A more poetic AI

I’ve a number of posts here tagged AI and art, but not so many about its impact on music or poetry. Let’s put that right. But first (via It’s Nice That), a quick recap.

The A-Z of AIWith Google
This beginner’s A-Z guide is a collaboration between the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) at the University of Oxford and Google, intended to break a complex area of computer science down into entry-level explanations that will help anyone get their bearings and understand the basics.

Topics include bias and ethics, as well as quantum computing and the Turing test. Nothing about Shakespeare though.

This AI poet mastered rhythm, rhyme, and natural language to write like ShakespeareIEEE Spectrum
Deep-speare’s creation is nonsensical when you read it closely, but it certainly “scans well,” as an English teacher would say—its rhythm, rhyme scheme, and the basic grammar of its individual lines all seem fine at first glance. As our research team discovered when we showed our AI’s poetry to the world, that’s enough to fool quite a lot of people; most readers couldn’t distinguish the AI-generated poetry from human-written works.

I think they’re better off sticking to the visuals.

Beck launches Hyperspace: AI Exploration, a visual album with NASAIt’s Nice That
The project was made possible by AI architects and directors OSK, founded by artists Jon Ray and Isabelle Albuquerque, who began the project by asking, “How would artificial intelligence imagine our universe?” In answering this question it allowed the directors to create “a unique AI utilising computer vision, machine learning and Generative Adversarial neural Networks (GAN) to learn from NASA’s vast archives.” The AI then trained itself through these thousands of images, data and videos, to then begin “creating its own visions of our universe.”

Some of them can really hold a tune, though.

What do machines sing of?Martin Backes
“What do machines sing of?” is a fully automated machine, which endlessly sings number-one ballads from the 1990s. As the computer program performs these emotionally loaded songs, it attempts to apply the appropriate human sentiments. This behavior of the device seems to reflect a desire, on the part of the machine, to become sophisticated enough to have its very own personality.

Lastly, it’s good to see that you can still be silly with technology and music.

There are so many articles like this

An actually useful guide to not being on your phone all the timeVice
If you’re struggling to detach yourself from your various devices during this pandemic—or, if you can’t do that out of necessity, but would like strategies for constantly looking at a screen without wanting to crack it into pieces—here are some tips.

Alternatively

Joanne McNeil knows what she’s talking about

7 books about cyberspace by women writersElectric Literature
Here are seven texts that capture the emotional charge and atmospheric qualities of the internet, especially in its early years. These authors express what it felt like to be present and part of the free-ranging internet populace that was cyberspace and is the internet now—sometimes—in its more secretive corners.

We’re doomed! #2

You can now boot a Windows 95 PC inside Minecraft and play Doom on it – The Verge
If you’ve ever wanted to build a real and working Windows 95 PC inside Minecraft, now is the time. A new VM Computers mod has been created for Minecraft that allows players to order computer parts from a satellite orbiting around a Minecraft world and build a computer that actually boots Windows 95 and a variety of other operating systems.

uDrunkMate on Reddit

Here’s another one, though all might not be as it seems.

Doom running in task manager with each CPU core as a pixel, supposedlyBoing Boing
In this footage, a supercomputer’s CPU cores — nearly 900 of them — are neatly lined up in the Task Manager. The Doom logo appears, generated by code that targets each core. Then Doom itself plays, each “pixel” generated by thrashing a core with just the right amount of busy work.

You’re right to be incredulous — the article goes on to explain how that video might be fake.

Ignore your inbox

Why email loses out to popular apps in ChinaBBC Worklife
Zhong Ling, assistant professor of economics at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, believes WeChat fits into the Chinese working culture. “WeChat, as a messaging platform, demands less formal working time than email,” she says. “This informality makes people more likely to respond instantaneously… the demand for [an] immediate response is motivated by the cultural and business environment in China.”

To get help, pick up your phone

This is not an easy time to be living through, but perhaps spending more time on your phone could help. Did you know that the NHS has an app library, full of health-related NHS-tested apps? There’s a mental health section, with apps dealing with all sorts of issues from stress, anxiety and panic attacks, to insomnia and self-harm and more.

Can apps help you manage your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic? – Patient
“This is a time of great unrest and financial anxiety and some people may not feel confident or able to enter into the commitment of more traditional modes of therapy when their lives feel so up in the air,” she says. “The cost and upkeep of a therapy relationship on balance may only add to anxieties rather than resolve them, so an app may be a useful short-term intervention until they can access the right avenue of support.”

Sadly, there’s nothing on there about tinnitus, my constant companion, but fear not, help of a familiar kind might be on the way.

Are iCBT chatbots helpful for tinnitus?British Tinnitus Association
Two studies are investigating a new iCBT smartphone application that has been developed by Fabrice Brady, the Co-Founder at Hearing Power and Dr James Jackson, at Leeds Trinity University, to help reduce tinnitus related distress.

