The third term, a “free” bird, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2022#43)

This week we have some links on the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk, a cool story about the people at Microsoft who stood for accessibility, the future of China under the command of Xi, and a nice review on three books on the topic of animal senses and the lessons they can teach us. Let’s start:


Accessibility before benefits

Really cool to see how there are still good people working at big tech. Video games are a very young artistic medium when compared to its big brothers (books, cinema, or even TV). And while those have a track record on being adapted to people with different dissabilities, the interactive nature of video games makes that a big challenge. Furthermore, during the past couple decades we have seen controllers evolving in many different directions. We saw the rise of the Nintendo Wii, with its motion controller, which was folllowed by the Kinect. After those, it seemed that companies went back to more traditional consoles, but nowadays we are watching how virtual reality devices are operated by using motion-based controllers. While these enhance inmersion and generate novel interactive experiences, making those accessible to people with limited range of motion is usually hard, and sometimes directly impossible.
And that’s why developing something like the adaptive controller is crucial. Everyone should be able to enjoy a nice painting, listen to good music, thrive with a movie… or play a good game.

Microsoft nearly canceled its Xbox Adaptive Controller, on The Verge

A third term… and many to come?

During the past couple months I have been reading a lot of news coming from China and the moves that Xi Jinping has done to become the permanent ruler of the country. Gone are the days when Chinese presidents stayed in power for a limited amount of time, and seems like Xi will try to be the chairman until his death.
This week the people at Nature wrote an interesting piece on what his third mandate could mean for the science being done in China. It is a very interesting situation, as the country is going to need a lot of innovation to advance, but at the same time there are a lot of measures being taken that are hindering research (and will continue for years to come). Nowadays it is still quite difficult to move around China due to COVID restrictions, and it has always been complicated for foreigners to stablish there to do research. Moreover, privacy and national safety concerns already started hindering collaborations abroad, and could make Chinese researchers almost invisible for international funding calls. Add to that a very ambiguous (I am being generous here) position on the Ukraine war, the acusations of human right violations on Xinjiang… and the list goes on an on. All of this can generate trouble for their researchers, but can also make experts all over the globe to reconsider their collaboration networks.
I have also been listening to an interesting podcast made by the people at The Economist on Xi’s figure: how it came to power, his iron-fist rule of the country, and his views on how the future might shape. They have also published a lot of interesting articles on their print version for the past month or so, which I also found quite telling on the direction the country is aiming for.

What Xi Jinping’s third term means for science, on Nature
The Prince: Searching for Xi Jinping, on The Economist

Food for thought

Too many cools books and to little time to read these days. While I am enjoying a lot the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy (which gives a lot of cool insights on the cultural revolution of China, btw), I am always looking for interesting books on science-related topics (most of the time, as far as possible from optics/physics). The following list covers three new books on how different species sense the world around them, and what can we learn from these processes. The one that piqued my interest the most was An Inmense World: How Animals Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Young, but Sentient: What Animals Reveal About Our Senses by Jackie Higgins also seems to offer a really interesting perspective.

More than ever, we feel a duty and desire to extend empathy to our nonhuman neighbors. In the last three years, more than 30 countries have formally recognized other animals—including gorillas, lobsters, crows, and octopuses—as sentient beings. Yong, Higgins, and Ball together capture what has led to these developments: a booming field of experimental research challenging the long-standing view that animals are neither conscious nor cognitively complex. Western science once treated animals as little more than automata, guided by instinct and hardwiring. But in recent decades researchers have sought to understand complex behavioral phenomena like bee language, vampire bat altruism, and crow ingenuity. The San Francisco–based Earth Species Project, backed by LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman, believes it can take things a step further by decoding patterns in dolphins’ squeaks and pigs’ grunts to create a trans-species translation tool. Talking to animals, once the preserve of animist myths or Dr. Dolittle–like children’s stories, is a prospect that many in tech now suggest is achievable, allowing members of other species to communicate their lives, experiences, and worldviews.  

Inside the enigmatic minds of animals, on the MIT technology review

Won’t you fly high, free bird

It finally happened. Elon Musk is now the owner of Twitter, the biggest news network on the globe. And the future does not look very bright. His first move was to fire all the people at the top of the company (it seems like he did not trust anyone there). He also brought engineers from Tesla to review Twitter’s code, which to me seems like a total nonsense. How on Earth could people working on autonomous driving be able to assess the codes behind a social network is something I cannot wrap my head around.
He also made several comments on free speech and reversing life bans (which everyone assumed meant unbanning Donald Trump). To me, this is a very important topic. It seems that Musk wants to reduce content moderation in behalf of his vision of free speech, which sadly seems to be aligned with his right-wing supporters who love harassing everyone that does not think as they do. However, my experience with social networks during the past decade tells me that content moderation is crucial, and a strong focus on it is the only way for people to be happy at any website, increase their engangement, and really make the platform grow. Will Musk be able to build his super-app, or will Twitter become a gigantic madhouse? Wait and see.

Elon Musk bought Twitter. Here’s how it happened, on The Verge
Musk Is Said to Take Twitter CEO Role, Reverse Life Bans, on Bloomberg
Welcome to hell, Elon, on The Verge
Tesla Engineers Visit Twitter Office to Review Code for Musk, on Bloomberg

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!
Featured image: Kingsman: The Secret Service
Now listening: Sufjan Stevens – Come On! Feel The Illinoise!

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