Digest: 13 May 2014




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In The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking, Finlo Rohrer (for BBC News) discusses the historical importance of walking for the creative process.  It is not walking on a treadmill or busily to the shops that counts, it is the long aimless sort of walking that produces the benefits. It is walking without headphones music and podcasts, without talking. Simple mindful aimless walking.



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In The Rise of Antibiotic Resistance, the Editorial Board of The New York Times discusses the World Health Organization’s report into the growth of anti-biotic resistant germs around the world. Greater efforts are needed to track this development but major resistance problems are already apparent. The use of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture needs to be minimized and new antibiotics need to be developed if we are to avoid potentially catastrophic health consequences.

In Chemicals in Soap Can Cause Male Infertility, Claim Scientists, Steve Connor (for The Independent) discusses a new study into male fertility. The study shows how many man-made chemicals that we use in our households disrupt the swimming ability of human sperm and cause a premature release of the enzymes critical to penetration and fertilization of the egg cell. Only small amounts of chemical were needed to produce the negative effect, and combinations of chemicals amplified the effect.  These chemicals may have contributed to the significant drops in male fertility first observed in the early 1990s.

In Five Key Takeaways from the United Stages National Climate Assessment, Claire Langley (for The Brookings Institution) lists and discusses the five key points made by the report. These are that warming has been driven by human activity, that climate change impacts are happening now and they will continue into the future, affecting economy and quality of life, while leaving vulnerable regions/sectors disproportionately affected.



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In Glenn Greenwald: ‘I don’t trust the UK not to arrest me. Their behaviour has been extreme’, Ed Pilkington (for The Guardian) provides an account of his interview with Glenn Greenwald at Greenwald’s home in Brazil. They discuss topics including the detention at Heathrow airport by UK authorities of Greenwald’s partner and the effect of that experience on Greenwald; also privacy, his views of the US and of the Constitution, his approach to journalism, and the costs for him and for Edward Snowden that resulted from making the NSA documents public.

In The Case Against Killer Robots, Denise Garcia (for Foreign Affairs) discusses the worrying development of military purposed robots. Drones are merely a precursor to the more advanced robotics currently being developed. The US Department of defense is looking to have completely autonomous unmanned weapons and systems  by 2036. China is in the lead though having already exhibited an autonomous air-to-air supersonic combat aircraft. This development is cause for concern, removing the casualty-cost of war might make it more inviting to pursue, undermining years of international efforts to rein in armed combat. Garcia describes the problems killer robots present under the international law regimes that govern state responsibility, use of force, humanitarian, and human rights. US drone warfare has already violated all of them, and killer robots will be likely to do the same. The US should take the opportunity to reestablish its moral authority by leading a ban on the further development of killer robots.



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In The Peril of Knowledge Everywhere, Quentin Hardy (for The New York Times) discusses some implications of the increasing amounts of data being created everyday. Some are concerned about the risk of powerful institutions further establishing their ability to control people through state coercion to product marketing. Regulation is moving too slow and is perhaps inherently ineffective at dealing with this particular risk. It may be that we will have to rely on a mixture of self-governance and the real-time dispersed power of individuals online to protect ourselves from the world we are building.

In The Mismeasure of Technology, Ricardo Hausmann (for Project Syndicate) discusses how the key component to technology is knowhow. Although extractive government systems can often impede the implantation of technology,  Hausmann argues that extractive systems do not account for all failures, the more fundamental hurdle for implantation of technology is a local lack of knowhow. Knowhow “is an ability to recognize patterns and respond with effective actions.” It is wiring in the brain developed through direct experience. The problem will increase as technologies develop that require the diffusion of prior technologies.