The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Google’

Thanks, Sounds Good, I Love You

December 17, 2015 | by

How Smart Reply attempts to mimic the way we talk.

Google’s inbox logo—now with an enviable, elusive sense of satisfaction.

Last month, researchers at Google unveiled Smart Reply, a piece of artificial intelligence that scans the e-mail you’re reading on your phone and suggests three possible responses. Why bother composing an answer yourself? Now you can choose one of Smart Reply’s with a quick tap. “Do you have any vacation plans set yet?” asks the sample e-mail. “No plans yet,” you might choose; or “I just sent them to you”; or “I’m working on them.”

Smart Reply uses neural networks to calibrate its future suggestions, meaning it learns from how we use it. But Greg Corrado, a senior research scientist on the project, observed a “bizarre feature of our early prototype”: “its propensity to respond with ‘I love you’ to seemingly anything.” Analysis suggested “that the system was doing exactly what we’d trained it to do, generate likely responses—and it turns out that responses like Thanks, Sounds good, and I love you are super common.” Read More »

I Tried Always to Do My Best

November 30, 2015 | by

Lucy Maud Montgomery. Photo: KindredSpiritMichael

Should you visit Google today, you’ll find that the daily “doodle” commemorates the birthday of Lucy Maud Montgomery, born November 30, 1874. The animation portrays Montgomery’s most famous creation, the red-haired Anne-with-an-e Shirley, turning green as she cuts into a piece of adulterated cake. (Herein lies my acknowledgment of Cyber Monday—and understand it is not intended as an ad.)

Like so much of Montgomery’s writing, this moment in Anne of Green Gables is heartwarming and gently funny, part of the long journey toward love and acceptance by Anne’s strict guardian, Marilla Cuthbert. These early books—before Anne becomes overly ethereal and perfect and beset with dozens of clamoring suitors—are the best loved, and certainly my favorites. But in her day, all Montgomery’s novels sold well, even less-inspired fare like Kilmeny of the Orchard or the mopey Emily series. By the time of her death the author was a bona fide celebrity, and Mark Twain called Anne “the dearest and most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice.” Read More »

Don’t Be Evil

August 12, 2015 | by

Google, Alphabet, and Machiavelli.

Santi di Tito, Niccolò Machiavelli, sixteenth century

Yesterday, Google submitted an SEC filing announcing a major restructure. Larry Page, the cofounder and CEO of Google Inc, will become the CEO of a new corporation called Alphabet Inc; his fellow cofounder Sergey Brin will become Alphabet's President. As an Alphabet subsidiary, Google will be responsible for around ninety percent of the umbrella company’s revenues; business analysts have praised the restructure for introducing financial transparency. In practical terms, Google will continue to operate as Google—business as usual for ordinary users.

And yet.

So far, the announcement of the Google’s reinvention has prompted many ordinary users to compare it to the One Ring, Skynet, the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, and Canary M Burns. I have not yet seen it hailed as the return of King Arthur, nor heralded as the advent of the Kingdom of Heaven, Shangri-La, Vaikuntha, or the New Galactic Republic. Perhaps it’s just me; perhaps I should read more, or develop a wider circle of friends. Or perhaps the eschatologists on social media tend to be the paranoid pessimistic ones, and all around the world there are non-Google employees tearfully, joyfully, celebrating the coming decades of peace and prosperity for all. Read More »

Far-Out Kandy-Kolored Machine Dreams, and Other News

June 22, 2015 | by

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A “dreamscape” made from random noise. Illustration: Google, via the Guardian

