Hi Folks,

First up this week, I wanted to point out the Transmedia Storytelling MOOC that’s been built by UNSW Art & Design, helped by X Media Lab. Here’s a short introductory video and here’s a link to the Coursera course outline. It features an array of accomplished instructors and some of the biggest hotshots in the Transmedia business. It begins on February 6th – highly recommended.

As Always, Change the World!
Brendan Harkin

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It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it” Aristotle.

Uber and Airbnb are two of the most innovative companies in the world with mind-blowing valuations (X Media Lab is a heavy user of both). Both Bloomberg Business and The Guardian have run excellent edited extracts this week from Brad Stone’s new book The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies from the New Silicon Valley are Changing the World on the behind-the-scenes stories of their origins, battles, and staggering successes. If you want more, or just short and sharp, here’s a Q&A interview with Brad Stone.

Whether it’s HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or the computer that learned to recognize cats by watching YouTube videos, artificial intelligence has a long and storied history of crossing over with movies. A new project, created by Copenhagen-based creative coding studio Støj, represents the next step of that process with an AI designed to watch — and try and make sense of — Hollywood movie trailers. The main component of the project involves YOLO-2, a system for real-time object detection that can recognize everyday objects like persons, ties, cars, and chairs as they appear. Short for “You Only Look Once,” YOLO is extremely fast, with a degree of accuracy, and the ability to detect and classify multiple objects in the same image. Watch the algorithm try to make sense of the trailer from The Wolf of Wall Street (Vid: 2.08). Awesome.

What happens when you have Deep Learning begin to generate your designs? The common misconception would be that a machine’s design would look ‘mechanical’ or ‘logical’. However, what we seem to be finding is that they look very organic, in fact they look organic or like an alien biology. What is surprising is that these designs do not exist for the sake of style. Rather, these designs are actually the optimal solutions to multiple competing design requirements. Why do they look organic or biological? Is there some underlying fundamental principle that exists in biological systems that leads to this? Why aren’t the solutions sparse, but rather complex? While Herzog and De Meuron’s stunning $843 million Hamburg philharmonic is filled with stunning architectural gems, its most interesting feature is the central auditorium, a gleaming ivory cave built from 10,000 unique acoustic panels that line the ceiling, walls, and balustrades. The room looks almost organic—like a rippling, monochromatic coral reef—but bringing it to life was a technological feat (check out all 9 photos of this amazing building built with algorithms as well as other materials).

Our life is increasingly shaped by such algorithmic processes, from the fluctuations of financial markets to facial recognition technology. Manichean arguments for or against digital algorithms are hardly relevant. Rather, we need to understand how algorithms embedded in widespread technologies are reshaping our societies. And we should imagine ways to open them up to public scrutiny — thus grounding shared practices of accountability, trust, and transparency. This is essential for the simple reason that algorithms are not neutral. They are emblematic artefacts that shape our social interactions and social worlds. They open doors on possible futures. We need to understand their concrete effects — for example, the kinds of social stratification they reinforce. We need to imagine how they might work if they were designed and deployed differently, based on different priorities and agendas — and different visions of what our life should be like. Massimo Mazzotti on Algorithmic Life in this week LA Review of Books.

This kind of algorithmic opacity is a great concern to DARPA (the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency – progenitor of the original internet) as they develop their Human-Machine “partnerships” built on prediction accuracy balanced with intelligibility. The Explainable AI (XAI) program aims to create a suite of machine learning techniques that: 1) Produce more explainable models, while maintaining a high level of learning performance (prediction accuracy); and 2) Enable human users to understand, appropriately trust, and effectively manage the emerging generation of artificially intelligent partners. New machine-learning systems will have the ability to explain their rationale, characterize their strengths and weaknesses, and convey an understanding of how they will behave in the future.

Harvard Business Review outlines four models for using AI to make decisions: as Autonomous/Autonomy Advisor; as Autonomous Outsourcer; as World Class Challenging/Challenged Employee; or as All-in Autonomy. They conclude: “Without question, [your] smartest competitors will be data-driven autonomous algorithms”. (In which case, here’s another great primer about What You Need to Know About Artificial Intelligence from Tomorrow Edition with great explanatory videos and introductions to the superstars of the AI firmament).

Great News! Apple has joined the 5 Unicorns of the Apocalypse – Amazon, Google, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft – in, wait for it, a Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society. That is probably the scariest euphemism I’ve ever heard. The five largest corporations in the world, whose primary product is you and your data, in a cabal to control the development of AI. Short-listed for the CEO role, no doubt, are Dr. Strangelove, and O’Brien, the Director of the Ministry of Truth from Nineteen Eighty-Four. (Something prompted me to re-read Orwell’s masterpiece last year since I hadn’t read it since, well, 1984, i.e., since before the internet. I was astonished at how well and how much Orwell foresaw the technology and psychology of these times: concepts such as Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Room 101, telescreen, 2 + 2 = 5, and the memory hole. Anyone watching the comparative crowds at the Inauguration knows very well that these days 2+2=5. While you’re waiting for your copy to arrive, perhaps you can wonder whatever happened to the Deep Mind AI Ethics board that Google promised three years ago.


I prefer, where truth is important, to write fiction” Virginia Woolf.

