Archive | April 2, 2013
An interesting question posed by Michael Specter in The New Yorker‘s new Science & Tech section:
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On April 12, 1955, Jonas Salk, who had recently invented the polio vaccine, appeared on the television news show “See It Now” to discuss its impact on American society. Before the vaccine became available, dread of polio was almost as widespread as the disease itself. Hundreds of thousands fell ill, most of them children, many of whom died or were permanently disabled.
The vaccine changed all that, and Edward R. Murrow, the show’s host, asked Salk what seemed to be a reasonable question about such a valuable commodity: “Who owns the patent on this vaccine?” Salk was taken aback. “Well, the people,” he said. “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
The very idea, to Salk, seemed absurd. But that was more than fifty years ago, before the race to mine the human genome turned into the biological Klondike rush of the twenty-first century.
Moving this last concept towards its ultimate end, computer scientist Tom Murphy has now designed a program that can “solve” NES games like other mathematical problems.
via Nobel Intent (WIRED UK):
At SigBovik 2013, [Tom Murphy] presented a program that “solves” how to play Super Mario Bros., or any other NES game, like it’s just another kind of mathematical problem. And for those who know that SigBovik is an annual computer science conference dedicated to spoof research, hosted on April 1 every year, Murphy stresses that this is “100 percent real.”
He outlines his method in a paper, “The First Level of Super Mario Bros.
Several authors answer the New Statesman‘s question. Here are some excerpts.
Alain de Botton:
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For centuries in the west, there was a figure in society who fulfilled a function that is likely to sound very odd to secular ears. The priest didn’t fulfil any material need; he was there to take care of that part of you called, rather unusually, “the soul”, by which we would understand the seat of our emotions and of our deep self.Where have our soul-related needs gone? What are we doing with the material we used to go to a priest for? The deep self has naturally not given up its complexities and vulnerabilities simply because some scientific inaccuracies have been found in the tales of the five loaves and two fishes.
The most sophisticated response we have yet come up with is psychotherapy. It is to psychotherapists that we bring the same kind of problems as we would previously have directed at a priest: emotional confusion, loss of meaning, temptations of one kind or another and anxiety about mortality.
Craving the excitement that consumerism arouses, Darius Kazemi designed the Amazon Random Shopper, which buys random object each month, and documents the results. Could this randomized consumption prove more rewarding than shopping according to our supposed needs, desires, and tastes?
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Recently I’ve been making a bunch of weird stuff that randomly generates things. The first iteration of this was going to be a program that bought me stuff that I probably would like. But then I decided that was too boring.
How about I build something that buys me things completely at random? Something that just… fills my life with crap? How would these purchases make me feel? Would they actually be any less meaningful than the crap I buy myself on a regular basis anyway?
So I built Amazon Random Shopper. It grabs a random word from the Wordnik API, then runs an Amazon search based on that word and buys the first thing that’s under budget.