What would Wiener think of the current human use of human beings? He would be amazed by the power of computers and the internet. He would be happy that the early neural nets in which he played a role have spawned powerful deep-learning systems that exhibit the perceptual ability he demanded of them—although he might not be impressed that one of the most prominent examples of such computerized Gestalt is the ability to recognize photos of kittens on the World Wide Web.
Sunday, April 28th, 2019
Saturday, February 9th, 2019
This is a really interesting approach that isn’t quite a CSS reset or a normalisation. Instead, it’s an experiment to reimagine what a default browser stylesheet would be like if it were created today, without concerns about backwards compatibility:
Applies basic styling to form elements and controls, getting you started with custom styling. We want to find the balance between providing a base for implementing a custom design, and allowing OS-level control over how form inputs work (like how a number pad works on iOS).
Provides a very lightweight starter file, with generic visual styling that you will want to replace. This isn’t as robust or opinionated as a starter-theme or framework. We’ve leaned toward specifying less, so you have less to override. (We haven’t defined any font families, for example.)
You can contribute by adding issues.
Thursday, January 31st, 2019
The cosmonaut counterparts of the Mercury women astronauts: Zhanna Yorkina, Irina Solovyova, Tatyana Kuznetsova, Valentina Ponomareva, and Valentina Tereshkova.
Ponomareva recalled there being no envy between the women in the squad. According to her, it was a healthy spirit of competition. Everyone did their best to be number one, but also supported each other’s efforts.
One of those cosmonauts went to space: none of the women training for the Mercury missions did. There would be a shockingly gap of twenty years between the launch of Valentina Tereshkova and the launch of Sally Ride.
Sunday, May 7th, 2017
A minority report on artificial intelligence
Want to feel old? Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report was released fifteen years ago.
It casts a long shadow. For a decade after the film’s release, it was referenced at least once at every conference relating to human-computer interaction. Unsurprisingly, most of the focus has been on the technology in the film. The hardware and interfaces in Minority Report came out of a think tank assembled in pre-production. It provided plenty of fodder for technologists to mock and praise in subsequent years: gestural interfaces, autonomous cars, miniature drones, airpods, ubiquitous advertising and surveillance.
At the time of the film’s release, a lot of the discussion centred on picking apart the plot. The discussions had the same tone of time-travel paradoxes, the kind thrown up by films like Looper and Interstellar. But Minority Report isn’t a film about time travel, it’s a film about prediction.
Or rather, the plot is about prediction. The film—like so many great works of cinema—is about seeing. It’s packed with images of eyes, visions, fragments, and reflections.
The theme of prediction was rarely referenced by technologists in the subsequent years. After all, that aspect of the story—as opposed to the gadgets, gizmos, and interfaces—was one rooted in a fantastical conceit; the idea of people with precognitive abilities.
But if you replace that human element with machines, the central conceit starts to look all too plausible. It’s suggested right there in the film:
It helps not to think of them as human.
To which the response is:
No, they’re so much more than that.
Suppose that Agatha, Arthur, and Dashiell weren’t people in a floatation tank, but banks of servers packed with neural nets: the kinds of machines that are already making predictions on trading stocks and shares, traffic flows, mortgage applications …and, yes, crime.
Precogs are pattern recognition filters, that’s all.
Rewatching Minority Report now, it holds up very well indeed. Apart from the misstep of the final ten minutes, it’s a fast-paced twisty noir thriller. For all the attention to detail in its world-building and technology, the idea that may yet prove to be most prescient is the concept of Precrime, introduced in the original Philip K. Dick short story, The Minority Report.
Minority Report works today as a commentary on Artificial Intelligence …which is ironic given that Spielberg directed a film one year earlier ostensibly about A.I.. In truth, that film has little to say about technology …but much to say about humanity.
Like Minority Report, A.I. was very loosely based on an existing short story: Super-Toys Last All Summer Long by Brian Aldiss. It’s a perfectly-crafted short story that is deeply, almost unbearably, sad.
When I had the great privilege of interviewing Brian Aldiss, I tried to convey how much the story affected me.
Jeremy: …the short story is so sad, there’s such an incredible sadness to it that…
Brian: Well it’s psychological, that’s why. But I didn’t think it works as a movie; sadly, I have to say.
At the time of its release, the general consensus was that A.I. was a mess. It’s true. The film is a mess, but I think that, like Minority Report, it’s worth revisiting.
