Why Quants Don’t Know Everything

The quants always win at first — in finance, in sports, in computer dating, in national security. They discover “numerical patterns or ingenious algorithms” that beat existing markets. But then their edge disappears, because the new markets that they create have new patterns and new behaviours that can be gamed in new ways — and often more easily, by targeting the quants’ own explicit metrics (2,110 words)

Two Hours Talking With The NSA

Notes from a meeting at the NSA with general counsel Rajesh De and others. “Looking at the world through their eyes, there is no privacy threat in collecting massive amounts of information — if access to that information is rigidly controlled and minimalized. The NSA feels that if people knew about these controls, they’d be OK with the collection”. Bonus fact: “They really hate Snowden” (1,400 words)

How The NSA Almost Killed The Internet

The Snowden/NSA saga as seen from the viewpoint of the tech giants — Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple — who found themselves in the unhappy role of useful idiots at best, government stooges at worst. “The tech world found itself ensnared in a fight far bigger than the ones involving oversharing on Facebook or ads on Gmail. Over the coming months, they would find themselves at war with their own government” (7,400 words)

I, Glasshole: My Year With Google Glass

The hardware is clunky. You get a lot of angry reactions. But as a proof of concept Glass has already succeeded. “The future is on its way, and it is going to be on your face. We need to think about it and be ready for it in a way we weren’t with smartphones. Because while you (and I) may make fun of glassholes today, come tomorrow we’re all going to be right there with them. Wearables are where we’re going” (1,840 words)

Bill Gates Thinks You Should Read This Man

Interview with Vaclav Smil, geographer and polymath with a gift for plain talk. Main theme: Innovation. It comes from manufacturing, so countries with strong manufacturing bases, such as China and Germany, are pulling ahead, while America falls behind. Bonus tips: If you want to save energy, add more insulation to your house and drive a Honda Civic. If you eat meat, eat it as Asians do — chopped up with rice. It goes much further (1,890 words)

The American Who Remade Sony

Portrait of Mark Cerny, “one of the world’s most storied game designers”, hired by Sony to oversee PlayStation 4. “Sony needed someone who could serve as a voice for the game makers and game players of the world. It needed someone who could bring a more egalitarian ethos to the development of the new PlayStation. It needed someone who could right the wrongs of the PS3. And Cerny offered all those things” (4,450 words)

Inside Digg’s Race To Build The New Google Reader

As a near-full-time user of Google Reader, I may be prone to overestimate the general interest of this story. But it strikes me as an excellent account of how a project gets conceived and executed; and also a good insight into Betaworks, which sees to have the gift — denied to Google — of breathing life and warmth into its platforms, such as Digg and bit.ly, and making them play together intelligently (4,700 words)

The Secret War

Profile of NSA boss General Keith Alexander. “Never before has anyone in America’s intelligence sphere come close to his degree of power. He is director of the world’s largest intelligence service, the National Security Agency; chief of the Central Security Service; and commander of the US Cyber Command. He has his own secret military, presiding over the Navy’s 10th Fleet, the 24th Air Force, and the Second Army” (7,900 words)

New Autistic Way Of Thinking Powers Silicon Valley

Book extract. Argues that we have three modes of thinking — in pictures, in words, in patterns. In tech, you need all three, and you need a balance between them, but above all you need the pattern thinking. That’s what chess players have. What Steve Jobs had. What the best coders have. And also what people with autism often have. Seeing patterns helps you to grasp structures and spot mistakes quickly (1,580 words)

Closing Remarks At SXSW 2013

As we have said before in this space, if you know Bruce Sterling you know what to expect: a torrent of words, a flotsam of ideas, all of it smart and tremendous fun. Main themes in this mélange: the cultural history of Austin, the ascension of Sergey Brin, the transience of all technology: “It’s always the electronic frontier. Nobody ever goes back to look at the electronic forests that were cut down with chainsaws and tossed into the rivers” (7,721 words)

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