Hi Folks,

This week’s news comes live from the www.aaai.org conference for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence held in San Francisco where I got to meet some of the AI world’s rock stars – Ray Kurzweil (see the photo of us below), the legendary futurist, founder of Singularity U, and Google’s Director of Engineering; Sebastian Thrun, Director of the AI Lab at Stanford; Peter Norvig, Google’s Director of Research; and Gary Marcus, noted NYU psychology author and now Founder of Uber’s AI Labs. Quite a crew!

Me with Ray Kurzweil

The event was held at the Hilton Hotel which is in the historic Tenderloin district, which, if you’ve ever been to SF, you’ll know is a highly problematic and confronting part of town. Coincidentally, Wired Magazine ran a lengthy piece about it just this week. If you know SF you’ll be interested in the Wired piece here (their head office is a few blocks away), but otherwise let’s get on with this week’s news…

As Always, Change the World!
Brendan Harkin

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We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about” Google’s Eric Schmidt.

Let’s play with an actual Machine Learning algorithm – let’s see if it can guess what you’re drawing. Lots of fun – and instructive!

With theatre attendance at a two-decade low and profits dwindling, the kind of disruption that hit music, publishing, and other industries is already reshaping the entertainment business. From A.I. Aaron Sorkin to C.G.I. actors to algorithmic editing, Vanity Fair investigates what lies ahead. A lot of the disruption underway in Hollywood is being driven by Big Data. This week’s episode of the excellent Raw Data podcast takes a deep dive into the ways that companies like Netflix and Amazon are mounting a threat to traditional studio powerhouses (Disney, Sony, etc) and the “perfect storm” of tech forces hitting Hollywood. For more insight on exactly how Netflix is using customer data, they talk with the Director of Content Science and Algorithms.

In thinking through the future of AI, it is useful to consider fiction, especially science fiction. From Frankenstein’s monster and Hoffmann’s automata to Skynet and Ex Machina, fiction writers have raised concerns about destruction that could perhaps be unleashed on humanity by the autonomy we confer on our technological creations. Ethical considerations cannot be bolted on afterwards. Outstanding research paper on Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence Courses. (Also, see the Cyborg Bill of Rights below).

When Scandinavian engineers launched their crowdfunding campaign for “No More Woof” in December 2013, they talked a good game. They would build a wearable gadget that you could slip onto your dog’s head, which would read its doggy brainwaves and translate its mental state into human language.It may not shock you, savvy reader, to learn that the campaign never delivered – The story of No More Woof (if I want to know my dog’s mental state, I’d just ask it).

Artificial intelligence, in all its variants has captured public imagination, dominated media coverage, and driven furious volumes of investment and acquisition activity. In the midst of this hype cycle, spotting the difference between phony wannabes and true investments can be a challenge. Here’s how real investors separate AI hype from reality.

Facebook are trialling their AI Messenger App in closed beta. Here’s some great behind-the-scene’s stories of how it’s coming together, and what’s actually AI and what’s not.

The creation of non-human autonomous robots would disrupt religion, like everything else, on an entirely new scale. “If humans were to create free-willed beings,” says Wired Editor-at-Large Kevin Kelly, who was raised Catholic and identifies as a Christian, “absolutely every single aspect of traditional theology would be challenged and have to be reinterpreted in some capacity.”

Within the lifetimes of most children today, bio enhancement is likely to become a basic feature of human society. Personalised pharmaceuticals will enable us to modify our bodies and minds in powerful and precise ways. New brain-machine interfaces will improve our memory and cognition, extend our senses, and confer direct control over an array of semi-intelligent gadgets. Genetic and epigenetic modification will allow us to change our physical appearance and capabilities, as well as to tweak some of the more intangible aspects of our being such as emotion, creativity or sociability. Do you find these ideas disquieting?

Amazon is using Alexa to compete against all of the other retailers on the planet and Google Home. Tesla’s AI downloads updated geo-intelligence to compete against all the other car brands that don’t update via the cloud. IBM’s Watson is automating decision analysis that competes with clinics and hospitals not enabled by its cognitive computer. This is just the beginning of the AI Wars. Companies that are using AI to compete will shape the future of AI. There are companies using AI for diagnosing disease, deciphering law, designing fashion, writing films, drafting music, reading taxes or figuring out if you’re a terrorist, fraudster or threat. AI is everywhere. If you are within sight of a video camera, cell phone, city, driving in a car or traveling by transit, online or off, you are likely exposed to AI in real-time. You may not know this.

