Dear Reader – Welcome to your weekly round-up of news you need to know – for smart, data-driven, augmented, creative people.

Change the world!
Brendan Harkin

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“The purpose of torture is not to gain information, but to spread fear” Eduardo Galeano.

At the www.AIShow.biz event in LA on Thursday, one speaker related how when working with Stephen Hawking on the CD-ROM version of A Short History of Time he asked “So where does Science get its ideas from?”, and without hesitation Hawking answered “Science Fiction”. The people most easily sold on Science Fiction fantasies are of course the Military, which they in turn sell to us. The author, th dear boy, is “interested in the ethical implications of emerging technologies” and believes the future of war technologies, “from AI Robots to VR Torture”, means that the next world war will at least be over quickly.

The Military are so enamoured of Science Fiction stories, they’ve even started writing some themselves. Apparantly, “Some folks in defense and the intelligence community don’t think about the future. The intelligence community is driven by requirements”. Hundreds of billions of tax-payer funded intelligence dollars couldn’t do better than this piss-take. Like I said, this is all coming to you live, from La La Land.

NY artist Trevor Paglen’s Sight Machine combines a live string quartet performance by Kronos Quartet with AI machine generated images. “In the very near future, I guarantee that the pictures you post on social media will affect your credit rating, health and auto insurance policies, and much more. It will all happen automatically. In a very real way, our rights and freedoms will be modulated by our metadata signatures”.

The hype around AI has become so hyper-absurd that people are doing performance art laughs at major international events – and few can tell the difference between investor prospectus and parody. Can you tell the difference, e.g., “Temporally Recurent Optimal Learning” (TROLL) is it real or a scam?

Article from Mike Hearn comparing the science of Westworld with the real world work in AI being done by Facebook and Google’s Deep Mind.

The truth is, AI is as “fully-automated” as the Great and Powerful Oz was in that famous scene from the classic film, where Dorothy and friends realize that the great wizard is simply a man manically pulling levers from behind a curtain. There’s a whole lot of 3rd World people doing manual labour behind the scenes.

And while an army of waiting staff are flown into Davos to serve the super-rich, the .01% consider their 9 top ethical issues in AI – which include robot’s rights.

If you’re feeling lonely, Japan’s Gatebox, priced at ¥321,840 (about $2,700 US), is squarely targeted at young lonely salarymen – a holographic anime promising the experience of “living with your favorite character”. (+ Vid 2.00m).


“In this electronic age we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving toward the technological extension of consciousness” Marshall McLuhan.

In the age of robotics, the question of life continues to be a puzzling matter of debate. As creatures of biological code, are we more alive than those made up of digital code? Questions like this are debated more so today than at any other time in history. Do Distributed Autonomous Organizations (DAO) represent another “life form”?

A cashless society might be a bank’s wetdream – whereby all transactions must be managed and controlled through them alone – but there are huge hidden discriminatory costs. Brett Scott examines the implications. Every cash transaction you make is one that a payments intermediary like Visa takes no fee from, so it has an interest in making cash appear redundant, deviant and criminal.

Companies such as Uber and Airbnb allow people to quickly and efficiently secure temporary use of things that belong to someone else. But it’s still vastly different from the kind of sharing that defined humanity for tens of thousands of years.

Government Open Source Models (GOSMs) refer to the idea that government-developed models, whose purpose is to design and evaluate policy, are freely available to everyone to use, distribute, and modify without restrictions. The community could potentially improve the quality, reliability, and accuracy of policy modeling, creating new data-driven apps that benefit the public.

More “blackbox” voodoo garbage from state-sponsored Fake News site, the BBC. This time, “Speech Analysis could land you a promotion“. How about the ways in which an accent, a dialect, a choice of words would automatically disbar you without explanation. These algorithms are built-in prejudices.

