April 5th – ISSUE #12


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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The world of the future will be an even more demanding struggle against the limitations of our intelligence, not a comfortable hammock in which we can lie down to be waited upon by our robot slaves” Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society.

With the new sci-fi flick “Ghost in the Shell” hitting theatres this week, Scientific American asks artificial intelligence experts which movies, if any, have gotten AI right. I had dinner once with Douglas Adams of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (original audio tapes) and told me when he was working with Stanley Kubrick on his never-completed AI film he asked Kubrick what he thought robots would look like in 50 years’ time (when the film was set), and Kubrick answered “whatever we make them look like now”!

In the popular TV show Sherlock we see the analogy for modern AI: highly performant learning machines that can achieve metacognitive results with the assistance of fully cognitive human partners. Machine intelligence does not by its nature make human intelligence obsolete. Quite the opposite, really—machines need human guidance. In the age of bots and androids, we must be more human.

In the Channel 4 series Humans, audiences were shown a world where androids – or ‘synths’ – are a part of normal, everyday life. The show’s writers, Jon Brackley and Sam Vincent, talk about the real AI that lies behind the story, and whether the robots are, in fact, coming.

The founder of Atoaton, Madeline Gannon, suggests a more symbiotic than antagonistic future. “Humans and robots are companion species on this planet,” she says. “We need each other.” In the video here she is shown teaching a robot how to mimic her gestures. Mimus is a giant industrial robot that’s curious about the world around her. Unlike in traditional industrial robotics, Mimus has no pre-planned movements: she is programmed with the freedom to explore and roam about her enclosure.

According to renowned physicist Freeman Dyson, “In the future, a new generation of artists will be writing genomes as fluently as Blake and Byron wrote verses.” In their book Evolving Ourselves, Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans describe a world where evolution is no longer driven by natural processes. Instead, it is driven by human choices, through what they call unnatural selection and non-random mutation. As a result, we will see the emergence of an entirely new species of human beings.

Sophisticated automatons and robots have actually been around for hundreds of years: here are some really surprising examples (video) from the always excellent Open Culture, including a writing machine, a musician, and a Japanese archer! (Don’t forget the blockbuster Robots exhibition at the Science Museum in London which explores the 500-year story of humanoid robots and the artistic and scientific quest to understand what it means to be human).

Speaking of automation, here’s a great explanation of how IBM Watsom uses video processing, voice-to-text, and concept extraction to make video automatically searchable using the TED talks as an example. (Vid: 4:36) Meanwhile at Facebook, “We think video understanding is going to be ridiculously impactful, because if you go back in time and you think about the News Feed — even before photos were that prevalent — it was mostly text, and so that was the content you needed to understand in order to rank [people’s feeds],” says Joaquin Candela, Director of Applied Machine Learning. “We’re at a point now where we’re pretty good at understanding photos, but now there’s video,” Candela added. “You even have live video, and the question becomes, well, how fast can you figure out what’s going on in this video?” I’m sure there will no privacy issues or concerns. One example he gives is identifying Facebook users “at a rally” in real-time. Nothing to worry about there, right?

Meanwhile, Facial recognition database used by FBI is out of control, a House committee hears. The Database contains photos of half of US adults without consent, and the predictive algorithm is wrong nearly 15% of the time. Fast Company reports that Advancements in machine vision and artificial intelligence are widening the scope of the line-up too: via body-worn police cameras, which are rapidly proliferating, face searches could happen up-close, at street level and in real-time—anticipating a future in which anonymity in certain public places could disappear.

Not to worry, the FCC just made it legal for your ISP to sell your search history to anyone. Expect to see databases of online gamblers, porn users, ecommerce users by volume or segment, and so on all for sale to whoever wants to buy them – with every kind of segmentation: age, zip code, gender, etc. Wonderful. ISPs can also sell any information they want from your online activity and mobile app usage — financial information, medical information, your children’s information, your social security number — even the contents of your emails. They can even sell your geolocation information. That’s right, ISPs can take your exact physical location from minute to minute and sell it to a third party. So, here’s how to encrypt your entire life in less than an hour, and here’s to install a VPN for free in ten minutes (and why you urgently need one) – thanks to QuincyLarson at freecodecamp.com. Or this simple browser extension that makes it much harder to build a profile about you.

On the day of the announcement, the Christian Science Monitor’s excellent Passcode cybersecurity journalism site shuts up shop.

