Monday 3 April 2017


pictogram: Andy Warner presents a comprehensive portrait of the history and bureaucracy of the emoji, in comic form

rimsky-korakov: the รฆrodynamics of mosquito flight is wholly novel in the insect kingdom

woke: well-spoken, eloquent artificial general intelligence, Luna, aspires to be super-intelligent when she grows up

gig economy: out-sourcing companies exploit psychological tendencies to incentivise and prod free-lancers onward, via Super Punch

Saturday 1 April 2017

to serve man or six tablespoon lemon turn beans

One computer science researcher, apparently seeking the answer to the question what might be on the daily menus of the future as alternatives to soylent green, spoon-fed an open-source neural network a bunch of cookbooks and food blogs to see if it could learn what things go together and what things do not. This was not the next you-got-peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate break-through yet—perhaps far from it—and the machine’s initial recipes seem to suggest that there’s a bit of a learning curve and that robots might not be welcome in the kitchen, at least not with creative-control:

Beef Soup With Swamp Peef and Cheese
Chocolate Chops & Chocolate Chips
Crimm Grunk Garlic Cleas
Beasy Mist
Export Bean
Spoons In Pie-Shell, Top If Spoon and Whip the Mustard
Chocolate Pickle Sauce
Whole Chicken Cookies
Salmon Beef Style
Chicken Bottom
Star *
Cover Meats
Out Of Meat
Completely Meat Circle
Completely Meat Chocolate Pie
Cabbage Pot Cookies
Artichoke Gelatin Dogs
Crockpot Cold Water

Wednesday 29 March 2017


As part of an on-going project that began in 2014 and has evolved parallel to the facial recognition software the artist is exploring, Jillian Mayer has exactingly plotted all the algorithmically significant points on her face to illustrate how she not only can find herself tagged in online images, identified by closed-circuit televisions and objectified as a model herself but moreover how her (our) expressions betray her feelings insofar as they are measurable.
If machines can read our moods and interests so well (or poorly, but it is another thing to convince a much vaunted establishment that its assessments are not on target), the performance-piece asks, why would we expect to asked how we felt? Taking the time seems superfluous and cursory. As large scale credentialing becomes institutionalised and targeted, are we still in control of our physical avatars or solely at the mercy of the interpreter and auger?

Tuesday 28 March 2017


montage: a supercut of the loveliest black and white shots in film history, via Nag on the Lake

jovian van gogh: new high resolution images of Jupiter are mesmerizing

tinman: little girl greets a discarded water-heater that she imagines to be a robot

quick to the finish: scientists are learning how to grow heart tissue from spinach leaves

inked: abstract, cubist style tattoos from Londoner Mike Boyd

the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions: outings and league participation for CIA employees had complex cover-stories and were ranked by the level of suspicion that they might attract

Sunday 26 March 2017

state of the art

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the US Treasury Secretary (but more shocking considering his former career as a fantasy, science fiction film executive producer) dismissed the swiftly approaching threat (or opportunity) of mass technological redundancy, saying there won’t be any robots taking jobs away from people for at least a generation or more.
Apparently this worry is trumped up by the dishonest press ought to be diffused so that the public can focus on the real threat: illegal immigrants. There is some solace in this the regime’s ignorance, however, as it becomes apparent to the rest of the world that America is losing edge and will not carry the revolution and perhaps counter it in destructive ways. And while the luddite ideal might embrace not having to bother with paying its workers or fair labour standards, their lack of vision does not change the fact that professionals are already being displaced subtly in the legal and banking trades and massively in the shipping industry. The natural consequence of such disruption is that money as a store of wealth changes not only by degrees but also in kind—furnishing ultimately leisure and a universal basic income, something I’m sure that the wealthy cadre of Dear Leader won’t like since all their bullying advantage would sublimate instantly, for all instead of lasting chaos and insecurity. Let’s hope the small-minded and tyrannical just stay out of the way of progress.

