Thursday, October 18, 2007
One of the key characteristics of the paradigm of emergence is that it favours selectional rather than instructional systems. The most famous selectional system is Darwin’s theory of evolution. In the twentieth century work on computers suggested many more applications - chaos theory, recursion in cybernetics etc etc. For a more concrete example of a selectionist approach, imagine your goal is to hit a bull’s-eye on a dartboard. If you favoured an instructional system, you would presumably have to build a very accurate dart trowing machine or practise until you perfected the perfect throw with one dart. A selectional system, on the other hand, launches a million darts in every direction so that the probability of one dart hitting the bull’s-eye is sufficiently high. Here is a good example of a selectionist approach to creating a picture. The site is called Mutating Pictures.
A population of 1,000 random pictures is selected. Users of the website select the fittest pictures to survive. The higher the rating for a pic the more mutated offspring it produces. The above picture represent a kind of before and after, illustrating the process of producing a face. I wonder how far this will go and how good the representation will get?
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
I've just uploaded a video clip of Carl Sagan's Cosmos show from the later 1970s. In it he likens the history of the universe to a year of the calendar. This approach (I'm not even sure if Sagan was the first) has been used many times since, often to endorse an ecological message: it was a favorite recruiting tool of Greenpeace when I worked there, but Sagan is the master. The end carries a particular punch as Sagan sums up our species particular place in the universe.
Those of you who are familiar with the eponymous passage in Sagan's Pale Blue Dot book, will notice a certain foreshadowing. What Sagan does for space there, he does for time here: namely the cosmic insignificance of the human endevour.
Cosmos used to be on Google video but it has been removed. Shame, it could have reached all sorts of people there who would have not shelved out the money to buy the DVD. Hopefully the clip is fair use and won't go the same way.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Virgil Griffith a graduate student from Caltech wrote a program that reveals who edits Wikipedia articles, via a system where it scans the I.P address and cross-references it with the I.P. directory. Here is how the MaltaStar.com reported it.
As soon as the software was launched on the internet, chaos erupted. Among many revelations, Wikipedia Scanner reported that:
- Microsoft tried to cover up the XBOX 360 failure rate
- Apple edit Microsoft entries, adding more negative comments about its rival
- Bill Gates revenge? Microsoft edits Apple entries, adding more negative comments about its rival
- The Vatican edits Irish Catholic politician Gerry Adams page
- In the 9/11 Wikipedia article, the NRA added that “Iraq was involved in 9/11”
- Exxon Mobil edits spillages and eco-system destruction from oil spillages article
- FBI edits Guantanamo Bay, removing numerous pictures
- Oil company ChevronTexaco removes informative biodiesel article and deletes a paragraph regarding fines against the company
- Scientology removes criticism and negatives article from Scientology page.
In the Wikipedia entry on the scanner Jimmy Wales commented:
"It's awesome -- I love it...It brings an additional level of transparency to what's going on at Wikipedia...[Wikipedia Scanner] uses information we've been making publicly available forever, hoping someone would do something like this."
Fine more about the Wikipedia scanner
Virgil Griffith's homepage
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Sunday, July 15, 2007
While newspapers debate their online strategies, I think a lead has been stolen by the New York Times. I really Like this article, where they have gotten two film critics to discuss all the Harry Potter films. Mousing over the pictures (illustrated) brings them to life, very much like the paintings at Hogwarts, and a tantalising snippit of audio is played. If you like what you hear, you can click on an image and see a minute long item discussing an aspect of the films over some clips. This is to be praised not just for the content but for the interface also.
http://view.break.com/315181 - Watch more free videos
Here is an exchange between a teenage child and his parents the illustrates the gulf of understanding created by the computer game generation gap. Particularly interesting is the role the game itself assumes in this dispute. The parents equate videogames with something of no intrinsically value, and which are furthermore dangerously addictive. This discourse seemingly has given them permission to escalate the situation very quickly into conflict. Rather than managing their child's play and setting expectations beforehand about time limits for play. This is not to say that the child is an entirely innocent party here, but (unfortunately for us parents) the burden is on us to manage these situations and set the limits beforehand. Not for the child to superhumanly be able to curtain his interest on cue.
