Here comes nobody

Yesterday there were millions of us, today there’s nobody here at all.

AI fake face website launched
A software developer has created a website that generates fake faces, using artificial intelligence (AI). Thispersondoesnotexist.com generates a new lifelike image each time the page is refreshed, using technology developed by chipmaker Nvidia. Some visitors to the website say they have been amazed by the convincing nature of some of the fakes, although others are more clearly artificial.

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They look like us, and now they can write like us too.

AI text writing technology too dangerous to release, creators claim
Researchers at OpenAI say they have created an AI writer which “generates coherent paragraphs of text, achieves state-of-the-art performance on many language modeling benchmarks and performs rudimentary reading comprehension, machine translation, question answering and summarisation — all without task-specific training.”

But they are withholding it from public use “due to our concerns about malicious applications of the technology”.

Of course, it’s not just AI that’s trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

How to catch a catfisher
Last year, I found out someone was using my photos to catfish women. He stole dozens of my online photos – including selfies, family photos, baby photos, photos with my ex – and, pretending to be me, he would then approach women and spew a torrent of abuse at them.

It took me months to track him down, and now I’m about to call him.

Machines pretending to be people, people pretending to be other people. At least we’re truthful with ourselves, right?

Be honest, how much do you edit YOUR selfies?
“It’s time to acknowledge the damaging effects that social media has on people’s self-image,” says Rankin of the project, which is part of a wider initiative to explore the impact of imagery on our mental health.

“Social media has made everyone into their own brand. People are creating a two-dimensional version of themselves at the perfect angle, with the most flattering lighting and with any apparent ‘flaws’ removed. Mix this readily-available technology with the celebrities and influencers flaunting impossible shapes with impossible faces and we’ve got a recipe for disaster.”

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Instagrammable and Amazonable

Remember those cricked necks we used to get, wandering up and down the books shelves in Waterstones, Borders and the rest, head at an awkward angle to read all the spines? Book buying looks different now, with our stiff necks due to staring down at our screens.

Welcome to the bold and blocky Instagram era of book covers
None of these titles is available yet, but anywhere you find them online will likely direct you to preorder on Amazon. In fact, their covers are designed to ensure that you will. At a time when half of all book purchases in the U.S. are made on Amazon — and many of those on mobile — the first job of a book cover, after gesturing at the content inside, is to look great in miniature. That means that where fine details once thrived, splashy prints have taken over, grounding text that’s sturdy enough to be deciphered on screens ranging from medium to miniscule.

Social media has a part to play now, too, in our book-buying habits.

“Instagram is a major tool now in ginning up excitement that we used to see in print magazines,” says Emma Straub, Riverhead-published author and owner of the Brooklyn bookstore Books Are Magic.

She’s referring, of course, to the latte-laden still lifes that influencers post to brag about receiving an advance copy of a book, or the artful arrangements they use to signify literate lifestyles arranged in bold colors.

Social media’s biggest challenge

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has issued a challenge to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and others that I think may be beyond them.

Social media urged to take ‘moment to reflect’ after girl’s death
In an open letter to Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube, Pinterest and Snapchat, Anne Longfield said the suicide of 14-year-old Molly Russell has highlighted the “horrific” material that children were able to easily access online.

Here’s the letter, on the Children’s Commissioner website.

A public call for online platforms to do more to tackle social media content which is harmful to children
I do not think it is going too far to question whether even you, the owners, any longer have any control over their content. If that is the case, then younger children should not be accessing your services at all, and parents should be aware that the idea of any authority overseeing algorithms and content is a mirage. […]

The potential disruption to all user experiences should no longer be a brake on making the safety and wellbeing of young people a top priority. Neither should hiding behind servers and apparatus in other jurisdictions be an acceptable way of avoiding responsibility.

The recent tragic cases of young people who had accessed and drawn from sites that post deeply troubling content around suicide and self-harm, and who in the end took their own lives, should be a moment of reflection. I would appeal to you to accept there are problems and to commit to tackling them – or admit publicly that you are unable to. […]

It is your responsibility to support measures that give children the information and tools they need growing up in this digital world – or to admit that you cannot control what anyone sees on your platforms.

I really hope something comes of this. The social media companies say they’re working hard to create safe spaces, free from harmful content and disinformation, but where’s the evidence of that? Imagine if they did publicly admit they were unable to “accept there are problems and to commit to tackling them.”