Tinnitus remedies and reliefTake on tinnitus
One in eight people suffer from tinnitus and experience a ringing in the ears or buzzing in the ears. There are lots of promises of tinnitus remedies, treatments and cures online. Take on tinnitus is designed to help you better understand tinnitus and offer practical ways that could help to relieve your tinnitus.

Free vintage computers

Well, models of them, at least.

Papercraft ModelsRocky Bergen
Construct the computer from your childhood or build an entire computer museum at home with these paper models, free to download and share.

Yes, there’s the Apple Macintosh, the BBC microcomputer and some Nintendo and Sega systems, but my faves are definitely the Commodore 64, complete with printer and paper, and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum with a TV and cassette recorder from the 1982 Dixons catalogue, no less. (via Boing Boing)

It’s been more years than I care to remember, but I can still hear and feel those keyboards—the clack of the Commodore’s and the squidge of those silly little Spectrum keys.

And for more retro goodness, how about two minutes of beeps and chimes from other old machines.

Windows All Startup Sounds on Piano – Bored Piano

Over-promising, under-delivering

We’re expecting news of more lockdown restrictions being eased today; restaurants, cinemas, museums, 2 metre rule etc. But the virus hasn’t gone anywhere, and we’re still without a vaccine, so we’re relying on a rigorous track and trace system, I guess. That works very well in other countries, scarily so sometimes.

The detectives racing to contain the virus in SingaporeBBC News
“It was surreal,” she says, describing the moment an unknown number flashed up on her phone. “They asked ‘were you in a taxi at 18:47 on Wednesday?’ It was very precise. I guess I panicked a bit, I couldn’t think straight.” Melissa eventually remembered that she was in that taxi – and later when she looked at her taxi app realised it was a trip that took just six minutes. To date, she doesn’t know whether it was the driver or another passenger who was infected. All she knows is that it was an officer at Singapore’s health ministry that made the phone call, and told her that she needed to stay at home and be quarantined.

The next day Melissa found out just how serious the officials were. Three people turned up at her door, wearing jackets and surgical masks. “It was a bit like out of a film,” she says. “They gave me a contract – the quarantine order – it says you cannot go outside your home otherwise it’s a fine and jail time. It is a legal document. They make it very clear that you cannot leave the house. And I knew I wouldn’t break it. I know that I live in a place where you do what you’re told.”

It’s a different picture here, however.

England’s ‘world beating’ system to track the virus is anything butThe New York Times
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain unveiled last month a “world beating” operation to track down people who had been exposed to the coronavirus, giving the country a chance to climb out of lockdown without losing sight of where infections were spreading. As with much of the government’s response to the pandemic, however, the results have fallen short of the promises, jeopardizing the reopening of Britain’s hobbled economy and risking a second wave of death in one of the countries most debilitated by the virus.

Can technology come to the rescue?

What Big Tech wants out of the pandemicThe Atlantic
The government has flailed in its response to the pandemic, and Big Tech has presented itself as a beneficent friend, willing to lend a competent hand. As Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, wrote in April, “The challenges we face demand an unprecedented alliance between business and government.”

Also in April, Google and Apple announced that they would suspend their rivalry to work with nations of the world to create a new alert system. They would reconfigure their mobile operating systems, incompatible by design, to notify users if they have stepped within the radius of a device held by a COVID‑19 patient.

Is this the approach others are taking?

Japan rolls out Microsoft-developed COVID-19 contact tracing appThe Verge
Japan’s government today released its coronavirus contact tracing app for iOS and Android. The apps rely on Apple and Google’s co-developed exposure notification platform, using Bluetooth to help determine whether users have come into close contact with others who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Germany says coronavirus tracing app ready to goReuters
After delays to ensure the bluetooth technology would work at the correct distance, the government says the app will be a vital tool to help avoid a second wave of infections.

But we don’t need their help, right?

Britain didn’t want Silicon Valley’s help on a tracing app. Now it does.The New York Times
For months, British authorities have pursued an app that they promised would help ease the country’s coronavirus lockdown, despite growing criticism that it posed privacy risks and would not work well. On Thursday, officials abruptly reversed course, saying Britain will join other countries and design a new contact-tracing app based on software provided by Apple and Google.

So what happened?

Why the NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app failedWired UK
Matt Hancock has had another app catastrophe. England’s planned contact tracing app, which has been trialled on the Isle of Wight and downloaded by tens of thousands of people, has been ditched in favour of a system developed by Google and Apple.

The reversal, first reported by the BBC and later confirmed by the government, follows months of delays for the home-brewed app and difficulties surrounding its implementation. It also makes England the latest in a string of countries to ditch a centralised system in favour of a decentralised one supported by two Silicon Valley giants. That club also includes Germany, Italy and Denmark.

UK abandons contact-tracing app for Apple and Google modelThe Guardian
Work started in March as the pandemic unfolded, but despite weeks of work, officials admitted on Thursday that the NHS app only recognised 4% of Apple phones and 75% of Google Android devices during testing on the Isle of Wight. That was because the design of Apple’s iPhone operating system is such that apps quickly go to sleep when they are not being used and cannot be activated by Bluetooth – a point raised by experts and reported by the Guardian in early May.

