AI in art and science. Design Nonfiction. A tech supra-state? Greta. Hudson Yards. The tool to travel through layers. — No.71

This week: AI in art and science. Design Nonfiction. A tech supra-state? Greta. Hudson Yards. The tool to travel through layers.

A year ago: How To Become A Centaur.

The AI-Art Gold Rush Is Here

Excellent read by Ian Bogost on a quite fascinating intersection of art, history, AI, blockchain, and money. It also connects back to No.46 six months ago with that quote proposing that “AI will become a new medium for art.” TL;DR: the multiple angles through which we can look at AI in art and the plans of a weird team who are perhaps just using this to sell art analytics software. I’d like to read something discoursing on a parallel between this article and renaissance patrons (perhaps the Medici?), polymathic painters, rare colours, and frescoes.

[A] computer scientist commanding five-figure print sales from software that generates inkjet-printed images; a former hotel-chain financial analyst turned Chelsea techno-gallerist with apparent ties to fine-arts nobility; a venture capitalist with two doctoral degrees in biomedical informatics; and an art consultant who put the whole thing together, A-Team–style, after a chance encounter at a blockchain conference. […]

The best way to get away with something is to make it feel new and surprising. […]

Elgammal calls his approach a “creative adversarial network,” or CAN. It swaps a GAN’s discerner — the part that ensures similarity — for one that introduces novelty instead. The system amounts to a theory of how art evolves: through small alterations to a known style that produce a new one. That’s a convenient take, given that any machine-learning technique has to base its work on a specific training set. […]

The art market is just that: a market. Some of the most renowned names in art today, from Damien Hirst to Banksy, trade in the trade of art as much as — and perhaps even more than — in the production of images, objects, and aesthetics. […]

AICAN is neither a savior nor an annihilator of art. It’s just another style, bound by trends and accidents to a moment that will pass like any other.

How Artificial Intelligence Is Changing Science

Basically it’s changing science how it’s changing lots of other things; simply new maths on larger sets of data. Still, quite interesting to see how that’s done and the way models are used. Also good to pair with the article above since both are centred on variations of GANs (generative adversarial network).

The Square Kilometer Array, a radio telescope slated to switch on in the mid-2020s, will generate about as much data traffic each year as the entire internet. […]

One such approach, known as generative modeling, can help identify the most plausible theory among competing explanations for observational data, based solely on the data, and, importantly, without any preprogrammed knowledge of what physical processes might be at work in the system under study. Proponents of generative modeling see it as novel enough to be considered a potential “third way” of learning about the universe. […]

More broadly, generative modeling takes sets of data (typically images, but not always) and breaks each of them down into a set of basic, abstract building blocks — scientists refer to this as the data’s “latent space.” The algorithm manipulates elements of the latent space to see how this affects the original data, and this helps uncover physical processes that are at work in the system.

Design Nonfiction

This looks like a fantastic project. A documentary series with loads and loads of excellent people, releasing some interviews every month. Starts with Kevin Slavin on gps, geocaching, cities, psychogeography, and games (that’s just the first ten minute video).
(See a related thought at the very bottom.)

[T]his project explores and documents transformations in design between the Dotcom Crash and the rise of machine intelligence. Through reflections on key projects from this period and interviews with a community of today’s top design practitioners, Design Nonfiction explores the future of design practice. It emphasises the timeless need to make the invisible visible and the immaterial tangible, in order to sketch and build with emerging technologies.

Silicon Valley isn’t just a technostate

Smart piece on the size and influence of Facebook and other GAFAS. On their trans nationality, cultural influence, PR vs actions, and whether it is “time to worry about not just a so-called technostate, but a tech supra-state, where companies supersede the state altogether.”

Such is the scale of the digital revolution: Decisions made by an alarmingly small number of people on the U.S. West Coast have global implications. […]

We are faced with a remarkable situation in which a conglomeration of private companies both own a significant part of modern social infrastructure, but are also lobbying to extend that power into other spheres: urbanism, education, governance and more. […]

It is necessary to understand tech’s influence as far more sociocultural than it is material. The shift to digital has produced an array of new forms of culture, not just new forms of technology. […]

How individual states such as Canada deal with multinational companies that not only operate internationally but, in their very functioning, challenge the notion of physical borders, is a test that the current regulatory framework is ill-equipped to address.

