A thoroughly entertaining talk by Andy looking at the past, present, and future of robots, AI, and automation.
Tuesday, February 27th, 2018
Monday, June 12th, 2017
The transcript of Josh’s fantastic talk on machine learning, voice, data, APIs, and all the other tools of algorithmic design:
The design and presentation of data is just as important as the underlying algorithm. Algorithmic interfaces are a huge part of our future, and getting their design right is critical—and very, very hard to do.
Josh put together ten design principles for conceiving, designing, and managing data-driven products. I’ve added them to my collection.
- Favor accuracy over speed
- Allow for ambiguity
- Add human judgment
- Advocate sunshine
- Embrace multiple systems
- Make it easy to contribute (accurate) data
- Root out bias and bad assumptions
- Give people control over their data
- Be loyal to the user
- Take responsibility
Wednesday, March 15th, 2017
I can forgive our answer machines if they sometimes get it wrong. It’s less easy to forgive the confidence with which the bad answer is presented, giving the impression that the answer is definitive. That’s a design problem.
Wednesday, December 7th, 2016
The Robot Life Survey is an alternative-history from design company After the flood, where mechanical intelligence is discovered by man, noted and painted for posterity and science.
Monday, May 9th, 2016
Absolutely brilliant stuff from Mandy (again). A long hard at today’s tech industry’s narrow approach to bots and artificial intelligence compared to some far more interesting and imaginative approaches in fiction:
- Ann Leckie’s superb Imperial Radch series,
- Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, and
- Alex Garland’s Ex Machina.
So in addition to frightening ramifications for privacy and information discovery, they also reinforce gendered stereotypes about women as servants. The neutral politeness that infects them all furthers that convention: women should be utilitarian, performing their duties on command without fuss or flourish. This is a vile, harmful, and dreadfully boring fantasy; not the least because there is so much extraordinary art around AI that both deconstructs and subverts these stereotypes. It takes a massive failure of imagination to commit yourself to building an artificial intelligence and then name it “Amy.”
Sunday, April 24th, 2016
Psst… Jeremy! Right now you’re getting notified every time something is posted to Slack. That’s great at first, but now that activity is increasing you’ll probably prefer dialing that down.
Why does everyone always look at me? I know I’m a chalkboard and that’s my job, I just wish people would ask before staring at me. Sometimes I don’t have anything to say.
I’m Little MOO - the bit of software that will be managing your order with us. It will shortly be sent to Big MOO, our print machine who will print it for you in the next few days. I’ll let you know when it’s done and on it’s way to you.
It looks like you’re writing a letter.
Your quest is to find the Warlock’s treasure, hidden deep within a dungeon populated with a multitude of terrifying monsters. You will need courage, determination and a fair amount of luck if you are to survive all the traps and battles, and reach your goal — the innermost chambers of the Warlock’s domain.
Welcome to Adventure!! Would you like instructions?
I am a lead pencil—the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write.
ÆLFRED MECH HET GEWYRCAN
Ælfred ordered me to be made
I have marked up the protagonist of each conversation using the
cite element. There is a long-running dispute over the use of this element. In HTML 4.01 it was perfectly fine to use
cite to mark up a person being quoted. In the HTML Living Standard, usage has been narrowed:
citeelement represents the title of a work (e.g. a book, a paper, an essay, a poem, a score, a song, a script, a film, a TV show, a game, a sculpture, a painting, a theatre production, a play, an opera, a musical, an exhibition, a legal case report, a computer program, etc). This can be a work that is being quoted or referenced in detail (i.e. a citation), or it can just be a work that is mentioned in passing.
A person’s name is not the title of a work — even if people call that person a piece of work — and the element must therefore not be used to mark up people’s names.
In the examples above, it’s pretty clear that I, Pencil and Warlock Of Firetop Mountain are valid use cases for the
cite element according to the HTML5 definition; they are titles of works. But what about Clippy or Little Moo or Slackbot? They’re not people …but they’re not exactly titles of works either.
If I were to mark up a dialogue between Eliza and a human being, should I only mark up Eliza’s remarks with
cite? In text transcripts of conversations with Alexa, Siri, or Cortana, should only their side of the conversation get attributed as a source? Or should they also be written without the
cite element because it must not be used to mark up people’s names …even though they are not people, according to conventional definition.
It’s downright botist.
Monday, February 29th, 2016
Mappa Mundi Rubrum.
