Think ahead, but not too far

It’s a good time for spaced-based sci-fi at the moment, with the latest Dune and Foundation adaptations on screens of various sizes. The former seems to be making a bigger impact than the latter, though. This article from the Long Now folks suggests a reason why.

“Dune,” “Foundation,” and the allure of science fiction that thinks long-termBlog of the Long Now
In a moment of broader cultural gloominess, Dune’s perspective may resonate more with the current movie-going public. Its themes of long-term ecological destruction, terraforming, and the specter of religious extremism seem in many ways ripped out of the headlines, while Asimov’s technocratic belief in scholarly wisdom as a shining light may be less in vogue. Ultimately, though, the core appeal of these works is not in how each matches with the fashion of today, but in how they look forward through thousands of years of human futures, keeping our imagination of long-term thinking alive.

Long-term thinking, that can only be a good thing, right? Longtermism, on the other hand…

Against longtermismAeon Essays
Why do I think this ideology is so dangerous? The short answer is that elevating the fulfilment of humanity’s supposed potential above all else could nontrivially increase the probability that actual people – those alive today and in the near future – suffer extreme harms, even death. Consider that, as I noted elsewhere, the longtermist ideology inclines its adherents to take an insouciant attitude towards climate change. Why? Because even if climate change causes island nations to disappear, triggers mass migrations and kills millions of people, it probably isn’t going to compromise our longterm potential over the coming trillions of years. If one takes a cosmic view of the situation, even a climate catastrophe that cuts the human population by 75 per cent for the next two millennia will, in the grand scheme of things, be nothing more than a small blip – the equivalent of a 90-year-old man having stubbed his toe when he was two.

Bringing Beethoven back

We’ve seen how AI can bring to life people that have never existed, as well as those that certainly have. And we’re familiar with the ridiculous surreal art it can churn out and the sublime Bach-like harmonies it can spin. But what about creating something much more substantial, like a whole symphony? And a Beethoven symphony, at that.

The project started in 2019 …

How a team of musicologists and computer scientists completed Beethoven’s unfinished 10th SymphonyThe Conversation
When Ludwig van Beethoven died in 1827, he was three years removed from the completion of his Ninth Symphony, a work heralded by many as his magnum opus. He had started work on his 10th Symphony but, due to deteriorating health, wasn’t able to make much headway: All he left behind were some musical sketches.

Ever since then, Beethoven fans and musicologists have puzzled and lamented over what could have been. His notes teased at some magnificent reward, albeit one that seemed forever out of reach.

Now, thanks to the work of a team of music historians, musicologists, composers and computer scientists, Beethoven’s vision will come to life.

Artificial intelligence to “complete” Beethoven’s tenth symphonyi24News: YouTube

… and earlier this month, they premiered the result.

After more than two centuries, Beethoven’s 10th Symphony has been completed by an AIEuronews
For Werzowa, it was exciting to discover variations of Beethoven’s work each morning, that had been sent overnight by his US colleagues from Rutgers University.

“Because of the time difference, in the morning, I got up early, quite excited and ran to my computer to find hundreds of possibilities which were formulated overnight, well during my night,” he said. “And it was always a beautiful morning occupation, drinking tea and coffee while listening and choosing those Beethoven inspirations”. […]

As for the master computer, no gigantic machine with tons of buttons and keyboards were involved: a simple laptop was used to finish to unfinishable.

“I asked him many times ‘please send me pictures’ and I was so curious, it’s like I imagined like this Star Trek, Star Wars kind of thing, with kilometres of computers,” Werzowa told AP. “He never sent it to me over the two years and finally he did after this whole thing was done. And what he showed me was basically a computer rig which looks like my son’s computer rig so it was actually disappointing: This is it? This made that amazing work?”

And the Beethoven goes on: Bonn premieres ‘new’ 10th symphonyIrish Times
No word on whether London’s Royal Philharmonic Society – who commissioned the symphony in 1817 – ever got its money back from the composer’s estate for services not rendered.

How an AI finished Beethoven’s last symphony and what that means for the future of musicBBC Science Focus Magazine
What has the response been like from musicians and composers? Their response is really mixed. There are people who loved this very much, and love the idea of having an AI that understands music and can help you finish your composition or have you explore different musical ideas.

But on the other side of the spectrum, there are people who just reject even the concept of being able to complete a Beethoven symphony using AI. They are afraid of AI taking their jobs and think that it has nothing to do with this kind of thing.

But enough of all the words — let’s hear the music!

Beethoven X: The AI Project: III Scherzo. Allegro – TrioModern Recordings: YouTube
Modern Recordings / BMG present as a foretaste of the album “Beethoven X – The AI Project” (release: 8.10.) the edit of the 3rd movement “Scherzo. Allegro – Trio” as a classical music video.

That was just a short edit of the third movement. Embedded within this next link is a video of the whole premiere, featuring movements 3 and 4.

