Category: aleks krotoski

A shed the size of a town: what Britain’s gian…

A shed the size of a town: what Britain’s giant distribution centres tell us about modern life:

Simple as they may look, distribution centres are sophisticated structures. The machinery that moves stuff around is constantly evolving. Their playing field-sized floors have to be exceptionally level, as small unevenness could cause the high fork-lift trucks they use to lean unacceptably at the top. Years of competition have made their structure as spare and economical as can be. Architects such as Chetwoods have to reconcile all this with the wishes of users (who might want something tailored to their needs) and of investors, who will want a structure to be adaptable to future users.It is tempting to say that these buildings make the internet visible, except that their visibility is strictly limited. Sometimes they get into the news when reporters, posing as warehouse workers, bring news of working conditions inside. You can get a glimmer on Google, for example from employee reviews of Primark’s warehouse, which sits like an acropolis on a raised earthwork in Northamptonshire: “they’re treating a people like nothing,” says one in imperfect English; “they beautiful lied on induction how much they cares about worker, don’t believe them.” The buildings, however, remain notably blank, giving almost no clue of their busy inner lives.

Some users and owners are dismissive of press inquiries to a degree unusual in big, public relations-conscious companies. Tesco refused a request to see inside their Dirft base, which was possibly not surprising, but also to answer simple questions, such as: what are its dimensions?

For the writer Carolyn Steel, whose book Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Livesexamines the relationship of society to food, this secrecy is the antithesis of the more public processes by which food once progressed from field to market to kitchen to plate. “The exchange of food used to bring people together,” she says. “Now the process is designed to exclude the human”. But distribution centres manifest the world we have chosen and had chosen for us, in return for efficiency and convenience, in which a product appears in the home by ever more inscrutable magic.

Their scale and growth are a consequence of the fact that all that physicality and volume that the virtual world displaces has to go somewhere. It’s welcome that architects and developers should try to make something of them and to mitigate their impact with woods, ponds and indeed coloured bands. But, short of a dramatic restructuring of the economic, technical and social basis of the modern world, these uncompromising building types will only become more essential to our lives. The contrast between what was previously thought of as natural and urban landscape will only become more stark.

Digital Human: Series 10, Episode 1 – Sublime

Why Futurism Has a Cultural Blindspot – Issue …

Why Futurism Has a Cultural Blindspot – Issue 28: 2050 – Nautilus:

In early 1999, during the halftime of a University of Washington basketball game, a time capsule from 1927 was opened. Among the contents of this portal to the past were some yellowing newspapers, a Mercury dime, a student handbook, and a building permit. The crowd promptly erupted into boos. One student declared the items “dumb.”

Such disappointment in time capsules seems to run endemic, suggests William E. Jarvis in his book Time Capsules: A Cultural History. A headline from The Onion, he notes, sums it up: “Newly unearthed time capsule just full of useless old crap.” Time capsules, after all, exude a kind of pathos: They show us that the future was not quite as advanced as we thought it would be, nor did it come as quickly. The past, meanwhile, turns out to not be as radically distinct as we thought.

In his book Predicting the Future, Nicholas Rescher writes that “we incline to view the future through a telescope, as it were, thereby magnifying and bringing nearer what we can manage to see.” So too do we view the past through the other end of the telescope, making things look farther away than they actually were, or losing sight of some things altogether.

These observations apply neatly to technology. We don’t have the personal flying cars we predicted we would. Coal, notes the historian David Edgerton in his book The Shock of the Old, was a bigger source of power at the dawn of the 21st century than in sooty 1900; steam was more significant in 1900 than 1800.

But when it comes to culture we tend to believe not that the future will be very different than the present day, but that it will be roughly the same. Try to imagine yourself at some future date. Where do you imagine you will be living? What will you be wearing? What music will you love?

Chances are, that person resembles you now. As the psychologist George Lowenstein and colleagues have argued, in a phenomenon they termed “projection bias,”1 people “tend to exaggerate the degree to which their future tastes will resemble their current tastes.”

