Your round-up of emerging technologies, augmented reality, data-driven insights & narratives of storytelling.

April 12th – ISSUE #13


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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Anti-social behaviour is a trait of intelligence in a world full of conformists” Tesla.

What will the world be like in 2050? Anti-virus and cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab has released an esoteric collaborative art project that sets its sights on what the world will be like in 2050. Artists, futurists and scientists have been asked to contribute their predictions on life in their cities 33 years in the future, and they’ve been mapped onto a rotating globe for visitors to explore. If you’ve got any better ideas, you can contribute them yourself. The site has a voting system to help promote the best ideas. Get in and have a look around. It’s fantastic fun to play with – and a beautifully designed interactive website.

Here’s the one summary you need to read to fully understand the exact state of play in the corporate AI + Big Data stack. Matt Turck superbly and comprehensively summarises the high-level trends. Faced with an enormous avalanche of AI press, panels, newsletters and tweets, many people who had a long-standing interest in machine learning reacted the way one does when your local band suddenly becomes huge: on the one hand, pride; on the other hand, a distinct distaste for all the poseurs who show up late to the party.

Here’s a list of 10 jobs that could be replaced by AI in the next decade: Surgeons, Teachers, Police Officers, Commercial Airline Pilots, Pharmacists, Astronauts, Bartenders, Poker Dealers, Journalists, and Lawyers.

Artificial intelligence is beginning to take more than a superficial inspiration from neuroscience, allowing development in the field to speed up by tapping into advances made in another. That’s led to researchers taking cues from the brain in areas like memory, the hierarchical organisation of thoughts, and the role of attention in vision, to build AI systems. At the same time, neuroscientists are taking note of the increasingly powerful analytical techniques made possible by AI and are beginning to use it themselves to further their own understanding of the brain. These intertwined phenomena will speed the development of both AI and neuroscience, letting insights from one be rapidly translated into the other. There’s a free e-book by the excellent SF tech journalist Jack Clark, and you get it here.

In The Brain Defense, author Kevin Davis explores the growing use of brain images as evidence in American courtrooms. What Davis calls the “brain defence” is the strategy of using evidence of apparent brain abnormalities as a mitigating factor when defendants are convicted of violent crimes. If someone’s brain isn’t working properly, the logic goes, then they can’t be held fully responsible for their actions, and shouldn’t be punished as severely. Over the past 20 years, the use of neuroscience in court has grown, to the extent that today, defendants have successfully claimed ‘ineffective assistance of counsel’ because their lawyers didn’t order brain scans. It’s a fascinating and important issue, and The Brain Defense is an excellent and balanced account of it.

“It might seem weird to connect technology and neuroscience,” states Harvard professor David Cox, “but is actually something we have been doing for a very long time.” Cox points that through history, we have always used metaphors for our mind, like pneumatic power, steam power, and today’s technology of the computer. “Now computers are the lens through which we see our brains.”

But not everything is straightforward: Jim Fallon was disturbed by the brain scan before him. A neuroscientist for more than 20 years at the University of California, Irvine, Fallon knew how to look for abnormal traits in the human brain—traits that could explain mental illness, aberrant behaviour and even a penchant for murder. This scan showed the brain of someone with deep problems. Except for one thing: the scan was of Jim Fallon’s own brain.

And then sometimes, it’s difficult to work out if it’s satire: “Scientists have unpicked the regions of the brain involved in dreaming, in a study with significant implications for our understanding of the purpose of dreams and of consciousness itself. What’s more, changes in brain activity have been found to offer clues as to what the dream is about. The methodology behind this claim? The Experiments involved participants being woken at various points throughout the night and asked to report whether they had been dreaming. “Overall in the whole experiment we did over 1,000 awakenings,” said Siclari. If the participants had been dreaming, they were asked how long they thought it had lasted and whether they could remember anything about their dream, such as whether it involved faces, movement or thinking, or whether it was instead a vivid, sensory experience”. Beyond ridiculous. Are they Scientists or Satirists?

