People think technology + big data + machine learning = science, and it’s not
March 19th – ISSUE #10
NEWS FOR SMART DATA-DRIVEN AUGMENTED CREATIVE PEOPLE
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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“Thinking is a human feature. Will AI someday really think? That’s like asking if submarines swim. If you call it swimming, then robots will think, yes.” Noam Chomsky.
Brain scientists have forgotten that brains have owners – embodied beings. Five neuroscientists argue that fancy new technologies have led the field astray: “People think technology + big data + machine learning = science, and it’s not.” Here’s the original abstract – which isn’t too hard to understand and has a great graphic explaining the basic idea – that directly identifiable ‘causality’ in brain science is a far trickier idea than is let on, and there is the whole constellation of other words that far more accurately describe the situation. “The fallacy is that more of th[is] same kind of [neuronal] work in the infinitely postponed future will transform into knowing why that mother’s crying or why I’m feeling this way,” says Krakauer. And, as he and his colleagues argue, it will not.
So when we’re told that “doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital drilled two holes into Murphy’s skull and implanted two electrodes into a dense bundle of fibres within her brain’s internal capsule. The axons here carry signals to many of the brain’s circuits that have been linked to depression“, one wonders if there might not be other causes of depression. Why do we think the depression can be treated “within her brain’s internal capsule”. What if the causes are “external”, what would be the point of treating it internally? Why don’t we explore the external causes?
There’s a rogue neuroscientist on a mission to hack peer review: Niko Kriegeskorte had been struggling with the publication process since he was a post-doc. The long, drawn-out process of getting a paper published, only to have it locked behind a paywall, seemed criminal. Instead of limiting the dissemination of scientific knowledge—a holdover from the pre-web days of science – he envisioned a system that provides perfectly open access and evaluation.
Even worse, if you’re not lucky enough to be born in the right country or study at the right university, you don’t get to access science. Alexandra Elbakyan, a neuroscientist in Kazakhstan, founded Sci-Hub in 2011 as a 22-year-old undergrad to thwart journal paywalls. The researcher behind the project says that everyone should have access to knowledge, regardless of their incom (please read this article!). Remember, the giant filthy rich publishers pay the authors of the scientific papers absolutely nothing. It’s a scam of gigantic and hugely damaging proportions. Remember too, the late and very great Aaron Swartz, who was hounded to suicide. Maybe the “causes” of his suicide – a threatened 35 years in prison for making publicly funded research publicly available – can’t be found in his neurons but in his society.
“It is the responsibility of every citizen to question authority” Benjamin Franklin.
The biggest data story this week is by far the Vault 7 Wikileaks. Strange how the mainstream media are more or less studiously ignoring it. “Leaks” are beginning to replace MSM as sources of important information. The Vault 7 release marks the latest in a series of huge leaks that have changed the landscape for government and corporate secrecy. In scale, the Vault 7 archive appears to fall into the same category as the biggest leaks of classified information in recent years, including the quarter-million diplomatic cables taken by Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst, and given to WikiLeaks in 2010, and the hundreds of thousands of National Security Agency documents taken by Edward Snowden in 2013. In the business world, the so-called Panama Papers and several other large-volume leaks have laid bare the details of secret offshore companies used by wealthy and corrupt people to hide their assets. Both government and corporate leaks have been made possible by the ease of downloading, storing and transferring millions of documents in seconds or minutes, a sea change from the use of slow photocopying for some earlier leaks, including the Pentagon Papers in 1971.
The Wikileaks debrief definitely worth reading, including this little gem: because CIA officers could be prosecuted or dismissed for violating rules that prohibit placing classified information onto the Internet, the CIA made all these systems – the weaponized malware (implants + zero days), Listening Posts (LP), and Command and Control (C2) systems – … are, wait for it, “unclassified information”. That’s right folks; it’s all unclassified! They can’t even assert copyright over any of it. Snowden called it “reckless beyond words“. And now it’s all “in the wild”.
Former Amazon chief scientist Andreas Weigend wrote this week photo-analysing software has advanced to the point where it can recognise faces, deduce place and time of day, speculate whether you’re in a fancy restaurant or gay bar, guess your emotional sentiments, or even copy your fingerprints. As these algorithms bring us closer to a post-privacy world, he argues, “we need to start thinking about how these images of us might be used to make decisions about us”—and how we might protect against algorithmic discrimination.
Since I’ve been in California recently I’ve been following the Oroville Dam disaster – here’s some incredible drone footage. It’s the first time the spill-ways have ever been used. Investment in infrastructure, right?
“I can count on two hands the collectors who are buying immersive media works,” said Moving Image fair co-founder Edward Winkleman at a preview on Monday, kicking off Armory Arts Week in New York. “But I’m encouraged for the future by the number of lawyers and doctors who are buying virtual reality headsets for their kids, and might want to use them for something more than gaming!” Here’s a list of links to some interesting and beautiful VR artwork in NYC this week.
In particular, The Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures exhibition that opened this week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters is a rare gathering of around 50 tiny wood carvings created for religious meditation. The details on the prayer beads, some two inches in diameter, are incredible, so layered with their saints and devils, that, according to Anna Serrano, “The moment people see these objects, they wish that they could go inside.” Serrano is the chief digital officer at the Canadian Film Centre’s Media Lab (CFC), and producer for “Small Wonders: The VR Experience,” which allows museum visitors to do just that.
