In March 1946, a group of British scientists recorded the birth of every baby in the country in one particular week with the goal of studying their lives as they unfolded. The study still runs and it has become, as it happens, a continuous insight, from cradle to grave. Throughout the years and the decades, these dedicated scientists, for the most part anonymous to the world, have put under the microscope these men’s and women’s birth, childhood, education, marriage and work, and now, that they are approaching the sunset of their lives, how they are coping with old age. Throughout commonalities—educational shortcomings, for instance, were shocking to discover, as well as health conditions such as obesity and cholesterol—one common pattern emerged: social class, or where we stand in terms of income and opportunities already at birth, has a major impact in determining the path our lives follow. It was startling to note that those born in 1958 had a better shot at social mobility than the 1970 class. The study has helped shape British government policies to remedy some of these inequalities.
A revolution is happening at the Sindelfingen, the largest factory of Mercedes-Benz in Germany. The luxury carmaker has decided to extend vacation time to its robots while it brings back the humans to handle, most especially, customization: carbon-fiber trim, heated and cooled cup-holders and four types of caps for the tire valves, and a plethora of other options that the machines cannot keep with. “Robots can’t deal with the degree of individualization and the many variants that we have today,” said Markus Schaefer, the German automaker’s head of production. The unquantifiable little thing that sets men and robots apart is what we call “conscience.” It does not mean it may not happen at some point. But in the meantime, humans can still carry on with what they do best: making things or creating, which is the same.
They were most unlike except in vocation and talent. Umberto Eco and Harper Lee were catapulted to fame by their first novels, The name of the Rose and To Kill a Mockingbird. Eco, the Italian semiotics professor, conjured up the medieval world set in an unnamed Italian monastery, with all the debates and scientific advances that paved the way for the ambiguous modernity that surrounds us. When glory came, Harper Lee withdrew from the world into the Alabama of her childhood, like Boo Radley, the noble yet timid character that never left home in the fictional Maycomb of her novel. Eco, however, embraced his fame fully, with the passion of an Italian tenor, to voice his readings of the conflicting signals that emit those unique creatures that breath and leave their mark in that mysterious and brief adventure we call life.