Smart Cities is one of the touchstones of the big corporate giants like Cisco and IBM, and the idea is an exemplar of both Big AI and Big Data. But since security is a cost no-one seems willing to bear, we’re being put in great potential danger says MIT’s Technology Review: Smart Cities Could Be Crippled By Dumb Security. On Friday night, residents of Dallas struggled to get as much sleep as they might have liked. At around 11:40 P.M., the city’s hurricane warning system sounded: 156 emergency sirens, all screaming out in unison. It happened another 15 times, each burst lasting 90 seconds until the alarms finally fell silent around 1:20 on Saturday morning. There was no hurricane coming—the sounds were triggered by a hacker who’d penetrated the system’s security measures, and to stop the sirens the whole system had to shut down altogether. I’d hazard a guess that the warning sirens, are a warning siren – “do you want to see what else we can do?”. I repeat: Marc Goodman’s Future Crimes book (“if it has a screen, it can be hacked”), and Bruce Schneier’s monthly Cyber-security newsletter are indispensable. Here’s The Economist this week on “Why Everything is Hackable“.

OK – a little light relief! The world’s first Autonomous Biped Robot Fighting Tournament just took place in Japan. The highlights video is both hilarious and amazing. Once the fight begins the robots “handler” can do nothing but watch. And here’s a Robot sorting system which helps a Chinese company sort at least 200,000 packages a day in the warehouse.

Some of the best theorizing comes after collecting data because then you become aware of another reality” Robert J. Shiller.

It’s no surprise to most that we are being spied on regularly now by many agencies in both the private and governmental sectors. Whether it’s aggressive companies seeking to gain the latest and most intimate personal details about you for marketing purposes or whether you were put on a watchlist by the U.S. government, being spied on is not fun and is an obvious invasion of one’s privacy. But did you know that Google has been logging your web browsing history, your YouTube search history, and may have even been recording your conversations? All that data requires a lot of storage and data centres, which generate prodigious amounts of heat that need to be constantly cooled. So, Google needs access to a lot of water – your water. It now wants 1.5 million gallons a day (3 times it’s allotment) from a single aquifer in South Carolina to cool its servers.

CNN’s story on internet privacy has 37 cookie trackers loaded on the page.

Mark Zuckerberg recommends reading Yuvel Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind The central thesis is: “If you examine any large-scale human cooperation, you will always find that it is based on some fiction like the nation, like money, like human rights. These are all things that do not exist objectively, but they exist only in the stories that we tell and that we spread around. This is something very unique to us, perhaps the most unique feature of our species.” (More here, btw, on Co-operation as ‘Relaxed Selection’, or the ‘Snuggle for Survival‘)

The regard, alas, is not mutual. In a Financial Times article, Harari dismantles Zuckerberg’s 5,700 word Facebook Manifest, noting, for example, that “in the 21st century, Big Data algorithms could be used to manipulate people in unprecedented ways. Take future election races, for example: in the 2020 race, Facebook could theoretically determine not only who are the 32,578 swing voters in Pennsylvania, but also what you need to tell each of them in order to swing them in your favour”. Harari concludes: “You cannot unite humanity by selling advertisements. Suppose a Facebook engineer invents a new tool that causes people to spend less time buying stuff online and more time in meaningful offline activities with friends. Will Facebook adopt or suppress such a tool? Will Facebook take a true leap of faith, and privilege social concerns over its financial interests? If it does so — and manages to avoid bankruptcy — that will be a momentous revolution. The original gurus of Silicon Valley saw the internet as a tool for social revolution rather than for making money. In recent years, their vision seemed to be hijacked and distorted”. And asks: “Will Zuckerberg make the internet great again?”

Back to Data: The big banks and Silicon Valley are waging an escalating battle over your personal financial data: your dinner bill last night, your monthly mortgage payment, the interest rates you pay. The struggle over this data points to a growing recognition in the world of finance that personal records rank among the most valuable currencies in the increasingly digital economy.

