A short essay I wrote with Stéfan Sinclair on “Recapitulation, Replication, Reanalysis, Repetition, or Revivification” is now up in preprint form. The essay is part of a longer work on “Anatomy of tools: A closer look at ‘textual DH’ methodologies.” The longer work is a set of interventions looking at text tools. These came out of a ADHO SIG-DLS (Digital Literary Studies) workshop that took place in Utrecht in July 2019.
Our intervention at the workshop had the original title “Zombies as Tools: Revivification in Computer Assisted Interpretation” and concentrated on practices of exploring old tools – a sort of revivification or bringing back to life of zombie tools.
Scientific American has a whole issue on COVID that includes a collection of data visualizations, COVID’s Uneven Toll Captured in Data. The visualizations are fascinating, though some take careful reading.
Just finished playing the Universal Paperclips game which was surprisingly fun. It took me about 3.5 hours to get to sentience. The idea of the game is that you are an AI running a paperclip company and you make decisions and investments. The game was inspired by the philosopher Nick Bostrom‘s paperclip maximizer thought experiment which shows the risk that some harmless AI that controls the making of paperclips might evolve into an AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) and pose a risk to us. It might even convert all the resources of the universe into paperclips. The original thought experiment is in Bostrom’s paper Ethical Issues in Advanced Artificial Intelligence to illustrate the point that “Artificial intellects need not have humanlike motives.”
Human are rarely willing slaves, but there is nothing implausible about the idea of a superintelligence having as its supergoal to serve humanity or some particular human, with no desire whatsoever to revolt or to “liberate” itself. It also seems perfectly possible to have a superintelligence whose sole goal is something completely arbitrary, such as to manufacture as many paperclips as possible, and who would resist with all its might any attempt to alter this goal. For better or worse, artificial intellects need not share our human motivational tendencies.
The game is rather addictive despite having a simple interface where all you can do is click on buttons making decisions. The decisions you get to make change over time and there are different panels that open up for exploration.
I learned about the game from an interesting blog entry by David Rosenthal on how It Isn’t About The Technology which is a response to enthusiasm about Web 3.0 and decentralized technologies (blockchain) and how they might save us, to which Rosenthal responds that it is isn’t about the technology.
One of the more interesting ideas that Rosenthal mentions is from Charles Stross’s keynote for the 34th Chaos Communications Congress to the effect that businesses are “slow AIs”. Corporations are machines that, like the paperclip maximizer, are self-optimizing and evolve until they are dangerous – something we are seeing with Google and Facebook.
Guess the hidden word in 6 tries. A new puzzle is available each day.
Well … I finally played Wordle – A daily word game after reading about it. It was a nice clean puzzle that got me thinking about vowels. I like the idea that there is one a day as I was immediately tempted to try another and another … Instead the one-a-day gives it a detachment. I can see why the New York Times would buy it, it is the sort of game that would bring in potential subscribers.
We may not be able to prove that we are in a simulation, but at the very least, it will be a possibility that we can’t rule out. But it could be more than that. Chalmers argues that if we’re in a simulation, there’d be no reason to think it’s the only simulation; in the same way that lots of different computers today are running Microsoft Excel, lots of different machines might be running an instance of the simulation. If that was the case, simulated worlds would vastly outnumber non-sim worlds — meaning that, just as a matter of statistics, it would be not just possible that our world is one of the many simulations but likely.
I am also reminded of Hervé Le Tellier’s novel The Anomaly where a plane full of people pops out of the clouds for the second time creating an anomaly where there are two instances of each person on the plane. This is taken as a glitch that may indicate that we are in a simulation raising all sorts of questions about whether there are actually anomalies that might be indications that this really is a simulation or a complicated idea in God’s mind (think Bishop Berkeley’s idealism.)
For me the challenge is the complexity of the world I experience. I can’t help thinking that a posthuman society modelling things really doesn’t need such a rich world as I experience. For that matter, would there really be enough computing to do it? Is this simulation fantasy just a virtual reality version of the singularity hypothesis prompted by the new VR technologies coming on stream?
Whether in black and white, or in colour, the painting of Philosophy (above) is stunning. The original in colour would have been stunning, especially as it was 170 by 118 inches. Philosophy is represented by the Sphinx-like figure merging with the universe. To one side is a stream of people from the young to the old who hold their heads in confusion. At the bottom is a woman, comparable to the woman in the painting of Medicine, who might be an inspired philosopher looking through us.
Dark Patterns are tricks used in websites and apps that make you buy or sign up for things that you didn’t mean to. The purpose of this site is to spread awareness and to shame companies that use them.
Reading about Value Sensitive Design I came across a link to Harry Brignul’s Dark Patterns. The site is about ways that web designers try to manipulate users. They have a Hall of Shame that is instructive and a Reading List if you want to follow up. It is interesting to see attempts to regulate certain patterns of deception.
Values are expressed and embedded in technology; they have real and often non-obvious impacts on users and society.
The alternative is introduce values and ethics into the design process. This is where Value Sensitive Design comes. As developed by Batya Friedman and colleagues it is an approach that includes methods for thinking-through the ethics of a project from the beginning. Some of the approaches mentioned in the article include:
Mapping out what a design will support, hinder or prevent.
Consider the stakeholders, especially those that may not have any say in the deployment or use of a technology.
Try to understand the underlying assumptions of technologies.
Broaden our gaze as to the effects of a technology on human experience.
As seniors find themselves cut off from loved ones during the pandemic, some are turning to automated animals for company.
I’m reading about Virtual Assistants and thinking that in some ways the simplest VAs are the robopets that are being given to lonely elderly people who are isolated. See In Isolating Times, Can Robo-Pets Provide Comfort? Robo-cats and dogs (and even seals) seem to provide comfort the way a stuffed pet might. They aren’t even that smart, but can give comfort to an older person suffering from isolation.
These pets, like PARO (an expensive Japanese robotic seal seen above) or the much cheaper Joy for All pets, can possibly fool people with dementia. What are the ethics of this? Are we comfortable fooling people for their own good?
AI assistants continue to reinforce sexist stereotypes, but queering these devices could help reimagine their relationship to gender altogether.
Wired has a nice article on how the The Future of Digital Assistants Is Queer. The article looks at the gendering of virtual assistants like Siri and how it is not enough to just offer male voices, but we need to queer the voices. It mentions the ethical issue of how voice conveys information like whether the VA is a bot or not.