2020 Vision

New iPhones, Old Universe, Stop 'Go', Bus Geniuses, Trump's Cloud

Apple’s 2020 and 2021 iPhones

Mike Wuerthele with a relay of a report from the oft-reliable Ming-Chi Kuo on the next iPhones. And while next year, unsurprisingly, seems mainly about 5G, in two years, there are some interesting tidbits:

For the first time, though, Kuo is predicting an "iPhone SE2 Plus" in the first half of 2021, in 5.5- or 6.1-inch sizes, with a full-screen design. It is predicted to feature a smaller notch, because of no Face ID support, and Touch ID integrated in the power button on the side.

Controversially, the "iPhone 13" in the fall of 2021 is predicted to not have a Lightning port, and provide a "completely wireless experience." Kuo has nothing else to say about the iPhone which at this point is almost two years away from reaching customers' hands.

Part of me really hopes they call it the “iPhone SE2 Plus”, thus completing the naming transition to 2000s-era Microsoft. Still, it would be cool to see an iPhone that was all screen — no bezels and no notch — it reminds me of the old mock-ups of what a “video iPod” might look like way back in the day…

As for the no-ports iPhone, I can’t wait to read 400 million breathless pieces about how this is the end of the world, or Apple, or both, between now and launch day. And then it will be out in the world, and it will sell in the quantity of millions, tens of millions, and eventually hundreds of millions. People who need a port for whatever reason will be able to buy an iPhone with a port. And everyone else will copy the no-port design. And all those words will have been wasted.


If The Universe Is 13.8 Billion Years Old, How Can We See 46 Billion Light Years Away?

Ethan Siegel answers a seemingly simple, yet not-so-simple question (yes, I’m going through my queue of older posts I have saved to read, just like every year):

Put that all together, and this means the distance we can see in the Universe, from one distant end to the other, is 92 billion light years across. And don’t forget: it’s continuing to expand! If we left today at the speed of light, we could only reach about a third of the way across it: approximately 3% of its volume. In other words, due to the Universe’s expansion and the presence of dark energy, 97% of the observable Universe is already unreachable, even if we left today at the speed of light.

The notion that 97% of the observable Universe is actually completely unreachable to us is rather mind-blowing. And a little sad? Wormholes aside, of course.


Former ‘Go’ Champ Beaten by DeepMind Declares AI Invincible

Speaking of things that are a bit sad… here’s James Vincent on the news that South Korean ‘Go’ champion Lee Se-dol is stepping away from the game:

Lee, who was the world’s number one ranked Go player in the late 2000s, initially predicted that he would beat AlphaGo in a “landslide” and was shocked by his losses, going so far as to apologize to the South Korean public. “I failed,” he said after the tournament. “I feel sorry that the match is over and it ended like this. I wanted it to end well.”

Despite the outcome, Go experts agreed that the tournament produced outstanding play. AlphaGo surprised the world with its so-called “move 37,” which human experts initially thought was a mistake, but which proved decisive in game two. Lee made his own impact with his “hand of God” play (move 78), which flummoxed the AI program and allowed Lee to win a single game. He remains the only human to ever defeat AlphaGo.

I remain most intrigued by the “hand of God” move that Se-dol came up with, when backed into a corner. It’s perhaps an interesting testament to machine pushing humans to do better, or at least, to think differently… And yet:

Since the tournament, though, DeepMind has only improved its AI Go systems. In 2017, it created AlphaGo Zero, a version of the program which surpassed even AlphaGo.

While the original AI learned to play Go by studying a dataset of more than 100,000 human games, AlphaGo Zero developed its skills by simply playing itself, over and over. After three days of self-play using hugely powerful computer systems that let it play games at superhuman speeds, AlphaGo Zero was able to defeat its predecessor 100 games to nil.

Sigh. Game over.


The Bus Ticket Theory of Genius

Paul Graham:

The other solution is to let yourself be interested in lots of different things. You don't decrease your upside if you switch between equally genuine interests based on which seems to be working so far. But there is a danger here too: if you work on too many different projects, you might not get deeply enough into any of them.

One interesting thing about the bus ticket theory is that it may help explain why different types of people excel at different kinds of work. Interest is much more unevenly distributed than ability. If natural ability is all you need to do great work, and natural ability is evenly distributed, you have to invent elaborate theories to explain the skewed distributions we see among those who actually do great work in various fields. But it may be that much of the skew has a simpler explanation: different people are interested in different things.

As someone with a wide-range of interests (see: what I link to here), I enjoyed this entire essay.


Trump’s Retribution Against the Washington Post Owner Is His Gravest Abuse of Power

Jonathan Chait:

The saga of President Trump’s reprisals against Amazon has lurked on the margin of the news, largely overshadowed by the Ukraine scandal. Late Thursday night, Amazon revealed it had filed a protest in federal court of a Pentagon decision to deny it a $10 billion cloud-computing contract, the most recent piecemeal iteration of a saga that attracted precious little media attention even before the Ukraine scandal obscured it.

Yet the story here is almost certainly a massive scandal, probably more significant than the Ukraine scandal that spurred impeachment proceedings. Trump improperly used government policy to punish the owner of an independent newspaper as retribution for critical coverage. It resembles the Ukraine scandal because it is a flagrant abuse of power, and has been hiding in plain sight for months (as the Ukraine scandal did, until a whistle-blower report leaked in September). The scale of the abuse, though, is far more serious, because it is a concrete manifestation of Trump’s authoritarian ambitions.

I’ve been trying to limit my political links here, mainly because I’m exhausted by it all. But I wholeheartedly agree with this post. It feels like because Amazon is such a behemoth — and certainly in this space — this is being brushed aside. But this is a massive, massive breach of, well, I don’t know, everything?