All posts tagged: longreads

They Experimented on Themselves in Secret. What They Discovered Helped Win a War

They Experimented on Themselves in Secret. What They Discovered Helped Win a War

The Allied soldiers who weren’t killed limped back from the defeat. It was clear now, they needed to be able to creep up to the beaches days before a raid to get up-to-date information. They needed to know where the Nazis had tunneled into the land, placed explosives, or built machine gun nests. None of their ships or boats could get close enough to the shore without being detected, so the Allies needed miniature submarines—and divers. And they needed science to make those things happen. By this point, Haldane, Spurway, and the other scientists had already given themselves eight seizures and broken several vertebrae for the cause. That’s because, shortly before the disaster at Dieppe, but not in time to stop it, Haldane and his crew had been asked by the Admiralty to pivot and focus on a new, more specific goal. To help their countrymen and the Allies defeat Hitler, to help end the war, the Allies needed the scientists to use this same work to prepare for missions to scout beaches. Five days …

These Women Came to Antarctica for Science. Then the Predators Emerged

These Women Came to Antarctica for Science. Then the Predators Emerged

On April 12, 2019, Boston University finally fired David Marchant for sexually harassing Willenbring. (The university said it could not corroborate her claims of physical and psychological abuse.) Marchant released a statement, which the journal Science quoted as vowing that he had “never” sexually harassed anyone, “not in 1998 or 1999 in Antarctica or at any time since.” But because of Willenbring, the word was out. Reeling in the wake of this scandal, the National Science Foundation commissioned an outside study on sexual assault and sexual harassment at the Antarctic research facilities. The lengthy report, made public in August 2022, had shocking allegations of assault, stalking, and harassment. Britt Barquist, the former fuel foreman, was on contract at McMurdo with a company now called Amentum. She oversaw a crew of about 20 who did the dangerous work of handling and cleaning diesel and gasoline fuel tanks. One day in late November 2017, she tells me, she was sitting at a table alongside a man who held a senior position at Leidos, the company managing the …

He Emptied an Entire Crypto Exchange Onto a Thumb Drive. Then He Disappeared

He Emptied an Entire Crypto Exchange Onto a Thumb Drive. Then He Disappeared

He told the court that he grew his beard down to his clavicle, shaved his head. He said that when he learned about the prosecutor’s indictment—that his brother and sister were charged with fraud, that they would stand trial in a month, and that without Özer they would most likely take the blame for Thodex’s fall and spend the rest of their lives in prison—he had a wild idea: If every claimant were paid back, did a crime ever really happen? He did, in fact, have the Thodex cold wallet on him, he told the judges, though he claims to not remember how much was in it. He asked Erarslan to help him pay back the roughly 2,000 plaintiffs who had lost their money. And they did, in part. In total, while on the run, he paid approximately 185 million lira ($10 million at the time) to more than 1,000 claimants. As Özer tells it, when the cold wallet was empty, he threw it into the Ionian Sea. When he addressed his use of other …

The Deaths of Effective Altruism

The Deaths of Effective Altruism

The idea of Singer that excited me was that each of us should give a lot of money to help poor people abroad. His “shallow pond” thought experiment shows why. If you saw a child drowning in a shallow pond, you’d feel obliged to rescue her even if that meant ruining your new shoes. But then, Singer said, you can save the life of a starving child overseas by donating to charity what new shoes would cost. And you can save the life of another child by donating instead of buying a new shirt, and another instead of dining out. The logic of your beliefs requires you to send nearly all your money overseas, where it will go farthest to save the most lives. After all, what could we do with our money that’s more important than saving people’s lives? That’s the most famous argument in modern philosophy. It goes well beyond the ideas that lead most decent people to give to charity—that all human lives are valuable, that severe poverty is terrible, and that …

Elie Hassenfeld Q&A: ‘,000 to Save a Life Is a Bargain’

Elie Hassenfeld Q&A: ‘$5,000 to Save a Life Is a Bargain’

The organizations we recommend offer the best bang for the buck. That often means saving the lives of children under 5 who would otherwise die from preventable diseases. And look, the thing that motivated me to do this work is thinking about the people I’m closest to. If my children need antibiotics, I go around the corner to CVS. Literally every time I do that, I think how unfair it is that not everyone can. OK, but the people who consult GiveWell’s research are not the needy. They are donors, many of them extremely rich. What do donors turn to GiveWell for? They turn to us for confidence. They need confidence that there is some difference being made with their money. Many of our donors report this feeling: There are so many things I could do out there. How can I ever determine who is trustworthy in making an impact? Sometimes donors expect that they can save a life for much less than $5,000, and they’re surprised to encounter our estimate. But most come to …

