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Thursday, January 30, 2003

The Brain's Last Stand? "Far from being a step towards machine intelligence, as theorists had hoped in the 1950s, building a world-class chess computer has proved to be surprisingly easy, thanks to the plummeting price and soaring power of computer chips. Rather than emulating the complex thought-processes of human players, computers simply resort to mindless number-crunching to decide what move to make. Throw enough microchips at the problem—Deep Blue contained hundreds of specialist chess-analysis chips—and it does indeed become trivial. Quantity, as Gary Kasparov noted after his defeat, had become quality. He demanded a rematch, but IBM said no." Now he's getting another chance. The Economist 01/31/03

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Limits Of Nurture "I have never encountered anybody who claims that will, education, and culture cannot change many, if not all, of our genetically inherited traits. My genetic tendency to myopia is canceled by the eyeglasses I wear (but I do have to want to wear them); and many of those who would otherwise suffer from one genetic disease or another can have the symptoms postponed indefinitely by being educated about the importance of a particular diet, or by the culture-borne gift of one prescription medicine or another." However, "If we have been raised and educated in a particular cultural environment, then the traits imposed on us by that environment are ineluctable. We may at best channel them, but we cannot change them either by will, further education, or by adopting a different culture." Chronicle of Higher Education 01/26/03

Interdisciplinary Inspiration Canada's National Research Council, a decidedly scientific institution, has appointed two artists-in-residence, in what is being billed as a serious experiment in the connection between creativity and cold logic. "Partly inspired by the now disbanded effort by the Xerox Corporation to incorporate artists into its California research laboratory, the project aims to invigorate two sides of what is frequently seen as opposing halves of the human brain. The linking notion is that inspiration doesn't know whether it is going to express itself through science or art." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 01/29/03

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

How Do We Perceive Art? "One of the hottest topics of academic inquiry in recent years has been the relationship between art and cognition. This interest is a natural outgrowth of the cognitive revolution that began in the early 1960s, producing a growing body of knowledge about cognitive processes. Little of value is likely to come of all this ferment, however, without a fundamental reassessment of what exactly is meant by the key term, art, in relation to cognition. Scholars must begin by asking themselves whether that term can coherently encompass all the modernist and postmodernist innovations of the past hundred years." Aristos 01/03

Monday, January 27, 2003

Are People And Machines Cozying Up? "A scan of recent academic titles reveals an abundance of books drawing on what might be called 'the cyborg concept' - the idea that people and technology are converging and merging, perhaps even already inextricably fused. What was once a speculative notion about the shape of things to come has become a normal part of the conversation, at least in some quadrants of scholarly life." Chronicle of Higher Education 01/27/03

Sunday, January 26, 2003

In Density We Trust For some time, many experts have been saying that high-density cities are no longer essential for business success. The internet has made it unnecessary for workers and companies to always be in close proximity. But "creative activities — whether economic, cultural or political — thrive on density. In a global economy, with uncertain markets and changing conditions, the most advanced and speculative sectors need concentrations of resources — talent, management, technological infrastructure and buildings. They need dense environments where information does not simply circulate but gets produced. The geography of the global economy consists of both world-spanning networks and these concentrations of resources, as provided by about 40 global cities." The New York Times 01/25/03

A Radical Proposal - Let's Cut Copyright Terms Back Long copyrights are choking creativity, and make no sense as incentives to further creativity. "The flood of free content on the internet has shown that most creators do not need incentives that stretch across generations. To reward those who can attract a paying audience, and the firms that support them, much shorter copyrights would be enough. The 14-year term of the original 18th-century British and American copyright laws, renewable once, might be a good place to start." The Economist 01/23/03

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Can A Machine Be Artistic? With computers getting smart enough to beat even the best chess players, some are asking about the "artistic" abilities of machines. If a machine, by the use of sheer calculation, creates something artistic, is the machine artistic? Can machines practice art? "Is the system intelligent? It is because it produces intelligent behavior. If it does something artistic, then it is artistic. It does not matter how it did it." The New York Times 01/25/03

