Monday, July 31, 2017

Chatbots Start Speaking Their Own Language and It's not Esperanto

Facebook Shuts AI System After Bots Start Speaking Their Own Language, Defy Human Instructions
July 2017, Hindustan Times

Don't even get 'em started. As I tear through Kim Stanley Robinson's Auroroa, a hard science fiction novel about a starfleet trying to colonize the Tau Ceti system where the ship itself, due to its quantum-computer-powered artificial intelligence system, becomes conscsious, I read this headline.

I'm not surprised, nobody is surprised, that these chatbots, these intelligentities, have surpassed our ability to decode what the f they're doing. Deep learning neural networks, for example, are unintelligible to us (correct this, I read a paper recently about some folks successful in figuring out how to read the hidden programs developed by these learning networks). Computers, ultimately, speak a language of computation, 1's and 0's. So it should be no surprise that, given a complex task of negotiating mock global diplomacy matters, these systems tack at a better way for working with each other.

Still, it is symbolic. And only to humans do symbolic things matter. Maybe there's a reason for that; maybe this is the beginning. That distance between now and the inevitable transition to the post-human world keeps getting shorter.

Post Script
It Begins: Bots are learning to chat in their own language
July 2017, Cade Metz, WIRED

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Musical Memetics

Genetic Data Tools Reveal How Pop Music Evolved In The US
The Physics arXiv Blog, 2015. link
Source document:
The Evolution of Popular Music: USA 1960–2010, 2015. link

I was into this article anyway, because it puts art and science together. Perhaps predictable for some - rap eventually takes over, dance music peaked in the 90's, country is NOT making a comeback (depends how they classify this, is there such a thing as 'new' country?).

But at the end, memetics rears its multi-headed head. Because the authors of this study used genetics-data analysis tools to do all this. Listen to all this memetalk:

"Musicians copy, repeat and modify song styles they like, this leads to a clear pattern of evolution over time. So it should come as no surprise that techniques developed for the analysis of genetic data should work on music data as well. “The selective forces acting upon new songs are at least partly captured by their rise and fall through the ranks of the charts,” they say."

Holy Bread

Salvador Dalí, Crucifixion (Corpus_Hypercubus), 1954

Dali wears bread on his head, 1958
Say What?
Vatican outlaws gluten-free bread for Holy Communion
July 2017, BBC

Bread used to celebrate the Eucharist during Roman Catholic Mass must not be gluten-free - although it may be made from genetically modified organisms, the Vatican has ruled.

In a letter to bishops, Cardinal Robert Sarah said the bread can be low-gluten. But he said there must be enough protein in the wheat to make it without additives.

The new rules are needed because the bread is now sold in supermarkets and on the internet, the cardinal said. [I don't understand; the Vatican sells its own brand of bread?]

Roman Catholics believe bread and wine served at the Eucharist are converted into the body and blood of Christ through a process known as transubstantiation.

Every once in a while I forget that this is a real thing, like, during this particular ceremony the bread is -really- turned into the body of Christ. Really. Really?

But wait, you're telling me that the same entity that thinks its bread is turning into flesh is also making decisions about the validity of genetically modified organisms. CRISPR vs Christ?

Art and AI

Frederic Bazille’s Studio 9 Rue de la Condamine (1870) and Norman Rockwell’s Shuffleton’s Barber Shop (1950)

When A Machine Learning Algorithm Studied Fine Art Paintings, It Saw Things Art Historians Had Never Noticed
The Physics arXiv Blog via Medium, Aug 2014
Source document: Toward Automated Discovery of Artistic Influence

There's some stirring in the dusty world of art history, with the rise of encultured robots threatening human livelihoods. A promising young algorithm is set upon the world, fed with centuries of art imagery, design principles, and historical documentation. Our little algorithm then grows up and learns how to identify patterns in the art world better than its teacher.

In the two compared images above, this little art-historian algo recognized similar compositional patterns that had never been seen before - a hidden Norman Rockwell, see above.

