Book Editor Shawn Coyne, in his most excellent The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know (highly recommended), offers aspiring writers the following wisdom about whom not to emulate. Has something to offer entrepreneurs as well:

Here’s a difficult concept to grasp and I’m sure I’ll go to my grave trying to explain it. Just because a book becomes a bestseller doesn’t make it something to emulate. There are a myriad of reasons why some books become bestsellers and still don’t work as Stories (See The Emperor’s New Clothes phenomenon). Sometimes, there’s just a hunger for a particular kind of book (Vampires, Zombies, BDSM novels) based on some ephemeral need in humanity’s collective subconscious that drives sales. Trying to write one of those books that get swept up in the tide or even, the ultimate for some, a book seen as the cause of the tide, is folly. It’s like selling your house and putting all of your money on number seven at the roulette table because you have a feeling number seven is going to hit!
Chasing the vagaries of the bestseller list (believing in formula and not form) is the mark of the amateur. That’s putting the by-product of the Story (money, fame, etc.) ahead of the Story itself. Your contempt for form and lust for formula may even give you what you want. You write the next huge thing that makes you hundreds of millions of dollars.
Now what? That kind of writing is equivalent to winning a lottery.
Why not just play the lottery? 

World Without Ads / 2

South Park takes on Branded Content:

"For years, mankind has tried to rid the world of ads. For our ancestors, ads couldn't be avoided, but everyone knew what was an ad and what wasn't. After many years, mankind invented cable: a way to pay for television so there would be no ads. But somehow the ads still found a way. And so mankind invented Tivo: a way to skip past commercials. Finally, it appeared to be the end of ads, and everywhere, people rejoiced. The ads were stopped, or so it seemed. With the rise of the internet, suddenly the ads had an entirely new way to attack us: pop-ups. The top scientific minds were brought together to find a way to stop the ads once and for all. They invented the ad blocker. Suddenly there were no ads on phones, on computers, and everywhere, people rejoiced.
"But the ads adapted. They became smarter. They disguised themselves as news. All around the world, people read news stories, completely unaware they were reading ads. And now, the ads have taken the next step in their evolution. They have taken human form. Ads are among us, they could be your friend, your gardener. The ads are trying to wipe us out. The question is ... how?"

400ppm R.I.P.

“This week is probably the last time you or me or anyone now alive on planet Earth will ever see concentrations of CO2 lower than 400 ppm.”

This week means this week.

A symbolic threshold, perhaps, but nonetheless a sobering moment as we plod toward the end of days (slight exaggeration, one hopes).

The final days of sub-400 ppm carbon dioxide

One wonders what humankind will think a hundred years from now, looking back at today, wondering why everyone fiddled while Rome burned.

(A essay on just that topic — the cheerfully named Collapse of Western Civilization)

(to be continued.)

(via @mstrmndcom)

Should We Fear AI?

The scary bit of Minority Report wasn’t the PreCrime division arresting people for crimes they didn’t yet commit.

The scary bit was that people obeyed the precogs blindly.

We human beings excel at taking orders, and stink at questioning them.

We particularly shine at accepting anything direction shrouded in data, but fail at questioning the validity. 

If it *looks* like math,  we figure the black box is dispassionately objective. It’s not. A passionate person designed the black box.

In short, we’re *awesome* at outsourcing responsibility. 

We outsource figuring out what we want, what we should do, and how to feel about it.

With all the debate about whether AI is the savior or destroyer of mankind  - it’s not the AI I’m worried about, it’s us.

Soylent -> The Matrix

Here’s how it’s all going down.

Silicon Valley engineers voluntarily subsist on Soylent so they can work more.

The voluntary and unusual -> the common and normal -> the expected.

VR obviates the need to leave one's desk. All meetings and human interaction are virtual.

Soylent is replaced by intravenous feeding.

Catheters and suction pipes obviate the need to physically go to a bathroom.

Electrical muscle stimulation ensures that the body doesn't atrophy.

Millions of workers cheerfully plugged in being productive for their employers.

The Matrix. Right around the corner. 

Quorum Sensing

From Naultius (via @mstrmnd)

Certain types of bacteria have developed the ability to cooperatively respond to their surroundings by using what is known as “quorum sensing.” When the bacteria reach a critical local density, they seemingly act in unison to send a signal—to glow with bioluminescence, for example, or start spewing toxic substances into our bodies that can make us very sick. The community knows when a big enough change in quantity has created a qualitatively different environment, even when individuals may not know.

The Technosphere

From The Guardian

The technosphere is the vast, sprawling combination of humanity and its technology. Haff argues that in our thousands of years of harnessing technology – including the first technologies like stone tools, wheels and crops – the technology itself has basically begun to act practically independently, creating a new sphere (i.e., like the biosphere or atmosphere or lithosphere), but like nothing the planet has ever seen before.
“I would argue that domesticated animals and plants, as well as humans, are parts of the technosphere,” said Haff. “These are in effect manufactured by the technosphere for its own use on the basis of genetic blueprints appropriated from the biosphere.”
We’ve reached a point, according to Haff, where we can’t just shut technology off. As such, the technosphere as a whole is elevated above humanity.
“In this sense, the technosphere already generates its own living tissue, thus integrating with biology,” noted Haff.
Although, humans were the original progenitors of this technology, we have, in effect, lost control. Like Doctor Frankenstein from Mary Shelley’s great novel, not only has our creation asserted its own agency, but it now wields its power over us.