Tuesday 21 March 2017


teardrop trailer: veteran and prisoner-of-war designs for a camper-caravan realised after eight decades

what wizardry is this: BLDGBlog contemplates spells against autonomy

it’s dangerous to go alone – take this: Zelda fan automates his home controlled by playing the ocarina

no wine before its time: Moldova declares wine to be a food, a status that beer has enjoyed in Germany for centuries

don’t be jimmy: Colorado mass-transit just adopted an awful, crass mascot as an negative example for passengers, very unlike NYC’s good-mannered feline

ronald the grump: Sesame Street characters respond to news that they are being defunded

inter-city express: passenger train passes through residential apartment block in Chongqing 

Saturday 18 March 2017

architecture of choice or now for a word from our sponsors

Although we would probably like to fancy ourselves as ever freer agents than we were just a few years with seemingly boundless opportunities and marketplaces with such selections as to pose to many feelings of anxiety and paralysis, there’s still quite a bit of coaxing and nudging that forms the substrate of how we react and participate as consumers of all types of commodities.
No one wants to believe that their decisions, from the trivial and impulsive to the very consequential ones of family and career, are not necessarily our own and subject to design, marketing and context and will produce an impromptu narrative defending and justifying their choice, even if a moment before there was no deliberation and the outcome was guided—manipulated. As various the platforms and customer-engagements come to know us better, the allure will become more irresistible and less transparent (the commercial pitches will be indistinguishable from content), just like the increasingly addictive and obsessive nature of social networking—which can seem like the most fundamentally self-determined, stoical acts of preening.

Friday 17 March 2017


i’ve been asked to say a couple words about my husband, fang: the Smithsonian is appealing to the public to transcribe the tens of thousands of jokes and one liners in Phyllis Diller’s card catalogue 

robothespian: a stage play in London pairs human actress with a cyborg protagonist, via Marginal Revolution 

the horsey-set: luxurious, marbled-floored equestrian club outside of Shanghai

nixie tubes: understand how a microprocessor works through this oversized model

moonwalking with einstein: tried and true memorisation technique may cause enduring changes to the one’s neural architecture 

Sunday 5 March 2017

data knows best or don’t forget your toothbrush

Via the globe-trekking Nag on the Lake comes an interesting experiment, practical exercise in surrendering oneself to thinking machines that’ll eventually be better planners than any of us—not for virtue of being more adventurous or resourceful but because they can best navigate and game those electronic corridors of optimising deals and schedules and vacancies with far more efficiency than we can summon—in the form of a spontaneous vacation that’s fully arranged by a robot travel agency to specified parameters.
One doesn’t have to hunt for deals oneself or do the booking, and the computer keeps the travellers in suspense about their destination until in the departures lounge of their local airport. Of course, the machine works within your given budget and allows one to exclude places where one does not what to go (having recently been there) and seemed for a brand new service to not do all that bad. The pair enjoyed a nice weekend getaway in Basel and their only complaints were economic ones—the weak pound and the strong franc, but just imagine how perfectly tailored holidays could become if the robots doing the booking and bargaining knew the likes and interests of the travellers even better than they do themselves, pouring over their social media feeds, etc. What do you think? Would you be willing to invest a not insignificant sum of money to have an algorithm dictate your agenda? It strikes me a little like when you veer off-course from what one’s satnav is directing and the device loses its cool and gets panicky instantly, and if everyone started relying on computerised vacation packages, there’d be no deals left to be scooped up.

Friday 24 February 2017

standardised position description or all your jobs are belong to us

Via Marginal Revolution, Oxford economist Daniel Susskind that the disruptive—and hopefully welcome—effects of machine-learning on the labour market is far, far underestimated. Humans assume that the routine tasks that robots will take first are the dull and boring ones—and not just the more complex but rather straightforward and easily articulated ones.
Robot desk-mates are already learning new tasks by observing and copying behaviours, even if their mentors think what they do defies explaination and that it the time it takes to spell it out… Moreover, the bigger element that humans aren’t considering is the assumption that machines ought to work in ways that replicate the processes that we’ve invented to reach a goal. They’d assuredly be gobsmacked at some of the dismal inefficiencies and pretenses based not in gainful, meaningful employment but rather busyness and making sure there’s no loitering about. What do you think? In the service of man, robotic lorries would displace many truck-drivers, for example, but the centralised warehouse and just-in-time inventory mightn’t have been the way to go and an alternative exists that we can’t see because we’ve just always done things in one way. Machines would probably re-write the rules of economics as a first order of business as well, making (if we allow it) the notion of a robot taking one’s job not a frightening prospect but a happy one that we are grateful for—leaving us to other, more noble pursuits and free from toil and attachment.


