Berfrois

Should We Fear AI?

Should We Fear AI?

It is wise to think through the implications of new technology. I understand the good intentions of Jaron Lanier and others who have raised an alarm about AI.

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Alexander Hahn: 199 Visible Oranges

Alexander Hahn: 199 Visible Oranges

The merchant’s attractive display had been constructed very carefully. The pyramid has a triangular base of 12 oranges to a side. From each side of this triangle rises one of the sloping triangular faces of the pyramid. Each triangular face starts with its row of 12 and continues with...

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Jay Slosar: Paranoia Matters

Jay Slosar: Paranoia Matters

Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire, Salvador Dalí, 1940 by Jay Slosar “Don’t look back something might be gaining on you,” said Satchel Paige, a legendary baseball pitcher in the 1930s and 40s who couldn’t pitch in the major leagues because he was black. After Jackie Robinson...

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Hugh Everett III, Many-Worlds Man by Jeffrey Barrett

Hugh Everett III, Many-Worlds Man by Jeffrey Barrett

Jacek Yerka by Jeffrey A. Barrett In the Spring of 2007, the journalist Peter Byrne interviewed Mark Everett (E of the band Eels) about Mark’s father Hugh Everett III. Mark did not know much about what his father had done for a living, and he knew even less about...

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Mathematicians are Giraffe Hunters by Barry Mazur

Mathematicians are Giraffe Hunters by Barry Mazur

I came late to the feeling that the purity of mathematical ideas had any need for story or for the temporal intrusion of personal accounts. But, I've changed, quite a bit. In fact, Apostolos Doxiadis and I have just published Circles Disturbed, a book of essays written by over...

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Gazing

Gazing

From American Scientist: Does your dog know what you are thinking? Can a chimpanzee understand what another sees? In the three and a half decades since David Premack and Guy Woodruff first asked whether chimpanzees have a “theory of mind,” a considerable empirical and philosophical literature has sprung up...

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A Tale of Strychnine and Murder

A Tale of Strychnine and Murder

From cover of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie, 1920 by Deborah Blum There is altogether too much strychnine about this case – The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie, 1920. In the midst of World War I – or so the story goes – a young Englishwoman...

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Jennifer Rhee: Our Friends, the Killer Robots

Jennifer Rhee: Our Friends, the Killer Robots

Defending Yourself against the Coming Rebellion (2005) offers a survey of the “quickening” developments in contemporary robotics research, from humanoid robots, to smart houses, to robot swarms, to unmanned air and land vehicles.

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Continued Enrichment?

Continued Enrichment?

IR40 Heavy Water reactor facility, near Arak, Iran From Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: The criticism that Obama drew for his subdued response begs the question of whether the Green Movement actually wanted his vocal support. Gauging the views of movement leaders, Parsi determines that, at the height of...

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Ground

Ground

Berliner Ensemble production of The Life of Galileo, 1971 From The Nation: A right thumb, a finger, a tooth. These were the contents of a reliquary acquired several years ago by a collector at an auction in Florence. Little did he know that for centuries the remains had been...

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Rhoda Feng: Neophilia

Rhoda Feng: Neophilia

In the 1450s there lived a boy whose favorite pastime it was to roam the hills of Tuscany. He would dwell in vineyards and olive groves that offered up an assortment of brightly plumed birds, peeping insects, and fragrant plants for contemplation. On his lengthier peregrinations, he developed a...

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The Open-Science Internet

The Open-Science Internet

In the future, scientists may be relying on open-source projects and data sharing. As you well know, not everyone wants to share. Why do scientists lock up their data?

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R. Ford Denison: Nature’s Lies

R. Ford Denison: Nature’s Lies

Most evolutionary biologists tell us that natural selection is much better at improving trees than forests. This is especially true when the interests of individuals conflict with those of the community as a whole. A more diverse forest might be less susceptible to disease outbreaks, but that won't stop...

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“O that was strong poison”

“O that was strong poison”

by Deborah Blum When people ask why I would choose to write a book about poisons (The Poisoner’s Handbook) I usually start with my brief stint as a chemistry major, my continuing affection for using poisons as a way to think about our chemical planet. But I always end...

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Pattern of the Modal Scientific Miscreant

Pattern of the Modal Scientific Miscreant

From The Nation: In the summer of 2007, while the scientist Marc Hauser was in Australia, Harvard University authorities entered his lab on the tenth floor of William James Hall, seizing computers, videotapes, unpublished manuscripts and notes. Hauser, then 47, was a professor of psychology, organismic and evolutionary biology,...

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High on the Scoville Scale

High on the Scoville Scale

#occupyucdavis, photograph by California Aggie by Deborah Blum One hundred years ago, an American pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville developed a scale to measure the intensity of a pepper’s burn. The scale – as you can see on the widely used chart below – puts sweet bell peppers at the zero...

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