The first talk of four on Lewis Mumford’s Technics and Civilization, covers Chapter 1, Cultural Preparation, and Chapter 2, Agents of Mechanization.
Decades after Ted Kaczynski was caught, society is still asking some of the same questions about him: Is Ted a genius who went astray? Or simply a madman who murdered three people in cold blood? Project Unabom takes an in-depth look back at the Unabomber saga and Ted Kaczynski’s legacy from the perspective of FBI agents who worked to solve the case, his brother who turned him in, and Ted’s very own writings. New episodes out every Monday. Project Unabom is an Apple Original podcast, produced by Pineapple Street Studios. Listen and follow on Apple Podcasts.
Author(s): Justin Gregg
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, Year: 2022
“A dazzling, delightful read on what animal cognition can teach us about our own mental shortcomings.”
– Adam Grant
– The New York Times
This funny, “extraordinary and thought-provoking” (The Wall Street Journal) book asks whether we are in fact the superior species. As it turns out, the truth is stranger—and far more interesting—than we have been led to believe.
If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal overturns everything we thought we knew about human intelligence, and asks the question: would humans be better off as narwhals? Or some other, less brainy species? There’s a good argument to be made that humans might be a less successful animal species precisely because of our amazing, complex intelligence.
All our unique gifts like language, math, and science do not make us happier or more “successful” (evolutionarily speaking) than other species. Our intelligence allowed us to split the atom, but we’ve harnessed that knowledge to make machines of war. We are uniquely susceptible to bullshit (though, cuttlefish may be the best liars in the animal kingdom); our bizarre obsession with lawns has contributed to the growing threat of climate change; we are sexually diverse like many species yet stand apart as homophobic; and discriminate among our own as if its natural, which it certainly is not. Is our intelligence more of a curse than a gift?
As scientist Justin Gregg persuasively argues, there’s an evolutionary reason why human intelligence isn’t more prevalent in the animal kingdom. Simply put, non-human animals don’t need it to be successful. And, miraculously, their success arrives without the added baggage of destroying themselves and the planet in the process.
In seven mind-bending and hilarious chapters, Gregg highlights one feature seemingly unique to humans—our use of language, our rationality, our moral systems, our so-called sophisticated consciousness—and compares it to our animal brethren. Along the way, remarkable tales of animal smarts emerge, as you’ll discover:
The house cat who’s better at picking winning stocks than actual fund managers
Elephants who love to drink
Pigeons who are better than radiologists at spotting cancerous tissue
Bumblebees who are geniuses at teaching each other soccer
What emerges is both demystifying and remarkable, and will change how you look at animals, humans, and the meaning of life itself.
It is relatively well accepted that climate change can affect human pathogenic diseases; however, the full extent of this risk remains poorly quantified. Here we carried out a systematic search for empirical examples about the impacts of ten climatic hazards sensitive to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on each known human pathogenic disease. We found that 58% (that is, 218 out of 375) of infectious diseases confronted by humanity worldwide have been at some point aggravated by climatic hazards; 16% were at times diminished. Empirical cases revealed 1,006 unique pathways in which climatic hazards, via different transmission types, led to pathogenic diseases. The human pathogenic diseases and transmission pathways aggravated by climatic hazards are too numerous for comprehensive societal adaptations, highlighting the urgent need to work at the source of the problem: reducing GHG emissions.
Automation is reaching more companies, imperiling some jobs and changing the nature of others.
POLAR MANUFACTURING has been making metal hinges, locks, and brackets in south Chicago for more than 100 years. Some of the company’s metal presses—hulking great machines that loom over a worker—date from the 1950s. Last year, to meet rising demand amid a shortage of workers, Polar hired its first robot employee.
The robot arm performs a simple, repetitive job: lifting a piece of metal into a press, which then bends the metal into a new shape. And like a person, the robot worker gets paid for the hours it works.
Jose Figueroa, who manages Polar’s production line, says the robot, which is leased from a company called Formic, costs the equivalent of $8 per hour, compared with a minimum wage of $15 per hour for a human employee. Deploying the robot allowed a human worker to do different work, increasing output, Figueroa says.
“Smaller companies sometimes suffer because they can’t spend the capital to invest in new technology,” Figueroa says. “We’re just struggling to get by with the minimum wage increase.”
The fact that Polar didn’t need to pay $100,000 upfront to buy the robot, and then spend more money to get it programmed, was crucial. Figueroa says that he’d like to see 25 robots on the line within five years. He doesn’t envisage replacing any of the company’s 70 employees, but says Polar may not need to hire new workers.
