Smellmaps, developed by English artist Kate McLean, “can come in handy for people interested in new ways of exploring both the cities they live in and the ones they visit. So far, McLean has led small armies of urban explorers on ‘smellwalks’ around 12 other cities, including New York, Singapore, Barcelona, and Kiev.”
Brain augmentation might sound like science fiction, but the technology is already a well-established field of neuroscience. There are noninvasive forms of tech like EEG, in which sensors use electrical signals to communicate with our brains, and cochlear implants that interface with auditory neurons to restore hearing. Brain-computer interfaces already play a crucial role in treating diseases such as Parkinson’s, epilepsy and ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or motor neurone disease.
“The technologies underlying this shift will soon push us into new creative realms, amplifying the capabilities of today’s artists and elevating amateurs to the level of seasoned pros. We will search for new definitions of creativity that extend the umbrella to the output of machines. But this boom will have a dark side, too. Some AI-generated content will be used to deceive, kicking off fears of an avalanche of algorithmic fake news. Old debates about whether an image was doctored will give way to new ones about the pedigree of all kinds of content, including text. You’ll find yourself wondering, if you haven’t yet: What role did humans play, if any, in the creation of that album/TV series/clickbait article?”
What if the Enlightenment can be found in places and thinkers that we often overlook? Such questions have haunted me since I stumbled upon the work of the 17th-century Ethiopian philosopher Zera Yacob (1599-1692), also spelled Zära Yaqob.
How did AlphaZero teach itself? The rules of the games were programmed into the system. Then, AlphaZero started to play itself. The more it played itself, the better it became. Over a few hours, it learned to play the games better than the games had ever been played.
“Scientists have long accepted that our ability to abruptly stop or modify a planned behavior is controlled via a single region within the brain’s prefrontal cortex, an area involved in planning and other higher mental functions.” Now it seems that this consensus among scientists was, if not wrong, greatly oversimplified.
As the complexity and capability of these algorithms grow, their users are beginning to cede more artistic control over their outputs to machines. In doing so, they may be ceding another type of control, too: ownership over the creative product. And the consequences could transform the way mainstream art is produced, how we consume it, and how we value the artists behind it.
“Forget about today’s modest incremental advances in artificial intelligence, such as the increasing abilities of cars to drive themselves. Waiting in the wings might be a groundbreaking development: a machine that is aware of itself and its surroundings, and that could take in and process massive amounts of data in real time. It could be sent on dangerous missions, into space or combat. In addition to driving people around, it might be able to cook, clean, do laundry – and even keep humans company when other people aren’t nearby.”
“As it turns out, genes contribute to intelligence, but only broadly, and with subtle effect. Genes interact in complex relationships to create neural systems that might be impossible to reverse-engineer. In fact, computational scientists who want to understand how genes interact to create optimal networks have come up against the kind of hard limits suggested by the so-called travelling salesperson problem.”
“More than 40 percent (43 percent) of today’s Fortune 500 had a first- or second-generation immigrant among their founders, even though just 14 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born. Nearly a fifth (18.4 percent) of these companies were founded by first-generation immigrants, and another quarter (24.8 percent) were founded by their children. All told, these 216 immigrant-founded companies accounted for $5.3 trillion in global revenue in 2016 and employ more than 12 million workers worldwide. Immigrant-founded companies make up more than half of the Fortune 25 (52 percent) and Fortune 35 (57 percent).”
The search is on for a technological solution – and it’s not just peddlers of big ideas who think this will happen. As we near 2018, “let’s take a moment to consider why this whole idea is not just futurist bushwah.”
We all need a way to de-stress and unwind from, let’s say, things in the outside world that are troubling or flat-out terrifying. But don’t try to take our phones away!
Across the board, the reality began to sink in that these proprietary services hold volumes of data that no public institution can process. And that’s just the data itself.
“The practice of science cannot be long sustained without the co-operation of our wider culture (legally, economically, pedagogically). This is the theoretical half of our present crisis. As the culture becomes more doubtful of scientific legitimacy—whether through postmodern philosophy, the rise of fundamentalism and superstition, or some other means—proponents of empirical science cannot remain indifferent to these doubts if the practice is to flourish. The best of them, the ones entertained by thoughtful people, must be addressed. But how can the skeptical critiques of modern science and philosophy be met?”
“A study published in March demonstrated that natural sounds have the ability to relieve psychological and physiological stress. Using fMRI and heart-rate monitoring, researchers Gould van Praag, et al, of the University of Sussex found that listening to natural sounds improved parasympathetic activity, whereas listening to artificial sounds prompted sympathetic arousal.”
“The advantages of AI are most visible in firms’ predictions of what users want. Automated recommendations and suggestions are responsible for around three-quarters of what people watch on Netflix, for example, and more than a third of what people buy on Amazon. Facebook, which owns the popular app Instagram, uses machine learning to recognise the content of posts, photos and videos and display relevant ones to users, as well as filter out spam. In the past it ranked posts chronologically, but serving up posts and ads by relevance keeps users more engaged. Without machine learning, Facebook would never have achieved its current scale.”
