Saturday, October 29, 2022


The Andy Warhol Diaries [Media Notes 80]

I was certainly away of Any Warhol, the soup cans, the Factory, being shot, Interview magazine, Studio 54, and so forth. I particularly remember a short article about him in a magazine targeted at users of the Amiga personal computer. Warhol had been given an Amiga to play around with its graphics capabilities. FWIW, I wasn’t impressed with the examples of what he did with it. I Here’s an image I did on my classic Macintosh computer; I call it “Candy Andy”:

It’s based on a photomicrograph of something or other. thought he was an important artist.

I’ve now watched two episodes of the six in the Netflix documentary, The Andy Warhol Diaries (2022). They’re bleak. Not sure I’ll finish the series.

Bruce Jackson, one of my teachers from SUNY Buffalo decades ago, has some remarks about them in First of the Month:

In March 2022, Netflix aired a six-part series, The Andy Warhol Diaries, based upon Pat Hackett’s 1989 book of the same title. Each episode was a hodge-podge of archival footage and photographs, current comments from people who were close to Warhol or who knew someone who was, recreated scenes, repeated current shots of places mentioned (such as Warhol’s house), and, throughout, an AI-generated version of Warhol’s voice, saying lines that almost never went beyond banal and trivial. Many also seemed familiar. I remembered that I’d read Hackett’s book when it came out and then had reviewed it for the Buffalo News (July 2, 1989). It was one of those pieces I did and promptly forgot, in part because the News arts editor mangled it, especially the ending, which he cut off after the first sentence of the final paragraph, so the piece just stopped rather than ended. I found the manuscript, which restores what I actually wrote.

The opening paragraph from Jackson’s 1989 review (which is reprinted in First of the Month):

The vampire has no mirror image; the Andy Warhol of The Andy Warhol Diaries (ed. Pat Hackett, New York: Warner Books, 1989) has no other. His primary interest is in being and having been seen; his life is defined and preserved in other people’s eyes. His triumphs are requests from strangers for autographs, and invitations to parties and any form of social recognition by the currently-famous or fabulously wealthy. Small wonder that even his diary was written by someone else.

Somewhere in the middle:

He was innocent of politics, literature, music, and he seems to have cared little for art—but he was vitally interested in how much the other guys were getting for their paintings. He was rich, but money was a constant obsession. “Some blacks recognized me a few times this weekend, and I’m trying to figure out what they recognize so I can somehow sell it to them, whatever it is” (3 July 1977). He voted once, but couldn’t figure out how to work the machine so he pulled the wrong lever; he never voted again because he didn’t want to be called for jury duty (16 July 1980). He considered himself a Democrat.

The final paragraph:

Things go sour about 1982, the year AIDS begins doing horrible things to many of Warhol’s beautiful people. He begins noting the “gay cancer” on 6 February 1982; the acronym “AIDS” first appears nearly a year later, on 28 January 1983. The other characters are as wealthy as ever, but they seem duller and meaner. Warhol still grinds out portraits and portfolios, but there’s a flatness to his life. He walks a street and no one asks for an autograph, he leaves a party and no photographer follows him outside, he learns of important parties days after they’ve taken place. We don’t know if the pretty world Warhol loved in the 1970s has disappeared or if it has just moved elsewhere, leaving him behind. But even without the fact of Warhol’s absurd death, there’s a feeling that something was over anyway.

For all that, he was, I believe, a significant artist.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

The sun on a cloudy day [something basic]

Distribution of neurotransmitters in the brain

Abstract of the linked article:

Neurotransmitter receptors support the propagation of signals in the human brain. How receptor systems are situated within macro-scale neuroanatomy and how they shape emergent function remain poorly understood, and there exists no comprehensive atlas of receptors. Here we collate positron emission tomography data from more than 1,200 healthy individuals to construct a whole-brain three-dimensional normative atlas of 19 receptors and transporters across nine different neurotransmitter systems. We found that receptor profiles align with structural connectivity and mediate function, including neurophysiological oscillatory dynamics and resting-state hemodynamic functional connectivity. Using the Neurosynth cognitive atlas, we uncovered a topographic gradient of overlapping receptor distributions that separates extrinsic and intrinsic psychological processes. Finally, we found both expected and novel associations between receptor distributions and cortical abnormality patterns across 13 disorders. We replicated all findings in an independently collected autoradiography dataset. This work demonstrates how chemoarchitecture shapes brain structure and function, providing a new direction for studying multi-scale brain organization.