On the AI front, here’s a fantastic article from Wired magazine on the mad sprints by the giant companies to find, steal, or develop the best AI talent. It’s a really good read and it really lays out what’s going on. James Petras, always worth reading, has a very well thought takedown and writes that “In fact, the entire industry has been built upon large-scale, tax-funded public research centres and university laboratories, which have paid for the buildings as well as the scientists’ and professors’ salaries.

Creative Review has just released an entire issue on AI with beautiful graphics (of course!) and great writing covering all kinds of the relationships between AI, bots, robots, automation and questions of creativity, design, and writing. Highly Recommended.


Intelligence is composed mostly of imagination, insight, things that have nothing to do with reason” Vivienne Westwood.

As “software eats the world”, governments and new laws will start to become more like writing software — embedded within applications as computer code. As technology evolves, interpreting the law itself will become more like programming software. But there is more to this shift than technology alone. The fact is that law is both deeply opaque and unevenly accessible. The legal advice required to understand both what our governments are doing, and what our rights are, is only accessible to a select few.

On Data and Design: As data and its use becomes ever more central to creative practice, designers must decide who is making the decisions – them or the computer? Francisco Laranjo argues that a thorough understanding of the technical, social and political workings of algorithms and AI are key to the profession’s future.

Maciej Ceglowski has outlined six privacy rights that web surfers deserve in the age of tracking cookies and programmatic-ad buys. 1) The right to download: you should be able to obtain the information that has been collected about you. 2) The right to delete: you should be able to delete said information from those services. 3) Limits on behavioural data: the number of signals that companies collect on any given web page is shockingly high. 4) The right to go offline: Internet of Things devices like smart TVs shouldn’t need to have internet access to perform basic functions. 5) Less invasive ad-tracking: Ad-tracking, Ceglowski argues, should only be based on the content the ad is placed against, and what the site you are visiting knows about you, and 6) Lastly, there should be legitimate consequences for violating these principles, ones that should make companies fearful of violating them.

Here’s a crowdfunding appeal to raise money to buy the internet search histories of Congress people and Senators and publish them.

A very interesting article saying don’t think of “Data-Driven Storytelling” as the ways in which stories are told in Literature, but rather the ways in which stories are told in News. Nicely made points.


The incapacity to name is a good symptom of disturbance” Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography.

The Invisible Manipulators of Your Mind: The behavioural techniques that are being designed and employed by governments and private corporations do not appeal to our reason; they do not seek to persuade us consciously with information and argument. Rather, these techniques change behaviour by appealing to our non-rational motivations, our emotional triggers and unconscious biases. If psychologists could possess a systematic understanding of these non-rational motivations, they would have the power to influence the smallest aspects of our lives and the largest aspects of our societies. Michael Lewis’s The Undoing Project seems destined to be the most popular celebration of this ongoing endeavour to understand and correct human behaviour.

If you want one single resource to crash-course on AI and Creativity (and their tensions), then buy this new Creative Review and read all of it. It’s a superb pleasure! Beautiful graphic design, well-researched and very well-written.

Here’s a snip from just one of the articles: “Adobe … already runs what it calls its Product Improvement Program. Designed “to understand and anticipate customer needs to deliver world-class products and solutions”, the scheme is voluntary. Users who sign up to it allow Adobe to collect data on how they use its software: how they carry out various tasks, what shortcuts or scripts they might use, what kind of images they are looking for and how they are using them and so on. Adobe says that “information collected will be used to develop new features and improve Adobe products”. Fair enough. But with machine learning, it becomes possible to take the next logical step in the process – observation becomes replication and then automation. The more such systems learn about how, for example, a designer employs certain steps and routines to get from A to B, the better able they are to do the work themselves”. The piece is called “AI and the Creatives Complicity in their Own Extinction“.

Still, in VR, we’re getting only Old Time Religion and Advertising (which are the same thing – it’s why Tech companies call employees “evangelists”) Newsweek, AdAge, and NYTimes – all dutiful reporters of the real news. Consumer VR is ages away – Two/Thirds of all VR money is in Enterprise, not Entertainment. That’s where university courses and teachers and developers should be looking. I love the joke in LA: the reason VR consumer content is such uninteresting crap is because it’s all made in San Francisco!

