Credit card debt in China is $2t v. $815b in the United States.— Censored John Oliver Balding (@BaldingsWorld) June 22, 2018
Friday, June 22, 2018
An interview with Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Seattle.
On the limitations of AI:
AI systems can make limited black and white distinctions. Understanding is more difficult. Allen asked me at first, “Is it possible to give an artificial intelligence a reference book to read and then ask it questions?” It is presumably a simple activity, but the answer was no. We have been working on it and there’s progress but it is still a difficult problem.
The problem of common sense reasoning is one aspect, and a very important one, of this limitation. In the near term:
Q: Okay, so without being overly optimistic or pessimistic: Where are we going in ten years?
A: The best way to think ten years ahead is to look ten years back. During this time, in the micro, things changed like we have moved past the iPhone 3. But on the macro scale, not much has changed. In ten years, we are still going to be building AI systems that are narrow, that can play Go, for example, and win. Maybe they will also recognize faces and diagnose certain diseases. AI will be able to carry out those tasks in a superhuman way. But wider capabilities, the ones we think of as intelligence, such as understanding a situation or context, will be much harder to achieve. In 1996, the computer system Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in a game of chess. It can play the best chess game in the world, all the while the room is on fire, and not notice a thing. Today we have a program that can be the world champion of Go, which is a much more complicated game, while the room is on fire.
Q: Meaning that AI still cannot tell what is happening around it.
A: Yes. There has been no progress in its ability to understand what is happening around it. I expect that ten years from now, maybe there will be a program that beat the best Minecraft player in the world but it still won’t notice that the room is on fire. That’s where it needs us. That is why we need to aim for intelligence that enhances human capabilities, that works in tandem with people. [...] There’s a paradox that people tend to miss: things that are difficult for people are easy for machines and things that are difficult for machines are easy for people. The real world, real people, real speech, books—these are a lot harder than Go.
Stanley Fish has just published a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Stop Trying to Sell the Humanities”, (June 17 2018). As the title indicates, it’s mostly about what he regards as futile efforts to justify the ways of humanist to the populace. He may well be right about the futility of those appeals, and he may be right, as well, that they are deeply mistaken about the value of the humanities, but those are not my concerns in this post. Near the end of the piece he makes a drive-by hit on that digital humanities. That’s what interests me.
Here’s a paragraph:
But there is an even deeper problem with the digital humanities: It is an anti-humanistic project, for the hope of the project is that a machine, unaided by anything but its immense computational powers, can decode texts produced by human beings. For it to work, the project requires a digital dictionary — a set of fixed correlations between formal patterns and the significances they regularly convey. There is no such dictionary, although if there were one the acts of readers and interpreter could be dispensed with and bypassed; one could just count things and go directly from the result to a statement of what Paradise Lost means. That is the holy grail of the digital-humanities project, at least with respect to interpretation: It wants to get rid of the inconvenience of partial, limited human beings by removing from the patterns they produce all traces of the human. It is an old game forever being renewed, but in whatever form it takes, it’s a sure loser.
As far as I know, no one has made such a proposal–though there’s much beyond my knowledge so it’s possible that somewhere out there such a proposal has been entertained. It’s a straw man.
He’s been stalking that straw man, or a close relative, since the 1970s. In “What Is Stylistics and Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things About It?”  he berates several scholars, Louis Milic in particular, for being bewitched (my terms) with “the promise of an automatic interpretive procedure.” It’s not at all clear to me that any of those thinkers had such a creature explicitly in mind, though they may have had such longings. It is, in a way, an attractive prospect, especially when you consider the contemporary context, where critics were warring over the disconcerting fact that critical agreement is impossible to come by (a way, as far as I can tell, that hasn’t been won, but has mostly been abandoned). Mostly, however, it is an Other that Fish can set in opposition to his own position, whatever it might.
Let me suggest that “mathophobia” is at the heart of that Other, its skeleton, heart, stomach, and brain, all in one. In today’s edition of the Humanist newsletter (32.103 Fish’ing for fatal flaws) Willard McCarthy asserts, in response to the Chronicle piece:
I suspect there's another problem here as well: the fear of, and so inability to see work tinged with or involving, mathematics (mathophobia?). We’ve run into his "extreme or irrational fear or dread aroused by" (OED) mathematically involved analysis of literary style before. What he and others are missing as a result! Note that it is not necessary at all to be mathematically competent to see what's happening and appreciate the importance of current work in statistically sophisticated computational stylistics, for example. It helps to observe that sorting and counting are mathematical operations, then to investigate what happens when these are powered by the digital machine over large quantities of data.