This is relevant to the concept of behavioral mode as set-forth in Principles and Development of Natural Intelligence.

Tweetstream presenting the findings:

Sadness is on the rise across the globe

From the article:

The researchers Charlotte Brand, Alberto Acerbi and Alex Mesoudi analyzed more than 150,000 pop songs released between 1965 and 2015. Over that time, the appearance of the word “love” in top-100 hits roughly halved. Meanwhile, the number of times such songs contained negative emotion words, like “hate” rose sharply.

Pop music isn’t the only thing that has gotten a lot harsher. David Rozado, Ruth Hughes and Jamin Halberstadt analyzed 23 million headlines published between 2000 and 2019 by 47 different news outlets popular in the United States. The headlines, too, grew significantly more negative, with a greater proportion of headlines denoting anger, fear, disgust and sadness. Headlines in left-leaning media got a lot more negative, but headlines in right-leaning publications got even more negative than that.

The negativity in the culture reflects the negativity in real life. The General Social Survey asks people to rate their happiness levels. Between 1990 and 2018 the share of Americans who put themselves in the lowest happiness category increased by more than 50 percent. And that was before the pandemic.

The really bad news is abroad. Each year Gallup surveys roughly 150,000 people in over 140 countries about their emotional lives. Experiences of negative emotions — related to stress, sadness, anger, worry and physical pain — hit a record high last year.

The last two paragraphs:

If misery levels keep rising, what can we expect in the future? Well, rising levels of populism for one. And second, greater civil unrest across the board. Clifton noted that according to the Global Peace Index, civic discontent — riots, strikes, anti-government demonstrations — increased by 244 percent from 2011 to 2019.

We live in a world of widening emotional inequality. The top 20 percent of the world is experiencing highest level of happiness and well-being since Gallup began measuring these things. The bottom 20 percent is experiencing the worst. It’s a fundamentally unjust and unstable situation. The emotional health of the world is shattering.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

What's that triangular building?

Why imagine future dystopias rather than utopias? [Rogue-AI]

This is "adjacent" to a problem I've been thinking about: Why is it that the prospect of Rogue AI's have become the focal point of an intellectual community (aka "cult") but utopian AI-mediated futures have not? Because imagining futures is much more difficult than breaking something that exists. Moreover, there are many possibilities for the future, representing various values. Getting people to agree on imagined futures would be difficult. Getting people to agree on protecting what we have is much easier, and so is a more plausible focus for community.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

An interesting discussion of the implications of anarchy in outer space

Nonzero: Is Outer Space the New Wild West? | (Robert Wright & Douglas Ligor)

There are 10s of thousands of chunks of space debris in low earth orbit as the result humankind’s collective excursions into space. Leaving aside the issue of weaponizing these things, they’ve begun to collide occasionally. The problem’s just going to get worse as we put more stuff up there. At 40:45 this discussion has interesting remarks about why there are no treaties regulating space junk.

More generally, the discussion implies the issue of x-risk as nations jockey for control of space.

1:49 How worried should we be about the “Kessler Syndrome”?
7:46 The nightmare scenario for anti-satellite weapons anarchy
13:34 How an attack in space could trigger WWIII
25:13 International law is way behind the curve in outer space
40:45 Why isn’t the grave threat of space anarchy getting attention?
54:10 How the new Cold War makes conflict in space more likely

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Is this how Putin thinks about using nukes?

