March 28th – ISSUE #11


Hi Folks – Welcome to your latest dose of luxury reading for smart, data-driven, augmented, creative people.


As Always, Change the World!
Brendan Harkin

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“Intelligence is really a kind of taste: a taste in ideas” Susan Sontag.

Companies are investing heaps of money to develop artificial-intelligence technologies that promise to transform industries as varied as transportation, finance and health care. That all adds up to big economic change, technologists warn. But for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the artificial intelligence revolution and its impact on the U.S. workforce is “not even on our radar screen.” In an interview with Axios, Mnuchin predicted the technology was still 50 to 100 years from displacing human jobs. “I’m not worried at all,” he said. “In fact, I’m optimistic.”

Oh Dear.

“Personally I’m dumbfounded,” said Amy Webb, futurist and author who runs the Future Today Institute. “If Mnuchin had done any previous reading or learning about #AI, he couldn’t have uttered those ridiculous words this morning. We cannot accept a “clarification” statement from Mnuchin or from Trump. What came out of his mouth this morning was raw, unfiltered, honest”

How do you become the Treasury Secretary of the largest economy on the planet and be that profoundly ignorant? Unless of course mass unemployment is right on the agenda. Did he miss that Amazon has already begun making deliveries by drones, that restaurants in San Francisco have already begun wiping out all front-of-house staff, that between 4 and 5 million people in the US earn their living driving vehicles, including every Uber driver, and driverless vehicles are speeding towards us at a scary rate. Among the many scandals and comments that derailed Andy Puzder’s campaign to become Labor Secretary was an interview he gave after visiting a partially automated restaurant, where no human interaction is required. He was investing in automation as a way to deal with rising labor costs due to an increase in the minimum wage, before offering a cynical explanation of why machines are better than human employees: “They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case,” he said.

There’s a great anecdote about Henry Ford speaking with the head of the automotive union on the shop floor, and Ford says to him “Well, Sir, when we automate the entire process – who’s going to pay your union fees”, and he answers “Well Mr Ford when you do automate the entire process, who’s going to buy your cars?”

Mark Cuban says the world’s first trillionaire (as if we need one) will come from an AI entrepreneur. Nice little 46 second video: “Whatever you are studying right now if you are not getting up to speed on deep learning, neural networks, etc., you lose,” says Cuban. “We are going through the process where software will automate software, automation will automate automation.” He says if he was enrolling in university now he’d enrol as a Philosophy Major – I’ve always been ahead of my time 🙂

AI researchers are among the most prized talent in the modern tech world. A few years ago, Peter Lee, a vice president inside Microsoft Research, said that the cost of acquiring a top AI researcher was comparable to the cost of signing a quarterback in the NFL (i.e., a lot of money). Since then, the market for talent has only gotten hotter. Elon Musk nabbed several researchers out from under Google and Facebook in founding a new lab called OpenAI, and the big players are now buying up AI startups before they get off the ground. You only have to look at the number of AI papers published by Google in peer-reviewed journals to see how real is the so-called “AI Arms Race”.

Brain Sciences, Robotics, Automation, Neural Networks, AI, Computation, are all weirdly informing and shaping each other, but they by no means complete the picture. We experience ourselves as conscious beings in a way that feels different to the rhythm of our heartbeat or the rumblings of our stomach. If the operations of the brain can be separated out and stratified, then perhaps we can construct something akin to just the top layer, and achieve human-like artificial intelligence (AI) while bypassing the messy flesh that characterises organic life. Here’s a great article that asks a more pointed way to pose the question: can we build it?

But “we’re nowhere near achieving human-like AI. Why? Because the layered model of cognition is wrong. Most AI researchers are currently missing a central piece of the puzzle: embodiment“. In fact, you know that when eternal “science” fanboy, Singularity Hub, starts reprinting articles wondering whether “neuroscience hasn’t been on the wrong track for centuries“, something’s up.

The amount of complete bullshit published in respected journals about “brain scans” is unreal (“Did you knowingly commit a crime brain scans“): this one carefully elides the difference between being “engaged in illicit activities” and “observing immoral activities”. As if that would produce the same “brain scan” (whatever that is). Are these people taught logic at all? Here’s the kicker: they weren’t even engaged in illicit activities at all – they were part of a controlled experiment and knew that nothing was real. WTF? Ray Kurzweil told me at in SF last month that a 2% error rate in AI decision-making is “catastrophic“. Then read this clown from Science Mag explaining away a 5% error rate – and hedging, confidently, that “of the more than 40,000 fMRI studies that have been published to date, certainly not all will be affected” – certainly not all, so reassuring – and then this clanger: “not all [40,000 published papers] results are necessarily invalid but it would have to be decided for individual cases”. So who’s going to check, and who’s going to decide?

Anyway, sometime soon there won’t be any difference between a human made into a machine, and a machine made into a human, just become one and the same.


“It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics” George Bernard Shaw.

