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Twill: Algorithmic voyeurism, Internet war, several doses of pop culture and a new section on robots!


Twill by yiibu

April 17 · Issue #10 · View online

An occasional dispatch on our evolving relationship with technology.

This week: Algorithmic voyeurism, Internet war, several doses of pop culture and a new section on robots!

yiibu news
We may be in Seattle late this week. Anyone up for coffee?
New this week
A bit of a format change today. A popular recurring topic at Twill appears to be robots…so we’ve created a formal robot section below this one to house them. Let us know if you do/don’t like this!
0.0 A man successfully identified 70% of people he saw on a Moscow subway using open source facial recognition software. Neat but creepy…and more than a tad voyeuristic. (Translated from Russian)
1.0 A journalist has assembled the first chronology of the largest war yet fought on the Internetthe Great War of EVE Online
EVE Online is one server—or, well, it’s two servers. One for the Chinese and one for the rest of the world, for complicated reasons. 
The history that we’re talking about now is the history of the entire world playing in one shared game space. That makes EVE really, really special. It means you have these entire areas of the game where you will go into them and you can’t speak the language.
2.0 On the topic of language…a lengthy but fascinating expose on the evolution of ‘imaginary’ languages such as Dothraki and Klingon. 
Nobody believes me when I say that my long book is an attempt to create a world in which a form of language agreeable to my personal aesthetic might seem real
(J. R. R. Tolkien on Quenya, Sindarin and the many other languages of Middle Earth)
3.0 Long but fun piece on the culture of Minecraft. The bit about kids who play it becoming more resilient is particularly interesting (…let’s hope this generation does indeed look at technology a bit differently). 
Minecraft is busted, and you’re constantly fixing it … It’s that home-brew aesthetic. It’s laggy. The kids get used to the idea that it’s broken and you have to mess with it. You’re not complaining to get the corporate overlord to fix it — you just have to fix it yourself … 
… iPhone apps are kind of at the opposite end. And the way that kids react when things are broken in the Apple ecosystem is … ‘Why are they broken?’ Whereas with Minecraft it’s like — ‘Oh, they messed with something again, it’s broken, we have to go figure out what they changed.
(Worth reading just for the story of the boy who used a clumsy Minecraft cow called a Mooshroom as a random number generator.) 
4.0 Last week, a UK company broadcast a cancer surgery, live in VR. Definitely one of the more interesting and useful examples of 360 video we’ve run into. They’ve yet to post a recording of last week’s ‘event’ but here’s an older example (YouTube app required to see the in 360 degree format). 
(Voyeurism will no doubt be a recurring theme of VR video but it felt particularly odd freely wandering through something as personal as surgery).
5.0 ‘All Prior Art is a project attempting to algorithmically create and publicly publish all possible new prior art, thereby (hopefully) making the concepts un-patentable in the future. Turn this idea around and you may just have a billion dollar patent-troll business model.
6.0 Diary of a 1910 road trip (one the very first!) across America. Makes you realise how comparatively young all of our practical and sociocultural norms around cars actually are.
It was west of the Mississippi that we began to be pioneers and as we wound our way to the northwest we saw thousands of people who had never seen an auto before … Road maps of the west were non-existent … We had to use railroad timetable maps, which were somewhat distorted to make the road look direct.
7.0 We always presume tech adoption requires strategy and tactics–when sometimes (or maybe often) it’s all down to chance: How SARS boosted internet adoption in China.
(Excerpt from an excellent looking new book on Alibaba).
8.0 A new glimpse of mobile-friendly, VR-enhanced ‘immersive journalism’ from The New York Times. A conversation with whales is an ensemble piece that includes:
  • a short article that looks lovely on mobile or desktop,
  • several user-triggerable audio clips of whale song, 
  • a VR experience that can be viewed with or without a Cardboard viewer (iOS or Android app required)
  • a Facebook Live event answering reader comments on Monday, April 18.
9.0 Justin Trudeau, Canada’s yoga loving, panda hugging leader, explains quantum computing
10.0 Singular Computing is making computer chips that are hardwired to be incapable of performing correct mathematical calculations.
This week in robots
1.0 Robots must be able to say no. Teaching them to do so wisely is (for the moment) still pretty hard to do.
It is difficult for today’s robots to determine when it is okay to throw a ball – such as to a child playing catch – and when it’s not – such as out the window or in the garbage. Even harder is if the child is trying to trick the robot, pretending to play a ball game but then ducking, letting the ball disappear through the open window.
2.0 Cool robots we found this week (the fact that we now run into new cool robots on a weekly basis is in and of itself quite cool!)
  • A fleet of small robotic boats that cooperate to form floating platforms.
  • Self driving sub that steers like a human (to not freak out the humans it encounters). “Course changes are preferred to speed changes because they’re more observable …so it’s one big change as opposed to a series of smaller ones: drama over precision, you might say. To some degree you want to make the maneuvers appear as though they’ve been made by a human operator”. (Here’s a reminder of what a true precision might look like…and how completely inappropriate it might feel to a human caught in the fray).
  • Not really a robot … “the natural child of two of Japan’s obsessions: rice and robots.
  • The most nightmarish robotic thing we’ve seen in a while. Some sort of prototype for a really sophisticated recreation of the bits needed for human speech.
3.0 As is all often the case these days, peek under even the most trivial of inventions and you’re sure to find a few legal and ethical questions. This week, these questions are buzzing around Hong Kong designer Ricky Ma‘s home-made Scarlett Johansson robot:
Courts already employ a trope of “involuntary servitude” when analyzing the use of a particular person’s face in right of publicity cases … allowing use of a person’s face without permission is like forcing that person to work at a job, harming their dignity. The more photo-realist the face, the more dignity-harming the appropriation.
Thing from the past. Thing from the future
From the past: Picasso draws with light. (TiltBrush anyone?)
From the future: Super-thin electronic skin lights up a digital display on your hand. Not exactly new but it’s amazing how far along these things have come along in a short time.
Organic and inorganic e-skins … should be considered complementary materials with different strengths and weaknesses.
Please let this not be from the future: Crazy Finnish farmers build a chainsaw drone
That is all
Our best wishes for a productive week.
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