Instead of needing to create accounts with each site, as people do with Google or Facebook, users of sites built on Blockstack’s system will control their own digital identity. To use a site that needs your information, you will grant access to a profile under your control alone. If you want to stop using a service, you can revoke its access to your profile and data and take it elsewhere. Sites will run all their code on your computer, in the browser. And from the Financial Times (no less!) “Data Capitalism is cashing in on our privacy … for now“.


“Do not allow yourselves to be deceived. Great minds are skeptical” Nietzsche.

Virtual reality has the potential to enable so many amazing utopian futures, but it also has the potential to become one of the most intimate surveillance technologies that could create a Big Brother dystopia of political and economic control. But if privacy considerations are built into virtual reality technologies from the beginning, then investor Sarah Downey argues that the metaverse could actually be one of the last bastions of privacy that we have in our lives (text + full 50 min podcast from Kent Bye’s indispensible ‘Voices of VR‘).

The Chinese-American artist Tyrus Wong, who died last week at 106, was an incredibly accomplished painter, illustrator, calligrapher and Hollywood studio artist. His work for Disney on Bambi and other great films drew on 1,000 year old Soong Dynasty Chinese art. See his beautiful artwork here (+3.22 Vid). Along the same lines, David Hockney identifies Disney as lifting animals straight from Giotto’s work. Btw, if you haven’t read his A History of Pictures, it’s the art book of the year – by far. It’s like walking around the best virtual art gallery in the world with David Hockney as your tour guide. Pure magic.

Jobs in the new economy: Ginkgo Bioworks custom-designs living organisms for companies in the fragrance, flavor, and food industries; their “organism designers” are synthetic biologists who tweak DNA sequences to come up with new product creations. They have $154m in VC funding. A rose by any other name. Meanwhile, it seems Facebook has a few mind-reading projects underway and are advertising for scientists.

If you love great infographics, and want to understand the difference between infographics and data visualization, Taschen has just published a superb National Geograpic Infographics covering the past 100 years of sublimely produced combinations of art and science.

As brothers Juan and Samuel Velasco detail in their new book, Look Inside: Cutaway Illustrations and Visual Storytelling, the first cutaway illustrations are thought to be the 28,000-year-old cave paintings found in a region of Australia called Arnhem Land. The ancient paintings found there are often described as “X-ray” images, for their illustrations of internal anatomy. Cutaways and their combination of extreme detail and often impressive artistry are still a powerful method of visualizing information, according to the Velasco brothers, who together run the information design firm 5W Infographics.


“The want of perspective in children’s drawings is emphatically not perceptible to the children themselves.” Oswald Spengler.

The always excellent Edge.org asks various eminences ‘What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?’. I go for either Mysterianism or Complementarity.

Philip Ball is a great science writer – here he entertains an interesting counter-factual thought: if the individuals, like Einstein, didn’t discover their great scientific truths, would someone else have done so?

Author, activist, and filmmaker Andre Vtlchek’s examines all Western and Imperial History as ‘Fake News’ – it ain’t pretty

As the Economist notes, People must also be able to acquire new skills throughout their careers. Unfortunately, the lifelong learning that exists today mainly benefits high achievers—and is therefore more likely to exacerbate inequality than diminish it. If 21st-century economies are not to create a massive underclass, policymakers urgently need to work out how to help all their citizens learn while they earn. So far, their ambition has fallen pitifully short.

Los Angeles, Lovers, and Light – Hockney (again) at 80.

Coming to you live this week from the City of Angels – choose your own homage to this great city: Massive Attack (and here’s a map of the actual city blocks on West Pico she’s walking along), Tom Waits about Downtown LA on 5th Street, Red Hot Chilli Peppers Under the Bridge which could be any fly-over in LA, Tom Petty Free Fallin’ from Reseda down Ventura and over Mulholland, Iggy Pop and Kate Pierson with Candy, N.W.A are Straight Outta Compton, and The Doors and their LA Woman just got into town about an hour ago.

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