Army of Altruists

This is the piece of writing that inspired me to make the turn from fiction and corporate research into journalism. It’s the best reframing of American society that I’ve ever read. And kudos to Harper’s for running it. It’s not often you see anarchist anthropologists making highly visible contributions to public discourse.

-A. Madrigal

Computers Aren’t So Smart, After All

I love combing through The Atlantic’s archives. There’s almost no better way of grasping the strangeness of the past than to flip through a general interest magazine from 1960. Here, we find Fred Hapgood grappling with what human intelligence meant in the light of new machines that could do something like thinking. Intelligence was being explored in a new way: by finding out what was duplicable about how our minds work. Hapgood's conclusion was that if you could automate a task, it would lose value to humans. What tremendous luck! Humans value that which only humans can do, he argued, regardless of the difficulty of the task. And that because computers were so good at sequential logic problems, we'd eventually end up only respecting emotional understanding, which remained (and remains) beyond the reach of AI.

-A. Madrigal

Crypto Rebels

Steven Levy’s piece on cypherpunks and Internet libertarians could not feel more relevant in the wake of WikiLeaks’ rise and the heavily scrutinized role of online organizing in recent revolutions. During Wired’s first year, I’d just gotten an Internet account and had somehow stumbled on the magazine. It became my guide to this hybrid life that we all live now, half-online, half-offline.

-A. Madrigal

Prodigal Sun

Energy problems are long problems that often receive short solutions. In 2000, when Mother Jones ran this history about what happened to the energy research boom of the late 70s and early 80s, I was buying $0.99 a gallon gas for my Escort. I chose this story because I think longform journalism can keep people interested in these issues that require decadal attention but are subject to year-to-year fluctuations in public interest. And it’s a great story.

-A. Madrigal

The Misfit

On David Milch; Yale fraternity brother of George W. Bush, literature professor, longtime junkie, creator of NYPD Blue, Deadwood (which was in production when this profile was written), and the forthcoming racetrack-set HBO series Luck.