Friday, January 28, 2011

The January Wired has some great pieces (no surprise). Four I especially like:

"The AI Revolution Is On":
Diapers.com warehouses are a bit of a jumble. Boxes of pacifiers sit above crates of onesies, which rest next to cartons of baby food. In a seeming abdication of logic, similar items are placed across the room from one another. A person trying to figure out how the products were shelved could well conclude that no form of intelligence—except maybe a random number generator—had a hand in determining what went where.

But the warehouses aren’t meant to be understood by humans; they were built for bots. Every day, hundreds of robots course nimbly through the aisles, instantly identifying items and delivering them to flesh-and-blood packers on the periphery. Instead of organizing the warehouse as a human might—by placing like products next to one another, for instance—Diapers.com’s robots stick the items in various aisles throughout the facility. Then, to fill an order, the first available robot simply finds the closest requested item. The storeroom is an ever-shifting mass that adjusts to constantly changing data, like the size and popularity of merchandise, the geography of the warehouse, and the location of each robot. . . .

Today’s AI doesn’t try to re-create the brain. Instead, it uses machine learning, massive data sets, sophisticated sensors, and clever algorithms to master discrete tasks.
"Algorithms Take Control of Wall Street":
Over the past decade, algorithmic trading has overtaken the industry. . . . (By some estimates, computer-aided high-frequency trading now accounts for about 70 percent of total trade volume.) Increasingly, the market’s ups and downs are determined not by traders competing to see who has the best information or sharpest business mind but by algorithms feverishly scanning for faint signals of potential profit.
"TED Curator Chris Anderson on Crowd Accelerated Innovation":
I believe that the arrival of free online video may turn out to be just as significant a media development as the arrival of print. It is creating new global communities, granting their members both the means and the motivation to step up their skills and broaden their imaginations. It is unleashing an unprecedented wave of innovation in thousands of different disciplines: some trivial, some niche in the extreme, some central to solving humanity’s problems. In short, it is boosting the net sum of global talent. It is helping the world get smarter.
"Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die":
There are no more hidden thought-palaces—they’re easily accessed websites, or Facebook pages with thousands of fans. And I’m not going to bore you with the step-by-step specifics of how it happened. In the timeline of the upheaval, part of the graph should be interrupted by the words the Internet. And now here we are. . . .

When everyone has easy access to their favorite diversions and every diversion comes with a rabbit hole’s worth of extra features and deleted scenes and hidden hacks to tumble down and never emerge from, then we’re all just adding to an ever-swelling, soon-to-erupt volcano of trivia, re-contextualized and forever rebooted. We’re on the brink of Etewaf: Everything That Ever Was—Available Forever.
I want to register a dissatisfaction with that last essay. The author, Patton Oswalt, fails to argue—as I feel he should argue—for revering creators (by which I mean those who make original, fandom-inspiring works; he mentions among many others Monty Python, Neil Gaiman, and Tolkien) above otaku (people fascinated with the creators' work and whose own work is deeply derivative of the creators'). It's a logical implication of the piece: Everything starts with the creators; without them, what would the otaku have? But Oswalt avoids stating it (he may not believe it; many people don't) and turns instead to hallucinatory, albeit dexterously imagined, fantasy. He misses an opportunity to make a point that needs making, often and strongly. But the article's a good read anyway.

(Edited since originally posted.)