On this topic, I particularly liked this exchange between a parent or an autistic child a educator, because I think it illustrates very well how prejudices about videogames simply get in the way in trying to understand a child.
"[My son] is a video junkie and not in a way that I think anyone would consider healthy, either physically or mentally. "
"This is not a respectful way of talking about your son's passions and joys. You need to reconsider how you view his hobbies and likes and dislikes, because it is through them that learning will happen."
This is the point. Nothing in human development is useless, if the obstacle and reward structure of computer cames is compelling, it is only because it reproduces something in our evolutionary psychology for making progress in life. See, for example, Steven Johnson's argument about this:
"Our brain is wired with “seeking circuitry” and relishes exercising “the regime of competence.” TV shows like “Lost” and video games like “World of Warcraft” are addictive because they reward exploration. Instead of employing narrative arcs, they keep you in a state of being always challenged but not quite overwhelmed as you ascend from skill level to skill level."
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Feeling pretty good that I stole a lead on Boing Boing by featuring Hans Rosling on this blog several months ago (Yeah I know it was an older talk and the new one is really worth watching btw). But I though I would draw your attention to another stunning TED presentation. This time it is of a piece of software called photosynth. Photosynth is based on a technology called seedragon which instead of struggling to represent data heavy images by loading them and then interpolating them, seems to be able to rasterize the screen and allocate each image a share of the available real estate of pixels. This means the computer never has to represent more detail than is contained in the pixels on the screen, although the user can dynamically zoom into the images as much as they like. Doesn't this present really exciting possibilities for all virtual world? I means why struggle with clunky 3d representations and distance rendering if all images can be rendered like this. A case in point is Photosynth itself. Photosynth is a dynamic three dimensional representation of seedragon images arranged as a virtual world. In this demonstration its inventor (?) The fabulously named Blaise Aguera y Arcas who wows the TED audience with a virtual Notre Dame Cathedral, constructed out of thousands and thousands of non copyright photographs stored on flickr. As Aguera y Arcas says, this constitutes, in a sense, a representation of the collective memory of humanity. A a memory that what is more can be accessed and explored by anyone using the software. UNFORTUNATELY though photosynth is owned by those kings of the proprietory software , Mircrosoft, and I see from googling photosynth that it is only available to on XP or Vista. Shame that Google were not quicker of the mark with acquiring this one.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
I came across a great talk (flash video) by Swedish Professor of International Health Hans Rosling on how publically available statistics can be mined and displayed dynamically to debunk some of the most pervasive 'third world' myths. Rosling is an engaging and charismatic speaker and the software he uses in his presentation (recently acquired by Google) is mind blowing
Here is the text that went along with talk
Hans Rosling: Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you’ve ever seen
"With the drama and urgency of a sportscaster, Hans Rosling debunks myths about the so-called “developing world” using extraordinary animation software developed by his Gapminder Foundation (http://www.gapminder.org/). The Trendalyzer software (recently acquired by Google) turns complex global trends into lively animations, making decades of data pop. Asian countries, as colorful bubbles, float across the grid -- toward better national health and wealth. Animated bell curves representing national income distribution squish and flatten. In Rosling’s hands, global trends — life expectancy, child mortality, poverty rates — become clear, intuitive and even playful."
And this from the gapminder FAQ...
"A lot of people are interested in the data, but don’t get access to it (and if they manage to access the data, they need to be advanced skilled statisticians to analyze it). Gapminder wants to make data more accessible and easier to use for instant visual analysis. We believe decision makers, politicians as well as education at almost all levels lack adequate tools."
Have fun with stats with the gapminder beta
Thursday, April 26, 2007
This is a great story, it sounds like the start of an Umberto Eco novel...
A medieval prayer book has yielded three key ancient text buried within its parchment. Works by mathematician Archimedes and the politician Hyperides had already been found buried within the book, known as the Archimedes Palimpsest. But now advanced imaging technology has revealed a third text - a commentary on the philosopher Aristotle.
