Amos Oz, Lombok, Murder, Coral, Genetics, Deep Learning, El Dorado


Hic sunt camelopardus: this historical edition of The Browser is presented for archaeological purposes; links and formatting may be broken.

Amos Oz: The Art Of Fiction

Shusha Guppy | Paris Review | 1st September 1996

Absorbing, exhilarating conversation about living and writing in Israel. “My father knew sixteen languages and spoke ten of them, and my mother knew seven or eight languages too. They spoke Russian when they didn’t want me to understand, otherwise they insisted on Hebrew. They feared that if I learned any European language I might be tempted to go back to Europe, which they regarded as deadly for Jews. They left in the nick of time, otherwise I would not be sitting here talking to you” (7,500 words)

Lombok In The Morning

Belle Waring | Crooked Timber | 11th April 2017

Letter from the Indonesian island of Lombok, east of Bali. “The boats are all painted in a riot of pink and green and blue and white. There are yellow ribbons around big fig trees to tell you they are sacred, and narrow carved gates opening off the road at high places and descending into temples you cannot see. And so there are festivals almost every day and beautiful young women with baskets of fruit on their heads in the early morning, and gamelan music that has been playing the whole night” (1,050 words)

About The Gun-Toting, One-Legged Kentucky Woman

Andrew Cohen | Marshall Project | 10th April 2017

True-life story of a “possibly clairvoyant” woman convicted of murder and jailed for six years until cleared by a serial killer’s confession. Police and prosecution argued that she owned a gun (though not the one used in the killing), and had voiced a premonition that the victim would be found in water. They did not explain how “a one-legged woman could murder a man nearly twice her size, hoist his body into a car, drive 40 miles and then dump him in a river without anyone seeing her do it” (2,100 words)

Save The Reefs

The Economist | Medium | 4th April 2017

Coral reefs are living things. They shelter coastlines and nourish marine life. But overfishing, tourism and pollution are killing them. A quarter of all coral cover has already died from rising acidity and rising temperatures in ocean waters. “Without strong property rights, the result is a tragedy of the commons, in which fishermen and tour operators destroy the resources they rely on”. The reefs in worst shape are those off the most crowded beaches. One possible solution: Move them away (2,265 words)

Hacking DNA

Geoff Ralston | Y Combinator | 3rd April 2017

A fairly non-technical explanation of CRISPR, “the most powerful genetic engineering tool ever created”, which can be used to create genes that are certain to be inherited by offspring, ensuring that an edit will spread rapidly through a species. The technique has been used to modify goats so that they produce spider silk in their milk. Chinese scientists have used it on non-viable human embryos. Its use on live humans cannot be far away; unless, of course, it is already in undeclared use (2,700 words)

Darkness At The Heart of AI

Will Knight | MIT Technology Review | 11th April 2017

Artificial intelligence based on deep learning has grown so complex that we cannot always understand why the go-playing or car-driving algorithm does what it does; nor can the algorithm explain its decision. For the time being such opacity is merely bewildering, even impressive; but as the machines gain in power, it will become more dangerous at many levels. There is a strong argument for a legal requirement that an AI must always be able to explain its behaviour (3,350 words)

The Lost City Of Z

David Grann | New Yorker | 19th September 2005

David Grann’s brilliant and breathtaking account of a journey through the Amazon in the footsteps of Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, a British explorer who disappeared in 1925 while seeking a lost civilisation. Grann meets a last living witness of Fawcett’s passage: “The three went in that direction, over those peaks. We waited for them to come back, but they never did”. Fawcett’s travels inspired Conan Doyle’s Lost World; Grann’s story is now a Hollywood film (Metered paywall) (20,000 words)

Video of the day: A Primer On The War In Syria

What to expect:

Vox explainer. How the Syrian civil war evolved over four years into a regional and global proxy war (6’39”)

Thought for the day

The most certain way to hide from others the limits of our knowledge is not to go beyond them
Giacomo Leopardi

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