Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Google Plus Connect on Flickr

Insh-AI: WOTF on Ash Wednesday

Wednesday, 14 February, 2018 0 Comments

Back in November last year, Wired ran an article titled Inside The First Church of Artificial Intelligence. The writer, Mark Harris, introduced readers to Anthony Levandowski, the “unlikely prophet” of a new religion of artificial intelligence called Way of the Future (WOTF). Levandowski’s church, we learn, will focus on “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.”

Last Sunday in the Sunday Times, Niall Ferguson, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, asked “Shall we begin to worship the machines — to propitiate them with prayers, or even sacrifices?” And, provocatively proposed: “Perhaps we shall need to devise an AI equivalent of “Inshallah” — Insh-AI, perhaps.” Ferguson’s syndicated column has the oddly banal title, The machines ate my homework, but it offers food for serious thought, especially today, Ash Wednesday. Ashes to ashes AI, he says, is all about “getting computers to think like a species that had evolved brains much bigger than humans — in other words, not like humans at all.” One consequence of this might be to “return humanity to the old world of mystery and magic. As machine learning steadily replaces human judgment, we shall find ourselves as baffled by events as our pre-modern forefathers were.”

What will become of us then? Will we, in despair, in hope, follow WOFT? Ferguson quotes the German sociologist Max Weber who argued that modernity replaced mystery with rationalism and as a result people “said goodbye to magic and entered an ‘iron cage’ of rationality and bureaucracy.” If AI leads to a re-mystification of the world and a revival of magical thinking, Ferguson knows what he’s going to do: “I’m staying put in Weber’s iron cage,” he says.

But you can’t put ashes on an AI and not everyone aspires to being caged.


A day for shriving, for making shrift

Tuesday, 13 February, 2018 0 Comments

It’s Shrove Tuesday. It’s the day when many people get ready to sacrifice something they enjoy for the next 40 days and nights so that their lives will be filled, perhaps, with something different. The extravagant Mardi Gras feasting of today will be replaced tomorrow by Ash Wednesday’s cold embers, a reminder that so much of what we treasure is momentary, that the things we want to keep forever cannot be kept forever. T. S. Eliot addressed this, and much more, in his poem The Four Quartets, specifically in the fourth section, “Little Gidding“, from which this passage is taken:

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.


Jóhann Jóhannsson RIP

Monday, 12 February, 2018 0 Comments

The Icelandic musician and producer Jóhann Jóhannsson was found dead in Berlin on Friday. He was 49. Jóhann Jóhannsson blended music (electronic with classical) memorably and he was nominated for an Oscar for his soundtrack to Denis Villeneuve’s 2015 film, Sicario. He also worked with Villeneuve on the science fiction film Arrival.

If you’re looking for an introduction to the music of Jóhann Jóhannsson, try Orphée, which is based on Ovid’s interpretation of the Orpheus myth. The grandeur of the opening track, “Flight from the City”, hinted at post-classical greatness to come. Alas, it was not to be. RIP.


Execrable Valentine from CNN to Kim Yo-Jong

Sunday, 11 February, 2018 1 Comment

The decline of the press is summed up in one repulsive CNN tweet about Kim Yo-Jong, the sister of the tyrannical, murderous North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. The writers of the CNN puff piece should have asked her if she’s now over her dictator brother’s murder of her other brother, but they didn’t.

CNN depravity

Human Rights Watch: “North Korea remains one of the most repressive authoritarian states in the world, ruled for seven decades by the Kim family and the Worker’s Party of Korea. During his fifth year in power, Kim Jong-Un continued to generate fearful obedience by using public executions, arbitrary detention, and forced labor; tightening travel restrictions to prevent North Koreans from escaping and seeking refuge overseas; and systematically persecuting those with religious contacts inside and outside the country.”


