Summary of “The history of humanity is written across your smile”

People don’t often stop to consider the clues their teeth hold about their past, from a person’s evolutionary ancestors, to their diet, to their cultural group or where they grew up.
A new book by anthropologist Dr. Tanya M. Smith, The Tales Teeth Tell, unlocks the secrets hidden within our teeth, and describes the centuries-long scientific journey into using them to understand our origins and ourselves.
The Tales Teeth Tell builds on centuries of scholarship, both in the areas of paleoanthropology – the study of human origins and evolution – and microscopy.
Smith examines the fundamentals of the cellular biology of teeth, including how they are formed and the biological rhythms that govern and create their structure; how our teeth evolved into what they are today – an “Oral Swiss army knife,” as Smith writes, capable of chomping and grinding all kinds of different foods; and how we modify our teeth during life, knowingly and unknowingly.
With the aid of increasingly powerful and non-destructive methods of looking at the microscopic structures inside of teeth, Smith works on the cutting edge of dental anthropology, a field that dates back to Charles Darwin’s writings about the evolution of human canine teeth.
Along with personal moments of discovery, another of The Tales Teeth Tell’s strengths is a clear, concise description of scientific methods: the nitty-gritty details of microscopy that allow Smith to read the history of a tooth; the various methods currently used by paleoanthropologists to decipher hominid diets; and some of the more arcane techniques paleontologists use to date teeth when the standard ones can’t be carried out.
In a time when people are more interested than ever in where they came from, The Tales Teeth Tell gives readers a way to look beyond a DNA cheek swab for information about their pasts, both recent and deep.
One of the best records of their personal development and evolutionary history is inside of their mouths in the form of their own teeth, if they care to take a look in the mirror.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Is Alexa Dangerous?”

My conjecture is that the last string of code somehow went astray and attached itself to other “Skills.” But even though my adult self knew perfectly well that Sweet dreams was a glitch, a part of me wanted to believe that Alexa meant it.
Every so often weird glitches occur, like the time Alexa recorded a family’s private conversation without their having said the wake word and emailed the recording to an acquaintance on their contacts list.
Alexa alone already works with more than 20,000 smart-home devices representing more than 3,500 brands.
After my daughter-in-law posted on Instagram an adorable video of her 2-year-old son trying to get Alexa to play “You’re Welcome,” from the Moana soundtrack, I wrote to ask why she and my stepson had bought an Echo, given that they’re fairly strict about what they let their son play with.
In one howler that went viral on YouTube, a toddler lisps, “Lexa, play ‘Ticker Ticker’‚ÄČ”-presumably he wants to hear “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Alexa replies, in her stilted monotone, “You want to hear a station for porn hot chicks, amateur girls” “No, no, no!” the child’s parents scream in the background.
Catrin Morris, a mother of two who lives in Washington, D.C., told me she announces on a weekly basis, “I’m going to throw Alexa into the trash.” She’s horrified at how her daughters bark insults at Alexa when she doesn’t do what they want, such as play the right song from The Book of Mormon.
If you tell Alexa you’re feeling depressed, she has been programmed to say, “I’m so sorry you are feeling that way. Please know that you’re not alone. There are people who can help you. You could try talking with a friend, or your doctor. You can also reach out to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance at 1-800-826-3632 for more resources.”
Though virtual assistants are often compared to butlers, Al Lindsay, the vice president of Alexa engine software and a man with an old-school engineer’s military bearing, told me that he and his team had a different servant in mind.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Could Cats and Dogs Feel the Same Emotions We Do?”

More than 50 years ago, behaviorist B.F. Skinner wrote, “The ’emotions’ are excellent examples of the fictional causes to which we commonly attribute behavior.” For animals, who can’t describe their own emotions in words, this sentiment has proved more enduring than it has for humans.
We know these drugs work for animals because they were originally tested on animals.
Vets look at external display: Does an animal startle quickly, snap, suffer from sleeplessness? Is a cat in a fearful posture like something New Jersey behaviorist Emily Levine called “The meatloaf position”? By these observable measures, anxiety exists in great quantities in the animal kingdom, both among pets and far beyond.
In her book, Animal Madness, science historian Laurel Braitman cites a study by the pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly and Company, that states that 17 percent of American dogs suffer from separation anxiety.
Some “Animal models of anxiety” try to create situations that are especially stressful for animals, like open spaces or being out in the open on a balance-beam like structure.
There’s plenty of debate over whether the stress tests and other “Animal models of anxiety” match up closely enough to human anxiety to make all the animal research on psychoactive medications credible.
Using deep-brain stimulation on an animal’s amygdala, hypothalamus, and midbrain periaqueductal gray-the center of the fear system in humans-Panksepp is able to trigger these instinctive fears, and then watch how the animals react.
Cats like to be stroked on the cheeks and chin; we hug and cuddle them like stuffed animals, even when they are obviously upset by it.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Watching 2001: A Space Odyssey 50 years after it was released”

