world is adopting software. Specifically through existing organizations adopting it via a controlled, deliberate, strategic process. There is an entire cottage industry -- and I have participated in it more than I like to admit -- devoted to "strategic" thinking about how to "adopt" software and turn it into "competitive advantage" and "digitally transform" the business model. And loudly celebrating supposed "success stories."

This entire cottage industry, I concluded a few years ago, is unadulterated bullshit.

There are only three ways for an organization to relate to software: you're buying it like you buy potatoes, a pure commodity, while being loudly theatrical about it, or you're getting eaten by it, or you've made the only meaningful strategic decision: to jump to the disruptive "eating" side on a particular contest. There is no regime worthy of the label "strategic adoption." And nothing illustrates this three-way potatoes-prey-predator model more dramatically than the two-decade history of software in the US Presidential elections. So let's review that story and try to extract some generic (and harsh) lessons for enterprise software "adoption" and "digital transformation".

This is a very interesting discussion of our current state of the art of how search results are presented to our queries and how that raises more questions around our issues for speed and accuracy.


Our answer machines have an over-confidence problem. Google, Alexa, and Siri often front that they’re providing a definitive answer to questions when they’re on shaky ground—or outright wrong.

Google’s Featured Snippets Are Worse Than Fake News, writes Adrianne Jeffries, pointing out the downsides of Google’s efforts to provide what Danny Sullivan calls the “one true answer” as fast as possible. About 15% of Google searches offer a featured snippet, that text excerpt that shows up inside a big bold box at the top of the results. It’s presented as the answer to your question. “Unfortunately, not all of these answers are actually true,”

The problem is compounded in voice interfaces like Echo or Google Home, where just a single answer is offered, giving the impression that it’s the only answer.

There are two problems here: bad info and bad presentation. I’ve got some thoughts on how designers of data-driven interfaces can get better at the presentation part to help caution users about inevitable bad info.

The domestication of DNA takes another step.
“We’re shortcutting evolution by millions of years,” says bioengineer Patrick Cai, who first became acquainted with the project as a post-doc in Boeke’s lab in 2010. “Our goal here is not engineering a particular kind of yeast, but the kind of yeast that is amenable to engineering.” Cai now runs his own lab at the University of Edinburgh, where he’s building that extra 17th chromosome. It’s the only chromosome that’s built completely from scratch.

A New Lab-Built Fungus Eats Sugar and Burps Out Drugs

In seven papers published today in Science, representing a decade of work by hundreds of scientists across four continents, the Synthetic Yeast 2.0 project reports the first fully designed, and partially completed, made-from-scratch eukaryotic genome. Eukaryotes—organisms whose cells have a nucleus and other defined organelles—encompass all complex life: yeasts, plants, hamsters, humans. So writing a custom genome for one is a big deal by itself. But the artificial yeast will have a more stable, easily manipulable genome for scientists to work with, and for the chemical, pharmaceutical, and energy industries to use for a new generation of drugs, biofuels, and novel materials.

Sc2.0 began as a project to make yeasts better at producing chemicals useful to humans. Evolution optimized yeast for lots of things, but not for industrial production of enzymes or antibiotics. That didn’t require remaking the yeast genome verboten, just removing destabilizing DNA from the genome and refactoring the whole thing so future researchers could customize their yeast for whatever compound they wanted to crank out.

One of the biggest changes the researchers introduced was to place 5000 DNA tags throughout the genome that act as landing sites for a protein called “Cre” that can be used to create on-demand mutations. When the protein comes in contact with estrogen it scrambles the synthetic chromosomal sequences—deleting, duplicating, and shuffling genes at random.

By building in these “SCRaMbLE” sites—it stands for Synthetic Chromosome Recombination and Modification by LoxP-mediated Evolution—scientists can start with a test tube filled with a million genetically-identical synthetic yeast cells, randomly reshuffle their genes, and then expose them to different stresses, like heat and pressure, or ask them to make different molecules. It’s kind of like natural selection on speed, and allows scientists to easily identify new strains that can survive better in specific environments, or be better factories for things like fuels and drugs.