Watching now, A.I. feels like a horror film to me. The horror comes not—as we first suspect—from the artificial intelligence. The horror comes from the humans. I don’t mean the cruelty of the flesh fairs. I’m talking about the cruelty of Monica, who activates David’s unconditional love only to reject it (watching now, both scenes—the activation and the rejection—are equally horrific). Then there’s the cruelty of the people of who created an artificial person capable of deep, never-ending love, without considering the implications.
There is no robot uprising in the film. The machines want only to fulfil their purpose. But by the end of the film, the human race is gone and the descendants of the machines remain. Based on the conduct of humanity that we’re shown, it’s hard to mourn our species’ extinction. For a film that was panned for being overly sentimental, it is a thoroughly bleak assessment of what makes us human.
The question of what makes us human underpins A.I., Minority Report, and the short stories that spawned them. With distance, it gets easier to brush aside the technological trappings and see the bigger questions beneath. As Al Robertson writes, it’s about leaving the future behind:
SF’s most enduring works don’t live on because they accurately predict tomorrow. In fact, technologically speaking they’re very often wrong about it. They stay readable because they think about what change does to people and how we cope with it.
Friday, March 31st, 2017
I adore the thoughtfulness and lack of ego that Frank presents here. I hope that every designer reads this and thinks upon it.
Monday, October 3rd, 2016
This crystallises something I’ve been thinking about for a while. There’s a fundamental philosophical idea underpinning CSS reset or normalise boilerplate that feels at odds with the belief that it’s perfectly fine for websites to look different in different browsers and devices.
Monday, September 19th, 2016
I’m just back from a little mini 3-conference tour of Europe where I was delivering my talk on resilience. The first stop was Stockholm for Nordic.js and the video is already online.
Monday, October 12th, 2015
I really like this comparison between Waldsterben and the current situation with the web after years of pervasive tracking.
Friday, May 29th, 2015
Hillary, legendary for being the first to scale Mount Everest with teammate Tenzing Norgay, was on board, and Armstrong was, too, saying he was curious to see what the North Pole looked like from ground level, as he’d only seen it from the moon. Astronaut problems.
Saturday, April 25th, 2015
Here’s a lovely project with an eye on the Long Now. Trees that were planted last year will be used to make paper to print an anthology in 2114.
Margaret Atwood is one of the contributors.
Friday, April 10th, 2015
100 words 019
For a while there on Twitter yesterday, web people took some time to give props to other web people who have inspired them. #HonoringWebFolk was the hashy sack (or whatever that thing is called that the lawn kids use).
There are so many generous people I could mention: Veen, Zeldman, Champeon, Holzschlag, Çelik, Meyer…
Sunday, January 4th, 2015
Like an Enid Blyton adventure for the 21st century, James goes out into the country and explores the networks of microwave transmitters enabling high-frequency trading.
If you think that London’s skyscraper boom is impressive – the Shard, the Walkie-Talkie, the Cheesegrater, the Gherkin – go to Slough. It is not height that matters, but bandwidth.
Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
James takes a tour through the English countryside, while venturing into areas of the electromagnetic spectrum that may as well be labelled “Private Property. No Trespassing. Keep Out.”
Monday, November 10th, 2014
Tuesday, September 30th, 2014
When I wrote about Reddit and Hacker News, criticising their lack of moderation, civility, and basic decency, many people (invariably men) responded in defence of Reddit. Nobody defended Hacker News. Nobody.
Oh, and all of you people (men) defending Reddit? Here’s your party line …I find it abhorrent.
Saturday, July 26th, 2014
The image-stitching algorithm is trying its best.
Monday, July 14th, 2014
A profile of Norbert Wiener, and how his star was eclipsed by Claude Shannon.
Friday, May 16th, 2014
I guess it goes without saying at this point, but this piece from Frank is beautiful and thought-provoking.
This part in particular touched on some things I’ve been thinking about lately:
Design’s golden calf is simplicity. Speaking as someone who sees, makes, and uses design each and every day, I am tired of simple things. Simple things are weak. They are limited. They are boring. What I truly want is clarity. Give me clear and evident things over simple things. Make me things that presume and honor my intelligence. Shun seamlessness. It is another false token. Make me things that are full of seams, because if you give me a seam and I pull the thread, I get to see how the whole world is stitched together. Give me some credit. Show me you trust me.
Friday, September 9th, 2011
The story behind one of the winning photographs at this year’s Astronomy Photographer Of The Year that I was lucky enough to attend. This is beautiful.
Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
Don Norman bemoans the seemingly-inevitable direction that the internet is taking; from an open system of exchange to a closed, controlled broadcast channel. I share his fear.