What Algorithms Want

RSVP here >> Algorithms tell us what to read, where to go, and whom to date…but do we really understand them? It’s easy to think of algorithms as magical beings, delivering purely objective, admirably efficient, and sometimes startlingly insightful solutions to our everyday problems, but in his new book What Algorithms Want: Imagination in the Age […]

Algorithms Are Like Kirk, Not Spock

When technologists describe their hotshot new system for trading stocks or driving cars, the algorithm at its heart always seems to emerge from a magical realm of Spock-like rationality and mathematical perfection. Algorithms can save lives or make money, the argument goes, because they are built on the foundations of mathematics: logical rigor, conceptual clarity, and utter consistency. Math is perfect, right? And algorithms are made out of math.

An Interview With Margaret Atwood

Climate fiction, or “cli fi,” can be a dreary genre. Storytellers like to make a grim business of climate change, populating their narratives with a humorless onslaught of death, destruction, drowned monuments, and starving children. Margaret Atwood is the conspicuous exception, somehow managing to tackle the subject, including these familiar elements, with deadpan wit and an irreverent playfulness, making it both more interesting and believable. The flood is coming, her MaddAddam trilogy promises, but there is hope.

An Illuminated Manuscript About Space Exploration, Science Fiction, and Physics

You just don’t see many illuminated manuscripts these days. There’s a good reason why: They take a long time to make.

I learned this recently when I set out to commission a thoroughly modern illuminated manuscript: not a religious text, but an interview with theoretical physicist and cosmologist Paul Davies, a professor at Arizona State University and the author of books like How to Build a Time Machine.

Welcome to the Indie Web Movement

Suppose you could write in your personal blog and have a summary of your post show up on popular social-media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook—and then have responses on those sites show up as comments in your blog? You can, and if some talented programmers have their way you’ll soon be able to do so easily. In fact, it’s what I’m doing right now with this post, at least with the version that’s also appearing on my personal blog.

Why would you or I want to do this? Simple: We’re in danger of losing what’s made the Internet …read more

An Aerialist, Two Clowns, and a Robot Walk Into a Carnival …

In his 1984 film The Terminator and its sequels, James Cameron imagines a dystopic future in which armies of intelligent robots move with startling suddenness from positions of servility to utter and violent dominance, destroying civilization and driving humankind to the brink of extinction.

This, of course, is pure science fiction. There’s little reason to believe things will unfold that way. First, they would take all our jobs and wreck our economy.

This is the nightmare narrative of our future with robots and artificial intelligence. The utopian version of this tale—one accepted by many powerful people in industry and government—involves a …read more

Confess Your Digital Sins

A voice cries out in the desert:

“Know thyself, not thy selfies!”

“Digital media will not save you!”

“The zero is not whole and the one is not The One!”

Technically, we’re not in the desert—we’re in a dusty parking lot in downtown Phoenix. And the voice is not coming from the Prophet Isaiah, but from professor Ron Broglio, whom I’ve ordained as a Minister of the Digital Tabernacle. As people wander into the massive circus tent at Arizona State University’s Emerge: Carnival of the Future, they are greeted by a pair of shifty evangelists preaching the analog Word. (Disclosure: …read more

How to Make Music With Drones

The good thing about performing music with drones is that they always show up for rehearsal on time. The bad thing is that they might suddenly drop out of the air and onto your head.

I learned all this while putting together a piece called “Drone Confidential” for Arizona State University’s Emerge, a “Carnival of the Future” that was held in Phoenix recently. Emerge is an annual circus of cool new technologies in performance, dedicated to showing how artists and machines can work together to create something awesome.

What if Computers Know You Better Than You Know Yourself?

I recently read about the launches of both an “ultrasecure” mobile phone for protecting privacy and a clip-on camera that takes a picture of everything you do at 30-second intervals. Our cultural relationship with data is more complicated and contradictory than it has ever been, and our debates on the subject almost always center on privacy. But privacy, the notion that only you should be able to control information about yourself, cloaks a deeper tension between information and meaning, between databases and insights.

Computer Scientist Grace Hopper, Subject of Today’s Google Doodle, Rocked Letterman in 1986

Today’s Google doodle honors Grace Hopper, the late, great computer scientist who was known as the “queen of software.” Had she not died in 1992, Hopper would have turned 107 today.

Hopper, who received a Ph.D. from Yale in mathematics before entering the Navy and working her way up to rear admiral, was a pioneer in the early days of computing. Women were well-represented in the field in the 1940s, but Hopper’s work stands out: She helped create the programming language COBOL, for instance, as well as the colloquial language we still use for computers. As the Washington Post …read more

Google Is Teaching Quantum Physics to Minecraft Addicts

Now that Google has a quantum computer and a quantum artificial-intelligence lab, it has to figure out some mind-blowing things to do with it. But that’s probably going to be really hard. So hard, in fact, that a lot of the work will probably fall to future generations of quantum computer scientists.

In the meantime, the lab has come up with a pretty clever way to get kids interested in becoming those future quantum computer scientists: a software package that introduces some concepts from quantum physics into the popular indie computer game Minecraft. From the Quantum A.I. Lab’s …read more

Clever Twitter Account Imagines Realistic, Bureaucracy-Filled Sci-Fi

Alfonso Cuarón’s space blockbuster Gravity has won over experts, like Slate‘s Phil Plait, who called it “incredible” (italics his) and said that when it came to the science, “it got so much right.” But Plait still found some inaccuracies, as did astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who took to Twitter to call out “Gravity mysteries.”

So what might a more accurate science movie look like? For that, you can consult the excellent new Twitter account @HardSciFiMovies. It’s not quite an anti-Gravity machine, but it tries to stay down to Earth. …read more

In Memory of Hiroshi Yamauchi, the Cranky, Ruthless Man Who Made Nintendo Great

The death Thursday of longtime Nintendo president Hirochi Yamauchi, at age 85, is the rare occasion, like the passing of Steve Jobs, when even those of us who don’t read Fortune should doff our caps to the ruthless business executives of the world. If there was ever anyone who proved that you don’t have to be a creative type to create something wonderful, it was this guy.

…read more