Nick Bostrom, Fingerprints, Cynthia Payne, Islamic State, Cars, Class, Antidepressants, Containers

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

The Doomsday Invention

Raffi Khatchadourian | New Yorker | 16th November 2015

Profile of Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University and philosopher of existential risk. Bostrom worries that artificial intelligence may overtake human intelligence relatively quickly, and that the robots will have no further use for humans. "It is impossible to endure extinction twice, so we cannot rely on history to calculate the probability that it will occur" (Metered paywall) (12,400 words)

Fingerprint Theft

Elliot Williams | Hackaday | 10th November 2015

Passwords are fallible security — but fingerprints are worse. Your fingerprints can be copied from almost anything you have touched, or from a high-resolution photograph of your hand. A database cannot hash fingerprints as it can hash text strings. And when your fingerprint gets stolen, you can't change your finger. It's only a matter of time before most fingerprints are compromised, and fingerprinting is over (2,070 words)

Obituary: Cynthia Payne, Madam

Telegraph | 16th November 2015

Cynthia Payne became "Britain’s best-known brothel keeper" when police raided her suburban home in 1978 and found "53 men huddled in the hall clutching Luncheon Vouchers to be redeemed for sex". Pensioners received a £5 discount. "It was like a vicar’s tea party with sex thrown in – a lot of elderly, lonely people drinking sherry”. She was much in demand as an after-dinner speaker, "particularly at police conferences" (2,010 words)

Our State Of Emergency

Patrick Cockburn | Counterpunch | 16th November 2015

Islamic State "is a real state and one which is more powerful than half the members of the UN, with an experienced army, conscription, taxation and control of all aspects of life within the vast area it rules". So long as it exists, it will project its power through suicide operations against civilian populations, as in Paris. Therefore, it must be destroyed — militarily. Anger and condemnation achieve nothing (1,000 words)

The Auto Industry : Past And Future

David Pakman | Backchannel | 3rd November 2015

The future of the auto industry is wide open. It belongs with autonomous electric cars, which makes it more of a software and data industry than a hardware industry. The legacy car-makers are doomed. Their core expertise lies in assembling car parts that will soon be obsolete. They cannot hire or hold the best software engineers. They are in denial about what is going on around them (2,090 words)

Social Class In The 21st Century

Lynsey Hanley | Guardian | 13th November 2015

A British perspective, in which class and wealth are confounded. "If you want to make lots of money – lots more than almost everyone else in the country – you have to go to Oxford, King’s College London or Imperial College, then get a job in London." But don't worry if you have to skip Eton. "The London-based economic elite are almost as likely to have attended comprehensive as private schools" (850 words)

The Silence Of Prozac

Katherine Sharpe | Lancet Psychiatry | 15th October 2015

When antidepressants were first widely prescribed in the 1980s, critics worried that they would "blot out all sadness from our demonstrably sad world", and "turn the individuals who took them into different people altogether". They were "an A-list topic of debate in the culture wars". Twenty years on antidepressants are the most widely prescribed class of drugs in America — and nobody much cares. What has changed? (1,800 words)

A Tale Of Two Ports

Flexport | 22nd September 2015

If software is eating the world, why are container operations at the Port of Oakland not fully automated? Productivity at Oakland is half that at Rotterdam, where the whole container port is run by by computers. Automation would soon pay for itself. The answer, mainly, is Oakland's strong labour union. Automation would eliminate half the jobs at the port. Even so, a negotiated solution ought to be possible (1,970 words)

Video of the day: Zalissa's Story

What to expect: Child marriage. It's bad. But it isn't necessarily cruel (6'44")

Thought for the day

What the crowd requires is mediocrity of the highest order
Auguste Préault

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