What went wrong with the UK’s contact tracing app?BBC News
Two days later, with quite a fanfare, Health Secretary Matt Hancock unveiled the plans for the Covid-19 app, promising “all data will be handled according to the highest ethical and security standards, and would only be used for NHS care and research”.

But immediately privacy campaigners, politicians and technology experts raised concerns. “I recognise the overwhelming force of the public health arguments for a centralised system, but I also have 25 years’ experience of the NHS being incompetent at developing systems and repeatedly breaking their privacy promises,” said Cambridge University’s Prof Ross Anderson.[…]

The blame game has already begun. Mr Hancock and some of the scientists working with the NHS believe Apple should have been more cooperative. Technology experts and privacy campaigners say they warned months ago how this story would end.

Now what?

UK virus-tracing app switches to Apple-Google modelBBC News
Baroness Dido Harding – who heads up the wider Test and Trace programme – will only give the green light to actually deploying the Apple-Google technology if she judges it to be fit for purpose, which she does not believe is the case at present. It is possible this may never happen. […]

The NHS has been testing both systems against each other, over the course of the past month. The centralised version trialled on the Isle of Wight worked well at assessing the distance between two users, but was poor at recognising Apple’s iPhones. Specifically, the software registered about 75% of nearby Android handsets but only 4% of iPhones. By contrast, the Apple-Google model logged 99% of both Android mobiles and iPhones. But its distance calculations were weaker.

The Apple-Google model faired better, so that’s the option to take further, in this embarrassing reversal turnaround backtrack ‘next phase’.

Next phase of NHS coronavirus (COVID-19) app announcedGOV.UK
This next phase will bring together the work done so far on the NHS COVID-19 app and the new Google/Apple framework. Following rigorous field testing and a trial on the Isle of Wight, we have identified challenges with both our app and the Google/Apple framework. This is a problem that many countries around the world, like Singapore, are facing and in many cases only discovering them after whole population roll-out. As a result of our work, we will now be taking forward a solution that brings together the work on our app and the Google/Apple solution.

That seemed to take Apple by surprise.

Apple ‘not told’ about UK’s latest app plansBBC News
During the briefing, Mr Hancock said: “Measuring distance is clearly mission critical to any contact-tracing app.” However, speaking to the Times, Apple said: “It is difficult to understand what these claims are as they haven’t spoken to us.” The firm also pointed out that the tech was already either in use or intended for use in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Ireland.

The tech giant also expressed surprise that the UK was working on a new version of the contact-tracing app which incorporated the Apple-Google software tool. “We’ve agreed to join forces with Google and Apple, to bring the best bits of both systems together,” Mr Hancock said. However, Apple said: “We don’t know what they mean by this hybrid model. They haven’t spoken to us about it.”

<sigh>

Should we be more pessimistic?New York Times
“[The virus] challenges our presumptions about being able to fully control things, and it raises existential issues about our very ability to relate to the world outside of a human-centric point of view,” said Eugene Thacker, a professor of media studies at the New School and the author of books on pessimism, including “In The Dust of This Planet” and “Infinite Resignation.” “It’s at once awe-inspiring and scary. You have a sense of wonder at something bigger than the human, but also a sense of the ground giving way beneath your feet.”

New for old

iPad looks great in an SE/30 caseBoing Boing
At Reddit, mtietje posted this remarkable photo of their lockdown project: an iPad stand made using an old Macintosh SE/30. The display size is perfect for the 9.7″ iPad, and now that iPadOS can use mice they work much better as “normal” computers.

That looks very stylish. Perhaps I should give something like that a go with my old bits of Apple tech. I’ve got an iMac G3 and an iBook G4 with a dodgy keyboard.

They don’t make ’em like that anymore. But sadly, after languishing in the cellar for more years than I care to remember, they won’t boot up anymore either.

Game of life and death

It was sad to learn earlier of the death of John Conway, the mathematician behind the Game of Life.

John Horton Conway, a ‘magical genius’ in math, dies at 82The New York Times
During what Dr. Conway called his “annus mirabilis,” roughly 1969 to 1970, he discovered what’s known as the Conway group, an entity in the realm of mathematical symmetry that inhabits 24-dimensional space. He discovered a new type of number, “surreal numbers.” And he invented the cellular automaton Game of Life, which is among the most beautiful mathematical models of computation. He described it as a “no-player never-ending” game.

I first came across this strange no-player game some time ago, and was struck by how simple its rules were, yet how intricate the patterns could become.

John Conway’s Game of Life
Each cell with one or no neighbors dies, as if by solitude.
Each cell with four or more neighbors dies, as if by overpopulation.
Each cell with two or three neighbors survives.
Each cell with three neighbors becomes populated.

game-of-life-and-death
I knew that these simple rules could create many different kinds of structures…

John Conway, inventor of the Game of Life, has died of COVID-19Ars Technica
This video, for example, shows a gun that consists of several large structures that each generates irregular streams of gliders. A bunch of gliders—37 to be exact—collide with one another in just the right way to produce a complex spaceship called a 6-engine Cordership, which then proceeds in another direction. It takes 784 moves to produce a Cordership before the cycle repeats.

