A Tale of Two AI’s: “Her” VS “Ex Machina”

Posted on 7th June 2015 by Ryan Somma in Mediaphilism
Ex Machina
Ex Machina

Human beings have speculated about Artificial Intelligence for over 2,000 years, our fantasies evolving as our technology evolves. More recent films, like Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick’s A.I., Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and George Lucas’ THX-1138 all tackle the hard questions and present insightful ways of looking at the issue. Most recently, I was wowed by the Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, a film about an AI undergoing the turing test, where the consequence of failing means that intelligence being turned off and discarded. It had me revisiting another recent film about AI, Spike Jonez’s’ Her, a film that left me disappointed and frustrated, and I thought it would be useful to compare and contrast the two films to articulate why one worked and the other didn’t.

This post assumes you have seen both films. Spoilers abound.


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Celebrating the Winter Solstice at The Humanist

Posted on 20th December 2014 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment
Winter Solstice Article in The Humanist
Winter Solstice Article in The Humanist

The Humanist has posted my celebration of the Winter Solstice, the annual cosmological event around which almost all of the season’s holidays orbit, in the article The Darkest Day: A Quintessentially Humanist Celebration.

Here’s a sample:

The winter solstice connects me to Galileo, who revealed humanity’s true relationship to the Sun, usurped our place at the center of the universe, and was among the myriad revolutionary intellects that ushered in the Enlightenment. Those rational minds set humanity on the path of scientific and cultural progress to which we owe all our technological conveniences, modern egalitarianism, and a quality of life that would appear magical to all the generations before us. Every day our news is filled with the scientific discoveries of their philosophical descendants, always further resolving our understanding of our place in the cosmos.

And so the most significant yearly event in human history, the one upon which all other major winter holidays are founded, is quintessentially humanist. Before our ancestors began seeing “fairies in the garden,” as Douglas Adam describes it, and added religious layers over the solstice, they simply looked out over the dawn horizon and saw the Sun rise over a particular mountaintop or tree and knew it was going to start climbing north again. And that gave them hope.

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Nicolas de Condorcet’s “Progress of the Human Mind”

Posted on 2nd November 2014 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior,Mediaphilism
Marquis de Condorcet Quote

It frustrates me bitterly that the works of the Enlightenment are almost forgotten in America’s universities. Science classes ignore them because scientists must focus on the most current understanding of our world. Humanities classes ignore them because the Age of Enlightenment, with its rationality and empiricism, is seen as the oppressor of creative expression.

But we owe so much to this age, which abolished god-appointed kings, established the sciences that so dramatically improved our quality of life, and brought forth the rational radical ideas of equality and human rights. The Enlightenment is the foundation for humanism, and I think everyone should celebrate the myriad brilliant works of the revolutionary minds who contributed to it.

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Number Spiral Mandalas with HTML Canvas

Posted on 21st July 2014 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
HTML Canvas 12-times Spiral
12-Spiral in HTML Canvas
(Primes highlighted in red)

Mathematics is about exploration, not the rote memorization of algortithms. It’s about finding patterns, appreciating how numbers relate to one another. That’s why I love programming. Much of writing code involves experimentation with mathematics, tweeking a variable to see what comes out of a complex function. It’s wonderful when a program doesn’t give you the answer you designed it to; that means you are about to learn something.

I was really inspired by this post on Moebius Noodles about Joey Grether, who creates spiraling artwork with the number 12 that seeks patterns in the lines of numbers radiating out from the center. Reminiscent of Ulam’s Spiral, building a spiral around a clock, with 12-segments in the rotation, puts multiples of 3 at {3,6,9,12} o’clock, multiples of 4 at {4,8,12} o’clock, multiples of 2 at {2,4,6,8,10,12} o’clock, and primes at {1,5,7,11}.

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How the IPCC’s Climate Report is a Model of Good Science

Posted on 22nd February 2014 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment
Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis
Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis
Credit: IPCC

Weighing in at over 1,500 pages, surveying the results from thousands of journal articles, and written by 259 experts from fields including meteorology, physics, oceanography, statistics, engineering, ecology, social sciences and economics, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis is the single most thorough, most comprehensive, and most accessible document in existence for understanding what we know and how well we know it concerning the subject of Anthropogenic Climate Change. The IPCC will publish four reports this year, but this first is my favorite. Any discussion on the subject of Climate Change should orbit this document.