First of all, as an art history major in college, I look at all the compared/related images discovered by the AI, and I am not so impressed. Maybe the general concept is what fails to impress me. When you follow the art world long enough you get to know something about how influence works, and about the power that one thing can have on an artist's work. And I say that there is no such thing as one thing.

The nature of the artist is to take the world at large, a fuck-tonnery of pre-filtered miasma, and to make sense, or at least to fight with it in a way that leaves a record of the battle, and for the benefit of humankind. To say that one painting influenced another because they have similar stylistic elements or design principles is kind of silly. I do understand that subconscious influence has its way with the creative process. But that refers to life as well as art. The new style checker cab, or Triangle shirtwaists, or bubble tea or middle-hipster Americana folk music or The Beatles or African masks or even syphilis could influence an artists' work.
Charge of the Lancers - Umberto Boccioni - 1915
Take ^Futurism, for example. It is inspired by, among other things, the fragmentation of society, be it from national upheaval circa the World Wars, or from the way the landscape looks while riding a speeding train which propelled people faster past the countryside than they had ever moved before. How does an algorithm find that?

I heard Picasso's mistress Françoise Gilot, in her bio of Pable Picasso, say some of his lobster paintings were a response to her hard-shelled personality which came to a head prior to their separation. Algorithms can see that? Nah man.

I know someone can come on here and argue with me, successfully, that artists do influence each other in simple visual ways, and at times, the visual connections can supplement a lack of historical data surrounding their work. But still, there is a need for socio-biographical data in all this, and I wonder if our little algo could be even better trained.

Now, all this having been said, I just finished watching this: Davos talk about the future of artificial intelligence, with IBM CEO Ginni Rommetti. She says that the goal of IBM's artificial intelligence (Watson, by the way, in case you forgot) is to extend human faculties, not replace them. According to her premonitions, the art historian is not doomed, rather it will be enriched and extended by our algorithmic overlords.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Robots Have Feelings Too

aka In Other News Suicide is Funny Again

A robot kills itself, and everyone thinks it's funny:
Robot 'drowns' in fountain mishap
July 2017, BBC

This headline above was pretty tame. But otherwise, take your pick, I'll go with my local radio news station, WNYC 93.9 FM. Today on the six o'clock headlines they quip - "Turns out his first day on the job was too much for this robot..."

I thought suicide was a big deal. And what's up with the whole bullying thing? And don't even get me started on how they already assumed the thing's gender.

Very often when I think about the way people treat eachother, this quote by Carl Sagan comes to mind:
"It’s a little unfair, I think, to criticize a person for not sharing the enlightenment of a later epoch, but it is also profoundly saddening that such prejudices were so extremely pervasive. The question raises nagging uncertainties about which of the conventional truths of our own age will be considered unforgivable bigotry by the next."
Broca’s Brain, Carl Sagan, 1974-1979, p11

And I wonder when, if ever, we are living through such a prejudice in 'our own age'. When such a situation as this arises, how can you resist but to extrapolate? One day, far in the future, will we ridicule the newswriters of today for having no sympathy for this poor intelligentity?

But seriously, it seems pretty irresponsible to be poking fun at someone for committing suicide.

Obviously, a robot isn't "someone" and it didn't "commit suicide," but when it is portrayed that way in the headlines, I'll bet that's what it looks like to a young person, for example, or perhaps a person with mental illness. They hear that someone, or something, has killed itself, and they see that everyone thinks it's a joke.

Image source: Robot is Dead, Waldemar-Kazak, 2017

Friday, July 7, 2017

Try Not to Think

Study finds hackers could use brainwaves to steal passwords
Jul 2017,

It's been a while since I tested that EPOC Emotiv headset. It definitely worked, and that was over 5 years ago. Turns out that some people are really using it to play games, although I'm not sure how true this is.

