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How Rembrandt is this?

Monday, 11 April, 2016 0 Comments

Combine the resources of ING Group, Microsoft, the Rembrandthuis, the Mauritshuis and the Delft University of Technology and you get, well, lots of things, but in this particular case the result is The Next Rembrandt.

“We examined the entire collection of Rembrandt’s work, studying the contents of his paintings pixel by pixel. To get this data, we analyzed a broad range of materials like high resolution 3D scans and digital files, which were upscaled by deep learning algorithms to maximize resolution and quality. This extensive database was then used as the foundation for creating The Next Rembrandt.”

Ron Augustus, Microsoft Services Directeur Nederland

Doubters will, no doubt, say that Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn could paint thousands of variations of his subjects and that the program which “painted” The Next Rembrandt is limited in its creative ability. True, but IBM’s Watson and Google’s AlphaGO were greeted with scepticism, initially. Data is not to be laughed at anymore, and it can be, in the case of The Next Rembrandt, rather beautiful.

The Next Rembrandt


Stephen Wolfram speaks about the next language

Friday, 11 March, 2016 1 Comment

“From the point of view of the thousand years ago, some of the purposes that people have today, some of the things people do today would seem utterly bizarre, like a walking on the treadmill. Imagine 1000 years ago saying somebody’s going to spend an hour walking on a treadmill. What a crazy thing to do. Why would one ever do that?”

Stephen Wolfram, scientist, inventor, author and entrepreneur talks to Edge about artificial intelligence, language, code and the future of civilization.

Quote: “When it comes to describing more sophisticated things, the kinds of things that people build big programs to do, we don’t have a good way to describe those things with human natural language. But we can build languages that do describe that.”


Oscar ex machina

Monday, 29 February, 2016 0 Comments

Congratulations to the Ex Machina team for bagging the 2016 Oscar for Best Visual Effects. A relatively low-key film about AI (Artificial Intelligence), it was overshadowed at the Academy Awards by Star Wars, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, and The Revenant, but the bigger budgets and more spectacular visuals of the more famous names came up short.

The cliché rules when it comes to AI, so we should be grateful that Alex Garland’s film is more imaginative and less lazy about the subject. In the movie, Google becomes Bluebook, a nod to Wittgenstein’s notes on language games. Bluebook was founded by a tech genius called Nathan (Oscar Isaac), who retreats from Silicon Valley to create Ava (Alicia Vikander), a consciously erotic humanoid robot. The drama begins when Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a young Bluebook programmer, arrives after having won a company lottery, and it’s his job to subject Ava to the Turing test. Thanks to the hot London visual effects company, Double Negative, Garland’s humanoids are irresistible and it’s only a matter of time before love and hate and murder are in the air. But there’s humour, too. This is one of our favourite scenes.

Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander was superb in Ex Machina and her acting was rewarded last night when she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Tom Hooper’s transgender drama The Danish Girl.


Rumsfeld develops an app at 83, posts on Medium

Tuesday, 26 January, 2016 0 Comments

Harold Wilson, a former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is supposed to have said “A week is a long time in politics.” And it’s true. Just look at those Clinton-Sanders poll predictions from Iowa. The same could be said of the internet, except the window is narrower. A day online is the digital equivalent of the political week: “24 hours is a long time on the web.” Yesterday, we were quoting Dave Winer’s blog post titled Anywhere but Medium and who is posting on Medium now? Donald Rumsfeld. “At 83, I Decided to Develop an App” writes the nemesis of Saddam. The app is called Churchill Solitaire and it has a fascinating back story that involves Hitler, a young Belgian government aide named André de Staercke and, of course, Sir Winston. Snippet:

“Churchill Solitaire is a game that is a host of contradictions — simple yet complicated; frustrating yet fun. Now it lives on for a new generation — a fitting tribute to a great man. And starting this week, it is available to the world on the AppStore and will soon be coming to other platforms.

I can’t say if this is the last app I’ll ever be involved in — after all, I’m only 83! But it is safe to say that Mark Zuckerberg has nothing to worry about.”

Whatever one thinks of Donald Rumsfeld, one should be willing to accept the wisdom of the opening statement of his Medium post: “Among the things one learns as time passes is that everyone has to age, but not everyone has to get old. One of the best ways to stay young is to keep learning.”


The debate on robots and AI illustrated

Monday, 18 January, 2016 0 Comments

There is little, journalistically or ideologically, that unites Britain’s Spectator and Germany’s Zeit, apart from the fact that both are weeklies. And yet, when it comes to their coverage of the digital economy one does detect a certain visual agreement.

The Spectator

Die Zeit


The Curse of the jOBS Film

Monday, 18 May, 2015 0 Comments

It’s been two years since the film Jobs, in which Steve Jobs was portrayed by Ashton Kutcher, hit cinema screens. It was not very well received and the unflattering reviews continue to echo: Michael O’Sullivan of The Washington Post wrote, “Although I think I could watch a whole movie called Woz and not grow tired, Jobs eventually begins to suffer from an ailment common to many biopics: milestone fatigue.”

But two years is a long time in Hollywood and the deciders there reckon that the world is ready for for another movie based on the life of Apple’s co-founder. This time round, though, there’s more film/tech cred on offer. The screenplay is by Aaron Sorkin, it’s based on the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson and the director is Danny Boyle. Should be a winner, right? Actually, the omens are everything but propitious.

