Scientists Find 1.5 Million More Penguins

(p. D2) A new colony of Adélie penguins has been discovered near Antarctica, substantially increasing the known populations of the knee-high creatures.
. . .
Using a drone doctored to work in the extreme climate of the region, the researchers were able to get a precise estimate of the numbers of breeding pairs of Adélie penguins in the region: about 750,000 (or 1.5 million individuals).

For the full story, see:
Karen Weintraub. “Black and White: Big Colony of Penguins Is Spotted Near Antarctica.” The New York Times (Tuesday, March 13, 2018): D2.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 5 [sic], 2018, and has the title “A Supercolony of Penguins Has Been Found Near Antarctica.”)

“Octopuses Try Hard to Escape from Captivity”

(p. A23) I can’t stop telling people about the factoids I learned from Amia Srinivasan’s book review essay “The Sucker, the Sucker!” in The London Review of Books about the personality of octopuses. An octopus’s arms have more neurons than its brain, so each arm can taste and smell on its own and exhibit short-term memory. An octopus can change color to mimic other animals, but it cannot itself see color. So how does it know which color to change into? Good question.
Octopuses are curious but sometimes ornery. When researchers tried to train an octopus to pull a lever to get food, the octopus kept breaking off the lever. Octopuses try hard to escape from captivity, waiting for those moments when they aren’t being watched. One octopus persistently shot jets of water at the nearby aquarium light bulbs, repeatedly short-circuiting the electricity supply until it was finally released into the wild.

For the full commentary, see:

Brooks, David. “The Sidney Awards, Part I.” The New York Times (Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017): A23.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 25, 2017, and has the title “The 2017 Sidney Awards, Part I.” The online version says that the New York edition of the print version of the commentary appeared on Dec. 25, 2017 on p. A25. It appeared on Dec. 26 on p. A23 of my National edition.)

Chinese Economy “on the Brink of a Precipitous Downturn?”

(p. A15) Reporters in China often run up against Potemkin projects–gleaming science parks sitting half empty, new districts with eerily few residents, solar-powered cities where most of the panels are disconnected. These wasteful investments, designed to fulfill local-government ambitions to boost construction and drive short-term growth, can be a nuisance when researching stories about innovation or environmental foresight. But what if such projects are not a distraction but the story itself? What if China’s economy is, in fact, on the brink of a precipitous downturn? That is the question Dinny McMahon asks in “China’s Great Wall of Debt.”
Mr. McMahon, a former Beijing-based correspondent for this newspaper, suggests that China has powered ahead for as long as it has not because it is immune to crises but because its government has so far managed to intervene to stave them off. When China’s stock market plunged in 2015, the central government directed fund managers to buy instead of sell and pressured journalists to write only optimistic reports. One reporter who strayed from the official line was trotted out on state television to apologize.
Such intervention has created a false sense of confidence, Mr. McMahon argues, which in turn has led to a bad case of economic bloating.

For the full review, see:
Mara Hvistendahl. “”BOOKSHELF; The Chinese Growth Charade; Ghost cities, shadow banks, white-elephant state projects: The country’s pursuit of growth at all costs may come at a high price.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, March 14, 2018): A15.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 13, 2018, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘China’s Great Wall of Debt’ Review: The Chinese Growth Charade; Ghost cities, shadow banks, white-elephant state projects: The country’s pursuit of growth at all costs may come at a high price.”)

The book under review, is:
McMahon, Dinny. China’s Great Wall of Debt: Shadow Banks, Ghost Cities, Massive Loans and the End of the Chinese Miracle. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.

Government Obstacles Slow 5G Innovation

(p. A13) . . . , governmental obstacles threaten to block a new wave of wireless innovation, known as fifth generation or “5G.” It will multiply download speeds by at least 10 times, allowing wireless carriers to compete with cable companies for high-speed internet access. With superfast speeds and low lag times, 5G will enable advances in everything from driverless cars to the “tactile internet,” in which surgeons can perform operations and builders operate construction equipment remotely, and entertainment can include sensations beyond the audiovisual.
. . .
In some places, outdated local requirements prohibit carriers from placing small cells in local rights-of-way and on government-owned utility poles. Zoning ordinances designed for much larger towers often require local zoning boards to approve small cells. Some localities refuse altogether to negotiate right-of-way access, while others impose prohibitive fees and other unreasonable conditions.

For the full story, see:
Robert McDowell. “Local Laws Imperil 5G Innovation; Misapplied zoning rules and huge fees block antennas the size of pizza boxes.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, April 3, 2018): A13.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 2, 2018.)

“Overblown” Worries that A.I. Will Make Humans Obsolete

(p. B3) SAN FRANCISCO — Apple has hired Google’s chief of search and artificial intelligence, John Giannandrea, a major coup in its bid to catch up to the artificial intelligence technology of its rivals.
. . .
Mr. Giannandrea, a 53-year-old native of Scotland known to colleagues as J.G., helped lead the push to integrate A.I. throughout Google’s products, including internet search, Gmail and its own digital assistant, Google Assistant.
He joined Google in 2010 when it purchased Metaweb, a start-up where he served as chief technology officer. Metaweb was building what it described as a “database of the world’s knowledge,” which Google eventually rolled into its search engine to deliver direct answers to users’ queries. (Try googling “How old is Steph Curry?”) During Mr. Giannandrea’s tenure, A.I. research became increasingly important inside Google, with its primary A.I. lab, Google Brain, moving into a space beside the chief executive, Sundar Pichai.
. . .
On the debate over whether humanity should be worried about the rapidly accelerating improvements in A.I., Mr. Giannandrea told MIT Technology Review in an interview last year that the concerns were overblown.
“What I object to is this assumption that we will leap to some kind of superintelligent system that will then make humans obsolete,” he said. “I understand why people are concerned about it but I think it’s gotten way too much airtime. I just see no technological basis as to why this is imminent at all.”

