Summary of “Good News at Last: The World Isn’t as Horrific as You Think”

Perhaps not on every single measure, or every single year, but step by step, year by year, the world is improving.
Although the world faces huge challenges, we have made tremendous progress.
We still need these dramatic instincts to give meaning to our world.
The number of conflict fatalities has been falling since the second world war, but the Syrian war has reversed this trend.
Our instinct to notice the bad more than the good is related to three things: the misremembering of the past; selective reporting by journalists and activists; and the feeling that as long as things are bad, it’s heartless to say they are getting better.
This tendency to misremember is compounded by the never-ending negative news from across the world.
My guess is you feel that me saying that the world is getting better is like me telling you that everything is fine, and that feels ridiculous.
How can we help our brains to realise that things are getting better? Think of the world as a very sick premature baby in an incubator.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Can we ditch intensive farming”

Intensive farming has already had a huge effect on biodiversity and the environment worldwide.
The most obvious alternative to industrialised intensive farming in the developed world is organic farming.
Rob Percival, head of policy at the Soil Association, says organic farming can feed the world, if consumption patterns are adjusted to encourage those who can afford meat to eat less of it.
For many farmers, the investment and time needed to meet organic standards may be a stretch, but there are ways to move towards more sustainable farming without organic certification.
Agroecology is the name given to a broad range of farming techniques that seek to minimise the environmental impact of farming.
Urban farming can deliver food – or at least some fresh produce – efficiently to dense populations without the greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient loss associated with transporting it across long distances.
Already, urban farming produces about a fifth of the world’s food.
Our reliance on artificial fertiliser and intensive farming techniques did not happen overnight, but took decades.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Everything You Know About Global Order Is Wrong – Foreign Policy”

Klaus Schwab, impresario of the World Economic Forum, released a manifesto in the run-up to this year’s annual meeting at Davos, Switzerland, in which he called for a contemporary equivalent to the postwar conferences that established the liberal international order.
Its history of the founding of the postwar order is wrong; more important, its implicit theory about how international order emerges-through a collective design effort by world leaders coming together to reconcile their interests-is fundamentally mistaken.
The basic monetary vision of Bretton Woods was to create order by establishing fully convertible currencies at fixed exchange rates, with the dollar pegged to gold.
The grand design for a free trade order embodied by the Havana Charter and the International Trade Organization fell afoul of the U.S. Congress and was thus stopped in its tracks.
With the Cold War paralyzing the U.N. institutions that had originally been intended to frame Bretton Woods, what emerged under U.S. hegemony was a far narrower postwar order centered on the North Atlantic.
The unpalatable truth is that our world was born not out of wise collective agreement but out of chaos, unleashed by America’s unilateral refusal any longer to underwrite the global monetary order.
The first attempts to restore order were not by way of the market revolution but by the means of corporatism-direct negotiations among governments, trade unions, and employers with a view of limiting the vicious spiral of prices and wages.
They put paid to what Margaret Thatcher referred to as the “Enemy within.” But the global victory of the liberal order required a more far-reaching struggle.

The orginal article.

Summary of “from practical primers to sci-fi short stories”

Experts are already building a future world brimming with artificial intelligence, but here in the present most of us are still trying to figure out what AI even is.
Questions like, “What is the nature of creativity?” and “How do we define consciousness?” Posing the question “How can I understand AI?” is nearly as daunting as asking “What is the meaning of life?”.
In order to help, The Verge has assembled a reading list: a brief but diverse compendium of books, short stories, and blogs, all chosen by leading figures in the AI world to help you better understand artificial intelligence.
It’s an eclectic selection that ranges from practical primers to Golden Age sci-fi, and while reading everything listed below won’t get you a job at Google, it will give you much-needed context for this confusing and exciting time.
Superintelligence is the book about the threat posed by artificial general intelligence, or AGI, written by Oxford philosophy professor Bostrom.
It’s inspired some questionable pronouncements from tech leaders on the threat from killer robots, but is the best introduction I’ve read to the problem of making smart machines safe; a problem which applies whether they’re super-smart or actually quite dumb.
Despite the gloomy topic, this non-fiction book is a surprisingly fun read, feeling closer to science fiction at times.
The Master Algorithm is a broader read that provides an excellent introduction to the technical aspects of AI. It walks you through all the basic components and concepts, from evolutionary algorithms to Bayesian probability, while showing how machine learning as a field cross-pollinates with disciplines like neuroscience and psychology.

