The weekend: devices, design, and dancing

We have been a bit short on time this week (sorry) so rather than give you three long pieces on these really special and important events coming up, we're throwing it into one article... which probably suits you anyway.

AI program produces photorealistic worlds from street images

The photograph accompanying this story looks rather mundane doesn't it? It's just an everyday photo taken from a Mercedes about to turn right, away from busy traffic.

Except that this photograph doesn't exist. It has been made by an artificially intelligent computer application, trained on images of streets.

Is social media a failure?

They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but social media companies might yet prove that old dictum untrue. They’ve made headlines daily lately, in a fairly appalling way. Facebook selling anti-semitic ads, swaying an election with “fake news”, Twitter being a platform for extremists. And so on.

So. A tough but necessary question: is social media a failure? Let’s think about it for a moment, not with condemnation, blame, or shame, but just clarity, purpose, and understanding.

The economics of social media are stellar. Facebook earns piles of cash. Twitter isn’t as successful, but it’s still a publicly traded company — a billion dollar tale of modern-day fortune.

Read more (Eudaimonia)

The Internet of Things is sending us back to the Middle Ages

Internet-enabled devices are so common, and so vulnerable, that hackers recently broke into a casino through its fish tank. The tank had internet-connected sensors measuring its temperature and cleanliness. The hackers got into the fish tank’s sensors and then to the computer used to control them, and from there to other parts of the casino’s network. The intruders were able to copy 10 gigabytes of data to somewhere in Finland.

Terminal: How the airport came to embody our national psychosis

This is a story about how the airport became the setting for the Great American Freakout. Once an icon of progress, then another stale waiting room of modern life, the airport has now entered a third phase.

This summer, Ann Coulter threw a three-day tantrum over a Delta seat assignment, comparing the airline gate attendants to Nurse Ratched, the sadistic warden who rules over the lunatics in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There was some truth to the observation. It was the latest incident in a year of airport fracases—including a brawl at the Spirit Airlines counter in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (May), the concussion of the 69-year-old David Dao who wouldn’t relinquish his seat (April), widespread pro-immigrant protests (January), two full-on panic stampedes one year ago, and a steady drumbeat of racial and religious profiling at security and immigration—that have confirmed the airport’s new role in American life as the marble-floored home of our national, fear-fueled psychosis.

The airport is, on the one hand, as representative a civic space as America has. Nearly half of American adults fly commercial each year, making the airport nearly as common a shared experience as the voting booth. It is also roiled by the ceaseless friction of its many internal borders, real and felt, that separate safety from danger, admittance from expulsion, brown from white, the rich from the rest. Real anxiety has swelled in this liminal space for decades, as airlines grew stingier, the security state grew stricter, and the borders in airport basements grew busier. But as with many conflicts in American life, the rise of Donald Trump has both clarified and exacerbated the fault lines.

Read more (Slate)

Finding meaning in generative adversarial networks

If you ask a child to draw a cat, you’ll learn more about the child than you will about cats. In the same way, asking neural networks to generate images helps us see how they reason about the information they’re given. It’s often difficult to interpret neural networks—that is, to relate their functioning to human intuition—and generative algorithms offer a way to make neural nets explain themselves.

Neural networks are most commonly implemented as classifiers—models that are able to distinguish, say, an image of a cat from an image of a dog, or a stop sign from a fire hydrant. But over the last three years, researchers have made astonishing progress in essentially reversing these networks. Through a handful of generative techniques, it’s possible to feed a lot of images into a neural network and then ask for a brand-new image that resembles the ones it’s been shown. Generative AI has turned out to be remarkably good at imitating human creativity at superficial levels.

Read more (O'Reilly)

Estonia irritates EU with idea of national "EstCoin" cryptocurrency

As much as foamy-mouthed Brexiteers want to keep the good old British Pound, Estonia has opened something of a Pandora's Box with a question that had to come sooner or later. If the world is embracing cryptocurrencies, what is the point of national monetary policy?

Bunk beds, roaches and nerdy geniuses: my year in a Silicon Valley hacker house

For the past 12 months of my life, I paid the bargain price of $1,250 per month to sleep diagonally in a bunk bed in a 10ft by 10ft room that I shared with a 32-year old man. Because I am 6ft4in, sleeping diagonally in my undersized accommodation was the only way I could make it through the night without getting cramps.

Welcome to my life in the hacker house.

In July last year, I left my home in the comfy suburbs of Washington DC to make the 3,000-mile drive west to San Francisco, with my mother along for the ride. I had just graduated from college that May, and as the cliched story goes, I was in pursuit of the tech dream. I didn’t have a lease, or a job. Because of the high rent in the Bay area, you usually can’t secure a lease without a job offer, and well, you can’t exactly say the jobs were coming easy. So I just went for it.

Upon reaching Louisville, Kentucky, I received a call from a friend. “You should look up hacker houses,” he said. “It’s a place where a bunch of tech people live to hack and build stuff.”

Read more (Guardian)

Artists put their brains on the block(chain)

Our friends at Furtherfield alongside arts publishing organisation Torque have launched a new book. Entitled Artists Re:Thinking Blockchain, it's a follow-up to their Artists Re:Thinking Games and features a number of thinkpieces, poems, and speculative works set in a context of a time "before Blockchain changed the world".

On the existence of digital objects

In “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking” (1964), Heidegger famously takes stock of the present and future of philosophy in the time of cybernetics. “Philosophy is ending in the present age,” he writes. “It has found its place in the scientific attitude of socially active humanity. But the fundamental characteristic of this scientific attitude is its cybernetic, that is, technological character. The need to ask about modern technology is presumably dying out to the same extent that technology more decisively characterized and directs the appearance of the totality of the world and the position of man in it.” For the late Heidegger, writing near the last decade of his life and well ensconced in his mountain chalet, the rapid technological development of the global north spells an impending doom: the end to philosophical thinking and to a properly authentic relationship to the world. The planetary control apparatuses that we subsume under the sign of “cybernetics” have replaced the traditional role of metaphysics and, thus, usurped philosophy. “Philosophy is metaphysics. Metaphysics thinks beings as a whole—the world, man, God—with respect to Being, with respect to the belonging together of beings in Being."

Now, for Heidegger, it is cybernetics that thinks the totality. So, new questions are raised. Whither philosophy in the half century since Heidegger announced its death knell? Can philosophy survive the complete digitization of the world? Can metaphysics still have currency in an age of ubiquitous computation?

Read more (Parrhesia, PDF)

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