Speaking of Amazon, it’s the titan of twenty-first century commerce. In addition to being a retailer, it is now a marketing platform, a delivery and logistics network, a payment service, a credit lender, an auction house, a major book publisher, a producer of television and films, a fashion designer, a hardware manufacturer, and a leading host of cloud server space. Although Amazon has clocked staggering growth, it generates meagre profits, choosing to price below-cost and expand widely instead. Through this strategy, the company has positioned itself at the center of e-commerce and now serves as essential infrastructure for a host of other businesses that depend upon it. Elements of the firm’s structure and conduct pose anticompetitive concerns—yet it has escaped any antitrust and anti-competitive scrutiny. The Yale Law Journal has a forensic look at Amazon and its practices – you can just read the abstract but there’s lots of great stuff to sample in depth as well.


It’s time to wake up to the fact that you’re just another avatar in someone else’s MMOG. Worse: from where they stand, all-powerful Big Data analysts that they are, you look an awful lot like a bot” Raph Koster.

Police departments faced with tight budgets are increasingly turning to machine learning-enabled software that can sift through crime data to help predict where crimes are likely to occur and who might commit them. Software like PredPol, HunchLab and products from IBM, Microsoft and Hitachi analyze data from sources as varied as crime statistics, weather patterns, bar closing times and school term schedules to predict where crimes are most likely to happen. Elsewhere, offender-based modelling uses factors like criminal record, employment history and age to create risk profiles that are used to decide whether to grant people parole, refer them to social services or put them under surveillance. But despite wide adoption of these systems, there is still little evidence to support their use.

The critical haves and have-not’s today is those who own data and those who don’t. If your company had data that could help save lives, or feed the hungry, or slow global warming, or impact society in any significant way, what would you do with it? A growing number of companies are finding ways to share some of their data as “corporate data philanthropists” – how about your company?

Forget Fake News: The problem of Fake Data may go far deeper than scientists admit. Now a team of researchers has a controversial plan to root out the perpetrators. Statcheck read some 50,000 published psychology papers and checked the maths behind every statistical result it encountered. In the space of 24 hours, virtually every academic active in the field in the past two decades had received an email from the program, informing them that their work had been reviewed. Nothing like this had ever been seen before: a massive, open, retroactive evaluation of scientific literature, conducted entirely by computer.

I find that in these new areas of AI, VR, and Data Science that women are refreshingly well represented. Maybe I’m overly-optimistic but here’s some great videos from the recent Women in Data Science conference at Stanford.

I’ll get to the Robots show at the Science Museum in London if I possibly can – it’s on for 6 months: From the dawn of mechanised human forms to cutting-edge technology fresh from the lab, Robots reveals the astonishing 500-year quest to make machines human . Focusing on why they exist rather than on how they work, the blockbuster exhibition explores the ways robots mirror humanity and the insights they offer into our ambitions, desires and position in a rapidly changing world (do check out the site – there’s some great stuff there). Meanwhile, here’s 10 incredible Robots that are inspiring their makers towards creating the first artificial human. And just in case you were concerned for their welfare, here’s a Cyborg Bill of Rights, including the “Freedom from Disassembly”, “Freedom of Morphology”, and “Equality for Mutants”. I think they’re being serious but I’m not sure.

So what happens when Robotics + AI + VR = Sex Robots? Amazing work from NYT (Probably NSFW).

In San Francisco, I made a point of visiting Cafe X at the Metreon to order a coffee from the newest barista in SF – it’s a fully-automated robot. Speaking of which, here’s a leaked video which shows Boston Dynamics latest “nightmare inducing” robot (from the excellent Mike Murphy at Machines with Brains).

Here’s an awesome intro to Synthetic Biology, which has turned all genomics into hackable code – with some great instructive infographics and beautiful videos. Bio design is a quickly growing field, and it will rely on designers as much as scientists. Here’s a great guide from Fast Company on what you need to know. You should also know that Germany has just mandated a 50,000 Euro fine and up to 3 years in prison for anyone doing genetic engineering outside of a licensed facility.

Algorithms are aimed at optimizing everything. They can save lives, make things easier and conquer chaos. Still, experts worry they can also put too much control in the hands of corporations and governments, perpetuate bias, create filter bubbles, cut choices, creativity and serendipity, and could result in greater unemployment. If you read only one article on Algorithms, make it this brilliantly balanced and thorough piece of work from the Pew Institute.