Brian Forde is Senior lecturer for bitcoin and blockchain at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He was senior advisor for mobile and data innovation in the Obama White House. In the Harvard Business Review, he argues that “We need open data to keep making important business and policy decisions — and we need to put it back into the hands of the public. Our data problem doesn’t have to be a crisis. It can be an opportunity — a chance for our business leaders and policy makers to rebuild a foundation of trust in the critical data we all depend on”.

Will reality be augmented or virtual or some hybrid of the two? In any case, reality will no longer be the only game in town” Ced Kurtz.

Luc Besson’s upcoming
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
looks to be one of the most visually stunning science fiction movies ever based on the latest trailer. The film will be in theatres on July 21st.

Magali Barbé wrote and directed this short sci-fi video about an imaginary augmented reality game called Strange Beasts. It starts off with a “hey, yeah, cool, augmented reality games are going to be fun to play” vibe but gradually veers down the same dystopian path as a lot of augmented reality fictions (like Keiichi Matsuda’s Hyper-Reality which I’ve featured previously). Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror remains the gold standard.

Rob Peart gives a great essay on “Neural Nets, Graphic Design, and Death Metal” (Yep!). It’s a little technical, but the video/visual examples alone are worth looking at to see how Neural Nets and Graphic Design can shape each other. If designing Neural Nets is not your thing, MIT has released open source software that lets you design and test your very own drone. Lastly, in 2016, the technological foundations of these tools became easily accessible, and the design community got interested in algorithms, neural networks and artificial intelligence (AI). Now is the time to rethink the modern role of the designer. Here is a brilliant set of resources and examples of Constructing a UI, Preparing Assets and Content, Personalising UX, Algorithm-Driven Graphic Design Tools, from Yuri Vetrov at algorithms design. Inspiring and invaluable.

BCNet content is created using computer algorithms. Every sentence appearing on BCNet has a clickable footnote number corresponding to a footnote at the bottom of the page, both providing links to the original source(s). The purpose of BCNet is to “transform” the experience of research, learning and writing by providing and organising the best content available on the internet into an outline that can be quickly and easily digested. It’s very early days, but it’s already amazing. Check the links and notes for “Bio-Design: Nature Science Creativity“. You could spend months following up on those links.

On a related note, check out Unpaywall – a new tool released this week to help people read research literature, instead of getting stuck behind paywalls. It’s an extension for Chrome and Firefox that links you to free full-text as you browse research articles. Hit a paywall? No problem: click the green tab and read it free!

Here’s a great article from Ideo on borrowing the principles of Theatre for better design: Embrace Set Design (lighting, the unexpected reveal, sound); Play the role of Director (directed actions, physical movement, assigning roles); Be a Reviewer(summary, analysis, drafting a plan).

Sheila Nirenberg, professor of neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College and founder of two start-up companies – Bionic Sight LLC and Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC – explains the science behind a new kind of smart robot that she’s creating, drawing on the basic science of visual processing.

Children – increasingly the most important visitors of our museums – for instance are operating as an amalgam of curator, gallerist, archivist, researcher, consumer, critic, journalist, photographer and so on. The care with which a child maintains, or curates, their gallery of images to represent themselves and their friends is done with much more precision than most museum exhibitions. The museum system has already been condensed into a cell phone. Museums are therefore no longer the aircraft carriers of their own logic, despite all their increasing attempts to expand themselves. Superbly written and fascinating essay on Museums and the differences between Discursive and Immersive experiences by Mark Wigley, Professor and Dean Emeritus of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.

A Stanford essay published this week on Perceptual Learning – “Perceptual Learning” refers, roughly, to long-lasting changes in perception that result from practice or experience. It’s a simple and fundamental notion for anyone making Virtual or Augmented Reality for any behavioural purposes. What we mean by visual literacy, is the language of vision: light, shape, colour, texture, lines, patterns, similarities, contrasts and movement. Or, an ability to decode non-verbal messages. As Bierut explains in his introduction to How to See: “We can learn to read images the same way we learn to read words: through experience, exposure and practice.

Please don’t forget to visit – it’s awesome, fun, and brilliant.

The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike, rather than those who think differently” Friedrich Nietzsche.