In one experimental example, people were asked how much they would pay to see their favorite band now perform in 10 years; others were asked how much they would pay now to see their favorite band from 10 years ago. “Participants,” the authors reported, “substantially overpaid for a future opportunity to indulge a current preference.” They called it the “end of history illusion”; people believed they had reached some “watershed moment” in which they had become their authentic self.2 Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 essay, “The End of History?” made a similar argument for Western liberal democracy as a kind of endpoint of societal evolution.

This over- and under-predicting is embedded into how we conceive of the future. “Futurology is almost always wrong,” the historian Judith Flanders suggested to me, “because it rarely takes into account behavioral changes.” And, she says, we look at the wrong things: “Transport to work, rather than the shape of work; technology itself, rather than how our behavior is changed by the very changes that technology brings.” It turns out that predicting who we will be is harder than predicting what we will be able to do.

The Digital Human, Series 13, Episode 6 – Oracle

We’re a little closer to texting from our brai…

We’re a little closer to texting from our brains, thanks to birds:

Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley this year set themselves an audacious new goal: creating a brain-reading device that would allow people to effortlessly send texts with their thoughts.

In April, Elon Musk announced a secretive new brain-interface company called Neuralink. Days later, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg declared that “direct brain interfaces [are] going to, eventually, let you communicate only with your mind.” The company says it has 60 engineers working on the problem.

It’s an ambitious quest—and there are reasons to think it won’t happen anytime soon. But for at least one small, orange-beaked bird, the zebra finch, the dream just became a lot closer to reality.

That’s thanks to some nifty work by Timothy Gentner and his students at the University of California, San Diego, who built a brain-to-tweet interface that figures out the song a finch is going to sing a fraction of a second before it does so.

“We decode realistic synthetic birdsong directly from neural activity,” the scientists announced in a new report published on the website bioRxiv. The team, which includes Argentinian birdsong expert Ezequiel Arneodo, calls the system the first prototype of “a decoder of complex, natural communication signals from neural activity.” A similar approach could fuel advances towards a human thought-to-text interface, the researchers say.

The Digital Human, Series 13, Episode 6 – Oracle

How big data can now be used to predict where …

How big data can now be used to predict where crime will happen:

Police in the UK are starting to use futuristic technology that allows them to predict where and when crime will happen, and deploy officers to prevent it, research has revealed. “Predictive crime mapping” may sound like the plot of a far-fetched film, but it is already widely in use across the US and Kent Police is leading the technological charge in the UK.

A report on big data’s use in policing published by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) said British forces already have access to huge amounts of data but lack the capability to use it.

Alexander Babuta, who carried out the research, said predictive crime mapping tools had existed for more than a decade but are only being used by a fraction of British forces. “The software itself is actually quite simple – using crime type, crime location and date and time – and then based on past crime data it generates a hotspot map identifying areas where crime is most likely to happen,” he told The Independent…

The Digital Human, Series 13, Episode 6 – Oracle

The Delphic Oracle, In Our Time – BBC Radio 4

The Delphic Oracle, In Our Time – BBC Radio 4:

Not a lunchtime lecture, but a very cool listen. Dive deep into the history of the Delphic Oracle.

The Digital Human, Series 13, Episode 6 – Oracle

How to Tell The Future(s) – Facts So Romantic …

How to Tell The Future(s) – Facts So Romantic – Nautilus:

In 1972 the Club of Rome, an international think tank, commissioned four scientists to use computers to model the human future. The result was the infamous Limits toGrowth that crashed into world culture like an asteroid from space. Collapse, calamity and chaos were the media take-aways from the book, even though the authors tried hard to explain they weren’t making predictions but only exploring what would happen if population and economies continued their exponential growth. People, however, wanted predictions even if the book wasn’t really offering them. That gap between the authors’ intentions and the book’s reception tells us something critical about flaws in the way we think about the long-term future. Just as important, it points to new and different ways to think about the future at this strange moment in human history, when that future is so uncertain.

