Author Archives: Jeremy

The singularity isn’t coming: so what is?

This NYT article is getting some play among colleagues:

I get it: the article usefully refocuses us from the coming of the supposed singularity when AI will go from being about specific domains (eg chess or go) to cross-domain general intelligence (think Skynet). It’s not going to happen.

Be careful what you wish for though. The article is written by a venture capitalist who literally admits to making banking even worse (?) by investing in a loan company using algorithms that will issue 30 million loans annually “with virtually no human involvement.” Way to make banking even more soulless.

More seriously, the guy’s vision is dispiriting in the extreme. He sees AI displacing workers en mass, which will result in the further concentration of wealth in fewer hands, and an employment future mainly made up of what he calls “service jobs of love”:

These are jobs that AI cannot do, that society needs and that give people a sense of purpose. Examples include accompanying an older person to visit a doctor, mentoring at an orphanage…the volunteer service jobs of today, in other words, may turn into the real jobs of tomorrow.

He grants there may be higher-paying jobs where humans act as an “interface” to the AI. (No, thanks). And this will have to paid for by huge tax increases and we’ll all work fewer hours. Geographically, it’s even worse. Unless you’re the USA or China, you’ve had it (wasn’t it Japan that was supposed to eat the world technologically just a decade or so ago?).

We’ve heard this mantra before (Keynes) and usually the opposite happens: people have to work twice or three times as much to make a living. These highly abstract pronouncements, divorced from geographic and social reality (China’s population is aging, it has a disastrous environment) also ignore politics. Where jobs will change is not just because of technology as a driver, but according to a new report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) climate change, new job types, changing aspirations of women, “geopolitical volatility,” an emerging middle class in developing countries, and privacy issues. Robots and AI account for only 9% and 7% of respondents rating them as top drivers of change.

So absent a politically unlikely universal basic income (UBI, which he does mention without saying how it might come about), we should remember that this is from a guy actively trying to bring this future into reality. “Know your enemy” is good advice, but let’s do it critically.


Rise of the robots (discussion)


Three robot engineers discuss their work on this BBC World Service radio programme (should be available worldwide).

One the engineers is Paul Newman (Oxford Robotics Institute) who does navigation and self-driving vehicles. They’ve done some interesting 3D mapping as well:


Ayanna Howard (GA Tech) does work on swarm technology which involves some social behavior aspects, including emotional detection in the face.

Linked to the current robot exhibition at the Science Museum in London.

Uncanny valley (images)

This is indeed slightly disconcerting. As Mori originally pointed out, adding movement makes it more uncanny (the eyes and head tilt to follow the mouse around).


More here.


Hacking data education (comic)


Very interesting piece on life as a scientist and comic artist, and exhibiting a Big Data poster at a conference (above).


How the NSA outed Winner: secret yellow printer dots

Fascinating story of how the recent NSA alleged leaker Reality Winner was caught. Bad OPSEC all round, including the Intercept itself:

How did it happen? This security expert explains:

Today, The Intercept released documents on election tampering from an NSA leaker. Later, the arrest warrant request for an NSA contractor named “Reality Winner” was published, showing how they tracked her down because she had printed out the documents and sent them to The Intercept. The document posted by the Intercept isn’t the original PDF file, but a PDF containing the pictures of the printed version that was then later scanned in.

The problem is that most new printers print nearly invisibly yellow dots that track down exactly when and where documents, any document, is printed. Because the NSA logs all printing jobs on its printers, it can use this to match up precisely who printed the document.

Reblogged from here.

Sign of the times: huge new Google building near King’s Cross

It’s big:


That’s 1m square feet in old money.


Almost Ready: Clive Barnett’s new book

Clive Barnett’s new book “The Priority of Injustice.” From the blurb:
“Barnett unpacks the assumptions about space and time that underlie different understandings of the sources of political conflict and shows how these differences reflect deeper philosophical commitments to theories of creative action or revived ontologies of “the political.””

Pop Theory

So, here is the back-cover blurb for The Priority of Injustice, from the new Winter catalogue from the University of Georgia Press. The book is not published yet, I am sitting here with the proofs at my feet, waiting for an index to be delivered before sending it all back to the publisher one last time (no-one else might read this book, but it seems to be all I’ve been reading for the last two years).

This original and ambitious work looks anew at a series of intellectual debates about the meaning of democracy. Clive Barnett engages with key thinkers in various traditions of democratic theory and demonstrates the importance of a geographical imagination in interpreting contemporary political change.

Debates about radical democracy, Barnett argues, have become trapped around a set of oppositions between deliberative and agonistic theories—contrasting thinkers who promote the possibility of rational agreement and those who…

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