Heresy, AI, Pandemic, EQ, Definition
A weekly selection of fine writing from Conked
BY RAND LEEB-DU TOIT – 12 MARCH 2021
Update from Rand
It’s been a big week for me. I have moved a lot more than in the last few months after my most recent operations: a yoga-inspired body movement therapy session at the start of the week; and a hydrotherapy session in the amazing pool at St Vincent’s Private towards the end of the week. It was the first time, other than showers, I have been in a body of water for well over two years. It felt good to be back as I grew up as a waterman: surfing, lifesaving (South African champion), sailing... I got excellent feedback from my On Deck writing group for the script I am writing on my heart-related journey. In addition to making solid progress on the family crime saga, I also delved into a bit of poetry. What is notable about this poetic foray is that I went high tech. I augmented my work with outputs from an ai. Some outputs were way off, but there were some that were on the mark. I am extremely excited about the potential for ai-augmented writing, specifically for long-form. Be well, be curious.
Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Nadia Marzouki | Boston Review | 05 March 2021
After the murder of a teacher who showed a contentious cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad to his students, the French government proposed a new law aimed at reinforcing the aim of French Laïcité - sometimes translated as secularism - the separation of Churches and State established in law in 1905. Currently being debated in the Senate this month, its 51 articles have been strongly criticized by French Muslims, and human rights organizations are concerned about the control on individual and public freedoms. While some commentators and politicians support the right to blasphemy, the law to protect this is not looking sufficiently into laïcité itself. (3,646 words)
Will Knight | Wired | 08 March 2021
This interview with Nobel Prize-winning writer Kazuo Ishiguro covers many topics, including Artificial Intelligence, his new novel Klara and the Sun, the impacts of the pandemic, genetic enhancement for humans, and "what it is to be human". Ishiguro describes a conversation with an AI expert about the possibility of a program to write novels, ones that could stir real emotion. When that is achieved it will be interesting and dangerous as the applications are endless. The new forms of machine learning are about programing a goal, but then what happens, when they build AI that is smarter than us? Ultimately, Ishiguro feels a sense of optimism and says: "I think there are positive aspects of human beings, and some of that I think is hardwired into us..." (3,124 words)
Stassa Edwards | Lapham’s Quarterly | 08 March 2021
This moving article on the Austrian artist Egon Schiele describes his art in painstakingly beautiful ways, especially when we consider his tragically short life. His mentor was Gustav Klimt, although he came out from under his shadow with his art and recognition. Klimt died in early 1918, and later that year, Schiele, and shortly beforehand, his pregnant wife Edith were casualties, like millions of others, of the Spanish Flu. That year alone around 18.500 Austrians died of this disease, in the midst of war, horrific food, coal and medicine shortages and the decline of their nation. Schiele was already ill when he drew his last portrait of Edith, and three days later, he was dead. (2,556 words)
Insights | MIT Technology Review | 09 March 2021
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is more important than ever in our world. In "a world gone digital" it will be more inspiring, please customers and encourage innovation if products are designed and people lead using humanity as their guiding light. EQ is comprised of self-awareness; self-regulation; internal motivation; empathy and social skills. EQ can offer a competitive advantage for organisations seen to practice it, and those without that focus see the opposite effect. NASA's robotic rover Perseverance landed on Mars last month, and the video from tiny cameras attached to the landing module was the idea of the deputy program manager, inspired by his daughter attaching a camera to her body when doing gym. This idea helped NASA "captivate and inspire humanity." (1,191 words)
Carl Zimmer | Quanta Magazine | 09 March 2021
In this extract from his book Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive, science writer Carl Zimmer examines how difficult it is to come up with a unanimous definition of life. As scientists, Frances Westall and André Brack wrote, "... there are as many definitions of life as there are people trying to define it.” A question is what is alive and not alive, and what actually is the definition of 'life'? If scientists do not agree, then philosophers like Carol Cleland believe there is no need for one, as it distracts "us from reaching a deeper understanding about what it means to be alive." (2,579 words)
“As a writer, I'm more interested in what people tell themselves happened rather than what actually happened."
Sir Kazuo Ishiguro
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Rand Leeb-du Toit, Conkerer
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