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

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Brendan Harkin

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“It has yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value” Arthur C. Clarke

We’re attending the AI Showbiz event in Los Angeles this week – the world’s first conference on the intersections between Artificial Intelligence and the Entertainment Industries. We’ll also be video interviewing many of the great keynote speakers. You can attend online for just USD$29.00 which gets you 12 hours of live broadcast as well as access to the archived content. That’s seriously good value conjoing two of the most exciting digital industries.

If you’re interested here’s an excellent short video (9:21) on the current state of AI from the always excellent Cold Fusion YouTube channel. Or else there’s the O’Reilly free ebook ‘What is Artificial Intelligence?‘ by Mike Loukides and Ben Lorica.

The New York Review of Books are running a series on ‘Consciousness‘ – a discussion between Ricardo Manzotti (Philosophy of Mind, Computer Science, Robotics) and Tim Parks (Professor of Literature and Translation).

The poster child for the recent surge in interest in AI: Twitter’s acquisition of London-based machine learning startup Magic Pony Technology, announced earlier this month. If you look at the deal primarily as an “acquihire,” Twitter is reportedly paying $13 million per machine-learning PhD.

The behind-the-scenes machine learning story of how Google Translate went from patchy but useful to outstanding. An example of the Great AI Awakening.

Mattel recently unveiled Aristotle, a voice-activated smart assistant designed to interact with your child at all stages of their development. Aristotle is ostensibly similar to a standard Amazon Echo, but Mattel has bundled in a companion Wi-Fi camera and developed a dedicated AI system that can not only watch over your child, but respond to their direct queries. If you followed last week’s thread on Future Crimes by Marc Goodman you’ll know that if anything involves code or a screen, it can be (will be) hacked. What could go wrong?

Since most of our interactions with corporations and governments will be via chatbots in the very near future, it’s fascinating to see how their “personalities” are written and scripted. The New Yorker article namechecks Gilbert Simondon, the great French philosopher of technology, only now being published in English for the first time.

Speaking of governments, having worked at senior levels I’ve developed a healthy respect for people who want to put a broom through the place on a regular basis. Here’s the Australian bureacrats idea of an automated ‘smart’ system – threatening the poor, the unemployed, the weak and the disabled with robo-debts they don’t have. Earlier, they completely screwed up the entire online national census process, held once every five years. All run with the assistance of, god help us, the Digital Transformation Office.

This is the best short Top Ten Predictions for 2017 from the reliable Broadstuff: succinct, sage, single paragraphs on all the current buzzwords.

Tomorrow’s retail stores want to take a page from their online rivals by embracing advanced technology — everything from helpful robots to interactive mirrors to shelves embedded with sensors. The goal: Use real-world store features to lure shoppers back from the internet, and maybe even nudge them to spend more in the process.

Policing the digital cartels: price-setting algorithms mean regulators must now tackle collusion among machines. Because they’ve done such a great job regulating collusion among the financial sectors.


“Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves” Aaron Swartz

A review of Virtual Competition: The Promise and Perils of the Algorithm-Driven Economy. This highly readable and authoritative account sets out the ways that platforms have replaced the invisible hand with a digitised one – a hand that is human-engineered, subject to corporate control and manipulation, and prone to charges of unlawfulness. Also, you know that Uber tracks your mobile phone location for 5 minutes after you’ve finished your Uber ride, right? To their credit, Uber has just made available anonymized information on over 2 billion Uber rides – a gift for Data Scientists.

The data scientists writing the algorithms that drive giants like Google and Facebook Inc. are today’s technology wizards, and companies and governments increasingly use their creations — often in secret and with little oversight — to do everything from hiring and firing employees to identifying likely suspects for police monitoring. FYI, the OPAL project works to unleash the power of big data held by private companies for the public good in a privacy preserving, commercially sensible, stable, scalable and sustainable manner (and also see their thought-provoking and inspiring list of partners).

Cathy O’Neill explains how the Facebook ‘fake news’ scam works – it’s about Facebook’s business model. (Video 2:17)

US clothing store The Limited has closed everyone of its 250 stores and now exists only online.

