For a long time now, we’ve been thinking that our friends over at The Awl should start a culture diary of their own—and now they have! And with no less an eminence than David Orr, poetry critic of The New York Times Book Review. Hot, hot, hot!
You may have noticed that our site has shed its wintery blue. The spring issue is out today!
But wait! Before you run to your local bookstore to buy a copy, listen to this. Every spring, we design a tote bag for the generous donors who attend our Revel. This year, given the excitement surrounding our Year of Bolaño, we thought it would be nice to have a special offer for those of you who have yet to subscribe or for others who want to renew. For $45 (domestic), you’ll receive this limited-edition tote bag along with four issues of The Paris Review (and the entirety of Bolaño’s The Third Reich).
The tote bags are gorgeous; they were designed by our art editor Charlotte Strick, using Leanne Shapton’s illustration for the spring cover. I can’t wait for mine to arrive, hopefully just as I put away my winter coat for good.
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?
Our wonderful art editor Charlotte Strick took some time to talk to The Atlantic about her work as a graphic designer:
What’s a design trend that you wish would go away?
It’s not so much a design “trend”: the lack of quality in trade book publishing. Because of the rising costs of printing, many publishers are now using thinner paper stocks for book interiors. The paper feels cheap and there’s more “show through” of the text from the previous page. Those of you who still enjoy holding a good old-fashioned book in your hands will know what I’m talking about. You really can feel the difference.
What’s an idea you became fascinated with but that ended up taking you off track?
Do ex-boyfriends count?
I’d say so! Read the rest of Charlotte’s interview here.
For the last few months I’ve been rereading—very slowly and very late at night—Montaigne’s essays. All thanks to Sarah Bakewell (who won a National Book Critics Circle Award last night for her biography of Montaigne: How To Live). —Lorin Stein
Several years ago I read Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice and found its matter-of-fact sci-fi narrative intriguing but its conclusion quite disappointing. Turns out it’s the second book in a trilogy, which, thankfully, NYRB has published in a single volume—the way it ought to be read. I haven’t reached the end yet, but so far it’s wonderfully weird. —Nicole Rudick
The reviews of Margaux Fragosos’s Tiger, Tiger gave me the chills. It’s a memoir of her relationship with Peter, a pedophile forty-four years her senior. When a copy of the book was slipped on my desk this week, I had to pick it up. —Thessaly La Force
As an undergraduate, I remember catching my necromantic tutor in Old Icelandic obliviously reciting poems from the language on the top deck of the city bus. This week, I’ve been putting those extracurricular lessons to use by whipping out Basil Bunting’s Collected Poems on the subway. It doesn’t take long for the short, incantatory lines of “Briggflatts”—studded with monosyllabic words that Bunting excavated from Anglo-Saxon and his regional Northumbrian dialect—to achieve the twin effect of making me forget my surroundings and baffling my fellow passengers. I mean, what on earth is an oxter? —Jonathan Gharraie