The Eyes of the City

Saturday, 10 February, 2018 0 Comments

Writing for LensCulture about Richard Sandler’s book The Eyes of the City, Serge J-F. Levy says: “The images, made in New York City and Boston, are an emphatic reminder of the sharp edges of humanity lurking around every corner. Richard’s book is a journey that winds through 24 years of circumambulating airports, ferries, night clubs, up Fifth Avenue, down Madison Avenue, into the subways, inside and outside of political conventions and deep into the fraught core of civilization.”

The Eyes of the City


All the Pretty Horses

Friday, 9 February, 2018 0 Comments

“That night he dreamt of horses in a field on a high plain where the spring rains had brought up the grass and the wildflowers out of the ground and the flowers ran all blue and yellow far as the eye could see and in the dream he was among the horses running and in the dream he himself could run with the horses and they coursed the young mares and fillies over the plain where their rich bay and their rich chestnut colors shone in the sun and the young colts ran with their dams and trampled down the flowers in a haze of pollen that hung in the sun like powdered gold and they ran he and the horses out along the high mesas where the ground resounded under their running hooves and they flowed and changed and ran and their manes and tails blew off of them like spume and there was nothing else at all in that high world and they moved all of them in a resonance that was like a music among them and they were none of them afraid neither horse nor colt nor mare and they ran in that resonance which is the world itself and which cannot be spoken but only praised.” — Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

Limerick horses


Let A Smile Be Your Umbrella today

Thursday, 8 February, 2018 0 Comments

“Whenever skies are gray,
Don’t worry or fret,
A smile will bring the sunshine,
And you’ll never get wet!
So, let a smile be your umbrella,
On a rainy, rainy day”

So sang Betty Clooney, the second half of the sister act that was dominated by the famous Rosemary. On 5 August 1976, Betty Clooney, the aunt of the glamorous George, died in Las Vegas from a brain aneurysm, and after her death her family established a foundation for victims of brain injury. It operates the Betty Clooney Center for Persons with Traumatic Brain Injury near Los Angeles.

In memory of Betty Clooney, then, Rainy Day says: “Let a smile be your umbrella / On a rainy, rainy day.”


We’re on the road to Mars!

Wednesday, 7 February, 2018 0 Comments

We will look back and marvel at what Elon Musk did yesterday. In short, his SpaceX company successfully launched the most powerful rocket in the world into space. And this was done by a private business at a fraction of a cost of other systems currently being built. SpaceX claims that Falcon Heavy launches will cost about $90 million per flight, while NASA, which is working on its own heavy launch system, called the SLS, estimates it could cost about a billion dollars per flight. But the icing on the cake is that the notion of re-landing reusable rockets, which seemed like science fiction a decade ago, is now reality. SpaceX regularly lands rockets back on land or on a drone ship in the Atlantic. Yesterday, it landed two Falcon 9 rockets simultaneously, each dropping elegantly from the sky with a majestic controlled burn.

Elon Musk is making the future great again. We’re on the way to Mars!


Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the “No Platform” thugs

Tuesday, 6 February, 2018 0 Comments

“I am among those who have been ‘de-platformed’ for speaking critically about the political and ideological aspects of Islam that are not compatible with American values and human rights. The usual justification for disinviting us is that speaking critically of Islam is ‘hate speech’ that is ‘hurtful’ to Muslims.”

So writes Ayaan Hirsi Ali in “The ‘No Platform’ Brigade,” which is published in the Hoover Institution Journal. “The practice of de-platforming must end not just for the sake of politeness but for critical thinking,” she notes, and adds: “Free thought, free speech, and a free press were at the core of Western Civilization’s success.”

Despite the increasing intolerance of the Left and its fundamentalist Islamist allies, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not for turning: “However uncomfortable free speech about Islam may be for some people, enforcing silence on the subject will do nothing to help those who are genuinely oppressed — above all the growing number of Muslim dissidents around the world whose courageous questioning of their own faith risks death at the hands of the very Islamists whose feelings progressives are so desperate not to hurt.”