Tuesday, August 25th, 2015
dConstruct 2015 podcast: Brian David Johnson
The newest dConstruct podcast episode features the indefatigable and effervescent Brian David Johnson. Together we pick apart the futures we are collectively making, probe the algorithmic structures of science fiction narratives, and pay homage to Asimovian robotic legal codes.
Brian’s enthusiasm is infectious. I have a strong hunch that his dConstruct talk will be both thought-provoking and inspiring.
dConstruct 2015 is getting close now. Our future approaches. Interviewing the speakers ahead of time has only increased my excitement and anticipation. I think this is going to be a truly unmissable event. So, uh, don’t miss it.
Grab your ticket today and use the code ‘ansible’ to take advantage of the 10% discount for podcast listeners.
Thursday, August 20th, 2015
dConstruct 2015 podcast: Carla Diana
The dConstruct podcast episodes are coming thick and fast. The latest episode is a thoroughly enjoyable natter I had with the brilliant Carla Diana.
We talk about robots, smart objects, prototyping, 3D printing, and the world of teaching design.
And don’t forget to use the discount code ‘ansible’ when you’re buying your dConstruct ticket …because you are coming to dConstruct, right?
Wednesday, December 17th, 2014
Print out the plans, fold and glue/sellotape the paper together, and you’ve got yourself the best sci-fi robots in recent cinema history.
Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014
I post a few links on this site every day—around 4 or 5, on average. If you subscribe to the RSS feed, then you’ll know about them (I also push them to Delicious but I don’t recommend relying on that).
If you don’t use RSS—you lawnoffgetting youngster, you—then you’d pretty much have to actually visit my website to see what I’m linking to. How quaint!
Here, let me throw you a bone in the shape of a Twitter bot. You can now follow @adactioLinks.
I’ve done same thing for my journal (or “blog”, short for “weblog”, if you will). You can either subscribe to the journal’s RSS feed or decide that that’s far too much hassle, and just follow @adactioJournal on Twitter instead.
The journal postings are far less frequent than the links. But I still figured I’d provide a separate, automated Twitter account because I do not want to be that guy saying “In case you missed it earlier…” from my human account …although technically, even my non-bot account is auto-generated: my status updates start life as notes on adactio.com—Twitter just gets a copy.
So these Twitter accounts correspond to different posts on adactio.com in decreasing order of frequency:
Friday, January 17th, 2014
This nifty place in Brighton is just down the street from me:
Our classes allow kids to get creative with exciting, cutting-edge technology and software.
Tuesday, August 13th, 2013
See that helmet? That’s my helmet. Jim borrowed it for this video.
And now I think that the Future Friendly posse has a theme song.
Friday, October 26th, 2012
Tuesday, March 13th, 2012
Space by Botwest
I had a whole day of good talks yesterday at South By Southwest yesterday …and none of them were in the Austin Convention Center. In a very real sense, the good stuff at this event is getting pushed to the periphery.
The day started off in the Driskill Hotel with the New Aesthetic panel that James assembled. It was great, like a mini-conference packed into one hour with wonderfully dense knowledge bombs lobbed from all concerned. Joanne McNeil gave us the literary background, Ben searched for meaning (and humour) in advertising trends, Russell looked at how machines are changing what we read and write, and Aaron …um, talked about the helium-balloon predator drone in the corner of the room.
With our brains primed for the intersections where humans and machines meet, it wasn’t hard to keep pattern-matching for it. In fact, the panel right afterwards on technology and fashion was filled with wonderful wearable expressions of the New Aesthetic.
Alas, I wasn’t able to attend that panel because I had to get to the green room to prepare for my own appearance on Get Excited and Make Things With Science with Ariel and Matt. It was a lot of fun and it was a real pleasure to be on a panel with such smart people.
I basically used the panel as an opportunity to geek out about some of my favourite science-related hacks and websites:
- Nathan’s ISS Notify lamp, a Kickstarter project that started life as a Science Hack Day hack,
- the magnificent Spacelog that came out of a dev fort,
- and Old Weather, which is probably my favourite of all the Zooniverse projects.
After that I stayed in the Driskill for a panel on robots and AI. One of the panelists was Bina48.
I heard had heard about Bina48 from a Radiolab episode.
Jon Ronson described the strange experience of interviewing her—how the questions always tended to the profound and meaningful rather than trivial and chatty. Sure enough, once Bina was (literally) unveiled on the panel—a move that was wisely left till halfway through because, as the panelists said, “after that, you’re not going to pay attention to a word we say”—people started asking questions like “Do you dream?” and “What is the meaning of life?”
