Summary of “Tech broke our relationship with wilderness: can it mend it too?”

Drawing a bright line between humans and nature has always been tricky.
It’s all the more difficult now, when no ecosystem on Earth is free from human influence; in the Anthropocene, nowhere is truly pristine or wild.
‘The paradox, in a nutshell, is this,’ writes the journalist Oliver Morton in The Planet Remade, ‘humans are grown so powerful that they have become a force of nature – and forces of nature are those things which, by definition, are beyond the power of humans to control.
Even people who might see nature in spiritual or semi-spiritual terms – to be kept as far away from human influence as possible – probably wouldn’t object.
Autonomous conservation systems might be ultimately subject to the control of humans, in a way that Australia’s cane toads were not, but machine learning can still go awry.
The more common term is ‘wilderness’, a place untouched by human intervention.
Such feelings seem to be attainable in landscapes that have been transformed by humans, so long as the influence of other natural processes are evident.
Rewilding, an increasingly influential approach, is the notion that humans should stand back to allow other species to flourish – an abandonment of the Biblical doctrine of dominion over the natural world, as the writer and activist George Monbiot wrote.

The orginal article.

Summary of “The Parts of Customer Service That Should Never Be Automated”

Digital imaging technology monitors which items shoppers select from shelves, and when a customer leaves the store, the person’s online account is automatically charged.
Managers using these forms of automation and others cite customer satisfaction benefits from increased convenience and customization, and from giving customers more control over their own experiences.
Advances in technology like Amazon Go make the customer’s role objectively easier, but automated solutions may also give us the impression that the company is expending less effort on our behalf, which can make us wonder what, exactly, we’re paying for.
Making the pivot to a person simple allows customers and companies alike to achieve the convenience and efficiency benefits of automated service, while ensuring the customer feels supported.
Existing solutions don’t yet meet the mark, prompting leaders of one rapidly growing coffee chain to delay the introduction of an automated point of sale system, finding it undermined the connection they wanted to make with their customers.
Service can be more efficient and satisfying when customers and employees are visible to one another.
Engage customers in ways that won’t make human service providers cringe.
Remember: the devil’s in the details of service design, but the best uses of technology are likely to make customers and employees feel more, rather than less, valuable to your organization.

The orginal article.

Summary of “An Evolutionary Anatomy of Affect: Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio on How and Why We Feel What We Feel – Brain Pickings”

“A purely disembodied human emotion is a nonentity,” William James wrote in his pioneering 1884 theory of how our bodies affect our feelings.
That tessellated relationship is what neuroscientist Antonio Damasio examines in The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures – a title inspired by the disorienting fact that several billion years ago, single-cell organisms began exhibiting behaviors strikingly analogous to certain human social behaviors and 100 million years ago insects developed interactions, instruments, and cooperative strategies that we might call cultural.
At the heart of his inquiry is his lifelong interest in the nature of human affect – why we feel what we feel, how we use emotions to construct selfhood, what makes our intentions and our feelings so frequently contradictory, how the body and the mind conspire in the inception of emotional reality.
How and what we create culturally and how we react to cultural phenomena depend on the tricks of our imperfect memories as manipulated by feelings.
The ground zero of being corresponds to a deceptively continuous and endless feeling state, a more or less intense mental choir underscoring everything else mental The complete absence of feelings would spell a suspension of being, but even a less radical removal of feeling would compromise human nature.
Although “Human emotions are recognizable pieces of a standard repertoire” which stretches all the way back to single-cell organisms and which evolved in order to produce the possibility of sociality and cooperation between organisms, something does make human feelings unique – something philosopher Simone Weil touched on in her poignant meditation on how to make use of our suffering.
If there is no distance between body and brain, if body and brain interact and form an organismic single unit, then feeling is not a perception of the body state in the conventional sense of the term.
In the remainder of the thoroughly fascinating The Strange Order of Things, Damasio goes on to examine the relationship between feeling and intellect, how advances in medicine and artificial intelligence transfigure the problem of immortality, the origin of mind along the arrow of evolution, the dialogue between image-making and memory in how we construct and experience emotion, and how feelings illuminate various other aspects of the evolution of culture and consciousness.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Why Self-Taught Artificial Intelligence Has Trouble With the Real World”