More importantly, anyone wanting to understand the science and understand what constitutes good science, should pay attention to this document. How do we define “good science?” Let’s see how it applies to this latest report:


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Creative Commons Children’s Book: ABC’s of Biodiversity

Posted on 23rd December 2013 by Ryan Somma in Creative Commons Works,Ionian Enchantment

Download a PDF Version Here (30MB)

Download a PPTX Version Here (103MB)

This book is another tool in the myriad strategies we parents use to teach our children. The ebook format allows something print books don’t: an alphabet book with 10 examples of each letter. This means there are 260 images in this book. That can be quite overwhelming, but that’s nothing compared to the Earth’s actual biodiversity.

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Evolutionary Wonders in a Newborn Baby

Posted on 20th October 2013 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment

Want to get closer to your primal beginnings? Have kids. During nine-months of pregnancy, you will learn about all the evolutionarily-influenced mechanics of giving birth, from the fetal acrobatics involved in maneuvering an enormous head required to house our big brains through a birth canal constrained in size so that human females can walk upright. Next time you look at a newborn baby, take a moment to appreciate these many echoes to our primitive origins.

Lanugo

Lanugo
Lanugo


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20 Years of Magic the Gathering

Posted on 16th September 2013 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
Friday Night Magic at Earth 383
Friday Night Magic at Earth 383

20 years ago this month, I introduced my college friends to a new concept, the collectible card game (CCG). Magic the Gathering was instantly addictive for all of us, a game one part role-playing, one part exploration and discovery, and ten parts ingenuity. I’ll never forget when my friends confronted me after a few weeks of play, demanding, “Why did you keep this from us for so long?”

Truth is, I had just discovered Magic a few months earlier when I found a couple of friends playing in their apartment. A game where you play a Wizard (excuse me, “Plainswalker”) collecting spells and creatures into your spellbook to use against other opponents? Sold.

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Bird Feeders, Pornography, and Other Evolutionary Traps

Posted on 9th June 2013 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment
Maladaptations
“Examples of animals exhibiting maladaptive responses to evolutionary novel objects and becoming trapped. (A) A Cuban tree frog (Osteopilus septentrionalis) ingesting a decorative light that mimics the bioluminescent qualities of its insect prey. (B) A black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) killed by the ingestion of small, often colorful, floating garbage that mimics food items. (C) A giant jewel beetle (Julodimorpha bakewelli) attempting to mate with a beer bottle that produces supernormal strengths of coloration and reflection cues associated with female conspecifics [74]. (D) Mayflies blanketing, mating, and ovipositing on a storefront window that strongly reflects horizontally polarized light, their primary habitat selection cue in locating natural water bodies.”
Credit: (Source) Images by James Snyder (A), Chris Jordan (B), Darryl Gwynne (C), and Will Milne (D) (Copyrighted, reproduced here as fair use).

Carl Zimmer has an article summarizing the research presented by Robertson, Rehage, and Sih concerning evolutionary traps, when “rapid environmental change triggers organisms to make maladaptive behavioral decisions.” In other words, we change the environment in ways that cause animals to exhibit behaviors harmful to themselves.

Zimmer gives the example of the albatross, which “will peck at brightly colored pieces of plastic floating in the water, for example. It’s a response that used to give them energy but now can fill their guts with trash.” Witherington gives the example of sea turtles, which “have evolved the tendency to migrate toward the light of the moon upon emerging from their sand nests. However, in the modern world, this has resulted in them tending to orient towards bright beach-front lighting, which is a more intense light source than the moon. As a result the hatchlings migrate up the beach and away from the ocean where they exhaust themselves, desiccate and die either as a result of exhaustion, dehydration or predation.” Sea turtles also mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and consume them. In 2011 Darryl Gwynne and David Rentz won an IgNobel for their research on the giant jewel beetle, which attempts to mate with a certain brand of beer bottle because they exhibit “supernormal strengths of coloration and reflection cues associated with female conspecifics.”

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Mass Effect as Great Science Fiction

Posted on 27th May 2013 by Ryan Somma in Pure Speculation
Cerberus
Cerberus

For 106 hours (24 ME1, 33 ME2, 59 ME3) over the last six months, I have been exploring the epic science fiction worlds of Mass Effect (ME). I could have easily only spent 60 hours there, since that’s enough time to get through the game, but I was genuinely engaged with the universe and eager to explore every little detail. I’m not a hardcore video game player, but occasionally, I come across one that I simply cannot pass up.

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