Monday, October 28, 2013

To See You Staring Back at You

The Uncanny Valley
The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers.

The "valley" refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of humans as subjects move toward a healthy, natural human likeness described in a function of a subject's aesthetic acceptability.

Mori Uncanny Valley Chart
Hypothesized emotional response of human subjects is plotted against anthropomorphism of a robot, following Mori's statements. The uncanny valley is the region of negative emotional response towards robots that seem "almost human". Movement amplifies the emotional response. (MacDorman, 2005)

There is nothing more intriguing than the repulsive: A car-crash, a rotting corpse, a deformed human - of the mental proclivity, particularly. The Uncanny Valley, however, is in another class of revulsion. It rides that fine line, the liminal zone of quasi- quantum- existence, the seat of all things aesthetic, where the tension between beauty and ugly is in not-exactly equilibrium-enough to stay that way, vacillating about its target. Am I irresistibly enthralled, or alarmingly frightened? None, and both; a flickering Necker cube of decision.

Perhaps the power with which the Uncanny Valley toggles our hedonic switch comes from our tendency, or is it our need, to seek ourselves in things that seem like us, in order that we might create ourselves, in our own image. We give animals emotions, we imagine dialogue between the sun and the wind; but most of all, we see ourselves in others. And that is how we make our selves.

Were it not for others, we would not be able to know ourselves. Something about sympathetic mirror neurons, collemulation, or mimetic desire. Catch-up on the mirrorbox. And the source is in the eyes, the windows to see through. But the story is worse than this. Were it not for those windows, we would not be able to create ourselves.

Look into the eyes of a robot, not just any robot, but one that falls just-so into the Valley. What do you really see?

You see yourself in those eyes, because you are human, and that is what we do. But you are afraid. One day, it may be you. All of you. And then what?

Do you want to be the robot, or are you afraid? You can't decide. It is against your program, rather, it has yet to be written. When something of such human-ness exposes itself to you, opening its reservoir of self-ness, you cannot resist. How does it look, the world through those eyes? Is it you? Could it be?

Never? We'll see.

 less creepy
source Anouk Wolse

In 1970 the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori published a short paper in the journal Energy where he conjured the term bukimi no tani, or "uncanny valley".

"Understanding the uncanny is neither an entirely subjective nor objective endeavor. Study it long enough, and eventually it makes a study out of you.
-Samuel Weber, professor of philosophy and literature at the European Graduate School

-via: Into the Uncanny Valley
Joe Kloc, Seed Magazine, November 7, 2013

On the Psychology of the Uncanny 
Ernst Jentsch, Translated by Roy Sellars, 1906, pdf

Among all the psychical uncertainties that can become a cause for the uncanny feeling to  arise, there is one in particular that is able to develop a fairly regular, powerful and very general  effect: namely, doubt as to whether an apparently living being really is animate and, conversely,  doubt as to whether a lifeless object may not in fact be animate – and more precisely, when this  doubt only makes itself felt obscurely in one’s consciousness. The mood lasts until these doubts  are resolved and then usually makes way for another kind of feeling. [partly citing Freud's "The Uncanny", p226]

"The Aesthetic of the Real"
Incidentally, it is of considerable interest to see in this example how true art, in wise moderation, avoids the absolute and complete imitation of  nature and living beings, well knowing that such an imitation can easily produce uneasiness: the  existence of a polychrome sculpture in wood and stone does not alter this fact in the least, and nor  does the possibility of somewhat preventing such unpleasant side-effects if this kind of representation is nevertheless chosen.

"Time-Released Self-Induced Psychosis"
The child of nature populates his environment with demons; small children speak in all seriousness to a chair, to their spoon, to an old rag, and so on, hitting out full of anger at lifeless things in order to punish them. Even in highly cultivated Greece, a dryad still lived in every tree. It is therefore not astonishing if that which man himself semi-consciously projected into things from his own being now begins again to terrify him in those very things, or that he is not always capable of exorcising the spirits which were created out of his own head from that very head.

"Latent Animation"
The horror which a dead body (especially a human one), a death’s head, skeletons and similar things cause can also be explained to a great extent by the fact that thoughts of a latent animate state always lie so close to these things. Such a thought may often push its way into consciousness so that it is itself capable of giving the lie to appearance, thereby again setting the
preconditions for the psychical conflict that has been described.

Conclusion: Certainty and Uncertainty
The human desire for the intellectual mastery of one’s environment is a strong one. Intellectual certainty provides psychical shelter in the struggle for existence. However it came to  be, it signifies a defensive position against the assault of hostile forces, and the lack of such  certainty is equivalent to lack of cover in the episodes of that never-ending war of the human and  organic world for the sake of which the strongest and most impregnable bastions of science were  erected.


Robots: Is the uncanny valley real?
Rose Eveleth, 2013 Sept 02
Transference is a phenomenon characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another.
Ramachandran vs. The Mirrorbox
Nov 2012

Uncanny Valley Not So Uncanny for Lonely People
Sep 2014

Webcam sex with fake girl Sweetie leads to sentence
BBC News, Oct 2014
[interesting, in direct relation to above - is 'Sweetie' more believable because of the [potentially] 'lonely' people interacting with her]

Realistic robot faces aren't enough – we need emotion to put us at ease with androids, Jun 2015

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Urban Dynamics

 the palimpsest_east-west germany

A mathematical framework for understanding cities: Part social reactor, part network
Jun 20, 2013

New research by Santa Fe Institute Professor Luis Bettencourt suggests a city is something new in nature – a sort of social reactor that is part star and part network, he says.