It’s a bad week for we friends and fiends of Data: former Wall Street Quant Cathy O’Neill has penned a piece for Bloomberg on How Data Can Make Immigrants Look Like Criminals: “Donald Trump plans to collect a lot more data about crimes committed by immigrants. This will inevitably give him a weapon to use against them, thanks to a peculiarity of crime statistics: If you look for something, you’ll almost always find more of it”. Here’s a link to her book Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy.

Last year, a Russian startup announced that it could scan the faces of people passing by Moscow’s thousands of CCTV cameras and pick out wanted criminals or missing persons. Unlike much face recognition technology — which runs stills from videos or photographs after the fact — NTechLab’s FindFace algorithm has achieved a feat that once only seemed possible in the science fictional universe of “Minority Report”: It can determine not just who someone is, but where they’ve been, where they’re going, and whether they have an outstanding warrant, immigration detainer, or unpaid traffic ticket. “The main concern is that we’re already pretty far along in terms of having this real-time technology, and we already have the cameras,” said Jake Laperruque, a fellow at the Constitution Project. “These cameras are small, hard to notice, and all over the place. That’s a pretty lethal combination for privacy unless we have reasonable rules on how they can be used together.” This imminent reality has led several civil liberties groups to call on police departments and legislators to implement clear policies on camera footage retention, biometrics, and privacy.

Even worse, Dan Geer is the chief information security officer for In-Q-Tel, a not-for-profit investment firm (what is a “not-for-profit investment firm”?) that works to invest in technology that supports the missions of the Central Intelligence Agency and the broader US intelligence community. He argues that the “trajectory of biometric capabilities is such that constructing prohibitory rules before something is possible has become wholly essential. Probabilistically, enumerating forbidden things must fail to anticipate some dangers hence the policy trade-off is whether to nevertheless attempt that enumeration or to switch over to enumerating permitted things. A free society being one where “that which is not forbidden is permitted” and an unfree society being one where “that which is not permitted is forbidden,” whether we can retain a free society by enumerating forbidden aspects (of biometrics) is now at question”. Translated: that which is not permitted is forbidden. And yes, we live in an unfree society.

The US Senate has voted to discard the broadband privacy rules that would have forced the ISPs to seek consumers’ permission before selling their personal and web browsing data. The Senate, with Republican Majority, voted 50-48 and made sure that FCC will be prevented from issuing similar rulings in future. Your ISP is spying on you and selling your privacy.

Psychologist Michal Kosinski developed a method to analyze people in minute detail based on their Facebook activity. Your smartphone, Kosinski concluded, is a vast psychological questionnaire that we are constantly filling out, both consciously and unconsciously.

In the 21st century, Big Data algorithms could be used to manipulate people in unprecedented ways. Take future election races, for example: in the 2020 race, Facebook could theoretically determine not only who are the 32,578 swing voters in Pennsylvania, but also what you need to tell each of them to swing them in your favour. But there is also much to fear from abdicating all responsibility to market forces. The market has proven itself woefully inadequate in confronting climate change and global inequality, and is even less likely to self-regulate the explosive powers of bioengineering and artificial intelligence.  Author Yuval Noah Harari takes aim at Mark Zukerberg’s faux messianism and dangerous power in the Financial Times.

Finally, something nice to say about Data – Sara Diamond from OCAD in Canada and her friends with a great manifesto: “We can describe data as one of the remarkable new materials of the 21st century – as important to our future as water. Data are measurements of other things: physical phenomena (such as weather patterns) or virtual phenomena (such as telecommunications packets). Every time we search for an online movie, view a video on our mobile device, tweet a comment about a news article, upload a photo to Instagram or are directed to a new location in Pokemon Go, we are producing and responding to data”. There’s no big data without intelligent design and interfaces.


“When they encounter works of art which show that using new media can lead to new experiences and to new consciousness, and expand our senses, our perception, our intelligence, our sensibility, then they will become interested in this music” Karlheinz Stockhausen.

The Venture Reality Fund reported that the landscape of companies it tracks in the virtual reality market grew more than 40 percent in 2016 (great instructive infographic). The Whitney Biennial (just opening) marks a milestone for the medium of virtual reality—which, despite its recent acceptance, has really been around in some form or another for decades. Over the past several years, several tech companies have competed to bring VR to the mainstream, and even artists are caught up in the hype. The Moving Image Art Fair, for example, has included VR works for a number of years since its inception in 2011, but co-founders Murat Orozobekov and Ed Winkleman told Artspace that 2017 was the year they really honed in on the medium. This year, VR works made up over a third of the show.

Virtual Reality and 360° Video is the holy grail for advertisers and publishers. In a world where we are constantly bombarded by different messages, and with the swipe of our thumb can get to the next piece of content, the immersive-ness of this new format provides both marketers and publishers a way of truly connecting and engaging with audiences.  Both publishers and advertisers are looking for new and innovative ways to stand out and engage audiences with their narrative and unique offering. There is no better way than putting someone in the car, on the beach, in the film, or making them feel as though they are actually at the event, or experiencing the news, to truly engage an audience.

