Elon Musk Thinks We All Live in a Video Game. So What If We Do?

David Roberts, writing for Vox:

Everything we know about the world comes to us through our five senses, which we experience internally (as neurons firing, though Descartes wouldn't have put it that way). How do we know those firing neurons correspond to anything real out in the world?

After all, if our senses were being systematically and ubiquitously deceived, whether by demon or daemon, we would have no way of knowing. How would we? We have no tools other than our senses with which to fact-check our senses.

Because we can't rule out the possibility of such deception, we can't know for certain that our world is the real world. We could all just be suckers.

This kind of skepticism sent Descartes on an internal journey, searching for something he could know with absolute confidence, something that could serve as a foundation upon which to build a true philosophy. He ended up with cogito, ergo sum — "I think, therefore I am" — but that has not fared well with subsequent philosophers.

Start your Friday off right and get those meaning-of-existence wheels spinning in your brain!

(Bonus comment: imagine trying to explain this concept to Donald Trump? Better yet, imagine Donald Trump trying to explain this concept to someone else?)


Primitive Technology

Giri Nathan, writing for Adequate Man:

There is a man in Australia who goes out into the bushland of Far North Queensland to live out his caveman fantasies. The practice is called primitive technology, which he describes as “a hobby where you make things in the wild completely from scratch using no modern tools or materials.” Lest the vagueness of “things” mislead you into thinking he’s building tire swings and humble tree forts, just play his videos and know that my dude is building functional weapons and livable huts, chronicled in his wordless, tightly edited, hypnotic tutorials.

I have one rule for this guy's videos—never start them before bed. You will wind up staying up much later than you planned. Please make sure you watch the one I included above. Don't balk at the run-time; you won't even notice the time going by, I promise.


The Minecraft Generation

Clive Thompson, writing for The New York Times Magazine:

Since its release seven years ago, Minecraft has become a global sensation, captivating a generation of children. There are over 100 million registered players, and it’s now the third-best-­selling video game in history, after Tetris and Wii Sports. In 2014, Microsoft bought Minecraft — and Mojang, the Swedish game studio behind it — for $2.5 billion.

There have been blockbuster games before, of course. But as Jordan’s experience suggests — and as parents peering over their children’s shoulders sense — Minecraft is a different sort of phenomenon.

For one thing, it doesn’t really feel like a game. It’s more like a destination, a technical tool, a cultural scene, or all three put together: a place where kids engineer complex machines, shoot videos of their escapades that they post on YouTube, make art and set up servers, online versions of the game where they can hang out with friends. It’s a world of trial and error and constant discovery, stuffed with byzantine secrets, obscure text commands and hidden recipes. And it runs completely counter to most modern computing trends. Where companies like Apple and Microsoft and Google want our computers to be easy to manipulate — designing point-and-click interfaces under the assumption that it’s best to conceal from the average user how the computer works — Minecraft encourages kids to get under the hood, break things, fix them and turn mooshrooms into random-­number generators. It invites them to tinker.

In this way, Minecraft culture is a throwback to the heady early days of the digital age. In the late ’70s and ’80s, the arrival of personal computers like the Commodore 64 gave rise to the first generation of kids fluent in computation. They learned to program in Basic, to write software that they swapped excitedly with their peers. It was a playful renaissance that eerily parallels the embrace of Minecraft by today’s youth. As Ian Bogost, a game designer and professor of media studies at Georgia Tech, puts it, Minecraft may well be this generation’s personal computer.

I'm skeptical of anything that claims to summate an entire generation in one word, but the ubiquity of Minecraft is impossible to ignore. Then again, I taught digital natives introductory college writing in the past three years and I had to begin every semester with the same lesson—a tutorial on how to use Microsoft Word to do the very advanced things I'd be asking for, like including page numbers and double spacing. It's funny how digital natives never seem to be the ones using that moniker.


What Happened When Venture Capitalists Took Over the Golden State Warriors

Bruce Schoenfeld, writing for The New York Times Magazine:

The N.B.A. demands that each franchise confer one owner, regardless of stake size, with nearly dictatorial power. Lacob wields his softly, just as he typically sits in the back of corporate board meetings without saying much, absorbing information, then guiding the discussion toward a decision. “I’m a professional listener,” he told me. “There’s a lot of smart people in the world, you know. I’m not the smartest. I’m just an integrator. The N.B.A. isn’t like the outside world. I can do whatever I want. But you don’t treat people that way.”

Even teams in small markets cost hundreds of millions of dollars these days. Unless you’re Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft chief who spent $2 billion on the Los Angeles Clippers without the help of outside investors, most potential owners don’t have the wherewithal, or the gumption, to finance a purchase themselves. But rather than money without strings attached — investors who would have little involvement beyond writing checks — Lacob and Guber purposefully sought out entrepreneurs and businessmen with attributes and access that complemented their own. “Everyone he’s partnered with has a strategic reason to be there,” says Dennis Mannion, C.E.O. of the Detroit Pistons, who has held executive positions with teams in all four major American sports leagues. “You have this phenomenal bullpen of talent.”

