April 12, 2017

Moving on the Assembly Line

Two quick things: 1) the next-to-last episode of Containers is now live. It's a deep dive into a trove of archival recordings from the historical moment when containerization swept across the San Francisco waterfront. 2) We're having a party to celebrate the completion of Containers! It's going down Thursday, April 27, in Oakland, 7pm, at Oakland Hot Plate. Containers producer Jonathan Hirsch and I are gonna do a little song-and-dance and then we'll all hang out. RSVP here.

1. People tend to forget, but it is financial not political problems that sink nuclear power in the United States.

"Cost overruns and missed deadlines have long plagued nuclear plant construction. Of the 54 reactors under construction around the world, 33 are behind schedule. When the Vogtle expansion project began in 2009 the project had an estimated cost of about $14 billion, and the online dates for the two reactors were 2016 and 2017. The most recent cost estimate is about $21 billion."

2. Pretty fascinating interview with an NYU grad student who landed a job at an iPhone assembly plant.

"What I did is that I put the speaker on the case, and I put a screw on it. The [iPhone] housing — we call it the back case — is moving on the assembly line, and that's when we pick it up, and now we get one screw from the screw feeder, and then we put it on the iPhone and then put it back, and it goes to next station."

3. Why laces come untied.

"Engineering brings great benefit to humanity, from aircraft to bicycles and from bridges to computer chips. It has, though, had difficulty creating a shoelace that does not accidentally come loose. At least in part, this is because no one has truly understood why shoelaces come undone in the first place. But that crucial gap in human knowledge has just been plugged. As they report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Christopher Daily-Diamond, Christine Gregg and Oliver O’Reilly, a group of engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, have now worked out the mechanics of shoelace-bow disintegration."

+ Nicholson Baker would be proud.

4. I've always found Bruce Sterling's SXSW keynotes to be invigorating.

"This year, Bruce addresses himself to the idea of technological obsolescence of humanity, the robots-will-take-our-jobs, AIs-will-do-everything, Universal-Basic-Income despair that there is no reason for us to be here anymore."

5. The explicability gap is a particularly unsettling new reality.

"There’s already an argument that being able to interrogate an AI system about how it reached its conclusions is a fundamental legal right. Starting in the summer of 2018, the European Union may require that companies be able to give users an explanation for decisions that automated systems reach. This might be impossible, even for systems that seem relatively simple on the surface, such as the apps and websites that use deep learning to serve ads or recommend songs. The computers that run those services have programmed themselves, and they have done it in ways we cannot understand. Even the engineers who build these apps cannot fully explain their behavior."

  1. utilitydive.com | @bradplumer 2. businessinsider.com | @greene_DM 3. economist.com | @grahamfarmelo 4. boingboing.com 5. techreview.com | @anneluong