M.I.T. Computer Program Alarmingly Predicts in 1973 That Civilization Will End by 2040

In 1704, Isaac Newton predicted the end of the world sometime around (or after, "but not before") the year 2060, using a strange series of mathematical calculations. Rather than study what he called the “book of nature,” he took as his source the supposed prophecies of the book of Revelation. While such predictions have always been central to Christianity, it is startling for modern people to look back and see the famed astronomer and physicist indulging them. For Newton, however, as Matthew Stanley writes at Science, “laying the foundation of modern physics and astronomy was a bit of a sideshow. He believed that his truly important work was deciphering ancient scriptures and uncovering the nature of the Christian religion.”

Over three hundred years later, we still have plenty of religious doomsayers predicting the end of the world with Bible codes. But in recent times, their ranks have seemingly been joined by scientists whose only professed aim is interpreting data from climate research and sustainability estimates given population growth and dwindling resources. The scientific predictions do not draw on ancient texts or theology, nor involve final battles between good and evil. Though there may be plagues and other horrible reckonings, these are predictably causal outcomes of over-production and consumption rather than divine wrath. Yet by some strange fluke, the science has arrived at the same apocalyptic date as Newton, plus or minus a decade or two.




The “end of the world” in these scenarios means the end of modern life as we know it: the collapse of industrialized societies, large-scale agricultural production, supply chains, stable climates, nation states…. Since the late sixties, an elite society of wealthy industrialists and scientists known as the Club of Rome (a frequent player in many conspiracy theories) has foreseen these disasters in the early 21st century. One of the sources of their vision is a computer program developed at MIT by computing pioneer and systems theorist Jay Forrester, whose model of global sustainability, one of the first of its kind, predicted civilizational collapse in 2040. “What the computer envisioned in the 1970s has by and large been coming true,” claims Paul Ratner at Big Think.

Those predictions include population growth and pollution levels, “worsening quality of life,” and “dwindling natural resources.” In the video at the top, see Australia's ABC explain the computer’s calculations, “an electronic guided tour of our global behavior since 1900, and where that behavior will lead us,” says the presenter. The graph spans the years 1900 to 2060. "Quality of life" begins to sharply decline after 1940, and by 2020, the model predicts, the metric contracts to turn-of-the-century levels, meeting the sharp increase of the “Zed Curve" that charts pollution levels. (ABC revisited this reporting in 1999 with Club of Rome member Keith Suter.)

You can probably guess the rest—or you can read all about it in the 1972 Club of Rome-published report Limits to Growth, which drew wide popular attention to Jay Forrester’s books Urban Dynamics (1969) and World Dynamics (1971). Forrester, a figure of Newtonian stature in the worlds of computer science and management and systems theory—though not, like Newton, a Biblical prophecy enthusiast—more or less endorsed his conclusions to the end of his life in 2016. In one of his last interviews, at the age of 98, he told the MIT Technology Review, “I think the books stand all right.” But he also cautioned against acting without systematic thinking in the face of the globally interrelated issues the Club of Rome ominously calls “the problematic”:

Time after time … you’ll find people are reacting to a problem, they think they know what to do, and they don’t realize that what they’re doing is making a problem. This is a vicious [cycle], because as things get worse, there is more incentive to do things, and it gets worse and worse.

Where this vague warning is supposed to leave us is uncertain. If the current course is dire, “unsystematic” solutions may be worse? This theory also seems to leave powerfully vested human agents (like Exxon's executives) wholly unaccountable for the coming collapse. Limits to Growth—scoffed at and disparagingly called “neo-Malthusian” by a host of libertarian critics—stands on far surer evidentiary footing than Newton’s weird predictions, and its climate forecasts, notes Christian Parenti, “were alarmingly prescient.” But for all this doom and gloom it’s worth bearing in mind that models of the future are not, in fact, the future. There are hard times ahead, but no theory, no matter how sophisticated, can account for every variable.

via Big Think

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Explore Meticulous 3D Models of Endangered Historical Sites in Google’s “Open Heritage” Project

One brisk thumping by a natural disaster, totalitarian regime, or terrorist group is more than enough to reduce an awe-inspiring heritage site to rubble.