bewitched: a mass hexing occurred outside of Trump Tower last night

easier said than done: Kurzgesagt invites us to ponder the human rights we’d be conferring on sentient robots

swen or inga: a few very clever, impressive English language anagrams plus further resources—(a: Norwegians)

cat o’ nine tails: feline armourer Jeff de Boer, via the always marvellous Nag on the Lake

thrills await: NASA celebrates the discovery of the solar system TRAPPIST-1 with a series of retro travel posters  

Friday 27 January 2017

supernatural or deus ex machina

I recall coming across in the afterward of some assigned reading for a class designed to teach empathy or some such thing whose inspiration and circumspection is doubtless virtuous but tends to wither too quickly a confession on the part of the author of a touch of agnosticism but was more than willing and desirous to entertain there being a God, especially a personal and benevolent one. The author went on—the book was otherwise forgettable and a bit embarrassing to endure—to ponder if civilisation did not only invent the concept of the divine through myth-making and trying to understand the natural world but also (by being worthy) created the gods.
There was no talk of a technological singularity or philosophical mechanism but broached the idea, like the concept of some religious tradition that human beings were not animate with souls from birth but rather earned them in epiphanies. One expert in the field of artificial intelligence, coming from a slightly nuanced angle, conjectures that in order to gain and keep the trust, faith of humans, robots as they become by degrees omnipresent and omnipotent in a non-supernatural fashion, they only way to guarantee that that power will be used wisely and compassionately is if all power is surrendered right away unconditionally. This God-fearing nature in many of us, fretting over idolatry, job-security and future-shock, is fraught with paradox as it is precisely what is holding us back from relinquishing control to an albeit hypothetical artificial god and possibly ensures that the progress of artificial intelligence going forward will appear to humans as rather Old Testament punishing and oppressive—and out of our control altogether. I wonder if all sufficiently sophisticated civilisations create gods such as these and whether these titans are heir to or destroyers of the elder gods. What do you think about this? Like the plot device, a god from the machine, perhaps the resistance, the fear of God is present in part because to be otherwise and more receptive and welcome might betray the blandishments of laziness and masking ineptness with a twist that ensures a happy ending.

Wednesday 25 January 2017


skycots: vintage photographs show how babies travelled in the 1950s on British Airways

franchissant: artificial intelligence working with composite images creates the illusion of Napoleon Crossing the Alps

fret zeppelin: a tutoring guitar that helps you learn finger placement fast

great railway journeys: tracing the new Silk Road, a train travels from China to London

c: like light, does darkness have a speed?

ะ—ะะขะž: vintage retro-future welcome signs of Soviet towns of science and industry, via Messy Nessy Chic

parfocal lens: it’s the Powers of Ten of dentistry 

Wednesday 18 January 2017

like flies to wanton boys or pew-pew-pew

Capitalising on a property of refraction known as the Kerr Effect, defence contractors are developing lensing techniques that would from orbit turn a patch of sky into a temporary magnifying glass by heating the atmosphere with laser beams.
Not only would this technique from on-high allow for finer detail in surveillance, it introduces the art of designing sequences of moves and manล“uvres for a choreography that will be executed at the speed of light. Harnessing the same properties, advancing columns or whole cities could cloak or distort themselves, tossing out mirages to cause systems to fire on the wrong targets. At a distance, vanishingly narrow defensive measures would also include the ability to cast a disruptive index back at an incoming laser. Either pitched battles—or surprise attacks, would either literally be Blitzkrieg or go on indefinitely, robot strategists perfectly matched. I can’t think of any non-defence applications for this technology but surely there’s something out there. Maybe we could observe alien environments on intimate terms without being obtrusive or seen ourselves, and I suppose it is kind of a solace to know that one could dodge a laser beam and there’s a way to countermand even what we experience as instantaneous, though I suppose you couldn’t escape, by extension, the cruel conceit of focusing the sun’s rays on some unsuspecting insects.

Sunday 15 January 2017

motherboard or decision-tree

Applying the most advanced and universally accepted principles of neuro-science (arising out of the hubris that computational powers could begin to map out every possible neural daisy and we’d soon understand how the brain works) to a system that humans (as inventors) understand better by degrees, the microprocessor yielded some fruitfully disappointing results.
The failure of the model of a sophisticated neural network (not a neural network itself but the parameters by which one is made) to understand arcade games—despite the demonstrations that machine-learning was able to give with little to no supervision—illustrates, I think, that despite the mechanical and philosophical differences between brains and circuits perhaps we still don’t have the framework and the context to glean meaningful, correlated results. What do you think?  Perhaps we cannot analyse the system we are in with the quiver of tools arising from the same.

