Elon Musk claims to believe that in ten years speech will be obsolete. Tiny chips planted in the human brain will instead allow humans to communicate entirely with their minds. Never one to shy away from a grandiose proclamation, Musk describes his latest venture, Neuralink, as ‘conceptual telepathy’. ‘There’s a lot of information loss when compressing a complex concept into words,’ he explained recently on TheJoe Rogan Experience. The ‘link’ promises to erase such inefficiencies by removing speech from the equation. But such reasoning is only compelling if you think smooth communication is the sole purpose of language. Musk says that humans will soon speak only ‘for sentimental reasons’.
The hope is that almost all of us will download the app, that we will be diligent about using it if we develop symptoms, that the detection of identifiers will be reliable, that the subsequent risk calculation will be more or less accurate, and that we will, by and large, self-isolate if the app tells us to. Crucially, the strategy also requires easy access to tests so people can be rapidly alerted if a contact who had symptoms turns out not to have had the disease.
In September 2018, the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported that there had been an 8 per cent cut in total school funding per pupil since 2010, a figure that even special advisers at the Department for Education don’t try to dispute. Around two thousand headteachers marched to Downing Street in a protest over funding. There has been a steady drip of stories of teachers buying materials, clothing and food for their pupils. Many schools have been forced to adopt four-day weeks. The money that the new chancellor, Sajid Javid, promised in last week’s spending review would bring funding back up only to 2009-10 levels, and the policy of ‘levelling up schools across the country’, announced by Boris Johnson at the end of August, means more of the money would go to schools that need it less (often, as it happens, in Conservative constituencies). Gavin Williamson, in his first speech to Parliament as Johnson’s education secretary, called for a return to ‘the Victorian spirit of ingenuity’.
Behind the handsome 18th-century façade of The Hague’s Museum Meermanno, ‘the House of the Book’, pages are turning. Everywhere you look they are turning over, but also turning into other things: screens, data, moving image, sound, even skin. The Art of Reading: From William Kentridge to Wikipedia is not so much an exhibition of contemporary book artists as an attempt to use their work to ask what reading is. The question has increasingly exercised theorists and scholars as the printed book loses its dominance, but here the overfamiliar act is scrutinised through the lens of art.
One of the more benign consequences of perpetual rainfall, if you’re not living in a floodplain or on a disintegrating riverbank, is moss. When the rain stops, take a look at the vivid green material blanketing flagstones and roof-tiles, laying down velvety pads underfoot which make it feel as if you’re wearing cushioned trainers. The plant can’t get too much moisture: moss doesn’t have roots, but takes in water through its leaves.
Ross Ulbricht was arrested on 1 October, suspected of being the Dread Pirate Roberts, the mastermind behind the online illegal drug emporium Silk Road. Messages of support quickly spread across social media; funds are being raised for his legal defence. The Silk Road was shut down on 2 October. Allegedly run out of Ulbricht’s bedroom in a shared flat in San Francisco, the website boasted more than 950,000 registered users, and made getting drugs – apparently very good drugs – much easier and safer than ever before. But its founder isn’t a folk hero only because of the quality of the junk he made available. It’s also because of his radical libertarian philosophy.
When the protests that followed Iran's presidential election in 2009 began to fizzle out, the state-controlled media put photos of the demonstrations online, with the faces of unidentified troublemakers highlighted. Viewers were asked to help identify them and even track them down. If the Iranian authorities are to be believed, arrests were made as a result. Today, as the web is being undermined by the rapid dominance of apps for smartphones and tablets, the Iranian police would probably, as the jargon has it, ‘go multiplatform’. That, at any rate, is what their colleagues in the Metropolitan Police have just done: unveiling, ahead of the Olympics, a new app called Facewatch ID.
If you remember the BBC's Tomorrow's World, you'll feel a moment of nostalgia at reading about this exciting scientific breakthrough. The tomorrow of Tomorrow's World, like all tomorrows, never came. The marvellous invention or brand new piece of research that was going to change our lives for ever (tomorrow, obviously) never quite got to the point where it arrived in your kitchen or at a hospital near you. The marvellous machine today is the fMRI scanner. Today's promise for tomorrow's fMRI magic is that we can, finally, know what is going on in people's minds. Other people's minds. This is the great mystery and annoyance we all have to put up with, though if it ever comes to pass, I would be most eager to borrow it and find out what's going on in my own mind first.