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


As Always, Change the World!
Brendan Harkin

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Stupidity is a structure of thought as such. There are imbecile thoughts […] that are made up entirely of truths” Deleuze (Nietzsche and Philosophy).

This issue I want to a quick run around some of the connections being made between Intelligence, AI, Cognitive Science, and the Brain. Some of the claims made for AI and Neuroscience are completely unsubstantiated – we need to submit every neatly-packaged black-box foregone conclusion to rigorous and continuous scrutiny. Everything from discriminatory algorithms to absurd claims of “mind-reading”.

But first: here’s a brilliant essay on the historical ways that the idea of “intelligence” has been used as an instrument of domination and destruction – against women, minorities, non-westerners, and animals. Stephen Cave is executive director and senior research fellow of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at the University of Cambridge.

The conjunction of AI and Cognitive (Brain) sciences is giving rise to some pretty immense claims which need to be closely analysed: given that scientists claim they can read people’s minds and reconstruct them as videos, are able to identify that racism and sexism are supposedly ‘optical illusions’ in the brain and are part of ‘the human condition’, and that your thoughts and beliefs can be hacked through electrical signals (you could drive a truck through the logic that’s presented as proof), so you might be surprised to find that at current rates of imaging protocol rates the 86 billion neurons in the human brain will be fully imaged in, oh, … about 17 million years time.

It’s all so deterministic, absurdly imprecise and subjective given the claims, and then, of course, there’s that old problem of being unable to reproduce the results. Damn it!

Then there’s this: “Functional MRI (fMRI) is 25 years old, yet surprisingly its most common statistical methods have not been validated using real data. Here, we used resting-state fMRI data from 499 healthy controls to conduct 3 million task group analyses. We should find 5% false positives, but instead, we found that the most common [bug-riddled] software packages for fMRI analysis (SPM, FSL, AFNI) can result in false-positive rates of up to 70%. These results question the validity of some 40,000 fMRI studies and may have a large impact on the interpretation of neuroimaging results.” And that’s just the software.

You know, that multimillion dollar contraption that can read your true thoughts, create videos of your mind, and can hack your thoughts and beliefs through electrical signals – it’s bug-riddled and completely unproven. Meanwhile, advocates have been trying for years to have the ‘blobology’ admitted into court as legal evidence.

As far as examining “brain imaging” and “thought processes” goes, we might as well go back the Rorshach Ink Blots – great new book on their history and reception released this week – which are at least are more colourful, less dangerous, and they come on plain paper. And in fact, these researchers think that’s exactly what fMRI images are – seeing shapes in seemingly random spatial patterns.

It’s also useful to remember that ‘brain science’ treatments once used the good old scientific technique called the ‘transorbital lobotomy’, which involved inserting an ice pick into a patient’s skull through the bone known as the orbit at the back of the eye socket. Patients were generally subdued with electroshock therapy beforehand. Then the ice pick was driven through the back of the eye with a hammer (NB: not for the faint-hearted). There, it would be moved back and forth in the same motion as an eggbeater, severing connections between the thalamus (which controls the motor systems of the brain, extending to basic functions like movement and consciousness) and frontal lobes (which regulate higher intellect)”. It was used on women exhibiting “unpredictable behaviour” and infamously carried out on John F. Kennedy’s sister, Rosemary Kennedy when it was feared she might have pre-marital sex, get pregnant, and embarrass the family.

The two largest brain mapping projects in the world are the EU’s Human Brain Project (HBP) and the US’s Brain Research through Advanced Innovative Neurotechnologies (i.e., BRAIN, surprisingly). If you want to know why there is such anger and dis-satisfaction with the European Commission (BREXIT) read this great account of the purposelessness and arrogance of the EU’s Euro 1 billion Human Brain Project – a bureaucratic success but a scientific failure. That a brain is not a giant supercomputer, and that as a biological system inseparably integrated into a living organism it operates utterly differently from our digital computers is seen inside the HBP cult as a deranged heresy of incompetent looneys who rightfully shall never get any proper funding.

On the other hand, the best single go-to source to understand the State-of-the-Art in Neuroscience is this outstanding short interview with Dr. James Giordano (read his bio and weep) with the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies (a must-subscribe for anyone concerned with government policy and technology).

Lastly, it’s 20 years ago this week that Dolly the Sheep was cloned. The German Government just announced Euro 50,000 fines and 3 year jail terms for anyone doing genetic engineering outside of a licensed facility. Here’s an excellently written and highly informative essay by John Hawks on Cloning a Woolly Mammoth – here’s a shorter, more mainstream article from The Guardian. Clue: it’s much more Woolly than it is Mammoth.

It seems appropriate to close this Not-So-Smart Everything section with a link to a great online course: Calling Bullshit from Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West and University of Washington (Syllabus here).


The obscure we see eventually. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer” Edward Murrow.

Hacking Data: 1) Firstly this outstanding Christian Science Monitor coverage of “The Web of Vulnerabilities: The ecosystem of spies, criminals, and companies that compete to find and exploit software defects“. Scroll left and scroll down – don’t miss a thing. Best popular introduction to personal cyber security and data that I’ve ever seen.