The real point to emerge from the crude (by today’s standards) simulations in The Limits of Growthwas that…duh… growth had limits. Using the language of coupled non-linear differential equations, the authors modeled the interaction between population and resources on a finite planet. The stunning prediction of those models was that collapse, rather than steady state, was one very real “solution” to the system. The visual cue to this nasty future was the simple trajectory of black line on a printout of population vs. time. That was really all folks needed. Follow the line. If it leveled off things would be great. If it plummets we are, by definition, all doomed.

What happened next was a battle over the details of that line and its trajectory. Would it really plummet, and if so, when, exactly, would it do that—i.e., how many years left till collapse? Economists, environmentalists, political scientists, and politicians began duking it out over these questions, and they haven’t stopped yet. But as climate change and resource depletion began spreading from scientific journals to headlines, it became clear these kinds of fights are missing the point. For the boots-on-the-ground folks—urban planners who must start planning and building now—something very different is needed.

That is a great irony of the challenge human culture must deal with now. On the one hand we canpredict the future. Our science makes it pretty damn clear that a rapidly changing planet is in the cards over thenext 30 to 50 to 100 years. On the other hand, there is no way to accurately predict all the ways a city like New York or Seattle will be affected those changes. For folks charged with ensuring the specifics of human culture are resilient in the face of those changes, the Club of Rome-style computer models can’t deal with the way uncertainty spreads the further we look into the future. It’s hard enough to predict snowpack a year in advance; how is a city to understand and plan for changes given changing climate conditions and population levels 50 years in advance?

To make that leap we need to go beyond predicting the future and begin telling the future.

We need to begin thinking in terms of “scenarios.”

The Digital Human, Series 13, Episode 6 – Oracle

As usual, The Twilight Zone appears to predict…

As usual, The Twilight Zone appears to predict the future. Be ware of prophetic machines… *cue theme music*

The Digital Human, Series 13, Episode 6 – Oracle

Some divination methods are more intimate than…

Some divination methods are more intimate than others :/

AI learns to predict the future by watching 2 …

AI learns to predict the future by watching 2 million videos:

By Victoria Turk

AN ARTIFICIAL intelligence system can predict how a scene will unfold and dream up a vision of the immediate future.

Given a still image, the deep learning algorithm generates a mini video showing what could happen next. If it starts with a picture of a train station, it might imagine the train pulling away from the platform, for example. Or an image of a beach could inspire it to animate the motion of lapping waves.

Teaching AI to anticipate the future can help it comprehend the present. To understand what someone is doing when they’re preparing a meal, we might imagine that they will next eat it, something which is tricky for an AI to grasp. Such a system could also let an AI assistant recognise when someone is about to fall, or help a self-driving car foresee an accident.

“Any robot that operates in our world needs to have some basic ability to predict the future,” says Carl Vondrick at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, part of the team that created the new system. “For example, if you’re about to sit down, you don’t want a robot to pull the chair out from underneath you.

To teach the AI to make better videos, the team used an approach called adversarial networks. One network generates the videos, and the other judges whether they look real or fake. The two get locked in competition: the video generator tries to make videos that best fool the other network, while the other network hones its ability to distinguish the generated videos from real ones.

The Digital Human, Series 13, Episode 6 – Oracle

5 Amazing Things Big Data Helps Us To Predict …

5 Amazing Things Big Data Helps Us To Predict Now — Plus What’s On The Horizon:

Big data is predicting things about your life almost every minute of your day — whether you’re aware of it or not.

Amazon is predicting what else you might like to buy every time you shop. Netflix is predicting what you might want to watch. Google is predicting how you will respond to your emails. And and other dating sites are even trying to predict who you might fall in love with.

These predictions have become so ubiquitous that we don’t always even notice them any more. But data analysts are working on predicting much more important outcomes than the next show you’ll binge watch, with some very exciting results…

The Digital Human, Series 13, Episode 6 – Oracle