The relationship between human behavior-experience and microbial profile is more important than we imagine.
“We know there is a constant communication between the gut and the brain, and in IBS and other functional bowel disorders, this communication is altered,” Bercik told The Scientist. “We wanted to understand how the gut microbiota fits in.”
Mice colonized with bacteria from patients with IBS who did not have anxiety symptoms and from healthy individuals did not exhibit anxiety-like behaviors, while mice colonized with bacteria from IBS patients with anxiety symptoms showed similar symptoms in both behavioral tests. Those mice colonized with gut bacteria from IBS patients also displayed signs of immune activation associated with low-grade inflammation compared to mice colonized with bacteria from healthy individuals.

Human Gut Microbe Transplant Alters Mouse Behavior

Fecal transplants from humans with irritable bowel syndrome and anxiety into mice lead to similar symptoms and anxiety-like behavior in the rodents, researchers report.  
Researchers have been unable to pinpoint the causes of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a heterogeneous disorder characterized by both diarrhea and constipation. IBS can also be accompanied by symptoms associated with anxiety and depression and, thus, is thought to affect gut-brain communication.

In a study published today (March 1) in Science Translational Medicine, researchers from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, and their colleagues demonstrate evidence of a direct link between gut microbes and the symptoms and behaviors of IBS in mice. Germ-free mice that received fecal microbiota from patients with IBS mimicked the symptoms of the disorder, including anxiety-like behaviors, the team reported.

“This [study] is a wonderful demonstration for the functionality of the microbiota, showing gut bacteria from subjects with irritable bowel syndrome can induce both gastrointestinal issues, as well as the anxiety that is co-morbid with IBS,” Sarkis Mazmanian, a professor of microbiology at Caltech who was not involved in the work, wrote in an email to The Scientist.

Here’s a very interesting geoengineering - Terra-forming project. A long read but there’s a 60 min audio version available and a 26 min video.

Welcome to Pleistocene Park

In Arctic Siberia, Russian scientists are trying to stave off catastrophic climate change—by resurrecting an Ice Age biome complete with lab-grown woolly mammoths.

Pleistocene Park is named for the geological epoch that ended only 12,000 years ago, having begun 2.6 million years earlier. Though colloquially known as the Ice Age, the Pleistocene could easily be called the Grass Age. Even during its deepest chills, when thick, blue-veined glaciers were bearing down on the Mediterranean, huge swaths of the planet were coated in grasslands. In Beringia, the Arctic belt that stretches across Siberia, all of Alaska, and much of Canada’s Yukon, these vast plains of green and gold gave rise to a new biome, a cold-weather version of the African savanna called the Mammoth Steppe. But when the Ice Age ended, many of the grasslands vanished under mysterious circumstances, along with most of the giant species with whom we once shared this Earth.

Nikita is trying to resurface Beringia with grasslands. He wants to summon the Mammoth Steppe ecosystem, complete with its extinct creatures, back from the underworld of geological layers. The park was founded in 1996, and already it has broken out of its original fences, eating its way into the surrounding tundra scrublands and small forests. If Nikita has his way, Pleistocene Park will spread across Arctic Siberia and into North America, helping to slow the thawing of the Arctic permafrost. Were that frozen underground layer to warm too quickly, it would release some of the world’s most dangerous climate-change accelerants into the atmosphere, visiting catastrophe on human beings and millions of other species.

In its scope and radicalism, the idea has few peers, save perhaps the scheme to cool the Earth by seeding the atmosphere with silvery mists of sun-reflecting aerosols. Only in Siberia’s empty expanse could an experiment of this scale succeed, and only if human beings learn to cooperate across centuries. This intergenerational work has already begun. It was Nikita’s father, Sergey, who first developed the idea for Pleistocene Park, before ceding control of it to Nikita.

Here’s an interesting idea for harvesting bioenergy from the ocean.

Robotic Kelp Farms Promise an Ocean Full of Carbon-Neutral, Low-Cost Energy

At the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, a company called Marine BioEnergy was showing a potential new way of producing an enormous amount of low-cost energy in a way that doesn’t compete for land area. Their idea is to use drone submarines to farm kelp out in the open ocean, and then process it into carbon-neutral liquid biofuel. Turns out there are a lot of reasons why this might be a very good idea.