Man on the Moon

It went back to the motivation of the people who built them, tested them, and flew them. It showed what can happen when people believe that the thing they are working on is the most important thing they will do in their lives, and they don’t want to be responsible for screwing it up.

Given the enormity of the challenge, and all the moving parts, how the people of the Apollo missions succeeded in putting men on the moon with relatively few errors.

Andrew Chaiken, A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts.

Truth, Truth, Truth, Fiction

In no few books and movies, the main freight of the story—beginning, middle, and part of the end—is about nothing except preparing the ground for that one Power Fiction at the end. Ninety percent of the tale is dedicated to creating a world in which such a Big Fiction could plausibly happen. Have you seen Murmur of the Heart by Louis Malle? The whole movie is a buildup to the climactic scene of a 14-year-old-boy having sex with his Mom. And it works.
How do we achieve that?
The answer is truth, truth, truth, fiction.

Steven Pressfield

The Shooter and the Farmer

Two hypotheses, both involving the fundamental nature of laws and the universe:
In the shooter hypothesis, a good marksman shoots at a  target, creating a hole every ten centimeters. Now suppose the surface of the target is inhabited by intelligent, two-dimensional creatures. Their scientists, after observing the universe, discover a great law: “There exists a hole in the universe every ten centimeters.” They have mistaken the result of the marksman’s momentary whim for an unalterable law of the universe.
The farmer hypothesis, on the other hand, has the flavor of a horror story: Every morning on a turkey farm, the farmer comes to feed the turkeys. A scientist turkey, having observed this pattern to hold without change for almost a year, makes the following discovery: “Every morning at eleven, food arrives.” On the morning of Thanksgiving, the scientist announces this law to the other turkeys. But that morning at eleven, food doesn’t arrive; instead the farmer comes and kills the entire flock.  

Cixin Liu, The Three Body Problem


Human beings are the gut-flora of corporations

From Cory Doctorow's piece, Skynet Ascendant:

We humans are the inconvenient gut-flora of the corporation. They aren’t hostile to us. They aren’t sympathetic to us. Just as every human carries a hundred times more non-human cells in her gut than she has in the rest of her body, every corpora­tion is made up of many separate living creatures that it relies upon for its survival, but which are fundamentally interchangeable and disposable for its purposes. Just as you view stray gut-flora that attacks you as a pathogen and fight it off with anti­biotics, corporations attack their human adversaries with an impersonal viciousness that is all the more terrifying for its lack of any emotional heat.

Add the Matrix to Skynet. Picture a sea of office workers, albeit working from home (save money on office space, time commuting).  Wearing their oculus rifts (can be anywhere and with anyone without having to expend calories), using mind-control interfaces (once again, save calories), drinking Soylent (why waste time eating), and using a catheter (why waste time going to the bathroom). Efficiency bliss.

Intentional Blind Spots


The map had been the first form of misdirection, for what was a map but a way of emphasizing some things and making other things invisible?

 Jeff VanderMeer, Area X Trilogy


Of the eleven million data points our brains can take in at any moment, we’re conscious of only forty. But which forty? Deciding what we pay attention to can shape our entire world view. It can decide which doors are open to us and which doors we never see.
John Stepper

Critical Slowing and Spatial Resonance

Critical Slowing

A key phenomenon known for decades is so-called “critical slowing” as a threshold approaches. That is, a system’s dynamic response to external perturbations becomes more sluggish near tipping points. Mathematically, this property gives rise to increased inertia in the ups and downs of things like temperature or population numbers—we call this inertia “autocorrelation”—which in turn can result in larger swings, or more volatility. In some cases, it can even produce “flickering,” or rapid alternation from one stable state to another.

Spatial Resonance

Pulses occurring in neighboring parts of the web become synchronized. Nearby brain cells fire in unison minutes to hours prior to an epileptic seizure, for example, and global financial markets pulse together. The autocorrelation that comes from critical slowing has been shown to be a particularly good indicator of certain geologic climate-change events, such as the greenhouse-icehouse transition that occurred 34 million years ago; the inertial effect of climate-system slowing built up gradually over millions of years, suddenly ending in a rapid shift that turned a fully lush, green planet into one with polar regions blanketed in ice.


The World as Sandpile

Think of a pile of sand, with additional grains being added every second or so. Scientists say such a pile is “organized into criticality,” since at any moment it can have a little avalanche as the sides get steeper. But the system is so complex that it can’t be modeled completely and—this is important—it’s nonlinear in that it can suffer a change in state under both big blows and tiny hits, like the addition of a single new grain of sand. That’s our world: Every second it gets more complex, like a sandpile. New financial instruments, terror groups, viruses, and innovations are ceaselessly falling onto our pile, making it really complex to model and basically impossible to predict. Small things—home mortgages—can have huge impacts. Usually by surprise.

Joshua Ramo Cooper