The days when we could do it all in our heads are over.
Alan Lightman, Janna Levin and others recall the editor who shaped their work and a literary genre. Plus, more reading recommendations in the Friday edition of the Science Times newsletter.
What you think you know is probably wrong — and that’s putting it nicely.
Letting go of perfectionism is a formidable task.
How the right learned to love relativism and the left learned to love power.
In “The Unbroken Thread,” Sohrab Ahmari sees Western society as having overreached on freedom and lost a sense of rootedness in tradition and community.
It’s not about self-improvement. It’s about being a good member of society.
We asked readers about their life philosophies. We published a selection of their responses last weekend, and now are highlighting several more.
In a time of Covid-19, climate change and catastrophe, having a baby is an act of radical hope.
The horrors of Covid-19 may give proponents of the liberal arts an unexpected opening.
We asked readers what philosophies they live by. Their inspirations include Emerson, Niebuhr, deceased family members, a sign at a boat dock and a pet.
When life is disrupted by crisis, some people see opportunities — for change, action, introspection — they might not otherwise.
A novel written by a 12th-century Arab writer about a boy alone on an island influenced the Daniel Defoe classic ‘Robinson Crusoe.’
The creator of the Nyan Cat, Chris Torres, has organized an informal collection of meme originators – the creators or original popularizers of meme images — into a two-week-long auction of their works. Under the hashtag #memeconomy the creators of memes like Bad Luck Brian, Coughing Cat, Kitty Cat Dance, Scumbag Steve, Twerky Pepe and some others are finally finding a way to monetize the creation of genuine cultural phenomenons that have been used freely for decades.
They’re mostly being hosted on booming new crypto art and collectibles platform Foundation, which launched in February and has already hosted $6M in sales of over 1,000 NFTs. I have a lot to say about NFTs and can’t say them all here, but I found this project fascinating and wanted to note it. The fact is that memes are Internet art (sorry). They are unique creations that took elements of participatory and performance art and injected them into the veins of the internet. In many ways, they have millions of creators, as the original editions may have planted the seed but every use and permutation gave them additional strands of DNA, crafting their cultural importance upload by upload. They have let us express ourselves — our desire, disgust, joy and lust — when words just wouldn’t suffice.
These “originals” are made original by the act of them being minted on the blockchain by the original artists. I know, it’s a distinction that may seem slim when the same images can be had anywhere at any time, but that’s the beauty of the re-organization that is happening within all of DeFi and crypto at the moment. We are stripping out layers of commerce and communication that benefited only platforms and participants that took part in the origination and sale of art from the perspective of frameworks like the DMCA and DRM. Those relationships are being rethought. The recapture of value for works that have already been broadly distributed has been historically relegated to ‘licensing them for t-shirts’. And extremely rarely elevated to the level of fine art sale.
Now that we’re all living on the Internet, Internet art is just art. And so are memes.
That’s why it’s fascinating to see some of the people who have created things that have let so many of us express ourselves get paid.
One famous case of this, of course, is the Pepe and its creator Matt Furie. Though Furie’s attempts to redeem Pepe have focused on attempting to reclaim him from a legacy of racist and hateful memes, Pepe and his friends are a cool cast of characters and it would be heartening to see Furie reclaim them by minting them himself.
I spoke a bit to Torres about the project and why he got interested in it.
TC: Why did you decide to organize this informal schedule of meme NFTs?
Torres: The idea has always kind of been in the back of my mind since discovering the NFT universe. The idea of NFTs were always so attractive to me, a place where you can create your own original art and gain proper attribution for your work. Memes have always had a rough time on the Internet, because their creators are usually taken advantage of, and I have personally seen artists have their works stolen and monetized to the tune of millions of dollars without even proper credit. So the idea has always been down deep in my subconscious but this week things have really amped up enough to finally give me the power I need to make it happen!
TC: How did you get in contact with the creators?
Actually, they all contacted me! It’s unbelievable knowing I’m in direct contact with some fantastic iconic internet legends from the past. Some of these have existed solely as enigmas on the Internet, it’s great connecting with them. Things started with casual conversations with Bad Luck Brian, but then Trollface messaged me, then Me Gusta, then Kitty Cat Dance, then things just kept amping up.
TC: How has it felt to have your creation formally rewarded after spending so long in the cultural meme-ory?
