Skip to main content

“Our idea was to lay out a positive narrative”

Zeit Online

25 years ago, Peter Leyden predicted the boom of digitalization – but also warned of a pandemic, the climate catastrophe and Russian aggression. Now he predicts what’s coming next.

Science fiction writer William Gibson recently tweeted a snippet with ten bleak predictions from a 25-year-old cover story in “Wired” magazine, calling it “perversely pessimistic at the time.” The tweet went viral. But those “spoilers” were really just an appendage to the larger story, which predicted a “long boom” and the blessings and benefits of a digital society. ZEIT ONLINE spoke with one of the two authors, Peter Leyden, exactly a quarter century after the story was published.

We have a Momo!

Nora Coenenberg and I won the German Youth Literature Prize 2021 in in the non-fiction category for our book “100 Kinder” (“100 Children”). The award trophy is a bronze statue of Momo, the protagonist of Michael Ende’s novel of the same name. This is the video of the prize ceremony at the Frankfurt book fair on October 22.

Chatting with whales

(This article from Hakai Magazine was re-published in a number of online publications, among them The Atlantic, Smithsonian Magazine and IFL Science.)

An ambitious project is attempting to interpret sperm whale clicks with artificial intelligence, then talk back to them.

“I don’t know much about whales. I have never seen a whale in my life,” says Michael Bronstein. The Israeli computer scientist, teaching at Imperial College London, England, might not seem the ideal candidate for a project involving the communication of sperm whales. But his skills as an expert in machine learning could be key to an ambitious endeavor that officially started in March 2020: an interdisciplinary group of scientists wants to use artificial intelligence (AI) to decode the language of these marine mammals. If Project CETI (for Cetacean Translation Initiative) succeeds, it would be the first time that we actually understand what animals are chatting about—and maybe we could even have a conversation with them

“In flow there is no room for rumination”


In psychology, the concept of “flow” is a state we attain when we enter completely into a challenging activity and forget everything else around us. It was coined by the Hungarian-American researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In his house in Los Angeles, he spoke to us about the history behind his idea, and the role that simplicity and complexity play in it.

When and how did you come up with the concept of flow?

The idea must have come when I started rock climbing in Italy, before I emigrated to the United States. I did a lot of climbing in the Alps, in Switzerland, Austria and Italy. When I came into the US at first, Chicago was completely flat, and then I discovered the Grand Tetons. In the summers, I used to take a train or a bus and get down to Colorado and Wyoming and do mountain climbing. I started writing about climbing in journals as an experience of sport, but also as a way of discovering oneself and coming to terms with life.

I think it is probably very important that you gave the phenomenon that name, “flow”.

At first it was just a feeling. One day when I was swimming in a river up in Northern California, I thought: oh, that’s the feeling that I get when I climb. And I ended up calling that the flow experience, it was a natural analogy.

Read More

“The Internet Is Being Scapegoated in a Lot of Ways”

Zeit Online

(This is an extended version of the interview in Zeit Online – I thought some of the parts that were omitted might be interesting to readers.)

Is the internet broken? Tech evangelist Tim O’Reilly doesn’t think so. He still believes in its positive effects. A conversation about cheetahs, elephants and Donald Trump

Tim O’Reilly has coined terms like “Web 2.0” and “Open Source” and has been called the “Oracle of Silicon Valley”. As founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, he has published several books on topics such as Windows, Twitter and Unix, for example. In his latest work, “WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us,” he writes about what he calls the “Next Economy.” In an interview with ZEIT ONLINE, he speaks about artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet status quo.

Mr. O’Reilly, would you rather be governed by a president like Donald Trump or by artificial intelligence?

That depends a lot on which AI. Just like it depends on which person.


There are likely going to be many types of AI, just like there are many types of living beings. And they will have different abilities. A horse can beat a human in a race, and so can a cheetah. But a human being can do many things they can’t. So let’s talk about specific skills.

Read More

Do Music Lessons Really Make Children Smarter?


A recent analysis found that most research mischaracterizes the relationship between music and skills enhancement.

IN 2004, a paper appeared in the journal Psychological Science, titled “Music Lessons Enhance IQ.” The author, composer and University of Toronto Mississauga psychologist Glenn Schellenberg, had conducted an experiment with 144 children randomly assigned to four groups: one learned the keyboard for a year, one took singing lessons, one joined an acting class, and a control group had no extracurricular training. The IQ of the children in the two musical groups rose by an average of seven points in the course of a year; those in the other two groups gained an average of 4.3 points.

Schellenberg had long been skeptical of the science underpinning claims that music education enhances children’s abstract reasoning, math, or language skills. If children who play the piano are smarter, he says, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are smarter because they play the piano. It could be that the youngsters who play the piano also happen to be more ambitious or better at focusing on a task. Correlation, after all, does not prove causation.

The 2004 paper was specifically designed to address those concerns. And as a passionate musician, Schellenberg was delighted when he turned up credible evidence that music has transfer effects on general intelligence. But nearly a decade later, in 2013, the Education Endowment Foundation funded a bigger study with more than 900 students. That study failed to corroborate Schellenberg’s findings, finding no evidence that music lessons improved math and literacy skills.

Schellenberg took that news in stride while continuing to cast a skeptical eye on the research in his field. Recently, he decided to formally investigate just how often his fellow researchers in psychology and neuroscience make what he believes are erroneous — or at least premature — causal connections between music and intelligence. His results, published in May, suggest that many of his peers do just that

In Germany, the press hosts the press briefings

Columbia Journalism Review

IT’S A FAMILIAR SCENE: roughly a hundred journalists cram into the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, only 49 of them privileged enough to have a seat, competing like school kids for the attention of the president or, more often, his press secretary, wrangling with White House aides over the microphone and granted speaking privileges at the whim of whoever is at the podium. When he watches the White House briefings, Gregor Mayntz is happy to be a German. “Whenever I see this, I think how lucky we are to have the Bundespressekonferenz.”

The Dreamers’ Fears

Die Zeit, 1/11/18 (in German)

Thousands of undocumented young people are studying at US universities. They are facing an uncertain future after the Trump rescinded DACA. ausende Studierende leben illegal in den USA. Unter Donald Trump wächst die Ungewissheit dieser “Dreamer” täglich. Besuch bei zweien, die nicht aufgeben.

Mayra Lozano stammt aus Mexiko. Sie ist 22, aber sie hat das Land seit ihrem fünften Lebensjahr nicht mehr gesehen. Die Studentin der weltweit bekannten University of California in Berkeley, USA, hat keine Erinnerungen an ihr Heimatland, es ist ihr fremd. Sie spricht akzentfreies Englisch und kennt den Fahneneid auswendig, der an vielen amerikanischen Schulen morgens abgelegt wird. Aber ständig schwebt die Gefahr über ihr, dass es eines Tages bei ihr klingelt und sie abgeschoben wird in ihre fremde Heimat. Denn Mayra ist illegal in dem Land, in dem sie seit ihrer Kindheit lebt.

Mayra ist ein “Dreamer”. So heißen die jungen Menschen ohne amerikanische Ausweispapiere, die im Kindesalter von ihren Eltern in die USA gebracht wurden, meist über die Grenze zu Mexiko. Die Bezeichnung leitet sich ab vom Dream Act, einem überparteilichen Gesetzesentwurf, der seit 2001 immer wieder verhandelt, aber nie vom Kongress verabschiedet wurde