Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More
The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.
He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).
Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.
One day soon, he imagines, you'll be sitting in a plane and hear this coming from the cockpit or nearby flight attendant:
Our planes need names and histories befitting a vessel humans use to knit civilization across the globe. Marías requests that the airlines give their planes "a little more literature or - which comes to the same thing - a little uniqueness; a little history and background; a little life."
'This plane, the Pierre Ménard, has had an amazing life so far. It was born ten years ago, has made five hundred flights and crossed the Atlantic on sixty-three previous occasions. It has always responded well to us, even in the most unfavourable of circumstances. It's a docile plane by nature, but very sensitive as well. Why, I remember once...'I loved Marías' story and attitude to technology so much that I decided to take up his call to action. I got in touch with Katie Baynes, who does publicity for Virgin America, and demanded to know the names of all their planes. She sent over the list at the bottom of this post. The name should be painted near the door of the plane, so you can often spot it as you're boarding.
The natural analogy [for Facebook] is Tencent. Slow follower as I have called them (though that is entirely unfair since they did do the virtual goods thing earlier and better than most).
The beauty of Goog is that the cash machine was just one machine. FB will need to stack a lot of businesses together. Again, Tencent proves that the most important thing is the user base. Monetization is easy on a sticky base, even if you have to essentially build a myriad of businesses.It's a good point. If you look at Tencent's business, they began with an IM service, which is a kind of social network. Once they'd built the best network, they started rolling out different products like mobile services, games, virtual goods, and more involved social tools.
Becoming an atomic power stands out in the timeline of a nation, for good or for ill. In the U.S., the Manhattan Project, carried out in secret during World War II, is probably our most famous scientific project outside Apollo. It's a part of our national mythology -- and a point of pride.
The Chinese effort to build the bomb has a similar cachet, the Globe and Mail reports from Xihai, China, the small Tibetan town where the work occurred. The group of scientists was called The Ninth Academy, confirming the rule that secret nuclear development programs must have mysterious and intriguing names.
The Ninth Academy began its work in the late 1950s, after Chairman Mao decided that China needed a nuclear weapon to be taken seriously by its chief rivals, the United States and the Soviet Union. The detonation of China's first atomic weapon on Oct. 16, 1964, in the deserts of the country's westernmost province of Xinjiang caught U.S. intelligence analysts by surprise. Unaware of the progress being made in secret at the Ninth Academy, they had believed China was years away from developing its own weapon.
In the centre of Xihai stands a nondescript building that for decades was believed to be an ordinary post office. But a secret door leads to a staircase leading down to a warren of rooms nine metres beneath the floor of the post office - which was presumably considered a safe enough depth in the event of an accident on the surface - that was once the headquarters of the Ninth Academy.
In the photo above, we see the museum and interpretative center that has been erected on the Ninth Academy site. Though thousands of Chinese tourists visit the site each day, foreigners aren't allowed access.
The Globe and Mail piece also touches on what appear to be serious environmental problems stemming from the program.
[Via Kirstin Butler]
Image: Sean Gallagher/Globe and Mail.
An obsession with 'innovation' leads to a tidy timeline of progress, focusing on iconic machines, but an investigation of 'technology in use' reveals that some 'things' appear, disappear, and reappear...
Edgerton has the same flair for the flashy stat that Anderson does. For example, to illustrate the point that newer and older technologies happily coexist, he notes that the Germans used more horses in World War II than the British did in World War I. More prosaically, some of the electricity for your latest gadget was probably made in a power plant that's decades old. Many ways to bind pieces of paper -- staplers, binders, paper clips, etc -- remain in common usage ("The Paperclip Is Dead!"). World War I pilots used to keep homing pigeons tucked inside their cockpits as communication tools (see above). People piloting drones and helicopters fight wars against people who use machetes and forty-year old Soviet machine guns; all these tools can kill effectively, and they all exist right now together.