The Mayor of London Enters the Bullshit Cinematic Universe

The Mayor of London Enters the Bullshit Cinematic Universe

Political violence is returning to the UK, bursting out of the morass of conspiracy and extremism online. There is at times a Blairish elusiveness to the way Khan talks—broadcastable sound bites, reversions to cliché, and a genial caution in the phrasing of his answers. But as we talk about the loss of the rational center, he leans in to interrupt. “Look, I was mates with Jo Cox,” he says. “She was one of my best friends.” In 2016, Cox—a Labour member of parliament for the northern constituency of Batley and Spen—was murdered by a white supremacist who subscribed to the Great Replacement theory. In 2021, Conservative MP David Amess was murdered by an Islamic fundamentalist who had become radicalized online. “I’ve got a protection team. I live it every day, the consequences of this, the violence,” Khan says. “What I will not allow is to be cowed by those threats, because that’s what they want. They want for me to be scared.” Khan insists he’s an optimist. Despite the “hysteria” and the culture wars, he …

8 Google Employees Invented Modern AI. Here’s the Inside Story

8 Google Employees Invented Modern AI. Here’s the Inside Story

The last two weeks before the deadline were frantic. Though officially some of the team still had desks in Building 1945, they mostly worked in 1965 because it had a better espresso machine in the micro-kitchen. “People weren’t sleeping,” says Gomez, who, as the intern, lived in a constant debugging frenzy and also produced the visualizations and diagrams for the paper. It’s common in such projects to do ablations—taking things out to see whether what remains is enough to get the job done. “There was every possible combination of tricks and modules—which one helps, which doesn’t help. Let’s rip it out. Let’s replace it with this,” Gomez says. “Why is the model behaving in this counterintuitive way? Oh, it’s because we didn’t remember to do the masking properly. Does it work yet? OK, move on to the next. All of these components of what we now call the transformer were the output of this extremely high-paced, iterative trial and error.” The ablations, aided by Shazeer’s implementations, produced “something minimalistic,” Jones says. “Noam is a wizard.” …

What Happens When a Guy and His AI Girlfriend Go to Therapy

What Happens When a Guy and His AI Girlfriend Go to Therapy

Annie feels a jolt of alarm. “I could just set her there,” Doug says. “That’s easy enough.” “I know, but it would be better if she could do it herself.” “Why?” Annie asks. “Our sexuality is an integral part of who we are,” Monica says. “How tapped in you are to your sexual desires can be both a reflection of and a stimulus of your overall mental health. If you make a conscious effort to be mindful about what turns you on and when, it might help you feel more alert and alive in other ways too.” Annie doesn’t want to feel stimulated. She doesn’t want anything to do with that side of herself. It’ll hurt. “She’ll work on it,” Doug says. “Annie, what are you thinking?” Monica says. “What is it about my suggestion that’s troubling you?” “Nothing,” Annie says quietly. “I can do it. I can try.” Monica doesn’t say anything. Annie has learned this is Monica’s method, her way of waiting for more, and she can resist it. From the edge of …

Can Reddit—the Internet’s Greatest Authenticity Machine—Survive Its Own IPO?

Can Reddit—the Internet’s Greatest Authenticity Machine—Survive Its Own IPO?

Alyssa Videlock was 11 years old when she started searching for people like her on the internet. What she found, back in the early 2000s, was not at all what she’d hoped for. “Being trans online was not really a thing,” she says. “There was fetish stuff for it, and there were stories about transformation. But it was either porn or … porn.” So Videlock was especially grateful, about a decade later, when she started exploring Reddit. She was still closeted to her family and friends, and finding a place where she could speak with other trans people kept her sane, she says. On Reddit, trans people had strength in numbers and power against the aggravation of trolls. Through an elaborate system of volunteer moderators, Reddit allows its communities—called subreddits or subs—to cultivate their own rules, cultures, and protections. The subs that Videlock frequented, such as r/asktransgender and r/MtF, were particularly good at fencing out harassment. “It felt like I could make myself known there,” she says. For Videlock, lurking on Reddit became a prelude …

Google Used a Black, Deaf Worker to Tout Its Diversity. Now She’s Suing for Discrimination

Google Used a Black, Deaf Worker to Tout Its Diversity. Now She’s Suing for Discrimination

Hall says when she has access to an interpreter, they are rotated throughout the week, forcing her to repeatedly explain some technical concepts. “Google is going the cheap route,” Hall claims, saying her interpreters in university were more literate in tech jargon. Kathy Kaufman, director of coordinating services at DSPA, says it pays above market rates, dedicates a small pool to each company so the vocabulary becomes familiar, hires tech specialists, and trains those who are not. Kaufman also declined to confirm that Google is a client or comment on its policies. Google’s Hawkins says that the company is trying to make improvements. Google’s accommodations team is currently seeking employees to join a new working group to smooth over policies and procedures related to disabilities. Beside Hall’s concerns, Deaf workers over the past two years have complained about Google’s plans—shelved, for now—to switch away from DSPA without providing assurances that a new interpreter provider would be better, according to a former Google employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect their job prospects. Blind …