#213: The Next Word
Hi there, loyal readers, and welcome to this week’s edition of The Highlighter. I’m happy you’re here. If you’re in the mood for some good reading (i.e., two hours), you’ve come to the right place. This week’s first two articles, which focus on the uncertainty of the future, are particularly strong. The first asks whether computers will learn to write as well as humans, and the second wonders how our democratic institutions will deal with climate change. You get two dogs this week (where are the cats, people?) and then two articles that may challenge your thoughts on sexuality. Please enjoy!
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The Next Word: Can Machines Learn To Write?
Nobody who writes thinks writing is easy. So why not have a computer spare us the agony? Soon that will be possible. After all, we already have the chirpy Smart Reply, which suggests responses (e.g., “Great!” “You bet!” “Sure thing!”) and the creepy Smart Compose, which autocompletes sentences. Why wouldn’t full essays be next?
They are next, according to John Seabrook, who in this outstanding article clearly explains the history and ethics of machine learning and how current technology will put Alexa and Siri to shame. Be prepared to be creeped out, for sure; our demise as a species is nigh. But also savor the parts that remind us of the power of language to express our humanity. (43 min)
The Removal of Native Americans From Louisiana’s Isle De Jean Charles
Only about 100 people still live on Isle de Jean Charles, a narrow island in the bayous of Louisiana, settled hundreds of years ago by Native Americans and Cajuns. Climate change and rising seas have rendered Isle de Jean Charles mostly uninhabitable, but many residents nonetheless want to stay. Forced removal feels like the Trail of Tears, the Dawes Act — the work of modern-day Andrew Jacksons and Christopher Columbuses. (49 min)
+ U.S. History teachers, this complex article could anchor an entire unit. Want to chat? Let me know.
Sadie and Scout, who belong to loyal reader Donna, are happy hockey season has begun, that time when mommy yells a lot at the television. Want your pet(s) to appear in The Highlighter? That can be arranged! hltr.co/pets
On Heteropessimism And Performative Indictments Of Heterosexuality
If you’re straight, and you question the institution of marriage, or you denounce events like the Boston Straight Pride Parade, or find yourself apologizing for your orientation, you’re practicing “heteropessimism,” according to heterosexuality theorist Indiana Seresin. These “performative disaffiliations with heterosexuality” are becoming more popular, Ms. Seresin argues (I agree), but they don’t disrupt heteronormative privilege. Making fun of your straightness isn’t enough. (13 min)
A Gay Mormon Gay-Conversion Therapist: “Can I Come Out?”
For decades, long before California and other states banned conversion therapy for LGBT youth, David Matheson, who grew up Mormon in Utah, led the Journey Into Manhood, a weekend retreat for men “with unwanted same-sex attraction” to realize the error of their gay ways. Now Mr. Matheson is gay, going to Pride, and wanting forgiveness. But he’s not sorry. “I don’t quite know what I’m apologizing for. People say, ‘You harmed hundreds or thousands of people,’ and, like, I never worked with thousands of people.” (19 min)
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