How AI image generators work, like DALL-E, Lensa and stable diffusion

Use our simulator to learn how AI generates images from “noise.”

The Washington Post has a nice explainer on how text to image generators work: How AI image generators work, like DALL-E, Lensa and stable diffusion. They let you play with the generator, though you have to stick with the predefined phrases. What I hadn’t realized was the role of static noise in the diffusion model. Not sure how it works, but it seems to train the AI to recognize and then generate in noisy images.

Ken Kesey and the Rush to Deinstitutionalization

Photo of actor Jack Nicholson and director Milos Foreman on set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Jack Nicholson and director Milos Foreman on set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Whatever the literary strengths of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the book has done much to harm both the mentally ill and their communities.

This May the Kule Institute is organizing a hybrid exhibit/symposium on the Institution of Knowledge. We are bringing together a group of artists and thinkers to raise and address questions about institutional structures and knowledge. One question that the small group I’m part of discussed this week as the question of deinstitutionalization and the view, best captured by Ken Kesey in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that asylums as institutions were sites that did more harm than good. Stephen Eide has a nice article about this, Ken Kesey and the Rush to Deinstitutionalization (Quilette, Nov. 14, 2022).

There are a number of aspects to the issue. The first thing to note is that the deinstitutionalization of people with serious mental health issues didn’t work as imagined. It was not the freeing of an oppressed constituency back to the community where the new drugs could help them integrate and get on with their lives. There wasn’t really a community that wanted them other than the street and many ended up in the very institutions asylums were meant to replace – prisons. Stephen Eide’s book Homelessness in America traces the effects of deinstitutionalization, changes in vagrancy laws, and the “cleaning” up of slums on homelessness leading to the problem as we see it today.

But what about the idea of deinstitutionalization? Important to this idea would be Foucault, changes in psychiatry and how the discipline conceives of the role of medicine (and its institutions), and changes in public policy and what jurisdictions try to do with institutions.

One aspect of the issues that we forget if we think of institutions as bureaucracy is the built presence of institutions. From Jefferson’s design of the campus of the University of Virginia to Olmstead’s asylum landscapes, architects have shaped our imagination and the literal structures of certain types of institutions. This raises the question of what new types of institutions might be in being designed?

The Royal Game of Ur: Play the Oldest Board Game on Record – The New York Times

For 4,600 years, a mysterious game slept in the dust of southern Iraq, largely forgotten. The passion of a museum curator and the hunger of young Iraqis for their cultural history may bring it back.

The New York Times has a story on The Royal Game of Ur: Play the Oldest Board Game on Record. A curator at the British Museum, Irving Finkel, connected the translation of a tablet with the rules with an ancient board game of which there were copies in museums (see picture above). More recently the game has been reintroduced into Iraq so that people can rediscover their ludic heritage.

The nice thing about the NYTimes article, beside the video of Finkel who has an amazing beard, is that they include a PDF that you can download and print to learn to play the game.

The article and Finkel’s video talk highlight how influential a game can be – how a set of rules can be a meme that helps rediscover a game.

Elon Musk Reinstates Trump’s Twitter Account

Mr. Musk, who had asked Twitter users about whether to bring back the former president to the service, said, “The people have spoken.”

Just discovered that Elon Musk Reinstates Trump’s Twitter Account. I think it is time to go then. I’m archiving my twitter site and leaving.

For those that care I’m now at though I haven’t gotten the hang of Mastodon yet. Must take some time to read and watch.

Unitron Mac 512: A Contraband Mac 512K from Brazil

From a paper on postcolonial computing I learned about the Unitron Mac 512: A Contraband Mac 512K from Brazil. For a while Brazil didn’t allow the importation of computers (so as to kickstart their own computer industry.) Unitron decided to reverse engineer the Mac 512K, but Apple put pressure on Brazil and the project was closed down. At least 500 machines were built and I guess some are still in circulation.

The article is Philip, K., et al. (2010). “Postcolonial Computing: A Tactical Survey.” Science Technology Human Values. 37(1).

Though Apple had no intellectual property protection for the Macintosh in Brazil, the American corporation was able to pressure government and other economic actors within Brazil to reframe Unitron’s activities, once seen as nationalist and anti-colonial, as immoral piracy.

Character.AI: Dialogue on AI Ethics

Part of image generated from text, “cartoon pencil drawing of ethics professor and student talking” by Midjourney, Oct. 5, 2022.

Last week I created a character on Character.AI, a new artificial tool created by some ex-Google engineers who worked on LaMDA, the language model from Google that I blogged about before.

Character.AI, which is now down for maintenance due to all the users, lets you quickly create a character and then enter into dialogue with it. It actually works quite well. I created “The Ethics Professor” and then wrote a script of questions that I used to engage the AI character. The dialogue is below.

From Bitcoin to Stablecoin: Crypto’s history is a house of cards

The wild beginnings, crazy turns, colorful characters and multiple comebacks of the crypto world

The Washington Post has a nice illustrated history of crypto, From Bitcoin to Stablecoin: Crypto’s history is a house of cards. They use a deck of cards as a visual metaphor and a graph of the ups and downs of crypto. I can’t help thinking that crypto is going to go up again, but when and in what form?

For that matter, where is Ruja Ignatova?

‘I saw the possibility of what could be done – so I did it’: revolutionary video game The Hobbit turns 40 | Games | The Guardian

The developer of the text-adventure game on how, at 20, she overcame 1980s misogyny to turn a Tolkien book into one of the most groundbreaking titles in the gaming canon

The Guardian has a story on Veronika Megler who developed the innovative text (and image) adventure game The Hobbit (1982), ‘I saw the possibility of what could be done – so I did it’: revolutionary video game The Hobbit turns 40. She went on to get a PhD and now is principal data scientist at Amazon Web Services!

You can now play The Hobbit on the Internet Archive.

Issues around AI text to art generators

A new art-generating AI system called Stable Diffusion can create convincing deepfakes, including of celebrities.

TechCrunch has a nice discussion of Deepfakes for all: Uncensored AI art model prompts ethics questions. The relatively sudden availability of AI text to art generators has provoked discussion on the ethics of creation and of large machine learning models. Here are some interesting links:

It is worth identifying some of the potential issues:

  • These art generating AIs may have violated copyright in scraping millions of images. Could artists whose work has been exploited sue for compensation?
  • The AIs are black boxes that are hard to query. You can’t tell if copyrighted images were used.
  • These AIs could change the economics of illustration. People who used to commission and pay for custom art for things like magazines, book covers, and posters, could start just using these AIs to save money. Just as Flickr changed the economics of photography, MidJourney could put commercial illustrators out of work.
  • We could see a lot more “original” art in situations where before people could not afford it. Perhaps poster stores could offer to generate a custom image for you and print it. Get your portrait done as a cyberpunk astronaut.
  • The AIs could reinforce visual bias in our visual literacy. Systems that always see Philosophers as old white guys with beards could limit our imagination of what could be.
  • These could be used to create pornographic deepfakes with people’s faces on them or other toxic imagery.

Social Sciences & Humanities Open Marketplace

Discover new resources for your research in Social Sciences and Humanities: tools, services, training materials and datasets, contextualised.

I’ve been experimenting with the Social Sciences & Humanities Open Marketplace. The Marketplace was developed by three European Research Infrastructures, Dariah-EU, Clarin, and CESSDA. I’m proud to say that TAPoR contributed data to the Marketplace. It is great to have such a directory service for finding things!