Background: Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu in 1969 and she was subjected to female genital mutilation as a child. Ayaan Hirsi Ali Initially, she was a devout Muslim, but she began to question her faith and, as she tells it, one day, while listening to a sermon on the many ways women should be obedient to their husbands, she asked, “Must our husbands obey us too?” In 1992, she fled to the Netherlands to escape a forced marriage was given asylum and, later citizenship. From 2003 to 2006, she served as an elected member of the Dutch parliament and her name gained international attention in 2004 following the murder of Theo van Gogh by Mohammed Bouyeri. Van Gogh had directed her short film Submission, about the oppression of women under Islam. The assassin left a death threat for her pinned to Van Gogh’s chest and, increasingly disillusioned with the Netherlands, she moved to the United States. She lives now with round-the-clock security because her determination to speak out against fundamentalism has made her a target for Islamic extremists.


Goat simulator acquired by Coffee Stain

Monday, 5 February, 2018 0 Comments

Yes. That’s a real English-language headline: “Goat simulator acquired by Coffee Stain”. A decade ago, it wouldn’t have been possible to write it and even today 99 percent of those who understand its six English words have no idea of what it all means. So what’s it about, then? Here goes:

“Goat Simulator is an open-ended third-person perspective game in which the player controls a goat. The player is free to explore the game’s world, a suburban setting, as a goat, and jump, run, bash things, and lick objects. Licking objects attaches the goat’s tongue to the object and lets the player drag the object around until they let go. At any time, the player can let the goat drop into a ragdoll model, allowing the game’s physics to take over.”

This is 2018, after all.

Anyway, up Scandinavia way last week up, Swedish game maker Coffee Stain Studios, based in Skövde, acquired a majority stake in the Stockholm-based Gone North Games, the makers of such hit mobile games as Goat Z and Goat Simulator: Waste of Space.

This is 2018, after all. And Goat Z is a goat simulator, not a goat stimulator, by the way.


A. A. Gill and the je ne sais quoi in France

Sunday, 4 February, 2018 0 Comments

Background: A. A. Gill was an English journalist who died of cancer in London in December 2016, at the age of 62. Adrian Anthony Gill was also an alcoholic who stopped drinking at 29 and followed the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “12-step plan” to recovery. In tribute to the fellowship, he began using the name ‘A. A.’ Gill professionally. His finest writing is collected in The Best of A. A. Gill and it covers his observations on food, television and travel. In “Markets,” published in July 2007, he pontificated on the phrase the French have created to “encompass it all”: je ne sais quoi. Snippet:

“My weakness, my pleasure, is markets… The Mercato in Addis Ababa, biggest market in Africa: dangersous red-eyed tribesmen, maddened and delusional on khat, unloading bushels of the stuff flown in daily from the ancient cities on the Somali border. The stalls selling coffee and the winding lanes of incense dealers, the gifts of the Magi, smelling of martyrdom and plainsong.

Tsukiji, the Tokyo fish market: miles of frozen tuna, lying like a thousand unexploded bombs steaming in the dawn as the auctioneers paint red characters on them, buyers cutting tiny nuggets of flesh from their tails to knead for water content.

Crawford Market in Bombay, the book market in Calcutta, the bird market in Denpasar, the karaoke market in Tashkent…”

However, when it comes to the market’s market, the perfect market, Gills puts his money on “the weekly markets of southern France.” And what makes them so superior? It’s the je ne sais quoi:

Je ne sais quoi is France’s abiding gift to the world. More je ne sais quoi for your euro is to be found in a French market than anywhere else. We wander down the aisles of trestles and stalls aghast at the marvellous repose of produce. There are peaches warm from the tree, ripe and golden. Figs, green and black, bursting with sweet, ancient, darkly lascivious simile. The smell of fresh lemon, the bunches of thyme and lavender and verbena, the selections of oil and olives, pale green and pungent, and the they honey, from orange blossom, from heath and orchard, and the beeswax. The charcuterie, the dozens of ancient and dextrous things to do with a dead pig, in all the hues of pink, and pale, fatty cream.”

Never was A.A. Gill happier than when in France, the land of Armagnac, Calvados and a thousand cheeses, wandering its markets, savouring the je ne sais quoi.

Apples