The orginal article.

Summary of “The coffees you’ve never heard of which face extinction”

The first full assessment of risks to the world’s coffee plants shows that 60% of 124 known species are on the edge of extinction.
Scientists say the figure is “Worrying”, as wild coffee is critical for sustaining the global coffee crop.
“Because if you look at the history of coffee cultivation, we have used wild species to make the coffee crop sustainable.”
Many coffee drinkers are unaware that we only use the coffee beans from two species – Coffea Arabica and Coffea robusta – in the thousands of different blends of coffee on sale.
Many of these wild coffees do not taste good to drink, but may contain genes that can be harnessed to help coffee plants survive in the future, amid climate change and emerging diseases that attack coffee trees.
How does coffee compare to other plants in terms of extinction risks?
Coffee trees, like many tropical plants, have seeds that do not survive the freeze-drying process used in conventional seed banks – 45% of coffee species have not been “Backed up” outside the wild.
Dr Eimear Nic Lughadha of Kew said this is the first time an IUCN Red List assessment has been carried out to find the extinction risk of the world’s coffee, and the figure of 60% is “Extremely high”.

The orginal article.

Summary of “World’s oldest person: Guinness, 122-year-old Jeanne Calment and a Russian conspiracy theory”

Also copied was the consultant who analyzed age-related cases for Guinness World Records, which had given Jeanne Calment the title before she died at 122 in 1997.
The study made an explosive claim: that Calment was not Jeanne but her daughter Yvonne, who had stolen her deceased mother’s identity to avoid paying inheritance taxes, and was therefore not older than 100.
The Wikipedia page for Jeanne Calment had recently undergone edits that wove in doubt about her age.
The author of the Russian report, Nikolay Zak, 35, said the decision to examine Calment’s case was made last year after a discussion on Gavrilov’s Facebook page.
Novoselov, a geriatrician who had recently been appointed to the naturalist society, asked Zak to write a paper on Calment.
He submitted the Calment study to a Russian scientific journal, which told him it was written too casually, and BioRxiv, a server for articles hosted by a lab in Cold Spring, N.Y., also rejected it.
Most spoke highly of Robine, the well-known and respected gerontologist who validated Calment’s claim more than 20 years ago, saying they believed his work on the Calment case had been thorough.
“It’s not scientific, there’s no methodology, no hypothesis, no nothing. It’s just, like, a document, bringing more sentences to say Jeanne Calment is not Jeanne Calment.”

The orginal article.

Summary of “Welcome to Airspace”

Think of the traffic app Waze rerouting cars in Los Angeles and disrupting otherwise quiet neighborhoods; Airbnb parachuting groups of international tourists into residential communities; Instagram spreading IRL lifestyle memes; or Foursquare sending traveling businessmen to the same cafe over and over again.
Founded in 2008 by two graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design, Airbnb allows “Hosts” to rent out unused space in their own homes.
While Airbnb doesn’t offer any decorating standards besides a few tips posted on their website, the existence of the platform itself and the needs of its users enables a certain sameness to spread. “You can feel a kind of trend in certain listings. There’s an International Airbnb Style that’s starting to happen,” Harvey continues.
The Airbnb marketplace is evolving toward its most effective product; it seems that what consumers want more than an exotic experience is something like a Days Inn but more stylish and less obvious – a generic space hidden behind a seemingly unique facade.
Zoé de Las Cases and Benjamin Dewé, a French interior designer couple, were shocked when they discovered that Airbnb had replicated the design of an apartment that they listed on the platform for a meeting room in the company’s San Francisco corporate office, down to a trio of faux-industrial pendant lights, a twee chalkboard, and a floating shelf full of almost identical art objects.
In his 1992 book Non-Places, Marc Augé, the French anthropologist, wrote that with the emergence of such identity-less space, “People are always, and never, at home.” If we can be equally at home everywhere, as Roam and Airbnb suggest, doesn’t that mean we are also at home nowhere? The next question is, do we mind?
Why is AirSpace happening? One answer is that the internet and its progeny – Foursquare, Facebook, Instagram, Airbnb – is to us today what television was in the last century, with “a certain ability to transmit and receive and then apply layers of affection and longing and doubt,” as George W.S. Trow wrote in his paranoiac masterpiece of media criticism, “Within the Context of No Context,” originally published in The New Yorker in 1980.
The AirSpace aesthetic that Airbnb has contributed to, and the geography it creates, limits experiences of difference in the service of comforting a particular demographic falsely defined as the norm.

