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Quartz Weekend Brief—Marathons, Hong Kong life hacks, artificial intelligence, Uber’s mysterious wages

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More than 60,000 runners are due to crowd the streets of New York City this Sunday for the world’s largest 26.2-mile race, but it’s a near certainty that not one will break Dennis Kimetto’s world record marathon time of 2:02:57, set five weeks ago in Berlin.

As Runner’s World explained at the time in an exhaustive analysis, beating the record has become less and less a feat of sheer human will and endurance, and more and more a game for technicians, trainers, medics, and quants. If a runner ever breaks the two-hour barrier, it will require being on the right course in the right weather conditions with the right physique and physiology. It will depend on having training and nutrition regimens and racing clothes designed with this one goal in mind.

The quest for the ultimate in optimization is destined to be repeated, not only across all sports, but across most other professions. As Kevin Kelly wrote this week in Wired, artificial intelligence now augments the powers of top chess players, and “it stands to reason that it can help us become better pilots, better doctors, better judges, better teachers.” The 21st century is going to be one in which machines enhance almost every aspect of human endeavor.

But there’s one thing they can’t touch. Even as marathons become less interesting as sporting achievements, they’re growing more important as social events. Marathons are democratic: The world’s oldest runner “retired” last year aged 102. And they are shows of community: A year after the Boston Marathon bombing, people ran in near-record numbers, and this year’s New York marathon will be the biggest in history. Most people run to challenge themselves, to raise money for charity, to show solidarity—to do anything, in short, other than win. To a greater degree than perhaps in any other sport, in marathons it really is the taking part that counts.—Gideon Lichfield

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

A crazy 36 hours in Ukraine. When a group of young Ukrainian journalists-turned-politicians went looking for evidence of voter fraud, they got more than they bargained for. Misha Friedman was with them, and photographed an exciting day-and-a-half in the life of Ukraine’s fledgling democracy.

Apple Pay’s competition is a mess. Some of the US’s biggest retailers are blocking Apple’s new mobile-payment service in favor of one that they’re backing. Dan Frommer—who last week also wrote the complete guide to Apple Pay—explains why its competitors don’t really stand a chance.

India’s anti-Sikh riots aren’t so easy to forgive and forget. On the 30th anniversary of the rioting that killed some 8,000 Sikhs, after Indira Ghandi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards, Amarjit Singh Walia recounts the pain of an injustice that has never been righted.

The best life hacks from Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement. You don’t spend weeks in the streets without learning a trick or two. From making protective gear against tear-gas, to brewing vinegar from discarded banana peels—useful for street cleaning—Heather Timmons and Lily Kuo offer some tips.

I see debt people. For Hallowe’en, Jason Karaian and Matt Phillips round up the 10 scariest economic charts in the world right now.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

How the US Border Patrol got out of control. In a harrowing investigation, Politico’s Garrett M. Graff examines the corruption plaguing the enormous government bureaucracy, which has nearly 60,000 armed personnel and has spent more than $100 billion since 9/11 with little Congressional accountability or legal oversight.

Should we fear artificial intelligence? While Kevin Kelly (mentioned above) offered a rosy view of AI’s capabilities, Elon Musk this week warned that thinking machines are “our biggest existential threat.” Bret Swanson in Tech Policy Daily gives a more balanced view, and IEEE Spectrum gets a clear-eyed take on what is and isn’t possible from machine-learning expert Michael Jordan.

In defense of gluten. Gluten intolerance has overtaken Western countries, especially the US, in epidemic proportions. Or has it? Michael Specter in the New Yorker on the research suggesting that the protein found in grains has been unfairly demonized.

The secret life of an Islamic State warlord. One of ISIL’s top commanders is not Syrian or Iraqi, but Georgian, and his brother may be the terrorist group’s real mastermind. A team from the Daily Beast visits Georgia’s notoriously lawless Pankisi Gorge, where the brothers grew up, to probe ISIL’s international roots.

Uber’s math doesn’t add up. The summon-a-ride service says its drivers make good money. But they’re increasingly dissatisfied and say it’s squeezing them. For Slate, Alison Griswold spent months talking to New York drivers and couldn’t locate a single one earning the claimed median wage—and neither could Uber.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, gluten-free recipes, and Uber receipts to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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