Sensitive Interface

Swiss banking giant UBS wants to talk to you about robotic emotion simulation, for some reason. It’s not at all badly done (irrespective of what it’s selling).

Building on [Herbert A.] Simon’s achievements in the field of artificial intelligence, we take a journey to explore the latest innovations in AI and, most importantly, its human element, to ultimately answer the controversial questions: What physical human characteristics and emotions must a robot have to make people react to it? And, obversely, Can AI recognize human emotions? …

The ad (if that’s what it is) has interactive features that seek to make some of its questions performative. It begins to fold back upon itself only in the final section, when it suggests:

Breakthroughs in data processing and conversation systems are helping more and more companies to implement AI in their operations. According to some experts, well-advanced artificial intelligence could someday not only assist businesses in doing their jobs more efficiently, but also bring a more human touch back to customer service, leading consumers to prefer sophisticated and professional AI service to today’s human variety.

Puzzle resolved. We’re exploring a projection of UBS’s customer interface, from the near future.

Quotable (#161)

Horror escalates:

… the immediacy of V.R. has a dark side, too. Several months ago, Michael Madary and Thomas K. Metzinger, researchers from the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, in Germany, published a series of recommendations on the ethical design and implementation of virtual reality. Their appraisal of the medium’s psychological force is both studious and foreboding. “The power of V.R. to induce particular kinds of emotions could be used deliberately to cause suffering,” they write. “Conceivably, the suffering could be so extreme as to be considered torture.” In filmmaking, the director must perform a kind of seduction of dread, leading viewers through an escalating series of psychological states. In the immersive world of V.R., no such dance is required. …

Cultural Speciation

New media are eradicating the (practical) idea of a common culture. Everything print media integrated, by universalizing literacy, is now being disintegrated into bubbles. It’s bound to be an upsetting development, from certain perspectives:

Another tech trend fueling this issue is the ability to publish ideas online at no cost, and to gather an audience around those ideas. It’s now easier than ever to produce content specifically designed to convince people who may be on the fence or “curious” about a particular topic. This is an especially big issue when it comes to violent extremism, and pseudoscience. Self-publishing has eliminated all the checks and balances of reputable media ― fact-checkers, editors, distribution partners.

It turns out that ‘trusted’ cultural curators aren’t actually trusted much at all. When their reputations are — for the first time — put to the test, they crumble to nothing very fast.

The fission of authorized ‘common purposes’ into meme wars certainly isn’t going to be welcomed by everybody. Nothing is going to be welcomed by everybody. Fragmentation is now the driver, so it isn’t (at all) likely to be stopped.

Rule-of-thumb for any techno-propelled regime transition: What the existing establishment hates and fears most is the already-palpable threat, whose arrival is as close to inevitable as history allows anything to be. (Completely inevitable, in the opinion of this blog, but no one is under any compulsion to follow us there.)

Wright Mess

Here‘s the pitiable letter putting an end to the most recent Satoshi Nakamoto identity drama:

I believed that I could do this. I believed that I could put the years of anonymity and hiding behind me. But, as the events of this week unfolded and I prepared to publish the proof of access to the earliest keys, I broke. I do not have the courage. I cannot.

When the rumors began, my qualifications and character were attacked. When those allegations were proven false, new allegations have already begun. I know now that I am not strong enough for this.

I know that this weakness will cause great damage to those that have supported me, and particularly to Jon Matonis and Gavin Andresen. I can only hope that their honour and credibility is not irreparably tainted by my actions. They were not deceived, but I know that the world will never believe that now. I can only say I’m sorry.

And goodbye.

The farce nevertheless drags on.

Religious Guidance

Francesco Sisci examines the subtleties of Chinese policy on religion in an article at Asia Times Online:

The CCP has made similar pronouncements on this subject in the past. In the latest case, Xi notes the party will have to “guide” religions. However, Xi has tellingly chosen to use a Chinese verb for “guide” for the first time that is fraught with new and subtle meanings. […] Using this verb means the CCP is de facto introducing an entirely new model that will govern its relationship with religious groups. The model tries to blend two elements — conservative and innovative. The party keeps the old role of guidance and management of religious organizations. But it is told to do so by recognizing each religion’s specific characteristics. […] The party will thus manage religious organizations by keeping “politics and religions separate.” This point has been conveyed by using the special verb in its rhetoric. The cryptic word play resembles a similar practice in Catholic scholastic tradition. It is easy for foreign media and other commentators outside China to miss this point — as has often happened in the past several days. …

Religion is — almost by definition — a topic that is highly-charged. Traumatic wars of religion, East and West, still shape the ways it is discussed, while structuring patterns of reciprocal blindness on each side. Sisci understands this with a clarity that is rarely matched, which lends his commentary its exceptional value.

Quotable (#140)

VR as a manipulative medium:

VR for the eyes, while sensational, offers no new information to the viewer. VR is more aptly comparable to 3D televisions than smartphones. […] VR for the hands, on the contrary, empowers humans like never before. If you want a magic thread to follow to find VR gold, just follow the hands. …

There’s a new kind of VR input device that does what the mouse does, but for 3D worlds. It’s called the 1:1 (“one to one”) motion controller. Hold one in your hand, and whichever ways your hand moves, it moves that way in the 3D world. This technology is dead-simple to use, and — most importantly — enables us to do things that we can’t with a mouse or touchscreen. Like the Nintendo Wii controller, perfected. […] This new generation of 1:1 motion controllers, pioneered by the Playstation Move and Razer Hydra, is being brought into maturity by devices like the Oculus Touch and Vive controllers. It is with these new input devices that we see a dimensional difference in what we can do. Mice track our hands with 2 dimensions (x, y). Next generation motion controllers measure not 3, but actually up to 12 dimensions at once (each hand has 3 positional and 3 orientational dimensions). Channeled appropriately, this massively higher dimensional input stream allows us to specify much more simultaneous information to a computer.

We live in a visual culture, and often forget that our hands got us here. […] … As developers begin to take advantage of the 1:1 motion controller, we will see changes that science fiction has yet to predict. Sight is our primary sense, but it’s time we all started paying a little more attention to our hands. It’s how we get things done.

Twitter cuts (#100)

VR rising (from last year, but suddenly topical):


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