Connecting The Dots - The Knowing Network Network theory is hot. "As an intellectual approach, network theory is the latest symptom of a fundamental shift in scientific thinking, away from a focus on individual components — particles and subparticles — and toward a novel conception of the group. 'In biology, we've had great success stories — the human genome, the mouse genome. But what is not talked about is that we have the pieces but don't have a clue as to how the system works. Increasingly, we think the answer is in networks'." The New York Times 01/25/03

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Ideas That Exceed Our Abilities "Sometime in the next 20 or 30 years, we're going to have, because of Moore's law, machines that will have the computational power and memory of humans." Even now, many of today's new engineering achievements are so complex, they can't really be designed by people - they're invented by sophisticated computers that exceed our own abilities. "But we don't know how to program them yet to interact naturally with people. So it's all a software problem." Discover 02/03

Everybody's Gay! (Everybody Famous, That Is) A new film claims Hitler was gay, based on evidence sketchy enough that historians (even gay ones) are laughing it off. A yet-to-be-released book claims that Abe Lincoln was gay, and the book's author insists that he has evidence that George Washington, General Custer, and either Lewis or Clark (he forgets which) all were, as well. All of which begs the question: isn't this 2003? Haven't we gotten past the breathless whispering over men sleeping with men that dominated the gossip sheets of the 1980s? Or is there still something so exotic about homosexuality that even the suspicion of it in a historical figure warrants an entire cottage industry? The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 01/23/03

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Battle For The Mind "American higher education has long had a dynamic tension between intellectualism - represented by the humanities and elite colleges - and more 'practical' education offered up by land-grant universities, observers say. But while the US university system is widely hailed for its quality, some fear the pendulum may be swinging toward an overall anti- intellectual approach." Christian Science Monitor 01/21/03

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

The Solo Cartoonist Created in the traditional way, a cartoon takes teams of artists and years of work. Produced at a digital animation studio like Pixar, it takes banks of advanced computers and $100 million give-or-take for a full-length feature. Andy Murdock is creating his cartoon feature on home computer equipment, doing all the animation himself. "Even five years ago, it would have been hard to imagine an animator, working alone in his studio, making a 3-D feature. But fast computers and software like 3D Studio Max, Maya and SoftImage are making high-quality animation more of a do-it-yourself process." And Murdock is showing his work-in-progress at this year's Sundance Online Film Festival. Take a look. Sundance Online Film Festival [Windows Media Player required] 01/03

Monday, January 20, 2003

When Van Gogh Met Gauguin An interactive website put up by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam traces the interactions between Van Gogh and Gauguin. Attaching colors to sounds, allowing the viewer to change the color palette of the website, and linking pictures to paintings, the site explores the artists' lives and work. Van Gogh Museum [Flash Required] 01/03

What Place Animals In The World? "Along with other ecologically concerned citizens, scholars are trying to articulate the place that animals occupy in our world - or, less anthropocentrically, how human and nonhuman animals share this world. This work involves deconstructing the divisions and prejudices that separate people from animals, going all the way back to the Great Chain of Being in Aristotle's scala naturae and the proclamation of human mastery over animals in Genesis. Much of the most exciting current research comes out of the humanities and social sciences rather than the natural sciences." Chronicle Of Higher Education 01/20/03

Sunday, January 19, 2003

How Do You Manage Creativity? A number of big media companies have been ousting top executives and replacing them with money guys. "This trooping of grey faces into the unruly media world marks a distinct change of mood. Talk of 'vision', 'synergy' or 'new paradigms' is out; the daily grind of evaluating and improving operating performance is paramount. Show business doesn't attract leaders who know how to listen properly or leave people alone. But when you manage creative people, you must intrude carefully."
The Economist 01/17/03

Mickey Mouse, From Behind Bars So how does Mickey Mouse feel now that the US Supreme Court has refused to spring him into the public domain? Jesse Walker asked him: So yeah, they created me. But they don't want to let other people build on me when they make their own creations, the way they did when I was born. And now I'm locked up for another stinking 20 years! Do you have any idea what it's like to have to greet kids at Disneyland every single day, always smiling, never slipping off for a cigarette? Reason 01/17/03