World Premiere: Beethoven XMagentaMusic 360
It is done: Shortly before his death, Ludwig van Beethoven began to compose his 10th Symphony, but it remained unfinished. On the 250th birthday of the genius, Deutsche Telekom and an international team of music experts and artificial intelligence experts have dared to try to complete Beethoven’s 10th Symphony with the help of artificial intelligence. On 9 October, the 10th Symphony was premiered in Bonn by the Beethoven Orchestra Bonn under the direction of Dirk Kaftan.

I’m relying on Google Translate for the text of that link. The introductory speeches are in German too, though the little documentary they play that starts 12 minutes in is subtitled and worth a look. The performance itself is 16 minutes in.

It’s also been released on Spotify, together with a recording of the eighth symphony from the premiere.

Beethoven X: The AI ProjectSpotify
Beethoven Orchestra Bonn, Dirk Kaftan, Walter Werzowa 2021

It seems this is not the only version of Beethoven’s 10th symphony. There’s also this one, “realized” by Barry Cooper, plus documentary (ignore that crazy sax intro). But seriously, nothing — not even his fifth — matches his ninth. I mean, come on!

What’s in a name? #12

It seems Facebook are planning to take a leaf out of Google/Alphabet’s book, and separate out the thing it’s known best for from the insidious, multinational, overarching mega-conglomerate behind it.

Facebook is planning to rebrand the company with a new nameThe Verge
Facebook is planning to change its company name next week to reflect its focus on building the metaverse, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

The coming name change, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to talk about at the company’s annual Connect conference on October 28th, but could unveil sooner, is meant to signal the tech giant’s ambition to be known for more than social media and all the ills that entail. The rebrand would likely position the blue Facebook app as one of many products under a parent company overseeing groups like Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and more.

New logo? Call itself ‘FCBK’? Bring back poking? How Facebook could rebrandThe Guardian
“Horizon” has been touted as Facebook’s new umbrella name, but in my estimation this is both too bland and too far removed from the company’s origins. Instead, let’s just ditch all the vowels and call it FCBK. Yes, it would be using the sort of textspeak that has been extinct for a decade and a half and, yes, at first glance it does look like there’s a new company called “Fuckbook”. But this is Facebook, remember. What were you expecting – competence?

Ubiquitous book design

Noticed something blobby these days? (No, not that one.)

Behold, the book blobPRINT Magazine
This design trend, well into its third or fourth year in the major publishing houses, has attracted plenty of nicknames and attendant discourse online—culture critic Jeva Lange calls it “blobs of suggestive colors,” while writer Alana Pockros calls it the “unicorn frappuccino cover,” and New Yorker writer Kyle Chayka once referred to it on Twitter as “the Zombie Formalism of book covers.”

As the article goes on to say, spotting such trends in book cover design is far from breaking news.

Why do so many book covers look the same? Blame Getty ImagesEye on Design
This summer, Morrison, who goes by Caustic Cover Critic at his @Unwise_Trousers Twitter account, posted a collage of 20 Fog Men on 20 book covers. They comprised but one subset of a folder on his computer, titled, “One Image, Many Covers.” Over a few mid-June days, he emptied that folder all over Twitter, drawing the attention of authors, designers, and readers alike. Among the members of the One Image Many Covers All-Star Team: Some askew knees (three covers); a 1933 George Hoyningen-Huene photograph of model Toto Koopman in evening wear (eight covers); a woman expressing despair on the prairie (10 covers); a spectral, Victorian-ish lass toting an empty birdcage (10 covers); a top-hatted man lurking in the middle distance alongside a wrought iron fence (nine covers); a naked woman asleep on gravel (11).

That was from 2019, this next article is from 2015.

Why do so many of this year’s book covers have the same design style?Slate
But lately, another cover design trend has been popping up on this summer’s crop of beach reads: the flat woman. Inspired by the “flat design” that’s become standard on the Web, these covers take on a minimalist style characterized by bright colors, simple layouts, and lots of white space. Several different designers and publishers have used this approach on hardcovers and paperbacks alike, especially those aiming for the upmarket-but-still-commercial-fiction-for-ladies sweet spot.

And this one’s from 2008.

Chick lit cover girls, without headsGawker
On one hand, we can understand obscuring the faces—it’s less specific and makes the female protagonist easier to project oneself onto. (It’s probably been focus-grouped to death.) On the other hand—they look weird when put all together in a gallery, don’t they?

The hidden microwork behind automation

Refugees help power machine learning advances at Microsoft, Facebook, and AmazonRest of World
A woman living in Kenya’s Dadaab, which is among the world’s largest refugee camps, wanders across the vast, dusty site to a central hut lined with computers. Like many others who have been brutally displaced and then warehoused at the margins of our global system, her days are spent toiling away for a new capitalist vanguard thousands of miles away in Silicon Valley. A day’s work might include labelling videos, transcribing audio, or showing algorithms how to identify various photos of cats.

