Tim Harford, Yazidi, Johannesburg, Paperclips, Trains

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

Waiting For The Robot Revolution

Tim Harford | Undercover Economist | 28th July 2017

A lesson for the robot age. The Automated Teller Machine was supposed to replace bank tellers when it was introduced fifty years ago. But there are more bank tellers in the US now than there were then. ATMs have made basic bank services available outside human working hours, and freed human workers to do more demanding jobs. “Machines have been tools that enhance human productivity. This leads to better pay, more interesting work and as many jobs as ever overall” (850 words)

Slaves Of Isis

Cathy Otten | Guardian | 25th July 2017

Gruelling account of the fate of Yazidi women and girls captured when Islamic State overran Sinjar. “An estimated 6,383 Yazidis – mostly women and children – were enslaved and transported to Isis prisons, military training camps, and the homes of fighters across eastern Syria and western Iraq, where they were raped, beaten, sold, and locked away. By mid-2016, 2,590 women and children had escaped or been smuggled out of the caliphate and 3,793 remained in captivity” (5,100 words)

Fear Of Arrival

Ivan Vladislavić | Lapham's Quarterly | 21st July 2017

Johannesburg diary. A power-cut strikes the neighbourhood. “The threat of violence and how to avoid it have shaped the city fundamentally. We live with defenses and precautions, we protect our territory, we find our way from A to B without dawdling. In a blackout, those who can afford such things worry about electric fences, security cameras, burglar alarms that aren’t working; those who can’t, worry about walking down unlit streets and having to unlock doors in the dark” (2,300 words)

The Parable Of The Paperclip Maximizer

Yonatan Zunger | Hackernoon | 25th July 2017

A familiar thought-experiment, which a twist. What if you tell an advanced artificial intelligence to make sure that you never run out of paperclips — and the AI henceforth devotes all of its efforts to maximising the supply of paperclips at the expense of everything else in its world? Things work out better than you might expect. Maximising the supply of paperclips means building a thriving paperclip-based economy — reinventing capitalism with paperclips as money (1,800 words)

The Train Crash At Crush

Lorraine Boissoneault | Smithsonian | 28th July 2017

“For the two million settlers of 1890s Texas, entertainment was hard to come by. Men could join a farmers’ group for business support and socializing, women had the Christian Temperance Union, and both could follow the developing rivalries of college football. But otherwise, opportunities for mass enjoyment were few and far between, which gave railway agent William Crush an idea: smashing two trains together purely for public spectacle” (1,200 words)

Video of the day: Styrofoam Collector

What to expect:

Chinese rural migrant worker in Shanghai explains her trade collecting and reselling styrofoam boxes (4’12”)

Thought for the day

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure
Charles Goodhart

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