Inaugural Lord Renwick Memorial Lecture w/ Vint Cerf

From Humanist I learned about the Inaugural Lord Renwick Memorial Lecture w/ Vint Cerf : Digital Policy Alliance : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive. This lecture is available also in a text transcript here (PDF). Vint Cerf is one of the pioneers of the Internet and in this lecture he talks about the “five alligators of the Internet. They are 1) Technology, 2) Regulation, 3) Institutions, 4) the Digital Divide, and 5) Digital Preservation.

Under Technology he traces a succinct history of the internet as technology pointing out how important the ALOHAnet project was to the eventual design of the Internet. Under regulation he talked about different levels of regulation and the pros and cons of regulation. Later there are some questions about the issue of anonymity and civil discourse. All said, the talk does a great job of covering the issues facing the internet today.

Here is his answer to a question about  how to put more humanity into the Internet.

The first observation I would make is that civility is a social decision that we either choose or don’t. Creating norms is very important. I think norms are not necessarily backed up by, you know, law enforcement for example, they’re considered societal values, and I fear that openness in the Internet has led to a, let’s say, a diminution, erosion, of civil discourse. I would suggest to you, however, that it’s possibly understandable in the following analog. Those of you who drive cars may, like I do, say things to the other drivers, or about the other drivers, that I would never say face to face, but there’s this windshield separating me from the other drivers, and I feel free to express myself, in ways that I would not if I were face to face. Sometimes I think the computer screen acts a little bit like the windshield of the car and allows us to behave in ways that we wouldn’t otherwise if we were right there with the target of our comments. Somehow we have to infuse back into society the value of civil discourse, and the only way to do that I think is to start very early on in school to introduce children, and their parents, and adults, to the value of civility in terms of making progress in coming together, finding common ground, finding solutions to things, as opposed to simply firing our 45 caliber Internet packets at each other. I really hope that the person asking the question has some ideas for introducing incentives for exactly that behavioral change. I will point out that seatbelts and smoking has possibly some lessons to teach, where we incorporated not only advice but we also said, by the way, if we catch you smoking in this building, there will be consequences, because we said you shouldn’t do it. So, maybe we have to have some kind of social consequence for bad behavior. (p. 13-4)

Later on he talks about license plates following the same analogy of how we behave when driving. Your car gives you some anonymity, but the license plate can be used to identify you if you go too far.

Diggin’ in the Carts: Japanese video game music history

Meet the men and women responsible for creating the most iconic tunes in video game history.

We finished up the Replaying Japan 2021 conference today. The conference was online using Zoom and Gather Town where there was a hidden easter egg with a link to Diggin’ in the Carts: Japanese video game music history, a 5 part documentary from Red Bull that is quite good. The 5 15 minute episodes are part of the first season. Not sure if there will be other seasons, but there is a related radio show with multiple seasons. The documentary episodes nicely feature the composers and experts talking about the Japanese history along with other musicians commenting on the influence of the early music which would have been heard over and over in houses with Japanese consoles.

The creator of the show is Nick Dwyer who is interviewed here about the documentary and associated radio show..

Trump Tweet Archive

All 50,000+ of Trump’s tweets, instantly searchable

Thanks to Kaylin I found the Trump Twitter Archive: TTA – Search. Its a really nice clean site that lets you search or filter Trump’s tweets from when he was elected to when his account was shut down on January 8th, 2021. You can also download the data if you want to try other tools.

I find reading his tweets now to be quite entertaining. Here are two back to back tweets that seems to almost contradict each other. First he boasts about the delivery of vaccines, and then talks about Covid as Fake News!

Jan 3rd 2021 – 8:14:10 AM EST: The number of cases and deaths of the China Virus is far exaggerated in the United States because of @CDCgov’s ridiculous method of determination compared to other countries, many of whom report, purposely, very inaccurately and low. “When in doubt, call it Covid.” Fake News!

Jan 3rd 2021 – 8:05:34 AM EST: The vaccines are being delivered to the states by the Federal Government far faster than they can be administered!

What Ever Happened to IBM’s Watson? – The New York Times

IBM’s artificial intelligence was supposed to transform industries and generate riches for the company. Neither has panned out. Now, IBM has settled on a humbler vision for Watson.

The New York Times has a story about What Ever Happened to IBM’s Watson? The story is a warning to all of us about the danger of extrapolating from intelligence behaviour in one limited domain to others. Watson got good enough at trivia question answering (or posing) to win at Jeopardy!, but that didn’t scale out.

