Progress, Brains, Machine Intelligence, Fake News, Hanko


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

Progress Isn’t Natural

Joel Mokyr | Atlantic | 17th November 2016

The idea that humans “should and could work consciously to make the world a better place for themselves and for generations to come” is a relatively modern one which took root in the two centuries between Christopher Columbus and Isaac Newton. “The question of whether Sophocles was as good a playwright as Shakespeare was a matter of taste. The question of who was right about the speed of falling objects, or the circulation of blood, or the orbits of heavenly bodies, was not” (2,100 words)

Our 86 Million Neurons

Steven Mithen | New York Review of Books | 16th November 2016

Discussion of The Human Advantage, by Suzana Herculano-Houzel, which argues that humans are smarter than other animals because our brains are denser — and because we learned to cook. “Our 86 billion neurons need so much energy that if we shared a way of life with other primates we couldn’t possibly feed our hungry brain. It needs 500 calories a day to function. We learned a clever trick in our evolutionary past in order to feed our neuron-packed brains: we began to cook our food” (3,700 words)

The Economics Of Machine Intelligence

Joshua Gans | Digitopoly | 17th November 2016

Machine intelligence is a “prediction technology”, so it will tend to drive down the cost of goods and services that incorporate prediction — such as medical diagnosis. “The value of human prediction skills will decrease because machine prediction will provide a cheaper and better substitute. However, this does not spell doom for human jobs. That’s because the value of human judgment skills will increase. Judgment is a complement to prediction. We’ll want more human judgment” (1,100 words)

Fake News

Ben Thompson | Stratechery | 16th November 2016

“Between 2001 and 2003, Judith Miller wrote a number of pieces in the New York Times asserting that Iraq had the capability and the ambition to produce weapons of mass destruction. It was fake news. It’s tempting to make a connection between the Miller fiasco and Facebook; the cautionary tale that ‘fake news is bad’ writes itself. My takeaway, though, is the exact opposite: it matters less what is fake and more who decides what is news in the first place” (2,050 words)

Making An Impression In Japan

Colin Jones | Japan Times | 13th March 2016

On the use of rubber stamps (hanko) as legal proof of identity or authority in Japan. “Purists sniff at the word hanko or the common but mistaken use of inkan as a synonym. The proper term is inshō, which refers to the physical seal, while the impression it leaves is called the in’ei. The really serious hanko is the jitsuin, which must reflect your legal surname (and ideally your full name) and has been registered with the municipality in which you reside” (1,800 words)

Video of the day: Domestic Policy

What to expect:

A Downing Street tea-lady overhears a discussion about gender equality (6’39”)

Thought for the day

It is good to be without vices, but it is not good to be without temptations
Walter Bagehot

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