… but I hadn’t appreciated just how complex they could get.

First replicating creature spawned in life simulatorNew Scientist
When Wade posted his self-replicating mathematical organism on a Life community website on 18 May, it sparked a wave of excitement. “This is truly ground-breaking work,” wrote a fellow Life enthusiast, Adam Goucher, on the website Game of Life News. “In fact, this is arguably the single most impressive and important pattern ever devised.”

My understanding of all this stops way before these videos.

I can follow along well enough to make one of those glider guns, but a digital clock? You’re kidding me.

How’s this for meta? The game of life built within the game of life. No clue what’s going on here.

Let’s leave the last word to the man himself.

Stable_puffer_animation

Less TGI Friday, more WFH Monday

WFH = working from home. An abbreviation I hadn’t heard of until recently. It seems we’re all at it. Well, not all of us.

The great Zoom divide: How working from home is a privilegeNew Statesman
Supporting the WFH and self-isolating economy is an army of factory and warehouse workers who are now busier than ever. There is much awareness and respect, rightfully, for medical staff who are at the frontlines of fighting Covid-19 – but what about those on the industrial frontlines? Who is protecting them? How can we keep essential supplies and functions running without exposing these workers to health risks? Is that even possible?

Avoiding Coronavirus may be a luxury some workers can’t affordNew York Times
For many workers, being sick means choosing between staying home and getting paid. One-quarter of workers have no access to paid sick days, according to Labor Department data: two-thirds of the lowest earners but just 6 percent of the highest earners. Just a handful of states and local governments have passed sick leave laws. Only 60 percent of workers in service occupations can take paid time off when they are ill — and they are also more likely than white-collar workers to come in contact with other people’s bodies or food.

But for those of us who are, there’s no end of advice out there, from kit to clothes.

Stykka designs a temporary workstation so you’ll stay the f*** homeDesign Milk
When Denmark ordered people to stay home, Stykka got creative knowing many people had to share workspaces at home with their families or had to use the dining table. They challenged themselves to use only cardboard, zip ties, and a laser cutter, and in less than 24 hours, they not only had a prototype but they were ready to ship the desks out. Once received, the desk takes less than 10 minutes to assemble.

Don’t mute, get a better headsetMatt Mullenweg
When you’re speaking to a muted room, it’s eerie and unnatural — you feel alone even if you can see other people’s faces. You lose all of those spontaneous reactions that keep a conversation flowing. If you ask someone a question, or they want to jump in, they have to wait to unmute. I also don’t love the “unmute to raise your hand” behavior, as it lends itself to meetings where people are just waiting their turn to speak instead of truly listening.

As population works from home, Walmart reports increased sales for tops but not pantsCBS News
Men’s fashion brand Suitsupply is getting in on both sides of the trend. The company recently posted a photo on Instagram of a model wearing a button-down, tie and blazer on top — and nothing but underwear on the bottom. “Working from home doesn’t mean compromising on style. Keep your look professional—from the waist up at least,” the brand wrote. Scrolling through the Instagram post leads to a picture that says, “Off-camera?” before featuring the same model, this time wearing a sweatshirt.

Careful though.

Zoom announces 90-day feature freeze to fix privacy and security issuesThe Verge
Zoom has never shared user numbers before, but Yuan reveals that back in December the company had a maximum of 10 million daily users. “In March this year, we reached more than 200 million daily meeting participants, both free and paid,” says Yuan. That’s a huge increase that has seen people use Zoom for reasons nobody expected before the coronavirus pandemic.

Security and privacy implications of ZoomSchneier on Security
In general, Zoom’s problems fall into three broad buckets: (1) bad privacy practices, (2) bad security practices, and (3) bad user configurations. […] Zoom is a security and privacy disaster, but until now had managed to avoid public accountability because it was relatively obscure. Now that it’s in the spotlight, it’s all coming out.

Automated tool can find 100 Zoom meeting IDs per hourThe Verge
In addition to being able to find around 100 meetings per hour, one instance of zWarDial can successfully determine a legitimate meeting ID 14 percent of the time, Lo told Krebs on Security. And as part of the nearly 2,400 upcoming or recurring Zoom meetings zWarDial found in a single day of scanning, the program extracted a meeting’s Zoom link, date and time, meeting organizer, and meeting topic, according to data Lo shared with Krebs on Security.

Meanwhile.

A calmer way of working

It seems we’re all having to get to grips with remote working now, in attempts to flatten that curve. Might these new ways of working stay with us, once all this is over? Why was I going in the office in the first place?

Could remote working be the future of work?TechRadar
Having a flexible lifestyle is clearly the most popular benefit from remote working – named by more than half of our survey – while almost four in ten say the main advantage is not having to commute. Less predictably, perhaps, more than a one third said the best thing about being a remote worker was that they actually saved money – this was a bigger deal for them than either being able to care for their family and elderly relatives, or reducing their overall stress levels.

