5 insightful op-eds or articles to help make sense of today’s world

Adair Turner, “The High-Tech, High-Touch Economy”
(Project Syndicate, April 16, 2014)
The financial pundit observes that we live in a hi-tech virtual world in which the value of the most physical thing (the land) is rising relentlessly. This is not a contradiction: the price of land is rising because of rapid technological progress that richly rewards those at the top of income distribution. Land becomes an attractive asset class for investors who also compete for ownership of location-specific real estate. He warns that rising land values amplify the effects of the unequal income distribution that ICT produces directly.

Felix Salmon, “The problems of HFT – Joe Stiglitz edition”
(Reuters, April 16, 2014)
Some great insights about the Nobel-prize winner economist’s latest statement on financial innovation in general, and high-frequency trading in particular. Stiglitz’s core argument? Unfettered markets are welfare decreasing. He argues that HFT is a negative-sum game that (1) does not improve price discovery, (2) make the market less informative, (3) does not improve the liquidity that matters, (4) is socially useless.

Jon Gertner, “The Truth About Google X: An Exclusive Look Behind the Secretive Lab’s Closed Doors”
(The Fast Company, May 2014)
This is the first time a journalist reports on Google’s research lab whose purpose is to find unusual solutions to huge global problems, and for which failure is the means to success. Google X goes further than Google’s other research labs: it is tasked with making actual objects that interact with the physical world (such as driverless cars, Google glasses, high-altitude Wi-Fi balloons and glucose-monitoring contact lenses). A longish article, but fascinating throughout!

Ryan Schmeizer, “10 Reasons You’ll Read this Medium Post”
(Editor’s Picks, April 16, 2014)
Schmeizer calls this is a primer on neural networks and heuristic biases. This is a humorous and eclectic review of why we all behave in a certain way: a fun article to read about “false time constraints”, how the “law of least effort” relates to “information-seeking-behaviour”, “successive approximations”, the “sunk-cost fallacy” and what Charlie Munger calls the “Lollapalooza effect”.

Maria Popova, “The Science of Smell: How the Most Direct of our Senses Works”
(Brain Picking, April 10, 2014)
This is a review of Diane Ackerman’s “A Natural History of the Senses”. Smell is the most direct of all our senses, and yet the physiological links between the smell and language centers of the brain are “pitifully weak”. The links between the smell and the memory centers, however, are “a route that carries us nimbly across time and distance”. The potency of smell as a trigger of emotional memory is unrivalled.