Drake’s legacy, old clams, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2022#38)

This week we have an impressive application of fiber optics sensors, the story of Frank Drake, a cool interview with Martin Rees, more stories on the development and implications of AI, and some troublesome news about twitch. Let’s start:

Whales, turtles, and an old clam

A couple cool articles and a sad curiosity this week. First, fiber optic sensors being used to track whale movements (we already saw the same idea used to sense earthquakes not long ago). Also, sea turtles population has been recovering during the past few years (not all the news regarding the environment are bad, after all). And last, this week I discovered the story about Ming, a 507-year old clam who was killed (by accident) by some scientists on 2006. It was the oldest animal ever discovered.

How fiber-optic cables helped researchers eavesdrop on whales, on The Verge
Sea turtles swim easier as poaching declines, on Nature
Ming (clam), on Wikipedia

The alien hunter

Frank Drake passed away this month, and I have been reading a lot about his life and work since then. Probably many people are familiar with his famous equation and the work he did regarding SETI and alien life search. However, its legacy goes much further, and though it cannot be measured exactly, the number of scientists inspired by him spans over multiple generations.

In these endeavours, Drake illustrated a willingness to engage with low-probability, high-consequence events. “I like to explore and find out what things exist,” he said. “And as far as I know, the most fascinating, interesting thing you could find in the universe is not another kind of star or galaxy … but another kind of life.” He showed Earth that SETI was possible and practical, and embraced the idea that the most fascinating science might not yield results in one person’s lifetime.

Frank Drake (1930–2022), on Nature
Following the Drake Equation: Five Stories About Searching for Intelligent Life in the Universe, on tor

God is dead (again)

As stated before on the blog, I love the trend of people thinking (and writing) about the implications of AI in society. This week I enjoyed reading some texts on the ethical problems regarding this wave of AI-based generative art, the advances of large-scale language models, and a very good example of the trouble that data scrapping for the training of these models can cause. Also, a cool thread on twitter with many examples of the applications of Stable Diffusion in its first month out there.

Of God and Machines, on The Atlantic
AI Art Is Here and the World Is Already Different, on Intelligencer
This artist is dominating AI-generated art. And he’s not happy about it, on the MIT technology review

If Science is to Save Us

Babbage is a cool podcast. I have shared before some episodes before, and this week they did a great interview with Martin Rees, in which he shared some of his views not only on the future of our society and the place of science on it, but also on the academic world. I really liked his take on academic prizes such as the Nobel, and his views on innovation and scientific careers were interesting too.

Babbage: How science can save the world, on Babbage (The Economist)


In the same week, twitch.tv «banned» gambling streams (only on crypto casinos) from the platform, and later announced a change in the way revenue is distributed to streamers. The days of a 70/30 split (in favour of streamers) are over now, in a greedy move that, while now it seems to be generating just a few ripples in the pond, might come back as a tsunami in the future. At the same time, scandals over the management of the platform keep coming up. Not long ago we saw rampant harassment of minorities (1,2), and now we see examples of the use of the platform by sexual predators. Maybe they should put more care on managing one of the coolest ideas in the internet over the past decade, instead of milking out the tits of creators by pushing nonstop for an advertising model that is doomed to fail (who wants to advertise their company in a place promoting gambling and sexual content camouflaged as ASMR?).

Child Predators Use Twitch to Systematically Track Kids Livestreaming, on Bloomberg
A Letter from Twitch President Dan Clancy on Subscription Revenue Shares, on blog.twitch.tv
Twitch’s Crypto Casino Ban Ignores the Bigger Play, on Wired
Twitch Creator Chief Exits With Controversy Over Streamer Pay Swirling, on Bloomberg

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!
Featured image: Hawksbill sea turtle, by Reinhard Dirscherl
Now listening: Eddie – Red Hot Chili Peppers

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