Hail Amazon (#3)

In the NYT:

The company’s winners dream up innovations that they roll out to a quarter-billion customers and accrue small fortunes in soaring stock. Losers leave or are fired in annual cullings of the staff — “purposeful Darwinism,” one former Amazon human resources director said.

Vice comments:

Matt Yglesias argues at Vox that Amazon’s work culture is so relentless because it’s a “startup that never grew up,” but Silicon Valley is exporting that startup culture to companies desperate for modernization, everywhere. So 24/7 digital communications, big data, and a veneer of world-changingness — the implements of torture for Amazon employees — are increasingly commonplace. Amazon, in other words, is not some dystopian outlier. It’s the new normal. It’s just a little more frank about its goals and intentions.

Touchy-feely PR statements are no doubt on the way.

Continue reading


Back in January, Al Fin found this gem:

A growing body of research has identified the presence of multiple brain networks supporting human behavior. These networks include a salience network involving dorsal anterior cingulate and anterior insula regions thought to be relevant to attending to survival-relevant events in the environment; a central executive network (CEN) consisting of regions in the middle and inferior prefrontal and parietal cortices engaged by many higher level cognitive tasks and thought to be involved in adaptive cognitive control; and a default mode network (DMN) consisting of regions in medial frontal cortex and posterior cingulate, among others, that reliably reduce their activity during active cognitive demands and which may be involved in attention to internal emotional states or self-referential processing.

His gloss:

The model of 3 interacting brain networks — the Default Mode Network (mind wandering), the Salience Network (taking note of change or something of possible import), and the Central Executive Network (on-task focusing of attention) …

Meandering, (opportunistic) attention, and (focused) application — the three neural modes of temporalization.

Underlinings (#21)

Into the cephalopodean genome:

Surprisingly, the octopus genome turned out to be almost as large as a human’s and to contain a greater number of protein-coding genes — some 33,000, compared with fewer than 25,000 in Homo sapiens. […] This excess results mostly from the expansion of a few specific gene families … One of the most remarkable gene groups is the protocadherins, which regulate the development of neurons and the short-range interactions between them. The octopus has 168 of these genes — more than twice as many as mammals. This resonates with the creature’s unusually large brain and the organ’s even-stranger anatomy. Of the octopus’s half a billion neurons — six times the number in a mouse — two-thirds spill out from its head through its arms, without the involvement of long-range fibres such as those in vertebrate spinal cords. The independent computing power of the arms, which can execute cognitive tasks even when dismembered, have made octopuses an object of study for neurobiologists such as Hochner and for roboticists who are collaborating on the development of soft, flexible robots.

(Octopus camouflage (video))

Deus Ex Machina

Some — mostly — religious types muse (or should that be ‘noodle’?) about the meaning of advanced synthetic intelligence.

A few highlights:

“Something is shielded from humanity and only after discovery — uncovering that which is hidden — can we see the reality before us.”

“… if we did develop superintelligence, shouldn’t we be trusting it to tell us what religion is real?”

“… there are no laws or rules in computer science that would make it impossible for software to hold a religious belief.”

“Superintelligence is scary enough. Adding religion to the mix? No thank you.”

“We have to hope that the mystics are correct when they claim that the essential nature of the universe is love. If this is the case, then my hippy dream is that this advanced intelligence will be a pure manifestation of love and compassion, and thus its tendency would be not to destroy but to heal. […] If not, then at least we get to experience what it’s like to be annihilated by a superintelligence. …”

Underlinings (#19)

Ted Kaczynski (the ‘Unabomber’, interviewed in the John Jay Sentinel):

… an antitechnological movement that focused on the elimination of capitalism would expend vast energy in return for ve[r]y little gain. What is worse, by focusing on capitalism the movement would distract its own and other people’s attention from the real objective, which is to get rid of modern technology itself. […] Furthermore, people would obstinately resist the loss of economic efficiency entailed by the replacement of capitalism with socialism. And even if you could somehow replace capitalism with socialism, capitalism would soon reappear and become dominant because it is economically and technologically more vigorous than socialism. This again is guaranteed by the principle of natural selection (Technological Slavery, pages 280-85) and is confirmed by experience: When the socialist countries of eastern Europe couldn’t keep up with the West economically or technologically, they reverted to capitalism. Sweden once was ideologically socialist, but in practical terms socialism never actually got very far in that country, and Sweden today is still capitalist. While remaining nominally socialist, China for the sake of economic growth now allows a good deal of private enterprise (i.e., capitalism) in its economy. Venezuela’s dictator, Hugo Chavez, talks about socialism, but in practice he leaves most of the country’s economy in the hands of private enterprise because he doesn’t want the drastic decline in economic efficiency that would result from the elimination of capitalism. I know of only two countries left in the world that are left of capitalism: Cuba and North Korea. No one wants to imitate Cuba and North Korea, because they are (from a materialistic point of view) economic failures. […] So, as long as we live in a technological world, there’s no way we will get rid of capitalism unless and until it is superseded by some system that is economically and technologically more efficient. …