Douglas London, Addressing Putin’s Nuclear Threat: Thinking Like the Cold War KGB Officer That He Was, Just Security, October 18, 2022:

From the article:

As a Russian-speaking CIA operations officer who spent much of my career pursuing and countering Russian intelligence officers of Putin’s era, and those who would follow, I don’t expect his next steps will be guided by Clausewitz’s strategic military teachings, Sun Tzu’s enlightened pragmatism, or Machiavelli’s guidance for princes. Putin will pay little heed to the limited, practical, battlefield utility of nuclear or chemical weapons, or overly concern himself that prevailing winds might bring the fallout’s enduring harm to his own people. Putin’s logic is simple: It’s all about him, his court’s blind, obsequious obedience, and reasserting control. There are no rules, only consequences, that shape his calculus. In Putin’s mind, the rules of the post-World War II order were designed by an elitist West to restrain and humiliate his country (never mind that his country helped shape and long participated in that order and those rules), negating any obligation he has to respect them, or the words and treaties of his predecessors.

Putin will not look to his own military for counsel. There is no love lost between the Russian leader and his armed forces. A Cold War-era KGB officer, he was indoctrinated with profound mistrust in them. His micromanagement of Russia’s military campaign, disinterest in its catastrophic losses, and reliance instead on the Federal Security Service, or FSB, for his war in Chechnya and initial strategy in Ukraine, reflect this attitude.


Indeed, if Putin is like others of his generation and profession — and his behavior suggests that he is — he will use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons if he believes doing so is the only means to preserve his power as dissent increases within his own ranks and military options dwindle. For Putin, that translates into curbing Western support for Ukraine and demonstrating strength, control, and invincibility at home.

After various arguments, the conclusion:

So the United States and its allies will need to begin working now – and apparently already are – to signal publicly and privately to the Kremlin that any use of nuclear weapons, whether tactical or not, in Ukraine or beyond, would be devastating to him personally. Words alone do little with Putin, so the United States and NATO would necessarily need to begin taking observable actions accompanied by diplomacy, messaging, and covert influence efforts that demonstrate preparations to conventionally destroy Putin’s forces in Ukraine if he resorted to nuclear first use. The challenge would be in doing so without instead validating his narrative of inevitable existential battle with the West, justifying his first use of nuclear weapons, and triggering a wider war between Russia and NATO that escalates into what had been, since the 1990’s at least, the unthinkable.

And that’s the unavoidable danger in high-stakes brinksmanship: a willingness to have one’s bluff called and gambling who blinks first. But to mitigate against Putin’s initiation of such a spiral and ultimately prevent Russian nuclear use, the US and its NATO allies must be prepared to climb that escalatory conventional ladder and respond, leaving no ambiguity with Putin of the consequences. [...] But keeping the engagement localized, not extending even to Crimea, might reduce Putin’s obligation to escalate still further.

The unfortunate reality is that Putin can’t be stopped without significant costs, but allowing him to normalize the use of weapons of mass destruction would start the inevitable clock to a direct and possibly catastrophic US-Russian conflict. It is a strategy that could require yet further investment of American blood and treasure today in requiring Putin to face consequences designed to prevent a full-scale war and potential nuclear escalation, but costs that are necessary to preserve international peace and security in the long term.

H/t Tyler Cowen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Interpersonal synch is stronger face-to-face than in video chat

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

4 steaks on a colorful plate

5 propositions about art from a 7-year old

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Friendship between a [toy] gorilla and a frog

Chimps and gorillas can be friends

Abstract from article linked above:


  • First evidence of social relationships between chimpanzees and gorillas is reported
  • Social ties between chimpanzees and gorillas persisted over years and across contexts
  • Ape species engaged in a wide range of interactions, from play to aggression
  • Coexisting great apes may inform us about interactions between some early hominins


Gorillas reside in sympatry with chimpanzees over the majority of their range. Compiling all known reports of overlap between apes and augmenting these with observations made over twenty years in the Ndoki Forest, we examine the potential predation-related, foraging, and social contexts of interspecific associations between gorillas and chimpanzees. We reveal a greater diversity of interactions than previously recognized, which range from play to lethal aggression. Furthermore, there are indications that interactions between ape species may serve multiple functions. Interactions between gorillas and chimpanzees were most common during foraging activities, but they also overlapped in several other contexts. From a social perspective, we provide evidence of consistent relationships between particular chimpanzee-gorilla dyads. In addition to providing new insights into extant primate community dynamics, the diversity of interactions between apes points to an entirely new field of study in early human origins as early hominins also likely had opportunities to associate. 

