March 19th – ISSUE #10


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?

The link between Brain Science and AI rests on the analogy of computer network software and the structure of the brain. Here’s a good video primer on How Neural Networks Work by Brandon Rohrer.

Here’s an extensive list of things that claim to be operational AI today (with a great set of links) from Ed Newton-Rex at On Coding – everything from everyday human stuff, travel, science and medicine, agriculture, security, finance, law, programming, creativity, and so on. But even so, two great pieces from Ian Bogost (again!), arguing that “Concepts like “algorithm” have become sloppy shorthands, slang terms for the act of mistaking multipart complex systems for simple, singular ones. Of treating computation theologically rather than scientifically or culturally“; and that “in most cases, the systems making claims to artificial intelligence aren’t sentient, self-aware, volitional, or even surprising. They’re just software“. Two great pieces of writing and opinion.

I’m nowhere near as sanguine as Ian’s “it’s just software”. The single best balanced recent account is definitely Kevin Maney’s “How Artificial Intelligence and Robots Will Radically Transform The Economy” it outlines the positives and the threats very clearly and dispassionately.

A perfect storm is brewing. Professors are leaving academia leaving gaps in university faculties to be filled. More and more graduating Ph.D. students are leaving academia, making it harder and harder to fill faculty vacancies. Meanwhile, enrolments in artificial intelligence and machine learning courses are skyrocketing. However, the industry relies on universities to create the pool of AI/ML talent. Many in academia and industry are worried that the AI/ML talent pipeline is fragile and cannot produce enough talent to fill industry needs. Uber employed the entire faculty of Carnegie Mellon’s AI research group. That’s an act of public vandalism – a textbook case of short-sighted greed: devouring your own children. (Much more on Uber below).

If we can’t produce enough talent to fill industry needs, we might want to think about empowering more people instead of systematically excluding them. For International Women’s Week, for example, here’s Business Insider’s Most Powerful Women Engineers, and here are the 25 Women In Robotics you need to know about. Reading their profiles and interests is totally enlightening and exciting.

The United States spends more than $1B each year on initiatives such as the American Community Survey (ACS), a labour-intensive door-to-door study that measures statistics relating to race, gender, education, occupation, unemployment, and other demographic factors. Although a comprehensive source of data, the lag between demographic changes and their appearance in the ACS can exceed half a decade. As digital imagery becomes ubiquitous and machine vision techniques improve, automated data analysis may provide a cheaper and faster alternative. Here’s a method that determines socioeconomic trends from 50 million images of street scenes, gathered in 200 American cities by Google Street View cars.

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”.

Can robots be your friends or can you “marry” sexbots? Aristotle has astoundingly prescient things to say from thousands of years ago about what constitutes human relationships: a mutuality condition; an honesty/authenticity condition; an equality condition; and a diversity condition. Read them and ask yourself, am I in an Aristotelian relationship or do I have a sexbot – and does it matter?

Botnets: the relentless push to add connectivity to home gadgets is creating dangerous side effects that figure to get even worse. This cute little Internet of Things Teddy Bear Leaked 2 Million Parent and Kids Message Recordings. Right now, everything you do, see, and search on the internet is data surveillance and data-for-sale. Your every Facebook post is monitored. Here are the surprising and creepy things algorithms can glean about you from your posted photos. And if you hadn’t been paying attention, most of the “smart” products you buy are anything but intelligent when it comes to your privacy and security. So many of these companies wouldn’t be facing settlements and lawsuits if they’d simply been transparent about what they were collecting in the first place. But time and time again we see “smart” IOT vendors trying to bullshit their way around what they’re doing, bury settings that control privacy settings under layers of intentionally intimidating menus, or simply refuse outright to offer consumers working opt-out tools in the first place.

Uber is the world’s largest privately-held company. It’s also in deep trouble. Not just the ugly sexual harassment claims about senior management where woman managers and employees are considered fair game (Sarah Lacy from must be feeling very vindicated, How far Uber will go to Silence Journalists and Attack Women is from years ago). Here’s Google’s Robocar Lawsuit which could kill Uber’s future and send executives to prison. Uber’s Grayball program was unmasked last week – Uber has for years engaged in a worldwide program to deceive the authorities in markets where its low-cost ride-hailing service was resisted by law enforcement or, in some instances, had been banned. This analysis says Uber are running a “pseudo-market” – masking subsidies – Uber’s current operations are subsidised by investors to the tune of $2 billion per year. Even the Financial Times is getting worried: It’s not just Uber’s “innovation” claims which are questionable, it’s potentially the entire business model. Given all of this, it’s probably not a great idea to have the CEO caught on camera arguing with his own Uber driver about fares and pay and the driver is telling him “you’ve sent me broke”.

