Why “The Culture” Wins

“Now consider Banks’s scenario. Consider the process that is generating modern hypercultures, and imagine it continuing for another three or four hundred years. The first consequence is that the culture will become entirely defunctionalized. Banks imagines a scenario in which all of the endemic problems of human society have been given essentially technological solutions (in much the same way that drones have solved the problem of criminal justice). Most importantly, he imagines that the fundamental problem of scarcity has been solved, and so there is no longer any obligation for anyone to work (although, of course, people remain free to do so if they wish). All important decisions are made by a benevolent technocracy of AIs (or the “Minds”).

And so what is left for humanity (or, more accurately, humanoids)? At the individual level, Banks imagines a life very much like the one described by Bernard Suits in The Grasshopper – everything becomes a game, and thus at some level, non-serious. But where Banks went further than Suits was in thinking about the social consequences. What happens when culture becomes freed from all functional constraints? It seems clear that, in the interplanetary competition that develops, the culture that emerges will be the most virulent, or the most contagious. In other words, “the Culture” will simply be that which is best at reproducing itself, by appealing to the sensibilities and tastes of humanoid life-forms…

…Human beings have spent much of their lives lamenting “the curse of Adam,” and yet work provides most people with their primary sense of meaning and achievement in life. So what happens when work disappears, turning everything into a hobby? A hobby is fun. Many people spend a great deal of time trying to escape work, so they can spend more time on their hobbies. But while they may be fun, hobbies are also at some level always frivolous. They cannot give meaning to a life, precisely because they are optional. You could just stop doing it, and nothing would change, it would make no difference, which is to say, it wouldn’t matter.”

—Joseph Heath, “Why the Culture Wins: An Appreciation of Iain M. Banks.” Sci Phi Journal. November 12, 2017.

Artificial Intelligence May Have Cracked Freaky 600-Year-Old [Voynich] Manuscript

“The first step was to figure out the language of the ciphered text…the AI analyzed the Voynich gibberish, concluding with a high rate of certainty that the text was written in encoded Hebrew…

For the second step, the researchers entertained a hypothesis proposed by previous researchers—that the script was created with alphagrams…Armed with the knowledge that text was originally coded from Hebrew, the researchers devised an algorithm that could take these anagrams and create real Hebrew words…

For the final step, the researchers deciperhered the opening phrase of the manuscript…


Amazon Health – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

“At the same time, the U.S. healthcare system is inextricably tied up with the post-World War 2 order; indeed, the entire reason employers are so important to the system is because of World War 2 regulations that instituted price controls on wages, incentivizing employers to use benefits as a means of attracting workers (this was further enshrined by making healthcare benefits tax-exempt)…

…My expectation, then, is not that the Internet methodically disrupts industry after industry in some sort of chronological order, but rather that the entire edifice lasts far longer than technologists think, only to one day collapse far quicker than anyone expected.

The ultimate winners of this shakeout, then, are not only companies that are building businesses predicated on the Internet, but just as importantly, are willing and able to build those businesses with the patience that will be necessary to wait for the old order to collapse, particularly if that collapse happens years or decades after the underlying business models are rotten.

There is no more patient company than Amazon.”

—Ben Thompson, “Amazon Health.” Stratechery.com. January 31, 2018.

Thirty Days, 30 Albums: How I Fell in Love With The Fall | Music | The Guardian

“I decided it was time to educate myself. I would immerse myself in Smith’s Wonderful and Frightening World in the most total way I could – by listening only to the Fall, one album a day, in release order, and nothing else … for an entire month. I wanted to hear them develop and change, and try and get some sense of what the fuss was about. After all this is a band people are obsessed with. I suspected it might drive me mad. What I hadn’t expected is the extent to which I, too, would get obsessed. Far from getting sick of them, by the middle of the month the Fall were all I could talk about, read about, practically think about. I almost certainly bored everyone who knows me to tears.”

—Marc Burrows, “Thirty Days, 30 Albums: How I Fell in Love With The Fall.” The Guardian. December 31, 2014.

R.I.P. Mark E. Smith.

What I’ve Learned After Nearly One Year of Keto: My Best Tips For Newbies

“Keep it simple when you’re just starting – don’t get overwhelmed by all of the recipes out there. Focus on meat, chicken, cheese, eggs, butter, bacon, avocado and green veggies like broccoli and spinach. Riced cauliflower will also be a very close friend of yours. Once you’ve got keto down, you can always branch out to other recipes.”

—keytolifeisketo. “What I’ve Learned After Nearly One Year of Keto: My Best Tips For Newbies.” Reddit.com. January 2, 2018.

Cerebus, graphic novel 

“…O’Neil, concludes, despite her disappointment, “[Cerebus] will survive because it is simply indispensable.” As Alan Moore puts it, “Cerebus, as if I need to say so, is still to comic books what Hydrogen is to the Periodic Table.”

—Jason Guriel, “Canada’s Cantankerous Aardvark.” The Walrus. December 25, 2017.

A love letter to a deeply flawed comic. Adding to my reading list for 2019.