Covid-19 could cause permanent shift towards home workingThe Guardian
“This is not how I envisioned the distributed work revolution taking hold,” said Matt Mullenweg, chief executive of WordPress and Tumblr owner Automattic. Mullenweg’s company is already “distributed”, and he predicts the changes “might also offer an opportunity for many companies to finally build a culture that allows long-overdue work flexibility. Millions of people will get the chance to experience days without long commutes, or the harsh inflexibility of not being able to stay close to home when a family member is sick… This might be a chance for a great reset in terms of how we work,” he said.

Others are less sure.

Will coronavirus spur a traffic-solving remote-work revolution? Don’t count on itThe Mercury News
But Goodwin cautioned that the notion this crisis will spur some long-lasting, traffic-solving work-from-home revolution is too simplistic. For one thing, it’s based on what is almost certainly a faulty premise: That the Bay Area we will eventually return to whenever and however this crisis subsides will look much like it did before efforts to contain the virus began significantly disrupting public life earlier this month.

Since then, thousands of people have lost their jobs or seen their work hours cut as stay-at-home orders force all but essential businesses to close. The stock market is tanking, and experts warn we’re probably headed into a recession. When the economy is good, more people are driving to jobs and traffic tends to be worse; when it’s bad, fewer people drive to work and highways are clearer.

Might it depend on how comfortable you are with the technology you’re using? Here’s a vision of the future I find quite intriguing, though perhaps not very easily implementable. Calm technology. Another attempt at digital wellness and a more tactile version of Microsoft’s pictures under glass?

Welcome to the new age of calm technologyAdobe XD Ideas
Rolston has spent his career thinking about how to bring Weiser and Brown’s idea of calm technology to life. In 2016, his team showed off a prototype for a project called “Interactive Light,” that reimagined a room as an interactive workspace. A projector cast light onto a desk while a Microsoft Kinect monitored motion. Suddenly you could use gestures to transform the objects in a room into an interface (a salt shaker might become a remote control for your speaker; the countertop could turn into your screen), and the computer would surface whatever tool you needed based on the context of where you were and what you were doing.

The concept, while just a prototype, was a playful example of the ubiquitous computing ideas coming out of PARC two decades ago. It made the interface accessible yet more or less invisible. It explored, rather literally, how once the world is overlaid with computational power that can anticipate our needs, we can finally forget the computer is there.

Deleting the micro-plastics of the mind

I know that most of the articles about social media that I share are more negative than positive these days. But is this confirmation bias in action? To find out, I’m giving Twitter another go, and will actively look for the positives this time.

micro-plastics

Perhaps I should run all my tweets through Botnet first, to see how well they’ll do?

Welcome to Botnet, where everyone’s an influencerWired
Botnet looks like a stripped-down Facebook Newsfeed, where the only posts you can see are your own. It’s just you and the bots, who like and comment on your posts with reckless abandon. Botnet is designed to simulate the experience of mega-fame on the internet, Chasen told me—not just a microcelebrity or nano-influencer, but someone on the order of Kylie Jenner or Cristiano Ronaldo. Every post on Botnet receives hundreds of thousands of likes, no matter how banal the subject matter.

Or maybe not. Anyway, we’ll see how long it lasts; I’ve lost track of how many accounts I’ve set up and deleted over the years. But is that such a bad thing? We don’t keep transcripts of our phone calls normally, so why not be as relaxed with other forms of communication? I never realised I was in such good company.

Deleting all your tweetsRoden Explorers Archive
I am a full-blown born-again Tweet Deleter. I delete most everything older than seven days. I have a cron job running on a server that deletes for me, it’s called langoliers.rb and was written by Robin Sloan. He’s also a tweet deleter. There are many of us. And I think, having now deleted tweets regularly — and this is a bold claim, backed up only by gut feelings and zero data — that the world would be a better place if tweet deleting was on by default, and if, generally, we deleted more of our social media bloviations.

Twitter can be seen as a generator of micro-plastics of the mind. And the entirety of it as a sea of these largely nutrition-free bits. That doesn’t mean a tweet can’t be valuable for a second, but it’s unlikely they’re valuable for, say, years (or hours or even minutes). Applying a tweet-delete mindset to Twitter (that is: a mindset of ephemerality, what you could perversely call Buddhist Twitter) makes it lighter, a little more fun, and a lot less serious. You can ask a question, get some responses, and then just delete your question.

Isn’t that ephemerality implied in the name, even, to simply twitter on, saying very little of importance or interest, “short bursts of inconsequential information.”

Speaking of witch, here’s Callie Beusman sharing her thoughts online on how to avoid getting distracted by all the crap out there that it’s not worth thinking about.

My mind is a palace stuffed with exquisite garbageThe Cut
A few months ago, I came up with a metaphoric framework that felt uniquely suited to my problem, one that has brought me some degree of serenity: the mind palace. Simply put, a mind palace is a repository for all the thoughts, memories, and observations that bring you joy, fortified against whatever you deem needlessly irritating, depressingly banal, or just a waste of your time.