Hacking Data: 2) Cayla is a bright-eyed blond doll that chatters about horses and hobbies. She plays games and accurately answers questions about the world at large. She could also be eavesdropping on your child. The app asks children to complete the following statements, according to the complaint: “My name is … My mum’s name is … My dad’s name is … My favourite TV program is … My favourite meal is … I go to school at … My favourite princess is … My favourite toy is …The place I live in is called” …. Hackers could theoretically listen in on conversations and even talk to children through the doll, privacy advocates warned.

Hacking Data: 3) As smart home devices become more popular, they will become bigger targets for hackers. So it behoves us to get ahead of the curve by securing our home appliances, using these tips from security experts who have closely studied smart home accessories, including whether the companies themselves are a threat to user privacy.

Hacking Data: 4) In a 2015 Women’s Aid survey of 693 women, 29 per cent said they had spyware or GPS locators installed on their phones or computers by a partner or ex. In 2014, NPR surveyed 70 women’s shelters, finding 85 per cent were working with victims whose abusers tracked them via GPS, or what’s often referred to as “spouseware.”

Hacking Data: 5) You do not own the copyright to anything you stream over Facebook Live. One father who live-streamed his partner’s labour on Facebook last May has found out the hard way: he saw the birth of his son replayed on Good Morning America and numerous other media outlets. This week, he lost a high-profile court battle against the broadcasters.

Hacking Data: 6) Companies like Elcomsoft make “forensic software” that can suck down all your photos, contacts — even passwords for your email and social media accounts — in a matter of minutes. Their customers include the police forces of various countries, militaries, and private security forces. They can use these tools to permanently archive everything there is to know about you. All they need is your unlocked phone.

You may have seen the recent Motherboard piece, “The data that turned the world upside down,” describing how personality profiling was used to provide tailored messages to voters in the recent American elections. In the interest of balance, here’s the less widely read counterpoint: “The myth that British data scientists won the election for Trump.” In today’s paper, “Beyond the words: predicting user personality from heterogeneous information”  looks at the how to generate more accurate personality profiles (underpinned by the same OCEAN model) by combining data from a variety of sources: words used in social media posts, use of emoticons, the avatars that users chose for themselves, and how users respond to posts/tweets in their timelines.

Data Selfie is a Chrome extension that attempts to log similar data about you so that you can see what Facebook sees and how it profiles you as a product. The data stays local on your computer, and you can export it or delete it. You also get a dashboard view of the data with what you liked, viewed, and inferences based on a combination of machine learning algorithms. Stalkscan also shows just how powerful Facebook’s search tool is if you know how to use it.


We’re not story-tellers, we’re story-tolders. Freedom of thought is the freedom to disbelieve the story-tellers“.

Most virtual-reality experiences that attempt to combine the narrative forward momentum of the film with the immersive exploration of VR end up highlighting the worst of both medium – Hollywood has no idea what to do with VR. And as I’ve said before, VR can only ever show consequences, but never causes.

At MIT, it’s amazingly easy to find an engineering student preparing for a role in a Shakespeare play, a history student writing a script, or a young computer scientist crafting a high-tech theatre set. Assistant professor of theatre Charlotte Brathwaite says that during her first two years on the MIT faculty, she has noticed certain characteristics that theatre and the STEM fields have in common.

It’s Academy Awards time – here’s some behind the scenes how Jungle Book and Doctor Strange were made; some great background on La La Land’s production; a great comparison clip of some of the film’s extensive cinema references; and a Leninist interpretation of La La Land from Slavoj Zizek – finally back to what he does best: using unconscious motifs of popular culture to illustrate important philosophical-cultural-social truths. He brings it to a magnificent conclusion.


If you think you’re free, there’s no escape possible” Ram Dass.

Speaking of the weekend’s Academy Awards, here’s the great Directors who never won a Director’s Academy Award: Stanley Kubrick (a crime), Alfred Hitchcock (you’re kidding me), Orson Welles (FFS!), Charlie Chaplin (OMG), Ingmar Bergman (OMFG), Akira Kurosawa (get out of here), and Federico Fellini (beyond belief).

There’s a cornucopia of birthdays to celebrate during this edition:

First and foremost, Kurt Cobain, on the one hand, it’s all “about a girl“, and on the other hand “everyone is gay“. RIP.

Then Ian Brown and the Stone Roses ‘Fools Gold‘, Holly Johnson’s “Relax” (still sounds like it was recorded yesterday, not 34 years ago), Grant McClennan and the exquisite melancholy melody of the Go-Betweens “Cattle and Cane“, Peter Hook (Joy Division and New Order) – in this beautiful tribute to Ian Curtis, and Rhiannon’s “Shut Up and Drive” (a Peter Hook co-written song coincidentally) and then Tim Buckley’s beautiful “Song to the Siren” from the awesome “Greetings from LA” album – a song covered by Brian Ferry, George Michael, Sinead O’Connor, and Robert Plant , but they only covered it because of this mesmerising version recorded by Liz Fraser of This Mortal Coil “swim to me, swim to me / Let me unfold you”. Beautiful.

And lastly, sadly, the Pope of Pop, the great Andy Warhol passed away 30 years ago this week, and apart from every other amazing things he did, he gave birth to the Velvet Underground, the invention of the modern indie guitar sound, and the music video as an art form. One the 20th Century’s great creative lives. God bless.

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