"A city is first and foremost a social reactor," Bettencourt explains. "It works like a star, attracting people and accelerating social interaction and social outputs in a way that is analogous to how stars compress matter and burn brighter and faster the bigger they are."

Cities are also massive social networks, made not so much of people but more precisely of their contacts and interactions. These social interactions happen, in turn, inside other networks – social, spatial, and infrastructural – which together allow people, things, and information to meet across urban space.

Ultimately, cities achieve something very special as they grow. They balance the creation of larger and denser social webs that encourage people to learn, specialize, and depend on each other in new and deeper ways, with an increase in the extent and quality of infrastructure. Remarkably they do this in such a way that the level of effort each person must make to interact within these growing networks --does not need to grow--.

"The Origins of Scaling in Cities," L.M.A. Bettencourt, Santa Fe Institute
Science, 2013
Provided by Santa Fe Institute

Reading, Riting, Rithmetic

Big Datty

You Are Being Tracked: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used to Record Americans' Movements
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
July 17, 2013
[full pdf]

Law enforcement or private companies can construct a virtual fence around a designated geographical area, to identify each vehicle entering that space.

-For example, Tiburon, California has license plate readers monitoring its only two roads that leave the town.

Cyrus Favriar, Rich California Town Considers License Plate Readers For Entire City Limits, Ars Technica (Mar. 5, 2013)
Prime Communications, Corporate Overview, Public Records Responses, p. 3557 [pdf]
ELSAG North America, Geofencing Capabilities of the Mobile Plate Hunter-900, p. 1 (Sept. 14, 2011) [pdf]

License plate data are widely shared in California’s Bay Area through the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), although the full extent of sharing is not publicly known. According to a May 2012 document, this fusion center’s goal is to collect license plate information from approximately 22 police departments, and grant access to several more. NCRIC maintains a broad mandate for its use of license plate information — in addition to law enforcement, NCRIC maintains that it may use license plate information for the “protection of special events; protection of critical infrastructure; and responding and mapping the license plate landscape of critical events.”

County of San Mateo, NCRIC Answers to Questions Submitted from Potential Vendors, p. 2 (May 22, 2012), at pp. 22737-40. [pdf]

While police departments and government agencies argue that the data they collect will be used only for proper purposes, even the International Association of Chiefs of Police has recognized that pervasive surveillance can have negative chilling effects regardless of its purpose. As it has explained, “The risk is that individuals will become more cautious in the exercise of their protected rights of expression, protest, association, and political participation because they consider themselves under constant surveillance.”

Psychologists have confirmed through multiple studies that people do in fact alter their behavior when they know they are being watched. In one such study, the mere presence of a poster of staring human eyes was enough to significantly change the participants’ behavior.

[but what does digital social media do to condition us on a mass-scale?]

International Association of Chiefs of Police, Privacy Impact Assessment Report for the Utilization of License Plate Readers, p. 13 (2009)
Sander van der Linden, How the Illusion of Being Observed Can Make You a Better Person, Sci. Am. (May 3, 2011)
M. Ryan Calo, People Can Be So Fake: A New Dimension to Privacy and Technology Scholarship, 114 Penn St. L. Rev. p. 809 (2010) [pdf]

[A problem with the 2013 NSA leaks (and, obviously, with the license plate readers mentioned herein), is that what could be perfectly benign, and potentially very beneficial to everyone (i.e. urban surveillance systems for use in 'smart cities'), becomes seriously suspicious. Something like the situation in the late 1960's, when many people were irresponsibly taking LSD and hurting themselves, an entire generation of scientists were stigmatized if they tried to do research using the drug. Today, and henceforth, the suspicion of the public will limit the studying and augmentation of urban information systems.]

exhibit A:
E-ZPass scanners track cars far away from toll plazas
Sept. 09, 2013

Art vs Science

How an Entirely New, Autistic Way of Thinking Powers Silicon Valley
Temple Grandin, Richard Panek, 05.23.13

Vincent van Gogh’s later paintings had all sorts of swirling, churning patterns in the sky — clouds and stars that he painted as if they were whirlpools of air and light. And, it turns out, that’s what they were! In 2006, physicists compared van Gogh’s patterns of turbulence with the mathematical formula for turbulence in liquids. The paintings date to the 1880s. The mathematical formula dates to the 1930s. Yet van Gogh’s turbulence in the sky provided an almost identical match for turbulence in liquid.

Even the seemingly random splashes of paint that Jackson Pollock dripped onto his canvases show that he had an intuitive sense of patterns in nature. In the 1990s, an Australian physicist, Richard Taylor, found that the paintings followed the mathematics of fractal geometry — a series of identical patterns at different scales, like nesting Russian dolls. The paintings date from the 1940s and 1950s. Fractal geometry dates from the 1970s. That same physicist discovered that he could even tell the difference between a genuine Pollock and a forgery by examining the work for fractal patterns.