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What's new at the crossroads of culture, technology and science
Curated by Artur Alves
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Fifth of Neanderthals' genetic code lives on in modern humans

Fifth of Neanderthals' genetic code lives on in modern humans | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Traces are lasting legacy of sexual encounters between our direct ancestors and Neanderthals from 65,000 years ago
Artur Alves's insight:

"The last of the Neanderthals may have died out tens of thousands of years ago, but large stretches of their genetic code live on in people today.

Though many of us can claim only a handful of Neanderthal genes, when added together, the human population carries more than a fifth of the archaic human's DNA, researchers found.

The finding means that scientists can study about 20% of the Neanderthal genome without having to prise the genetic material from fragile and ancient fossils."

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Virtual war 'costs over $300,000'

Virtual war 'costs over $300,000' | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it

A missed bill payment has led to the destruction of an estimated $300,000-worth (£181,000) of virtual spaceships in the game Eve Online.

Artur Alves's insight:

Eve Online is a prime example of an expanding, creatively destructive and economically vibrant virtual polity.


"Eve Online is a detailed space simulation that sees players fly spaceships through thousands of virtual star systems, seeking resources they can use to prosper.

(...)

"Eve Online's more than 500,000 members can buy spaceships using an in-game currency sold for real-world money.

The game's developers said 75 Titan ships were destroyed in a battle after one member of a team missed a payment to protect an area of the online world.

It was the biggest battle of its kind in the game's 10-year history.

The title's developers told the Associated Press the final cost of the battle was expected to go much higher.

More than 4,000 gamers were involved, with thousands more watching the action online."

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Secrets of the Brain

Secrets of the Brain | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
New technologies are shedding light on biology's greatest unsolved mystery: how the brain really works.
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Sluggish Economy Prompts Europe to Reconsider Its Intentions on Climate Change

Sluggish Economy Prompts Europe to Reconsider Its Intentions on Climate Change | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
European Union officials are having second thoughts about how aggressively to remake the Continent’s energy-producing sector.

Via Willy De Backer
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Willy De Backer's curator insight, January 18, 2014 7:56 AM

Giving in to heavy lobbying from conservative European industries, the European Union is on the verge of making a radical U-turn on its already weak and inefficient climate and energy targets. It will leave future generations of Europeans with a dramatic legacy of suffering and debt. Time to start thinking of making them responsible for their actions before the International Court of Human Rights for crimes against humanity.

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What Happens When Monsanto, the Master of Genetic Modification, Decides to Take Nature's Path? - Wired Science

What Happens When Monsanto, the Master of Genetic Modification, Decides to Take Nature's Path? - Wired Science | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Monsanto’s new veggies are sweeter, crunchier, and more nutritious—with none of the “Frankenfoods” ick factor.
Artur Alves's insight:

"I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT GMO

Agriculture giant Monsanto may be best known for genetic modification—like creating corn that resists the effects of Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup. But when it comes to fruits and vegetables you buy in the store, genetic modification is off the menu. Monsanto thinks no one will buy Frankenfoods, so the company is tweaking its efforts—continuing to map the genetic basis of a plant’s desirable traits but using that data to breed new custom-designed strains the way agronomists have for millennia. Here’s how it works—and how the results differ from GMO crops. Thanks to this cross between high and low tech, a new era of super-produce may be upon us. —Victoria Tang

 

The Old Way
 Identify plants with recognizable, desirable traits.
 Crossbreed those plants together.
 Grow the offspring.
 Wait to see if the traits show up. Repeat as necessary.

The Genetic Modification Way
 Identify plants or other organisms with recognizable, desirable traits.
 Isolate the genes that manifest those traits.
 Use enzymes to clip out those genes and paste them into the genomes of other plants, or inject them using a “gene gun” (for real) or by piggybacking them on a bacteria or virus.
 Grow the plant with the inserted gene. If the gene has successfully incorporated into the plant, you’ll have a novel phenotype.

The New Monsanto Way
 Identify plants with recognizable, desirable traits.
 Crossbreed the plants.
 Sift through the offspring genome for known markers for desirable traits.
 Grow only the plants with those markers."

