Chess, Napoleon, Uber, Science, Gorbachev

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AlphaZero Learns Chess

Albert Silver | Chess News | 6th December 2017

Checkmate to the chess computers. We have nothing to teach them which they cannot work out faster for themselves. “Imagine this: you tell a computer system how the pieces move — nothing more. Then you tell it to learn to play the game. A day later it has figured it out to the level that beats the strongest programs in the world. DeepMind, the company that recently created the strongest Go program in the world, turned its attention to chess, and came up with this spectacular result” (2,750 words)

Napoleon Was The Best General Ever

Ethan Arsht | Medium | 4th December 2017

Who is the greatest general ever? This quantitative analysis finds for Napoleon, by a very large margin, with Julius Caesar second. “Outside of Napoleon’s outlying success, the generals’ wins-above-replacement largely adhere to a normal distribution. This suggests Napoleon’s success is attributable to command talent, rather than an anomaly in the model’s findings. Napoleon’s total WAR was nearly 23 standard deviations above the mean WAR accumulated by generals in the dataset” (1,800 words)

A Day In The Uber Life

Jaime N. Christley | Village Voice | 27th November 2017

Driver’s diary. “When you’re driving a yellow cab and you don’t have any other irons in the fire — an easy jam to find yourself in, when the game compels you to drive for twelve hours a day, six or seven days a week — you make your peace with every part of your job that’s a pain in the ass, because, at the end of your shift, all you want to do is switch off your brain and collapse, and you lack the creative impulse to imagine a different strategy. Along comes Uber, and it’s imagined for you” (3,400 words)

The Limits Of Science

Martin Rees | Atlantic | 6th December 2017

“Science will hit the buffers at some point. There are two reasons why this might happen. The optimistic one is that we clean up and codify certain areas to the point that there’s no more to say. A second possibility is that we’ll reach the limits of what our brains can grasp. There might be concepts, crucial to a full understanding of physical reality, that we aren’t aware of, any more than a monkey comprehends Darwinism or meteorology. Some insights might have to await a post-human intelligence” (1,460 words)

Big Man Walking

Neal Ascherson | LRB | 7th December 2017

Magisterial review of William Taubman’s Gorbachev. “Not many people change the world. Fewer still are thanked for it. Gorbachev changed the world, as so many adoring millions saw it at the time, by ending the threat of their extermination by nuclear war and by allowing Europe’s ‘captive nations’ to liberate themselves. But then, a Samson already blinded by his enemies, he brought down the gigantic temple of the Soviet Union on his own head, and his own power perished with it” (6,060 words)

What to expect:

Lively explainer of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain as an art-world response to real-world madness (0’52”)

Thought for the day

Writers, like teeth, are divided into incisors and grinders
Walter Bagehot

Podcast of the day Tyler Cowen On Complacency | Hurry Slowly

Jocelyn Glei talks to Tyler Cowen about our diminishing appetite for risk, and the dangers of complacency

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