In 2016, Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo thrashed champion Lee Sedol at the ancient board game Go after poring over millions of positions from tens of thousands of human games.
The past year also saw otherworldly self-taught bots emerge in settings as diverse as no-limit poker and Dota 2, a hugely popular multiplayer online video game in which fantasy-themed heroes battle for control of an alien world.
One characteristic shared by many games, chess and Go included, is that players can see all the pieces on both sides at all times.
An even more daunting game involving imperfect information is StarCraft II, another multiplayer online video game with a vast following.
Before the release of AlphaGo and its progeny, the DeepMind team achieved its first big, headline-grabbing result in 2013, when they used reinforcement learning to make a bot that learned to play seven Atari 2600 games, three of them at an expert level.
Within the larger category of reinforcement learning, board games and multiplayer games allow for an even more specific approach.
In game after game, an algorithm in a self-play system faces an equally matched foe.
Since 2008, hundreds of thousands of human players have attempted Foldit, an online game where users are scored on the stability and feasibility of the protein structures they fold.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Who Is Garrett Hardin? The Master Ecologist Who Warned Us About Population Growth”

Garrett Hardin may be unknown by the general public, but he is highly regarded by great thinkers.
While he’s most famously known as the person who introduced the idea of the Tragedy of the Commons, Hardin remains forever influential for his warning that eventually, humans must embrace a world of limits.
Garrett James Hardin was one of the first thinkers we would call an “Ecologist” – arguably, he helped created the movement.
That idea led Hardin to his lifelong unpopular argument against continued human population growth.
Ultimately, Hardin believed that the world would have to control its human population growth.
“A finite world can support only a finite population; therefore, population growth must eventually equal zero.”
Garrett Hardin on the Three Filters Needed to Think About Problems – One of the best parts of Garrett Hardin’s wonderful book Filters Against Folly is the one in which he explores the three filters that help us interpret reality.
Hans Rosling’s Important Truths about Population Growth and the Developing World – A post about population growth in the coming world; I was greatly influenced by Garrett Hardin while writing it.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Tracing the tangled tracks of humankind’s evolutionary journey”

In the 1960s, fossil evidence led palaeontologists to conclude that a 14m-year-old ape, Ramapithecus, was the earliest ancestor on the human line, based on the shape of its jaw.
The strongest evidence for Ardi being a direct ancestor, or very close to our lineage, comes from her teeth, which were small and stubby – more like modern human teeth – and lacked the large fang-like canines of chimpanzees, gorillas and earlier extinct apes.
So once we got the hang of walking, what happened next?The boundary for when our ancestors started counting as human is blurry and somewhat subjective, but scientists place the starting point at species that emerged about 2.4m years ago, which are designated to the Homo genus.
Homo erectus, 1.7-1.8m years ago, was much closer to modern humans anatomically.
As these ancestors travelled across continents they would have encountered a motley assortment of other archaic human species, including the Neanderthals in Eurasia, the Denisovans in Siberia, possibly a dwarf species known as “The hobbit” on the Indonesian island of Flores and probably other species that we do not yet know about.
Interbreeding between modern humans and Neanderthals means that all non-Africans alive today carry about 1-5% Neanderthal DNA. Everyone has acquired slightly different parts of the Neanderthal genome and so collectively there is a substantial fraction of the Neanderthal genome spread through the living human population.
“If society becomes comfortable with cloning and sees value in true human diversity, then the whole Neanderthal creature itself could be cloned by a surrogate mother chimp – or by an extremely adventurous female human,” Church wrote.
The human brain has become about 5-10% smaller during the past 20,000 years.

The orginal article.

Summary of “What to Do When Algorithms Rule”

Despite the evidence of the superiority of algorithms to human decision makers in many contexts, from psychiatric and medical diagnoses to university admissions offices, we humans tend not to listen to the answers.
Why do humans neglect superior algorithms? Suggestions include overconfidence, belief in their own expertise, and the presence of performance incentives.
Doctors fear algorithms will take the “Art” out of clinical judgment.
People tend to prefer their own inferior judgement when they see an algorithm err, possibly because they do not compare the algorithm’s performance to their own.
So how can we encourage people to accept the use of algorithms when they will provide a superior or safer outcome? Once self-driving cars become safer than human drivers, the unwillingness to use them will lead to more dangerous roads and deaths.
This research tentatively suggests that one option for increasing the use of algorithms is to give people constrained ability to intervene.
In contrast, most of those domains where algorithms have been found to be superior involve regular decisions in a largely constant environment about which we are able to gather data.
So in these complex, dynamic, and uncertain domains, when should we trust the human decision maker? In what situations should we use an algorithm and when should humans override it? And how should we make these decisions?