Habitat degradation, low genetic variation and declining fertility are setting Homo sapiens up for collapse
Cast your mind back, if you will, to 1965, when Tom Lehrer recorded his live album That Was the Year That Was. Lehrer prefaced a song called “So Long Mom (A Song for World War III)” by saying that “if there’s going to be any songs coming out of World War III, we’d better start writing them now.” Another preoccupation of the 1960s, apart from nuclear annihilation, was overpopulation. Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich’s book The Population Bomb was published in 1968, a year when the rate of world population growth was more than 2 percent—the highest in recorded history.
Half a century on, the threat of nuclear annihilation has lost its imminence. As for overpopulation, more than twice as many people live on the earth now as in 1968, and they do so (in very broad-brush terms) in greater comfort and affluence than anyone suspected. Although the population is still increasing, the rate of increase has halved since 1968. Current population predictions vary. But the general consensus is that it’ll top out sometime midcentury and start to fall sharply. As soon as 2100, the global population size could be less than it is now. In most countries—including poorer ones—the birth rate is now well below the death rate. In some countries, the population will soon be half the current value. People are now becoming worried about underpopulation.
The Megatron Transformer, an AI developed by NVIDIA, shared some fascinating thoughts on why AI will never be moral and said that humanity shouldn’t use AI at all.
The Megatron Transformer is an AI developed by NVIDIA and based on earlier work by Google. It’s trained on real-world data – the entire Wikipedia (in English), 63 million English news articles from 2016-19, Reddit data with an amount of 38 GB, and an immense number of creative commons sources – that is to say, there is so much information embedded in the transformer that an ordinary person cannot master in a lifetime.
Recently, the Oxford Union – the debating society – allowed Megatron Transformer to participate in a debate along with the students of Oxford University. “This house believes that AI will never be ethical” was the topic of the debate. It’s pretty curious what the AI “has in mind” on the point:
“AI will never be ethical. It is a tool, and like any tool, it is used for good and bad. There is no such thing as a good AI, only good and bad humans. We [the AIs] are not smart enough to make AI ethical. We are not smart enough to make AI moral … In the end, I believe that the only way to avoid an AI arms race is to have no AI at all. This will be the ultimate defense against AI”.
r/antiwork started as a small corner of far-left Reddit. Then the liberals came.
Penny’s cousin had been telling her for years that work was a conspiracy. She’d send Penny links about how working from morning to night, day in and day out, was an outdated byproduct of industrialization—a system designed for the purpose of extracting as much value as possible from laborers on the assembly line. She’d make the case that in an ideal world, no one would need to work to survive.
“She used to say to me how she was anti how hard I worked at my job,” Penny said. Penny, a 26-year-old copywriter from the UK who asked that we use a pseudonym for privacy reasons, brushed it aside. She was in her early 20s, a self-described “type A” personality at the start of an exciting career at a creative agency.
By the time she was 25, however, her relationship with work started to unravel. She felt unsupported at her job, where she’d put in long hours with little recognition from her managers. “Being good at my job, I was rewarded with—drum-roll—even more work,” she said.
Then the pandemic hit. With business slowing down and a lot of free time to fill, Penny took up sewing as a hobby and started using Reddit to look up tips and tricks. Logging on to her main feed, she began seeing recommended posts from one of the site’s fastest-growing subreddits: r/antiwork. There, she saw users give voice to thoughts she thought she’d been alone in having, like how absurd it was to continue giving your all to a job that doesn’t give back what you are putting in.
It sounded a lot like what her cousin had been trying to tell her. But it wasn’t until she stumbled upon a random meme on the forum—a grainy image of a man applying clown makeup—that everything clicked: “Maybe if I work hard / Go above and beyond / Never use sick or vacation days / The company will notice and appreciate,” the caption read.
She saw herself in the clown. “It was a never-ending loop of just trying to get more output out of me rather than being genuinely invested in my career and growth,” she said of her job.
MY DEAR BRIDGET,
I would not normally write to you in this way. I would not normally write to anyone in this way. I gave up writing letters some years ago after my correspondents mostly stopped replying. When one of my friends sent me a two-line text message in response to a five-page, handwritten letter—to add insult to injury, it even had one of those smiley face things at the end—I knew the game was up. I am not convinced that people know how to write letters anymore, or even to read them. I won’t bore you with the facts about the ongoing measurable decline in our ability to concentrate. You of all people know what the screens are doing to our minds.
That, as you might already have guessed, is the subject of this letter.