A great and really well-written story from the February edition of Wired magazine detailing the conflicted and troubling world of scientific reproducibility – where through systems of publication, funding, and advancement— scientific research has become biased toward generating a certain kind of finding: novel, attention grabbing, but ultimately unreliable. The incentives to produce positive results are so great that some scientists are simply locking their inconvenient data away. And all these open source transparent data initiatives are funded by a guy who made his billions from the corrupt Enron scam that plundered pension schemes.

Software is a relatively recent invention in human history, but few things have had as much of an impact on the modern world. Things which used to be physical stuff are increasingly melting away into lines of computer code. Software is eating the world! Two great short videos – Evolution of the Desk and Evolution of the City. Watch the physical world disappear into the virtual – ‘vapourized’ as the LA futurist Robert Tercek demonstrates in his great book.

Music is one of the most complicated copyright environments with one of the worst data practices. Labels have typically failed to develop comprehensive contracts and keep proper records for the artist. Of course, there are thousands of Publishing Rights Organizations that are supposed to help coordinate publishing and licensing – but they’re mostly extortion rackets based in Geneva or Paris with branch offices. Blockchain might make them all redundant.

The race is on between the total surveillance “cashless society” controlled by governments and banks, and a truly anonymous untraceable cryptocoin. It’s hard to tell who’s the good guys and who’s the bad guys.

Of course, read anything by Bruce Schneier: We’re building a world-size robot, and we don’t even realize it. This world-size robot is actually more than the Internet of Things. It’s a combination of several decades-old computing trends: mobile computing, cloud computing, always-on computing, huge databases of personal information — or, more precisely, cyber-physical systems — autonomy, and artificial intelligence. And while it’s still not very smart, it’ll get smarter. It’ll get more powerful and more capable through all the interconnections we’re building. It’ll also get much more dangerous.

The possibility of digitally interacting with someone from beyond the grave is no longer the stuff of science fiction. The technology to create convincing digital surrogates of the dead is here, and it’s rapidly evolving, with researchers predicting its mainstream viability within a decade. But what about the ethics of bereavement—and the privacy of the deceased? Speaking with a loved one evokes a powerful emotional response. The ability to do so in the wake of their death will inevitably affect the human process of grieving in ways we’re only beginning to explore.


Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it” Maya Angelou.

“Lately, I’ve been getting especially interested in questions about the world and about artificial worlds. It turns out that thinking about artificial worlds can help to think about many of the central questions in philosophy—the nature of reality, our knowledge of the external world, the existence of god, the mind-body problem, even the meaningfulness of life”. Philosopher David Chalmers on the elusive difference between real and virtual.

Seven exquisitely done Tiltbrush VR works from artist John R. Eads – he’s been playing with the medium for just a month. Watch all the videos. And imagine what’s to come.

Great advice for parents and students from a Google hotshot about getting started in User Experience Design.

The Movie with a Thousand Plot Lines: will interactive films be this centuries defining art form? (here’s the Bob Dylan thing they reference).

How Culture Became a Powerful Political Weapon: Nato Thompson’s new book explores the history of how music, TV, games, and advertising have been used to influence consumers. “I’m game on for talking about the urgency of what Trump presents, but the misleading part of that is that it makes us think that those who didn’t vote for Trump are somehow outside of the bubble, which I totally do not believe. It falls too conveniently into the idea that the masses are somehow hypnotized by the media-culture machine but the progressive rationalists escape it, which just isn’t true. Our ideological terrain is much murkier than that”.


It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change” Charles Darwin.

If LA LA Land wins Best Picture at the Oscars, it’ll be the fourth time in six years that the award has gone to a film about movies or acting. Meanwhile, scientist Lauren Sherman calls Arrival the greatest scientist movie of all time. It’s a great essay on science, science fiction, and Hollywood films.

I first started finding out about Islam when I was dumbstruck by the geometric designs in Islamic art. Check out these absolutely awe-inducing pictures of Mosque interiors  – also “The best way to learn about Islamic geometric design is to try it out for yourself,” writes Eric Broug in the Islamic Design Workbook, recently released by Thames & Hudson. Broug is behind the School of Islamic Geometric Design, and believes that learning to draw the striking patterns of mosques, kasbahs, mausoleums, and madrasas encourages a better appreciation of Islamic visual culture.

Yet another way to spend (waste) time is to enjoy watching these insane Rube Goldberg machines.

The artist JSG Boggs has passed away: ““He was just short of being a con man, but no more than anyone in the art world, or for that matter in the world of finance — which, of course, was his whole point.” Damien Hurst must be keeping a low profile right now for fear of any comparisons. Even Banksy wasn’t immune to some influence.

The Chinese government this week established a US$15 Billion fund to invest in the development of internet industries. That’s B for Billion. That’s roughly the same amount as the estimated cost of the Trump “Secure Fence”. Which do you think is the better investment?

Speaking of Fake News sites like the Washington Post and CNN, it’s all about to get a whole lot worse – soon you won’t be able to trust any video that you see.

Lastly, here’s the Red Hot Chilli Peppers in their first appearance on television – proof that at least in one instance, youth was not merely wasted on the young – a blistering version of Get Up and Jump (with bonus tips on how to pick up girls).

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