This week → The model is the message ⊗ Soulbinding like a state ⊗ The value of being a professional amateur ⊗ An archeology for the future in space
Benjamin Bratton and Blaise Agüera y Arcas for NOEMA magazine, in part about the LaMDA/Blake Lemoine/sentience curfuffle, but actually a lot more interesting than an engineer hoodwinking himself. They make a few important points, first that maybe “[w]e need more specific and creative language that can cut the knots around terms like ‘sentience,’ ‘ethics,’ ‘intelligence,’ and even ‘artificial,’ in order to name and measure what is already here and orient what is to come.” Second, that even if LaMDA is not doing what Lemoine thinks it’s doing, it’s still intriguing that the AI ‘knows’ enough about language to reply in ways that makes him think it’s sentient. In other words, it’s not sentient but the fact it manages to ‘fake it’ is intriguing. They go in a number of other directions, including synthetic media and what can be done right now, they details their “seven problems with synthetic language at platform scale,” and more. Well worth a read.
I want to take specific note of the second point above, that beyond the debunking of sentience remains something promising. Bratton has done this same kind of exercise a few times, one that stick to my mind is the distinction between surveilling and measuring. He believes (my words), and I tend to agree, that capitalistic surveillance is entirely different than measuring at a global scale for the purpose of planetary governance. In both cases, the important work of properly comprehending, analyzing and sometimes pushing back on technologies must not prevent us from recognizing the potential and redirecting discourse so that ‘we’ don’t throw the baby with the bath water.
Here they discuss AI, sentience, and the philosophy of AI, elsewhere it was data and surveillance, but the important thread is that better understanding, better language to discuss new things, better perspective to contemplate potential risks and rewards, and a cool head are all important. People are bullshitting left and right, but incredible technologies are being developed and can help ‘higher purposes’ than profit or an engineer looking for a friend.
LaMDA is instead constructing new sentences, tendencies, and attitudes on the fly in response to the flow of conversation. Just because a user is projecting doesn’t mean there isn’t a different kind of there there. […]
As Large Language Models, such as LaMDA, come to animate cognitive infrastructures, the questions of when a functional understanding of the effects of “language”— including semantic discrimination and contextual association with physical world referents — constitute legitimate understanding, and what are necessary and sufficient conditions for recognizing that legitimacy, are no longer just a philosophical thought experiment. […]
Strongly committed as we are to thinking at planetary scale, we hold that modeling human language and transposing it into a general technological utility has deep intrinsic value — scientific, philosophical, existential — and compared with other projects, the associated costs are a bargain at the price. […]
[S]ome may find themselves dismissing or disallowing other realities that also constitute “AI now:” drug modeling, astronomic imagining, experimental art and writing, vibrant philosophical debates, voice synthesis, language translation, robotics, genomic modeling, etc. […]
[T]he ongoing double-helix relationship between AI and the philosophy of AI needs to do less projection of its own maxims and instead construct more nuanced vocabularies of analysis, critique, and speculation based on the weirdness right in front of us.
Brilliant piece by Gordon Brander who looks at Web3 identity dreams, self-sovereign identity, James C. Scott’s book Seeing Like a State (1998), maps, territory, Borges, and wallets. At some point it felt like I was going to highlight the whole first half so have a read yourself (the second half is more ‘nuts and bolts’) but basically he points to the important difference between legibility and identity. A lot of attempts at what is called identity are actually creating legibility for the state and/or the network. He gives multiple examples of this but this phrase kind of sums it up for the internet and Web3: “Legibility is disastrous at scale, and the internet is always at scale. The internet is flat, frictionless, and global, and algorithms are totalizing.” We need self-sovereignty, illegibility and privacy, not an indelible identity made available at scale.
When I reflect on the lived experience of identity, I think of something that is complex, personal, intersectional, situational, intersubjective. It seems like the thing we are gesturing toward when we say “on-chain identity” is not this personal lived experience of identity, but something else. What is it? […]
This sounds closer to the mark. When we say “on-chain identity”, we are gesturing toward something that is standardized, certified, registered, recorded. An API for quantifying people. This is reflected in the use-cases cited for on-chain identity, such as one-person-one-vote polling, credit scores, credentials, reputation, mutual rating, resumes, background checks. […]
The greatest danger emerges when legibility is paired with godlike power and totalizing ambition. You can only simplify reality to match your map when you operate at the scale of a god, a state… or perhaps, of a network. […]
The internet is adaptive, and will algorithmically reshape its reality around anything that is legible. Google makes clicks legible, so clickbait manifests. Facebook makes reacts legible, so inflammatory content manifests. YouTube makes engagement legible, so creepy videos for toddlers manifest. […]
Legibility on the internet is hazardous. And if it is hazardous to make clicks or emotes legible to algorithmic forces, how much more hazardous is it to make people legible? Making identity legible at internet scale is seeing like a state.