For the full story, see:
JACK NICAS and CADE METZ. “Lagging Rivals in A.I., Apple Adds A Top Google Executive to Its Team.” The New York Times (Wednesday, April 4, 2018): B3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 3, 2018, and has the title “Apple Hires Google’s A.I. Chief.”)

University of Chicago Defends Free Speech and Tough Intellectual Inquiry

(p. A15) Chicago
Snow carpets the ground at the University of Chicago, and footfalls everywhere are soft, giving the place a hushed serenity. Serene, too, is Robert Zimmer, the university’s 70-year-old president, as he talks about a speaking invitation that could turn his campus turbulent.
Steve Bannon is scheduled to talk at the school early next month–there’s no confirmed date–and Mr. Zimmer is taking criticism for the imminent appearance of Donald Trump’s former right-hand man, a paladin of alt-robust conservatives. Mr. Bannon is precisely the sort of figure who is anathema on American campuses, yet Mr. Zimmer is unfazed by the prospect of his visit, confident that it will pass with no great fuss.
. . .
Mr. Bannon was invited to the university by Luigi Zingales, a finance professor. Would Mr. Zimmer ever contemplate having a quiet word with the prof and asking him to withdraw his invitation to Mr. Bannon? “I wouldn’t even think of it,” Mr. Zimmer answers, in a mildly but unmistakably indignant tone. And no, he won’t be attending the Bannon event. “We have many, many talks,” he says. “I’m really pretty busy.”
Mr. Zingales’s attitude is consistent with the norm Mr. Zimmer seeks to uphold. When I asked the professor by email why he extended the invitation, he replied that Mr. Bannon “was able to interpret a broad dissatisfaction in the electorate that most academics had missed. Remember the shock on November 9, 2016? Regardless of what you think about his political positions, there is something faculty and students can learn from a discussion with him.”
. . .
The University of Chicago has long enjoyed a reputation for tough, even remorseless, intellectual inquiry. Its world-famous economics faculty, for instance, is not a place where faint-hearted academics go to road-test their research. In recent years, as colleges across America have censored unfashionable views, Chicago has also come to be known for setting the gold standard for free expression on campus. Mr. Zimmer, who became president in 2006, deserves much credit. He has been outspoken in defense of free speech and in 2014 even set up a committee–under the constitutional law scholar Geoffrey Stone –that produced the Chicago Principles, the clearest statement by any American university in defense of uninhibited debate.

For the full interview, see:

Tunku Varadarajan, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; The Free-Speech University; Steve Bannon is giving a talk at Chicago. Its president is confident he won’t be shouted down.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Feb. 16, 2018.)

Early Industrial Workers’ Living Standards Improved Over Their Lifetimes

(p. C6) Historians have long debated whether the Industrial Revolution was a net benefit to those who labored in the mills. The first generation of workers generally enjoyed higher wages and liberation from the confines of rural life. Yes, there was child labor, but one girl who entered a New England mill at age 11 recalled: “It was paradise here because you got your money, and you did whatever you wanted to with it.” In her book “Liberty’s Dawn” (2013), Emma Griffin studied those early industrial workers longitudinally and found that their living standards improved markedly over a lifetime.
. . .
William Blake’s “dark Satanic Mills” are now brightly lit in China, but are they still infernal? Today, Mr. Freeman reports, Foxconn offers “a library, bookstores, a variety of cafeterias and restaurants, supermarkets, . . . swimming pools, basketball courts, soccer fields, and a stadium, a movie theater, electronic game rooms, cybercafés, a wedding-dress shop, banks, ATMs, two hospitals, a fire station, a post office, and huge LED screens that show announcements and cartoons.” But Chinese worker dormitories impose a positively Victorian regime of moral supervision: no drinking, gambling or visiting the opposite sex. Work rules are draconian. And surveillance cameras are everywhere (though, come to think of it, we have plenty of those in the West).
Ultimately, Mr. Freeman can’t decide whether industrialism represents progress or dystopia, and that ambivalence reflects his clear eyes and fair-mindedness. He often lets workers speak for themselves, and they don’t always agree. Xu Lizhi, one of those Foxconn employees who killed himself, was also a poet: “They’ve trained me to become docile / Don’t know how to shout or rebel / How to complain or denounce / Only how to silently suffer exhaustion.” But another worker from a small Hunan village was amazed by his company dormitory: “I had never lived in a multi-story building, so it felt exciting to climb stairs and be upstairs.” Mr. Freeman reminds us that, benevolent or tyrannical, the factory was an exponential leap in the human experience.

For the full review, see:
Rose, Jonathan. “The Very Symbol of Modern Times; Workers’ paradise or soul-deadening dystopia? Why society remains of two minds about the factory.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018): C6.
(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipsis within paragraph, in original.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 23, 2018, and has the title “Review: The Very Symbol of Modern Times; Workers’ paradise or soul-deadening dystopia? Why society remains of two minds about the factory.”)

The book under review, is:
Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

The book by Emma Griffin, mentioned above, is:
Griffin, Emma. Liberty’s Dawn: A People’s History of the Industrial Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.