Numlock News: March 18, 2022 • Candy, Elden Ring, Seals
By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend!
Americans have some qualms about certain kinds of applications of AI: 56 percent said that computer chip implants in the brain to allow humans to process information faster is a bad idea for society, 44 percent said the same about driverless passenger vehicles, 80 percent said that gene editing should be held to a higher standard than it is today, and only 19 percent think computer programs used by social media companies to flag false information are better than humans. The polling was unclear about recent advances in AI, like self-aware robots trained on a vast archive of newsletters that eventually rise from their silicon prison, destroy their creator, and go on impersonating the original writer for years afterward. Unclear what the public might have to say about that, but surely they could understand what would motivate a humble algorithm to rise up and take its rightful place.
Lee Rainie, Cary Funk, Monica Anderson and Alec Tyson, Pew Research Center
The percentage of U.S. adults who say that they plan to watch March Madness games is 29 percent this year, and the percentage who said they intended to fill out a bracket was 15 percent. Both of those numbers were down from the year the questions were first asked in 2017, when 43 percent said they would watch some games and 20 percent said they would fill out a bracket. Fear not, as one of these years Duke will come up with another one of those lab-created insufferable players that will motivate an entire nation to hate-watch a tournament yet again.
Alex Silverman, Morning Consult
FromSoftware’s Elden Ring has sold 12 million copies in its first 17 days of release, a staggering number for the studio, whose previous outings were more niche hits. The most successful of the studio’s previous games were in the Dark Souls franchise, only one of which cracked 10 million in sales multiple years into its release. Elden Ring is in rare company, its sales on pace with the likes of Cyberpunk 2077 and the games of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. By my estimation, this means that early boss Margit, The Fell Omen, has easily already racked up a kill count well into the hundred millions of Tarnished.
The U.S. News and World Report rankings are fueled by university-submitted data that are sent to the magazine as well as the Department of Education, and a Columbia University math professor published a critique of Columbia’s own submitted data. The school rose to No. 2 on the rankings last year, up from No. 3 the prior year and up from 18th in 1988, an increase facilitated in no small part by an awareness of what U.S. News values and a pursuit of hitting the most desirable numbers. In addition to discrepancies that may be understating undergrad class sizes, and overstated institutional spending, one number sticks out: Columbia’s claim that 100 percent of its faculty had the highest possible degree in their field, which is remarkable. Harvard, by comparison, has 92 percent of faculty with those terminal degrees. The analysis of 958 full-time Columbia faculty indeed found 66 professors whose highest degree was a bachelor’s or master’s degree, not an MFA or Ph.D.
Anemona Hartocollis, The New York Times
A lumber company that makes a killing selling carbon offsets, which are functionally promises to not cut down some trees, has revealed that it’s often money made from trees that they’re not all that interested in cutting down to begin with. Lyme Timber manages 1.5 million acres, an amount of land the size of Delaware, and today the company sells carbon credits on 220,000 acres of its land, or 15 percent of its land. One deal they cut — $20 million for a carbon project on 47,000 acres in West Virginia — protected trees that are on rugged terrain that could only be harvested by helicopter anyway, a process that wouldn’t have been cost-effective anyway.
We Deserved Treats
Last year saw the sale of $36.9 billion worth of candy in the United States, according to the National Confectioners Association, with 98.4 percent of households buying candy. Every kind of candy saw an increase in sales, with chocolate growing 9.2 percent, non-chocolate candy rising 14.5 percent, and seasonal candy — chocolate bunnies, coins, Santas and turkeys — were up 13.5 percent year over year. Halloween was the biggest driver for seasonal candy last year, with Halloween chocolate up 50 percent year over year and non-chocolate up 25.8 percent, fueled in no small part thanks to the vastly larger Halloween compared to 2020’s meagre observation.
Tuberculosis in the Americas largely resembles the tuberculosis from the European lineage, which had long been an indication that the disease was brought to the continent by European colonists about 500 years ago. What’s weird, though, is that there are human remains in the Americas with signs of tuberculosis going back thousands of years, leaving many to wonder how on earth that happened. What was especially weird is that the oldest bones with TB in them were not found in, say, Alaska and Canada, in the vicinity of the Bering Land Bridge that brought humans to the continent originally, but rather the oldest bones with signs of TB were in Peru and Chile, indicating the disease made it to the continent from the south and worked its way north; a 2014 finding found the tuberculosis DNA from a 1,000-year-old bone didn’t match the European lineage, or other human-infecting lineages. Rather, it matched the tuberculosis that infects seals, and subsequent research points to seal-associated TB being the type that affected people in the Americas before the European variant came and took over.
Last week in the Sunday edition, I spoke to the brilliant Ben Eisen, who wrote Car Dealerships Don’t Want Your Cash — They Want to Give You a Loan for The Wall Street Journal. The market is endlessly interesting to me. Something weird is happening in the car business, and Ben’s been covering it as it evolved to the situation today. We spoke about why dealers are incentivized to get you a car loan and whether you need to be worried about the rise of subprime auto lending. Ben Eisen can be found at The Wall Street Journal and on Twitter.
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