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D.I.Y. Artificial Intelligence Comes to a Japanese Family Farm

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Not much about Makoto Koike’s adult life suggests that he would be a farmer. Trained as an engineer, he spent most of his career in a busy urban section of Aichi Prefecture, Japan, near the headquarters of the Toyota Motor Corporation, writing software to control cars. Koike’s longtime hobby is tinkering with electronic kits and machines; he is not naturally an outdoorsy type. Yet, in 2014, at the age of thirty-three, he left his job and city life to move to his parents’ cucumber farm, in the greener prefecture of Shizuoka. “I thought I was getting old,” Koike told me. “I wanted to be close to my home and my family.”

The Koikes have been growing cucumbers in Kosai, a town wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the brackish Lake Hamana, for nearly fifty years. Their crop, which fills three small greenhouses, grows year-round. Koike’s father, Harumi, plants the seeds; Koike oversees their cultivation; and his mother, Masako, sorts the harvest. This last job is particularly important in Japan, which is famously discerning about its produce. Nice strawberries can fetch several dollars apiece in some markets, and a sublime cubic watermelon can go for hundreds. Vegetables hold a less privileged place than fruits, but supermarkets rarely stock produce that is at all irregular in shape or size. The Koikes send their better cucumbers, the ones that are straight and uniform in thickness, to wholesalers. The not-so-perfect ones go to local stands, where they are sold at half price. (“They taste the same,” Koike said.) Masako judges the vegetables one by one, separating them into bins. Though she devotes only half a second to each cucumber, the task takes up most of her work time; on some days, she goes through around four thousand of them.

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For decades, Makoto Koike’s mother has been sorting cucumbers by hand. Now he is trying to teach a machine to replace her.

Photograph by Yagi Studio / Getty

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http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/diy-artificial-intelligence-comes-to-a-japanese-family-farm

 

 

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Trump’s Business of Corruption

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President Donald Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow recently told me that the investigation being led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed by the Justice Department, should focus on one question: whether there was “coördination between the Russian government and people on the Trump campaign.” Sekulow went on, “I want to be really specific. A real-estate deal would be outside the scope of legitimate inquiry.” If he senses “drift” in Mueller’s investigation, he said, he will warn the special counsel’s office that it is exceeding its mandate. The issue will first be raised “informally,” he noted. But if Mueller and his team persist, Sekulow said, he might lodge a formal objection with the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, who has the power to dismiss Mueller and end the inquiry. President Trump has been more blunt, hinting to the Times that he might fire Mueller if the investigation looks too closely at his business dealings.

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Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Trump, is looking at his past deals.

Illustration by Oliver Munday; photograph by Skynesher / Getty (hands)

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Click link below for article:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/08/21/trumps-business-of-corruption

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A Summer School for Mathematicians Fed Up with Gerrymandering

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On a late-spring evening in Boston, just as the sun was beginning to set, a group of mathematicians lingered over the remains of the dinner they had just shared. While some cleared plates from the table, others started transforming skewers and hunks of raw potato into wobbly geodesic forms. Justin Solomon, an assistant professor at M.I.T., lunged forward to keep his structure from collapsing. “That’s five years of Pixar right there,” he joked. (Solomon worked at the animation studio before moving to academia.) He and his collaborators were unwinding after a long day making preparations for a new program at Tufts University—a summer school at which mathematicians, along with data analysts, legal scholars, schoolteachers, and political scientists, will learn to use their expertise to combat gerrymandering.

The school, which began on Monday, is the brainchild of a young Tufts professor named Moon Duchin, who specializes in geometry. It has drawn participants from France, Israel, Japan, Singapore, and forty U.S. states. Some of Duchin’s students plan to train as expert witnesses, or to run for office. One mathematician enrolled out of a Christian sense of justice; another cited the day-to-day frustrations of living in a severely gerrymandered Florida district. Yet another applicant wrote, “Until very recently, I thought doing anything about this was a hopeless cause.” At the dinner, Duchin acknowledged that she was “kind of devastated by this election,” but both she and her colleagues were careful to point out that their venture is strictly nonpartisan. It was inspired by a simple question: What if there are well-researched areas of math that could simplify, or at least systematize, the fraught process of redistricting?

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Gerrymandering has been a thorn in the side of the U.S. political system since before the very first Congress was elected.

