What I’m Reading

⇗ Why Do We Judge Parents For Putting Kids At Perceived — But Unreal — Risk?

As a card-carrying non-parent, one of my favorite questions to ask parents (for some reason) is at what age they will feel comfortable leaving their kids alone for very short periods of time. The answers often surprise me and are a lot more conservative than when I grew up in the 1980s. This article goes deep on why that is. The bit about the "availability heuristic" is what I had previously suspected, but the additional finding about people conflating their own moral judgement with perceived actual risks is fascinating. I wonder what other issues in society this conflation occurs with.

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⇗ Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart

The product of 18 months of reporting, Fractured Lands is one of the best explanations you will read about the current state of the Middle East. The storytelling style is unconventional, weaving the personal journeys of several people together into five distinct time periods, but it works and it's definitely worth your time.

The most interesting thing I learned is that the three nations most devastated by the Arab Spring are all nations the West helped create in the early 20th century: Iraq, Libya, and Syria. The power dynamics of those and other regions mentioned in this piece are fascinating and extraordinarily precarious.

The one thing I was surprised made no appearance in Fractured Lands is the role of global warming in the escalating conflict in Syria. For a great look into that angle, make sure to check out Yonatan Zunger's piece on the subject.

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⇗ Thoughts on the sociology of Brexit

While it may be one thing for an investment banker to understand that they ‘benefit from the EU’ in regulatory terms, it is quite another to encourage poor and culturally marginalised people to feel grateful towards the elites that sustain them through handouts, month by month. Resentment develops not in spite of this generosity, but arguably because of it.

This is the best piece I've read about the root causes of the Brexit movement, and it carries with it extremely important lessons for the United States over the next several months and years. See also this thought-provoking piece on the importance of dignity when it comes to how people vote. If you don't understand the Trump vote, this should clear things up rather quickly. It did for me.

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⇗ The Artificial Intelligence Revolution

To absorb how big a deal a superintelligent machine would be, imagine one on the dark green step two steps above humans on that staircase. This machine would be only slightly superintelligent, but its increased cognitive ability over us would be as vast as the chimp-human gap we just described. And like the chimp’s incapacity to ever absorb that skyscrapers can be built, we will never be able to even comprehend the things a machine on the dark green step can do, even if the machine tried to explain it to us—let alone do it ourselves. And that’s only two steps above us. A machine on the second-to-highest step on that staircase would be to us as we are to ants—it could try for years to teach us the simplest inkling of what it knows and the endeavor would be hopeless.

A mind-blowing piece on the ramifications of the sort of artificial intelligence we may be headed towards in our lifetime. Like, within a few decades. The most likely outcomes are startlingly binary: extinction or immortality. This was such an entertaining read, and reminds me how smart some of our fellow humans (like Tim Urban) are!

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⇗ Why Do the Poor Make Such Poor Decisions?

Our efforts to combat poverty are often based on a misconception: that the poor must pull themselves up out of the mire. But a revolutionary new theory looks at the cognitive effects of living in poverty. What does the relentless struggle to make ends meet do to people?

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⇗ An Old Idea, Revived: Starve Cancer to Death

When Thompson presents his research to high-school students, he shows them a slide of mold spreading across a piece of bread. The slide’s heading — “Everyone’s first cancer experiment” — recalls Warburg’s observation that cancer cells will carry out fermentation at almost the same rate of wildly growing yeasts.

It's amazing how many "diseases of civilization" are all starting to point directly at sugar. Incidentally, if you haven't seen Fed Up yet, it's a great documentary.

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⇗ How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist

Here’s the unfortunate truth — several billion people have a slot machine their pocket.

An important essay on the responsibility we have as designers to provide experiences which enrich lives as opposed to merely illusions of enrichment. If you work on digital products, this is a great gutcheck. If you use digital products, this is a wake-up call to take control of your precious attention.

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⇗ Deep Learning Is Going to Teach Us All the Lesson of Our Lives: Jobs Are for Machines

On December 2nd, 1942, a team of scientists led by Enrico Fermi came back from lunch and watched as humanity created the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction inside a pile of bricks and wood underneath a football field at the University of Chicago.

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⇗ The sugar conspiracy | Ian Leslie

In 1972, a British scientist sounded the alarm that sugar – and not fat – was the greatest danger to our health. But his findings were ridiculed and his reputation ruined. How did the world’s top nutrition scientists get it so wrong for so long?

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⇗ On Being A Senior Engineer

I think that there’s a lot of institutional knowledge in our field, especially about what makes for a productive engineer. But while there are a good deal of books in the management field about “expert” roles and responsibilities of non-technical individual contributors, I don’t see too many modern books or posts that might shed light directly on what makes for a good senior engineer.

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