One of the recycled books was proving extremely difficult to read. The book was being read using a technique called multispectral imaging which uses photographs taken at different wavelengths to enhance particular characteristics of the imaged area. Subtle adjustments of this method suddenly enabled other hidden words to be revealed. "Even though I couldn't read Ancient Greek, just the fact that I could see the words gave me shivers," said Professor Roger Easton
The passage has been identified as a relatively early commentary to Aristotle's Categories, Professor Roger Easton. Project director William Noel added, “At this point you start thinking striking one palimpsest is gold, and striking two is utterly astonishing."
link from BBC.
One could interpret this is a mode of modern condescension, condemning the medieval scribes that erased these classic manuscripts to write their own prayers. However I sympathize, having just given a way a load of books myself to make space on my groaning bookshelves, I am very well aware that pragmatic considerations in this matter can outweigh more profound ones. And anyway, it seems the worst kind of cultural relativism to valorise one knowledge episteme and condemn those who do not agree with the opinion.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
The latest installment of my notes on Heidegger's masterwork, Being and Time (Part 1, Division III, sections 19, 20 and 21). I have posed a picture of Descartes this time as he is the main subject of the treatise. As usual, if you have any comments or questions about the text, please submit them by commenting on this post.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
link: Heidegger's Being and Time, an explication and commentary
Friday, February 23, 2007
I have just discovered StumbleUpon from this site continually cropping up in my stats for the Kubrick Site. I took the plunge the other day and downloaded the StumbleUpon toolbar for Firefox. I can't tell you how great this thing is. Site after site worth bookmarking hours of endless entertainment. As you can tell I'm a real fan.
For example this really made me laugh.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Here is a video a made with the band Statik for a song called Iron Orbit some seventeen years ago now. I made it with Thom McIntosh and Jane Walker who lived downstairs from me in a house I rented in Hackney. I had just started working as a tape op in a facilities company called West One Telelvision in Soho, London and was experimenting with the (then analogue 1") video editing suites after hours. Thom got to hear of this and suggested I do the video for Statik's debut single, which was also single of the week in Sounds magazine. The video emerged out of a painstaking process of layering images--old nuclear promotion films, Nasa footage, stuff Jane had drawn or Thom had created on his Amiga computer and even me flailing my arms around under a caption camera--together with lots of feedback (and I mean lots of feedback!!). We used to spend all night on this stuff, for weeks on end and I remember leaving the edit suite at eight or nine o'clock the next morning with the after-image of the feedback still on my retinas--anyway, here's the video...
Saturday, January 20, 2007
The Power of Political Correctness
The recent hoo-ha over allegations of racism in celebrity Big Brother, highlights that racism and bullying is endemic in British culture. Well, duh! Of course it is, and it would be difficult to imagine a scenario where it would be otherwise. People have always been singled out because of difference. There are many examples of this, not just in human social interactions, but in animals societies also. This is a fundamental aspect of our behaviour and, in a way, it is good that a programme like Celebrity Big Brother brings this to our attention. Because I am not for one moment condoning the behaviours of Jade Goody et al, or even excusing it, but pointing out that the first thing that needs to be done to address questions of racism and bullying is to recognise that we are all racists and bullies and only then can we think about bringing this aspect of our being into full consciousness and scrutiny.
However, another aspect of this story has not been explored so far in the British media and I find that surprising. The aspect I am talking about is political correctness. How often is it that you hear in the press that some scheme or policy is "political correctness gone mad," the accusation is such a favourite of right-wing publications that it almost approaches a vaudeville routine at times. However, despite the Jade Goody incident being, if we apply the criteria, an almost textbook case of 'political correctness gone mad,' not one Daily Mail headline or leader column has pointed this out. Not one. Why is this? Well to put simply, it is the power of political correctness. The issue of race today has assumed the status of something so untouchable and so policed that no one (except for fanaticists like the members of the British National Party) will consciously say anything that they think will be perceive as being racist. Think of the stigma the 'n' word now attracts. To think that even a few decades ago it could have been said on telelvision or film without a whisper of complaint. For example, check out the dog's name in the film The Dambusters (1954), if you can find an uncensored copy that it!
