Ancestry, Japanese Food, Go, Cultural Revolution, Marvin Minsky, Just City


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

Ancestry And Long-Run Growth

Bryan Caplan | Library Of Economics | 27th January 2016

Skip the scatter charts and data tables. Forgive the formatting. The ideas are worth the effort. In brief: The pre-industrial history of a country is generally a good predictor of its modern wealth. But the pre-industrial history of the people who inhabit the country, adjusting for migration, turns out to be an even better predictor. And the policy implications? "Syrians are the most awesome people on the planet" (2,100 words)

Tokyo Is The World’s Best Food City

David Chang | Lucky Peach | 27th January 2016

"Japan is devoted to food, and in Tokyo that fixation is exponentially multiplied. It’s the one place in the world where I have to seek out bad food. It’s hard to find. Japan has taken from everywhere, because that’s what Japanese culture does: they take and they polish and shine and they make it better. The rest of the world’s food cultures could disappear, and as long as Tokyo remains, everything will be okay" (Note: Much cursing) (1,120 words)

Google Wins At Go

Demis Hassabis | Official Google Blog | 27th January 2016

Google says it has taught a machine to play world-class Go, a game of simple rules but — until now — incalculable complexity, using algorithms modelled on the human brain. "One neural network, the policy network, selects the next move to play. The other neural network, the value network, predicts the winner of the game". Google's AlphaGo has beaten a European champion and will soon play a world champion (750 words)

China: Surviving The Camps

Zha Jianying | New York Review of Books | 26th January 2016

China's Cultural Revolution remains a "poorly examined, under-documented subject". Mao was guilty. The Communist Party was guilty. But so were many more. This was a mass movement. Millions "struggled", millions suffered. There is much to forget. "Official archives are off-limits. Serious books on the period are remarkably few". Ji Xianlin’s The Cowshed is a rare exception. Read it and weep. "This was our Auschwitz" (2,900 words)

Profile: Marvin Minsky

Jeremy Bernstein | New Yorker | 14th December 1981

By far the best profile of Marvin Minsky ever written, capturing Minsky at the height of his powers, in 1981, when his was probably the greatest mind at work across the whole field of computer science. "From the beginning, Minsky’s goal was to learn what computers could be made to do in solving non-arithmetic problems — in short, to make these machines intelligent." The anecdotes here are simply dizzying (Metered paywall) (24,000 words)

The Joy Of Anachronism

Neville Morley | Sphinx | 27th January 2016

Notes on Jo Walton’s novel Just City. "Time-travelling Athene gathers together a bunch of dedicated Platonists from across the following 2500-odd years, helps them collect children and works of art from a more restricted period, gives them some robots from the future for the heavy work, and dumps the whole lot back in the bronze age, where this farrago will be held together by a shared dedication to the ideals of Plato’s Republic" (1,090 words)

Video of the day: The Chickening (2016)

What to expect: NSFW: Adult language and disturbing images. Surreal remix of The Shining (5'11")

Thought for the day

If you have to buy trust, you already have some doubts about what you have bought
Kenneth Arrow

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