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A Computer Component that Mimics the Brain


What if artificial intelligence changed the way we think of our own, human condition? An electrical component devised by Joshua Yang, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst may well provide the answer. Yang and his team created a memristor. This is a composite of silver nanoparticle clusters embedded in a silicon oxynitride film compressed between two electrodes. In plain language, this computing part is “the most faithful emulation yet” of connections among neurons in the human brain. It mimics how electricity, or calcium ions, behave at the junction, or synapse, between two neurons. Such a computer would mimic the brain’s enormous computing power and efficiency. There, an AI device like that  – for it would be nothing else – would possibly be capable of responses like those our brains articulate. We can therefore assume that it could also respond like a human in terms of decisions and perceptions. That would bring us closer to Alan Turing’s prophecy that computers one day would have feelings and preferences, like those random tastes we have. Would that therefore mean that our feelings, that universe that has given us poems and art, love and pain, Shakespeare and Borges, are just the sum of chemical connections and reactions?

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Orwell, Trump, and the Debasement of Language


It is seldom a good sign when our reality brings Orwell to mind. The English writer, of 1984 fame, waged his pen as a scalpel to dissect the miseries of the twentieth century.

One of the least obvious ills of modernity was the debasement of language. In “Politics and the English Language,” a 1946 essay, he decried the political discourse, which made “lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

So far, so bad. None of that would surely surprise the long suffering citizens of any elective democracy, who every two years or so have to put up with the sound and the fury of endless campaigns.

Nobody surely enjoys the muckraking of election season, right? Not so, it would seem. According to a poll by Monmouth University, by a 2-to-1 margin, respondents said that harsh language was not justified in the campaign. That is, all respondents except a plurality of Trump supporters. They thought that elections justify rude words. And guess who they blame for it. Yes, the other one. Hillary Clinton.

Uncivil discourse and temper flares are a time-honored tradition in the dialectics of democracy, so there is no need for undue alarm here. But what certainly does matter is something else. In the said essay, Orwell observed that the loss of words by ignorance or disuse had an insidious effect. It led to the extinction of concepts.

How, for example, can you think of “ambiguity” if you don’t know the word? Can you grasp the subtleties of international diplomacy if you are unable to think in sentences longer than the 140 characters of a tweet? A discourse made up of angry sound bites not only is harsh on the ears. It is harmful for the mind, and for civil society.

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If you Can’t Wait for the iPhone 8, There is Xiaomi


Xiaomi is releasing the Mi 5S and the Mi 5S Plus, the flagships of its smartphone line. Mostly unknown in the States, the brand is huge in China and other markets. Its sleek design and fabulous features have earned the company a loyal following. Why, then, aren’t American consumers blessed with this choice at home? Most likely because the company would be sued into smithereens. Xiaomi copies all things iPhone. But this time they upped their own ante. They got ahead of Apple. Not only did they mimic every visible feature expected in the iPhone 8 in 2017. In its latest models, Xiaomi included an under-glass ultrasonic fingerprint reader. This feature enabled a full screen phone, without the home button. With its iPhone 7, Apple is gently nudging its customers into the “homeless” device it will launch next year. But the Chinese company did away with all pretenses and transitions. So, if you really can’t wait a full year, there is Xiaomi.