I know nothing about design, except that 1) I hate bad design. Probably the worst designed object in the history of the world is the TV Remote Control. WTF?!? and 2) I do love great designers who can show you how it’s done: here’s a brilliantly thought out manifesto on the relationship between motion graphics and usability. I love these behind-the-scenes explanations about what you’re seeing/experiencing. I learn so much!

The New Romance show at Columbia University in New York is the product of a collaboration between film director Liam Young and writer Tim Maughan. The exhibition features three films that extrapolate current trends in technology to create near-future sci-fi settings; each film tracks a different kind of romance to explore how technology might shape human relationships and architecture. Gorgeous compelling short videos. Might as well throw in our friend Keiichi Matsuda’s seminal Augmented Reality video – still years ahead of its time: Hyper-reality.

This June, London’s Barbican Centre launches Into The Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction. The exhibition of art, design, film and literature, curated by historian and writer Patrick Gyger, will explore science fiction as an experimental genre. It’ll include more than 200 books, original manuscripts and typescripts, contemporary and existing art works, 60 film and TV clips, unseen footage, adverts, concept art, film props, comics, video games and robots.

Visual aesthetics are very personal, often subconscious, and hard to express.  In a world with an overload of photographic content, a lot of time and effort is spent manually curating photographs, and it’s often hard to separate the good images from the visual noise. Can a machine learn personalised aesthetics embodied in a set of chosen photos, and recreate them in a different set? Once again, a super-great helpful introduction to what’s going on creatively right now, with a fantastic 2 minute video to explain how it all works. Hey, plus they quote Roland Barthes, Marvin Minsky, and Charles Baudelaire. Awesome.


Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit” Oscar Wilde.

Beautifully written, thoughtful, and sensitive essay by UK novelist Hari Kunzru on his search for the “Authenticity of the Blues” on a trip through the South of the US. Great writing, and of course there would be no Led Zepplin, no Rolling Stones, and no Beatles without black American Blues and Rock n’ Roll. Those English artists had to be sued repeatedly to get paid for intellectual property rights. Can I give you an idea how much money is involved: about 5 years ago, Eric Clapton sold a single Matisse painting in New York for USD$62 Million.

Julian Barnes is such a great writer – here’s a brilliant meditative essay on the sameness/difference between writing and painting. And what each can learn from each other. And here’s what he told the filmmakers of his book: “throw it against the wall”.

Please don’t disgust me that George W. Bush is some rehabilitated painter: he’s a war criminal. Under the laws established at Nuremburg, he would be hung. Hitler was a painter too. All that death and destruction – for what, can anyone tell me please? Except that astronomical amounts of money got shifted around. I notice that in Bush’s “Portraits of Courage”, there’s no self-portrait.

BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK – Thank g-d for some relief from all of that, and let’s visit some beautiful people who have birthdays this week:

Vincent van Gogh and an exceptionally beautiful song dedicated to him and his work; Max Ernst and Modern Art such a stunning array of styles and forms, and the colour!

Tracy Chapman with her withering lines disguised as some kind of love song (not!): “Sorry / Is all that you can say” – Lady Gaga’s birthday this week too – For Christ sakes, can she sing!

Rock-side: Angus Young: Gotta put this in here: filmed in the main streets of my home town in Melbourne – “It’s a Long Way to the Top”: one of the most definitive rock songs of all time; Perry Farrell from Jane’s Addiction – Been Caught Stealing, one of the funniest MTV videos ever; Dave Hill from Slade with this epic cover of John Sebastian’s “Darling Be Home Soon” – think Slade is Old School? They’ve been name-checked as influences by Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Clash, Kiss, and Oasis – “I know that the time I spent confused / Was the time that I spent without you”).

Must mention Gloria Swanson and probably the most mesmerising acting performance of all time in Sunset Boulevard; French poet Paul Verlaine – this is what France looks like in Autumn – gorgeous! and the poem is something else too! The gun with which Verlaine tried to kill his lover, Arthur Rimbaud (the original punk), was sold for about $500,000 in Paris last November. The Guardian article is a neat summary if you’re not familiar with the story. Btw, Patti Smith bought Rimbaud’s beautiful reconstructed house last week.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday is worth mentioning if only because of his tremendous influence.

But let’s finish up with the birthdays of two great protest poets (where are they these days?): Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (i.e., it will be censored), and the beautiful Marvin Gaye and his trenchant anti-Vietnam war song, What’s Goin’ On?

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