As I have found more than once, it is a mistake to assume that the old fears are a thing of the past or will be any time soon. Fearful reactions, such as Fish's, are valuable. They point to the depth and breadth, if you will, of the cognitive changes at work, slow though they may be.
I think, no, I’m sure, that McCarthy is right in this.
Fish’s mathophobia was in full force in the Q&A after “If You Count It, They Will Come: The Promise of the Digital Humanities”, an address he gave before the School of Criticism and Theory in the summer of 2015–a video and a transcript are online.
In the course of answering a question he mentions Literary Lab, Pamphlet 4: A Quantitative Literary History of 2,958 19th Century British Novels: the semantic cohort method. He asks: “Now what is the semantic cohort method? Well, it turns out to be a method-- by the way, just as a piece, I don’t know, something that's almost, if you pardon the word, aesthetic. When I come upon an essay that has a page in it like that, I want to reach for my gun.” As he utters that last phrase (in a rising tone of voice) he’s holding up a page from the pamphlet, a page given over to a graph. And everyone knows that graphs consist of math wrapped in visible clothing.
Thursday, June 21, 2018
Melania's jacket: I REALLY DON'T CARE, DO U?— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) June 21, 2018
Melania's spox: "It's a jacket. There was no hidden message.”
Trump: There's a hidden message to the Fake News Media.
Melania: 🤐 https://t.co/PXg3donD70
"Koko — the gorilla known for her extraordinary mastery of sign language, and as the primary ambassador for her endangered species — passed away yesterday morning in her sleep at the age of 46. "https://t.co/QgGKaz9kyi— Marc Kissel (@MarcKissel) June 21, 2018
Here's a post where I talk about other linguistic apes, Taboo, abstraction, and living with animals.
Koko had pet cats.
Koko wanted a birthday party celebration with her family, which included her cats! pic.twitter.com/r4XFa2gcNy— Gorilla Foundation (@kokotweets) July 8, 2016
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Kret ME, Tomonaga M (2016) Getting to the Bottom of Face Processing. Species-Specific Inversion Effects for Faces and Behinds in Humans and Chimpanzees (Pan Troglodytes). PLoS ONE 11(11): e0165357. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0165357
For social species such as primates, the recognition of conspecifics is crucial for their survival. As demonstrated by the ‘face inversion effect’, humans are experts in recognizing faces and unlike objects, recognize their identity by processing it configurally. The human face, with its distinct features such as eye-whites, eyebrows, red lips and cheeks signals emotions, intentions, health and sexual attraction and, as we will show here, shares important features with the primate behind. Chimpanzee females show a swelling and reddening of the anogenital region around the time of ovulation. This provides an important socio-sexual signal for group members, who can identify individuals by their behinds. We hypothesized that chimpanzees process behinds configurally in a way humans process faces. In four different delayed matching-to-sample tasks with upright and inverted body parts, we show that humans demonstrate a face, but not a behind inversion effect and that chimpanzees show a behind, but no clear face inversion effect. The findings suggest an evolutionary shift in socio-sexual signalling function from behinds to faces, two hairless, symmetrical and attractive body parts, which might have attuned the human brain to process faces, and the human face to become more behind-like.
For group-living animals, primates included, the recognition of conspecifics is crucial for their survival. Humans have specialized brain areas to recognize faces and whole bodies[2–5] and their expertise in face recognition is demonstrated by the ‘inversion effect’, showing that faces and whole bodies, but not objects, are recognized configurally rather than by their parts[6–8]. Importantly, their recognition is disproportionally impaired, relative to objects such as houses or cars, when they are seen inverted rather than upright. Conclusive evidence has shown that this effect is primarily due to a disruption in the processing of configural, rather than featural, information in faces [e.g., [9–13]. The face inversion effect has been observed in chimpanzees too, and although not all chimpanzees show this effect at all times[14, 15], overall there is evidence that configural processing is a critical element of efficient face detection in chimpanzees as well[16, 17]. Thus, effects of inversion have been observed for faces and whole bodies, but are generally not found for individual body parts. Intriguingly, previous studies included almost all body parts, except the most obvious one, which is the behind, as we will outline below.