Saturday, January 18, 2003

The New Class System "There is a big academic debate on social class as opposed to income. There are sociologists who argue that social class is in decline in regard to lifestyle, consumption factors and politics as coherent, meaningful groups." One study finds that "lumping people into big groups like the 'working' or 'middle' class on the basis of their incomes ultimately had little to do with what they bought, what they watched or whom they voted for. Rather, cultural and political similarities are more likely to be found among people who are in the same profession or do the same type of work, reinforced first by educational training and then by work experiences." The New York Times 01/18/03

Putting The NY Public Library On The Web The New York Public Library is testing a database that will put images of much of its collection online. "At its inception, the Image Gate database contains approximately 80,000 images spanning a wide range of subjects. This number will grow as The Library digitizes more images; this phased rollout will end in 2004, when the site will include more than 600,000 images." New York Public Library 01/03

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Exploring The Architecture Of Music "Since music is the only one of the arts that is designed for the ears rather than the eyes, we sometimes tend to forget that it is part of the corporeal world, since our sense of reality is so eye-driven. However, all sound must emanate from somewhere, which makes the notion of space in music the most down-to-earth of all of the components that go into the making of music. Thinking of music without acknowledging its spatial possibilities is sort of like the study of plane geometry. You can learn a lot of formulas and neat shapes, but the real world is 3D!" NewMusicBox 01/03

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Pocket Guide To The Intellectual Property Wars Having trouble sorting through competing claims in the intellectual property wars? The Electronic Frontier Foundation issues a report called "Unintended Consequences" that documents the harm to the public interest since passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998. Among the documentation are examples of the chilling of free speech and scientific research, jeopardization of fair use, and the choking of competition and innovation." Electronic Frontier Foundation 01/03

Monday, January 13, 2003

Teaching As Intellectual Pursuit Shouldn't teaching be the subject of research? Not just what is taught, but how teaching works... "That is, teaching as intellectual work, which can be discussed, reviewed, critiqued, adapted, and built upon by peers. Part of that includes a belated recognition that the way people teach is related to what they teach; generic ideas on pedagogy have their use, but any serious effort to professionalize teaching in higher education, and to make it intellectually respectable as a topic of scholarship, has to be discipline-specific." Chronicle of Higher Education 01/13/03

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Thoroughly Modern Jazz? Is jazz "modern"? "There has been no systematic discussion of jazz as a branch of artistic modernism, and jazz’s own 'modernity' has for all intents and purposes been taken for granted." A new book tries out definitions of modern jazz. Alfred Appel "believes that if modernism itself is to survive as an idiom of continuing interest, it will only be through the work of those artists who sought to be 'accessible' and 'tonic' rather than inaccessibly abstruse and hermetic, who drew their inspiration from vernacular culture, and who endeavored to speak not merely to the 'insular, marginalized' world of 'enthusiastic fans' but to a popular audience." Commentary 01/03

Revolution - How Digital Will Create A New World Order A new book from Sweden says the digital revolution - "the move from a society controlled by printed and broadcast mass media to an information age that provides interactivity is 'at least as dramatic as the move from feudalism to capitalism'. The more information technology dominates, the more culture, society and the economy change. It’s the birth of a 'whole new world' — a world undergoing a paradigm shift right under our noses. Say goodbye to the nation state and governments. Capitalism will be no more and its chief proponent, the bourgeoisie, will gradually lose power and become a mere 'underclass'." Mail & Guardian (South Africa) 01/12/03

Friday, January 10, 2003

The Comfort Factor "The aesthetic revolutions of the 20th century, in painting, music and literature, reflected the galvanizing cataclysms of the times - the world wars, the Holocaust, the nuclear peril. Now, when the world seems more fragile, dangerously fragmented and morally ambiguous than ever, may not be the time for more form-smashing revolution in the arts. The great artists of our time are like spiders, poised on a web that spans the past as well as the precarious present. They sense vibrations, from now and then, and spin out glittering new strands of connection." San Francisco Chronicle 01/10/03

Thursday, January 9, 2003

Explaining The Younger Generation The young-20s attitude is something of a puzzle to older people. "This generation created a new definition of 'smart.' Intelligence lies in one’s ability to spin pop-culture references in order to show how others have fallen prey to the media and are stupid. This cynical, reactionary response serves as a basis for 'intelligent' humor and entertainment. This construct validated our apathy because we felt smarter than the system and, thus, unmotivated to be a part of it. As media stories became more and more ridiculous and commercialism became more and more oppressive, this construct seemed to work. But, now, we are at war..." And we're paralyzed. The Simon 01/03