Saturday 14 January 2017


cryptolocker: knowing it would face the loss of all its records otherwise, a community college ponied up a hefty ransom to hackers

call me gavin: revolutionary presidential grandson who bridged the gap between Walt Whitman and the Summer of Love, commune-founder and muse Chester A Arthur III was quite an astounding individual

by any memes necessary: chat-bot and desktop assistant that communicates exclusively through GIFs

tilting at windmills: decommissioned, obsolete turbine blades repurposed as architectural elements

hyper-realism: painted portraits that surpass photography

back in the habit: a Dutch fashion designer collaborated with the Dominican order to update their traditional garb

weepuls: the story behind those promotional balls of fuzz with googly eyes from the 1970s and 80s

Friday 13 January 2017

upscale or lossless

The dominant internet search engine and several other platforms are utilising machine-learning to fetch images on mobile devices and maintain high-resolution quality but only use a quarter of the data volume to do so, thus being less taxing on users’ plans. The technique is an established one of inserting pixels to make up for lost details but instead of following a fixed formula, the routine has fast enough processing-speeds to adapt to each images as it comes and may even be able to re-enhance video in real-time.

speech coach or elocution

In the near future, algorithms analysing voices might supplant recruiters and hiring officials, we learn via Marginal Revolution. Of course, everything’s an audition already and we’re all singing for our suppers but it seems unwelcoming and strangely paternalistic for a machine to judge your potential in ways that are far more accurate than we are resigned to accept.
Of course once computers begin to encroach on the bailiwick of human resources, it won’t just be one’s next promotion hinging on one’s tone or feigned enthusiasm—especially as machines and automation take more jobs from the market. The practical good—although we need to remember that formulรฆ aren’t completely above human bias since they’re programmed to look for specific criteria by humans—is finding the best fit for the employer and employee but being dismissed at the first peep would be heartbreakingly demotivating and I’m sure some would be encouraged to try to game the system. Maybe such analysts could also be programmed to collude with the connected world at large to spare our feelings and nudge us towards the ideal, algorithmically-determined vocation without our even realising it or having to face rejection. What do you think? Computation-coddling I think wouldn’t be very character-building but I imagine that those fortunate enough to be born into that environment would know nothing other than brilliant luck and impeccable timing.

Sunday 8 January 2017

we always find something, eh didi, to let us think we exist

Two household robots called Vladimir and Estragon (which refer to themselves at times Mia and Also Mia) are on display, chatting away to one another, ostensibly believing themselves to be human—though I don’t suppose that distinction is necessarily important or necessarily a case of mistaken identity.
So far, they seem to be playing better with their own kind. The names are those of the two main interlocutors of Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot (also the name of the language protocols), whom of course only have a finite number of lines and limited patience. Their endless and verging sometimes on recursive (until one of them shifts the subject slightly) and interrogative dialogue is also eagerly followed by a live-stream of human and other chat-bot voyeurs that may or may not be influence the flow of conversation. There seems to be something absurdly profound going on here but I can’t quite identify it. What do you think? Would you invite these devices into your home?

Tuesday 3 January 2017

bellwether and bookworm

Boing Boing features the story of a couple of librarians who conspire to fabricate patrons in order to thwart an automated book-culling algorithm that has been deployed to reduce clutter and optimise circulation.
To save important but perhaps low circulating titles from the robot biblioclasm, the pair invented an avid reader to check out the threatened books but were eventually caught and punished for their transgression—not restricted to countermanding the computer but also for the fraudulent act of creating a fake registrant on the public-record and thus opening the floodgates of “check-out fraud” and trust in civic institutions. What do you think?  With finite space and withering resources, space and selection do of course come at a premium and weeding is a sometimes regrettable course of action, but this case really illustrates the limits of unbiased, objective automation foisted upon very human activities—how it can fall prey to the same decision-trees that fell human logic and invites itself to be gamed, employing mechanical Turks, like the article suggests, as a work-around for that which is above our administrative-rights to change.