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What I Did In 2014

Diary extracts. Subjects include: Gloucester Crescent, Sue Townsend, preaching in King’s College Chapel, Oxford high table, film-making, Kim Philby, Debo Devonshire, boa constrictors, Richard Hoggart, Richard Branson, dogs, old age. “Once upon a time when one saw an old couple walking along holding hands the thought was of Darby and Joan. Nowadays one just wonders which of them has Alzheimer’s” (5,400 words)

Seven Impressions Of A Difficult Journey

The headline, for once, understates the story, which consists of notes from ten days as a guest of the Islamic State. More detail to follow. Worth knowing: Islamic State recognises the “religions of the book” — Islam, Judaism, Christianity. They will kill all “moderate Muslims approving of democracy” for putting human laws above God’s laws. Jews and Christians will be tolerated if they pay a tax of “several hundred dollars a year” (1,495 words)

Oracles, Genies And Sovereigns

Notes on Nick Bostrom’s book, Superintelligence, about the future of artificial intelligence. Strong AIs will come in different castes: “oracles, genies, sovereigns and tools”. An oracle would do nothing but answer your questions. A genie would carry out a command, then wait for another. “The ordering of safety of these castes is not as obvious as it may seem, once we consider factors such as dependence on a single human” (2,200 words)

Last Christmas Of The War

December 1944 in Auschwitz. “A package did finally find its way to me, through a chain of friends, sent by my sister and my mother, who were hidden in Italy. In the Camp, the terms eating, food, hunger had meanings totally different from their usual ones. That unexpected, improbable, impossible package was like a meteorite, a heavenly object, charged with symbols, immensely precious, and with an enormous momentum” (3,000 words)

The Director Vanishes

Barry Diller said: “You think Eddie Murphy can carry this movie? Because if you’re wrong, you’re gone.” Martin Brest replied: “Yes”. The result was Beverley Hills Cop. Best directed two more classic films (Midnight Run, Scent Of A Woman), one failure (Meet Joe Black), and one all-time turkey (Gigli). After which he disappeared. If anybody knows where he is, please contact Ben Affleck. Hollywood would like Marty Brest back (4,850 words)

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