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Posts Tagged ‘Google’

On the Shelf

August 24, 2011 | by

James Joyce by Alex Ehrenzweig, 1915.

A cultural news roundup.

  • New York poet Samuel Menashe has died at 85.
  • James Salter wins the Rea Award for short fiction.
  • Would Joyce have tweeted? One biographer thinks so.
  • BookLamp: it’s like Pandora, for books.
  • “Writing about sports the way that smart people talk about sports is a simple idea, and a good one.”
  • E-books, now with sound tracks.
  • “Now the fact that the president of the United States apparently doesn’t read women writers is not the greatest crisis facing the arts, much less the nation—but it’s upsetting nevertheless. As I suspect Obama would agree, matters of prejudice are never entirely minor, even when their manifestations may seem relatively benign.”
  • Publishing is experiencing an upswing. But are there too many books being published already?
  • The Berlin library will return books confiscated  during the Third Reichincluding a Communist Manifesto that may have belonged to Friedrich Engels.
  • Google celebrates Borges.
  • Being immortalized by Julia Roberts isn’t enough to save one London bookshop.
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    Brian Christian on ‘The Most Human Human’

    March 14, 2011 | by

    Photograph by Michael Langan.

    Brian Christian, who studied computer science, philosophy, and poetry, has just published his first book, The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive. Recently, he answered my questions about the Turing test, online romance, and conversation fillers.

    Your new book has an odd but intriguing title: The Most Human Human. Can you explain what it means?

    The Most Human Human is an award given out each year at the Loebner Prize, the artificial intelligence (AI) community’s most controversial and anticipated annual competition. The event is what’s called a Turing test, in which a panel of judges conducts a series of five-minute-long chat conversations over a computer with a series of real people and with a series of computer programs pretending to be people by mimicking human responses. The catch, of course, is that the judges don’t know at the start who’s who, and it’s their job in five minutes of conversation to try to find out.

    Each year, the program that does the best job of persuading the judges that it’s human wins the Most Human Computer award and a small research grant for its programmers. But there’s also an award, strangely enough, for the human who does the best job of swaying the judges: the Most Human Human award.

    British mathematician Alan Turing famously predicted in 1950 that computers would be passing the Turing test—that is, consistently fooling judges at least 30 percent of the time and as a result, generally considered to be intelligent in the human sense—by the year 2000. This prediction didn’t come to pass, but I was riveted to read that, in 2008, the computers came up shy of that mark by just a single vote. I decided to call up the test’s organizers and get involved in the 2009 contest as one of the human “confederates”—which meant I was both a part of the human “defense,” trying to prevent the machines from passing the test, and also vying with my fellow confederates for that intriguing Most Human Human award. The book tells the story of my attempt to prepare, as well as I could, for that role: What exactly does it mean to “act as human as possible” in a Turing test? And what does it mean in life?

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    Douglas Coupland on Marshall McLuhan

    February 1, 2011 | by

    Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980).

    Douglas Coupland is the author of Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!, a pithy biography of the Canadian professor and communication theorist. McLuhan, who was born in 1911, is perhaps best known for coining the phrase “the medium is the message” and for anticipating the Internet decades before its arrival. Earlier this month, Coupland answered a few questions about his work as a biographer and what drew him to McLuhan.

    You used an unconventional form for your biography of Marshall McLuhan such as MapQuest, an autism assessment test, use of Wikipedia as a source.

    I did.

    Was this innovative method a deliberate reference to McLuhan’s own idiosyncrasies? Or is it the reflection of a personal quirk?

    Since starting the project I’ve felt like an unwitting manifestation of McLuhan’s beliefs about the effects of media: born 1961, TV child, Photoshop user, and so on. Having said that, I think I started the book at the crisis point in the history of biographies, and it’s a happy coincidence it happened to be Marshall.

    Crisis point?

    Twofold. First, if I want to know about Marshall or anyone, I can YouTube them, hear their voice, see them in action, read capsule biographies and dissertations on them—you name it. You can get a subjective and highly factual dossier on most anyone in the public realm almost instantly. It’s why publishers don’t worry about author photos any more; people just google a person and get on with things. Second, we’ve obviously entered the age of near total medicalization of personality. To write a biography of anyone, let alone someone so neuroconnectively fascinating as Marshall, seems like a gross abnegation of duty to truth. The biography has begun to morph into the pathography. Note: Marshall McLuhan’s left cerebral cortex was vascularized in a way only ever before seen in mammals in cats. He wasn’t just different; he was very different.