So after the shareholder Dennis Wong, the managing director of SPI Holdings, advised Lacob on the real estate purchase for the new arena, Walecka helped with the financing. When I spoke with Swinmurn, he reeled off rapid-fire opinions on the design of the Warriors’ branded attire, the type of food sold at the concession stands and other disparate topics. Occasionally, minority partners can even influence what happens on the court. John Burbank of Passport Capital, who uses a deep knowledge of mathematics in his own investments, contributes detailed memos applying complex metrics to potential acquisitions. “I don’t know if any of it has 180ed us on a player,” Bob Myers, the Warriors’ general manager, told me, “but it has certainly moved us in a direction, one way or another. And he’s done it enough that it’s just the course of things now. It’s part of the process.”

This is a fascinating, engrossing piece of writing. I'm really worried now, too—all three of my favorite sports teams stand to be left in the dust if this is the future of sports ownership.


The Doomsday Invention

Raffi Khatchadourian, writing for The New Yorker:

He believes that the future can be studied with the same meticulousness as the past, even if the conclusions are far less firm. “It may be highly unpredictable where a traveller will be one hour after the start of her journey, yet predictable that after five hours she will be at her destination,” he once argued. “The very long-term future of humanity may be relatively easy to predict.” He offers an example: if history were reset, the industrial revolution might occur at a different time, or in a different place, or perhaps not at all, with innovation instead occurring in increments over hundreds of years. In the short term, predicting technological achievements in the counter-history might not be possible; but after, say, a hundred thousand years it is easier to imagine that all the same inventions would have emerged.

Bistro calls this the Technological Completion Conjecture: “If scientific- and technological-development efforts do not effectively cease, then all important basic capabilities that could be obtained through some possible technology will be obtained.” In light of this, he suspects that the farther into the future one looks the less likely it seems that life will continue as it is. He favors the far ends of possibility: humanity becomes transcendent or it perishes.

In the nineteen-nineties, as these ideas crystallized in his thinking, Bostrom began to give more attention to the question of extinction. He did not believe that doomsday was imminent. His interest was in risk, like an insurance agent’s. No matter how improbable extinction may be, Bostrom argues, its consequences are near-infinitely bad; thus, even the tiniest step toward reducing the chance that it will happen is near-­infinitely valuable. At times, he uses arithmetical sketches to illustrate this point. Imagining one of his utopian scenarios—trillions of digital minds thriving across the cosmos—he reasons that, if there is even a one-per-cent chance of this happening, the expected value of reducing an existential threat by a billionth of a billionth of one per cent would be worth a hundred billion times the value of a billion present-day lives. Put more simply: he believes that his work could dwarf the moral importance of anything else.

I don’t remember the last time that I read something that effected me on an emotional level so much. I’ve been having dreams about this article. I can’t stop thinking about it.


Why Apple is Still Sweating the Details on iMac

Steven Levy, writing for Backchannel, on Medium:

Early this year, the top-secret laboratory where Apple designs its Macintosh accessories was bedeviled by a crisis on tiny feet. It had to do with the reinvented mouse the team was designing to accompany a new set of iMac computers that will be released today. The input device, dubbed the Magic Mouse 2, would look to users exactly like the previous model. But on the inside and underneath, everything would be different, mainly because Apple was switching to a rechargeable lithium battery instead of the previous replaceable alkaline ones.
Late in the process, everything seemed to be going fine. The internal lithium battery was custom-engineered to fit the cavity. The redesigned antenna — necessary to deal with the potential interference from an internal battery — was working well.

But one thing was totally unacceptable.

The mouse didn’t sound right.

A must-read for Apple fans and an almost-must-read for design fans.


What’s Worse Than Paid App Updates?

Dan Edwards, writing on Medium:

We’ve all seen this, and although perhaps overused to compare app value, it’s safe to say it’s a fair argument. A large majority of people who would consider buying Tweetbot would also regularly spend $5 on a coffee, a craft beer, a quick lunch or much much more on pretty much any new version of a console game.

So why are people attacking indie developers for this?

Stop complaining about people trying to make a living. Or better yet, if you don’t like it, build it yourself.


Motherhood, Screened Off

Susan Dominus, writing for The New York Times:

Parents today are often chastised for being distracted by their devices, for devoting more attention to their phones than to their children. I concede that Twitter provides, at times, a more witty conversation than the one I might have with a 6-year-old; that there is, in fact, always some excuse to turn to the device and tune out a small child’s rant about the problem with peanut butter; that the feeling of productivity the phone engenders is as addictive as it is false.

But it seems safe to say that our own parents probably gave more attention to their myriad daily tasks than they did to their children, too, and even did so in their children’s presence.

I’m a sucker for pieces that highlight the modern parent’s guilt over their technology addictions (bonus points if they are hypocritical parents, like me, who, at times, enforce technology rules on their children) while simultaneously pointing out that our concerns and guilt are mostly unfounded when compared to the supposedly “great” childhoods of yesteryear.


Scanner Pro 6 by Readdle

One of my most-used apps is on sale today, in celebration of the app’s redesign. As The New York Times said:

Scanner Pro is perhaps the best app for quickly scanning and saving a digital version of a paper document.

Trust me, you need this app. If you’re a productivity nerd, you already own it, and if you don’t, you’re not a productivity nerd. Normally, it costs $6. At that price, I’d still be giving you the exact advice. But for $3? Stop reading this and just go buy it. You feel like you’re truly living in the future every time you use it.