Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘software’

03 MARCH, 2011

TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder, Day 3

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Embracing chaos, 57 things Google knows about you, and how to 3D-print a kidney.

This week, we’re reporting live from TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder. So far, we warmed up with 5 must-read books by some of this year’s speakers, synthesized highlights from Day 1 and Day 2, and spotlighted an inspired urban intervention by designer and TED Fellow Candy Chang. Today, we’re back — on the brink of our sleep budged — with highlights, photos and notable soundbites from Day 3 — dig in.

Historian Edward Tenner

Culture and technology historian Edward Tenner showed statistical evidence that the greatest time for game-changing innovation in modern history was actually The Great Depression, which had a paradoxically stimulating effect on creativity. He argued that one of the grand questions of our time is how to close the gap between our capabilities and our foresight.

Our ability to innovate is increasing geometrically but our capacity to model those innovations is linear.” ~ Edward Tenner

Tenner’s excellent 1997 book, Why Things Bite Back: Technology & the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, will change the way you think about adversity, opportunity and innovation.

Chris Anderson presenting the winners of the Ads Worth Spreading contest.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

TED announced the 10 winners of the inaugural Ads Worth Spreading contest, seeking to reframe commercial communication from an interruption to inspiration.

Eli Pariser of MoveOn.org fame, author of the excellent forthcoming The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, delivered a stride-stopping and timely curtain-pull on our modern information diet and what we’re being force-fed by the powers of the Internet. Google, apparently, looks at 57 data points to serve us personally tailored search results.

We’ve moved to an age where the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.” ~ Eli Pariser

Which raises the question of responsibility: Is the responsibility of those who serve information to give us more of what we already like and believe, or to open our eyes to new perspectives? And if it’s all algorithmically driven, is there even a place for such responsibility? Our key takeaway from Pariser’s talk, one particularly relevant to our own credo, is that human information curators will have an increasingly important role as moral mitigators of algorithmic personalization efficiency.

Eli Pariser 'We need the new information gatekeepers to encode a sense of civic responsibility into algorithms.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

We need the Internet to introduce us to different ideas and different perspectives.” ~ Eli Pariser

Virginia Tech’s Dennis Hong is building the world’s first vehicle for the visually-impaired. and recently made history with the Blind Driver Challenge.

Dennis Hong 'We need the new information gatekeepers to encode a sense of civic responsibility into algorithms.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

High-functioning autistic savant Daniel Tammet opened the door to his fascinating view of the world. He used synesthesia, the strange neurological crossing of the senses, as an example of how the world is often richer than we think it to be.

Daniel Tammet shows us the world through the eyes of an autistic savant.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Tammet’s Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant is one of the most fascinating perspective shifts you’ll ever read.

Google's Sebastian Thrun 'We took a driverless car from San Francisco to LA, and no one even noticed there was no driver.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The idea behind the Stuxnet worm is quite simple: We don’t want Iran to get the bomb.” ~ Ralph Langner

Security consultant Ralph Langner 'Mossad is responsible for Stuxnet. But the real force behind that is not Israel, it is the only cyber force: The U.S.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

In one of the day’s most jaw-dropping demos, the kind that restores one’s faith in humanity, Berkley BionicsEythor Bender showcased the incredible eLEGS exoskeletons, which enable the paralyzed to walk again, and HULC, which enables ordinary people to carry up to 200 lbs. Bender was joined onstage by a soldier, who demoed HULC, and a paralyzed woman who walked for the first time in 18 years thanks to eLEGS.

Eythor Bender on stage with paraplegic Amanda Boxtel, ecstatic in her new non-invasive exoskeleton legs.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Biomedical engineer Fiorenzo Omenetto is developing amazing non-invasive implants made of silicon and silk.

Fiorenzo Omenetto shows a disposable cup made of silk, a biodegradable, biocompatible alternative to the highly unsustainable styrofoam.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

There was no shortage of astounding demos today. Anthony Atala, whose work in 3D organ printing is an unbelievable next frontier in medicine, literally “printed” a kidney on the TED stage as 1,700 of the world’s smartest people gasped in awe, speechless.