I love Outsider Art – we went to an exhibition in Paris a few years ago that was just gob-smacking. It is not easy to precisely define outsider, or visionary, art. It is, however, a clear offshoot of a European art movement known as “art brut,” or “raw art,” a term coined in the 1940s by French artist Jean Dubuffet, to describe art outside of conventional culture. But while Dubuffet focused on art made by the mentally ill, outsider or visionary art in the United States has come to mean something much broader. At its most basic level, it is art made intuitively, by an artist who is self-taught, in a visual language often very much their own. This outsider artist in Baltimore has 5,000 pieces of art in his home. I would prefer any of it to the work of the wealthiest artist in the history of the world, the worthless Damien Hirst. Read this exquisitely written take-down by Will Harrison in The Baffler on Hirst’s new show in Italy opening this week. One can only hope that all the Wolf of Wall Street thieves and shysters who used his “art” work as a “store of value” will find out what they’re really worth.

Big Data analysts did An Excavation Of One Of The World’s Greatest Art Collections – they analysed half a million pieces in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and glimpsed the history of civilisation — and a museum struggling to evolve.

Here’s a lovely and fascinating essay by philosopher Susanna Berger on her brand new book The Art of Philosophy: Visual Thinking in Europe from the Late Renaissance to the Early Enlightenment – all the wonderfully intricate drawings to try and express complex or allegorical philosophical ideas. If you don’t have time to read it – at least scroll down to watch the short video at the bottom (1:37)

A documentary on David Lynch gets released later this week. David Lynch: the Art Life infuses Lynch’s own art, music and early films, shining a light into the dark corners of his unique world, giving audiences a better understanding of the man and the artist. Interview Magazine has a piece with the documentary maker Jon Nguyen.


First up, it’s Francis Ford Coppola’s birthday this week. We had dinner with him in Beijing once – an awesome experience. He made it clear that he wasn’t interested in fanboy questions about his movies, so we spent the whole evening talking about China, food, and wine. We asked which airline he flew in on and his Executive Assistant dryly said, “Air Francis”. No, not Air France, his own plane. One of the greatest opening sequences in all of American cinema: Apocalypse Now. (Have we forgotten the Vietnam War already?) Also, it’s Marlon Brando’s birthday this week too – he starred in both Apocalypse Now and The Godfather, Coppola’s two greatest films. But I’ve always thought of him as a complete ham.

Funnily enough, it’s both Robert Downey Jr (must watch), a very great actor and who played Charlie Chaplin, and also Charlie Chaplin’s birthday this week. Chaplin’s early silent films were by far his masterpieces of searing satire and hilarity – here’s a short scene from The Pilgrim (1923): he’s an escaped prisoner who’s found a minister’s garb and gets taken in as the local priest. The scene where he is preaching in the church is devastatingly funny. Chaplin wrote, directed, scored the music, and starred in almost all his films.

None of these people could hold a candle to the genius of the Cinema of the Soul, Andrei Tarkovsky – his birthday this week too – look at the unbelievable palette of his imagery and cinematic art. It trounces CGI.

Onto music: I wouldn’t even know where to begin with Herbie Hancock – genius musician: as keyboard player for Miles Davis; as a concert pianist (Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major); giving an Improv lesson to Jools Holland; or his astounding prescience with Rockit and the amazing video – which would be ahead of its time even today – and oh, this little masterpiece he wrote for Deee-Lite: Groove is in the Heart: (Way before there was Lady Gaga, there was Lady Miss Kier). Best video ever.

The brilliant and beautiful Billie Holiday singing Strange Fruit about lynching’s – no wonder you would obliterate yourself. It’s also the same subject as TV on the Radio’s incredible Mr Grieves – “can you hang from a good, good rope?” (all the vocal tracks are sung by Tunde Adebimpe – amazing). That song, coincidentally, was actually written by Frank Black of The Pixies, who also has his birthday this week, and “This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven” – “got killed by 10 million pounds of sludge” – his tribute to New York and New Jersey.

It’s also Arcade Fire’s Will Butler’s birthday – here’s his wonderful Wake Up (with David Bowie).

And let’s finish with the sublime Janis Ian “At Seventeen“.


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