The orginal article.

Summary of “The Strange Order of Things by Antonio Damasio review”

Antonio Damasio, a professor of neuroscience, psychology and philosophy, sets out to investigate “Why and how we emote, feel, use feelings to construct our selves and how brains interact with the body to support such functions”.
From the very start, among the earliest primitive life forms, affect – “The world of emotions and feelings” – was the force that drove unstoppably towards the flowering of human consciousness and the creation of cultures, Damasio insists.
The idea on which he bases his book is, he tells us, simple: “Feelings have not been given the credit they deserve as motives, monitors, and negotiators of human cultural endeavours.” In claiming simplicity, it is possible the author is being a mite disingenuous.
“Feelings, and more generally affect of any sort and strength,” Damasio writes, “Are the unrecognised presences at the cultural conference table.” According to him, the conference began among the bacteria, which – who? – even in their “Unminded existence assume what can only be called a sort of ‘moral attitude'”.
Damasio, whose books include The Feeling of What Happens and Self Comes to Mind, is a scientist but also a convinced, one might say a crusading, humanist.
Also called to the table is Spinoza – on whom Damasio has written at length – and his emphasis on conatus, the essential force by which all things strive to persevere, and which had for Spinoza the same significance that homeostasis has for Damasio.
There are echoes here too of William James, that most endearing of philosophers, as when Damasio pauses for a brief, Jamesian consideration of the anomalous fact that for all the hi-tech sophistication of modern life, we still cling to the primitive pleasure and reassurance of the domestic fireplace.
While ever ready to salute his predecessors and peers, is wholly his own man, and The Strange Order of Things is a fresh and daring effort to identify the true spring and source of human being – of the being of all living things – namely feeling.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Forget Ebola, Sars and Zika: ticks are the next global health threat”

Partly, it’s because ticks have been understudied for so long that only recently have we begun to realise just how much they affect our health.
Changing ecosystems are also forcing ticks into closer contact with humans.
Perhaps the most immediate changes are being driven by land clearing, which is forcing wildlife into closer contact with humans; with wildlife come ticks and the diseases they carry.
Ticks can carry an extremely wide array of human pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and protozoa.
Within the long list of human ailments caused by ticks, several dangerous diseases stand out.
The disease is rarely tested for by doctors and the global levels of human infection are unknown, although some researchers believe that they may be much higher than present rates of diagnosis indicate.
Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever is perhaps the most terrifying disease spread by ticks, as there are no treatments available, and mortality rates can be as high as 40% in infected humans.
The World Health Organisation views CCHF virus as having a high chance of causing human disease epidemics and has accordingly directed considerable funding towards finding a treatment, although to date none have been developed.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Lobsters feel pain. Our laws need to protect them”

The new rules crack down on puppy farming, outlaw automatic devices that punish dogs for barking, and protect small, shy animals like guinea pigs by barring certain practices at pop-up, or temporary, petting zoos.
Cats, horses, fish, goats and sheep each had a chapter devoted to them in 2005 Swiss animal protection legislation, which recognized that animals aren’t quite like other things we humans and our laws consider to be property.
Even as Switzerland provides animals with increasing legal protections, some animal advocates say the rights currently afforded to animals don’t go far enough.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the UK issued a statement on the new Swiss lobster decision, saying it “Is a small but powerful step” in the right direction, but that “Killing lobsters by any method in order to eat them is cruel and unnecessary.” And Lauren Choplin of the non-profit Nonhuman Rights Project, which litigates for animals’ fundamental rights, told Quartz on Jan. 17, “In our view, the law hasn’t caught up to what we know about animal cognition, and it needs to.”
Since Darwin we have known we are human animals related to all the other animals through evolution; how can we justify our almost total oppression of all the other species? All animal species can suffer pain and distress.
The 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant recognized the way that our treatment of animals reflects upon us, despite his own belief that animals were mere things.
The entry on The Moral Status of Animals in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, written by feminist philosopher Lori Gruen, points out that absolutists demand we treat animals like humans.
The coalition cites Fernand Etgen, Luxembourg’s Minister of Agriculture, who said in 2016, “Animal welfare legislation requires profound reform because of what scientific advances had revealed about animals, and because of changes in how animals are viewed by human society.” It notes, too, that great fake fur is available today.

The orginal article.