I asked her “Where were you before you were here?” She calmly answered that she was made in Texas. The New Aesthetic panelists would’ve loved her.
I was surprised by how much discussion of digital preservation there was on the robots/AI panel. Then again, the panel was hosted by a researcher from The Digital Beyond.
Bina48’s personality is based on the mind file of a real person containing exactly the kind of data that we are publishing every day to third-party sites. The question of what happens to that data was the subject of the final panel I attended, Saying Goodbye to Your Digital Self, featuring representatives from The Internet Archive, Archive Team, and Google’s Data Liberation Front.
Digital preservation is an incredibly important topic—one close to my heart—but the panel (in the Omni hotel) was, alas, sparsely attended.
Like I said, at this year’s South by Southwest, a lot of the good stuff was at the edges.
Sunday, August 21st, 2011
I, for one, welcome our autonomous swarming robot overlords.
Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011
Wonderful musings from Matt on meeting the emerging machine intelligence halfway.
Monday, May 9th, 2011
Electronic rock songs about anger, loss, frustration, love, the surveillance state, the Iranian election, uranium enrichment, Twitter, gene therapy cures for AIDS, the financial crisis and World of Warcraft.
Tuesday, April 26th, 2011
Voice of the bot-hive
Creating telephone answering systems can be fun as I discovered at History Hack Day when I put together the Huffduffer hotline using the Tropo API. There’s something thrilling about using the human voice as an interface on your loosely joined small pieces. Navigating by literally talking to a machine feels simultaneously retro and sci-fi.
I think there’s a lot of potential for some fun services in this area. What a shame then that the technology has mostly been used for dreary customer service narratives:
Horrific glimpse of a broken future. I sniffed while a voice activated phone menu was being read out and it started from the beginning again.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about injecting personality into web design, often through the tone of voice in the microcopy. When personality is conveyed in the spoken as well as the written word, the effect is even more striking.
Have a listen for yourself by calling:
That’s the number for Customer Service Romance:
What happens when Customer Service bots start getting too smart? What if they start needing help too? How would they use the tools at their disposal to reach out to those they care about? What if they start caring about us a little too much?
The end result is amusing …but also slightly disconcerting. You may find yourself chuckling, but your laughter will be tinged with nervousness.
On the face of it, it’s an amusing little art project. But it’s might also be a glimpse of an impending bot-driven algorithmpocalypse.
Sunday, April 10th, 2011
In his talk at the Lift conference last year Kevin Slavin talks about the emergent patterns in trading algorithms, the bots that buy and sell with one another occasionally resulting in events beyond our comprehension. It’s a great, slightly dark talk and I highly recommend you watch the video.
This is the same territory that Daniel Suarez explored in his book Daemon. The book is (science) fiction but as Suarez explains in his Long Now seminar, the reality is that much of our day to day lives is already governed by algorithms. In fact, the more important the question—e.g. “Will my mortgage be approved?”—the more likely that the decision will not be made by a human being.
Kevin Slavin mentions that financial algorithms are operating at such a high rate that the speed of light can make a difference to a company’s fortunes, hence the increase in real-estate prices close to network hubs. Now a new paper entitled Relativistic Statistical Arbitrage by Alexander Wissner-Gross and Cameron Freer has gone one further in mapping out “optimal intermediate locations between trading centers,” based on the Earth’s geometry and the speed of light.
A marginally intelligent voicemail virus masquerading as an IRS auditor has caused havoc throughout America, garnishing an estimated eighty billion dollars in confiscatory tax withholdings into a numbered Swiss bank account. A different virus is busy hijacking people’s bank accounts, sending ten percent of their assets to the previous victim, then mailing itself to everyone in the current mark’s address book: a self-propelled pyramid scheme in action. Oddly, nobody is complaining much.
High in orbit around Amalthea, complex financial instruments breed and conjugate. Developed for the express purpose of facilitating trade with the alien intelligences believed to have been detected eight years earlier by SETI, they function equally well as fiscal gatekeepers for space colonies.
The damnfool human species has finally succeeded in making itself obsolete. The proximate cause of its displacement from the pinnacle of creation (or the pinnacle of teleological self-congratulation, depending on your stance on evolutionary biology) is an attack of self-aware corporations. The phrase “smart money” has taken on a whole new meaning, for the collision between international business law and neurocomputing technology has given rise to a whole new family of species—fast-moving corporate carnivores in the Net.