The orginal article.

Summary of “In Praise of Idleness: Bertrand Russell on the Relationship Between Leisure and Social Justice – Brain Pickings”

Their labors were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good.
While reinstating the dignity of leisure – or what Russell calls idleness – is a necessary condition for recalibrating our life-satisfaction to more adequately reflect the contemporary realities of work and need, it is not a sufficient one.
Exacerbating our already warped relationship with work is the muddling of needs and wants at the heart of capitalist materialism – something Russell would address nearly two decades later in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, listing acquisitiveness as the first of the four desires driving human behavior.
The individual, in our society, works for profit; but the social purpose of his work lies in the consumption of what he produces.
Another result, Russell argues, is a kind of split between positive idleness, which ought to be the nourishing end of work, and negative idleness, which ends up being the effect of work under the spell of consumerism and its consequent socioeconomic inequality.
With an eye to our civilization’s triumphs and failures of self-actualization, Russell points out that, historically, there has been a small leisure class enjoying a great many privileges without a basis in social justice, profiting on the backs of a large working class toiling for survival.
In such a society, Russell argues, no one would have to work more than four hours out of twenty-four – a proposition even more countercultural today than it was in his era.
The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion.

The orginal article.

Summary of “The Future According to the Author of Sapiens”

One of the most important forces in history is human stupidity.
Experiments are already under way to augment the human immune system with an inorganic, bionic system.
Almost all traffic accidents are because of humans making bad decisions.
That’s not impossible because human beings very often make terrible mistakes, even in the most important decisions of their lives.
Then the question is, “What is human life all about?” For thousands of years we have constructed this idea of human life as a drama of decision-making.
The liberal story is based on the ideal and the notion of free will, that the free will of individual humans is the ultimate source of authority in the world.
Yes, the way that Cambridge Analytica and all these companies and bots behaved is they hacked humans.
One of the most important forces in human history is human stupidity.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Favorite Books of 2018 – Brain Pickings”

Through the lens of his personal experience as a working scientist and a human being with uncommon receptivity to the poetic dimensions of life, Lightman traces our longing for absolutes in a relative world from Galileo to Van Gogh, from Descartes to Dickinson, emerging with that rare miracle of insight at the meeting point of the lucid and the luminous.
Even at the age of twelve or thirteen, I was impressed by the logic and materiality of the world.
HOW TO BE A GOOD CREATURE. “To be a good human being,” philosopher Martha Nussbaum observed, “Is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control” – to have, that is, a willingness to regard with an openhearted curiosity what is other than ourselves and therefore strange, discomfiting, difficult to fathom and relate to, difficult at first to love, for we cannot love what we do not understand.
Out of such regard arises the awareness at the heart of Lucille Clifton’s lovely poem “Cutting greens” – a recognition of “The bond of live things everywhere,” among which we are only a small part of a vast and miraculous world, and from which we can learn a great deal about being better versions of ourselves.
Being friends with an octopus – whatever that friendship meant to her – has shown me that our world, and the worlds around and within it, is aflame with shades of brilliance we cannot fathom – and is far more vibrant, far more holy, than we could ever imagine.
Her vivid prose, pulsating with a life in language, invites the reader into the interiority of a deeply embodied mind that experiences and comprehends the world somatically.
Nearly a century later, Dyson remains one of the preeminent scientific minds of our time and a rare witness of a great many cultural milestones, triumphs, and tragedies that have shaped modern life as we know it – landmark discoveries like cosmic microwave background radiation and the double helix structure of DNA, which have profoundly changed our understanding of the universe; the invention of the atomic bomb and the scarring brutality of a World War; the rise of the Internet.
For we forget our origins; in our towns and cities, staring into our screens, we need constantly reminding that we have been operators of computers for a single generation and workers in neon-lit offices for three or four, but we were farmers for five hundred generations, and before that hunter-gatherers for perhaps fifty thousand or more, living with the natural world as part of it as we evolved, and the legacy cannot be done away with.

The orginal article.