Liquid biofuels are, in theory, a great idea: You take plants and turn them into something that can fill up your car, but you don’t have to feel guilty about it because the carbon that your car emits into the atmosphere was sucked out of the atmosphere by the plant first, making the carbon emissions neutral. The problem is that it takes water, fertilizer, human effort, and so forth to grow the biofuel crop in the first place, and the overall process is relatively inefficient. Plus, you’re taking up land area that could be used to grow food instead.

Marine BioEnergy’s concept for open ocean kelp farms solves many of these problems. Land area is not a concern because the kelp is grown out in the open ocean, where there’s plenty of uncontested room. You don’t have to water the kelp because kelp lives in salt water, which is convenient. Kelp grows mind-blowingly quickly, up to 30 centimeters per day, and no weeding, pesticides, fertilizers, or any other kind of resource-intensive micromanagement is required. It has a photosynthetic efficiency that’s up to four times higher than terrestrial plants, and you can harvest it non-destructively. Kelp is also relatively easy to process into liquid biofuel because of its low cellulose content.

This is for any interested in the domain of physics. A breakthrough in developing a new state of matter that may enable a more rapid progress in quantum computing. Worth the read if you want a peek into the future of physics.

It's Official: Time Crystals Are a New State of Matter, and Now We Can Create Them

Earlier this year, physicists had put together a blueprint for how to make and measure time crystals - a bizarre state of matter with an atomic structure that repeats not just in space, but in time, allowing them to maintain constant oscillation without energy.

Two separate research teams managed to create what looked an awful lot like time crystals back in January, and now both experiments have successfully passed peer-review for the first time, putting the 'impossible' phenomenon squarely in the realm of reality.

"We've taken these theoretical ideas that we've been poking around for the last couple of years and actually built it in the laboratory," says one of the researchers, Andrew Potter from Texas University at Austin.

"Hopefully, this is just the first example of these, with many more to come."
Time crystals are one of the coolest things physics has dished up in recent months, because they point to a whole new world of 'non-equilibrium' phases that are entirely different from anything scientists have studied in the past.

Here’s another interesting development about new forms of material.

First Stretchable Holographic Display Unveiled

Embedding gold nanorods in contact lens material makes an entirely new kind of holographic display possible.
One of the great advances in materials sciences in recent years has been the development of metamaterials and metasurfaces with optical properties that are not found in nature. These materials contain repeating elements that interact with electromagnetic waves to reflect, bend, and distort light.

In this way, researchers have built materials with negative refractive index, super-resolution lenses, and even invisibility cloaks. The same kind of tricks are possible with reflective surfaces too. Researchers have made metasurfaces that act as flat lenses, vortex beam generators, and even as computer-generated holograms.
And that raises an interesting question—just how much further can materials scientists take this technology?

Today we find out thanks to the work of Stephanie Malek and pals at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. They’ve printed a hologram onto a metasurface and shown how it changes as the film is stretched. The work points the way toward a new kind of display that switches the information it displays as it stretches.

Making science affordable unleashes the amateur to explore new possibilities.

MEMS based Atomic Force Microscope shrinks to Dime-sized Device and with mass production could make atomic force microscopes affordable for high school and home labs

“A standard atomic force microscope is a large, bulky instrument, with multiple control loops, electronics and amplifiers,” said Dr. Reza Moheimani, professor of mechanical engineering at UT Dallas. “We have managed to miniaturize all of the electromechanical components down onto a single small chip.”

An atomic force microscope (AFM) is a scientific tool that is used to create detailed three-dimensional images of the surfaces of materials, down to the nanometer scale — that’s roughly on the scale of individual molecules.

The basic AFM design consists of a tiny cantilever, or arm, that has a sharp tip attached to one end. As the apparatus scans back and forth across the surface of a sample, or the sample moves under it, the interactive forces between the sample and the tip cause the cantilever to move up and down as the tip follows the contours of the surface. Those movements are then translated into an image.

The MEMS-based AFM is about 1 square centimeter in size, or a little smaller than a dime. It is attached to a small printed circuit board, about half the size of a credit card, which contains circuitry, sensors and other miniaturized components that control the movement and other aspects of the device.