It’s still very surreal, to be honest. The NFT community is full of very talented people with so many thoughts and ideas on how to build a better future for the crypto space. I’ve actually used this power for good this week by starting up #Memeconomy with all these talented meme creators and will be trying my hardest to get these guys the recognition they deserve.
TC: What excites you about NFTs and art?
The number one thing that’s kept me excited for NFTs is just knowing that it’s a perfect way to empower artists to take ownership of their own works. I’ve been hanging out in the Clubhouse chats, reading everything I can on Twitter, and just have been losing sleep being so enthralled by it all. Every day I wake up and there’s a new meta of NFTs out there. It’s cool to see all this artistic knowledge evolving in real time. I absolutely live off that energy, and it’s inspired me to be more creative than ever.
The world of NFTs is complex and fascinating and deserves a deeper look that looks at the economic, ecological and technical aspects. We’ve already hosted and written about various projects in the space. Stay tuned for more.
The country’s culture of argument has come under the sway of a more ideological, more identity-focused model imported from the United States.
In the post-Trump era, research suggests the best ways to win people over.
Microsoft today announced Azure Percept, its new hardware and software platform for bringing more of its Azure AI services to the edge. Percept combines Microsoft’s Azure cloud tools for managing devices and creating AI models with hardware from Microsoft’s device partners. The general idea here is to make it far easier for all kinds of businesses to build and implement AI for things like object detection, anomaly detections, shelf analytics and keyword spotting at the edge by providing them with an end-to-end solution that takes them from building AI models to deploying them on compatible hardware.
To kickstart this, Microsoft also today launches a hardware development kit with an intelligent camera for vision use cases (dubbed Azure Percept Vision). The kit features hardware-enabled AI modules for running models at the edge, but it can also be connected to the cloud. Users will also be able to trial their proofs-of-concept in the real world because the development kit conforms to the widely used 80/20 T-slot framing architecture.
In addition to Percept Vision, Microsoft is also launching Azure Percept Audio for audio-centric use cases.
“We’ve started with the two most common AI workloads, vision and voice, sight and sound, and we’ve given out that blueprint so that manufacturers can take the basics of what we’ve started,” said Roanne Sones, the corporate vice president of Microsoft’s edge and platform group, said. “But they can envision it in any kind of responsible form factor to cover a pattern of the world.”
Percept customers will have access to Azure’s cognitive service and machine learning models and Percept devices will automatically connect to Azure’s IoT hub.
Microsoft says it is working with silicon and equipment manufacturers to build an ecosystem of “intelligent edge devices that are certified to run on the Azure Percept platform.” Over the course of the next few months, Microsoft plans to certify third-party devices for inclusion in this program, which will ideally allow its customers to take their proofs-of-concept and easily deploy them to any certified devices.
“Anybody who builds a prototype using one of our development kits, if they buy a certified device, they don’t have to do any additional work,” said Christa St. Pierre, a product manager in Microsoft’s Azure edge and platform group.
St. Pierre also noted that all of the components of the platform will have to conform to Microsoft’s responsible AI principles — and go through extensive security testing.
It’s astonishing how relentlessly Western philosophy has strained to prove we are not squirrels.
Not a day goes by that speakers of the Yoruba language do not make mention of death as both a phenomenon and a certainty.
An existential philosopher reflects on the mortality of motherhood.
We’re living in a perpetual present tense. And we are waiting.
I fear that the more I tell you, the less you will understand who I am.
In the midst of an existential crisis for higher education, is it even reasonable to expect the humanities to survive?
The philosopher Todd May is an atheist who rejects the supernatural, but not the people who believe in it.
The impulse to wish harm on others may come naturally, but that doesn’t make it right.
In “The Knowledge Machine,” the philosopher Michael Strevens says that there is something fundamentally irrational and even “inhuman” about the scientific method.
A conversation with the religious scholar Brook Ziporyn on Taoism, life and what might come after.
As I helped feed these residents, I understood how our common humanity makes us ‘infinitely responsible’ to others.
In “Time of the Magicians,” Wolfram Eilenberger tells the story of four philosophers — Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Cassirer and Heidegger — who altered the way we see reality.
In the last couple of years, we’ve seen new teams in tech companies emerge that focus on responsible innovation, digital well-being, AI ethics or humane use. Whatever their titles, these individuals are given the task of “leading” ethics at their companies. Whether they’ve been created because of employee pressure, endless negative headlines or the late-flowering realization that considering your company’s impact on society is probably quite important, we should welcome these roles. After all, it’s clear current leaders have struggled to do the right thing, and this work needs dedication and expertise.