Update 05/02/2019 A response from Instagram.

Instagram to launch ‘sensitivity screens’ after Molly Russell’s death
Adam Mosseri, who took over Instagram after the app’s founders departed suddenly in 2018, has promised a series of changes following the death of the British teenager Molly Russell, whose parents believe she took her own life after being exposed to graphic images of self-harm and suicide on Instagram and Pinterest.

 

Is Instagram doing enough to stop bullying?

Instagram are rolling out some new mechanisms to reduce bullying, including comment filters and a new camera effect to promote kindness.

New tools to limit bullying and spread kindness on Instagram
While the majority of photos shared on Instagram are positive and bring people joy, occasionally a photo is shared that is unkind or unwelcome. We are now using machine learning technology to proactively detect bullying in photos and their captions and send them to our Community Operations team to review.

But is it enough? As a parent of teenagers (or for anyone really), this article from The Atlantic makes for depressing reading.

Teens are being bullied ‘constantly’ on Instagram
Teenagers have always been cruel to one another. But Instagram provides a uniquely powerful set of tools to do so. The velocity and size of the distribution mechanism allow rude comments or harassing images to go viral within hours. Like Twitter, Instagram makes it easy to set up new, anonymous profiles, which can be used specifically for trolling. Most importantly, many interactions on the app are hidden from the watchful eyes of parents and teachers, many of whom don’t understand the platform’s intricacies. […]

Sometimes teens, many of whom run several Instagram accounts, will take an old page with a high amount of followers and transform it into a hate page to turn it against someone they don’t like. “One girl took a former meme page that was over 15,000 followers, took screencaps from my Story, and Photoshopped my nose bigger and posted it, tagging me being like, ‘Hey guys, this is my new account,’” Annie said. “I had to send a formal cease and desist. I went to one of those lawyer websites and just filled it out. Then she did the same thing to my friend.” […]

Aside from hate pages, teens say most bullying takes place over direct message, Instagram Stories, or in the comments section of friends’ photos. “Instagram won’t delete a person’s account unless it’s clear bullying on their main feed,” said Hadley, a 14-year-old, “and, like, no one is going to do that. It’s over DM and in comment sections.”

Photos of our world — and elsewhere

Some incredible images from around the place.

Getty Images announces winners of annual photojournalism grant
Weddings in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the conflicting beauty and isolation of an Aerotropolis are just some of the images that winners of the Getty Images reportage grant have explored.

Photobox Instagram photography awards shortlist
Shortlisted images in the running to be crowned Photobox Instagram photograph of the year range from furry friends to the Holi festival to the meaning of love. Judges, including the Guardian’s former picture editor Eamonn McCabe, have whittled down 180,000 submissions to unearth a shortlist that celebrates the best of social media.

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Parallel lives: matching portraits from South and North Korea
Jones said of his photos: “You can put the pictures side by side but the people can’t stand side by side in real life and there’s something inherently captivating about that.”

And something from much further afield.

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Hayabusa 2 rovers send new images from Ryugu surface
One of the principal concerns for deployment was Ryugu’s rougher-than-expected surface, which is carpeted with boulders and has very few smooth patches. The 1kg rovers are equipped with wide-angle and stereo cameras to send back pictures. Spine-like projections from the edges of the hoppers are sensors that will measure surface temperatures on the asteroid.

 

A broken art market

Art and the art markets. You might think they have little in common with each other.

How modern art serves the rich
Then, on October 18, 1973, in front of a slew of television cameras and a packed salesroom at the auction house Sotheby Parke Bernet, they put 50 works from their collection up for sale, ultimately netting $2.2 million—an unheard of sum for contemporary American art. More spectacular was the disparity between what the Sculls had initially paid, in some cases only a few years prior to the sale, and the prices they commanded at auction: A painting by Cy Twombly, originally purchased for $750, went for $40,000; Jasper Johns’s Double White Map, bought in 1965 for around $10,000, sold for $240,000. Robert Rauschenberg, who had sold his 1958 work Thaw to the Sculls for $900 and now saw it bring in $85,000, infamously confronted Robert Scull after the sale, shoving the collector and accusing him of exploiting artists’ labor. In a scathing essay published the following month in New York magazine, titled “Profit Without Honor,” the critic Barbara Rose described the sale as the moment “when the art world collapsed.”

