Isaac Asimov, Architecture, Quantum Mechanics, Robots, Indus Civilisation


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How Do People Get New Ideas?

Isaac Asimov | MIT Technology Review | 20th October 2014

Advice to the US government during the Cold War on how to encourage new thinking in missile defence. Find scientists with “good background in the field of interest”, who are “unconventional in their habits”, and give them undemanding jobs which leave them time to think and mingle. “The great ideas of the ages have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas, but were paid to be teachers or patent clerks or petty officials, or were not paid at all. The great ideas came as side issues” (1,900 words)

The Poet And The Architect

Tony Perrotet | Smithsonian | 4th January 2017

Lin Huiyin and Liang Sicheng — she a poet, he an architect — criss-crossed China in the 1930s “documenting exquisitely carved temples, pagodas and monasteries that were on the verge of being lost forever”. Glamorous and tireless, they “founded the entire field of Chinese historical architecture”; and just in time, before decades of war and revolution wreaked havoc on the land. Without them “we would have no record of so many ancient Chinese styles, which simply disappeared” (6,060 words)

The Trouble With Quantum Mechanics

Steve Weinberg | New York Review Of Books | 4th January 2017

Quantum mechanics works. It predicts atomic behaviour robustly. The trouble is that scientists cannot agree on how it works. So should we take the view that the results are what count, and full understanding of the underlying process is secondary? Does it matter if the theory is incomplete, or wrong? “The trouble with this approach is not only that it gives up on an ancient aim of science: to say what is really going on out there. It is a surrender of a particularly unfortunate kind” (4,600 words)

The Seven Stages Of Robot Replacement

Kevin Kelly | Backchannel | 27th December 2016

Let us welcome the robots that come for our jobs. “This is not a race against the machines. If we race against them, we lose. This is a race with the machines. You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots. Ninety per cent of your coworkers will be unseen machines. There will be a blurry line between what you do and what they do. You might no longer think of it as a job, at least at first, because anything that resembles drudgery will be handed over to robots” (650 words)

The Greatest Civilisation Ever Forgotten

Andrew Robinson | History Today | 12th December 2015

The Indus civilisation was comparable with those of contemporary Egypt or Mesopotamia when it flowered in 3000 BC; but it disappeared around 1800 BC leaving few visible traces. Archaeologists rediscovered it only in the 1920s, and its script has yet to be deciphered. “Neither Alexander the Great, nor Asoka, who ruled most of the subcontinent in the third century, was even dimly aware of the Indus civilisation; nor were the Arab, Mughal and European colonial rulers of India” (3,600 words)

Video of the day: Order From Chaos

What to expect:

A simulation of how complex life can emerge from the interaction of simple cells; by Max Cooper and Maxime Causeret

Thought for the day

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are
W. Somerset Maugham

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