With that sad fact in mind, Google Arts & Culture has paired with CyArk, a non profit whose mission is using the latest technologies to digitally document and preserve the world's significant cultural heritage in an easily shareable format.




The resulting project, Open Heritage, is a massive browsable collection of 3D heritage data, already the largest of its kind, and certain to increase as its creators race against the clock.

As of this writing, visitors can explore 3D models of 27 heritage sites from 18 countries.

Even those of us who’ve had the good fortune to visit these sites in person have much to gain from the drone’s eye view of the Caracol observatory that’s part of Mexico’s ancient Mayan metropolis Chichén Itzá or Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate.

Each model is accompanied by an expedition overview that details the site’s history and significance, as well as its location on a map. Time lapse photos help give a sense of the site’s human traffic during the time it was being documented, as well as the nature of the work CyArk does on location. Significant details are highlighted, and their symbolism discussed.

CyArk will share project data with viewers who request it, using a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Equally important is the role these comprehensive 3D scans can play in current and future restoration efforts, by identifying areas of damage and documenting existing color and texture with down-to-the-millimeter precision.

Begin your virtual explorations of such Open Heritage sites as Greece’s Ancient Corinth, Lebanon’s Temple of Echoun, and Ayutthaya, Thailand’s Wat Si Sanphet, here.

Learn more about aerial photogrammetry, 3D laser scanning, stereoscopic 360 imagery, and other tools of the digital preservation trade here.

And stay abreast of CyArk’s work by subscribing to their free monthly newsletter here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her solo show Nurse!, in which one of Shakespeare’s best loved female characters hits the lecture circuit to set the record straight premieres in June at The Tank in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Download 240+ Free eBooks on Design, Data, Software, Web Development & Business from O’Reilly Media

Last year we highlighted for you 20 Free eBooks on Design from O’Reilly Media. Little did we know that we were just scratching the surface of the free ebooks O'Reilly Media has to offer.

If you head over to this page, you can access 240+ free ebooks covering a range of different topics. Below, we've divided the books into sections (and provided links to them), indicated the number of books in each section, and listed a few attractive/representative titles.

You can download the books in PDF format. An email address--but no credit card--is required. Again the complete list is here.

Note: An earlier version of this post originally appeared on our site in January 2017.

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Smartify, a Shazam for Art, Lets You Use Your Phone to Scan, Identify & Learn About Major Works of Art

Not so long ago, art museums were known as temples of quiet contemplation, despite daily invasions by raucous school groups.

Now, the onus is on the museums to bring the mountain to Mohammed. Those kids have smartphones. How long can a museum hope to stay relevant—nay, survive—without an app?

Many of the museums who’ve already partnered up with Smartify—an app (Mac-Android) that lets you take a picture of artwork with your phone and instantly access information about them—have existing apps of their own in place: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, to name a few.




These institutional apps provide visitors with an expanded view of the sort of information one commonly finds on a museum card, in addition to such practicalities as gallery layouts and calendars of events. More often than not, there’s an option to “save” an artwork the visitor finds captivating—no word on what this feature is doing to postcard sales in museum shops, so perhaps print isn't dead yet.

Given all the museum apps free for the downloading, for whom is Smartify, a "Shazam for art," intended?

Perhaps the globetrotting museum hopper eager to consolidate? Its developers are adamant that it’s intended to complement, not replace, in-person visits to the institutions where the works are housed, so armchair museum goers are advised to look elsewhere, like Google Arts & Culture.

Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries will be the smaller galleries and museums ill equipped to launch freestanding apps of their own. Smartify’s website states that it relies on “annual membership from museum partners, in-app transactions, advertising and data sales to relevant arts organisations.”