It reads your brainwaves via electrical signal receivers that simply touch your head. Yes, there is electricity running through your brain, And yes that energy carries a signal that can be decoded and translated. Unfortunately, it's very limited. It can decipher up vs down, or left vs right, or any one thing vs another, but only if you trained it that way. You sit there and give it a baseline, you let the headset read your brain while you're thinking of "nothing" (def not as easy as it sounds). Then you train it to read anything other than nothing, and codes that as a command. If you want two commands, then you have to try and give it two very different patterns of thinking, so it can tell the difference, otherwise, it only knows on/off, thinking/not-thinking. Maybe the thing has come a long way and people really can use it to play games that require more than just one button.

Anyway, surprise surprise, it looks like you may be compromising the security of your own thoughts when you put on this brain reader; who knew?!

from the article:

"The team found that, after a user entered 200 characters, algorithms within the malicious software program could make educated guesses about new characters the user entered by monitoring the EEG data recorded. The algorithm was able to shorten the odds of a hacker's guessing a four-digit numerical PIN from one in 10,000 to one in 20 and increased the chance of guessing a six-letter password from about 500,000 to roughly one in 500."

image source:
photograph by Brad Miller, neurons in the cerebral cortex of a 6-day old rat, 40x magnification, 1996 Nikon Photomicrography Competition

Post Script
Trepanation is when you drill a hole into someone's head because that's where the problem is. 

Some nice illustrations about trepanation, by Scultetus

Crystals are the Future

No seriously, they are, especially these piezoelectric kinds. I clipped some things from this article just to keep us abreast.

LA crystals turn cars into energy source
July 2017, BBC News

"Piezoelectricity is not new technology - one of the most common applications is electric cigarette lighters which use piezoelectric crystals to create a flame. The electric lighters for barbecues use the same technology.

"Piezoelectric crystals generate an electrical charge when compressed and scientists estimate that if they were positioned on a 10-mile stretch of highway they could generate enough electricity to power the city of Burbank, which has a population of more than 100,000.

"Since 2009, all the displays at the East Japan Railway Company's Tokyo station have been powered by people walking on floor tiles that utilise piezoelectricity.

"And start-up PaveGen has put similar technology beneath the floor of a football pitch in one of Rio de Janeiro's most notorious favelas to offer night-time floodlights powered by footsteps. It means children can play at night rather than hang out in gangs."

image source
Karl Deckart, Salt Crystals 10x magnification, 1996 Nikon Photomicrography Competition

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Natural vs Artificial

So if we enslave mountains of bacteria to be forcefed glucose while we reap their colorful shit, is that natural or artificial?

Four strains of bacteria work together to produce pigment for food and cosmetics industry
Jul 2017,

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have shown that four strains of E. coli bacteria working together can convert sugar into the natural red anthocyanin pigment found in strawberries, opening the door to economical natural colors for industrial applications.

"We feed the bacteria glucose and they do the rest."
-Mattheos Koffas, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer, and member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies

image credits: Air bubbles formed from melted ascorbic acid (vitamin C) crystals (50x), Marek Miś, 2016 Nikon Small World Micrography Competition

To Shape the Future

Crystal balls over here

Predicting the future with the wisdom of crowds
Jun 2017,

Don Moore and a team of researchers found a new way to improve that outcome by training ordinary people to make more confident and accurate predictions over time as superforecasters.

The team, working on The Good Judgment Project, had the perfect opportunity to test its future-predicting methods during a four-year government-funded geopolitical forecasting tournament sponsored by the United States Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity. The tournament, which began in 2011, aimed to improve geopolitical forecasting and intelligence analysis by tapping the wisdom of the crowd. Moore's team proved so successful in the first years of the competition that it bumped the other four teams from a national competition, becoming the only funded project left in the competition.

The study differs from previous research in overconfidence in forecasting because it examines accuracy in forecasting over time, using a huge and unique data set gathered during the tournament. That data included 494,552 forecasts by 2,860 forecasters who predicted the outcomes of hundreds of events.

The Wisdom of Crowds
James Surowiecki, 2004

Swarm A.I. Correctly Predicts the Kentucky Derby, Accurately Picking all Four Horses of the Superfecta at 540 to 1 Odds
Yahoo Finance, April 2016

The Chinese Flesh Engine
BBC 2014


This kind of thing always reminds me of a passage from Levy-Bruhl's Primitive Mentality - the indigenous people he writes about are perplexed at the ability of the white scientists to "predict" a lunar eclipse.