Previous research has shown that in recognizing each other, chimpanzees do not rely on the face alone, but also easily recognize each other by their behinds. Most non-human female primates, chimpanzees included, show a swelling and reddening of the anogenital region around the time of ovulation. At some point during human evolution, these changes in size and color along the menstrual cycle have disappeared, and large quantities of ‘permanent’ adipose tissue on the behind emerged[21, 22]. Possibly, this became more adaptive when our species started to walk upright, or to hide oestrus as to be attractive for males throughout the menstrual cycle and foster pair bond formation and shared caring for offspring. To date, it is not known how behinds as compared to faces are recognized in humans and their closest relatives, but this knowledge can enhance our understanding of the evolution of face processing, as we will argue below.
Face recognition plays an incredibly important role in the survival of animals living in social groups, including humans and chimpanzees. The changeable properties of faces like expression and gaze, display emotions and intentions and are used by observers to predict behavior. The more or less invariant properties of faces are used for identification and display physical characteristics, including sex, age and attractiveness.
* * * * *
Note: Configural recognition means that something is recognized as a whole (as a gestalt), rather than recognizing parts and assembling them into a whole. David Hays and I discuss this in Metaphor, Recognition, and Neural Process (1987). The Wikipedia entry on the Thatcher effect is about configural processing of faces.
Monday, June 18, 2018
Previous research has shown the hunter-gatherer Jahai are much better at naming odors than Westerners. They even have a more elaborate lexicon for it. New research by language scientist Asifa Majid of Radboud University shows that despite these linguistic differences, the Jahai and Dutch find the same odors pleasant and unpleasant.Scholars have for centuries pointed out that smell is impossible to put into words. Dutch, like English, seems to support this view. Perhaps the only really clear example of a smell word in Dutch is "muf." The Jahai, a group of hunter-gatherers living in the Malay Peninsula, appear to be special in that they have developed an exquisite lexicon of words for smell, like other hunter-gatherers. Earlier work of Majid and colleagues already showed that hunter-gatherers seem to be especially good at talking about smell.In a new study, the researchers tested 30 Jahai speakers and 30 Dutch speakers and asked them to name odors. At the same time they also videoed their faces so they could measure their facial expressions to the different odors after the experiment. The researchers replicated the finding that Jahai speakers use special odor words to talk about smells (e.g., cŋεs used to refer to stinging sorts of smells associated with petrol, smoke, and various insects and plants, plʔeŋ used for bloody, fishy, meaty sorts of smells), while Dutch speakers referred to concrete sources (e.g., 'if you ride along or stand behind a garbage truck, but not right on top of it').
Asifa Majid et al. Olfactory language and abstraction across cultures, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (2018). DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2017.0139
Sunday, June 17, 2018
Creative thinking – Did you ever wonder where 'brainstorming' and 'thinking beyond the box' came from?
Bregje van Eekelen, Discipline and Creativity, Institute for Advanced Study, 2018.