Bots are developing at a very quickly – the Head of Developer Relations at Slack (founded by XML Mentor Stuart Butterfield) gives us a quick overview of the scene with a great graphic of the Bot landscape. Even Pope Francis has his own chatbot.

Almost half of eight- to 11-year-olds have agreed impenetrable terms and conditions to give social media giants such as Facebook and Instagram control over their data, messages, and pictures without any accountability. The terms ran to more than 5,000 words on 17 pages of text.

When Money becomnes Data: the Indian government unilaterally banned the two most common cash denominations in India as the first step toward an enforced ‘digital currency economy’. Here’s a perspective charging that “Imposing the digital economy through a “cash ban” is a form of technological dictatorship, in the hands of the world’s billionaires”.

The Blockchain could completely transform the music industry with licensing and rights management, removing intermediaries, and piracy.


“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” Philip K. Dick

Tilt Brush Artist in Residence program (AiR). Graffiti artists, painters, illustrators, graphic designers, dancers, concept artists, creative technologists and cartoonists have all brought their passion and talent to create some amazing art.

“When [millennials] are spending, they are shelling out for experiences that can be posted to social media. When you look at social media feeds, people talk about going out and rarely do people share what they bought”.

The use of facial recognition software for commercial purposes is becoming more common, but, as Amazon scans faces in its physical shop and Facebook searches photos of users to add tags to, those concerned about their privacy are fighting back.

Speaking of privacy, Cephalopods are fantastically adapted creatures of privacy and camoflage – way beyond our comprehension. Encountering an octopus in the wild, as Peter Godfrey-Smith argues in his fascinating book, “Other Minds,” is as close as we will get to meeting an intelligent alien. Watch this amazing youtube video, or read this book.

Partisan Thesaurus uses one machine learning algorithm that’s been fed two separate bodies of text. One corpus is composed of liberal texts, including writing by Joseph Stiglitz and Jon Stewart and interview transcriptions from Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, while the other is made up of conservative texts, including books by Ann Coulter, Ayn Rand, and Ronald Reagan, as well as transcriptions from interviews with Donald Trump and Chris Christie.

Creating the ability to do something has become conflated with the right to do it. New Scientist has long advocated controlled innovation and experimentation as a route to a better world for everybody.


“Creativity takes courage” Henri Matisse

Vale John Berger who passed away this week. Susan Sontag says of him “not since D.H. Lawrence has there been a writer who offers such attentiveness to the sensual world with responsiveness to the imperatives of conscience”. Here’s a preiceless hours discussion between the two on The Art of Storytelling. The whole first episode of Ways of Seeing (with its stunning opening scene that simply must have influenced John Lydon and the Sex Pistols, and a million others! 30 mins). Still, I can’t believe how many obituaries, even decent ones, feel the need to make some critical point from some superior moral ground (contains full episode two 28 mins). There’s only one way to approach John Berger’s work, and that’s to listen and learn.

“How China is preparing to dominate the future and why we should hope it succeeds”. A reasonable snapshot of China today, including “Everyone is an entrepreneur, creativity of the masses” (大众创业,万众创新)

I thought Dave Eggers book The Circle about a composite Google, Facebook, Apple SF/Bay Area kinda company didn’t quite work because, in my opinion, the central female character wasn’t plausibly realised. A middle-aged writer guy ventriloquizing the experiences of a young woman. But the film looks a whole lot way better!

The best design books have the power to spark new thoughts, theories, ideas, and opinions. Here is a lovely and beautiful diverse collection of 19 such books, published in the past year. Here you’ll find everything from black-and-white photos of Brutalist buildings, to heady essays on graphic design’s role in society, to pretty doodles.

“Language is the House of Being” said Heidegger. Here’s a great (long) article from The Economist on the centrality of the relationship between language and technology in AI and machine learning: i.e., any-language-to-any-language translation, speech recognition, conversational bots, speech synthesis. “What are you talking about”? Answering that simple question is profoundly complex.

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