But we need to be cautious. The existence of roles like Salesforce’s chief ethics and humane use officer or Facebook’s director of responsible innovation can create the appearance of checking a box that they’ve addressed responsible tech, or the perception that responsibility for ethics is owned by solely them. And that would be a mistake.
After all, as Alix Dunn, the founder of Computer Says Maybe says, “Ethics is a cross-functional challenge. We wouldn’t expect a company to set up a finance department, then tell the rest of the organization, ‘No need to worry about money!’”
Older readers lived through the time when we were, or knew, the only “digital” or “online” person in the company. Our goal was to help others understand how the world was shifting and make sure our companies and partners did the same. We needed them to see that the internet wasn’t a separate thing or a lesser tool, but the lens through which we would engage in many interactions, for better or worse. We knew we’d succeeded when others became digital champions, too.
Just like the early days of digital, ethics can seem complex and remote. Remember thinking, “The internet will never be big enough to disrupt my industry? It can be tempting to assume you need a Ph.D. to debate complex topics like algorithmic bias or exclusion, especially as many of those chief ethics officers have those deep credentials and expertise. Even though tech fancies itself as an industry that welcomes new types of talent and thinking, credentialism is more part of the industry culture than we think – or admit. (If you’re questioning that, just think about how popular it is to put ex-employers in your Twitter biography.)
Unless you work on ethics full time or you’re a product VP, it’s easy to feel that you have no say or no role in your company’s commitment to social responsibility, especially if you’re underrepresented at your company or speaking up puts you at risk.
Ethical leaders play a powerful central role in coordinating, setting standards and creating incentives, but they wouldn’t want to be the only ones to own this work, either. Responsibility’s a muscle we build and practice. Doing the right thing isn’t a one-off action, but a commitment to values that inform day-to-day behaviors and decisions.
So we need to create structures that ensure company values are embedded in roles across the board. This could include cementing ethical goals in core company and team OKRs to incentivize each contribution, or ensuring values are centered in job specs and hiring processes. Internal trainings that build knowledge and resilience can help, alongside mechanisms to connect the dots between product and business decisions and the implications those decisions have for individual users and our broader society. Space needs to exist for nuanced conversation and critique that doesn’t require a Ph.D. or “ethics” title but demands an open mind and the ability to listen (our recently released Ethical Explorer is a free tool to help navigate topics like data control or exclusion).
Increasingly, we should see chief ethics officers as champions and educators; just like those early digital leaders, their core function should be to get their teammates bought into this new world. This, in turn, helps workers hold their responsible tech leaders to account in an era of ethics washing.
Together, we come into our power when we ask questions, speak up, demand more and build better. The builders, questioners, makers and ethical leaders coming up in technology firms now will help us to reshape the industry for the better and create the products we deserve.
Giorgio Agamben criticizes the “techno-medical despotism” of quarantines and closings.
Wolfram Eilenberger’s “Time of the Magicians” elegantly traces the life and work of four figures who transformed philosophy in the 1920s.
He reminds us it’s hard to respect democratic political institutions while disdaining the founders of those institutions.
It is an ethic, a way of living, something that you must do in order to summon it into existence.
Why do millions of practitioners of the Jain religion strive to avoid harming even microscopic creatures?
He defended slavery and opposed the notion of human equality. But he is not our enemy.
Zhuangzi pushed back against the idea that “normal” is good and difference is bad 2,500 years ago.
We can, if we can agree that it doesn’t need to come from the body of an animal.
Yes, but the answer is less obvious than you might think.
As disease and war ravaged the nation, he left town and invented the essay.
Thinking about big questions empowers children to feel more confident about the value of their own ideas, teachers say.
Blaming racist violence on “bad apples” misses the point.
Skill, it turns out, is what you make of luck.
Many Americans reflexively believe that good fortune is always around the corner. But ignoring the dark potential of life can have dire consequences.
It permeates life, and, like love, it can break your heart.
Art can give witness to those who governments have tried to erase from history.
Its patterns help us access the inner truths that science can’t articulate.
A Christian theologian recounts how her mother’s death affirmed her faith and belief in the afterlife.
As a black man living in Georgia, I am all too aware of the state’s history of lynching.
Hospitals are having to ration essential care. Can they do it fairly?