Is this a good thing?
Well yes and no. One thing it tends to confirm is that the rationale upon which political correctness is theoretically grounded is correct. That is to say, semiotics. Semiotics teaches us, rather than seeing the language representation as trivial and not reflecting the values of a culture, that a culture’s values are in fact determined by its language and its representations. Ferdinand de Saussure said in the Course of General Linguistics that things in the real world only take on their meaning after we have named them, because it is only in the naming that their differences from other things are fixed by language into the very qualities which make them conceptually distinct. Words therefore cannot represent ideas fixed in advance, when such ideas are themselves values emanating from a language system (and we can extend this to apply to other representational systems as well). This implies that a show like The Black and White Minstrel Show actually influences the racist values of its audience and the way UK culture chooses to see black people within in a very narrow and demeaning frame of representation. And it also implies that mainstream representations do contribute to a large extent to the way we stereotype these people. That is to say, restrict the way in which they do appear to us, in advance of the potentially limitless ways they could appear to us if there were no stereotypes in place).
Of course today, the Black and White Minstrel Show and other dreadful excuses for entertainment like Mind Your Language have been consigned to the dustbin of history, (they only live on ironically now in shows like Little Britain - ha ha!). But people of my generation watched those shows and, to an extent, it can be argued that they have left their mark on us. Externally, they are demonized of course, but internally their influence lives on, precisely because they have been demonised. The shows themselves have become scapegoats for our racism. They carry the burden of our racist guilt, so that we do not have to carry it ourselves. In other words, we can blame the shows, not ourselves, which is why the only way we are allowed to think about those shows today is as a terrible stain on our culture. Their true influences has remained largely unexamined - and persists because of this.
Which brings me to the issue of Jade Goody - scapegoat extraordinaire for all our negative views about race. Someone said to me today, “the trouble with Jade Goody is that she just doesn’t think,” implying that she opens her mouth and says the first thing that comes into her head. Now I think the issue here is not that Jade doesn't think, but rather than she is not reflexive enough to weigh up the consequences of her thoughts, and self-censor her opinions based on what other people think of her. This is why I think people love(d) Jade . She was, in a way, the big brother contestant least likely to have all the things she has now – several TV series under her belt, a residency in Heat magazine, even her own perfume. How has she achieved all this? Precisely by displaying that rare ability to be herself and say what she thinks. We love her, no doubt, because we do feel superior to her. She valorizes our inadequacies and, at the same, time makes it alright for us to be inadequate. Why? Because Jade has other, more positive qualities than her stupidity, like forthrightness, honesty and charisma, which makes up for what she lacks in brains and diplomacy. However, it is precisely for these qualities that people have decided to turn against her now. She is persona non grata because she expressed what we are all thinking, but are too calculating to express ourselves. Therefore she is castigated while we go unchallenged. We can still feel superiour to Jade, but in doing so were are guilty of the very things we are accusing her of. Jade's honesty reflects our culture and shames us all. Jade Goody is the bad consciousness of a nation.
What has been an undoubted strength of Big Brother is that it turns us all into psychologists. We can, for instance, see how easy it is to bully and how banal and trivial the actual act of bullying is. When a child hangs themselves over bullying at school, it seems extraordinary that no one could have spotted the signs. However, bullying is very much subjectivised by the victim of bullying. To the victim of bullying, an incident which looks from the outside to be very trivial and minor can be majorly traumatic. This is not to say that we should admonish the victims of bullying for making mountains out of mole hills, but rather understand that bullying is ordinary and something we are all capable of doing without really noticing it. In fact it is the very ordinariness of bulling that should alert everyone to the fact that each and every one of us is susceptibility to perpetuating it. The logic of alcoholics anonymous applies here. We must admit that we have a problem before we can deal with it. In fact the admission is the first step in dealing with it.