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NSA collects millions of text messages daily in 'untargeted' global sweep

NSA collects millions of text messages daily in 'untargeted' global sweep | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
NSA extracts location, contacts and financial transactions from up to 200 million texts daily that GCHQ can tap into to search metadata from UK numbers
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Want to Predict the Future of Surveillance? Ask Poor Communities.

Want to Predict the Future of Surveillance? Ask Poor Communities. | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Marginalized groups are often governments' test subjects. Here are a few lessons we can learn from their experiences.
Artur Alves's insight:

"Poor and working-class Americans already live in the surveillance future. The revelations that are so scandalous to the middle-class data profiling, PRISM, tapped cellphones–are old news to millions of low-income Americans, immigrants, and communities of color. To be smart about surveillance in the New Year, we must learn from the experiences of marginalized people in the U.S. and in developing countries the world over. Here are four lessons we might learn if we do.

#1: Surveillance is a civil rights issue.

#2: To a hammer, everything looks like a nail [Solutions are built and tested in convenient, distant contexts long before being made public] 

#3: Everyone resists surveillance, not just the bad guys.

#4: Privacy is not the problem."

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Have the Obits for Peak Oil Come Too Soon?

Have the Obits for Peak Oil Come Too Soon? | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Among the big energy stories of 2013, “peak oil” -- the once-popular notion that worldwide oil production would soon reach a maximum level and begin an irreversible decline -- was thoroughly discredited.

Via Willy De Backer
Artur Alves's insight:

The usual technotriumphalism (technology, more technology, better technology will solve any given problem, given enough time) allays fears about the end of oil. Worryingly, it distracts from the main issue: thinking about a radically different society, less dependent on fossil fuels.

 

"In place of peak oil, then, we have a new theory that as yet has no name but might be called techno-dynamism.  There is, this theory holds, no physical limit to the global supply of oil so long as the energy industry is prepared to, and allowed to, apply its technological wizardry to the task of finding and producing more of it.  Daniel Yergin, author of the industry classics, The Prize and The Quest, is a key proponent of this theory.  He recently summed up the situation this way: “Advances in technology take resources that were not physically accessible and turn them into recoverable reserves.”  As a result, he added, “estimates of the total global stock of oil keep growing.”

From this perspective, the world supply of petroleum is essentially boundless.  In addition to “conventional” oil -- the sort that comes gushing out of the ground -- the IEA identifies six other potential streams of petroleum liquids: natural gas liquids; tar sands and extra-heavy oil; kerogen oil (petroleum solids derived from shale that must be melted to become usable); shale oil; coal-to-liquids (CTL); and gas-to-liquids (GTL).  Together, these “unconventional” streams could theoretically add several trillion barrels of potentially recoverable petroleum to the global supply, conceivably extending the Oil Age hundreds of years into the future (and in the process, via climate change, turning the planet into an uninhabitable desert).

But just as peak oil had serious limitations, so, too, does techno-dynamism.  At its core is a belief that rising world oil demand will continue to drive the increasingly costly investments in new technologies required to exploit the remaining hard-to-get petroleum resources.  As suggested in the 2013 edition of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook, however, this belief should be treated with considerable skepticism."

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Willy De Backer's curator insight, January 10, 2014 3:15 PM

Michael Klare explains why the media reports about the death of peak oil have been 'greatly exxagerated'.

 

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The 4 Big Dangers of Fracking

The 4 Big Dangers of Fracking | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Here’s a look at what we’ve learned about the dangers of fracking in the last few weeks.
Artur Alves's insight:

"By now you’ve likely heard that the U.S. is expected to overtake Russia this year as the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas. The surge in production comes from a drilling boom enabled by using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, along with, in many places, horizontal drilling. These technologies have made previously inaccessible pockets of oil and gas in shale formations profitable.

But at what cost? Accidents, fatalities and health concerns are mounting."