IBM’s strategy is interesting to me. Developing an AI to win at a game like Jeopardy! was what IBM did with Deep Blue that won at chess in 1997. Winning at a game considered paradigmatically a game of intelligence is a great way to get public relations attention.

Interestingly what seems to be working with Watson is not the moon shot game playing type of service, but the automation of basic natural language processing tasks.

Having recently read Edwin Black’s IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation I must say that the choice of the name “Watson” grates. Thomas Watson was responsible for IBM’s ongoing engagement with the Nazi’s for which he got a medal from Hitler in 1937. Watson didn’t seem to care how IBM’s data processing technology was being used to manage people especially Jews. I hope the CEOs of AI companies today are more ethical.

Can’t Get You Out of My Head

I finally finished watching the BBC documentary series Can’t Get You Out of My Head by Adam Curtis. It is hard to describe this series which is cut entirely from archival footage with Curtis’ voice interpreting and linking the diverse clips. The subtitle is “An Emotional History of the Modern World” which is true in that the clips are often strangely affecting, but doesn’t convey the broad social-political connections Curtis makes in the narration. He is trying out a set of theses about recent history in China, the US, the UK, and Russia leading up to Brexit and Trump. I’m still digesting the 6 part series, but here are some of the threads of theses:

  • Conspiracies. He traces our fascination and now belief in conspiracies back to a memo by Jim Garrison in 1967 about the JFK assassination. The memo, Time and Propinquity: Factors in Phase I presents results of an investigative technique built on finding patterns of linkages between fragments of information. When you find strange coincidences you then weave a story (conspiracy) to join them rather than starting with a theory and checking the facts. This reminds me of what software like Palantir does – it makes (often coincidental) connections easy to find so you can tell stories. Curtis later follows the evolution of conspiracies as a political force leading to liberal conspiracies about Trump (that he was a Russian agent) and alt-right conspiracies like Q-Anon. We are all willing to surrender our independence of thought for the joys of conspiracies.
  • Big Data Surveillance and AI. Curtis connects this new mode of investigation to what the big data platforms like Google now do with AI. They gather lots of fragments of information about us and then a) use it to train AIs, and b) sell inferences drawn from the data to advertisers while keeping us anxious through the promotion of emotional content. Big data can deal with the complexity of the world which we have given up on trying to control. It promises to manage the complexity of fragments by finding patterns in them. This reminds me of discussions around the End of Theory and shift from theories to correlations.
  • Psychology. Curtis also connects this to emerging psychological theories about how our minds may be fragmented with different unconscious urges moving us. Psychology then offers ways to figure out what people really want and to nudge or prime them. This is what Cambridge Analytica promised – the ability to offer services we believed due to conspiracy theories. Curtis argues at the end that behavioural psychology can’t replicate many of the experiments undergirding nudging. Curtis suggests that all this big data manipulation doesn’t work though the platforms can heighten our anxiety and emotional stress. A particularly disturbing part of the last part is the discussion of how the US developed “enhanced” torture techniques based on these ideas after 9/11 to create “learned helplessness” in prisoners. The idea was to fragment their consciousness so that they would release a flood of these fragments, some of which might be useful intelligence.
  • Individualism. A major theme is the rise of individualism since the war and how individuals are controlled. China’s social credit model of explicit control through surveillance is contrasted to the Western consumer driven platform surveillance control. Either way, Curtis’ conclusion seems to be that we need to regain confidence in our own individual powers to choose our future and strive for it. We need to stop letting others control us with fear or distract us with consumption. We need to choose our future.

In some ways the series is a plea for everyone to make up their own stories from their fragmentary experience. The series starts with this quote,

The ultimate hidden truth of the world is that it is something we make, and could just as easily make differently. (David Graeber)

Of course, Curtis’ series could just be a conspiracy story that he wove out of the fragments he found in the BBC archives.

Time Travel and Blink (Doctor Who)

I recently finished listening to James Gleick’s Time Travel: A History. Gleick wrote the best book on The Information there is and this book is almost as good. He weaves the science together with the fictions about time travel starting with H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and using that to then look at how science started treating time as a dimension that they allowed us to seriously talk about traveling on that dimension. It is historical ontology done really well.

Near the end he talks about the brilliant Doctor Who episode  Blink (Doctor Who) with Carey Mulligan where she has a conversation with Doctor Who (Tennant) mediated by Easter Eggs on DVDs and transcribed onto paper. That transcription she hands to the Doctor at the end of the episode so he can put the video onto the DVDs in the past for her to talk to. It is brilliant.

