Our favorite stories of the week, featuring The Atlantic, National Geographic, Michael O. Church, Wired, and Jacobin.
The story of how a Microsoft employee working on the Word team invented autocorrect.
PUBLISHED: July 22, 2014
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3034 words)
A profile of Jim Olson, a pediatric oncologist and cancer researcher whose lab is looking into whether a scorpion-venom concoction can make cancer cells glow for easy removal:
A scorpion-venom concoction that makes tumors glow sounds almost too outlandish to be true. In fact, Olson explains, that’s what troubled the big grant-making organizations when he came to them for funding. But when those organizations dismissed his ideas as too bizarre, Olson started accepting donations from individuals—particularly the families of current and former patients—quickly raising $5 million for his research. It was a bold and unprecedented tactic: Though patients and their families are often asked to donate to foundations with broad goals, Olson raised money for one specific, untested technology—a much riskier gamble. But thanks to his efforts, Olson’s fluorescent scorpion toxin is now in Phase I clinical trials, an impressive accomplishment for a compound with such a peculiar lineage. The University of Washington students are clearly awed by the work.
PUBLISHED: June 24, 2014
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4466 words)
Our story picks of the week, featuring Wired, Guernica, the Toronto Star, n+1 and Mosaic.
PUBLISHED: April 25, 2014
A remarkable inside look at the hope, desperation, and financial realities for startups and founders working in San Francisco and Silicon Valley:
All the while, Martino’s ultimate warning—that they might someday regret actually getting the money they wanted—would still hang over these two young men, inherent to a system designed to turn strivers into subcontractors. Instead of what you want to build—the consumer-facing, world-remaking thing—almost invariably you are pushed to build a small piece of technology that somebody with a lot of money wants built cheaply. As the engineer and writer Alex Payne put it, these startups represent “the field offices of a large distributed workforce assembled by venture capitalists and their associate institutions,” doing low-overhead, low-risk R&D for five corporate giants. In such a system, the real disillusionment isn’t the discovery that you’re unlikely to become a billionaire; it’s the realization that your feeling of autonomy is a fantasy, and that the vast majority of you have been set up to fail by design.
PUBLISHED: April 23, 2014
LENGTH: 42 minutes (10559 words)
From Airbnb to Lyft to Tinder, the sharing economy is rewiring the way we interact with each other.
In about 40 minutes, Cindy Manit will let a complete stranger into her car. An app on her windshield-mounted iPhone will summon her to a corner in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood, where a russet-haired woman in an orange raincoat and coffee-colored boots will slip into the front seat of her immaculate 2006 Mazda3 hatchback and ask for a ride to the airport. Manit has picked up hundreds of random people like this. Once she took a fare all the way across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. Another time she drove a clown to a Cirque du Soleil after-party.
PUBLISHED: April 23, 2014
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3980 words)
On the science and tech companies hoping to cash in on cannabis, which has been legalized for recreational use in two states and decriminalized in some form in many others:
For the science and technology set, it’s a classic opportunity to disrupt an industry historically run by hippies and gangsters. And the entire tech-industrial complex is getting in on the action: investors, entrepreneurs, biotechnologists, scientists, industrial designers, electrical engineers, data analysts, software developers. Industry types with experience at Apple and Juniper and Silicon Valley Bank and Zynga and all manner of other companies are flocking to cannabis with the hopes of creating a breakout product for a burgeoning legitimate industry. Maybe it’s the Firefly. Maybe it’s something still being developed in someone’s living room. There’s a truism about the gold rush days of San Francisco: It wasn’t the miners who got rich; it was the people selling picks and shovels. As the legalization trend picks up steam, Silicon Valley thinks it can make a better shovel.
PUBLISHED: April 18, 2014
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5177 words)
A new technology reading list by Daniel A. Gross, featuring Wired, The Atlantic and Esquire.
PUBLISHED: April 15, 2014
Bran Ferren has spent four years and millions of dollars constructing the most audacious exploration vehicle ever built. Its mission: Take his 4-year-old daughter camping.
It’s a late-summer afternoon, and Ferren—celebrated inventor, technologist, former head of research and development for Disney’s Imagineering department—is sitting inside a guesthouse-slash-storage facility on his ample East Hampton, New York, spread, drinking his third or fourth Diet Coke of the day. He’s 61 years old and towering, with a wily-looking red-gray beard and dressed in his everyday uniform of khaki pants, sneakers, and a billowy polo shirt. Ferren is the cofounder and chief creative officer of Applied Minds, a world-renowned tech and design firm whose on-the-record customer list includes General Motors, Intel, and the US Air Force; before that he worked on everything from Broadway shows to theme park rides.
PUBLISHED: April 7, 2014
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4546 words)