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    A Week in Culture: Amanda Hesser, Food Writer, Part 2

    December 9, 2010 | by

    Photograph by Sarah Shatz.

    DAY FOUR

    ALL DAY All work, no Internet play.

    >1:00 A.M. Time to do some serious reading online. Nah! Read about the Steve Martin imbroglio at the 92nd Street Y. Skip over to a piece on Google and Groupon (best part: Andrew “Mason, Groupon’s chief executive, declined an earlier interview request, adding that he would talk ‘only if you want to talk about my other passion, building miniature dollhouses.’”) Listen to some Beth Orton, which always makes me think of a former boyfriend/jackass, who introduced me to her music—a shame, because I like you Beth!—so I switch to Fleetwood Mac’s “Sara,” a song I love because it scorns the clichéd drum climax interlude. The song builds and builds and never resolves.

    Then my surfing goes to a dark place. Read Gawker story on whereabouts of Julian Assange, followed by a New York Times story on the suicide of the suspect in the murder of Ronni Chasen, a Hollywood publicist.

    Robert Scoble pulls me from my death spiral. Thank you, man. Listen to his interview with Kevin Systrom, a cofounder of the Internet sensation Instagram. I like listening to company founders tell their stories, although I’m more interested in their tone and salesmanship than what they actually do. Systrom’s was confident, controlling, and mildly dismissive.

    Dip my toe into the Times story on obesity surgery. Decide I’d rather think of something besides Lap-Bands before bed … like my to-do list! It’s three pages long and includes items like “Read Wired story on coupons” and “Look up foodie episode of South Park”—plus a whole host of actual work and responsibility, like “Figure out health insurance” and “Sign Addie up for ballet.”

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    Staff Picks: Feckless Frenchmen, Old Philip Roth

    October 8, 2010 | by

    The hero of Emmanuel Bove’s My Friends, a wounded WWI pensioner with no friends, is possibly the most pathetic character in French literature. I invite corrections—there are so many feckless Frenchmen!—but first, consider this Seine-side gambit for drawing the attention of strangers: “As soon as a passer-by approached I hid my face in my hands and sniffed like someone who has been crying. People turned as they went past me. Last week I came within a hair’s breadth of throwing myself into the water in order to make it appear I was in earnest.” He never takes the leap, but the ending will wring your heart. —Robyn Creswell

    J. M. Coetzee writes an elegant review of Philip Roth’s latest (what is it—twenty-sixth?) novel, Nemesis. I like that one heavyweight can address another in the literary ring. Writes Coetzee, “If the intensity of the Roth of old, the ‘major Roth,’ has died down, has anything new come in its place?” But before you click, a warning to all: Coetzee completely spoils the novel. —Thessaly La Force

    A Google research paper examining how well computers translate poetry is less interesting for its findings—not all that well, just yet—than for its suggestion that our evolving Turing-test standards may be too high for most humans to reach, either. —David Wallace-Wells

    The NYRB reprint of Frans G. Bengtsson's The Long Ships is an unrepentantly guilty pleasure that, in its own way, reads like a Viking version of Hustle and Flow (Michael Chabon praised its virtues earlier on this blog). Part of Bengtsson's charm is the characteristically black Scandinavian humor that seduces you into thinking that maybe the Middle Ages just got a bad rap. Witness the treatment given to unfortunate missionaries:

    Such priests as did venture into those parts were sold over the border as in the old days; though some of the Göings were of the opinion that it would be better to kill them on the spot and start a good war against the skinflints of Sunnerbo and Albo, for the Smalanders gave such poor prices for priests nowadays ...

    And then there’s the wonderful account of the trials and tribulations of a young raider on the scene, Red Orm, just trying to make a name for himself in a world of sacking and pillaging where problems never end: “The Vikings ransacked the fortress for booty, and disputes broke out concerning the women whom they discovered ... for they had been without women for many weeks.” After all, it's hard out here for a thane. —Peter Conroy

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