The Origin of Cities - "It may seem odd to conduct the rise of cities to ritual, inequality, and debt, and yet they play a very large role in the urban revolution." (via) [more inside]
The sixth official installment in the Civilization computer game series drops any minute now, and the anticipation is at its usual fever pitch. [more inside]
Freedom of speech in the digital age - "Speech that disseminates ideas is more valuable than speech whose purpose is to intimidate others." [more inside]
From deities to data - "For thousands of years humans believed that authority came from the gods. Then, during the modern era, humanism gradually shifted authority from deities to people... Now, a fresh shift is taking place. Just as divine authority was legitimised by religious mythologies, and human authority was legitimised by humanist ideologies, so high-tech gurus and Silicon Valley prophets are creating a new universal narrative that legitimises the authority of algorithms and Big Data." [more inside]
In the 1920s the US industrialist wanted to found a city based on the values that made his company a success – while, of course, producing cheap rubber. The jungle city that bore his name ended up one of his biggest failuresDrew Reed, Fordlandia – the failure of Henry Ford's utopian city in the Amazon, The Guardian (19 August 2016). [more inside]
The Economic Lessons of Star Trek's Money-Free Society - "[Manu Saadia] points to technologies like GPS and the internet as models for how we can set ourselves on the path to a Star Trek future. 'If we decide as a society to make more of these crucial things available to all as public goods, we're probably going to be well on our way to improving the condition of everybody on Earth', he says. But he also warns that technology alone won't create a post-scarcity future... 'This is something that has to be dealt with on a political level, and we have to face that.' " (via) [more inside]
Revealed: Cambodia's Vast Medieval Cities Hidden Beneath the Jungle [The Guardian] Archaeologists in Cambodia have found multiple, previously undocumented medieval cities not far from the ancient temple city of Angkor Wat, the Guardian can reveal, in groundbreaking discoveries that promise to upend key assumptions about south-east Asia’s history. The Australian archaeologist Dr Damian Evans, whose findings will be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science on Monday, will announce that cutting-edge airborne laser scanning technology has revealed multiple cities between 900 and 1,400 years old beneath the tropical forest floor, some of which rival the size of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.
In his follow-up to Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari envisions what a 'useless class' of humans might look like as AI advances and spreads - "I'm aware that these kinds of forecasts have been around for at least 200 years, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and they never came true so far. It's basically the boy who cried wolf, but in the original story of the boy who cried wolf, in the end, the wolf actually comes, and I think that is true this time." [more inside]
As if strategy gamers didn't have enough devouring their free time between Stellaris and XCOM 2, Firaxis have just announced Civilization 6. [more inside]
The Man Who Made A Million Empires by Colin Campbell [Polygon]
Not many creators have the brazen audacity to slap their name in the actual titles of the things they create. John Lennon didn't call his 1971 album, "John Lennon's Imagine." Mrs. Dalloway isn't called "Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway." James Cameron has so far managed to keep his name out of all his movie titles. But a lot of Sid Meier's games flash the words "Sid Meier" right there in the title. Most famously: the Sid Meier's Civilization series, which has sold more than 33 million units over the past 25 years. The most recent is 2010's Sid Meier's Civilization V. It's one of the greatest strategy games ever made.
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World - "With interviewees ranging from Elon Musk to a gaming addict, Werner Herzog presents the web in all its wildness and utopian potential in this dizzying documentary." (via)
At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen and commenters are answering the question, "If you had the power to make civilization unlearn one technology or theory in use today, what would it be?" Leading candidates include nuclear weapons, cigarettes, the AK-47, and Twitter.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari - "The book delivers on its madly ambitious subtitle by in fact managing to cover key moments in the developmental history of humankind from the emergence of Homo Sapiens to today's developments in genetic engineering." Also btw, check out Harari on the myths we need to survive, re: fact/value distinctions and their interrelationships.
