September 29, 2016
For a decade and a half, I’d been a web obsessive, publishing blog posts multiple times a day, seven days a week, and ultimately corralling a team that curated the web every 20 minutes during peak hours. Each morning began with a full immersion in the stream of internet consciousness and news, jumping from site to site, tweet to tweet, breaking news story to hottest take, scanning countless images and videos, catching up with multiple memes. Throughout the day, I’d cough up an insight or an argument or a joke about what had just occurred or what was happening right now. And at times, as events took over, I’d spend weeks manically grabbing every tiny scrap of a developing story in order to fuse them into a narrative in real time. I was in an unending dialogue with readers who were caviling, praising, booing, correcting. My brain had never been so occupied so insistently by so many different subjects and in so public a way for so long. ... I was, in other words, a very early adopter of what we might now call living-in-the-web. And as the years went by, I realized I was no longer alone. Facebook soon gave everyone the equivalent of their own blog and their own audience. More and more people got a smartphone — connecting them instantly to a deluge of febrile content, forcing them to cull and absorb and assimilate the online torrent as relentlessly as I had once. ... Then the apps descended, like the rain, to inundate what was left of our free time. It was ubiquitous now, this virtual living, this never-stopping, this always-updating. ... the insanity was now banality ... e almost forget that ten years ago, there were no smartphones, and as recently as 2011, only a third of Americans owned one. Now nearly two-thirds do. That figure reaches 85 percent when you’re only counting young adults. And 46 percent of Americans told Pew surveyors last year a simple but remarkable thing: They could not live without one. ... By rapidly substituting virtual reality for reality, we are diminishing the scope of this interaction even as we multiply the number of people with whom we interact.
One afternoon this spring at the United Nations in Geneva, I sat behind Wareham in a large wood-paneled, beige-carpeted assembly room that hosted the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), a group of 121 countries that have signed the agreement to restrict weapons that “are considered to cause unnecessary or unjustifiable suffering to combatants or to affect civilians indiscriminately”— in other words, weapons humanity deems too cruel to use in war. ... The UN moves at a glacial pace, but the CCW is even worse. There’s no vote at the end of meetings; instead, every contracting party needs to agree in order to get anything done. (Its last and only successful prohibitive weapons ban was in 1995.) It was the start of five days of meetings to discuss lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS): weapons that have the ability to independently select and engage targets, i.e., machines that can make the decision to kill humans, i.e., killer robots. The world slept through the advent of drone attacks. ... Yet it’s important to get one thing clear: This isn’t a conversation about drones. By now, drone warfare has been normalized — at least 10 countries have them. ... LAWS are generally broken down into three categories. Most simply, there’s humans in the loop — where the machine performs the task under human supervision, arriving at the target and waiting for permission to fire. Humans on the loop — where the machine gets to the place and takes out the target, but the human can override the system. And then, humans out of the loop — where the human releases the machine to perform a task and that’s it — no supervision, no recall, no stop function. The debate happening at the UN is which of these to preemptively ban, if any at all.
Elway is one of the most famous GMs in NFL history, but when he took the Broncos job, he had the walls of his office replaced with glass so staffers would feel comfortable stopping by. He lets employees leave the office early if they have a softball game to coach or an anniversary dinner to plan, and during the holidays last December, he helped arrange for high-end retailers to visit team headquarters to make Christmas shopping easier. He downplays his fame within the organization but isn't afraid to leverage it externally. An NFL GM who grew up as an Elway fan had a deal with the Broncos scuttled by his team's executives because they feared Elway was fleecing their guy, suckering him with a hard count. For laughs, the bosses left it to their GM to break the news that the deal was off, and he was so conciliatory in doing so, some of the Broncos' staffers on the call wondered whether it might end in an autograph request. ... The hardest thing about being a GM is the stillness of it, sitting around watching film. He never wanted to be a coach because he couldn't explain his own gifts -- the improvisation in the midst of disaster, the routine cross-field throws that sent legions of mimicking high school quarterbacks to the bench. Sometimes he still feels the itch to let one fly, even if his body no longer allows it. ... In 2001, bored after two years in retirement, Elway asked Shanahan for a job with the Broncos. Shanahan said there was no job for him. The next year, hell-bent on proving he was serious about succeeding in his second act, Elway bought an ownership stake in the Colorado Crush, an Arena League franchise. He took on the role of GM and appeared in cheesy commercials with Jon Bon Jovi, owner of the Philadelphia Soul. He wasn't just lending a famous face to a new league. He was grinding, learning every facet of running a football team.