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Weekend edition: Cecil the lion, cocaine prices, giant fighting robots

Good morning, Quartz readers!

If there’s a parable in the death of Cecil the Zimbabwean lion, it’s that the impacts of technology are always mixed. The same internet that unleashed a tidal wave of vigilante justice on Walter Palmer, the American dentist who shot Cecil—and which will surely make other Palmers of this world think twice about pursuing their hobby—also makes pursuing it much easier. Finding guides and accommodation (hello, Airbnb) is now as simple as plugging in a search query on a smartphone. Flights are plentiful and relatively cheap (even if Palmer shelled out $50,000 for the full big-game-hunter experience). And there are surely thousands of Palmers with the resources to go and kill all 30,000-35,000 African lions left in the wild, or for that matter, the continent’s remaining population of elephants and white rhinos.

Then again, Africa’s own economic aspirations and growing populations arguably threaten lions much more than Western trophy hunters. If we really want to find the debilitating effects of technologically-mediated tourism, perhaps we should look for them in the waves of people who have turned Everest base camp into the Grand Central Station of the Himalayas, or swarm in their thousands to trample fragile ecosystems in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef or the Galapagos Islands. These people want their trophies too: Smartphones and selfie sticks in hand, they defile monuments and upset local sensibilities in search of the best shot (paywall).

The pictures Palmer posted on Facebook from previous hunts played a central part in his shaming. Perhaps that’s worth remembering when you put up your next holiday selfie: Even if you’re not a big-game hunter, you never can tell how it will look to people you never expected to see it.—Xana Antunes

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

What it’s like to pilot a giant fighting robot. Mike Murphy interviews three engineers who brought a childhood fascination into the real world—and then somehow parleyed the monstrous machines into an actual business, creating in the process what might be the world’s next great spectator sport.

Words spread like weeds—and so do “non-lexical conversational sounds.” Nikhil Sonnad reports on linguists who are drawing data about word usage from social media services like Twitter, tracking “emerging words” from baeless to fleek as they travel across the United States. Meanwhile, Jake Flanagin (with help from the polyglot Quartz staff) looks at the untranslatable non-words—from bof to nu to chhhh… that are essential parts of every language.

Are you paying too much for your cocaine? Not that we recommend buying any—but you may find Keith Collins’ analysis of prices for various drugs (both banned and prescription) on the “dark web” interesting. Perhaps most interesting is how widely prices vary.

What could save 3D printing? The home manufacturing revolution isn’t the miracle we were promised, and manufacturers’ stock prices are plummeting, as Mike Murphy explains. But could a new invention that 3D-prints objects with circuits in them be the killer app the industry has been looking for?

What life will be like when robots have all the jobs. In Quartz’s first piece of science fiction, Gideon Lichfield imagines a near future where most semi-skilled work has been automated: Warehouses are run by an AI, receptionists have been replaced, robot barmen make the drinks, and even your cocktail glass has a small mind of its own.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

The missing money meant for the poor. How was an obscure US government agency, the Rural Utilities Service, able to mismanage $3.5 billion earmarked for bringing broadband access to rural Americans? Politico’s Tony Romm investigates a case study in how political patronage in Congress covers up for bureaucrats’ mistakes.

How ad-blocking could change the internet. So far just a small proportion of internet users have employed ad-blockers to screen out flashing boxes, autoplay videos, and myriad trackers. That will change in September, when Apple introduces iOS 9, with a built-in ad-blocker. At which point, explains tech journalist Charles Arthur, either ads will have to get better or businesses will start failing.

The most powerful man in Britain. Amol Rajan, editor of The Independent, profiles George Osborne for Politico.eu. While prime minister David Cameron may have the public profile, it is the finance minister who drives the party, the government’s policy, and hence the country, explains Rajan—and will most likely be Britain’s next leader too.

Bill Cosby’s accusers speak out. New York magazine interviewed and photographed 35 of the women who claim to have been sexually assaulted by the once-beloved entertainer. More than anything, their harrowing stories are an eye-opening reminder of just how recently a woman who cried rape could hardly get a hearing in America, and how quickly attitudes are changing.

So what is machine learning, actually? It’s central to much of the technology you use, and you probably bandy the term about yourself, but do you have any idea what it really means? R2D3, “an experiment in expressing statistical thinking with interactive design,” manages to offer a really pretty technical explanation in simple form using a clever sequence of diagrams.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, annoying internet ads, and machine-learning diagrams to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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