IBM’s Watson is just getting started, so should we be afraid?

“Language turned out to be a strange, intimate room into which to lead a machine. Once inside, Watson could peruse, as one IBM researcher later explained to me, “the entire cultural corpus” — everything that people had written down in order to explain the world to one another. Watson scrutinized this whole corpus equally, with no bias or preference…”

Benjamin Wallace-Wells | New York Magazine

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The purge

How Somalia’s al Shabaab turned against its own foreign fighters

“When Robow left, Hammami lost his most powerful protector. He began live-tweeting Shabaab’s attempts to kill him, at one point posting a picture of what he claimed was a wound from a would-be assassin’s bullet that had grazed his neck. “Just been shot in neck by shabab assassin. not critical yet,” Hammami tweeted in April 2013.”

Jeremy Scahill | The Intercept

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Watchers of the skies

The meteorological drama caused by Britain’s position between a continent and an ocean

“Robert FitzRoy, the Met Office’s first director (who made his name as captain of the Beagle when Charles Darwin was aboard), had been so dismayed by the effects of a severe storm in 1859, in which 133 ships were sunk across the Irish Sea with the loss of more than 800 lives, that he took it upon himself to issue bespoke weather warnings, for which he coined the term “forecasts”.”

Richard Hamblyn | Times Literary Supplement

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What makes the “lion whisperer” roar?

On what we can learn from Kevin Richardson and his wild cats

“The first time I saw one of Richardson’s videos, I was transfixed. After all, every fiber in our being tells us not to cozy up with animals as dangerous as lions. When someone defies that instinct, it seizes our attention like a tightrope walker without a net. I was puzzled by how Richardson managed it, but just as much by why.”

Susan Orlean | Smithsonian Magazine

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The inexplicable

Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard on the mind of Anders Behring Breivik

“The shock in Norway was total. After the Second World War, the most serious political assault in the country had been the so-called Hadeland Murders, in 1981. Two young men, members of a small neo-Nazi underground movement, Norges Germanske Armé, were killed. Breivik’s crime was radically different.”

Karl Ove Knausgaard | The New Yorker

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Empire state of mind

On J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens

“After “very selfishly begging” his wife to forgo that six-month family vacation, and persuading Paramount, where he had a deal, to grant him a leave, Abrams came on board. George Lucas, he said, has been “incredibly gracious.” Abrams has known Lucas socially for years…and the older director called him early on, Abrams recollected, “saying, ‘Hey, you should do the movie. Are you going to do it?’”

Bruce Handy | Vanity Fair

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Demolition party

How China’s construction boom created a wave of urban destruction

“Outside of re-furbished and romanticized tourist areas, China has been nearly sanitized of ancient relics. Even Chinese cities that have been inhabited continuously for over 2,000 years often only provide brief glimpses of their age with an estranged pagoda or a temple gate that, for whatever reason, wasn’t smashed to bits and carted away with everything else.”

Wade Shepard | The New Inquiry

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‘Welcome to Fear City’

The inside story of New York’s civil war

“It’s difficult to convey just how precarious, and paranoid, life in New York felt around that time. Signs everywhere warned you to mind your valuables, and to keep neck chains or other jewellery tucked away while on the subway. You became alert to where anyone else might be in relation to you, augmented by quick looks over your shoulder that came to seem entirely natural.”

Kevin Baker | The Guardian

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A liberator, but never free

The uncomfortable questions posed by the letters of an American GI in Dachau

“Clarice was poking through a packing box left on the Formica kitchen table in the chaos of the family’s move. There she discovered a gruesome photo collection: black-and-white shots of emaciated, naked corpses, and a long room lined with beds of near-nude people being pored over by white-coated medics. He ripped them away from her.”

Steve Friess | The New Republic

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Mission unstoppable

On the CIA’s unrelenting push to run US foreign policy

“In the fall of 2002, a Predator drone flying silently in the skies above Yemen watched an SUV drive down a dirt road in a sparsely populated part of the impoverished country. Operatives monitoring the drone’s video feed alerted the CIA’s then-director, George Tenet, who had been helping to oversee the effort to find Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, al Qaeda’s top field commander in Yemen…”

Yochi Dreazen and Seán D. Naylor | Foreign Policy

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By reason of insanity

The first successful use of the insanity plea in a case that riveted America

“The congressman quickly became the charismatic center of a sensational trial. President James Buchanan would send a letter of support to the prisoner, and the many members of the House and Senate who visited him found Sickles not behind bars but instead holding forth in the head jailer’s quarters, his dog by his side.”

Alexis Coe | Lapham’s Quarterly

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Can China take a joke?

The complicated rise of China’s stand-up scene

“Most Chinese TV hosts are all ingratiating smiles and talky energy; Wong has the nervous manner of a teaching assistant running his first seminar. Watching his delivery and the audience’s frequently awkward response, you wouldn’t guess that he’s one of the most successful stand-up comedians in China. This says as much about stand-up comedy in China, where the form is still in its infancy, as it does about Wong.”

Christopher Beam | The New York Times Magazine

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