Admitting we have a problem because we are all bullies and racists means that there are inevitably things we are going to say or do that offend other people. This is not to say that in an ideal world these things wouldn't happen. For such a world could not actually exist with human beings in it. Rather, I would say that an ideal world is a place where we are able to tell the person who has made the ill judged, offensive remark why their remark was ill judged and why it was offensive. And tell them without fear of the crowd (for bullying always takes place in crowds) uniting against us and use our admission of hurt as more ammunition to berate or belittle us. I fear now, because of Celebrity Big Brother, this world is further away than it ever was. I fear now it will be harder for people to explain why they have been offended by a seemingly innocent remark. Because now everyone, no doubt, will get really defensive and will bluster and protest rather than take on board any criticism of their behaviour which they consider tantamount to racism or bullying. This is a shame. Imagine what would happen if we did take the seeming banality and triviality of bulling and racism seriously. The victims of bullying would no longer have to suffer in silence because they would not longer have to justify why a seemingly trivial remark and innocent looking behaviour had affected them so deeply. They could just say, I feel bullied. And the onus would be on the bully to change their behaviour. Now that would really be the power of political correctness gone sane. However, because of the hoo-ha of Big Brother, people bullying and racism will persist, while at the same becoming demonized all the more. I think in this negative way because of the reactions to Big Brother expressed so far by the media, see the BBC and the Guardian. These reports to my mind legitimate a culture where it is OK to believe that the majority (us) are not racists, while a small majority of (them), other people like Jade Goody are. And moreover the dominant opinion seems to be that these people should be removed from our screens and punished. I ask you, what kind of fascism is that?
Friday, January 05, 2007
Scientists find way to slash cost of drugs
Two UK-based academics have devised a way to invent new medicines and get them to market at a fraction of the cost charged by big drug companies, enabling millions in poor countries to be cured of infectious diseases and potentially slashing the NHS drugs bill. Link
Not Wilhelm Reich, nor Kate Bush I'm afraid but a story about a Californian farmers' has installed 24 cannons on his 1,200 acre farm. At the approach of a storm, his 20 ft cannons emit an electronic blast. As the sound waves travel up into the sky, they disrupt the water that is gathering to turn into hail, causing it to fall as mere rain. Link
Free Will Or Not? Not It Seems…
A bevy of experiments in recent years suggest that the conscious mind is like a monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and actions in progress, frantically making up stories about being in control. As a result, physicists, neuroscientists and computer scientists have joined the heirs of Plato and Aristotle in arguing about what free will is, whether we have it, and if not, why we ever thought we did in the first place. Link
Thinking about the future
Brain scans have given US scientists a clue about how we create a mental image of our own future. When patients or volunteers are placed in the functional MRI scanner and asked to think or move in a particular way, specific areas of the brain 'light up' on the scan image, corresponding with increased electrical activity in those regions. The technique has developed to the extent that scientists can almost know what patients are thinking about simply by looking at the brain areas they are using. The latest project looked at one of the qualities thought to be unique to humans - the ability to create a mental picture of events that have not yet happened. The researchers placed 21 volunteers into the MRI machine, then contrasted the scan results when they were asked to imagine vividly future events and recollect past memories. Link
This from the BBC:
UK scientists planning to mix human and animal cells in order to research cures for degenerative diseases fear their work will be halted.... Opponents say this is tampering with nature and is unethical... Scientists accuse the body that grants licences for embryo research, the HFEA, of bowing to government pressure if it fails to consider their applications.
Here is a quote from Charles Sanders Peirce [CP 5.385] that I think throws some important light on this issue
"With the method of authority: the state may try to put down heresy by means which, from a scientific point of view, seem very ill-calculated to accomplish its purposes; but the only test on that method is what the state thinks; so that it cannot pursue the method wrongly. So with the a priori method. The very essence of it is to think as one is inclined to think. But with the scientific method the case is different. I may start with known and observed facts to proceed to the unknown; and yet the rules which I follow in doing so may not be such as investigation would approve. The test of whether I am truly following the method is not an immediate appeal to my feelings and purposes, but, on the contrary, itself involves the application of the method. Hence it is that bad reasoning as well as good reasoning is possible; and this fact is the foundation of the practical side of logic."
