"History is just people doing things"
THE ABQ CORRESPONDENT
ISSN 1087-2302 Online Edition Number 279......February 2019
since 1985 for clients and contacts of
OUT, DAMNED SPOT!
In these days of magical Photoshopping, we take it for granted that any photograph may have been altered by skilled operators to remove facial blemishes, add shrubbery to an image of somebody’s front yard while repairing bare spots in the lawn, insert an incriminating image of someone who shouldn’t be present, and so on. While we’re now accustomed to movies featuring computer–synthesized characters that act in real or synthesized surroundings, it still seems daunting to modify a single feature...say a skin blemish…on one performer through many minutes, thousands of individual images, in an extended motion picture or video. In fact, film producers, uglified to suit the purposes of the interviewer. Brave new world, and all that.and others in the early 1900s had by hand, frame by frame. Talk about labor-intensive! Apparently, retouching in films and videos is now commonplace, and the curse of labor intensity is lifted by computer cleverness. When you , you’ll see interesting, but no longer surprising Photoshopping techniques at the beginning, but toward the end, you’ll see the astonishing ability of the system to make the specified changes automatically in successive frames as the character moves. The system tracks the places to be modified, so the artisan need not work on every frame. Wow. Further wow; the computers run fast enough, and the software is efficient enough so retouching can be performed in real time. An actress being interviewed may be smoothed and beautified even as she speaks. Conversely, one supposes, a politician being interviewed by a hostile newsperson may be
If you are charmed by the work of the extraordinarily prolific Méliès, you can see a of his films…all imaginative variations on the same basic “magic of movies” gag…some quite elaborate, all new to the audiences of the era. You’ll see new techniques creep in as he worked, things like dissolves between scenes. It takes stamina to look at more than a few minutes of this, but it was important new technology and art in the making a hundred and some years ago.
MIT Technology Review commented recently on the U.S. Military’s wish to build “common sense” into intelligent systems, so they don’t make silly mistakes like failing to realize that a handbook titled To Serve Man used by newly arrived alien visitors is a cookbook (long-ago Twilight Zone story, I think). Similarly, Microsoft wants to teach Bing not to steer people to sites promoting racism and other disapproved views (can’t find the source). In September 2018, the IBM Developer Blog ran a reassuring piece explaining that their AI Fairness 360 program is a tool that will help us “attack bias from all angles,” preventing smart systems from learning offensive behavior. Umm…to some of us who have been following machine intelligence since the early sixties, this seems a trifle optimistic.
As long ago as 1973, Marvin Minsky, a leader in the field, was quoted by the media arguing that while machine intelligence was all very well, and must be pursued, it was fraught with unknown dangers, and the work should be pursued only by approved people in laboratories under tight control by authorities. Well, yeah, but recall that 1973 was in the stone age before microcomputers, when you needed a huge, expensive system in a big lab to do a fraction of what a Raspberry Pi can do today without anybody’s noticing. The very essence of machine intelligence is that it lets systems learn from experience, change their own references and modify their behavior to accomplish probably desirable things in ways their designers didn’t specify, and probably can’t figure out. While the IBM folks have done an enormous amount of work distinguishing good stuff from bad stuff, and providing tools to detect automatically which is which, it may be difficult for them to keep up with reality. The Correspo has suspected for a long time that whether we like it or not (we don’t much) smart machines will learn about life in the gutter, just like the rest of us. We may hope to counter the influence of bad company on impressionable young systems by setting good examples and stating forthrightly what’s proper and what’s not. The Inquisition tried that for a few hundred years without widespread success. Still, as Mr. Pope pointed out, hope springs eternal.
Recently, a guy whittling a bear out of a piece of 2”x 4” explained that his method was just to “cut away whatever didn’t look like a bear.” It’s a good line, entertaining the first time you hear it, and chances are that you have heard it. A researcher reports finding essentially the same concept (substitute Michelangelo’s David, an elephant, the Venus de Milo or most anything else for the bear) in modern publications from 1858, 1877, 1883, 1888, 1894, 1903, 1909, 1963 and 1974. We can assume that the gag was current in Sumer, Atlantis, and whatever came before them. One imagines a little green man whittling something out of a piece of scrap on the long trip in from Alpha Centauri being asked how he does that so well, and saying ‘I just cut away whatever doesn’t look like…”
A designer named Beer Holthuis has experimentally made a 3D printer that makes objects not of plastic or metal, but of papier-mâché. The objects have a sort of rough charm (this is not really high-resolution work), but they’re colorful, practical, and cheap. It’s fairly easy to mash paper, mix it with some Elmer’s or something, and produce enough material to make a zillion objects. It’s familiar material, useful for many things, and it can be amazingly strong; people used to make light racing shells of the stuff, and paddle them in streams. Gotta be something important in this.
The Correspo has repeatedly reported hopefully on progress with lighter-than-air craft (and hybrids thereof). New reports keep coming in. The latest says that Hybrid Air Vehicles in the UK has received authorization from aviation authorities to proceed with full production of their
302-foot-long Airlander 10 cross between a dirigible and an airplane. This is a real achievement, especially considering that in 2017, after its sixth successful flight. the big bag collapsed, essentially destroying itself, causing embarrassment, but no injury, and a colossal insurance claim. No worries, the thing was just sitting there, not preparing for a flight when the wind tore it loose from its mooring mast, and an automatic safety system triggered immediate deflation. (Why does this recall watching Goodyear trying unsuccessfully to land its blimp on a windy day at Gate 37 in SFO in 1956?) Anyhow, the Authorities have agreed that all is well, and the fellows are pressing on with their project. Oh, good; the Airlander 10 looks wonderful.
ITEM FROM THE PAST
This item from 1985 is brought to mind by recent
interesting progress along the same lines.
Alvin Toffler pointed out in a recent speech that small bakeries now offer aromatic fresh bread and other delights in supermarkets. As Toffler observes, the individual bakery is the very antithesis of the mass-production-mass-marketing big chain store. The basis of the miracle? Microprocessors in the equipment, smart machines, help workers who are not master bakers to produce good products reliably and inexpensively. Computers have not traditionally called golden crusts to mind, but print out six buns, please.
, was a futurist
who spoke and consulted all over the world, coining
such familiar phrases as information overload and
global village. His books, notably Future Shock (1970)
and The Third Wave (1980) have been hugely influential.
He died only in 2016, and it’s startling after some
decades of seeing him quoted and discussed everywhere
to view him now as an historical figure from times gone by.
In the mid-80s The observation that the microcomputer
had enabled the Big Box Grocery Store to become a local
producer of fresh, appealing bakery goods was really
striking, putting technology in a wholly different context.
At CES in Vegas in early 2019,
of Walla Walla Washington demonstrated an entertaining
mechanism that can sit in a 10’ x 5’ space in the bakery
section of a supermarket, and produce ten loaves an hour
of fresh, good-smelling bread of several varieties with
minimal human assistance. One may stare, mesmerized,
at the whole process, then carry away a bagged loaf,
sliced or not, of the fresh stuff. Wilkinson notes that a
significant percentage of bread on the store shelves
remains after its sell-by date, creating great waste. Baking
only to meet daily demand, the BreadBot greatly reduces
the waste. Of course, the need for trucks to deliver easily
squashed bread loaves to stores all over town from a
central bread factory is reduced, and the system has
Toffler might be pleased.
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