* * * * *

Here's the story as reported in the NYTimes. From the article:

Social apes occasionally stepped on one another’s toes, and the team noted moments of friction. But aggressive interactions rarely got beyond yelled warnings, and never escalated to the kind of lethal interspecies attacks seen at sites in Gabon.

Advertisement Continue reading the main story

“They’re not spending all of their time together, but they’re definitely coming together more consistently and regularly than we’d anticipated,” Dr. Sanz said. “These social ties are not what we’d have been expecting if these were just chance interactions in a foraging landscape.”

These sorts of groupings don’t seem to help ward off predation, Dr. Sanz and her colleagues found. Instead, maintaining friendly relationships seems to open up new feeding opportunities, with apes of different species sometimes alerting one another to fruits that are harder to spot. Co-feeding, in turn, gives apes a chance to make lasting relationships.

“Five or 10 years down the road, these individuals on the landscape know each other — they grew up together, they interacted every week or so at different types of food resources,” Dr. Sanz said.

It’s notable that these connections often start with play between two similar species, said Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University who was not involved with the study. “It must be as much fun for them to play together as it is between us and, say, a dog or other companion animal. It expands how we look at primate social systems, which traditionally is entirely within species.”

Saturday, October 8, 2022

The cultural evolution of emotion

The abstract of the linked article:

Scholarly debates about the nature of human emotion traditionally pit biological and cultural influences against one another. Although many existing theories acknowledge the role of culture, they mostly treat emotion categories such as ‘anger’ as biological products. In this Perspective, we summarize traditional assumptions about the roles of biology and culture in emotion alongside supporting and conflicting empirical evidence. Building on constructionist models of emotion, we introduce a cultural evolutionary perspective that moves beyond a strict biology-versus-culture dichotomy. This cultural evolutionary perspective uses dual inheritance models of cultural transmission to explain how variation in emotion can arise across groups, how affect-laden information can travel throughout populations, and why people in different cultures use both similar and different emotion concepts and non-verbal expressions. This cultural evolution framework allows for new hypotheses about the development of emotion categories and challenges longstanding claims about the universality of emotion.

Tree trunks and greens

Hedging THE EVENT: Yes, the super-rich are different from you and me, they think they can buy their way out of mortality

I'm bouncing this to the top because it links up with my current interest in AI Doom. Rushkoff has turned this article into a book, reviewed by Cory Doctorow, Survival of the Richest.

* * * * *
Douglas Rushkoff was recently paid "about half my annual professor’s salary " to talk (republished at at The Guardian) with "five super-wealthy guys — yes, all men — from the upper echelon of the hedge fund world."
Which region will be less impacted by the coming climate crisis: New Zealand or Alaska? Is Google really building Ray Kurzweil a home for his brain, and will his consciousness live through the transition, or will it die and be reborn as a whole new one? Finally, the CEO of a brokerage house explained that he had nearly completed building his own underground bunker system and asked, “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?”

The Event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr. Robot hack that takes everything down.

This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time.