Sony acquired the rights to Isaacson’s book in 2011, but according to the e-mails found among the gigabytes of data leaked by the Sony Pictures’ hackers late last year, the road has been rocky for all involved in the adaptation. First, the lead star Christian Bale backed out. Then, Sorkin wanted Tom Cruise to play the part and he protested vehemently that he didn’t even know Michael Fassbender when he was cast as Jobs instead. Original director David Fincher dropped out due to financial and creative disagreements with Sony and the deeply troubled project was sold eventually to Universal. Still, Steve Jobs might have more luck than Jobs did. As the blues singer and amateur astrologist Albert King put it: “Born under a bad sign / I been down since I begin to crawl / If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”


Love at first sight: Fiware and the grantrepreneur

Wednesday, 8 April, 2015 0 Comments

“Some recipients of the EU grants have told this website that they were more interested in the grant money than in Fiware.” That perturbing sentence appears near the end of Peter Teffer’s EUobserver article, EU spends millions to make next Facebook European. The headline has a hint of clickbait about it as the story does not live up to the billing. There is no mention of how EU millions could create a global network with 1.39 billion members and a market capitalization of $212 billion. Still, the piece makes for interesting reading as it reveals quite a bit about the bureaucracy of start-up funding.

At the heart of the matter is a project is called Fiware, which is a combination of “future internet” and “software”. Critics, writes Teffer, “say the project, which is costing EU taxpayers €300 million, is superfluous because alternatives already exist.” Teffer quotes Jesus Villasante, from the department of Net innovation in the European Commission, who appears to have a very sanguine attitude to the spending of public monies. “We don’t believe that all the 1,000 start-ups will develop applications that will be successful in the market. There may also be some SMEs that play with Fiware, develop the product, but decide: this is not for me, I prefer to use this other thing. That’s fine.”

Really? Back to Teffer: “‘There are plenty of alternatives to Fiware that are also open source,’ said one entrepreneur who wished to remain anonymous.” Wonder why?

Anyway, five years ago Pingdom looked under the hood at Facebook and found, “Not only is Facebook using (and contributing to) open source software such as Linux, Memcached, MySQL, Hadoop, and many others, it has also made much of its internally developed software available as open source. Examples of open source projects that originated from inside Facebook include HipHop, Cassandra, Thrift and Scribe. Facebook has also open-sourced Tornado, a high-performance web server framework developed by the team behind FriendFeed.”

The list has expanded significantly since then. They prefer to use the other thing.

Urban Dictionary: grantrepreneur: “People who exist on and for public subsidies, also known as corporate welfare. They’re not business people, they’re just good at getting money from government.”


Job creation in the New Economy

Thursday, 12 March, 2015 0 Comments

“WhatsApp crossed 1B Android downloads. btw our android team is four people + Brian. very small team, very big impact.” So tweets @jankoum. One billion Android downloads is an amazing achievement, but the boast of this being done with just five people is alarming as it confirms the theory expressed in The Jobless Future that the technologies which make modern abundance possible are enabling the production of much more output using far fewer people.

Jan Koum


Three billion, and counting

Monday, 3 November, 2014 0 Comments

Another day, another statistic. But a big one, nonetheless. Internet Live Stats is showing that the number of internet users has passed the the three billion milestone. In its monthly snapshot of all things connected, We Are Social goes granular on the details in this SlideShare embed.

We Are Social

Talking of SlideShare embeds, one of the most discussed in recent days was “Mobile is eating the world,” which formed the core of an updated presentation Benedict Evans gave at the WSJD conference and at the a16z Tech Summit. Each slide is a gem.


Marc Andreessen, with footnotes

Monday, 20 October, 2014 0 Comments

There’s a nice bit of footnote CSS behind this New York interview with Marc Andreessen, “The tall, bald, spring-loaded venture capitalist, who invented the first mainstream internet browser, co-founded Netscape, then made a fortune as an early investor in Twitter and Facebook…”

Mouse over “Foxconn 15” and out at the side pops “In January, Foxconn was reportedly in talks with several states about building a plant in the United States.” Behind the scenes, the magic is created by the following:

CSS NY

And the result is:

CSS

Andreessen comes across as a hard-headed libertarian, very much in synch with the Valley ethos, but critical enough and informed enough to know how the world works. Typical of the Q&A exchanges with Kevin Roose:

And yet we have more internal inequality in San Francisco than we do in Rwanda.

So then move to Rwanda and see how that works out for you. I think you just answered your own question.


The debatable future of reading, and writing

Monday, 26 May, 2014 0 Comments

What does the consumption text snippets on portable devices portend? Does scrolling represent the erosion of concentration? Is the constant clicking on links leading us into a cul de sac? Are the skimming and scanning and grazing enabled by our digital devices scrambling our heads? Maryanne Wolf of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University fears that our treasured tradition of contemplative reading is being compromised:

“The omnipresence of multiple distractions for attention — and the brain’s own natural attraction to novelty — contribute to a mindset toward reading that seeks to reduce information to its lowest conceptual denominator. Sound bites, text bites, and mind bites are a reflection of a culture that has forgotten or become too distracted by and too drawn to the next piece of new information to allow itself time to think.”

That’s from Wolf’s stimulating essay titled “Our ‘Deep Reading’ Brain: Its Digital Evolution Poses Questions — Poses-Questions.” There is a counter-argument to be made, of course, that the new devices are opening up reading for an entire public that previously had little to do with the written word. All is not lost just because form and formats are undergoing change.