Palantir, Chomsky, Quantum Computing, Work, British Wars, Amazon

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


David Johnson | The Baffler | 8th September 2016

Rare glimpse of into the corporate culture of Palantir, the opaque big-data company founded by Peter Thiel with CIA seed-money: “Like Thiel, it seeks to practice innovation and radical disruption in an ultra-controlled environment.” The chief executive lectures employees on an internal video channel. New hires study improvisational comedy. There is no org chart. “Zero title awareness makes people more approachable. We are all Palantirians, and we are in this mission together!” (2,000 words)

Evidence Rebuts Chomsky

Michael Tomasello & Paul Ibbotson | Scientific American | 8th September 2016

Brilliant as Noam Chomsky’s theories seemed in their day, they have been wholly discredited by later studies of languages and language-acquisition. There is no universal grammar. There is no innate grammar module. Chomsky proposed a computational model of language at a time when computation seemed to hold the answer to everything. Now, probably the last high-level proponent of Chomsky’s model is Chomsky himself. “Science progresses one funeral at a time” (3,600 words)

Quantum Hanky-Panky

Seth Lloyd | Edge | 22nd August 2016

Accessible discussion of quantum computing, and what it will soon do for us when it moves from the laboratory to the desktop. “Over the next five to ten years, once we get up to something like a few hundred quantum bits, we’ll be able to solve problems you couldn’t solve on a classical computer”. Quantum computers are particularly good at finding patterns in very large data sets, so Wall Street will be a natural early market. Also, they can simulate black holes and time travel (7,100 words)

The Next Industrial Revolution

Derek Thompson | Atlantic | 6th September 2016

Interview with Economist writer Ryan Avent about the future of work. “People enjoy work. Even those who don’t enjoy what they do enjoy the feeling of agency and being able to provide for others.” If robots do the jobs and humans get a universal basic income, “something else needs to account for the social side of work”. Arguments about immigration will acquire new force: “If we’re going to pay people to do work that isn’t necessary, who do we let into the system? Who is allowed to benefit?” (2,250 words)

Britain’s Secret Wars

Ian Cobain | Guardian | 8th September 2016

“For more than a hundred years, not a single year has passed when Britain’s armed forces have not been engaged in military operations somewhere in the world. The British are unique in this respect: the same could not be said of the Americans, the Russians, the French or any other nation. A great deal is known about some conflicts, such as the 1982 Falklands war and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but other conflicts are remembered only dimly or have always remained largely hidden” (4,800 words)

Employee Number One At Amazon

Craig Cannon | The Macro | 8th September 2016

Conversation with Shel Kaphan, Amazon employee number one, hired by Jeff Bezos in 1994 to build a website for what was then a bookseller. “Back in those days nobody was used to being a customer of online businesses. You had to be careful to make people feel comfortable and let them know their actions were reversible, putting in text that said you could always take this out of your shopping basket later if you change your mind. So people wouldn’t feel they were overly committed” (4,300 words)

Video of the day: The Train Chase

What to expect:

In which Wallace and Gromit capture the dastardly jewel thief, Feathers McGraw (2’15”)

Thought for the day

What you do not understand, you do not possess
J.W. von Goethe

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