That’s when it hit me: At least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology.
This, of course, is nuts.
There’s nothing wrong with madly optimistic appraisals of how technology might benefit human society. But the current drive for a post-human utopia is something else. It’s less a vision for the wholesale migration of humanity to a new a state of being than a quest to transcend all that is human: the body, interdependence, compassion, vulnerability, and complexity. As technology philosophers have been pointing out for years, now, the transhumanist vision too easily reduces all of reality to data, concluding that “humans are nothing but information-processing objects.”
How'd we come to this?
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. There was a brief moment, in the early 1990s, when the digital future felt open-ended and up for our invention. Technology was becoming a playground for the counterculture, who saw in it the opportunity to create a more inclusive, distributed, and pro-human future. But established business interests only saw new potentials for the same old extraction, and too many technologists were seduced by unicorn IPOs. Digital futures became understood more like stock futures or cotton futures — something to predict and make bets on. So nearly every speech, article, study, documentary, or white paper was seen as relevant only insofar as it pointed to a ticker symbol. The future became less a thing we create through our present-day choices or hopes for humankind than a predestined scenario we bet on with our venture capital but arrive at passively.

This freed everyone from the moral implications of their activities. Technology development became less a story of collective flourishing than personal survival. [...] So instead of considering the practical ethics of impoverishing and exploiting the many in the name of the few, most academics, journalists, and science-fiction writers instead considered much more abstract and fanciful conundrums: Is it fair for a stock trader to use smart drugs? Should children get implants for foreign languages? Do we want autonomous vehicles to prioritize the lives of pedestrians over those of its passengers? Should the first Mars colonies be run as democracies? Does changing my DNA undermine my identity? Should robots have rights?

Asking these sorts of questions, while philosophically entertaining, is a poor substitute for wrestling with the real moral quandaries associated with unbridled technological development in the name of corporate capitalism.
* * * * *

Here's a fictional addendum: It's from Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140

By that time the sea had risen 50 feet above where it had been in the 20th century, changing the city in substantial ways. Extreme income inequality still existed. And now a hurricane had hit the city with a 20 foot surge. Major disaster. An angry mob is headed toward some super-luxury residential towers north of Harlem. The private security forces starts firing over their heads. Inspector Gen is with a contingent of police between the mob and the towers. Gen gets the private security to go inside and starts talking with their boss, now under arrest, whom she’d met a week earlier on the water. He’s thinking (p. 506):
And it also looked like he was considering his options, not as this tower’s security head, but as an individual who could get sued or go to jail. Who had perhaps made mistakes, after being ordered to do an illegal and impossible thing, by bosses who did not care about him. Best options for himself, he was now considering.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Inside looking out [the Malibu]

AI-Doom – Just who is a cargo cult?

I spotted this post on LessWrong two months ago, jam-mosig, Paper reading as a Cargo Cult. It was the presence of the word “cult” in the title that caught my attention. Why? Because I think that belief in AI-Doom is ‘cult’ behavior – see my post in 3 Quarks Daily, On the Cult of AI Doom – but I’ve got reservations about the word ‘cult.’? Why? Well, I’m not clear on just what the word means, how to apply it to the world. Here’s the problem, sorta’. Every now and again I’ve seen a discussion of the difference between cult and religion in which it is observed that a religion is just a cult that has managed to achieve legitimacy. That is to say, the difference is not a matter of the beliefs, but of their social standing. This post is not a place to attempt to hash that out, but I think it’s a legitimate issue.

However, LessWrong is a place where AI Doom (that is, AI as existential risk) is a legitimate complex of beliefs. It is one of the central sites on the web for discussions of those ideas. Thus it is interesting and significant to see the word used on that site. It’s a sure indication that the issue of broader legitimacy is explicitly recognized in that world.

Note, however, that the post isn’t specifically about belief in AI Doom, but rather about the broader issue of AI alignment, where the possibility that AI presents an existential risk is only one issue among many. But it is the most extreme and distressing one.

* * * * *

Having said that, let’s take a look at the post. Here’s how the post opens:

I have come across various people (including my past self) who meet up regularly to study, e.g., alignment forum posts and discuss them. This helps people bond over their common believes, fears, and interests, which I think is good, but in no way is this ever going to lead anyone to find a solution to the alignment problem. In this post I'll reason why this doesn't help, and what I think we should do instead.

The cult

Reading good papers can be fun. You learn something interesting and, if the topic is hard but well presented by the authors, you get a kick from finally understanding something complicated. But is what you learned actually useful for the problem at hand? What is the question that drove you to read this paper in such detail?