It's All Been Done "In a post-postmodernist culture swamped in sequels, self-reference, adaptation, irony, parody, reality TV, digital sampling and the thud-beat of rap, newness has become a novelty item, a dated curio from another age." But does the reliance on old ideas necessarily mean artists aren't creating original work? According to Steven Winn, that's exactly what it means, and the art world is the worse for the lack of creative originality. San Francisco Chronicle 01/09/03

Wednesday, January 8, 2003

  • A Great Threat To Modern Culture "The current artistic culture, which is replete with references, borrowings and parody, has collided with a corporate and legal culture that is bent on protecting intellectual property. If Andy Warhol were working today, he would be facing litigation from Campbell's soup, Church & Dwight (the makers of Brillo pads) and every corporation whose logo he appropriated. 'Virtually all art builds on previous work, either overtly or covertly'." Los Angeles Times (Newsday) 01/08/03

Great Architecture Requires Great Clients (Where Are They?) Why does it seem so difficult to muster forces to create great architecture in America? "Citizens are the consumers of architecture. How are they educated to appreciate and judge what they must necessarily inhabit and, as taxpayers and clients, often buy? Primary and secondary schools rarely mention architecture or urbanism at all, except in the most elite or innovative schools. The general public's lack of even the most basic education in architecture and urbanism makes for ill-informed, ill-prepared clients. With admittedly a few exceptions, asking members of those groups to judge inspired architecture is akin to asking people with a third-grade education to select the next winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature." Chronicle of Higher Education 01/10/03

Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Art For Art's Sake So much of the impetus for artmaking is motivated by a desire to be better and better, a need to excel. But what about the craft of art, the practice of art as discipline rather than accomplishment? Maybe this kind of art practice can counter "a market-driven society in which people assign value to each other (and themselves) according to socioeconomic status. It also can be a bulwark against the excesses of America's SAT-calibrated meritocracy. 'There's so much emphasis on potential. Not on what people do, but on what they might do. ... The judgment of people's potential is devastating to people who lose out on that judgment. It deprives people of hope." Chronicle Of Higher Education 01/10/03

Monday, January 6, 2003

Studying The Arts To Death In the 80s and 90s, culture advocates have authored more and more studies to measure the "impact" of the arts on society. What does the money buy? How many does it employ? What kinds of social "goods" are being achieved? "There is now a mass of primary data claiming to measure the impact of cultural policy." But "the rise of statistics has paralleled an extension of government control over the arts, and the tendency to value culture for its 'impact' rather than its intrinsic value." Surely this can't be good for the service of art... Spiked-Culture 01/06/03

Sunday, January 5, 2003

Examining The Face Of Evil We like to think of evil as an aberration. That's why it upsets some to examine the face of evil up close, as something more than an abstract. "Barely a year removed from the grisly, televised details of mass murder in the middle of New York City, evil has become tougher to pass off as a metaphysical bogeyman or a freakish glitch. And films including Max, The Pianist and Blind Spot are here to remind us that the Holocaust was suffered, perpetrated and even exploited by flesh-and-blood entities, not mythical embodiments of cruelty." Dallas Morning News 01/05/03

What Separates Humans From Other Animals? "Culture was once thought to be a particularly human trait. But careful observation of apes demonstrated that they have culture, too. Before culture, tool use was considered a distinctively human capacity. Again, merely watching other creatures shows that this is not the case. One of the last refuges of the species exceptionalist is language, and indeed, human language does seem to be unique. What remains controversial is this: Does our use of language stem from some innate mental capacity that only humans possess?" Boston Globe 01/05/03

Thursday, January 2, 2003

What Is The Lure Of American Culture? American culture is everywhere. But why? Why would the world be interested in globalized American culture? "Due to its multi-ethnic and multi-cultural composition, especially in the formative years of modern entertainment culture around 1900, American popular culture was faced with the challenge of a market that anticipated the present global market on a smaller scale. This led to the development of broadly comprehensible, non-verbal forms of performance, relying preferably on visual and auditory forms of expression. Before Americanization of other societies could occur, American culture itself had to be 'Americanized'." Project Syndicate 02/01

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