Spokesmen and lobbyists for insurers, banks, and big business generally believe that key algorithms deserve the iron-clad protections of trade secrecy, so they can never be examined (let alone critiqued) by outsiders. Regulators can make data-centric firms more accountable. But first, they need to be aware of the many ways that business computation can go wrong. The data used may be inaccurate or inappropriate. Algorithmic modelling or analysis may be biased or incompetent. And the uses of algorithms are still opaque in many critical sectors – for example, we may not even know if our employers are judging us according to secret formulae.


The intellectual tradition is one of servility to power, and if I didn’t betray it I’d be ashamed of myself” Noam Chomsky.

Corporations don’t just shape our politics or economics, they also seek to change public opinion to serve their interests. Which corporations play the biggest role in shaping knowledge and news? What do they fund? Who do they represent? What role have they played in the rise of authoritarian populists? This infographic for State of Power 2017 exposes those ‘manufacturing consent’.

Software is politics. Digital services wield power. They can’t be designed simply for ease of use—the goal at most companies and organizations. Digital services must be understandable, accountable, and trusted. It is now a commercial as well as a moral imperative.

We’re on the cusp of a new era of design. Beyond the two-dimensional focus on graphics and the three-dimensional focus on products, we’re now in an era where designers are increasingly focusing on time and space, guided by technological advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, and smart environments. Last week, in a talk delivered at the inaugural A/D/O/ Design Festival in Brooklyn, Yves Béhar presented his vision for what those guidelines should look like—in the form of 10 principles for design in the age of AI.

I repeat VR is still far from a consumer proposition – on the grounds of the high cost and the low value content. Facebook is closing around 200 of its 500 Oculus virtual reality demo stations at Best Buy locations across the US.

Apple has great design is the biggest myth in technology today. The latest victim of this ideology comes in the form a remarkable report on the late Steve Jobs’s final project, still in production: the new, $5 billion Cupertino headquarters for Apple Inc. X Media Lab friend Ian Bogost launches in.

If you have any interest in mathematics, geometry, or biology, here’s a fascinating and beautiful essay (with beautiful illustrations) from the always great Margaret Wertheim – The world is full of mundane, meek, unconscious things embodying fiendishly complex mathematics. What can we learn from them?


Great article on how David Bowie, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan got themselves out of deep creative ruts.

North Carolina teacher has personalized handshakes with each of his students. “It was just one or two students and then it became contagious. I saw how much it meant to them.” Such a super-cool video (and a super-cool teacher!)

The Pompidou Centre is 40 years old. The design by the young architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers was a radical proposal for “the construction of a building for information, fun and culture, a sort of machine, an ‘informative tool’”, as Piano and Rogers put it. As the Parisian cultural behemoth hits a landmark anniversary, figures from the world of art and architecture discuss its legacy.

Technology has long been considered a resource-liberating mechanism, granting us better access to resources like information, food and energy. Yet what is often overlooked is the revolutionary impact technology can have on our ability to create art. A great array of examples and videos of Art in the Age of AI.

Oprah Winfrey has sold Gustav Klimt‘s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912) for $150 million in 2016. The buyer is allegedly an unidentified Chinese collector.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has announced it will place 375,000 works of art in its collection under creative commons. Not only does this mean all the works are available for viewing online, but the public can now download the works of art and use them in any and all capacities. The New York museum’s “open access” policy used to be anything but. Now, the Met has actually opened up to allow unrestricted access to and use of any images in the public domain. Under the new program, the 375,000 pieces can be used for “any purpose, including commercial and non-commercial use, free of charge and without requiring permission from the Museum.”

Gerhard Richter turns 85. All 26 paintings on display at the “New Paintings” exhibition at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne were painted in 2016 – after years of lower productivity. All the more reason to really let it fly with these new images. Who wouldn’t lose themselves in this rush of color, by the richness of its form and the rhythm characteristic of Richter’s latest works?

Roberta Flack’s birthday is on the 10th Feb – is this the most beautiful song ever recorded? Saturday Night Fever is 40 years old this week – It’s 50 years this week since The Doors debut album – And 40 years this week since Bob Marley released the extraordinary Exodus – As Nietzsche said, it’s not a revolution if you can’t dance to it.

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