  • As an undergraduate at Harvard, T. S. Eliot risked flunking out—but fear not, for his febrile poetic mind was already hard at work: “He invented the characters of ‘Columbo’ and ‘Bolo,’ who for years to come starred in a series of scatological, violent, and racist poems. Circulated privately, these verses became known to a wider readership only after Eliot’s death, when they presented the immensely refined poet in a bizarrely crude light … such writing served a purpose for the shy, physically awkward, and sexually late-blooming Eliot. It was a way for him to bond with his peers … ”
  • Advertisements used to contain words—many words—even those aimed at such famously illiterate audiences as rock-music fans. A look at the Rolling Stone archive reveals a surprising amount of po-mo sophistication in record-label copywriting. A 1979 ad for the singer-songwriter Sirani Avedia, for example, begins, “After the chic anarchy of punk, the escapism of disco, and the cerebral celebrations of jazz fusion … something real.”
  • An old photograph by Giovanni Gargiolli inspires ruminations on fatherhood: “The photograph was taken outside a Franciscan church in Alatri, a village south of Rome, in 1902 or 1903 … I recognize myself in that father who is leaning out of the family portrait in the church doorway. I feel an apartness, and I wonder: Is it a movable obstacle to the fullness of fatherhood, a primordial paternal taint, or a simple truth about the way men who have children are around their children?”
  • Disturbing news from the tech sector: research suggests that our computers, the very beings on which our civilization depends, are no more than drug-addled dreamers, lost in psychedelic reveries every bit as inscrutable as those of your average dusthead. Google discovered what its image-recognition networks “imagine” by “feeding a picture into the network, asking it to recognize a feature of it, and modify the picture to emphasize the feature it recognizes. That modified picture is then fed back into the network, which is again tasked to recognise features and emphasize them, and so on. Eventually, the feedback loop modifies the picture beyond all recognition.”
  • Nick Sousanis received his doctorate in education for Unflattening, a dissertation in the form of “a graphic novel about the relationship between words and pictures in literature.” Its lowly ambition? “Insurrection against the fixed viewpoint … Fusing words and images to produce new forms of knowledge.”

Impressions

March 16, 2015 | by

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From Photographs of British Algae

Some claim that Anna Atkins—born on this day in 1799, in Kent—was the first woman to take a photograph. Others that hers were the first photos ever printed in book form.

Atkins was a botanist, an artist, and an accomplished nature photographer. Her father was a scientist, and he encouraged his daughter’s early interest in botany. Both her father and her eventual husband, John Pelly Atkins, were friendly with the pioneering photographer and inventor William Henry Fox Talbot; it was probably Talbot who introduced her to the techniques she would come to use in her art.

In her books on British algae and her later work on plants and ferns, Atkins worked by contact-printing cyanotype photograms, and by “photogenic drawing,” the process by which light-sensitive paper is exposed to the sun. Read More »

Night at the Museum

July 7, 2014 | by

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“The Camera in the Mirror”

Google is growing up. Its cameras have entered the mirror stage. Since 2011, the company has sent elaborate camera-mounted trolleys into museums as part of Google Art Project, which allows users to browse galleries around the globe, clicking through room by room to simulate the sense of space. Sheathed occasionally (and abstrusely) in shimmering Mylar blankets, Google’s cameras take photographs in 360 degrees; whenever the trolley passes a mirror, it takes an accidental self-portrait.

Now, just as Jon Rafman’s “9-Eyes” presents moments of incidental beauty and sublimity from Google Street View, a new tumblr by Mario Santamaría called “The Camera in the Mirror” captures Google’s cameras as they capture themselves: unsettlingly alone and caught in a kind of perpetual anachronism, surrounded by art and artifacts from centuries past.

If Lacan and Baudrillard somehow procreated, and their child ate some bad LSD, the hallucinations might resemble something from “The Camera in the Mirror.” There are no people in these photos—only an inert, mechanical totem pole seemingly obsessed with itself. It’s hard not to ascribe human motivations to the thing, in part because it resembles a sleek bipedal extraterrestrial and in part because it sits, with chilling deliberation, at the center of every frame. In certain shots it looks imperious, haughty; in others it becomes almost playful or curious. In only a few minutes it takes on a kind of personality, and so the whole project becomes tinged with the rhetoric of science fiction: What does the machine want? Where is it going? Is there any stopping it?

I thought of a few lines from Sartre’s Nausea and gave myself the willies: “People who live in society have learnt how to see themselves, in mirrors, as they appear to their friends. I have no friends: is that why my flesh is so naked?”

And yet, as terrifyingly impenetrable as they seem, these photos are signs of fallible life from the Googleplex—they shatter the illusion of seamless museum-going, showing us the leering, error-prone business end of one of the world’s most ubiquitous and powerful corporations. They testify to Google’s mind-boggling wealth: among other niceties, these trolleys are mounted with the CLAUSS RODEON VR Head HD and CLAUSS VR Head ST, two panoramic cameras that take photos with about a thousand times more detail than the average digital camera. They cost upward of five thousand dollars apiece. Of course they want to look at themselves.

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