Anthony Atala 'prints' a kidney to a collective gasp.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The remarkable papercut artist Béatrice Coron, whose stunning artwork we’ve spotted on the New York subway, echoed some of our own beliefs about combinatorial creativity:

I’m influenced by everything I read, everything I see. In life and in paper cutting, everything is connected: One story leads to another.” ~ Beatrice Coron

Watch Coron’s creative process and swoon like we did:

Keep an eye on our live Twitter coverage and come back here tomorrow evening for highlights from the final day.

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21 FEBRUARY, 2011

7 Must-Read Books on the Future of Information and the Internet

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From retrofuturist media prophecies to the cognitive consequences of mobile-everything.

We’re deeply fascinated by the evolution of media and the sociocognitive adaptations that go along with it, but perhaps even more so by the intellectual debates surrounding this ever-swelling topic of increasing urgency and controversy. The past year has been particularly prolific in varied takes on our shared digital future, contextualizing our current concerns in fascinating media history and exploring the potential consequences of our modern media diets. Collected here are 7 of our favorite books investigating the subject from dramatically different yet equally important angles.

I LIVE IN THE FUTURE & HERE’S HOW IT WORKS

From our good friend and New York Times writer Nick Bilton comes I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted — a provocative look at how new media models are shaping the future of cross-platform storytelling. From the next chapter in journalism to the porn industry’s legacy of technological innovation to the sociocultural power of video games, Bilton examines the future from the lens of the past to deliver an intelligent, layered and — perhaps most importantly — optimistic blueprint for the where our digital universe is going.

THE SHALLOWS

Though we don’t agree with many of Nicholas Carr‘s arguments in The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains — redundant and reductionist, his view is the contemporary equivalent of Futureshock, the techno-paranoid vintage series narrated by Orson Welles — we recognize the book as an important read, if only as a way to understand and contextualize these all-too-common fears that many seem to share with Carr.

My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I feel it most strongly when I’m reading. I used to find it easy to immerse myself in a book or lengthy article… Now my concentration starts to drift after a page or two. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel like I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.” ~ Nicholas Carr

HAMLET’S BLACKBERRY

Even if Carr is right and the Internet is taking a toll on our brains, it doesn’t have to. In Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, William Powers offers a toolkit of refreshing remedies for our chronically multitasking, digitally distracted selves, collected from historical figures that lived long before the digital age. From Thoreau’s “Internet Sabbaths” to productivity apps from Shakespeare, Powers blends the advantages of constant connectivity with the caution we need to exercise as we engage with the world in these new ways, extending an invitation to subvert our media routines in a way that prioritizes happiness over blind efficiency.

TOO MUCH TO KNOW

In Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age, Harvard historian Ann Blair explores the history of contemporary media concerns like the impact of the internet on publishing, information overload and remix culture, tracing their roots to uncannily similar practices and concepts from the Renaissance and the Middle Ages.

During the later Middle Ages a staggering growth in the production of manuscripts, facilitated by the use of paper, accompanied a great expansion of readers outside the monastic and scholastic contexts. ~ Ann Blair

YOU KNOW NOTHING OF MY WORK!

No biography of iconic media futurist Marshall McLuhan could possibly be about the future of the internet per se — he lived, after all, a good half-century before the web as we know it existed. But Douglas Coupland’s excellent new almost-biography, Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!, which we reviewed last week, is full of insights on the evolution of media that presage many of our modern concerns. From information overload to the rise of what McLuhan calls “electronic inter-dependence,” the book offers a fascinating lens not only on the technological revolution of the past century, but also on the complex shifts in social cognition that it continues to beget.

One must remember that Marshall arrived at these conclusions not by hanging around, say, NASA or I.B.M., but rather by studying arcane 16th-century Reformation pamphleteers, the writings of James Joyce, and Renaissance perspective drawings. He was a master of pattern recognition, the man who bangs a drum so large that it’s only beaten once every hundred years.” ~ Douglas Coupland

IS THE INTERNET CHANGING THE WAY YOU THINK

Last month, we looked at the annual questions by iconic sci-tech futurism journal EDGE, which has been asking contemporary luminaries to answer one big question every year since 1998, then publishing the responses in a book the following year to serve up a fascinating and illuminating timecapsule of the intelligencia’s collective conscience. This year’s edition, Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net’s Impact on Our Minds and Future, offers a fantastic compendium of responses by iconic contemporary thinkers like Chris Anderson, Esther Dyson, Howard Gardner, Kevin Kelly, Brian Eno and 167 more.