They live in a timeless world. Hence, for example, an omen doesn’t just reveal what will happen, it is evidence that it is already happening.

They ask of the whites – how could you predict it (a lunar eclipse) if it was not you who caused it?

I have also found, among some folks who have less of a functioning prefrontal cortex if you know what I'm saying will tend to blame the person who predicts the situation as if they caused it. Take for example, an angsty adolescent - you tell them not to do something because of some probable result (don't smoke pot in the high school bathroom because you'll probably get caught) they will blame you as if your prediction actually caused the outcome. Some of us are no different from Levy-Bruhl's "primitives".

Primitive Mentality, Lucien Levy-Bruhl, 1923, trans 1966

Primitive Mentality
Network Address 2012

Monday, July 3, 2017

So Easy a Caveman Could Do It

I would like to take a moment here to mourn the passing of an opportunity, and one that may not come again for too long. We are talking here about the Geico Caveman, debuted in 2004ish, gone within a few years, and never to be seen again, except by those who have that strong sense of maintaining cultural posterity.

I really believe that, to this day, the Geico Caveman stunt is the most culturally sophisticated thing ever produced by American consumerist society (slight hyperbole). And so, for those who didn't catch it the first time around: The Geico Caveman had nothing to do with Geico car insurance; he was created simply as a funny character, and a preposterous idea, to help you remember Geico the next time you think you should be saving money on your car insurance.

Really there were a bunch of cavemen, still living in modern society, and they were pissed because of Geico's temporary tagline, "so easy even a caveman could do it [use the Geico website to sign up for car insurance]". The cavemen were offended because the ad implies that they're stupid, but they're humans just like everyone else, so why should they be singled out?? They were pissed and demanded an apology in successive commercials. They even got their own tv show, a sitcom, I think it lasted like one episode.

It was created as a stab at the current state of political correctness. I should remind folks this was happening at the same time Queer Eye for the Straight Guy came out (no pun, well maybe a little pun), a tv show about gay guys helping straight guys to comb their hair and brush their teeth. This is also the same time the word 'metrosexual' entered the mainstream lexicon, referring to a straight man who takes on the visual aesthetics of a gay man, but without the homophobia. This was also the same time the NJ Governor Jim McGreevy came out, as gay, and which led to the phrase "no homo", as in "yo I really like that new tattoo on your inner thigh bro, no homo".

So yes, there we were, in a heightened state of social awareness, at least in regards to sexuality. The tide is turning, it might actually be ok to be gay, or god forbid, black (US first black president isn't elected for another 4 years).

But then what happened. It's now 2017 and it's not even ok to be a woman anymore for f sake.

All I'm saying is, that caveman may have been our way out. You can make fun of cavemen all you want! They're stupid, they're hairy, they smell, they went extinct for christ's sake; they are inferior! They are the only thing we can make fun of that is enough 'like us' to make it hurt, but are enough -not- like us to make it feel good when we make fun of them. I really think the caveman should be adopted as the pan-cultural hate symbol. People can't not hate; they have to hate something. White people gonna hate black people, straight people gay people, rich people poor people, society is gonna subconsciously hate women, but openly hate men, we can't not hate. So why can't we all just hate cavemen? It shows how stupid we are to hate on people in the first place, and it doesn't hurt anybody, because CAVEMEN ARE ALREADY EXTINCT.

I thought the caveman was our way out, an escape hatch from our incessant need to find difference between 'us and them'. We dropped the ball. Maybe we'll get a second chance. BUT we better hurry up, before we Jurassic-Park an actual caveman, and then we'll never be able to make fun of them again!

Post Script:
Why are there no cavewomen?

Post Post Script:
Check out this movie about one kind of caveman showing another kind of caveman how to make fire. Nobody speaks English, yet they all have names with anglicized spellings (according to the credits at the end). And fyi, Rae Dawn Chong was one hot cavewoman.