What Sundar Pichai Couldn’t Explain to Congress | Nextgov


Like every other tech-company hearing, it was more hackneyed than illuminating, more painful than inspiring. Pichai is a polished executive who rose through Google’s ranks. He is not a boy king like Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey. You knew he’d do the hard work of preparing. It seemed likely he’d sail through the hearing.

Yet as the hearing got under way, Pichai struggled to make sense of the questions that lawmakers put to him. Even friendly Democratic queries asking him to explain how search-engine rankings worked were met with hesitation and stilted rhetoric. If a rep said a keyword he was prepared for, he gave a scripted response, even if it was only sort of responsive.

Pichai never punched back when conservatives came at him.

Source: What Sundar Pichai Couldn’t Explain to Congress – Nextgov

The science of toys: A guide for the perplexed shopper


In a world focused on test scores and where our children are under increased pressure to perform, it is important for parents and educators to remember that play is powerful because it naturally harnesses a set of principles that lead to learning.

Play, especially a type of play called playful learning in which children lead but adults support them in discovering a learning goal, seems to be an especially powerful pedagogy for learning—even in domains usually linked with direct instruction methods including literacy, numeracy, and even shape knowledge. Playful learning does this by supporting joyful interactions, an actively engaged brain, iterative thinking, and the power of social interaction.

But what do these ideas look like when you are in the store or online buying a toy?

Source: The science of toys: A guide for the perplexed shopper

Is Government Ready for the Brewing Quantum Storm? | Nextgov


In the world of government technology, predictions can also have some sway, though government is often slow to react to emerging trends. That can be a good thing because we don’t want our government wasting resources by chasing all of the latest fads. But it can also be bad if our inaction puts our technology or communications in a weaker spot for not being prepared.

For the emerging science of quantum computing, the alarm bells are reaching a tipping point where further inaction becomes less about being cautious and more about being foolish.

Recently, there have been two more clear signs that quantum computing is real, and will likely change the way we use computers and technology in the future. The first is the long-awaited report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on quantum computing prospects.

The report states that although there is still a lot of work to do in the field, given our current technology levels, there is “no fundamental reason why a large, fault-tolerant quantum computer could not be built in principle.”

Source: Is Government Ready for the Brewing Quantum Storm? – Nextgov

The U.S. is Worried About China Spying via Huawei Because it Did the Same in the Past | Nextgov


American officials have reportedly used this strategy in the past.

One example goes back to the late 1980s, when cryptography—previously a tightly controlled technology monopolized by the military—was spreading from academia to commercial businesses. As personal computers caught on, tech companies needed a way to secure data and information from hackers and other criminals who might want to steal it.

Lotus Notes, a database company, used cryptography to secure its users’ information. But exporting software using high-grade cryptographic techniques was subject to U.S. State Department controls at the time.

When Lotus Notes sought to sell its products abroad, the National Security Agency leaned on it to use a weaker version of cryptography in its product, according to Stephen Levy’s book Crypto.

After years of discussions, the NSA allowed Lotus Notes to ship its product for export using 32-bit encryption, compared with a 64-bit version in the domestic version. At the time, cracking 64-bit encryption through brute force (computers cycling through ever possible key combination) was seen as just about impossible.

Source: The U.S. is Worried About China Spying via Huawei Because it Did the Same in the Past – Nextgov

Germany Sticks To Its Mercantilist Model | Social Europe

As Donato Di Carlo rightly points out, the scale of the imbalances within the eurozone has been at the core of the academic and political debate. The most common criticism of Germany’s excessive surpluses usually refers to the wage restraint policies that the government implemented from the onset of EMU in the late 1990s.

With unit labor costs undercutting the inflation target set by the European Central Bank (ECB), Germany has amassed substantial gains in its price competitiveness through an effective depreciation of its real exchange rate.

This, in turn, enabled an accumulation of surpluses, which would have been impossible under a fluctuating exchange rate regime and an appreciating currency.

The problematic implications of the competitive divergences across the eurozone are generally well understood.

Now, the question about its viability hinges upon the rectification of the accumulated imbalances.

Source: Germany Sticks To Its Mercantilist Model • Social Europe

Can a physics of panic explain the motions of the crowd? | Aeon Ideas


To be useful in emergencies, crowd analysis must also account for emotional contagion. Spreading fear can change emergent behavior, as shown by researchers at the K N Toosi University of Technology in Iran.

In 2015, they created a computer version of a public space populated with hundreds of simulated adults and children, and security guards who directed people to the exits. Assuming that the participants were responding to a dangerous event, the simulation escalated them to greater levels of fear and panicked, random movement when they failed to find an exit.

Running the simulation, the researchers found that between 18 and 99 per cent could escape, depending on the combination of participants.

Source: Can a physics of panic explain the motions of the crowd? | Aeon Ideas

Welfare Policies And Citizens’ Political Engagement | Social Europe

As for resources, generous support and increasing expenditure (see for instance Campbell 2003) empower recipients as they perceive welfare benefits as societal legitimization of their civic engagement.

By way of contrast, meager resources for disadvantaged groups and means-tested programs are more likely to deter recipients from political engagement. In terms of the message sent to recipients, the stigma associated with receiving means-tested benefits particularly contributes not only to increasing rates of non-take up, but also to decreased democratic participation because recipients feel less entitled or legitimized to make their voices heard.

Source: Welfare Policies And Citizens’ Political Engagement • Social Europe

Media Matters on anti-Semitism after Pittsburgh synagogue shootings | Vox


In modern history, the idea of Jew as a puppet master, without loyalty to his country of origin — you can really trace that back to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, published in Russia in 1903.

It was a piece of work — proven to be a forgery almost immediately — purporting to be the meeting minutes of the leaders of the Jewish people, basically speaking like cartoon villains about their designs over the global financial system, subverting the morals of Gentiles, upturning the social fabric of moral culture.

It’s had a really long afterlife — it’s sort of the original fake news, in a sense. A really good case study in how impossible a visceral notion can be to dislodge, even when it’s been comprehensively debunked.

Source: Media Matters on anti-Semitism after Pittsburgh synagogue shootings – Vox

There be monsters: from cabinets of curiosity to demons within | Aeon Essays


The meaning of monstrosity has morphed dramatically over the course of history.

Traditionally, monsters came from elsewhere: at the unknown edges of maps, from distant times and places. But as the bounds of the known Universe have expanded, the habitats of monsters shrunk back.

The world is now so thoroughly charted that there seems to be little space left for indigenous monsters; instead, we import extraterrestrials and summon up artificial intelligence or cutting-edge technologies to act as the fearsome ‘Others’ for our books, TV series and films.

Source: There be monsters: from cabinets of curiosity to demons within | Aeon Essays

Is time a linear arrow or a loopy, repeating circle? | Aeon Essays


.. If you could have perfect knowledge of the positions, velocities and forces that apply to ‘the greatest bodies of the Universe and those of the tiniest atom’, Laplace said, ‘for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain, and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.’

This determinism, however, ends up eating its own tail.

In Newtonian physics, space is a static theater within which objects move and shift. But suppose those objects are themselves composed of a finite quantity and variety of constituents – any chunk of ice, for example, is made up of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Given enough time, the possible combinations of constituents would be bound to repeat themselves, both in time and space.

The situation is a bit like an endless tournament of naughts and crosses.

Source: Is time a linear arrow or a loopy, repeating circle? | Aeon Essays