“An educational version can cost about $30,000 or $40,000, and a laboratory-level AFM can run $500,000 or more,” Moheimani said. “Our MEMS approach to AFM design has the potential to significantly reduce the complexity and cost of the instrument.

This is a 10 min video that is awesome in it’s presentation of the scales of the stuff or reality - worth the view.

3D Size Comparison of Everything in the Universe is Awe-Inspiring

Like a cross between the opening credits of Contact and the Simpson’s Universe couch gag, this video gives us an ever expanding look at how the smallest objects in existence compare in size to the largest.

Starting with the fabric of space-time, we zoom out to the singularity of a black hole, then we zoom out to quarks, protons, atoms, DNA, sperm, grains of sand, lions, tigers, bears, whales, jets, zeppelins, skyscrapers, mountains, moons, planets, stars, black holes, galaxies and so much in between. We’re somewhere in there too, forgetting to put the toilet seat down and trying to decide what to eat for dinner.

Be warned, the narrator of this clip isn’t exactly Neil deGrasse Tyson. The voiceover script is alright and has a few funny bits. But as conversations on this subject tend to do, it veers into too-many-bong-hits territory.

Still, this is the kind of sobering demonstration of our place in the universe that we all need from time-to-time.

For everyone who knows chess and likes puzzles - here’s a way to contribute to the study of consciousness.
“There is now evidence that there are quantum effects happening in biology, such as in photosynthesis or in bird migration, so there may be something similar happening in the mind, which is a controversial idea.
“If we find out how humans differ from computers then it could have profound sociological implications. People get very depressed when they think of a future where robots or computers will take their jobs, but it might be that there are areas where computers will never be better than us, such as creativity.”

Can you solve the chess problem which holds key to human consciousness?

The puzzle coincides with the launch of the new Penrose Institute, founded by Sir Roger Penrose, emeritus Professor at the Mathematical Institute of Oxford, who shared the World Prize in physics with Professor Stephen Hawking in 1988 for his work on black hole singularities.

The new institute, which will have arms at UCL and Oxford University, has been set up to study human consciousness through physics and tease out the fundamental differences between artificial and human intelligence.

If successful, it could prove for the first time that the human brain is not simply a gargantuan supercomputer, but may exhibit quantum effects far beyond the realms of current imagining - a controversial theory that many scientists believe to be impossible.

The chess problem - originally drawn by Sir Roger - has been devised to defeat an artificially intelligent (AI) computer but be solvable for humans. The Penrose Institute scientists are inviting readers to workout how white can win, or force a stalemate and then share their reasoning.

The team then hopes to scan the brains of people with the quickest times, or interesting Eureka moments, to see if the genesis of human ‘insight’ or ‘intuition’ can be spotted in mind.

This is certainly a condition I suffer from - maybe many others as well.


Nick Carraway slinks away from Jay Gatsby’s party. In the library he comes across a drunken, bespectacled fat cat who starts going off about the books lining the walls. “They’re real,” he slurs, pointing to them. “What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop too — didn’t cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?” Uncut pages! If you know how books used to be manufactured, this means one thing and one thing only: Gatsby wasn’t much of a reader. After all, until they’re cut, book pages can’t be turned.

Collecting books and not reading them is, shall we say, textbook behavior. At least for some of you, and you know who you are. Suffering from the condition of racking up book purchases of $100, $200 or $1,000 without ever bending a spine? There’s a Japanese word for you.


Prognosis: terminal. Stats reveal that e-reading doesn’t hold a candle to the joy of reading a physical book. Although e-book sales jumped 1,260 percent between 2008 and 2010, 2.71 billion physical books were sold in the U.S. alone in 2015, according to Statista. That’s compared with the 1.32 billion movie tickets sold in the U.S. and Canada. As if every American were reading an average of more than eight books annually.

Certainly, it’s unlikely you’re going to hear the word tsundoku on the subway. But in a language where there are words for canceling an appointment at the last minute and the culture-specific condition of adult male shut-in syndrome, how can you be surprised? Other, similar words like ts┼źdoku (read through) and jukudoku (reading deeply) are in praise of sitting down with a book (doku means “to read”). But we think tsundoku is particularly special: Oku means to do something and leave it for a while, says Sahoko Ichikawa, a senior lecturer at Cornell University, and tsunde means to stack things.

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