Houston’s Flood Is a Design Problem

It’s not because the water comes in. It’s because it is forced to leave again.

Floods cause greater property damage and more deaths than tornadoes or hurricanes. And Houston’s flood is truly a disaster of biblical proportions: The sky unloaded 9 trillion gallons of water on the city within two days, and much more might fall before Harvey dissipates, producing as much as 60 inches of rain. Pictures of Harvey’s runoff are harrowing, with interstates… read more

A Googler’s Would-Be Manifesto Reveals Tech’s Rotten Core

Office culture is only part of the problem.

An anonymous Google software engineer’s 10-page fulmination against workplace diversity was leaked from internal company communications systems, including an internal version of Google+, the company’s social network, and another service that Gizmodo, which published the full memo, called an “internal meme network.” “I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due… read more

Why Zuckerberg and Musk Are Fighting About the Robot Future

It looks like the two tech titans are arguing about AI’s impact on humanity. Really they’re protecting their personal brands.

Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are having a spat about whether or not artificial intelligence is going to kill us all. Musk, the chief of Tesla and SpaceX who has longstanding worries about the potentially apocalyptic future of AI, recently returned to that soapbox, making an appeal for proactive regulations on AI. “I keep sounding the alarm bell,” he told… read more

Why a Toaster Is a Design Triumph

The “A Bit More” button doesn’t reinvent the appliance’s form. It finds its soul instead.

Last year I fell in love with a toaster. It looks like most others. A brushed, stainless-steel housing. Four slots, to accommodate the whole family’s bread-provisioning needs. It is alluring but modest, perched atop the counter on proud haunches. But at a time when industry promises disruptive innovation, Breville, the Australian manufacturer of my toaster, offers something truly new and… read more

The iPhone Is Dead. Long Live the Rectangle

Ten years later, smartphones have been fully domesticated.

There’s a paradox in technology. For something new to become widespread, familiar, and mass-market, it must create enough novelty and curiosity to draw people’s attention. But novelty alone is not enough to reach saturation. To permeate life, a technology must elicit more than novelty and curiosity in its users. It must become ordinary. It must recede into the background, where… read more

For Google, Everything Is a Popularity Contest

The limits of the search giant's philosophy

When I saw that Google had introduced a “Classic Papers” section of Google Scholar, its search tool for academic journals, I couldn’t help but stroke my chin professorially. What would make a paper a classic, especially for the search giant? In a blog post introducing the feature, Google software engineer Sean Henderson explains the company’s rationale. While some articles gain… read more

Did Climate Change Ground Flights in Phoenix?

Yes, but it didn’t act alone.

Weather always makes good news, but the role of climate change in altering weather, especially extreme weather, has made the subject a lightning rod for unease. A case in point this week: A heat wave is triggering record temperatures in the Southwest. American Airlines reported having canceled up to 50 flights at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport, where the temperature has… read more

The App That Does Nothing

A fake social network might be the only thing your smartphone needs.

Binky is an app that does everything an app is expected to do. It’s got posts. It’s got likes. It’s got comments. It’s got the infinitely scrolling timeline found in all social apps, from Facebook to Twitter, Instagram to Snapchat. I open it and start scrolling. Images of people, foods, and objects appear on and then vanish off the screen.… read more

Cryptocurrency Might be a Path to Authoritarianism

Extreme libertarians built blockchain to decentralize government and corporate power. It could consolidate their control instead.

All over town, the parking meters are disappearing. Drivers now pay at a central machine, or with an app. It’s so convenient I sometimes forget to pay entirely—and then suffer the much higher price of a parking ticket. The last time that happened, I wondered: Why can’t my car pay for its own parking automatically? It’s technically possible. Both my… read more

The Nomad Who’s Exploding the Internet Into Pieces

Could decentralizing online life make it more compatible with human life?

Dominic Tarr is a computer programmer who grew up on a remote farm in New Zealand. Down in the antipodes, isolation is even more isolating. Getting goods, people, and information to and from Australasia for families like Tarr’s has always been difficult. Bad, unreliable internet service is a particular challenge. Australia and New Zealand are first-world countries with third-world latency.… read more