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The undercurrents of the future. A publication from Medium about technology and people.


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It’s all about the blastoids

We have an organ shortage.

People are desperate for organs, but there is no easy way to make more. It would be awesome if we could use a summoning charm (accio membrum?) to create and distribute kidneys and livers, but unless we radically change our approach — or create human organs that we can harvest from animals — we’re shit out of luck.

Last month, a new milestone in attempts to advance medical treatment of humans by using animals, in this case a monkey, kicked off a barrage of commentary from ethicists and scientists. …

A Stanford professor explains how tech titans channel obscure philosophies to convince us — and themselves — they’re being wronged

Closeup photo of Peter Thiel wearing a suit during an interview.
Closeup photo of Peter Thiel wearing a suit during an interview.
Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel visits “FOX & Friends” at Fox News Channel Studios on August 09, 2019 in New York City. Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images

Adrian Daub is a professor of comparative literature at Stanford and the author of What Tech Calls Thinking: An Inquiry Into the Intellectual Bedrock of Silicon Valley (FSG x Logic Books).

The tech industry is known for making the seemingly impossible possible — but its greatest trick may consist of somehow managing to reframe a billionaire class and massive conglomerates as victims. We probably don’t talk enough about how the industry pulls this off: Tech leaders have long been infatuated with thinkers who reverse the commonsense picture of how power in our society is distributed and how it operates. …

By reprinting six key works by the slowly fading Polish SF giant Stanislaw Lem, MIT Press hopes to revive his varied and considerable legacy

Stanislaw Lem, 1977. Photo: ullstein bild/Getty Images

Since his death in 2006, the work of Polish science fiction writer Stanisław Lem has slowly slid from view. While his impact upon on American audiences was always softened by the Iron Curtain — he was was in peak form during the ’60s and ’70s — and an often tortured translation process, Lem was at one point “the most widely read science fiction writer in the world,” at least according to Theodore Sturgeon, an eminent writer of SF’s so-called Golden Age.

Lem was acknowledged, especially by fellow authors, as an especially important figure in the genre, but of late he…

What happens when Google, Microsoft, and other big tech companies call on philosophers for ethics help

Photo: Michael Dziedzic/Unsplash

The future of intelligence is being shaped by five companies, reality is splintering off into political extremes, and expertise is seen as inherently suspicious. A few technology companies have weaved themselves into the essential fabric of our lives — all while automating racial profiling, rigging elections, and undermining worker solidarity.

Philosophers are being called upon more and more to go beyond the reactionary “What the f**k is going on?” and dig into the more nuanced work of “Why?” “How?” and “Should we?”

Responses to these urgent questions are enormous, global, and powerful, while also being detailed, local, and fragile. Answers…

A conversation with theoretical physicist and bestselling author of ‘The Order of Time,’ Carlo Rovelli

Credit: Liliana Tsanova/Getty Images

The decade is drawing to a close — the decade, everyone’s favorite big soggy oblong time unit — and you are probably feeling pretty anxious for one or all three of the following reasons:

  1. You did not exactly accomplish everything you might have wanted to over the last 10 years.
  2. You are thinking about the next decade, especially considering the not-unlikely prospect that it will look a lot like the last one, and/or:
  3. You are thinking about what lies at the end of that next one. Namely, perhaps, the deadline, 2030, at which point the world’s climate scientists say we…

How a psychological bias could be keeping us from protecting our data

Credit: Nicola Ranieri / EyeEm/Getty Images

Most of us know that we’ve become human data production engines, radiating our locations, interests, and associations for the benefit of others. A number of us are deeply concerned about that fact. But it seems that people only get really worked up when they discover that flesh and blood humans are listening to Alexa inputs or that Facebook employees are scoping out private postings. This is the Peeping Tom effect, which is the visceral reaction we have when we think about living, breathing agents observing our private lives, versus how we feel knowing that corporations are collecting the same information…

Technology is often regarded as a tool shaped either by the intentions of its users or its designers — but philosopher Martin Heidegger disagreed

Photo by Tayler Smith, Prop Styling by Caroline Dorn

“Technology is intrinsically neither good nor bad. The key is using it to support your goals and values.”

So reads the book jacket of Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism. It’s an old cliché: Technology is what we make of it, a neutral tool that can be shaped by the intentions of the user. And yet, as Newport’s book makes clear, for users of digital technology — be it smartphones, social media, or email — it doesn’t feel like that’s the case much of the time. …

A group of YouTubers are countering toxic, far-right discourse online by stealing their strategies

Credit: Philosophy Tube/Youtube

“Are you watching closely?” the magician asks. Splayed cards on a table shuffle and spin, forming a neat deck from a disorderly pile. A white-gloved hand reaches out and plucks the top card, showing it to the viewer: the ace of hearts. Then the screen goes black, and a title appears: “Sex Work.”

Thus begins a nearly 45-minute discussion of sex work on Philosophy Tube, one of the most popular philosophy channels on YouTube. The magician is our host, Oliver Thorn, who with Shakespearean flair takes us through a discussion on the laws and stigma affecting sex workers. …

What a map to a Garfield-themed restaurant can teach us about A.I.

What an enigma.
What an enigma.
Illustration: Clipartwiki

When we talk about the weather, we often don’t stop to consider that we’re leaving out a lot of information. If I asked someone how hot it was outside, and they started listing positions and velocities for various air particles, I would walk away in alarm and confusion (or try to learn how they obtained such knowledge). The reality is that we, as humans, have a fairly innate grasp of the distinction between informative and useful. Telling someone it’s “real hot” outside rather than saying it’s 38.94 degrees Celsius is less informative, but also less cumbersome. This act of discarding…

A popular MIT quiz asked ordinary people to make ethical judgments for machines

Credit: Scalable Cooperation/MIT Media Lab

If an automated car had to choose between crashing into a barrier, killing its three female passengers, or running over one child in the street — which call should it make?

When three U.S.-based researchers started thinking about the future of self-driving cars, they wondered how these vehicles should make the tough ethical decisions that humans usually make instinctively. The idea prompted Jean-François Bonnefon, Azim Shariff, and Iyad Rahwan to design an online quiz called The Moral Machine. Would you run over a man or a woman? An adult or a child? A dog or a human? …


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