Is #mindfulbrowsing a thing?

This is not to urge non-engagement with issues that are genuinely pressing and compelling, if unpleasant; it’s more about determining which things you truly need and want to devote your time to, and recognizing that not everything warrants your attention.

We’re all under no obligation to read everything on the web. Some things just aren’t worth the time. And that’s OK, just raise your drawbridge.

Top flight fakery

A while ago I shared news of the world’s first AI presenter. And there’s lots here about fake news. But what about taking deepfake-style technology to produce true news?

Reuters uses AI to prototype first ever automated video reportsForbes
Developed in collaboration with London-based AI startup Synthesia, the new system harnesses AI in order to synthesize pre-recorded footage of a news presenter into entirely new reports. It works in a similar way to deepfake videos, although its current prototype combines with incoming data on English Premier League football matches to report on things that have actually happened. […]

In other words, having pre-filmed a presenter say the name of every Premier League football team, every player, and pretty much every possible action that could happen in a game, Reuters can now generate an indefinite number of synthesized match reports using his image. These reports are barely indistinguishable from the real thing, and Cohen reports that early witnesses to the system (mostly Reuters’ clients) have been dutifully impressed.

top-flight-fakery-1

(via Patrick Tanguay)

Update 26/02/2020

Just found another example of a deepfake video being used in a, if not true, at least positive sense.

We’ve just seen the first use of deepfakes in an Indian election campaignVice
When the Delhi BJP IT Cell partnered with political communications firm The Ideaz Factory to create “positive campaigns” using deepfakes to reach different linguistic voter bases, it marked the debut of deepfakes in election campaigns in India. “Deepfake technology has helped us scale campaign efforts like never before,” Neelkant Bakshi, co-incharge of social media and IT for BJP Delhi, tells VICE. “The Haryanvi videos let us convincingly approach the target audience even if the candidate didn’t speak the language of the voter.”

A purposefully not smart phone

Phones. It’s a love/hate relationship for sure. Technology companies have long since realised how bored we get with what we have, and are forever designing “better” versions of the same thing for us to buy next—shinier, bendier, or just plain bigger. This is not without problems.

Z Flip and Razr: Folding screens bubble and scratch, tests findBBC News
It follows the troubled release of Samsung’s first foldable phone one year ago, leading some analysts to question whether foldable screen technology is ready for mainstream release.

Large screen phones: a challenge for UX design (and human hands)Imaginary Cloud
Each OS version ends up having their own UX animations but at the end of the day, the truth is, many navigation elements are still situated at the top part of the screen, with emphasis on the top left corner. Where are these giant handed UX designers? Can’t we solve that?

In an area forever pursing the latest gimmicky design, how refreshing to see this pared-back, no-nonsense approach.

An anti-smartphone with a rotary designed and built by space engineer Justine HauptColossal
Justine Haupt, a developer of astronomy instrumentation at Brookhaven National Laboratory, spent the last three years developing a device that strips away all of the non-phone functions of modern smartphones. The Portable Wireless Electronic Digital Rotary Telephone (aka Rotary Cellphone) does not have a touchscreen, menus, or other superfluous features. It fits in Haupt’s pocket, and it makes calls.

She’s sharing the open source design on her website, if you fancy getting yourself one.

Portable Wireless Electronic Digital Rotary Telephone (AKA: Rotary Cellphone)Justine Haupt
This is a statement against a world of touchscreens, hyperconnectivity, and complacency with big brother watchdogs.

not-smart-phone-1

Update 26/02/2020

I’m not sure that phone would be getting all this attention if it didn’t have a rotary dial that pinged all our nostalgia nerve endings. Here’s a follow-up piece from The Outline on that and the Freewrite “typewriter” which thinks that, unfortunately, “technology nostalgia won’t ever be enough to conquer smartphone addiction.”

Go ahead, rotary phone, try and distract meThe Outline
Anti-distraction tools such as these be effective, in the same way that driving a Ford F-150 pickup truck is an effective way of carrying piles of dirt or whatever people who use pickup trucks carry around in them. But many people do not buy a truck because they use it for such purposes, they buy it because it’s comfortable to drive, and they like how it looks and what it says about them. The aesthetics of distraction-free hardware, consciously or not, are rooted in nostalgia as much as they are in functionality: the rotary phone and the portable “typewriter” have not been in common use for decades, but the virality of Haupt’s phone and the apparent sales success of the Freewrite suggest that people long for an older, less distraction-prone time. […]

Harris and his cohort at the Center for Humane Technology are not on a buddy-buddy basis with big tech conglomerate leadership, but they ably represent how anxieties about the deleterious impact of technology can be repurposed by tech companies themselves. Justine Haupt’s rotary phone suggests a separate DIY approach, an open-source invitation for others to disconnect. The Freewrite is an easier, more expensive alternative. What they both lack is a sense of the politics of distraction, how the only way to actually end mass distraction is to completely remake the conditions that allow it to flourish in the first place.

