Vol 2 | #11 | 03.15.19

Read time: 3 minutes



Companies like Uber, DoorDash and Instacart like to talk about the “gig economy” they’re creating as a force of liberation — the freedom to earn money whenever you want doing simple things like driving your car and delivering food. This piece in The Atlantic asks: is that really true, or is it just the story they’ve successfully told while pulling off something far more feudal?

Author Alexis Madrigal’s concluding paragraphs lay bare what he thinks:

What the combined efforts of the Uber-for-X companies created is a new form of servant, one distributed through complex markets to thousands of different people. It was Uber, after all, that launched with the idea of becoming “everyone’s private driver,” a chauffeur for all.

An unkind summary, then, of the past half decade of the consumer internet: Venture capitalists have subsidized the creation of platforms for low-paying work that deliver on-demand servant services to rich people, while subjecting all parties to increased surveillance.

2The Fraud of Forensic Evidence

Reading this story about the wrongful accusation and conviction of Julie Rea for the stabbing murder of her own 9-year-old son is heartbreaking. Reading it as a former prosecutor who has dealt with forensic evidence experts across the wide spectrum of competence and expertise legitimacy is maddening. The interpretation of blood spatter evidence has more in common with the interpretation of goat entrails and tea leaves than with the physics of hydro-dynamics. That this kind of evidence and little else could result in wrongly sending a mother to prison branded a perpetrator of filicide is an injustice of the highest order.

Once again, the folks at Pro Publica show what first class journalism looks like. Bravo to them.

3AI, Neural Networks, and the Nature of Art

Just a few weeks ago, I highlighted this article by a philosopher that asserts that computers can never create genuine art. While the tools of AI and neural networks may or may not be up to creating what we deem art, they are definitely going to be making an impact in what it means to do art … and redefining who gets the credit for doing it.

Here is Ganbreeder, the app at the center of this article. There’s no way for me to describe it. You just have to pay a visit for yourself. Pick an image, click on the family tree icon beneath it, and see that image’s “lineage.” It’s a weird, almost surreal way of thinking about digital images.


4The Practice of Breaking Ancient Egyptian Noses

From mixing digital imagery to make modern AI art to defacing ancient art to make a point. Why are the noses broken off and missing from so many ancient Egyptian sculptures and artifacts? You may have heard the story of the demise of the Great Sphinx’s nose: that it was taken off due to French cannoneer firing a wayward ball during Napoleon’s time. (I had, and thought that was the actual story until literally just now writing this, when I learned otherwise. Thanks Smithsonian!)

Julia Wolkoff of Artsy.net has the story behind the rest of those missing noses.

5Yo-Yo Moon

No, this isn’t photographic fakery. That’s really the moon’s silhouette passing in front of the sun, and then passing back in the other direction. There’s a perfectly sound explanation for this, and it has to do with the math of orbital mechanics and perspective.

(And yes, I thoroughly pleased myself with that punny headline.)