Week of February 25, 2019

HAL 9000

The most levelheaded and coherent summary of OpenAI's recent NLP advancements. Turns out, the robots are not taking over the world quite yet.

Then the entire world lost its mind. If you follow machine learning, then for a brief period of time, OpenAI’s slightly bigger, slightly more coherent language model may have overtaken Trump’s fictitious state of emergency as the biggest story on your newsfeed.

Words

Dictionaries used to be a lot more fun to read and a lot more useful to the writing process because of it. James Somers goes into detail about what we’re missing.

Webster’s dictionary took him 26 years to finish. It ended up having 70,000 words. He wrote it all himself, including the etymologies, which required that he learn 28 languages, including Old English, Gothic, German, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Welsh, Russian, Aramaic, Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit. He was plagued by debt to fund the project; he had to mortgage his home.

Decades

The story of why a man is standing next to one of the most dangerous artifacts in the world and why he keeps returning to it.

In the days and weeks after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in late April 1986, simply being in the same room as this particular pile of radioactive material—known as the Elephant’s Foot—would have killed you within a couple of minutes. Even a decade later, when this image was taken, the radiation probably caused the film to develop strangely, creating the photo’s grainy quality. The man in this photo, Artur Korneyev, has likely visited this area more than anyone else, and in doing so has been exposed to more radiation than almost anyone in history.

Surveillance

I think this article is a bit breathless but still brings up interesting questions to ponder about the effects of modern technology on society and our lives.

Larry Page grasped that human experience could be Google’s virgin wood, that it could be extracted at no extra cost online and at very low cost out in the real world. For today’s owners of surveillance capital the experiential realities of bodies, thoughts and feelings are as virgin and blameless as nature’s once-plentiful meadows, rivers, oceans and forests before they fell to the market dynamic. We have no formal control over these processes because we are not essential to the new market action. Instead we are exiles from our own behaviour, denied access to or control over knowledge derived from its dispossession by others for others. Knowledge, authority and power rest with surveillance capital, for which we are merely “human natural resources”. We are the native peoples now whose claims to self-determination have vanished from the maps of our own experience.

Disruption

Detail

The level of detail in this post rivals the Stephen Wolfram’s reigning champion, his post on his personal analytics from six years ago. I think this new one, on his personal infrastructure, wins.

Of course, a critical piece of making my metasearcher work is that I’ve stored so much stuff. For example, I actually have all the 815,000 or so emails that I’ve written in the past 30 years, and all the 2.3 million (mostly non-spam) ones I’ve received. And, yes, it helps tremendously that I’ve had a company with organized IT infrastructure etc. for the past 32 years.

But email, of course, has the nice feature that it’s “born digital”. What about things that were, for example, originally on paper? Well, I have been something of an “informational packrat” for most of my life. And in fact I’ve been pretty consistently keeping documents back to when I started elementary school in 1968.