What else doesn’t exist?

I admit I had fun with those people who don’t exist and their related websites, but it’s getting a little silly now. An artificially intelligent songwriter? AI feet??

These lyrics do not exist
This website generates completely original lyrics for various topics, uses state of the art AI to generate an original chorus and original verses.

Want some happy metal lyrics about dogs? No problem.

I am the dog in you
I am the dog in you
How one animal can be so tense, yet so free?
Such vicious dogs in search of a trophy

This foot does not exist
The foot pic, then, becomes a commodity which the consumer is willing to pay for on its basis as an intimate, revealing, and/or pornographic (and perhaps power-granting, when provided on request) asset, while the producer may** see it as a meme, a dupe, a way to trick the horny-credible out of their ill-spent cash.

The tech left behind

I first read this on my phone and now here I am, blogging about it on my tablet.

Why laptops could be facing the end of the lineThe Conversation
Research shows that PC and laptop ownership, usage and importance have declined over the past three years, replaced largely by smartphones. A survey of internet users found just 15% thought their laptop was their most important device for accessing the internet, down from 30% in 2015, while 66% thought their smartphone was most important, up from 32%.

This has led some commentators to predict the slow death of the laptop because of young people’s preference for and greater familiarity with the devices in their pocket. But a survey by UK regulator Ofcom in 2017 also found there has also been a record rise in older people using smartphones and tablets.

Good riddance?

How your laptop ruined your lifeThe Atlantic
As laptops have kept improving, and Wi-Fi has continued to reach ever further into the crevices of American life, however, the reality of laptops’ potential stopped looking quite so rosy. Instead of liberating white-collar and “knowledge” workers from their office, laptops turned many people’s whole life into an office. Smartphones might require you to read an after-hours email or check in on the office-communication platform Slack before you started your commute, but portable computers gave workers 24-hour access to the sophisticated, expensive applications—Salesforce CRM, Oracle ERP, Adobe Photoshop—that made their full range of duties possible.

Mobiles, mobiles, mobiles. They’re practically compulsory these days.

tech-left-behind

Desktop vs Mobile vs Tablet market share worldwideStatCounter Global Stats
Mobile – 52.02%, Desktop – 45.29%, Tablet – 2.7%

But not all mobiles, though. Did you ever have a Blackberry, the one that perhaps started it all?

RIP Blackberry phones — you really f***ed us over, but that keyboard was greatThe Outline
Blackberry phones died a slow death throughout the 2010s, as people migrated to newer phones with a wider selection of functions, apps, and so on. But the Blackberry’s rise was marked by the cultural shift that is, I think, the greatest anxiety of the smartphone era: the rapid upswing in how much time we spend on our damn phones.

When Barack Obama became president in 2008, he famously fought for (and won) the right to keep using his Blackberry (the phone would become the official device given out by large swathes of the federal government, including Congress). And years before reverting to a “dumb phone” became a thing for trendsetters like Anna Wintour, magazine writers tried the same stunt to lessen their Blackberry usage. One Daily Mail headline from 2006 warned of a “Blackberry addiction ‘similar to drugs,’” describing the kind of behavior we now readily associate with social media and phones more generally (“One key sign of a user being addicted is if they focus on their Blackberry ignoring those around them.”).

The rise and fall of BlackBerryYouTube

Another GlobalStats chart that caught my eye was this one, illustrating Chrome’s dominance over the other browsers.

tech-left-behind-1

Browser market share worldwideStatCounter Global Stats
Chrome – 64.1%, Safari – 17.21%, Firefox – 4.7%, Samsung Internet – 3.33%, UC Browser – 2.61%, Opera – 2.26%

Here’s The Register’s take on that.

Why Firefox? Because not everybody is a web designer, sillyThe Register
The problem with thinking that the web would be better with only one browser is that it raises the question – better for who? Better for web designers? Maybe, but that’s a statistically insignificant portion of the people on the web. Better for users? How?

But for those of us that are/were, here’s a look back at a simpler time.

Old CSS, new CSSFuzzy Notepad
Damn, I miss those days. There were no big walled gardens, no Twitter or Facebook. If you had anything to say to anyone, you had to put together your own website. It was amazing. No one knew what they were doing; I’d wager that the vast majority of web designers at the time were clueless hobbyist tweens (like me) all copying from other clueless hobbyist tweens. … Everyone who was cool and in the know used Internet Explorer 3, the most advanced browser, but some losers still used Netscape Navigator so you had to put a “Best in IE” animated GIF on your splash page too. […]

Sadly, that’s all gone now — paved over by homogenous timelines where anything that wasn’t made this week is old news and long forgotten. The web was supposed to make information eternal, but instead, so much of it became ephemeral. I miss when virtually everyone I knew had their own website. Having a Twitter and an Instagram as your entire online presence is a poor substitute.

Indeed.