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Is our tech making the world too complex? – Samuel Arbesman – Aeon

Is our tech making the world too complex? – Samuel Arbesman – Aeon | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Human ingenuity has created a world that the mind cannot master. Have we finally reached our limits?
Artur Alves's insight:

"For centuries, humans have been creating ever-more complicated systems, from the machines we live with to the informational systems and laws that keep our global civilisation stitched together. Technology continues its fantastic pace of accelerating complexity — offering efficiencies and benefits that previous generations could not have imagined — but with this increasing sophistication and interconnectedness come complicated and messy effects that we can’t always anticipate. It’s one thing to recognise that technology continues to grow more complex, making the task of the experts who build and maintain our systems more complicated still, but it’s quite another to recognise that many of these systems are actually no longer completely understandable.  We now live in a world filled with incomprehensible glitches and bugs. When we find a bug in a video game, it’s intriguing, but when we are surprised by the very infrastructure of our society, that should give us pause."

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Science is becoming a cult of hi-tech instruments – Philip Ball – Aeon

Science is becoming a cult of hi-tech instruments – Philip Ball – Aeon | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Giant instruments are giving us a sea of data. Can science find its way without any big ideas at the helm?
Artur Alves's insight:

"The faddish notion that science will soon be a matter of mining Big Data for correlations, driven in part by the belief that data is worth collecting simply because you have the instruments to do so, has been rightly dismissed as ludicrous. It fails on technical grounds alone: data sets of any complexity will always contain spurious correlations between one variable and another. But it also fails to acknowledge that science is driven by ideas, not numbers or measurements — and ideas only arise by people thinking about causative mechanisms and using them to frame good questions. The instruments should then reflect the hypotheses, collecting precisely the data that will test them."

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Cheating Goes High-Tech

Cheating Goes High-Tech | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
As online courses multiply, so is the number of students willing and able to game the system—unless they're thwarted.
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What social networks know about you.

What social networks know about you. | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it

It’s hard to escape the sense that we provide social networks with too much information about ourselves. They know our names, our faces, our friends, our favorite music and movies, our employment history. Since they profit by using our online identities to sell targeted advertising, it’s only fair to ask how networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram view us.

Artur Alves's insight:

This infographic shows how much of your information is stored, sorted and used by your social network services.

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Extra Virgin Suicide

Extra Virgin Suicide | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
The adulteration of Italian olive oil.
Artur Alves's insight:

What happens when industrial-scale production of olive oil puts profits before quality.

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Is Complete Online Privacy Possible? Infographic

Is Complete Online Privacy Possible? Infographic | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Check out this Infographic to learn everything that is there about Cookies. Is it harmful? Is it helpful? Do Cookies actually track your activities and land you in trouble?

Via Ana Cristina Pratas
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Linda Denty's curator insight, January 27, 2014 7:35 PM

Thanks Ana for sharing this. 

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Why You Should Embrace the “Degrowth” Movement

Why You Should Embrace the “Degrowth” Movement | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Democratic societies face two options in the post-Snowden era.
Artur Alves's insight:

Evgeny Morozov on the merits of rethinking the information economy as the engine of the economy.

 

«The parallels to those parts of the economy not yet subsumed under the capacious umbrella of “information” are illuminating. For a very long time, the assumption of infinite growth—with GDP as the sole benchmark for assessing government policy—has ruled supreme here as well. The first dissident voices in the early 1970s quickly drowned in the free-market sloganeering of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, but the critical questioning of growth as the sole focus of economic activity resumed during the last decade, driven by concerns over global warming.

Today, this critical agenda is being pursued by the adherents of the “degrowth” movement—popular in Europe but enjoying very little traction in the United States. The goal of this movement is not just to scrutinize the ecological wisdom of continuing in the current pro-growth mode but also to question the wisdom of using indicators like the GDP to assess and formulate public policy. As Yves-Marie Abraham, a Canadian sociologist and one of the proponents of the degrowth agenda, puts it, “[T]his is not [about] the decline of GDP, but the end of GDP and all other quantitative measures used as indicators of well being.”«

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Ukraine’s 1984 moment: Government using cellphones to track protesters

Ukraine’s 1984 moment: Government using cellphones to track protesters | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it

“Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.” That's the chilling text message people near the clash between Ukrainian riot police and protestersin Kiev yesterday received shortly after midnight, Andrew E. Kramer at the New York Times reports.