Without a cross-platform standard, VR applications, games and engines must port to each vendors’ APIs. In turn, this means that each VR device can only run the apps that have been ported to its SDK. The result is high development costs and confused customers – limiting market growth. The cross-platform VR standard eliminates industry fragmentation by enabling applications to be written once to run on any VR system and to access VR devices integrated into those VR systems to be used by applications. Enough of the right people are involved in OpenXR to make cross-platform portable VR a possibility. Here’s UploadVR’s 9 biggest VR stories from GDC17: Nvidia’s 1080 Ti supercharged processor; Oculus Rift’s 2017 content line-up; Vive’s peripheral price cuts; OpenXR standards (see above); New Samsung Gear VR, controller; Microsoft’s holographic headset; LG’s StreamVR headset; Epic Games Robo Recall; and VR’s first major price-cuts. Seven of the nine stories are about hardware, not content or applications. Phil Lelyveld gives us the rap on What’s Next in VR Storytelling.
By now, at the outset of 2017, it has become clear that we are living through science-fictional times. Technology that was scarcely imagined by writers of the past century is commonplace. Communication has been made instantaneous. We carry with us the most powerful computers ever devised, each no larger than a cigarette case. News of fresh developments reaches us daily – advances in artificial intelligence, driverless cars, original sources of energy – as the world is rendered ever smaller and more interconnected. In the past decade, lines of gender have become blurred and intricate while in politics events have of late taken on a quality of the hyperreal. A superb essay on Science Fiction and “Fantasias of Possibility” by Jonathan Barnes.
“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The non-existent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired” Nikos Kazantzakis.
Robert Zaretsky considers Trump and Guy Debord’s ‘Society of the Spectacle‘. It is often presumed that intellectuals have little or no political power. Perched in a privileged ivory tower, disconnected from the real world, embroiled in meaningless academic debates over specialised minutia, or floating in the abstruse clouds of high-minded theory, intellectuals are frequently portrayed as not only cut off from political reality but as incapable of having any meaningful impact on it. The Central Intelligence Agency thinks otherwise. As a matter of fact, says Gabriel Rockhill, the agency responsible for coups d’état, targeted assassinations and the clandestine manipulation of foreign governments not only believes in the power of theory, but it dedicated significant resources to having a group of secret agents pore over what some consider to be the most recondite and intricate theory ever produced.
Megan’s finally had her beloved bike delivered in the US. Happy bi-centenary to the bi-cycle. Time to remember how marvellous and revolutionary was the simple idea of putting the two wheels in line with each other, rather than next to each other. The original prototype still met with a lot of resistance. Doctors had reservations, too, because they believed that riding the curious vehicle could provoke sexual excitement. As the functioning principle, didn’t have a model in nature, it was somehow seen as an affront to common sense. The automobile historian James Flink puts it: “No preceding innovation — not even the internal combustion engine — was as important to the development of the automobile as the bicycle. Key elements of automotive technology that were first employed in the bicycle industry included steel-tube framing, ball bearings, chain drive, and differential gearing.”
W. H. Auden was admired for his unsurpassed technical virtuosity and ability to write poems in nearly every imaginable verse form; his incorporation of popular culture, current events, and vernacular speech in his work; and also for the vast range of his intellect, which drew easily from an extraordinary variety of literatures, art forms, social and political theories, and scientific and technical information. Here’s his poem Musee des Beaux Arts (read by TooTight Lautrec) – and here’s Brueghel’s Icarus painting Auden uses as an example ii the poem … see if you can find Icarus.
How many videos could you thank Dave Gilmour for feeling comfortably numb – with Benedict Cumberbatch, who as a singer, let’s just say, that he’s a great actor (but he does enunciate the lines as if they do have some meaning) – or here with David Bowie – or, my favourite, the majestic Time – or Clare Tommy’s absolutely extraordinary vocal improvisation on Great Gig in the Sky – they told her to emote about sex and death. She did it in 3 takes while her boyfriend waited in the car outside and got paid 30 quid (recorded around the corner from where we used to live in London). Later, she was absolutely rightly given a co-writing credit. Wonderful. You can buy original Pink Floyd artwork by Gerald Scarfe, 11 paintings from the original set of 50, has gone on sale for the first time ever in San Francisco. Otherwise, I’ll see you on the Dark Side of the Moon.
The mighty Man in Black, Johnny Cash, with this beautifully conflicted meditation on Trent Reznor’s Hurt and the redemptive possibilities of true love – or here, with God’s Going to Cut You Down – and among all the black and white celebrities, there’s one who’s included to illustrate he doesn’t even know that he’s the one of the “long-tongued liar’s” that Johnny Cash is singing about. Guess which one.
Ornette Coleman – 1959 was the seismic year jazz broke away from complex bebop music to new forms, allowing soloists unprecedented freedom to explore and express. It was also a pivotal year for America: the nation was finding its groove, enjoying undreamt-of freedom and wealth social, racial and upheavals were just around the corner and jazz was ahead of the curve. Four major jazz albums were made, each a high watermark for the artists and a powerful reflection of the times. Each opened up dramatic new possibilities for jazz which continue to be felt Miles Davis Kind of Blue Dave Brubeck, Time Out Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um; and Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come. A great documentary in how some of the greatest free jazz albums were made – like watching a Scorsese doco on Jazz – and includes a rap from Lou Reed on Ornette Coleman).
Fernand Leger – video goes for half an hour, but you can enter and leave anywhere – it’s splendid, enriching, and beautiful (Vid 31:54) – and it’s a first class lesson in making and appreciating art. Enjoy – it’s totally worth your time.