Yes, you need to regularly skim papers for fun, so you get an idea of what's out there and where to look when you need something. You also need to absorb terminology and good writing practice, so you can communicate your own research. Yet, I believe that fun-reading should only occupy a tiny fraction of your time, as you have more important things to do (see next section).

Despite its relative unimportance, paper reading groups tend to focus a lot on this fun-reading aspect. They are more of a social gathering than a mechanism to boost progress.

The post is, in effect, distinguishing between a serious concern about AI alignment (which includes AI Doom) and a more superficial commitment. This more superficial commitment is (thus) cultlike and centers on social activity, not intellectual investigation.

After some more remarks about ‘the cult’ jam-mosig takes up the issue of “actual science”:

To drive scientific progress means to do something that nobody else has ever done before. This means that your idea or line of research tends to seem strange to others (at first sight). At the same time, it also tends to seem obvious to you - it's just the natural next step when you take seriously what you've learnt so far.

Before I properly reconcile "strange" and "obvious" here, let me warn you of a trap: It is very easy to have an idea that seems obvious to you, but strange to others, when you are delusional. Especially when you are good at arguing, you can easily make yourself believe that you are right and everybody else is just not seeing it. Beware that trap.

I find that second paragraph interesting because it outlines the epistemological problem presented by cultishness. Cult beliefs are obvious to those in the cult, but strange to others.

While there’s more to the post, though not much more, that’s enough for my purpose, which is simply to show that the issue of coltishness is real within the AI alignment community. The author of the post seems intent on showing that, while they once engaged in this cultish behavior, they’ve since moved beyond it. But those other people, over there...they’ve got to change their ways.

Active Matter

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Don't forget the irises

Linearly Mapping from Image to Text Space

The paper's conclusion:

In this paper, we test the extent to which the representations of language models encode information about the non-linguistic world in terms of their ability to use image representations to perform vision-language tasks. We show through LiMBeR (Linearly Mapping Between Representation spaces) that training a linear (thus, distance-preserving) transformation to connect image features to an LM’s input space is competitive on image captioning and visual question answering benchmarks with similar models like MAGMA that tune both image and text networks. However, we also find that such transfer is highly dependant on the amount of linguistic supervision the image encoder backbone had during its pretraining phase. BEIT, which is a vision-only image encoder underperforms compared to CLIP, which was pretrained with natural language captions. We explore what conceptual information transfers successfully, and find through probing, clustering, and analysis of generated text that the representational similarity between LMs and vision-only image representations is mostly restricted to coarse-grained concepts of perceptual features. Our findings indicate that large LMs do appear to form models of the visual world along these perceptual concepts to some extent, but are biased to form categorical concepts of words that are not distinguished by vision-only models. We are excited by future work applying LiMBeR to other domains and modalities as a behavioral tool for understanding the representations of LMs and other deep neural networks.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Smoothies and Crabcakes

Semantic reconstruction of continuous language from non-invasive brain recordings

Abstract of linked article:

A brain-computer interface that decodes continuous language from non-invasive recordings would have many scientific and practical applications. Currently, however, decoders that reconstruct continuous language use invasive recordings from surgically implanted electrodes, while decoders that use non-invasive recordings can only identify stimuli from among a small set of letters, words, or phrases. Here we introduce a non-invasive decoder that reconstructs continuous natural language from cortical representations of semantic meaning recorded using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Given novel brain recordings, this decoder generates intelligible word sequences that recover the meaning of perceived speech, imagined speech, and even silent videos, demonstrating that a single language decoder can be applied to a range of semantic tasks. To study how language is represented across the brain, we tested the decoder on different cortical networks, and found that natural language can be separately decoded from multiple cortical networks in each hemisphere. As brain-computer interfaces should respect mental privacy, we tested whether successful decoding requires subject cooperation, and found that subject cooperation is required both to train and to apply the decoder. Our study demonstrates that continuous language can be decoded from non-invasive brain recordings, enabling future multipurpose brain-computer interfaces.