Artur Alves's insight:

«As eerie as the text message may seem, it was likely not technically difficult to achieve. Presumably, authorities could determine who was in the vicinity of the protest by going through the records of nearby cell towers. In the United States, that type of information can be requested from mobile providers in the form of "tower dumps" which reveal the locations of hundreds or thousands of innocent citizens associated with a specific cell tower, along with suspects. A recent congressional inquiry shows that U.S. law enforcement made more than 9,000 requests for tower dumps in 2012.

Cell site location data is considered metadata. The U.S. government denies that it is currently tracking mobile phone locations domestically, although it admits to running a test project on the subject in recent years. And documents leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden show the NSA tracks 5 billion mobile device locations daily around the world.

"This incident highlights how location metadata — contrary to NSA defenders' claims that such data isn't sensitive — is incredibly powerful, especially in bulk, and can easily be used by governments to identify and suppress protesters attempting to exercise their right to free expression," says Kevin Bankston, policy director for the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.«

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Canadian government accused of destroying environmental archives

Canadian government accused of destroying environmental archives | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Researchers fear that valuable documents will disappear as libraries close and merge.
Artur Alves's insight:

"The closures were mostly completed by last autumn, but hit the headlines last week when pictures of dumpsters full of scientific journals and books began circulating online. Some of facilities that have been closed include the library at the century-old St. Andrews Biological Station in New Brunswick, which had just completed a multi-million-dollar refurbishment a year earlier, and the library at the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The libraries housed hundred of thousands of documents on fisheries and aquatic science, such as historical fish counts and water-quality analyses.

Scientists fear that valuable archival information is being lost, and that the government, which is seen as hostile to environmental science, has little interest in preserving it."

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Not going to reach my telephone | Rationalist Association

Not going to reach my telephone | Rationalist Association | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
We worry that new technology is ruining our ability to think – in fact, such fears have been around since the very invention of writing
Artur Alves's insight:

"Could it be that many of the anxieties that are associated with smartphones, including their compulsive and addictive qualities, are in fact a by-product of late capitalist societies in which economic precarity has become a cultural norm, as opposed to being inherent to the devices themselves? Might we be able to invent different uses for smartphones, or revolutionise their design, if we came up with alternative and less profit-driven models of production? Would it be possible for us to de-monetise the word “social” without resorting to the reactionary and frankly unthinkable outright rejection of modern communication technologies?

These are political questions, even utopian ones, but educators all over the world are faced with similar ones every day as their classrooms shift from print to digital resources. The industry has no shortage of salespeople who, like the god Theuth, are willing to swear that their technologies will make the children wiser and improve their memory. The answer is not to reject that claim out of hand but to examine it critically. It’s the unique teaching moment of our time."

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The NSA and surveillance ... made simple - video animation

Confused about the NSA revelations? Find out how the activities of GCHQ and the NSA affect you with our animation
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I Spent Two Hours Talking With the NSA's Bigwigs. Here's What Has Them Mad | Threat Level | Wired.com

I Spent Two Hours Talking With the NSA's Bigwigs. Here's What Has Them Mad | Threat Level | Wired.com | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
My expectations were low when I asked the National Security Agency to cooperate with my story on the impact of Edward Snowden’s leaks on the tech industry. Imagine my surprise when they agreed to let me behind the fence.
Artur Alves's insight:

Steven Levy's (short) report of his visit to the NSA. Apparently, "They really hate Snowden" and "[t]hey believe their intelligence gathering is palatable because it’s controlled by laws, regulations, and internal oversight"... Naturally.

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Green Capitalism: The God That Failed

Green Capitalism: The God That Failed | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
No amount of ''green'' capitalism will ensure the profound changes we must make to prevent the catastrophic impacts of global warming.
Artur Alves's insight:

The path to climate crash is fraught with the empty celebrations of record profits and unhealty growth. Adding climate change scepticism is just making things even worse. Expecting an environmental "invisible hand" is not the way to deal with the growth of emissions and the anthropogenic chemical changes in our habitat.