Illustration by Yarek Waszul

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Click link below for article:

http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/a-summer-school-for-mathematicians-fed-up-with-gerrymandering

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The Mothers Being Deported by Trump

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On June 28th, President Trump convened a roundtable at the White House that included victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. The event was part of the Administration’s push to pass several new immigration bills designed to, in Trump’s words, “close the dangerous loopholes exploited by criminals, gang members, drug dealers, killers, terrorists.” A regular theme of the Trump Administration’s messaging on immigration has been to present undocumented “bad hombres” as an immediate threat to the safety and cohesion of the American family unit.

But some of Trump’s immigration policies, in themselves, have endangered families across America. The stories below, of four mothers who have been targeted for deportation since January, show how. As the director of the Global Migration Project, at Columbia Journalism School, I spent the spring supervising a team of twelve journalists who sought to understand the evolution of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under President Trump. We began by assembling a database of enforcement activity: pulling in information from all fifty states on local raids, family separations, immigration-detention trends, and more. For three months, we scoured law-enforcement blotters, public ICE memos, local news sources, and social-media forums. We then spoke with individuals facing removal proceedings around the country, as well as their attorneys, employers, colleagues, spouses, and children.

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President Trump has portrayed the undocumented as “bad hombres” who threaten the American family unit. But his crackdown has torn some families apart.

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http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-mothers-being-deported-by-trump?mbid=social_twitter

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The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself to Death

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Last September, a very twenty-first-century type of story appeared on the company blog of the ride-sharing app Lyft. “Long-time Lyft driver and mentor, Mary, was nine months pregnant when she picked up a passenger the night of July 21st,” the post began. “About a week away from her due date, Mary decided to drive for a few hours after a day of mentoring.” You can guess what happened next.

Mary, who was driving in Chicago, picked up a few riders, and then started having contractions. “Since she was still a week away from her due date,” Lyft wrote, “she assumed they were simply a false alarm and continued driving.” As the contractions continued, Mary decided to drive to the hospital. “Since she didn’t believe she was going into labor yet,” Lyft went on, “she stayed in driver mode, and sure enough—ping!— she received a ride request en route to the hospital.”

“Luckily,” as Lyft put it, the passenger requested a short trip. After completing it, Mary went to the hospital, where she was informed that she was in labor. She gave birth to a daughter, whose picture appears in the post. (She’s wearing a “Little Miss Lyft” onesie.) The post concludes with a call for similar stories: “Do you have an exciting Lyft story you’d love to share? Tweet us your story at @lyft_CHI!”

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Fiverr, an online freelance marketplace that promotes itself as being for “the lean entrepreneur,” recently attracted ire for an ad campaign called “In Doers We Trust.”

COURTESY FIVERR

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Click link below for article:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/jia-tolentino/the-gig-economy-celebrates-working-yourself-to-death

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Conservationists Could Be Saving More Biodiversity in Less Space

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The Cuban solenodon, a nocturnal, football-sized mammal that resembles a chunky shrew, has an abundance of peculiar qualities. It has a long cartilaginous snout and venomous saliva, which it uses to catch and kill insects and worms. It has terrible eyesight and may be capable of echolocation. The few people who have handled one say that it smells like a goat, and when it is startled it runs on its toes, usually in awkward zigzags that do little to help it avoid capture. Like its cousin the Hispaniolan solenodon, whose snout sits on a ball-and-socket joint, it is an evolutionary curiosity. Most plant and animal species share a history with multiple close relatives—kangaroos with wallabies, eagles with hawks, peach trees with cherry trees, and so on. But the solenodons’ lonely lineage diverged from the rest of the mammals’ back in the Cretaceous period, when the dinosaurs still had more than ten million years left on Earth. In a paper published in this week’s issue of Nature, three researchers argue that the protection of outlier species like the solenodon could have disproportionate—and, to a large extent, untapped—benefits for global biodiversity.

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In a new paper, researchers argue that oddball animals like the Cuban solenodon should be more aggressively protected.COURTESY NEW YORK ZOOLOGICAL SOCIETY / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

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Click link below for article:

http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/conservationists-could-be-saving-more-biodiversity-in-less-space

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Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

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thenewyorker1

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In 1975, researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented with pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones.

Some students discovered that they had a genius for the task. Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times. Others discovered that they were hopeless. They identified the real note in only ten instances.

 As is often the case with psychological studies, the whole setup was a put-on. Though half the notes were indeed genuine—they’d been obtained from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office—the scores were fictitious. The students who’d been told they were almost always right were, on average, no more discerning than those who had been told they were mostly wrong.

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The vaunted human capacity for reason may have more to do with winning arguments than with thinking straight.

The vaunted human capacity for reason may have more to do with winning arguments than with thinking straight.Illustration by Gérard DuBois

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http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds

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