Archives April 19, 2016

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust

“Welcome to Baotou, the largest industrial city in Inner Mongolia. I’m here with a group of architects and designers called the Unknown Fields Division, and this is the final stop on a three-week-long journey up the global supply chain, tracing back the route consumer goods take from China to our shops and homes, via container ships and factories.

You may not have heard of Baotou, but the mines and factories here help to keep our modern lives ticking. It is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of “rare earth” minerals. These elements can be found in everything from magnets in wind turbines and electric car motors, to the electronic guts of smartphones and flatscreen TVs. In 2009 China produced 95% of the world’s supply of these elements, and it’s estimated that the Bayan Obo mines just north of Baotou contain 70% of the world’s reserves. But, as we would discover, at what cost?

After seeing the impact of rare earth mining myself, it’s impossible to view the gadgets I use everyday in the same way. As I watched Apple announce their smart watch recently, a thought crossed my mind: once we made watches with minerals mined from the Earth and treated them like precious heirlooms; now we use even rarer minerals and we’ll want to update them yearly. Technology companies continually urge us to upgrade; to buy the newest tablet or phone. But I cannot forget that it all begins in a place like Bautou, and a terrible toxic lake that stretches to the horizon.”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

The dangers of trusting robots

Emphasis added:

“There are many other examples of intelligent technology gone bad, but more often than not they involve deception rather than physical danger. Malevolent bots, designed by criminals, are now ubiquitous on social media sites and elsewhere online. The mobile dating app Tinder, for example, has been frequently infiltrated by bots posing as real people that attempt to manipulate users into using their webcams or disclosing credit card information. So it’s not a stretch to imagine that untrustworthy bots may soon come to the physical world.

Meanwhile, increasing evidence suggests that we are susceptible to telling our deepest, darkest secrets to anthropomorphic robots whose cute faces may hide exploitative code – children particularly so. So how do we protect ourselves from double-crossing decepticons?”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

How the Internet changed the way we read

“UC Literature Professor Jackson Bliss puts into words something many of you have probably experienced: the evolution of the internet and mobile devices has changed how we read. “The truth is that most of us read continuously in a perpetual stream of incestuous words, but instead of reading novels, book reviews, or newspapers like we used to in the ancien régime, we now read text messages, social media, and bite-sized entries about our protean cultural history on Wikipedia.”

Bliss continues, “In the great epistemic galaxy of words, we have become both reading junkies and also professional text skimmers. … Reading has become a relentless exercise in self-validation, which is why we get impatient when writers don’t come out and simply tell us what they’re arguing. … Content—whether thought-provoking, regurgitated, or analytically superficial, impeccably-researched, politically doctrinaire, or grammatically atrocious—now occupies the same cultural space, the same screen space, and the same mental space in the public imagination. After awhile, we just stop keeping track of what’s legitimately good because it takes too much energy to separate the crème from the foam.”