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Still in Show-Business

There is an old joke about the performer in the circus who as he gets older keeps falling farther and farther down in the billing. A friend who he hasn’t seen in years sees him cleaning up the elephant dung and asks, “what happened, you were a big star! when the old performer replies, “ Yes but I’m still in show-business!” This punchline came to mind when I read in the BBC that professors at medical schools are finding that their surgery students are losing the dexterity to stitch patients. Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College, London, says young people have so little experience of craft skills that they struggle with anything practical. It seems that the simple skills that used to be common to us all, cutting textiles, measuring ingredients, repairing something that’s broken, learning woodwork or holding an instrument are no longer common in today’s young people. While we may be learning skills to help us swipe through screens of pixels, we may no longer be getting the training to live in the real world.
Post-apocalyptic television shows, like the Walking Dead and  and movies such as World War Z create a fantasy where we test our survival skills by pitting us against zombies, over the top creatures or even other people in a world removed from the modern conveniences. Yet perhaps we don’t really need the zombies to bring us to our knees, we seem to be doing that for ourselves by losing even the most simple skills we need for survival. While its pretty to think we can navigate a world gone mad, many of us can not across town without a strong internet connection. So while we may not be able to stitch up a wound, at least we can do our Cyber Monday shopping in record time.

walking dead, Laurence Olivier,The Entertainer,BBC

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internet, social media, Technology

All. Together, Now.

While an art auction may not be anything that has major social ramifications, a recent auction at Christie’s in New York did catch our attention. While we like an auction as the next person, this one did have a picture painted by AI . Th piece, titled “Portrait of Edmond Belamy” was created by a Paris-based collective called Obvious Art created an algorithm that can create painted images. They are interested in exploring the boundaries of creativity, computers and AI and pushing the boundaries of what a machine can create. An idea that will be revisited here, the thing that came to mind was the increasing question of what it is to be human and if that is an answer that we really need. We used to try hold humanness out of reach of animals, like a treat from a dog made to jump at an ever higher raised treat, only to find no matter how high we set the bar, animals could rise to and above it. At first, we were the tool making creatures but soon we found gorillas had the same ability. We had a complex social structure only to find that many other animals did too. No matter how we seemed to try to set ourselves above and apart our specialness seemed to be co-opted by lower life forms. Now as we try to maintain our place in the center of our egocentric model (with apologies to Ptolemy) we find it harder and harder to find our ground in the center of the world. As AI and computers advance the Turing test, a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human seems to be nothing more than a roadside attraction we have passed whizzing by to a future which we seem unwilling to consider.
While AI advances make us less unique in the larger sense perhaps it should make us more aware of the things that make us unique as individuals. An algorithm can create a piece of art but only Picasso could create a Guernica, only Joyce, Ulysses, and these things could not exist until these consciousness beings created them just as Portrait of Edmond Belamy could not be created until Obvious Art programmed the computer to create it. Perhaps our uniqueness ought to be the measured by to our communal ability to create and discover, be we carbon or silicon-based than our need to divide and segregate.

“We were making the future…and hardly any of us troubled to think what future we were making”

H.G.Wells from “When the Sleeper Wakes” (1899)

 

The Portrait of Edmond de Belamy

Obvious Art, AI, The Portrait of Edmond Belamy

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internet, social media, Technology, Uncategorized

Media is Plural, Truth is Singular

In my misspent youth, I remember conversations with my philosophy class in college, discussing how to describe what our life was and how we would describe it.  One of the descriptions was “a dance of remembering and forgetting”, a constant finding and embracing of truth or inspiration and then forgetting it or letting it slip from our attention.  That phrase has come back to me as we now take our cultural memory to the altar of silicon and revisit what our past means.  Not even so much what happened, since the invention of the moving picture and indeed the still photograph we cannot debate so much what happened but what it means. We can’t debate who was at the Conference of Yalta but we can debate what it meant and its impact was.  It seems that for a brief shining moment we could all agree what “is is” and what was, was.  But now, in our immediate now, our immediate news cycle and our interactive relationship with reality, it seems that everything is up for interpretation and revision. Let’s look at something as mundane as The first ladies jacket, at first we were told, it was not a message and later the rebuttal, that it really was a message. It seems that now that everything we do is being caught on video or in some way recorded one would think that fact would be Fact.  One could not dispute the recording or video of a statement it is a documentation of a past event that we can all agree happened.  We now have as many venues as re-imaginations of truth available to us. Perhaps in this maelstrom of media, we can take a moment to remember that while media is plural, that truth is singular.

