Welcome to Reading List, a weekly collection of great tech reads from around the web. This week we explore the lives of the men and women charged with identifying existential risks to humanity, the groundbreaking new field of optogenetics, the unexpected downside to having very common name, and more! Enjoy.


  • When the first atomic bomb was being built, engineers were horrified by the prospect that it might light the entire sky on fire. So, a team of researchers conducted a study that would lay the groundwork for a new field: Existential risk assessment. These are the men and women whose day job involves nothing less than figuring out how to prevent humanity from annihilating itself. [Quartz]
  • At 60 years old, Sally has been suffering from severe depression since childhood. With all other options exhausted, seven years ago she had a small, battery powered device surgically inserted beneath her collarbone. The device, which sends bursts of electricity into the vagus nerve, has changed Sally’s life. And this may be just the beginning of what the revolutionary new field of optogenetics has to offer. [The New Yorker]
  • A visceral, pilot’s eye account of a flight from London to Tokyo offers amazing revelations about the world around us, and insights into air traffic highways that hide in our skies. Complete with beautiful animations. [The New York Times]
  • Medical devices and artificial organs are saving lives, but they’re also opening us up to new, and deeply personal security risks. By sending deliberately incorrect data to an artificial pancreas, hackers might be able to commit the perfect murder. [IEEE Spectrum]
  • Having a common name helps you blend into the crowd, but as Alex Hern tells us, it can also make you the accidental perpetrator of identity theft. For the past five years, Hern has been receiving emails—some, uncomfortably personal—intended for other Alex Hern’s across the world. Then he started getting signed up for dozens of services. He doesn’t know how to make it stop. [The Guardian]

Top image via Flickr