Early adopters complained that while the app (Mac-Android) had no trouble identifying famous works of art, it came up empty on the lesser-known pieces. That's a pity as these are the works visitors are most likely to seek further information on.

One of the developers compared the Smartify experience to visiting a museum in the company of “an enthusiastic and knowledgeable friend telling you more about a work of art.”

Maybe better to do just that, if the option exists? Such a friend would not be hampered by the copyright laws that hamper Smartify with regard to certain works. A friend might even stand you a hot chocolate or some pricey scone in the museum cafe.

At any rate, the app (Mac-Android) is now available for visitors to take for a spin in 22 different museums and galleries in the UK, US, and Europe, with the promise of more to come.

Those whose knowledge of art history is vast are likely to be underwhelmed, but it could be a way for those visiting with kids and teens to keep everyone engaged for the duration. As one enthusiastic user wrote:

As a childhood Pokemon fan and avid art fan, this is a dream come true. This is like a Pokedex for art lol. If you ever watched the anime, Ash Ketchum would scan a Pokemon with his Pokedex and get the details of its name, type, habits, etc. This app does that but instead of scanning monsters, it scans and analyzes art work then gives you the load (sic) down about it.

Those with Internet privacy concerns may choose to heed, instead, the user who wrote:

Be aware, they want to gather as a "side effect" your private art collection. I just wanted to try it out with some of my art pieces (Günther Förg, Richter, etc) but it doesn't work if you don't give them your location data. Be careful!

 

Museums and Galleries Whose Images/Art Appear in Smartify as of January 2018

USA:

J. Paul Getty Museum

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Laguna Art Museum

Museum of Contemporary Photography

Freer | Sackler GalleriesThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met Cloisters

 

UK:

The Bowes Museum

Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art

Ben Uri Gallery

The Wallace Collection

Royal Academy of Arts

National Gallery

Sculpture in the City

 

Europe:

Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum Twenthe

Little Beaux-Arts

Museo Correr

Museo San Donato (MPSArt)

The State Hermitage Museum

The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts

 

Download Smartify for Mac or Android.

via Dezeen

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Colors of Mister Rogers’ Hand-Knit Sweaters from 1979 to 2001: A Visual Graph Created with Data Science

Writer Owen Phillips may be a solid data analyst, but I suspect he’s not much of a knitter.

The software he used to run a scientific analysis of 22 years worth of Fred Rogers’ sweaters ultimately reduces the beloved children’s television host’s homey zip-front cardigans to a slick graphic of colorful bars.

A knitter would no doubt prioritize other types of patterns - stitch numbers, wool weight, cable variations…the sort of information Mister Rogers’ mother, Nancy, would have had at her fingertips.

As Mister Rogers reveals in the story of his sweaters, his mom was the knitter behind many of the on-air sweaters Phillips crunched with R code. Whether their subtly shifting palette reflects an adventurous spirit on the part of the maker or the recipient’s evolving taste is not for us to know.




After Mrs. Rogers’ death, producers had to resort to buying similar models. Many of her originals had worn through or been donated to charity events.

“Not an easy challenge in the 80’s and 90s,” Margy Whitmer, a producer of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood told Rewire. “It certainly wasn’t in style! But we found a company who made cotton ones that were similar, so we bought a bunch and dyed them.”

(A moment of silent gratitude that no one tried to shoehorn Fred Rogers into a Cosby Show sweater…)

It would be interesting to see what Phillips’ code could do with faulty viewer memories.

His input for the Mister Rogers’ Cardigans of Many Colors project was a chart on super fan Tim Lybarger’s Neighborhood Archive detailing the hue of every sweater Mister Rogers changed into on-camera from 1979 to 2001.

Without samples of the actual sweaters, Lybarger’s color chart could only be approximate, but unlike viewers’ fading memories, it’s rooted in his own visual observations of distinct episodes. Aging fans tend to jettison Rogers’ spectral reality in favor of a single shade, the bright red in which he greeted Wicked Witch of the West Margaret Hamilton in 1975, say, or the pleasant mouse-colored number he sported for a 1985 breakdancing session with a visiting 12-year-old.