Tech’s evil twin

Cyber attacks, like the one that left government workers in Alaska resorting to typewriters, seem increasingly common. But just how easy is it to set up such a scheme and hold organisations to ransom like that? In what reads like a cross between a heist movie and an episode of the IT Crowd, Drake Bennett from Bloomberg gives it a go.

I used dark web ransomware to sabotage my bossBloomberg
These days, prospective attackers don’t have to create their own ransomware; they can buy it. If they don’t really know how to use it, they can subscribe to services, complete with customer support, that will help coordinate attacks for them. … In the public imagination, hackers are Mephistophelian savants. But they don’t have to be, not with ransomware. “You could be Joe Schmo, just buying this stuff up,” says Christopher Elisan, director of intelligence at the cybersecurity firm Flashpoint, “and you could start a ransomware business out of it.”

You could even be a liberal-arts-educated writer with a primitive, cargo-cult understanding of how an iPhone or the internet work, who regularly finds himself at the elbow of his office’s tech-support whiz, asking, again, how to find the shared drive. In other words, you could be me. But could you really? I didn’t start out on this article planning to try my hand at ransomware. A few weeks in, though, it occurred to me that if someone like me could pull off a digital heist, it would function as a sort of hacking Turing test, proof that cybercrime had advanced to the point where software-aided ignorance would be indistinguishable from true skill. As a journalist, I’ve spent years writing about people who do things that I, if called upon, couldn’t do myself. Here was my chance to be the man in the arena.

Just be careful, OK?

But where did he get all the phones from?

In a different take on interactive art, here’s a story of the little guy getting one over on a multinational conglomerate—by making his own traffic jam.

Google Maps hackSimon Weckert
99 second hand smartphones are transported in a handcart to generate virtual traffic jam in Google Maps. Through this activity, it is possible to turn a green street red which has an impact in the physical world by navigating cars on another route to avoid being stuck in traffic.

Google Maps Hacks by Simon WeckertYouTube

all-the-phones

It’s certainly been getting plenty of attention. I wonder if others will be giving it a go.

Man creates fake traffic jam on Google Maps by carting around 99 cellphonesBoing Boing
Simon Weckert loaded a hand-cart with cellphones and pulled them slowly through Berlin. This fooled Google Maps into registering severe congestion, marking the streets bright red in the service, and rerouting traffic to avoid the area.

Hacking Google, a red handcart for red roads Traffic Google MapsKottke
You’ve got to love little artistic hacks like this. Simon Weckert put 99 second-hand smartphones in a red handcart and walked around a few blocks in Berlin. Each phone was running Google Maps and being tracked for trafic measurements. Their presence and slow rolling around the streets caused Google to display a traffic jam.

An artist used 99 phones to fake a Google Maps traffic jamWired
“What I’m really interested in generally is the connection between technology and society and the impact of technology, how it shapes us,” Weckert says. He cites philosopher Marshall McLuhan: We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us. “I have the feeling right now that technology is not adapting to us, it’s the other way around.”

Traffic jams in Google Maps could be spoofed with 99 phones and a little red wagonThe Verge
Google jokingly told The Verge that it hasn’t “quite cracked” how to correctly track traffic data that comes from toy wagons, but that it can already distinguish between Google Maps data coming from cars and motorcycles in several countries.

Berlin artist uses 99 phones to trick Google into traffic jam alertThe Guardian
The work, revealed just a few days before the 15th anniversary of Google Maps’ founding, is just the latest example of a prankster taking advantage of the “crowdsourced” nature of much of Google’s data collection. In 2015, the company had to shut off one feature, Map Maker, after a series of embarrassing vandalism incidents culminated in the creation of a virtual park, the shape of which appeared to resemble the company’s Android logo urinating on Apple’s trademark.

Twitter news echoes

Grumpy old man alert! I know everyone uses Twitter to find news these days, but I can do without news organisations passing off as news what’s simply a report on what’s been said on Twitter. Hashtag: lazy-journalism-question-mark; hashtag: these-are-not-slow-news-days-after-all; hashtag: 24-hour-news-filler-I-can-do-without; hashtag: yes-I-know-hashtags-don’t-work-like-this.

Trump’s new Space Force logo looks awfully familiar to Star Trek fansThe Verge
Although, as one user on Twitter noted, the designers did seem to take some cues from the NASA logo, predominantly the exact placement of the stars that appear to have been copied over directly.

Philip Pullman calls for boycott of Brexit 50p coin over ‘missing’ Oxford commaThe Guardian
“The ‘Brexit’ 50p coin is missing an Oxford comma, and should be boycotted by all literate people,” wrote the novelist on Twitter, while Times Literary Supplement editor Stig Abell wrote that, while it was “not perhaps the only objection” to the Brexit-celebrating coin, “the lack of a comma after ‘prosperity’ is killing me”.

Broadcasters speak up for Alastair Stewart after ITV News exitBBC News
ITV presenter Julie Etchingham wrote on Twitter: “So sad to learn this – we have worked on many big stories together & Al is a trusted friend and guide to many of us.”