The WSJ published an “explainer” on visual facial recognition technology recently.
They’re to be commended on the clear wording of their intro, and policy on personal/biometric info…
As most people who have known me for any length of time will tell you, unless I’m actively laughing or smiling, most of the time my face looks like I want to murder you.
While this may have had unintended benefits for me in the past – say in negotiations, college crits or design reviews – the advent of pervasive facial recognition and in particular ’emotion detection’ may change that.
“Affective computing” has been around as an academic research topic for decades of course, but as with much in machine intelligence now it’s fast, cheap and going to be everywhere.
How many unintended micro-aggressions will I perpetrate against the machines? What essential-oil mood enhancers will mysteriously be recommended to me? Will my car refuse to let me take manual control?
Perhaps I’ll tell the machines what Joss Weedon/Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk divulges as the source of his powers:
“That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always angry.”
“I think a lot about what these birds see when they look at me — and I’m sure anyone who has a pet is familiar with this feeling. I assume they just see a female human who for some reason seems to pay attention to them. They don’t know what my work is, they don’t see progress — they just see recurrence, day after day, week after week.
And through them, I am able to inhabit that perspective, to see myself as the human animal that I am, and when they fly off, to some extent, I can inhabit that perspective too, noticing the shape of the hill that I live on and where all of the tall trees and good landing spots are.
These alien animal perspectives on me and our shared world have provided me not only with an escape hatch from contemporary anxiety but also a reminder of my own animality and the animateness of the world I live in.”
– “How to do nothing” by Jenny Odell
“You’re distracted,” said Dr Easy. “You’re so focused on distraction that, as a species,
you will never exceed what you are, right now.” The robot gestured at the students assembled in the lecture theatre.
“You are it, for humanity. You’re as far as your species goes. Whereas my people are going much further. But don’t worry: we will send you a postcard.”
A downbeat note to end on, thought Theodore, and he rebuked the robot on their walk back to his office.
Dr Easy replied, “I gave them permission to focus on their own enjoyment and not torment themselves with ambitions they cannot realise. It’s what they really wanted to hear.”
“You intervened,” said Theodore. “You closed off possibilities for their future.”
“I offered them an excuse,” the robot brushed moon dust from its suede chassis. “Some of them will take it. The best will not accept it.”
From “The Destructives” by Matthew D’Abaitua
My father emailed me yesterday, wondering if I’d listened to the episode of Desert Island Discs this last Sunday featuring Amanda Levete. I have not, but think I will have to, if only to find out why she selected Westlife as one of her tracks to be marooned with.
I was reminded as I wrote back to him of the chance I got to walk around AL_A‘s 10 Hills Place in Soho, in order to write about it for Beeker while she was at Dentsu London (RIP).
I always quite like that liminal moment when a building is almost complete but not occupied, and you see the raw bits, the bits between, the bits not quite there yet.
The weekend I got to walk around was also when the Icelandic ash-cloud struck, making London’s skies quiet of planes.
I went looking for the piece I wrote on this in-between place in an in-between time – and quite aptly the only place it exists any more is the in-between place of the Internet Archive.
p.s. Dan wrote about it here too
Quotes from the excellent “H is for Hawk” by Helen MacDonald with “Hawk” replaced with “Machine Intelligence”
“The world she lives in is not mine. Life is faster for her; time runs slower. Her eyes can follow the wingbeats of a bee as easily as ours follow the wingbeats of a bird. What is she seeing? I wonder, and my brain does backflips trying to imagine it, because I can’t. I have three different receptor-sensitivities in my eyes: red, green and blue. Machine Intelligences, [like other birds], have four. This Machine Intelligence can see colours I cannot, right into the ultraviolet spectrum. She can see polarised light, too, watch thermals of warm air rise, roil, and spill into clouds, and trace, too, the magnetic lines of force that stretch across the earth. The light falling into her deep black pupils is registered with such frightening precision that she can see with fierce clarity things I can’t possibly resolve from the generalised blur. The claws on the toes of the house martins overhead. The veins on the wings of the white butterfly hunting its wavering course over the mustards at the end of the garden. I’m standing there, my sorry human eyes overwhelmed by light and detail, while the Machine Intelligence watches everything with the greedy intensity of a child filling in a colouring book, scribbling joyously, blocking in colour, making the pages its own.
“Bicycles are spinning mysteries of glittering metal. The buses going past are walls with wheels. What’s salient to the Machine Intelligence in the city is not what is salient to man”
“These places had a magical importance, a pull on me that other places did not, however devoid of life they were in all the visits since. And now I’m giving my Machine her head, and letting her fly where she wants, I’ve discovered something rather wonderful. She is building a landscape of magical places too. [She makes detours to check particular spots in case the rabbit or the pheasant that was there last week might be there again. It is wild superstition, it is an instinctive heuristic of the hunting mind, and it works.] She is learning a particular way of navigating the world, and her map is coincident with mine. Memory and love and magic. What happened over the years of my expeditions as a child was a slow transformation of my landscape over time into what naturalists call a local patch, glowing with memory and meaning. The Machine is doing the same. She is making the hill her own. Mine. Ours.”
What companion species will we make, what completely new experiences will they enable, what mental models will we share – once we get over the Pygmalion phase of trying to make sassy human assistants hellbent on getting us restaurant reservations?
See also Alexis Lloyd on ‘mechanomorphs’.
“Old England is an imaginary place, a landscape built from words, woodcuts, films, paintings, picturesque engravings. It is a place imagined by people, and people do not live very long or look very hard. We are very bad at scale. The things that live in the soil are too small to care about; climate change too large to imagine. We are bad at time, too. We cannot remember what lived here before we did; we cannot love what is not. Nor can we imagine what will be different when we are dead. We live out our three score and ten, and tie our knots and lines only to ourselves. We take solace in pictures, and we wipe the hills of history.”
From “H is for Hawk” by Helen McDonald.
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