For John Naughton's latest contributions to The Japan Times, see below:
May 16, 2014
May 9, 2014
Life is so unfair. Consider the humble newt — which, in case you're wondering, is an aquatic amphibian of the family Salamandridae. He has had such a bad press over the years. When PG Wodehouse, for example, was looking for a way of signaling that Bertie Wooster's chum Gussie Fink-Nottle was a feeble halfwit, he made him . . . a newt fancier.
May 2, 2014
Not often do you hear a "Newsnight" presenter using an arcane mathematical term, but last week was an exception. The culprit was David Grossman, who made an excellent film for "Newsnight" about the threat to employment from advanced robotics. In the course of this, he made the standard pilgrimage to MIT to interview Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, who have made much of the running in this area with a number of books, of which the most recent is "The Second Machine Age." Their argument, said Grossman, was that our society has reached an "inflection point," a concept beloved of those who studied differential calculus in their youth, but probably unfamiliar to the average viewer.
Apr 25, 2014
Back in the bad old days of the Cold War, one of the most revered branches of the inexact sciences was Kremlinology. In the West, newspapers, think tanks and governments retained specialists whose job was to scrutinize every scrap of evidence, gossip and rumor emanating from Moscow in the hope that it would provide some inkling of what the Soviet leadership was up to.
Apr 18, 2014
Apr 11, 2014
Apr 4, 2014
Last week in the Hague, Barack Obama seemed to have suddenly remembered the oath he swore on his inauguration as president — that stuff about preserving, protecting and defending the constitution of the United States. At any rate, he announced that the NSA would end the "bulk collection" of telephone records and instead would be required to seek a new kind of court order to search data held by telecommunications companies.
Mar 27, 2014
On Jan. 17, 1961, the outgoing U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, went on TV to deliver his valedictory address to the American people. Ike had been a relatively uncontroversial president. He had overseen a period of astonishing prosperity and economic growth. He had impeccable military credentials, having been supreme commander of allied forces in World War II. So nobody could have accused him of being a radical.
Mar 20, 2014
As someone who is supposed to know about these things, I'm sometimes asked to give talks about computing to non-technical audiences. The one thing I have learned from doing this is that if you want people to understand technological ideas then you have to speak to them in terms that resonate with their experience of everyday things.
Mar 6, 2014
If you were hoping to find a hotel room in Barcelona last week, then tough luck. Barcelona was full, period. It was the week of the Mobile World Congress, you see, the annual convention of what is, for the moment at least, the most dynamic industry on the planet. Everybody and his dog was there, except of course Apple, which sees no need to play second fiddle even to a global conference when it can attract more media attention with its own events.
Feb 27, 2014
When corporate types gather to schmooze at expensive watering holes they talk about competition as an unalloyed public good. It's seen in Darwinian terms: companies engaged in a ceaseless battle for survival, with only the fittest emerging triumphant. But generally the discussion is couched in agreeably vague, general terms. The sordid realities of Darwinian competition — nature red in tooth and claw — are generally eschewed on the golf course and at the poolside.
Feb 20, 2014
Last week, my inbox began to fill up with angry emails. Had I seen the dreadful/unbelievable/disgraceful/hilarious (delete as appropriate) "Newsnight" interview with Lottie Dexter? I hadn't, and as I'd never heard of Ms. Dexter, I wasn't unduly bothered. After all, life is too short to watch every edition of "Newsnight."
Feb 13, 2014
A few weeks ago, I bought a copy of "The Second Machine Age" by two MIT researchers, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, who are among the most insightful commentators currently writing about the likely impact on employment of advanced robotics, machine learning and big-data analytics. Since I already own more physical books than my house and office can hold, I tend now to buy the Kindle version of texts that are relevant to my work, and so it was with the Brynjolfsson and McAfee volume.
Feb 6, 2014
Jan 30, 2014
A few days ago, I dropped into my doctor's surgery to pick up a prescription and was confronted by one of those large floor-mounted pop-up displays that one finds at exhibitions, trade fairs and circuses. It informed me of an exciting new scheme by which the "quality of care and health services" would be "improved" by "sharing" information about the care I receive with those who plan health and social care services, as well as with "approved researchers and organizations outside the NHS" (National Health Service).
Jan 23, 2014
Jan 16, 2014
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