For those who doubt the power of the repeated lie

Trump,

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internet, Technology, Uncategorized

A Talent to Amuse

There are trends that are interesting and then there are trends that are disturbing. The latter seemed true when we saw that Netflix now seems to dominate 15 percent of the internet-while YouTube follows with another 11 percent and Amazon coming in with 3 percent. It seems that we are in a race for distraction and video content being the latest thing that no one can be without. Disney buys Fox not for the distribution but for the content as our voracious eyes must constantly be fed with new images. With Ford Motor stock being degraded to just above junk bond status and Sears filing for bankruptcy it seems that we are no longer a nation that makes or buys things but only one that prefers to watch others do things. While Napoleon had once called Britan a nation of shopkeepers, we have become voyeurs who only find value in what Noel Coward called “a talent to amuse” Hi ho, if that were all…

The title comes from a song by Noel Coward, the lyrics and a link to a performance are below.

I believe in doing what I can
In crying when I must
In laughing when I choose
Hey ho, if love were all
I should be lonely.
I believe the more you love a man,
The more you give your trust,
The more you’re bound to lose.
Although when shadows fall
I think if only
Somebody splendid really needed me
Someone affectionate and dear
Cares would be ended if I knew that he
Wanted to have me near.
But I believe that since my life began
The most I’ve had is just a talent to amuse.
Hey ho, if love were all.

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internet, social media, Technology, Uncategorized

Life Finds a Way

The story that Facebook had shut down computers that had begun to talk to each other and were creating their own language made me stop dead in my tracks. While the concept of computers learning and speaking their own language is amazing I was equally stunned by the fact we seem never to learn. We shut down the computers as they had begun to speak in a language that we could not understand but the computers could. It seems that no matter how much we think we know, we never learn the lesson, as Ian Malcolm states in Jurassic Park, “life finds a way. We think we can master nature and make it do our bidding only to find that it has a will of its own. Even now we seem oblivious to the grating roar of waves slowly taking back our cities and coastline. It is easier to think global warming an alternate fact than to accept the consequences of our actions. As a child, if we ignore the problem we think it will go away or think that once the genie is out of the bottle we can control it and put it back whenever we choose. Anything we create at some point takes on a life of its own, a life which will find a way. Perhaps it’s time for us to acknowledge our creations and treat them like the new Adam and Eve that they have become.

ADAM AND EVE, ALTERNATE TRUTH, ANCIENT HISTORY, COMMUNICATION, CONNECTIONS, DIALOGUE, DOVER BEACH, FACEBOOK, GENII, GOD, IAN MALCOLM, INFORMATION, INFORMATION SOCIETY, JURASSIC PARK, KAREL CAPEK, LANGUAGE, LIFE WILL FIND A WAY. FACEBOOK, PERSONAL COMMUNICATION, RUR, SOCIAL MEDIA, TECHNOLOGY

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internet, social media, Technology, Uncategorized

Last Will and Textament….

It has been disturbing to me to see the acceptance of the most informal of communications, texting, and tweeting, have become acceptable forms of communicating and I was hear that the French legal system said that the texting of a last will and testament has no legal value. Indeed, the court decreed that a texted will or texted changes to a will, had no value in a court of law. While there may be those that remember the outcry when Genesis frontman Phil Collins divorced his wife via fax, it seems that now we react more with what Conan O’Brian calls a horrorplause, the reaction in which the audience responds initially in disgust and shock to a joke and then gradually comes around and laughs and applauds. It seems with this media driven political arena we have embraced the horrorplause. We will be horrified by the statements of our political leaders only to come around and applaud and laugh as if the sitcom we had been watching had come to a close and the credits were about to roll. Perhaps the midseason elections will be the newest version of the midsummer replacement tv shows when we decide that what we are seeing is no longer interesting and that a change is no farther than a tweet or text away. People text or tweet condolences, or announcements of personal importance, but whatever happened to such a personal announcement being worthy of more than 140 characters, or at best 120 characters for the cherished retweet. Or perhaps, in our digital age popularity has become more important than sincerity.

 

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internet, social media, Technology

The Constant Now

I woke up with a start, thinking of the corner on the NW corner of LaSalle & Monroe in Chicago, which is the Datum point for the city, the point in which of known or assumed coordinates from which calculation or measurements may be taken. In this point the intersection is the point from which all heights in the city are measured a point of common departure.  I thought of this early that morning after an evening of talking and arguing with people of different ages and experiences than me.
We struggled at times to find a common ground or more frequently a common frame of reference in our experience. While people my own age could laugh at a reference to Gilligan’s Island the Love Boat anyone a few years younger had no idea what we were talking about. With people say 5 or 10 years older they had references that we could not begin to understand. It occurred to me that with media increasing our appetite for content we seem to digest information so fast that each generation may have its own vocabulary and may end up living in a constant state of now. As the current situation of immigrant child detention at the US border brought up references to the Nazi Holocaust, there may be a time when a reference to the Obama administration will have as much resonance as  the Norman Invasion.

Norman Invasion, Nazi Holocaust, Obama Administration, Media, LaSalle, Monroe, Chicago, Datum Point, Intersection, Culture, Culture Reference, Common Frame of Reference, immigrant child detention at the US border, Media appetite, constant state of now, common ground,

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