For those who’d rather code than purl, Phillips shares MrRogers.R, the program he used to scrape the Neighborhood Archive for Mister Rogers daily sweater colors.

Then have a look at Rogers’ sweaters as rendered by Phillips’ fellow data geek, Alan Joyce, who tinkered with Phillips’ code to produce a gradient image.

via Kottke

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her current project is Theater of the Apes Sub-Adult Division’s fast approaching production of Animal Farm at the Tank in New York City.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Animated GIFs Show How Subway Maps of Berlin, New York, Tokyo & London Compare to the Real Geography of Those Great Cities

You can't make a perfectly accurate map, as Jorge Luis Borges so succinctly told us, without making it the exact same size and shape as the land it portrays. But given the utter uselessness of such an enormous piece of paper (which so frustrated the citizens of the imaginary empire in Borges' story that, "not without some pitilessness," they tossed theirs into the desert), no mapmaker would ever want to. A more compact map is a more useful one; unfortunately, a more compact map is also, by its very nature, a less accurate one.

New York

The same rule applies to maps of all kinds, and especially to transit maps, quite possibly the most useful specialized maps we consult today. They show us how to navigate cities, and yet their clean, bold lines, sometimes turning but never wavering, hardly represent those cities — subject as they are to variations in terrain and density, as well as centuries of unplannably organic growth — with geographical faithfulness. One can't help but wonder just how each urban transit map, some of them beloved works of design, strikes the usefulness-faithfulness balance.

London

Living in Seoul, I've grown used to the city's standard subway map. I thus get a kick out of scrutinizing the more geographically accurate one, which overlays the train lines onto an existing map of the city, posted on some station platforms. It reveals the truth that some lines are shorter than they look on the standard map, some are much longer, and none cut quite as clean a path through the city as they seem to. At Twisted Sifter you'll find a GIF gallery of 15 standard subway maps that morph into more geographically faithful equivalents, a vivid demonstration of just how much transit map designers need to twist, squeeze, and simplify an urban landscape to produce something legible at a glance.

Tokyo

All of those animations, just five of which you see in this post, come from the subreddit Data Is Beautiful, a realm populated by enthusiasts of the visual display of quantitative information — enthusiasts so enthusiastic that many of them create innovative data visualizations like these by themselves. According to their creations, subway maps, like that of New York City's venerable system, do relatively little to distort the city; others, like Tokyo's, look nearly unrecognizable when made to conform to geography.

Austin

Even the maps of new and incomplete transit networks do a number on the real shape and direction of their paths: the map of Austin, Texas' Capital MetroRail, for instance, straightens a somewhat zig-zaggy northeast-southwest track into a single horizontal line. It may take a few generations before Austin's "system" develops into one extensive and complex enough to inspire one of the great transit maps (the ranks, for example, of "The Wonderground Map of London Town"). But I wouldn't count out the possibility: the more fully cities realize their public-transit potential, the more opportunity opens up for the advancement of the subway mapmaker's art.

See all 15 of the subway GIFs at Twisted Sifter.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Library of Congress Makes 25 Million Records From Its Catalog Free to Download

Image by Carol Highsmith, via Wikimedia Commons

A quick fyi: According to Fortune, The Library of Congress announced that it "will make 25 million records from its catalog available for the public to download." They add:

Prior to this, the records—which include books and serials, music and manuscripts, and maps and visual materials spanning from 1968 to 2014—have only been accessible through a paid subscription. These files will be available for free download on [the Library of Congress site] and are also available on data.gov.

This move helps free up the library's digital assets, allowing social scientists, data analysts, developers, statisticians and everyone else to work with the data "to enhance learning and the formation of new knowledge." The huge data sets will be available here.

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If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

via Fortune

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