As we can read in The People Who Hated the Web Even Before Facebook, some people have been … less optimistic about the internet / web for a while and warned us of the risks.

These were deeper criticisms about the kind of society that was building the internet, and how the dominant values of that culture, once encoded into the network, would generate new forms of oppression and suffering, at home and abroad. […]

Oppression will worm its way into even the most seemingly liberating spaces. The noncommercial will become hooked to a vast profit machine. People of color will be discriminated against in new ways. Women will have new labors on top of the old ones.

Greta Thunberg, schoolgirl climate change warrior

On top of what Thunberg is accomplishing (at least in bringing awareness, we’ll see about effects on policies as manifestations grow), isn’t it one more weird twist of our times that as anti-vaccination is so present in the media, in part because of a debunked report on an autism link, a young woman on the spectrum would have such presence an impact on our imagination?

“I overthink. Some people can just let things go, but I can’t, especially if there’s something that worries me or makes me sad. I remember when I was younger, and in school, our teachers showed us films of plastic in the ocean, starving polar bears and so on. I cried through all the movies. My classmates were concerned when they watched the film, but when it stopped, they started thinking about other things. I couldn’t do that. Those pictures were stuck in my head.” […]

People with selective mutism typically do not suffer from an inability to talk; rather, they choose not to engage in conversations they do not consider worthwhile. An associated characteristic is a tendency to worry more than other people. Thunberg has since weaponised this in meetings with political leaders, and with billionaire entrepreneurs in Davos. […]

The girl who once slipped into despair is now a beacon of hope. One after another, veteran campaigners and grizzled scientists have described her as the best news for the climate movement in decades.

New York’s Hudson Yards is an ultra-capitalist Forbidden City

Conceptually, this is pretty much part two of one of the most clicked articles of the last few weeks, about the ‘pencil towers’ of New York’s super-rich. Nothing much to add, it’s a well written piece about some crazy money creating a horrible place growing like a neoliberal tumour on the side of NYC.

[I]n a city that is desperately trying to maintain the illusion that we are all something more than props in a metropolis-sized variety show put on for the benefit of bored hedge fund employees. […]

As urban planning visions go, it is a familiar one: an ultracapitalist equivalent of the Forbidden City, a Chichen Itza with a better mall and slightly better-concealed human sacrifice. […]

Hudson Yards is notable for having the worst of everything. […]

It is always a little sad to see what the people rich enough to have everything actually want. They do not want to participate in the world at all; they want to build their own simulacrum of it and float away forever, secure in the knowledge that none of the lesser people or things that populate the earth will ever be allowed to intrude.”

? Bringing An Inuit Language Into The Digital Age

The Inuktitut word for internet, “ikiaqqijjut,” is often translated as “the tool to travel through layers.” But Eva stresses that it needs more explanation.

“The idea is that when shamans are in their trance, they can go anywhere around the world, including the moon,” Eva says. “When our elders heard there was the first man on the moon, they said, ‘They are not the first. We have been there and done that,’ because shamans have been there. Shamans would travel in a trance; if they want to check on their family far away, they can visit them and see how they’re doing.”

Via Deb Chachra

Brainport Smart District (BSD) will be located in Helmond, Netherlands



Probably partly because Evan said this: “Reading Sentiers newsletter while waiting in line at SXSW and wondering how I get to the conference where all these writers are.” One of my first thoughts when scrolling through the list of interviewees from Design Nonfiction was back to this inkling I have that there might be an interesting small (5-10 people?) event format to be done around smart videos. It’s expensive and CO2 emitting to fly to events left and right, speakers often give the same talk over and over anyway, and the best part of many events is often usually the hallway discussion so what if a salon-ish watching and discussing? Hit reply for a Montréal one or perhaps a broader Slack chat?


Sentiers is a weekly newsletter curated by me, Patrick Tanguay. Hit reply to see how we could work together on projects involving knowledge curation, publishing, forecasting, or sense making.