"Erik, photojournalist, and I have come here to try and get the measure of this place. Nevada is the uncanny locus of disparate monuments all concerned with charting deep time, leaving messages for future generations of human beings to puzzle over the meaning of: a star map, a nuclear waste repository and a clock able to keep time for 10,000 years—all of them within a few hours drive of Las Vegas through the harsh desert." -- Built For Eternity, Elmo Keep on structures designed to potentially outlast human civilization. (Motherboard)
So, the apocalypse happens, in whatever flavor you prefer, and eventually our descendants (or the cockroaches') are poised to inherit the earth. Lucky for them, we've left a nice cache of information for them (previously on the Blue) so that they don't have to reinvent the wheel or Pokemon or whatever. Question is, will they be able to do that--or, rather, how difficult would it be to do that--if we use up all the fossil fuels first? [more inside]
Globalization is a brutal phenomenon. It brings us mass displacement, wars, terrorism, unchecked financial capitalism, inequality, xenophobia, climate change. But if globalization is capable of holding out any fundamental promise to us, any temptation to go along with its havoc, then surely that promise ought to be this: we will be more free to invent ourselves. In that country, this city, in Lahore, in New York, in London, that factory, this office, in those clothes, that occupation, in wherever it is we long for, we will be liberated to be what we choose to be.- Discontent and Its Civilizations (excerpt), by Mohsin Hamid (previously); reviewed [more inside]
[more inside]We want our tools to sing of not just productivity but of our love of curiosity, the joy of wonderment, and the freshness of the unknown. —Eric Paulos, “Manifesto of Open Disruption and Participation”In his essay “Walking in the City,” the French scholar Michel de Certeau talks about the “invisible identities of the visible.” He is talking specifically about the memories and personal narratives associated with a location. Until recently, this information was only accessible one-to-one—that is, by talking to people who had knowledge of a place. But what if that data became one-to-many, or even many-to-many, and easily accessible via some sort of street-level interface that could be accessed manually, or wirelessly using a smartphone?
Alkebu-lan 1260 AH (higher resolution) is an alternative history map of Africa in AD 1844, taking as its point of departure from our timeline an even deadlier medieval Black Death, killing almost all Europeans. It is made by Swedish artist Nikolaj Cyon, who explains some of his sources and thinking in this Prezi presentation. Cyon's thinking about alternative history is partly inspired by playing the computer game Civilization, and he has made a mod where you can play the medieval kingdom of Kongo
On this day one hundred years ago, Imperial German soldiers who had peacefully arrived in the Belgian city of Leuven (Fr: Louvain), having taken hostages and accepted the parole of its mayor on behalf of its citizens, without warning set fire to the city and massacred its inhabitants forever altering the city, its university's library, and the course of the war.
Belgian Judicial Report on the Sacking of Louvain in August 1914 The destruction and rebuilding of the Louvain Library: claim and counterclaim
Scott Aaronson on building a 'PageRank' for (eigen)morality and (eigen)trust - "Now, would those with axes to grind try to subvert such a system the instant it went online? Certainly. For example, I assume that millions of people would rate Conservapedia as a more trustworthy source than Wikipedia—and would rate other people who had done so as, themselves, trustworthy sources, while rating as untrustworthy anyone who called Conservapedia untrustworthy. So there would arise a parallel world of trust and consensus and 'expertise', mutually-reinforcing yet nearly disjoint from the world of the real. But here's the thing: anyone would be able to see, with the click of a mouse, the extent to which this parallel world had diverged from the real one." [more inside]
Travel was always desirable to them / And they visited every continent … They considered travel and homeland synonymous / For them, every valley and desert was home. [more inside]
The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution - "[Charles Percy Snow] was pleading for a more adequately educated ruling class so that the suffering of the poor might be ameliorated... Snow wanted to believe something like this: political decisions in the modern world often concern how to deploy science and technology, so people well-trained in science and technology will be better prepared to make those decisions. But that's a syllogism without a minor premise." (previously) [more inside]
Opening Strategy Splits Civ V Studio. Since the beginning of time, man has been bedeviled by the eternal question: "In Sid Meier's Civilization, is it better to found your first city on the opening move, or move around to find a more advantageous spot?"
How The Economic Machine Works by Ray Dalio actually makes a case against austerity and for redistribution, but also for money printing (and, arguably, for bailouts), while stressing the need to keep making productivity-improving public and private investments. However, it could be equally entitled: How The Industrial Age Political-Economy Doesn't Work Anymore, viz. Surviving Progress (2011)... [more inside]
In a Sydney Morning Herald exclusive, an international team of archeologists have revealed the discovery of a hitherto unknown city in Cambodia.
Dr Evans, director of the University of Sydney's archaeological research centre in Cambodia, said the ''eureka moment'' in the discovery came weeks earlier when the lidar data popped up on a computer screen. ''With this instrument - bang - all of a sudden we saw an immediate picture of an entire city that no one knew existed which is just remarkable,'' he said.Mahendraparvata, as the city is known, is estimated to be 350 years older than the UNESCO Heritage site of Angkor Wat, built on on Phnom Kulen before Jayavarman II descended from the mountain to build another capital. As Dr Evans said ''This is where it all began, giving rise to the Angkor civilisation that everyone associates with Angkor Wat." The news comes on the heels of the recent repatriation of looted archeological treasures back to Cambodia by the New York Metropolitan museum.
Videogames Are Drugs: Dorkly presents a few comics which compare videogames to their analogous drugs.
In his retirement speech, Donald Kagan, eminent historian of Ancient Greece, sounds the alarm about the decline of American democracy and Western Civilization. The Academy is fragmented, overrun by political correctness, and lacks focus. American society is plagued with similar problems, and Americans are no longer self-sufficient enough. Is his lament simply an echo of declinism?
