Software, Gulliver, Jim Jones, Yezidis, Tim O'Reilly

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

The Coming Software Apocalypse

James Somers | Atlantic | 26th September 2017

Our lives rely on computer code so extensive and complicated that even its makers cannot be sure how it will respond in unforeseen circumstances. On a single day in 2015 coding glitches paralysed United Airlines, the Wall Street Journal, and Seattle’s 911 system. Code needs to be perfect, like maths, and provably so. “Computing is fundamentally invisible. When your tires are flat, you look at your tires, they are flat. When your software is broken, you look at your software, you see nothing” (9,300 words)

In Retrospect: Gulliver’s Travels

Greg Lynall | Nature | 28th September 2017

Gulliver’s Travels is both a “satirical masterpiece” and “one of the most remarkable encounters between science and the literary imagination ever penned”, predicting future discoveries with uncanny accuracy while mocking great scientists of the day. “Swift imagines that the people of his floating civilization of Laputa have discovered the two moons of Mars and their orbits. These moons would remain undiscovered for another 150 years, yet Swift predicted their orbits almost exactly” (1,300 words)

Keep Them Poor And Tired

Kate Massinger | Commonweal | 7th October 2017

A new biography of Jim Jones explains how, if not why, he lured nine hundred followers to their death in the Guyanese jungle. “He was magnetic, preaching hour-long stints and peeing behind the pulpit to keep from taking breaks. He was charming; he learned names quickly. He was cunning. His famous healings were performed with chicken offal disguised as tumors. People loved Jones because he seemed to love them; people followed him because he led convincingly” (1,200 words)

Songs From Sinjar

Alex Cuadros | Lapham's Quarterly | 2nd October 2017

On the place of music in the culture of the Yezidis, the Kurdish minority which narrowly escaped genocide at the hands of Islamic State. “According to the hymns, the first soul refused to enter Adam without the accompaniment of flute and tambourine, the sacred instruments. The sacred instruments are played by qewwals, ‘professionals of the word’, whose duty it is to take the seven holy peacock standards — bronze icons of Tawusi Melek, the Peacock Angel— to the far corners of Yezidism” (4,400 words)

The Most August Imagination

Tim O'Reilly | Edge | 2nd October 2017

Interesting throughout. Tim O’Reilly on technological determinism, greed, AI, capitalism, memes, Wallace Stevens, Yuval Noah Harari, leadership, climate change, politics, futurology. “Our job is to imagine a better future, because if we can imagine it, we can create it. The future that we imagine shouldn’t be a dystopian vision of robots that are wiping us out, of climate change that is going to destroy our society. It should be a vision of how we rise to the challenges that we face in the next century” (4,066 words)

Video of the day: I Am Your Grandma

What to expect:

A video message to an unborn grandchild, from Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva (1’02”)

Thought for the day

It is difficult to find happiness within oneself, impossible to find it anywhere else
Arthur Schopenhauer

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