On April 6, 1960, Institute for Advanced Study Director Robert Oppenheimer received a letter from psychologist John E. Drevdahl, requesting his support in setting up a study among IAS Members to assess the factors that made them creative. Thus far, Miami University-based Drevdahl wrote, most studies were “based upon Air Force captains and industrial chemists,” noting understatedly that “I do not feel that [this]… resulted in the identification of those personality factors which are most characteristic of a truly creative and productive researcher.” While it is easy to relate to Drevdahl’s intuition that the military and industry were not the most suitable places to capture creative thinking, it was in those very places that creativity theories and techniques were flourishing in the United States at the time.My research project on the social history of creativity shows that in the decade preceding the correspondence, processes to garner new ideas and techniques to think “beyond” existing bodies of knowledge became an object of professional interest in a contact zone of industry, the military, and academia. Various elements of the military were early sites for the introduction of creative ideation techniques. Imagine for instance a psychologist (Abraham Maslow no less) imploring military officers in 1957 to get in touch with their unconscious: “out of this unconscious, out of this deeper self, out of this portion of ourselves of which we generally are afraid and therefore try to keep under control, out of this comes the ability to play—to enjoy, to fantasy, to laugh, to loaf, to be spontaneous.” By 1964, at least 50,000 Air Force members had taken creative problem-solving courses. U.S. Steel, Reynolds Metals, Ethyl Corp, GE Motors, New York Telephone Company, and Boeing Airplane were some of the earliest industrial places where free-wheeling buzz sessions, brainstorms, and group thinks emerged.The scientific study of creativity, as carried out by Drevdahl and numerous others at the time, can be regarded as a legitimating element in this professionalization process. The field of creativity studies drew on a motley set of practitioners from military and industrial settings, engineers, philosophers, anthropologists, and psychologists. Many of their research endeavors were generously supported by military funding. The Cold War provided a generative backdrop for much of the interest in creative ideation, as it highlighted numerous pressing situations that necessitated a move beyond existing knowledge. [...] As befitted the Cold War atmosphere, Drevdahl’s creativity study was also framed as a matter of national security. “[T]he survival of this nation, and perhaps, even of Western civilization,” he argued, depended on future creators. His thesis was that the most creative people were “of only moderately superior intelligence” (which does beg the question why he was keen to study IAS Members). Rather than intelligence, he hypothesized, “personality” might be the deciding factor in creativity, and personality was amenable to change, in that it was “produced by a person’s environment.” If his hypothesis that creativity was a matter of nurture rather than nature was correct, the United States government could step in by fostering an educational and institutional ecosystem that would “create more creative people.”
And so on.
Saturday, June 16, 2018
Friday, June 15, 2018
Majorie Ingall reviews Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes, a documentary about Blue Note Records, a record label that was extraordinarly important in the jazz world of the 1940s, 50s and 60s. From the review:
The film is full of photos (Wolff was a passionate photographer), musical snippets, and footage of black jazz artists from the 1940s to the ’60s doing their thing. Blue Note’s most important behind-the-scenes hire was Van Gelder, another Jew, who was associated with it for decades; for almost seven years in the 1950s, the label’s albums were recorded in Van Gelder’s parents’ living room. Van Gelder, Donaldson, Hancock, Shorter, and jazz historian Michael Cuscuna—a consultant for Blue Note since 1984—talk about how much artists loved Lion and Wolff, how they never took advantage of the musicians who recorded for them, how they were directed by a pure love of the music. Which is probably true! But anyone who pays attention to contemporary music should be clued in to the oft-contentious relationship between African-Americans and Jews in the music business. Were Lion and Wolff extraordinary? How do they fit into the narrative of African-American art forms being capitalized on, popularized, and monetized by Jewish composers from Berlin to Jolson to Gershwin to Bernstein? Black artists have spoken of feeling exploited by white management; Jews have pointed to anti-Semitism in hip hop. Jazz in particular feels like a complex petri dish of cultural anxiety; hip hop has seemingly taken on much of the urgency jazz once had, and jazz audiences today feel heavy on wannabe-down white dudes in fedoras.... As its fans age, does an art form get less relevant?These are big questions. But this movie doesn’t go there. It’s purely a celebration of one label, which may be sufficient for informed jazz fans and lovers of classic jazz, but isn’t enough for viewers who seek to understand jazz’s place in the world now. Young and young-ish Blue Note artists like drummer Kendrick Scott, pianist and educator Robert Glasper, and bassist Derrick Hodge talk eloquently about why jazz mattered back in the day. The film shows footage of civil-rights protests and the musicians reflect on how the music reflected the social upheaval of the era. “Never at any point do I hear the music and hear them being defeated,” Hodge reflects. “Somehow, regardless of what they were fighting with, they’re going down in history, creating something … in a way that I felt freedom, in a way that brought me joy, in a way that made me want to write music that gave people hope.”
The film doesn’t effectively convey the fury and grief of the civil-rights movement. It’s not until hip-hop producer Terrace Martin shows up that we feel the immediacy and high stakes that jazz must have conveyed in the 1960s. “When I was a kid, the ghettos wasn’t used to seeing motherfuckers with instruments no more,” he says intently. “Because at that point they’d killed all the music programs in the schools.”