Amid a drought of real employment, “clickwork” represents one of few formal options for Dadaab’s residents, though the work is volatile, arduous, and, when waged, paid by the piece. Cramped and airless workspaces, festooned with a jumble of cables and loose wires, are the antithesis to the near-celestial campuses where the new masters of the universe reside. […]

Microwork comes with no rights, security, or routine and pays a pittance — just enough to keep a person alive yet socially paralyzed. Stuck in camps, slums, or under colonial occupation, workers are compelled to work simply to subsist under conditions of bare life. This unequivocally racialized aspect to the programs follows the logic of the prison-industrial complex, whereby surplus — primarily black — populations [in the United States] are incarcerated and legally compelled as part of their sentence to labor for little to no payment. Similarly exploiting those confined to the economic shadows, microwork programs represent the creep of something like a refugee-industrial complex.

And it’s not just happening in Kenya.

Brazilian workers paid equivalent of 70 cents an hour to transcribe TikToksThe Intercept
For Felipe, the plan to make a little quick money became a hellish experience. With TikTok’s short-form video format, much of the audio that needed transcription was only a few seconds long. The payment, made in U.S. dollars, was supposed to be $14 for every hour of audio transcribed. Amassing the secondslong clips into an hour of transcribed audio took Felipe about 20 hours. That worked out to only about 70 cents per hour — or 3.85 Brazilian reals, about three-quarters of Brazil’s minimum wage.

The minimum wage, however, did not apply to the TikTok transcribers — like many other workers, the transcription job used the gig economy model, a favorite of tech firms. Gig economy workers are not protected by some labor laws; they are considered independent contractors rather than employees or even wage earners. In the case of the TikTok transcribers, who did not even have formal contracts, pay was based on how much transcribing they did rather than the hours they worked.

Keep it down, s’il vous plaît

After reading about how Venice is planning to use technology to control its tourists, here’s an article on Paris’s plans to tackle noise pollution.

Paris will try using sound sensors to fine vehicles causing noise pollutionQuartz
Similar technology has been used by police departments in US cities to determine the location of gunshots, but French cities have been pioneers in cracking down on noise as a traffic violation and public health hazard. Mayor Anne Hidalgo made reducing noise pollution part of her 2020 reelection campaign. Noise pollution is a top issue in France after air pollution. A study by Bruitparif found that in the greater Paris region, the health impacts of noise can cost a person an average 10 months of a healthy life, and July 2021 study estimated that the resulting social health costs from noise pollution—illness, hospitalization, lost years of work—could cost France €156 billion ($181 billion USD) per year.

I’m all for it.

NoiseWHO Europe
Excessive noise seriously harms human health and interferes with people’s daily activities at school, at work, at home and during leisure time. It can disturb sleep, cause cardiovascular and psychophysiological effects, reduce performance and provoke annoyance responses and changes in social behaviour.

Traffic noise alone is harmful to the health of almost every third person in the WHO European Region. One in five Europeans is regularly exposed to sound levels at night that could significantly damage health.

Another reason to go electric? Not necessarily.

Welcome, but not too welcome

On one hand, you have giant violins floating down Venice’s Grand Canal drawing in the crowds. On the other, plans to use high-tech crowd control techniques designed to keep those crowds at bay.

Venice, overwhelmed by tourists, tries tracking themThe New York Times
The city’s leaders are acquiring the cellphone data of unwitting tourists and using hundreds of surveillance cameras to monitor visitors and prevent crowding. Next summer, they plan to install long-debated gates at key entry points; visitors coming only for the day will have to book ahead and pay a fee to enter. If too many people want to come, some will be turned away. […]

But many residents see the plans to monitor, and control, people’s movements as dystopian — and either a publicity stunt or a way to attract wealthier tourists, who might be discouraged from coming by the crowds. “It’s like declaring once and for all that Venice is not a city, but a museum,” said Giorgio Santuzzo, 58, who works as a photographer and artist in the city.

Recognising the female gaze

News of a fascinating exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The New Woman Behind the CameraThe Metropolitan Museum of Art
Featuring more than 120 photographers from over 20 countries, this groundbreaking exhibition explores the work of the diverse “new” women who embraced photography as a mode of professional and artistic expression from the 1920s through the 1950s. During this tumultuous period shaped by two world wars, women stood at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

Neglected 20th-century women photographers begin to get their dueHyperallergic
It is a breath of fresh air to see some of the show’s more familiar names — Ilse Bing, Germaine Krull, Margaret Bourke-White — finally get their due, as they are too often relegated to the corners of exhibitions to say, in effect, “Oh, and there were women too!” Bing, in particular, is a star of the show, as her “Self-Portrait with Leica” (1931) asserts an unwavering female gaze. Like Annemarie Heinrich and Florence Henri, whose work also features in the exhibition, Bing uses mirrors to toy with photography’s flattening of three-dimensional space, obscuring the distinction between reality and reflection, subject and object. When we view beautiful women in pictures, they do not typically look back at us, judging our gazes; Bing’s camera thus becomes a sort of weapon, a radical self-defense.

I wonder if Masha Ivashintsova or Audrey Tautou make an appearance.