But that's not how Anderson presents technology in this article. Instead, technologies rise up and destroy each other. And there's nothing you or I can do to change the course of these wars. This is the nature of technology and capitalism, and there is not much room for individual decisionmaking or social influence in the algorithm.
"This was all inevitable. It is the cycle of capitalism. The story of industrial revolutions, after all, is a story of battles over control," Chris Anderson writes. "A technology is invented, it spreads, a thousand flowers bloom, and then someone finds a way to own it, locking out others. It happens every time."
He mentions that the electric power industry consolidated in this way, but doesn't mention that the US government encouraged and protected the oligopoly as industry fought public power companies tooth and nail. Or that other countries do things differently, and the structure of their power industries [pdf] reflect that. Or that in states like California, smaller independent power producers have been the ones building the plants, thanks to regulatory changes. Or that in the future, it's possible that smaller-scale, lower-carbon energy sources will generate increasing amounts of power.
Later, Anderson writes, "This is the natural path of industrialization: invention, propagation, adoption, control."
I wonder how many historians of technology would agree with him. It sure seems suspiciously like a "tidy timeline of progress," tinged with a little libertarian cynicism. I don't think that scholars represented in journals like Technology and Culture and by Edgerton, Pursell, David Nye, Thomas Hughes, and Erick Schatzberg would agree that these things happen "every time." Too much scholarship has shown that technologies and systems are (messily) shaped by social movements and events and governments, political ideas and freak accidents. The kind of logic that says, "This was all inevitable," is impossible with that data in your hands.
Here's David Nye in his book Technology Matters:
From the vantage point of the present, it may seem that technologies are deterministic. But this view is incorrect, no matter how plausible it may seem. Cultures select and shape technologies, not the other way around, and some societies have rejected or ignored even the gun or the wheel. For millennia, technology has been an essential part of the framework for imagining and moving into the future, but the specific technologies chosen have varied. As the variety of human cultures attests, there have always been multiple possibilities, and there seems no reason to accept a single vision of the future.In the details of the history, we see all the possibilities for other futures. We see the dead-ends and the false predictions, all the "inevitabilities" that never came to pass. We see the variety of systems that have existed in different places and similar ones that have existed at different times.
We have made [technology] an all-purpose agent of change. As compared with other means of reaching our social goals, the technological has come to seem the most feasible, practical, and economically viable. It relieves the citizenry of onerous decision-making obligations and intensifies their gathering sense of political impotence. The popular belief in technology as a--if not the--primary force shaping the future is matched by our increasing reliance on instrumental standards of judgment, and a corresponding neglect of moral and political standards, in making judgments about the direction of society.If something is inevitable, if technologies want things, if destruction must occur, then there is no use in trying to preserve the things about our lives that we love. Technology (capital T) is just going to bulldoze them, no matter what.
I would go up to them and kind of look in their arm hair and pretend I was looking for a flea, and then I'd make my way up to their chin. Then, I'd pull a hair, and they'd think I got a flea, so they'd stare at my finger to see what I'd taken off of them.As they did, Mollison would snap their portrait, their eyes boring into his lens with intelligent intensity.
The results demonstrated that chimpanzees looked at the eyes, nose, and mouth more frequently than would be expected on the basis of random scanning of faces. More specifically, they looked at the eyes longer than they looked at the nose and mouth when photographs of upright faces with open eyes were presented, suggesting that particular attention to the eyes represents a spontaneous face-scanning strategy shared among monkeys, apes, and humans.Embedded deep in our primate brains, there's a blinking message about how to know what's going on socially: look into the eyes!
Mollison said that he originally intended to shoot all the photos at the same distance as a passport photo, but changed his mind after looking his first shoot with a gorilla. "The shot was a little bit closer than a passport photo but there's something about the intensity of the eyes," Mollison said.
Citation: "Facial perception of conspecifics: chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) preferentially attend to proper orientation and open eyes" Satoshi Hirata, Koki Fuwa, Keiko Sugama, Kiyo Kusunoki and Shin Fujita
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