16 posts tagged tech
Q. What do you think of President Obama’s digital efforts?
Gavin Newsom: He raised the bar. What president did in his first day in office with open government. That executive order reads as so idealistic. It is just like Mark Zuckerberg’s IPO letter, in terms of what can be. Obama did incredible things in the first few years with openness, data sets, and transparency. Unfortunately we didn’t see follow through. The momentum waned. That is some of the frustration with the drone issue of secrecy and memos that were not made public and the lack congressional oversight. It is not an indictment, but I’m hoping we can resuscitate and revitalize it.
Q. Is it possible to bring that back?
Gavin Newsom: The revitalization is starting with cities. A lot of mayors took up the baton because of the external pressure. Organizations and groups educated us. People like Tim O’Reilly [the open source advocate] are saying we have to pick it up at the local level and people like [Code for America’s] Jennifer Pahlka are placing talent in departments all across the country.
Q. A government app isn’t going to exactly be cool. Will people actual use it?
Gavin Newsom: We are virtually farming and spending billions of dollars on virtual goods. A few years ago, no one would say that you could make people do that. In Manor, Texas they’ve created a virtual point system with Innobucks and are recognizing how to translate them into offline real life benefits. If we can make it fun and use civic currency and develop civic software, we can take the lessons from these brilliant geniuses who are advancing gaming, and apply it to democracy.
Gary Marcus, author of Guitar Zero, writes about IBM’s latest project, in the New Yorker:
Half a trillion neurons, a hundred trillion synapses. I.B.M. has just announced the world’s grandest simulation of a brain, all running on a collection of ninety-six of the world’s fastest computers. The project is code-named Compass, and its initial goal is to simulate the brain of the macaque monkey (commonly used in laboratory studies of neuroscience). In sheer scale, it’s far more ambitious than anything previously attempted, and it actually has almost ten times as many neurons as a human brain. Science News Daily called it a “cognitive milestone,” and Popular Science said that I.B.M.’s “cognitive computing program… just hit a major high.” Are full-scale simulations of human brains imminent, as some media accounts seem to suggest?
Compass is part of long-standing effort known as neuromorphic engineering, an approach to build computers championed in the nineteen-eighties by the Caltech engineer Carver Mead. The premise behind Mead’s approach is that brains and computers are fundamentally different, and the best way to build smart machines is to build computers that work more like brains. Of course, brains aren’t better than machines at every type of thinking (no rational person would build a calculator by emulating the brain, for instance, when ordinary silicon is far more accurate), but we are still better than machines at many important tasks, including common sense, understanding natural language, and interpreting complex images. Whereas traditional computers largely work in serial (one step after another), neuromorphic systems work in parallel, and draw their inspiration as much as possible from the human brain. Where typical computers are described in terms of elements borrowed from classical logical (like “AND” gates and “OR” gates), neuromorphic devices are described in terms of neurons, dendrites, and axons.
In some ways, neuromorphic engineering, especially its application to neuroscience, harkens back to an older idea, introduced by the French mathematician and astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1825), who helped set the stage for the theory of scientific determinism. Laplace famously conjectured:
“An intellect which at a certain moment [could] know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, [could] embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.”
Much as Laplace imagined that we could, given sufficient data and calculation, predict (or emulate) the world, a growing crew of neuroscientists and engineers imagine that the key to artificial intelligence is building machines that emulate human brains, neuron by neuron.
Illustration by John Ritter
Human beings do not have very many natural defenses. We are not all that fast, and we are not all that strong. We do not have claws or fangs or body armor. We cannot spit venom. We cannot camouflage ourselves. And we cannot fly. Instead, we survive by means of our wits. Our minds are quick. We are wired to detect patterns and respond to opportunities and threats without much hesitation.
“This need of finding patterns, humans have this more than other animals,” I was told by Tomaso Poggio, an MIT neuroscientist who studies how our brains process information. “Recognizing objects in difficult situations means generalizing. A newborn baby can recognize the basic pattern of a face. It has been learned by evolution, not by the individual.”
The problem, Poggio says, is that these evolutionary instincts sometimes lead us to see patterns when there are none there. “People have been doing that all the time,” Poggio said. “Finding patterns in random noise.”
The human brain is quite remarkable; it can store perhaps three terabytes of information. And yet that is only about one one-millionth of the information that IBM says is now produced in the world each day. So we have to be terribly selective about the information we choose to remember.
Hutchins: Internet dating, for instance, is such the norm now that we’re going to have to come up with a retronym for other types of dating. I don’t know what you would call it. “Bodily dating,” or “face-to-face.” I’m not deeply worried, but I do think there is a kind of distractible thing happening with technology that I’m not sure what to do about. There’s also a kind of fantasy life that happens on the Internet with search and this endless… you can get a kind of overly consumerist attitude toward even your love life. You can start looking through the thousands of possible matches on your dating site, which is pretty similar to looking through something at Costco or going to Amazon. There’s kind of a similar mechanism to all those that maybe we should be concerned about, I don’t know.
The Rumpus: Including those percentage matches on OKCupid.
Hutchins: Yeah, you’re like, “Do I want somebody I’m 60% matched to? I don’t know.” I had a good friend who was dating on OKCupid last year, and her way of interacting with guys she was looking at was she couldn’t stand any grammatical errors. If somebody had a grammatical error, and Lord forbid they e-mailed her with an e-mail with a grammatical error, she would e-mail the nastiest e-mails back to them. It was really funny. It’s an extension of us, so I think that’s the thing. You can’t worry too much about the technology, because it’s always just an extension of us.
Technophobes rejoice! Your typewriter iPad is here.
Reconnect is one of the most promising apps we’ve seen in a long time. You can connect to your community’s locally sourced products and track how far your food has traveled to your dinner plate. Think of it as Foursquare for locavores.
We think Michael Pollan would approve. (via)
We’re obsessed with Ryan Alexander’s Streetview Stereographic. Above: Times Square, NYC.
Mazel tov! If you are married to your same-sex partner, and share these types of things on Facebook, no more second-class iconography for you. Facebook has rolled out little icons — in, of course, that distinct Facebook-blue — that will appear in timelines to mark the weddings of same-sex couples.
Read more. [Image: Facebook]
From the Department of Brilliant Ideas: a streetlight that expands into an umbrella during rainstorms.
The Clock Clock: 24 analog clocks that meet in unison once each minute.