You can also read the answers online, but whatever your chosen medium, we highly recommend you take a look.

COGNITIVE SURPLUS

Clay Shirky may just be the Marshall McLuhan of our day, only with saner vocabulary and less of a penchant for LSD. (At least as far as we know.) His Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, one of our top books in business, life and mind for 2010, takes a fascinating look at how new media and technology are transforming us from consumers to collaborators, harnessing the vast amounts of free-floating human potential to build on humanity’s treasure trove of knowledge and bring about social change.

For a taste of this absolutely essential book, don’t miss Shirky’s excellent TED talk:

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31 JANUARY, 2011

Aaron Koblin on the Digital Renaissance

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We’re big fans of creative technology rock star Aaron Koblin, whose Sheep Market, Bicycle Built for 2,000 and Johnny Cash projects we’ve featured previously.

In this excellent interview, the fine folks of Emergence Collective track Aaron down at Sundance, where he’s working on Google’s Life in a Day crowdsourced film project, and ask him some compelling questions about computational aesthetics, the digital renaissance, and the future of creative technology:

  • Are there networked aesthetics which can be visually identified?
  • How will moving images change in the next 20–30 years?
  • What do you think about this word ‘user-generated content’?
  • Do you identify with the current artistic trend to shift away from product towards process?
  • What indicators are there of a digital renaissance?

We’re seeing what happens when you reach a point where computational resources are no longer the most significant factor in thinking, where we don’t have to bend our will to what we’re able to do. We’re really able to stop thinking about [computational resources] and bend them to our needs and our interests. It lends itself to a complete different type of a creative process, where you can really explore and experiment a lot more freely than one could before. […] Perhaps most significantly, it lets us create our own limitations, and I think those generally can be a lot more meaningful than the ones arbitrarily put on by the media.” ~ Aaron Koblin

You can find Aaron’s work in a couple of our favorite books on the convergence of computational software and creativity, FORM+CODE and Data Flow 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design.

HT @edwardharran

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20 JANUARY, 2011

Reality Is Broken: How Games Make Us Better

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Becoming better versions of ourselves, or how the basic paradigms of gaming culture foster social change.

We’re big fans of game designer and researcher Jane McGonigal, whose insights on gaming for productivity we’ve featured before and whom we had the pleasure of seeing speak at TED 2010. Today marks the release of McGonigal’s debut book, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World — a compelling vision for harnessing the basic paradigms of gaming culture to foster social change. Armed with equal parts passion and empirical evidence, McGonigal debunks a number of myths about and prejudices against gamers to reveal a complex and highly motivated subculture of dedication and collaboration — the very qualities most fundamental to laying the foundation for global happiness.

When we’re in game worlds, [we] become the best version of ourselves, the most likely to help at a moment’s notice, the most likely to stick with a problem as long at it takes, to get up after failure and try again.” ~ Jane McGonigal

Through fascinating examples of how alternate-reality games are already improving our lives, scientific insight into the neurochemical processes that take place in our brains during gaming, and psychology-rooted blueprints for employing the reward systems of gaming to motivate real-life behaviors, McGonigal showcases the incredible potential of gamers and gaming culture to change not only how we live our lives on an individual level, but also how we do business and engage in our communities socially and globally.

For a teaser taste of McGonigal’s visionary insight, don’t miss her excellent TED talk:

The average young person today in a country with a strong gamer culture will have spent 10,000 hours playing online games, by the age of 21. For children in the United States 10,080 hours is the exact amount of time you will spend in school from fifth grade to high school graduation if you have perfect attendance.” ~ Jane McGonigal

We anticipate Reality Is Broken will do for gaming culture what Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog did for the counterculture sustainability movement of the sixties, reining in a new kind of collective awareness and mainstream reverence for a practical ideology that will shape the course of culture for decades to come.

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