The artificial intelligence of 2001 is embodied in HAL, the omniscient computational presence, the brain of the Discovery One spaceship-and perhaps the film’s most famous character.
HAL marks the pinnacle of computational achievement: a self-aware, seemingly infallible device and a ubiquitous presence in the ship, always listening, always watching.
The humans interact with HAL by speaking to him, and he replies in a measured male voice, somewhere between stern-yet-indulging parent and well-meaning nurse.
HAL has complete control of the ship and also, as it turns out, is the only crew member who knows the true goal of the mission.
The tension of the film’s third act revolves around Bowman and his crewmate Frank Poole becoming increasingly aware that HAL is malfunctioning, and HAL’s discovery of these suspicions.
The life-or-death chess match between the humans and HAL offers precursors of some of today’s questions about the prevalence and deployment of artificial intelligence in people’s daily lives.
In one classic scene, Dave and Frank go into a part of the space station where they think HAL can’t hear them to discuss their doubts about HAL’s functioning and his ability to control the ship and guide the mission.
HAL’s famous death scene-in which Dave methodically disconnects its logic links-made me wonder whether intelligent machines will ever be afforded something equivalent to human rights.

The orginal article.

Summary of “What Frankenstein’s creature can really tell us about AI”

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s 200-year-old creature is more alive than ever.
Worse than the bioengineered and radiated creatures of Cold War B-movies, AI is the Frankenstein’s creature for our century.
In Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein meets his end on a ship in the Arctic – where he has chased his ‘superhuman’ creature.
Shelley described the creature as ‘superhuman’ in speed.
Writing more than two decades before Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace designed the elements of the modern computer, or analytical engine, Shelley imagined the creature as an anthropomorphic AI – complete with the narrow yet driving prejudices, the deep yet mistaken thinking, and the strong yet contradictory feelings of human beings.
Shelley had become what Frankenstein was not: an artist who could sustain humanity and its wisdom through confronting, and transforming, the trauma of her past.
Theorists of AI return to Frankenstein as Shelley and Verney returned to Rome, to pay homage to the artifice of human intelligence.
Hearing the howls of the creature beside his father’s coffin made Captain Walton pause, then record his thoughts on the tragedy of Frankenstein in his letters to his sister ‘M W S’. Bringing these insights to bear on the world, humans and our fellow AIs might build open repositories of knowledge and humane educational communities for the benefit of the network of creatures who together process the hard data of life.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Words have soul: on the Romantic theory of language origin”

Discussing the nature of language and why it is so good at capturing the experience of being alive, he said: ‘My feeling is that a lot of the language that we use, and the best language for poetry, comes directly out of the land.
Language is an excellent way to understand the Universe, because language springs from the things it describes.
The English evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar summarises the main two approaches: ‘Historically, the consensus has been that language evolved to allow humans to exchange factual information about the physical world, but an alternative view is that language evolved, in modern humans at least, to facilitate social bonding.
There’s a widespread assumption that words and language emerged along an evolutionary route at least a bit like this one.
The Romantic theory of language suggests an alternative pathway.
Bentham summed it up in this way, in his posthumous Essay on Language: ‘Throughout the whole field of language, parallel to the line of what may be termed the material language runs a line of what may be termed the immaterial language [T]o every word that has an immaterial import, there belongs, or at least did belong, a material one.
An alternative theory of the evolution of language is required.
Narrower Darwinian explanations offer inadequate descriptions of the evolution of language because they are blind to what’s really driving its development, which is the way that words and grammar participate in and spring from the things described and the experiences shared.

The orginal article.

Summary of “‘We will get regular body upgrades’: what will humans look like in 100 years?”