The optimum complexity principle is just one of many examples that Wilson rallies in The Origins of Creativity, his latest plea for the grand unification of the sciences and the humanities. The two camps are often viewed as enemy combatants, or at least paisley and plaid—best kept apart—but Wilson is deeply impatient with academic partitioning. Artists, he argues, should have a grasp of basic neuroscience and how the brain evolved. Scientists must appreciate the humanities for infusing human life with meaning.
“Many of us are familiar with mind-wandering in a number of guises: procrastination, reflection, meditation, self-flagellation, daydreaming. But while some mental meandering seems fruitful, on other occasions it has the unmistakeable bite of a bad habit, something that holds us back from reaching our full potential. Reverie can be a reprieve from reality and a font of inspiration, yes. But equally familiar is the mind’s tendency to devolve into sour and fruitless rumination when left to its own devices, especially when we’re in the grip of depression, anxiety or obsession.”
“This conflation of the work of our bodies with the work of our lives can feel insidiously prosperity gospel–ish. The idea that better, harder, faster, and more are all concepts that are inextricably linked can certainly be motivating, but it can also be dangerous and damaging to equate them entirely. This doesn’t just happen in SoulCycle: It’s also present in CrossFit’s relentless, maximalist ethos, as well as more subtly in things like barre programs and kickboxing classes. Across platforms, a single promise resonates: Your body will get smaller, your world will get bigger, and your life will get better, but only through rigorous, sweaty work.”
We live in an age of deep complicity — and not just the political sort. The world’s most pressing problems are global — poverty, hunger, environmental decimation and warming — and implicate us all. To a greater or lesser extent, and often with the best intentions, we have done our part in contributing to the mess.
“Human beings and other animals are, like plants, living things. In all three cases, Philippa Foot urged, there is room for speaking of healthy or unhealthy, excellent or defective specimens of their kind. This means that there is room to speak of the qualities conducive to their being healthy or excellent or otherwise. The vocabulary of human virtues and vices – courage, temperance, justice and so forth – belongs among the same structure of concepts. The human virtues, she proposed, are natural excellences, while human vices are natural defects.”
Vision has a general advantage, in humans, over touch, so the virtual reality environment should be OK. And yet! “Touch is the fact-checking sense. … Touching is more psychologically reassuring than seeing. Touch does not always make us experience things better, but it certainly makes us feel better about what we experience. Even when we can see that the keys are in our bags, we are much more certain that they are once we’ve touched them.”
Though, of course, humans use organization for good and for evil: “The index card was a product of the Enlightenment, conceived by one of its towering figures: Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, physician, and the father of modern taxonomy. But like all information systems, the index card had unexpected political implications, too: It helped set the stage for categorizing people, and for the prejudice and violence that comes along with such classification.”
Why is the discussion about the First Amendment, and freedom of speech in general, so frustrating right now? “The two ancient concepts of free speech came to shape our modern liberal democratic notions in fascinating and forgotten ways. But more importantly, understanding that there is not one, but two concepts of freedom of speech, and that these are often in tension if not outright conflict, helps explain the frustrating shape of contemporary debates.”
To Philippa Foot, one of the marvelous generation of British philosophers that also included Iris Murdoch, that seemed almost clear after WWII. “What would a moral philosophy look like if it started from a darker picture of human beings as not, basically, ‘decent chaps’? Part of what animated Foot and her allies was a conviction that the answer to such a question would not be easy or self-contained, would not be the sort of logical proof one could polish off in a few weeks.”
“Arguments from economic rationality can obscure as much as they reveal. For if capitalism meant the transformation of land and lives into units of wealth-producing human capital, it also meant the transformation of sickness and death into a currency of wealth-reducing decapitalization. And this poses a question: wealth for whom?”
“Adults are generally pretty good at being able to tell when a situation is worthy of extra time or concentration. Research has found that, when potential rewards or losses are higher, for example, adults will perform better on tasks. But this doesn’t seem to be the case for adolescents.”
“Digital technologies are changing politics as we know it, but not because of some inherent or immutable characteristic that stands apart from the world in which they were created. Instead, these technologies have helped an underlying condition, namely growing discontent at marketisation – the privatising of ever more goods, services and social interactions, and the ideologies that justify that process – to find meaningful expression in the formal political arena.”
“It is a tough job to reclaim the idea of utopia for the twenty-first century and deploy it in the battle against the neoliberal agenda. But – if we were to want to do such a thing – these are books that could help us. If there is an alternative to a neoliberal future, the imaginative effort required by utopian thinking is a necessary step to achieving that alternative.”
“There is now an entire industry known as ‘menu engineering’, dedicated to designing menus that convey certain messages to customers, encouraging them to spend more and make them want to come back for a second helping.” Reporter Richard Gray ferrets out a few tricks of the trade.