I initially read this one for myself first, thinking that it might end-up here as a short but instead I was smiling, nodding my head, and highlighting all the way. In this interview, Justinien Tribillon (what a name! what a bio!) beautifully explains why he’s a “professional amateur,” the importance of curiosity, the value of curation, recombinatorial creativity, lazyness, generalists, and multi-disciplinarity.
Also today, I listened to my friend Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino being interviewed by Julian Bleecker on the Near Future Laboratory Podcast where they talk about a number of things, including consulting, the developer stack, design, writing, and working laterally. I’m attaching this with Tribillon above because it’s something that fascinates me; people working across disciplines and how their ‘primary toolkit’ (urbanism, design, coding, architecture, law) becomes a lens and a language to walk across these discipline and make sense of them.
I’ve realized that when I sit down and type something, my thinking and thoughts, develop in a way that isn’t possible when you are talking out loud or thinking in your head. I tend to walk a lot to get ideas. But you need to write down stuff at some point and there’s a process of unfolding an idea that, for me, is only triggered when I write stuff down. […]
What’s key for me is the multi-disciplinarity of my practice. I do touch upon a lot of different disciplines and I am a professional amateur. I’m not an expert in anything. I never fully know my field, but I try to make connections between fields and between people without being a wanker, without appropriating someone else’s work, but by clearly building on top of what’s there, acknowledging what others have do. […]
There’s no shame in saying, “This is not my idea. I read it here. I found it amazing. And, you know what? I’m going to connect it to that other amazing idea I found and this is what I’m making out of it. My work was only to connect those two ideas and this is what I’m sharing with you.” […]
[T]hat’s why I think you can be a generalist. You can be someone who makes synthesis. And you can also make something interesting without knowing something in depth.
Perhaps a bit more ‘diving into the practice’ than usual for articles featured here, but I loved this pretty detailed view of the multi-year process and the various components that went into creating Level 5 of the Orbiting Space Station (OSS) HOPE for the Dubai Future Foundation’s Museum of the Future. Some of the topics: mundane futures, an archaeological approach to the study of the ISS, the design of the Soviet Soyuz Orbital Module, a future history of design, low-gravity wine bottles, and a ‘space pidgin’ “formed with expression mixing both technical terms and informal matters.” Excellent stuff!
As American writer Ursula K. Le Guin once put it, “The future is a safe, sterile laboratory for trying out ideas in, a means of thinking about reality, a method.” […]
[W]e imagined technologies not just as a palette of tools, but as a culture. The culture of human behavior, human possibility, and human potential with technologies. We extrapolated weak signals that came from analyzing the background stories of the Space Race, the current private and public initiatives in the space industry and politics, the technological roadmaps, the historical and fictional tools and architecture designed to live in orbit and the potential future worlds depicted in science-fiction books and movies. […]
If you think about it, a vintage jacket worn in 2071, might have actually been made in 2030 or so, so even what ‘old’ and vintage is in this context, it’s actually already the future for us. So to design a product that would be used in this future context, you have to put yourself in the mindset of a designer from different future times, being 2065, 2040 or 2030. And as we have to admit to ourselves, we all design influenced by the cultural, societal and technological times that we live in.
What it would take to see the world completely differently → Anelise Chen on the re-release of Rachel Carson’s The Sea Trilogy. “Though there is little sentimentality here about the death of any particular creature—everything, whether plankton or fish or mollusk, is always eating or being eaten—there is a sense of horror at human plunder. The sheer scale of what humans took for themselves is what made them monstrous.”
No.228 Asides ⊕ See Note
- 💯 ☀️ 🌳 Project Drawdown updates world’s leading set of climate solutions—adding 11 new solutions for addressing the climate crisis. “[C]onfirms with even more clarity and conviction that humanity has the solutions needed to reach drawdown quickly, safely, efficiently, and equitably.”
- 🇲🇽 🤔 Algae biopanel windows make power, oxygen and biomass, and suck up CO2. “Beautifully designed, energy-generating bio-panels that suck up carbon dioxide and pump out biomass for use as fuel or fertilizer – that's the idea behind Mexican startup Greenfluidics and its nanotech-enhanced microalgae bioreactor building panels.”
- 🌏 🌳 36 Countries Are Gaining More Trees than They’re Losing. “[N]ew trees don’t make up for the loss of old-growth, carbon-rich forests. But this new data provides a chance to examine where and why gain is happening, opening up new opportunities to monitor and inform forest restoration efforts around the world. ”
- 📱 🧠 Haven’t read it yet, but very something we hear often, curious to know if anything backs it. Is your smartphone ruining your memory? A special report on the rise of ‘digital amnesia’.
- 🇸🇪 👀 Absolutely love Six N. Five’s “The Red Spot” at the top. Stockholm's First NFT Exhibition Goes Somewhere Ethereal. “… unlocks a transportive and otherworldly experience through works by such leading digital artists as Krista Kim, Snowfro, and IX Shells.”
- 🇹🇷 🤯 Sensational find in Turkey: Turkish archaeologists discover subterranean city of Matiate. “[T]he gateway to a huge underground city has been discovered. It was used for over 1900 years and could accommodate up to 70,000 people.”
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