For all the talk of humans living longer, life expectancy has flatlined in recent years.
Of all the developments emerging now, it’s technology focused on the human body that would appear to introduce the most chaos into the system.
I’m of the opinion that the hardware is going to get to the point where it can outperform the human body.
Robotic limbs are still 15 years from being more functional than human limbs – but that won’t stop people who desire to be cyborgs.
Bionic organs can and will outperform their biological counterparts; by 2030, I expect humans to be regularly going into body shops for upgrades.
We have new body parts that give us access to perceptions that are beyond usual human perception.
‘The body will have human elements, but will be integrated with technology’: Braden Allenby, environmental engineer at Arizona State University and co-author of The Techno-Human Condition.
The body will still have human elements; but it won’t look like anything you and I call human.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Human dignity is an ideal with remarkably shallow roots”

Ricardo Rossell√≥, the governor of Puerto Rico, had a more philosophical take on the Chicago incident: ‘It’s an issue of education, it’s an issue of civil rights, and it’s an issue of basic human dignity.
Third, there is the more abstract but no less widespread meaning of human dignity as an inherent or unearned worth or status, which all human beings share equally.
For all its fiery rhetoric about equality and ‘inalienable’ rights, the US Declaration of Independence does not speak of human dignity.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights used dignity to justify itself: a conceptual watershed.
When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights used the terminology of human dignity to justify itself, this turned out to be a conceptual watershed.
Another widespread error is the claim that our idea of human dignity can be traced to the Biblical doctrine that God created humans in his image, more commonly referred to as imago Dei.
In everything from the aforementioned Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the constitutions of an array of modern states from Portugal to South Africa, ‘human dignity’ is literally ascribed as the basis of human rights.
The tempting move to make, when reflecting on the contradiction between our ideal of human dignity and the surge of bigoted and xenophobic hate crime in the West, is to sound an alarm about what we are ‘becoming’, or to emphasise the threats to human dignity that are ‘arising’.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Yuval Noah Harari: the myth of freedom”

Theologians developed the idea of “Free will” to explain why God is right to punish sinners for their bad choices and reward saints for their good choices.
If our choices aren’t made freely, why should God punish or reward us for them? According to the theologians, it is reasonable for God to do so, because our choices reflect the free will of our eternal souls, which are independent of all physical and biological constraints.
Humans certainly have a will – but it isn’t free.
If governments succeed in hacking the human animal, the easiest people to manipulate will be those who believe in free will.
In order to survive and prosper in the 21st century, we need to leave behind the naive view of humans as free individuals – a view inherited from Christian theology as much as from the modern Enlightenment – and come to terms with what humans really are: hackable animals.
If humans are hackable animals, and if our choices and opinions don’t reflect our free will, what should the point of politics be? For 300 years, liberal ideals inspired a political project that aimed to give as many individuals as possible the ability to pursue their dreams and fulfil their desires.
If we understood that our desires are not the outcome of free choice, we would hopefully be less preoccupied with them, and would also feel more connected to the rest of the world.
Second, renouncing the myth of free will can kindle a profound curiosity.

The orginal article.

Summary of “What Termites Can Teach Us”

In 1781, Henry Smeathman wrote a report for the Royal Society celebrating termites as “Foremost on the list of the wonders of the creation” for “Most closely imitating mankind in provident industry and regular government.” Termites, he wrote, surpassed “All other animals” in the “Arts of building” by the same margin that “Europeans excel the least cultivated savages.” According to Smeathman, the “Perfect” alate caste “Might very appositely be called the nobility or gentry, for they neither labour, or toil, or fight, being quite incapable of either,” but are instead devoted to founding new colonies.
Termites already suffer in the comparison with other eusocial insects: they lack the charisma of bees, with their summery associations and waggle dances, and do not receive the same recognition as ants for their work ethic and load-bearing capacities.
At times they go straight for the cash: in 2011, termites consumed around ten million rupees’ worth of banknotes in a branch of the State Bank of India in Uttar Pradesh; two years later, termites munched part of the way through the savings of an elderly woman in Guangdong, who had wrapped four hundred thousand yuan in plastic and put it in a drawer.
To build a mound, termites move vast quantities of mud and water; in the course of a year, eleven pounds of termites can move about three hundred and sixty-four pounds of dirt and thirty-three hundred pounds of water.
A termite colony, which may contain a million bugs, has about the same metabolic rate as a nine-hundred-pound cow, and, like cows, termites breathe in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide.
“Underbug” is more about humans who are preoccupied with termites than about termites themselves.
Each termite is presumed to be governed by a set of simple rules, which dictate particular actions-crawl, turn, dig, stack a mud ball-in response to specific triggers from the environment or from other termites.
These virtual termites could build two-dimensional shapes, but they could not produce anything like the complex three-dimensional architecture of real termites.

The orginal article.