Julian Barnes, Artificial Intelligence, HSBC, True Crime, Free Will, Gambling, Price, Sichuan Pepper

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

The Thrill Of The Modern

Julian Barnes | Guardian | 2nd May 2015

Modernism is easier to comprehend in painting than in literature. In painting it is a development rather than an incursion. "In a museum you went from one gallery to the next, reading what appeared to be a clear narrative: from Courbet to Manet and Monet and Degas to Cézanne and then to Braque and Picasso – and you were there! With fiction, it all seemed more complicated and less linear, with more backtracking" (2,930 words)

Artificial Intelligence: Rise Of The Machines

The Economist | 7th May 2015 | | Read with 1Pass

A smart robot may take your job, but it is highly unlikely to take over the world, at least given foreseeable technologies. Deep learning has revived our ambitions for artificial intelligence; based on a relatively few human prompts, machines can construct rules for recognising and categorising things in the world around them, often more consistently than humans can. But they do not (yet) have motives and desires (3,600 words)

HSBC Should Return To Hong Kong

John Gapper | Financial Times | 7th May 2015 | | Read with 1Pass

HSBC should move its head office back from London to Hong Kong; the commercial prospects are brighter in Asia, and the loss of a global bank would be a salutary shock to British politicians and public opinion. The costs of the move for HSBC would be more than offset by tax savings. The bank's overseas assets would be exempt from Britain's ill-considered and increasingly burdensome banking levy (912 words)

Relentless: The Sheriff Of Putnam County

Joe Kovac | Atlanta | 6th May 2015

Glorious true-crime read with a hero worthy of the finest southern fiction: Howard Sills, sheriff of Putnam County, Georgia, a "whiskey cask of a man" with a white moustache and a subscription to Oxford American. Murders don't happen in Putnam County, until one does, and then it's a doozy. "On the floor was a man’s body. The man’s age was hard to guess, because the body had no head. It had been cut off. And it was gone" (5,400 words)

Can We Ever Be In Charge Of Our Lives?

Rowan Williams | New Statesman | 4th May 2015

Former Archbishop of Canterbury reviews books on freedom and free will by Julian Baggini, John Gray, Alfred Mele. "We have become the prisoners of a picture, in which to be free is to be able to determine absolutely who or what I am. A mixture of existentialist rhetoric and misplaced religious anxiety has encouraged us in the view that to be responsible for our actions we must be unequivocally the cause of our actions" (2,000 words)

Engineers of Addiction

Andrew Thompson | Verge | 6th May 2015

The technology of addiction, explored in visits to the Las Vegas headquarters of Bally, inventor of the electromechanical slot machine, and of IGT, market leader in video poker. Gambling machines are random number generators with screens. All the rest is marketing. "Putting the same exact games on curved screens increased gameplay 30-80 percent". At a payback rate of 45% the customer loses the sense of risk (4,800 words)

The Psychology Of Pricing

Nick Kolenda | 6th May 2015

The sub-title is A Gigantic List Of Strategies. So a long read, almost an e-book, but clearly written and easily read, which explains plausibly why things are priced for sale the way that they are, right down to the omission of dollar signs from restaurant menus. And all the 0.99 price tags, the "charm pricing"? It's about getting the first digit down, the anchor number. Even when we think we know the trick, we are easily manipulated (7,500 words)

Wonton In Zanthoxylum Sauce

Victor Mair | Language Log | 6th May 2015

A mistranslation on a Chinese restaurant menu — Wonton in Zanthoxylum schinifolium etzucc sauce — provokes a tour de force of explication touching on botany, Chinese characters, dialects, the history of Chinese food in America, and the folk-etymology of ma-po tofu, a dish of bean-curd and ground meat spiced with Sichuan peppers which probably does not derive its name from a pock-marked old woman called Ma (2,290 words)

Video of the day: Could You Live For Ever?

What to expect: One-man show from Jake Roper about the pursuit of immortality down the ages (11'58")

Thought for the day

If a lot of cures are suggested for a disease, it means that the disease is incurable
Anton Chekhov

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