Weekend Thoughts - 12.9.17

Image  by  Vitamin , courtesy of  Creative Commons  licensing.

Image by Vitamin, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.

Happy Saturday y'all! Below, I have rounded up some things for you to think about this weekend:

1. The concept of a speaker that listens to and interacts with its users is still fairly new, but they are becoming more common with each passing day. However, there are still reasons why you should not buy a smart speaker. It seems odd to me that we as a society are reaching a point where, just like in Orwell's 1984, being constantly surveilled by technology is becoming commonplace. Even if you trust companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft to not intentionally spy on you via smart speakers, smart cameras, and the like, these devices are certainly hackable and susceptible to bugs, which means that the data they obtain may eventually get into the wrong hands. Maybe I'm alone here, but I don't want every snippet of the private conversations I have in my home to be shared with others just because of vulnerabilities in these "smart" devices (and yes, that includes smartphones!). I'd suggest reading through this article carefully because it's worth considering whether you are willing to put your privacy (and the privacy of others in your home) on the line for the sake of convenience.

2. Although I went to a Chess Club meeting or two in middle school, I wouldn't consider myself to be a very strong chess player. However, I do enjoy playing the game from time to time and find it to be an interesting—albeit endlessly intimidating—game of skill. Now it turns out that a new artificial intelligence known as AlphaZero has handily beaten the previously highest-rated Chess engine known as Stockfish. Perhaps most impressively, AlphaZero taught itself how to play in just four hours. At the end of the day, the final tally (out of 100 matches) was 28 wins, 72 draws, and zero losses. In other words, the chess engine that human chess players have been using to train has been bested so badly by this new AI that it didn't even win a single game—against an opponent that didn't even know how to play chess four hour prior to the first match.

3. Modern burials (at least in the Western world) typically involve toxic chemicals that are used to preserve the human body as well as coffin materials that do not break down quickly, harming the Earth and causing trouble for the surrounding environment and wildlife. A new burial technique involves a mushroom spore death suit that detoxifies the corpse and turns them into nutrients for plants. It's an innovative concept and one that may help preserve future life on Earth.

That's all for this week's edition of Weekend Thoughts. Until next week, keep thinking wilder.