All these disasters mask one key, critical issue: Uber is doomed because it can’t actually make money.

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?


To drive to Facebook’s main offices in Menlo Park, California, you must get off the highway at Willow Rd – Exit number 404. Funny.

Seeing Noise: How Art and Design Transformed Popular Music – a wonderful essay from with a wonderful video from artist Matthew Rolston and his amazing body of work.

“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.

Netflix subscribers may soon have the opportunity to decide for themselves how stories unfold on their favourite shows as work begins on a new interactive storytelling technology. This new way of watching television will allow viewers the ability to control the fate of their favourite characters and make decisions on key plot points. The Guardian thinks it’s a bad idea: “Perhaps among the vast mass of the viewing public there are a few brave, adventurous and energetic souls who can greet this news with wonder and delight. Good luck to them. But I suspect the majority are exhausted by the mere thought. It seems to me to misunderstand the fundamental appeal of television; that it is bedtime stories for grownups”.

Under an army watchtower and across the street from the concrete wall Israel has built in parts of the occupied West Bank, street artist Banksy has opened a guesthouse in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. Unusually for him, he offers an explanation. The hotel, with “the worst view in the world”, is likely to draw crowds for its artist-designed rooms, which the website describes as, “literally sleeping inside a work of art,” created by Banksy, Sami Musa, and Dominique Petrin, with more to follow. More will come for the A-list piano bar, which will play compositions by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Hans Zimmer, and Massive Attack. Not everyone is convinced this is a good idea. (Previous work, Dismaland in case you missed it).

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.

A major exhibition of Egon Schiele’s has opened in Vienna in anticipation of the centenary of his death. A great short article reviewing his life and work. Thanks again to the utter morons who started WWI – three royals who were all cousins. FFS.

David Michod (Animal Kingdom) is directing Brad Pitt in a fictionalised account of investigative journalist Michael Hastings take-down of Stanley McChrystal in a new movie The War Machine. Hasting’s book is a great read: The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan. In case you’re wondering what happened to this particular investigative journalist … you can find out his fate here (short video) or here (long video).

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.”

A 338 song 20 hour Spotify playlist of every song in every Martin Scorcese movie.

Birthdays this edition:

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.

Both Lou Reed and John Cale have birthdays this edition, and coincidentally it’s exactly 50 years this week since the release of Andy Warhol’s Factory release of The Velvet Underground and Nico. Here’s Lou Reed schooling some Australian journalists about certain facts of life. The journalists still look the same but are even worse now. John Cale with a brilliant version of Venus in Furs.

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).

Frank Gehry’s Abu Dhabi Guggenheim is 12 times to size of the NYC Museum (Vid: 5:33m). Here’s a look back at some of his most mind-bending and building-bending feats. (Vid: 7:28m). His new Pierre Boulez Concert Hall opened in Berlin this week. Looks like he’s finally arriving at an Open Space, An-Architecture with multi-social spaces – like what Lebbeus Woods was doing the whole time.

Cyd Charisse with Fred Astaire – it makes La La Land look like, well, La La Land. And if you wondering about the fabled Red Dress here’s a great account from last week on ‘Storytelling through Costume: the Allure of the Red Dress’.

The mighty Pier Paolo Pasolini – Cinema as Transgression (Vid 7:40) – and here, a beautiful Homage to Pasolini from Nanni Moretti’s film Caro Diario (Vid 5:13) as he Vespa’s to the site where Passolini was enticed and murdered (music by Keith Jarrett, from the Koln Concert).

Germany’s two greatest living (and very different) painters both have birthdays during this edition – Gerhard Richter – a painter in a photographic age; and Anselm Keifer – “Remembering the Future” – and a great video taking a tour inside his amazing studio (Vid 9:10)

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.

Anthony Burgess, the author of Clockwork Orange (and very much else) would have been 100 this week. Here’s The Simpsons take – “A Clockwork Yellow” and here’s a great video comparison between Burgess’ novel and Kubrick’s masterpiece of film – spot the differences.

And lastly, the immortal Michelangelo – last week, the world-famous Sistine Chapel—which greets as many as 25,000 visitors per day, their necks craned toward the ceiling—can now be looked at in even greater detail, after being documented with the newest technology in art photography. Ending a five-year project, the frescoes adorning the ceiling at the Vatican Museums have been shot in 270,000 digital frames, giving the unprecedented opportunity for close examination. Some of the most iconic images of all Western art were produced under protest by Michelangelo – he saw himself as a sculptor, not a painter. Unreal. Take a quick look at the scale of what he achieved – truly amazing.

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