On the other hand, famous porn artist makes VR debut (DEFINITELY NSFW!)

Experiences don’t have to be just virtual – they can also be immersive and still real. Museums are done with if they’re done better: The Detroit Institute of Arts “Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate” looks and smells great!

Most people do not actually stop and look carefully and consciously think about what they’re seeing” says Peabody museum director Dan Monroe. Well, I do! I’m guessing that “neuroscientists” might need as much help as “people” to experience art (Art Brut, for example) instead of the other way around. If you ever have the chance or time to read “The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain” – it’s amazing! We were in Vienna reading it at the time (Thanks Martin Zimper if you’re reading!)

The British band Shaking Chains’ debut single hijacks online video content to create a constantly evolving series of self-contained films. The inspiration for it came from the idea of surrendering authorship, of aleatoric art—like the music of German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen—the way chance and discord can blend into harmony. It’s also a retort to how algorithms control our lives. Hardiker repurposed the algorithms that help refine and curate our experiences, to create something more chaotic and randomized from them. Something akin to a TV channel being constantly changed.

More authorship issues: When you talk to an AI chatbot, who do you think writes those professional, peppy responses? There’s certainly an algorithm behind the scenes, but humans put together those phrases. Tech companies are creating teams of writers, including playwrights, poets, and novelists, to help write lines that don’t sound like they came from a machine. The work can range from creating a consistent character for a chatbot, to inspiring an immersive virtual reality.


“What history does not turn to diamonds, it turns to dust” Hegel.

Opened on Broadway this week: Once upon a time, there was a girl who talked to God. She built a nation, and they burned her for it. Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe winner David Byrne, lead singer of the Talking Heads explores the electrifying, meteoric rise of Joan of Arc through the lens of a one-of-a-kind rock musical concert. It’s like Lady Gaga meets Bertolt Brecht.

Werner Herzog films were impossible to get your head around when he was making them – Fitzcarraldo – Aguirre, Wrath of God, a genius who just keeps going. In Fitzcarraldo, he actually drags a ship over a mountain (really) to bring European opera to South Americans – the height of Imperialist vanity and violence. Aguirre, Wrath of God is surely the inspiration for Apocalypse Now – the madman up the river.

All of these musicians who were invited to play at SXSW were denied visas and/or held in detention and then deported. What is the point of this?

Here’s a great interview from Los Angeles Review of Books about David Bowie between philosopher Simon Critchley and cultural critic Mark Dery: Simon says: “My aim in [his book] Bowie is very simple: to try and find concepts that do justice to Bowie’s art in ways that are neither music journalism, dime store psychology, biography or crappy social history. I still don’t think we have a language that gives the huge importance of pop culture its due, that describes and dignifies it in the right way”.

I’m becoming increasingly sensitized to how important Science Fiction writing and imagination is – and how so much amazing SF has been imagined by feminist women writers. Since I studied Philosophy, I agree that the first organon of logic was framed by Aristotle and can be said to have laid the basis for computational logic, and therefore the computer – but I also do agree with Audrey Watters – the article systematically excludes all women from the history of computing, which is ridiculous.

OK – let’s take a break and take a look at these extraordinary pencil drawings by Nigerian artist Arinze Stanley – they are gob-smacking!


It’s so very “New York” this week  – My Brooklyn friends: 1) Spike Lee and his 10 Rules for Success – 2) Flavor Flav and the astounding sound of Public Enemy – Fight the Power – and 3) George Benson, have you ever heard a sweeter guitar sound than ‘On Broadway‘.

Can you believe Bruce Springsteen wrote this beautiful song for Elvis Presley just days before Presley died – and then the Pointer Sisters (Ruth Pointer’s birthday this week) turned it into one of the most smouldering songs of all time – FIRE. So we shouldn’t forget the other beautiful people’s birthdays this week: Chaka Khan, Dianna Ross, and the mighty Aretha Franklin.

Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins is a great poet in my opinion – just these few poetic things from just this one beautiful song: We can learn so much from these few things, if we are listening: 1) Cool kids never have the time; 2) Double-cross the vacant and the bored; 3) We don’t even care / as restless as we are; and 4) Hang out with the freaks and the ghouls.

Sly Stone and Rosemary Stone from the freaking awesome Sly and the Family Stone share birthdays this week – Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).

So in Art this week, how about the extraordinary thinker of materials, Constantin Brancusi; or how Malevich, who put a black square on a white background in horror of the first world war (the discussion about him and his influence on the architect Zaha Hadid here is awesome); or how about Juan Gris – a great experimenter in Cubism and a great explanation of why he was important even if in constant competition and conflict with Picasso;

And then there’s William Morris – the last great person to be a sublime practitioner of art, and craft, and poetry, and design, and political theory, and activism, all at once and the same time.

Last thing: it’s also Angelo Badalamenti’s birthday this week – you might know “Industrial Symphony No. 1” – or just the very beautiful “Falling” by Julee Cruise.

Every link is a joy!

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