Part of what I like about Gleick is he shows the connections between science and how we imagine ideas like time through literature and film. He ends by suggesting that we have time travel in our stories and imagination.

It might be fair to say that all we perceive is change—that any sense of stasis is a constructed illusion. Every moment alters what came before. We reach across layers of time for the memories of our memories.

“Live in the now,” certain sages advise. They mean: focus; immerse yourself in your sensory experience; bask in the incoming sunshine, without the shadows of regret or expectation. But why should we toss away our hard-won insight into time’s possibilities and paradoxes? We lose ourselves that way. (Gleick, James. Time Travel, p. 308)

What was Gamergate? The lessons we still haven’t learned

Gamergate should have armed us against bad actors and bad-faith arguments. It didn’t.

Vox has an important article connecting the storming of the US Capitol with Gamergate, What was Gamergate? The lessons we still haven’t learned.  The point is that Gamergate and the storming are the visible symptoms of something deeper. I would go further and connect these with activities that progressives approve of like some of the Anonymous initiatives. For that matter, the recent populist retail investor campaign around stocks like GameStop has similar roots in new forms of organizing and new ironic ideologies.

Continue reading What was Gamergate? The lessons we still haven’t learned

Gekiga’s new frontier: the uneasy rise of Yoshiharu Tsuge

Cover of The Swamp

In honour of Drawn & Quarterly‘s publication of Yoshiharu Tsuge’s The Swamp, Boing Boing has published an essay on Tsuge by Mitsuhiro Asakawa, titled Gekiga’s new frontier: the uneasy rise of Yoshiharu Tsuge. The essay sketches Tsuge’s rise as an early original manga artist and it explains his importance. Now Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly is publishing a series of seven translations by Ryan Holmberg of Tsuge’s work. (Holmberg also translated the essay by Asakawa.) Asakawa is also apparently important to the series being published.

Mitsuhiro Asakawa finally convinced Tsuge and his son to let the work be translated into English. Mitsuhiro is the unsung hero of Japanese comics translation. He’s the guy who has written the most about the Garo era, he’s the go-to guy to connect with these great authors and their families. Most of the collections D+Q have done wouldn’t exist without his help.

(From the Drawn & Quarterly blog post here.)

One of the things I discovered reading Asakawa is that Tsuge worked with/for Shigeru Mizuki, my favourite manga artist, when he was going through a rough patch.

SimRefinery and Maxis Business Simulations

SimRefinery Screenshot

SimRefinery was the first simulation developed by a Maxis spin-off company called Maxis Business Simulations (MBS). The simulation was for Chevron and was developed using the development tools Maxis had developed for their games like SimCity. Phil Salvador tells a wonderful story about MBS and SimRefinery in a thoroughly research essay When SimCity got serious: the story of Maxis Business Simulations and SimRefinery. Take some time out and read it.

Part of what is interesting in the essay is how Salvador documents the different views about what such simulations were good for. SimRefinery was not a accurate simulation that would cover the complexity of the chemical engineering of a refinery; so what was it good for. Chevron apparently wanted something to help the staff who weren’t engineers to understand some of the connectiveness of a refinery – how problems in one area could impact others. Will Wright, the genius behind Maxis, didn’t think serious simulations were possible or something they wanted to do. He saw SimCity as a caricature that was fun. At best it might give people a “mental model” of the issues around city management. It was for that reason that MBS was a spin-off designed to contract with businesses that felt serious simulations were feasible and useful.

I learned about the Salvador article from a Ars Technica story about SimRefinery and how A lost Maxis “Sim” game has been discovered by an Ars reader [Updated]. The story talks about how someone found and uploaded to the Internet Archive a prototype of SimRefinery only to later take in back down so it is no longer available. In the meantime Phil Salvador recorded a Twitch stream of checking out the game so you can get a sense of how it worked.

Is this crisis a turning point?

The era of peak globalisation is over. For those of us not on the front line, clearing the mind and thinking how to live in an altered world is the task at hand.

John Gray has written an essay in the New Statesman on Why this crisis is a turning point in history. He argues that the era of hyperglobalism is at an end and many systems may not survive the shift to something different. Many may think we will, after a bit of isolated pain, return to the good old expanding wealth, but the economic crisis that is now emerging may break that dream. Governments and nations may be broken by collapsing systems.