Good Science thrives in an environment were it is permitted to experiment freely. Since ethics are always contingent on the context of the good and bad being defended or attacked one cannot use ethical reasons alone to prohibit investigations. For those investigations, which in the short term are considered unethical, may in the long term yield results that appeal to a higher ethical order, for examples prohibitions against chimera research today on religious ground may prevent life saving applications tomorrow. Thus we can conclude that religion is against life, which seems fundamentally unethical. However, ethical considerations must within certain parameters be suspended in the investigation of new territories. A say certain parameters because some ethical issues obviously transcend this – the work of Dr Mengele for example. But the existence of an ethical scale is not the same thing as assuming that all the rungs on that scale are of equal importance and religious objections of some seem a very poor reason to halt research that may benefit the many.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
It's getting near twelve o'clock so here are some rambling thoughts on the nature of nature, which, thinking ahead, if they convince me of anything will probably convince me always to revise what I write before I push the 'publish post' button. Still, a nice picture from flickr.
Nature is both the natural world that surround us and an essential characteristic of things. The essential characteristic of things is also described as being natural. This word designates a whole host of ideologically motivated opinions. It's either perfectly natural to do or be 'x', or not natural. I wonder Do these concepts 'nature' and 'natural' exist independent of each other or is there a way of uniting them. What then is the nature of nature?
Nature when applied as a description of the natural world seems to rope together all phenomena that is not a product of human work of interference. There is a distinction for instance between natural and manufactured materials and natural and manufactured products. In the latter case this distinction seems oxymoronic. Who ever heard of a natural products? Although this is taken to extremes today, as 'natural' is an appellation applied to all sorts of dodgy foods and toxic shampoos so as to mean roughly its opposite.
But what is the idea of nature implied in this natural/artificial distinction? I think the answer to that question if that nature is considered to be something that exists beyond us and in spite of us (humans). Like Antarctica is considered to be the last natural wilderness left on earth because it is the only place not routinely occupied by humans (with the honourable exception of the citizens of McMurdo and other permanent bases on the ice of course).
If that is true, what then should we make of human nature? Is this something inside us that exists beyond us and in spite of us? Well perhaps. Jung certainly seemed to think so, he wrote in Man and His Symbols that we will never be able to triumph over nature because we would first have to triumph over our own human nature, which was impossible. Jung thus suggests that nature is the fundamental ground on which humanity stands, something unknown and unknowable and yet we cannot escape from it no matter how hard we may try. Of course other cultures do not share this dualistic view of human versus nature. The Japanese have no myths appointing them stewards of the Garden of Eden. In the west we are taught from an early age to consider ourselves, like Spiderman, hugely powerful, but weighted down by the guilt of the responsibility of that power. Whether this is hubris on an accurate description of events is open to question.
Human beings are driven by curiosity, dare I say, the desire to find out and to know and understand their nature is actually part of their nature. Therefore if nature is to be understood as what is not known, this means that the destiny of our nature is in some senses to destroy itself, or know itself, and thus transcend itself. And you can take that particular metaphor into all kinds of well worn territories. For example you can consider human beings to be the consciousness of Gaia. An then the desire to understand rather than conquer nature suggest a noble teleology for the race. But can nature completely disappear? And is it possible for the knower to know everything about themselves for surely a position of knowledge assumes a knower who is more knowledgeably than that which is known. Or do we in the final analysis adopt a similar view to Jung and conclude that nature itself cannot be transcended, precisely because it will always inhere in humans (this seems to be to be a particularly fixed and immutable view of nature but no matter). I suppose the answer to that question is logically the knower has to transcend the framing of his knowing and become a different kind of knower. Only then can the knower can look back on her old self and define it in terms of its limitations. Thus I conclude that the destiny of nature is to disappear into knowledge. Although, Shiva-like, human curiosity has a capacity to destroy its, knowledge of anything operates according to the rules of the dialectic and according to the principles of balance and equilibrium. Although all systems are susceptible to pressure and tolerances can only be pushed so far. Even when all things are known, there will still be things that are unknown, although the nature of these things will be quite different from the mysteries we can envisage now.