Social Evolution - The Ritual Animal "Praying, fighting, dancing, chanting — human rituals could illuminate the growth of community and the origins of civilization." [more inside]
A team of computer researchers analyzed ten million Yahoo! e-mails and noticed a phenomenon: "E-mails tend to flow much more frequently between countries with certain economic and cultural similarities". [more inside]
Ever played Monopoly? Then you've played a board game that was designed by a woman (it was, under its original title, "The Landlord's Game," the creation of Elizabeth Magie). Want to play more board games designed by women? Let's go! [more inside]
A five-part series on the ultimate limit on technology, and how that limit could help us find other civilizations: 1 2 3 4 5 [via]
State of the Species: Will the unprecedented success of Homo sapiens lead to an unavoidable downfall? [Via]
This month we've gone too far, we humans on Earth. "[H]umanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year. We are now operating in overdraft." [more inside]
In Praise of Leisure - "Imagine a world in which most people worked only 15 hours a week. They would be paid as much as, or even more than, they now are, because the fruits of their labor would be distributed more evenly across society. Leisure would occupy far more of their waking hours than work. It was exactly this prospect that John Maynard Keynes conjured up in a little essay published in 1930 called 'Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren.' Its thesis was simple. As technological progress made possible an increase in the output of goods per hour worked, people would have to work less and less to satisfy their needs, until in the end they would have to work hardly at all... He thought this condition might be reached in about 100 years — that is, by 2030." (via) [more inside]
Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Colonization, the 2008 remake of 1994's Sid Meier's Colonization was met with some hostility over the concept at the outset. Trevor Owens and Rebbeca Mir, contributors to Play the Past, have been making a series of blog posts about the inherently problematic nature of the game. It started with "Sid Meier's Colonization: Is it offensive enough?", next was "if (!isNative()[returnfalse;]: De-People-ing Native Peopls in Sid Meier's Colonization?", then "Guns, Germs and Horses: Cultural Exchange in Sid Meier's Colonization" and, the latest, "Playing at Slavery: Modding Colonization for Authenticity" [more inside]
Last night, author and farmer Wendell Berry delivered a powerful lecture [video; full text here includes portions not delivered verbally] to a full house on the occasion of his accepting the National Endowment of the Humanities' Jefferson Award. The famous PC holdout has appeared previously in the blue, but this lecture is not to be missed. Here is soul nourishment for the long-time Berry follower, and for the newcomer a superb introduction to one of our time's greatest intellects. [more inside]
Do Sports Build Character or Damage It? They foster the warrior within us, for better and for worse. [Via]
The ruins of Gede are the remains of a mysterious lost city on the Swahili Coast of Kenya, located deep within the Arabuko Sokoke forest. The mystery of Gede (Gedi) is that it does not appear in any Swahili, Portuguese, or Arab written records and present day research has not yet been able to fully account for what actually happened to the city. The inhabitants were of the Swahili, an ancient trading civilization that emerged along the eastern coasts of Africa ranging from Somalia to Mozambique. Archaeological excavations carried out between 1948 and 1958 have uncovered porcelain from China, an Indian lamp, Venetian beads, Spanish scissors, and other artefacts from all over the world, demonstrating the occupants were engaged in extensive and sophisticated international trade. Questions still remain as to what caused the downfall of Gede, but by the 17th century, the city was completely abandoned to the forest and forgotten until the 1920s. Today, a National Museum, Gede's sister cities from the period are part of the ethnography based archeological work of Dr Chapurukha M. Kusimba of Chicago's Field Museum, whose lifework has thrown light on the precolonial heritage of the Swahili peoples.
The Battle Over Zomia. "Scholars are enchanted by the notion of this anarchistic region in Asia. But how real is it?" [Previously]
Microsoft released Age of Empires Online last week -- a free-to-play realtime strategy game, and it's getting some pretty good press. [more inside]
National Characters is a long, multi-part essay about how computer games deal with the concept of nations and turns it into a game mechanic. The author, Troy Goodfellow of strategy gaming blog Flash of Steel, focuses on how the fourteen indistinguishable national factions of the original Sid Meier's Civilization have been treated by different games through the years. [more inside]
Computer Gets 33% Better at Playing Civilization, By Reading the Manual: An MIT experiment has apparently succeeded in getting a computer to learn from human-readable, English-language text, the computer extrapolating useful strategies and tactics from an instruction manual so effectively as to dramatically increase its victory ratio in the Sid Meier universe. Via io9.
"We come up with two new mysteries for every one that we solve," he [Schmidt] says. Still, he has already drawn some conclusions. "Twenty years ago everyone believed civilization was driven by ecological forces," Schmidt says. "I think what we are learning is that civilization is a product of the human mind." - Charles C. Mann writes about Göbekli Tepe for National Geographic.