"And contrary to green capitalism proponents, across the spectrum from resource extraction to manufacturing, the practical possibilities for "greening" and "dematerializing" production are severely limited. This means the only way to prevent overshoot and collapse is to enforce a massive economic contraction in the industrialized economies, retrenching production across a broad range of unnecessary, resource-hogging, wasteful and polluting industries, even virtually shutting down the worst. Yet this option is foreclosed under capitalism because this is not socialism: No one is promising new jobs to unemployed coal miners, oil drillers, automakers, airline pilots, chemists, plastic junk makers and others whose jobs would be lost because their industries would have to be retrenched - and unemployed workers don't pay taxes. So CEOs, workers and governments find that they all "need" to maximize growth, overconsumption, even pollution, to destroy their children's tomorrows to hang onto their jobs today. If they don't, the system falls into crisis, or worse. So we're all on board the TGV of ravenous and ever-growing plunder and pollution. As our locomotive races toward the cliff of ecological collapse, the only thoughts on the minds of our CEOs, capitalist economists, politicians and most labor leaders is how to stoke the locomotive to get us there faster. Corporations aren't necessarily evil. They just can't help themselves."

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How the NSA Almost Killed the Internet | Threat Level | Wired.com

How the NSA Almost Killed the Internet | Threat Level | Wired.com | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the other tech titans have had to fight for their lives against their own government. An exclusive look inside their year from hell—and why the Internet will never be the same.
Artur Alves's insight:

A very enterprise-friendly piece by Steven Levy. The transparency of Silicon Valley companies has always raised doubts and considered wanting.

 

"The clash illustrates a seemingly irresolvable conflict. While Silicon Valley must be transparent in many regards, spy agencies operate under a cloak of obfuscation. There is certainly a reason for the secrecy; evildoers who use an Internet service presumably would be less likely to keep using it if they were aware that the pro­vider was sharing communications with the NSA. But one of the disturbing conse­quences of secret programs is the destructive shroud of doubt they cast over every­thing they touch. Months after Snowden’s leak, basic facts about Prism remain elusive. How much information is actually collected by the program? Exactly what kind of cooperation did the companies offer after those dates specified on that NSA PowerPoint slide? The companies contend that in addition to what they can’t say, there’s plenty they don’t know.

...

But even if the spy programs are viewed as justified, and whether they are tempered or not, we’re still left with the most sickening aspect of the Snowden revelations: The vast troves of information gathered from our digital activities will forever be seen as potential fodder for government intelligence agencies. A lot of people became inured to worries about Little Brother—private companies—knowing what we bought, where we were, what we were saying, and what we were searching for. Now it turns out that Big Brother can access that data too. It could not have been otherwise. The wealth of data we share on our computers, phones, and tablets is irresistible to a government determined to prevent the next disaster, even if the effort stretches laws beyond the comprehension of those who voted for them. And even if it turns the US into the number one adversary of American tech companies and their privacy-seeking customers."

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My ’70s Health-Nut Parents Didn’t Vaccinate Me. This Is What My Childhood Was Like.

My ’70s Health-Nut Parents Didn’t Vaccinate Me. This Is What My Childhood Was Like. | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
I am the ’70s child of a health nut. I wasn’t vaccinated. I was brought up on an incredibly healthy diet: no sugar till I was 1, breastfed for over a year, organic homegrown vegetables, raw milk, no MSG, no additives, no aspartame.
Artur Alves's insight:

The vaccionation scare has been making victim of its own.


"I find myself wondering about the claim that complications from childhood illnesses are extremely rare but that “vaccine injuries” are rampant. If this is the case, I struggle to understand why I know far more people who have experienced complications from preventable childhood illnesses than I have ever met with complications from vaccines. I have friends who became deaf from measles. I have a partially sighted friend who contracted rubella in the womb. My ex got pneumonia from chickenpox. A friend’s brother died from meningitis."

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The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder

The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Diagnoses have soared as makers of the drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have found success with a two-decade marketing campaign.
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