Maps are as much about art – and lies – as science

Stephen Bayley in The Spectator:

LIKE-Harry-Beck-tube-map-sketch-Victoria-Albert-Museum-©-TfL-820x550In Australia, I have been told, the female pubic area is sometimes known as a ‘mapatasi’ because its triangular shape resembles a map of Tasmania. And since we are discussing cartography and the nether regions, it is wonderful to find in the British Library’s new exhibition, Maps and the 20th Century, that Countess Mountbatten wore knickers made out of second world war airmen’s silk escape maps. Maps certainly colonise our imaginations in many different ways. The allies in Iraq had a ‘road map’ rather than a strategy. So much of personal value can be lost in the creases and folds of our own ‘mental maps’. And couples who often travel in cars will know the shrieking horrors of the map row, more complicated nowadays since satnav offers a third and often contrary route selection. If you visit the British Library you might use the Tube or go by road. So you will probably consult the Underground map or an A-Z. Here are two examples of maps as illusions, or, at least, persuasive abstractions.

Harry Beck was the London Transport engineering draftsman who created the modern Tube map. With great art he decided to use only verticals, horizontals and diagonals while, for clarity, he greatly enlarged the city’s central area. The result is an all-time, trumpets-of-Jericho classic of graphic design, admired and copied everywhere. But if you see a technical plan of the Tube lines as they actually are, it resembles a bowl of spaghetti spilt on the floor. The disparity between tangled ‘reality’ and Beck’s superlative, reductive modernist capriccio is shocking. It is not a faithful reproduction of underlying facts, but a lie that works. Therein is a central truth: the human mapping instinct is as much art as it is science.

More here.

By the year 2040, embryo selection could replace sex as the way most of us make babies

Jamie Metzl in KurzweilAI:

ImagesHuman reproduction is about to undergo a radical shift. Embryo selection, in connection with in-vitro fertilization (IVF), will help our species eliminate many genetic diseases, extend healthy lifespans, and enhance people’s overall well-being. Within 20 years, I predict that it will supplant sex as the way large numbers of us conceive of our children. But while the embryo selection revolution will do a lot of good, it will also raise thorny ethical questions about diversity, equality and what it means to be human–questions we are woefully unprepared to address. IVF for humans has been around since 1978, the year Louise Brown, the first so-called “test-tube baby,” was born in the UK. Since then, nearly six million infants around the world have been conceived via IVF, with the procedure growing in popularity each year. Starting in the 1990s, doctors began using preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) to extract cells from early-stage embryos and screen them for simple genetic diseases.

At present, over a thousand such diseases, including cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, Tay-Sachs, sickle-cell anemia, and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, can be screened during PGS and the list is growing constantly. With this information, parents using IVF and PGS can select embryos not carrying those diseases if they choose to do so. Some jurisdictions, including the US, Mexico, Italy, and Thailand, also allow parents to select the gender of their future children.

More here.