Browser Daily Newsletter 1190

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

The Culture That Gave Birth To The Personal Computer

Walter Isaacson | Medium | 17th December 2013

Steve Jobs's biographer offers for comment what he calls "a rough draft" of part of his next book on "the innovators of the digital age". The section is largely about Stewart Brand, "a countercultural entrepreneur in a deeply technocratic mold”, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, who bridged the hippie and hacker worlds in the Bay Area of the late 1960s, and foresaw personal computers as "tools of liberation"

How Britain Exported Next-Generation Surveillance

James Bridle | Matter | 18th December 2013

Britain's Automatic Number Plate Recognition system began in 1980s for finding stolen cars. Now it's a general-purpose surveillance tool, like CCTV, and spreading round the world. Roadside cameras snap millions of licence plates daily, send images for computer recognition, ping local police if the car is on a stop list. "The police have repeatedly rejected efforts to understand the true magnitude of the network"

Health Care, American Style

Karen Hitchcock | The Monthly | 19th December 2013

Australian doctor spends time in American hospital, suffers culture shock. "The night was a tough one, but the staff aren’t allowed to use negative words, not even 'busy'. Instead they say the shift was 'active' and 'challenging'. Before they go they have to formulate a team-building goal of the day for one of the whiteboards. They come up with Execute the day with joy and Work together, but settle on Spread the cheer"

Interview: Clive Thompson

Bill Tipper | Barnes & Noble Review | 19th December 2013

Author of Smarter Than You Think says gadgets are good for us. "Our thinking processes are already extremely reliant on tools outside of our heads. The only reason we don't notice how interwoven our thinking processes have become with older technologies — pencils, paper, electric light, penicillin, fire — is that they're old, so we've ceased to notice their effects. But take them away, and our thinking changes dramatically"

Pope Francis: Untier Of Knots

Andrew Sullivan | Deep Dish | 17th December 2013

First section of long paywalled essay, recommended in its own right for its precise and powerful framing of the new Pope. "The name had always been a sacred one in the long history of Christianity; it was a name no Pope had ever dared to claim before; a name that resonated through the centuries with the possibility of starting from scratch, from the street and the gutter, from the leper colonies and the wildernesses"

Google’s Robot Army

Illah Nourbakhsh | New Yorker | 18th December 2013

Google "has a vision of truly dexterous, autonomous robots that can walk on sidewalks, carry packages, and push strollers. While Amazon is busy optimising delivery logistics, Google bots could roboticise every Amazon competitor, from Target to Safeway." And yet: "There is no moral compass governing the arc of robot innovation". We need, very soon, social and legal codes to constrain robot behaviour

Video of the day:  Apple Ad | "Misunderstood"

Thought for the day:

"There’s a rule for writing authentically. If something really bad is happening, write shorter" — Penelope Trunk

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