Of course things didn’t stop there. And as the scale of the sums involved grow,s the art markets feel more like a form of performance art themselves.

$450 Million Leonardo da Vinci Becomes Most Expensive Artwork of All Time
After a $286 million bid from de Poortere, Rotter warbled out a $300 million counter, tying the price that billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin reportedly paid for Willem de Kooning’s Interchange (1955) in 2015, the most expensive art transaction ever publicly reported until Christie’s Wednesday sale.

“Let’s see if that’s done it,” the auctioneer chimed.

De Poortere’s client was not finished, continuing up and up in mostly two- and three-million-dollar increments, until the price hit $370 million. The sum would have been more than enough to take home every other lot offered at Christie’s on Wednesday night. For the very next bid, Rotter called out $400 million, and that was the end. The room clapped, gasped, and laughed, the way one does when seeing something simultaneously historic, unbelievable, and more than a little crazy.

Theatre, where even its own advertising is wanting to be considered art, complete with the obligatory Instagram account.

Droga5’s Sublime Ad for Christie’s Captures the Power of a Leonardo Painting Without Even Showing It
Sometimes, not showing an artwork can be as powerful as showing it. This was true in Grey London’s story-rich campaign for the Tate Modern back in 2015. And it’s especially true of Droga5’s lovely, almost transcendental new spot for auction house Christie’s—which promotes the upcoming sale of a long-lost Leonardo da Vinci painting by not showing it at all.

Instead, the spot focuses on people’s reactions to the painting. And they are fascinating to watch.

[…]

This postmodern turning-the-tables idea comes full circle through the extension of the campaign into Instagram. While so many museum-goers are now Instagramming the artwork they see, the Salvator Mundi is Instagramming the people who come to see it.

Photos of the visitors have been documented on Instagram @thelastdavinci. Each portrait is captioned with the first name of the visitor and the time of their visit, which Droga5 says is “a format reminiscent of a biblical scripture citation.”

Here’s a perspective on art buying I hadn’t considered before.

What baseball taught me about the art market
Can we provide similar, easy-to-access data for the art market, and would that bring new buyers and sellers into play? It’s said that art buyers are often driven by emotion. Whether or not that’s true, we should also welcome the engagement of participants who would like data to lessen the risk of their emotional decisions. Some worry that more data in art will devolve art into something akin to an asset class, swarmed by bankers. However, I believe art buyers will continue to be guided by what they love and which art resonates with them deeply, and that data insights will only help to strengthen their engagement and confidence when buying or selling.

Wanting to get involved in the art markets but struggling to raise the millions of dollars needed? There’s an app for that.

Can Sedition create a marketplace for digital limited edition art?
The platform aims to encourage people who might not be able to afford these artists’ original pieces to become collectors of digital editions which they can access via their mobiles, tablets, PCs and connected TVs. With each purchase comes a certificate of authenticity, which — crucially — entitles the owner to resell the works at a later date if they so wish.

And yes, you can include me in that.

Modern romance?

Who’d want to be young, these days? It’s far too confusing.

Instagram handles have replaced phone numbers
And while it may seem like handing out your phone number is a much more of a privacy concern than a social media handle, it’s worth noting the amount of highly personal information the latter conveys. Unlike a number, your Instagram profile is often attached to your first and last name, and exists in relation to your various other social media accounts. It has countless photos of you, your friends, and gives a stranger a distinctively personal look into your life. What’s more, unlike a phone number, it can’t be faked to appease an aggressively pushy creep.

And then, if you want to make a go of it, there’s this.

Social media addicts have a new way to propose with this engagement phone case
Once you propose, you’ll either have a memory you and your future spouse will want to look fondly on for years to come (and post all over Facebook at every opportunity, along with your future baby photos, meals, vacations and blurry sunsets) or a spectacularly masochistic play-by-play of the moment your heart was broken.

I’m glad I’m old (-fashioned?).

Owner occupier

I increasingly feel like this is the only place on the internet I really own. The place I’m sure of. Twitter, Instagram etc feel like places that could be snatched away at somebody’s whim. Which would, sort of, be fine but, sort of, be not. I’m backing them up like I’m backing this up. But the files without the social context would be a little thin.

A post from Russell Davies carrying on that Personal Cloud line of thought.