A.I. Enablers Gear Up to Assault Intellect

Perhaps you haven’t noticed the investor class getting all gung-ho these days over Artificial Intelligence (AI). Only a couple of decades ago, these same people dismissed AI because it wasn’t very useful yet. But that’s all changed due to advances in machine vision and learning, and now VCs, hedge funds, and most of the rest of the usual big-money suspects are salivating over prospects of automating most of the rest of the economy, even including agriculture.

Thanks to its clot of institutions of higher learning, Boston—my fair city—is littered with tech startups and factories that churn them out. They and the Hub’s cloud of serial investors have created a knot of compressed energy, the nexus of which one can find at a suite in Kendall Square—epicenter of Boston’s tech scene, featuring outposts of Google, Oracle, Facebook and Amazon, pharma firms like Merck and Novartis and a host of biotechy startups fed by MIT’s biomedical research complex, augmented by its AI and Media Labs—where every Thursday evening prime movers get together for suds and savvy strategizing at private oasis called Venture Café. Continue reading “A.I. Enablers Gear Up to Assault Intellect”

The Curious Case of Citizen Grayson

The thing that saddens most in politics isn’t Donald Trump, the Republican Party, racism, xenophobia, or other alt-right affronts. No, as destructive as these forces are to the nation, what truly distresses me is the Democratic Party, and in particular opportunistic progressive politicians. Especially those tainted by corruption. The left doesn’t need that kind of skàta. We have enough tsouris as it is without shady standard-bearers.

The other day I received another email blast from Alan Grayson. He has kept relatively (for him) quiet after leaving Congress at the beginning of the year but is now gearing up, it seems, but for what? In his take-no-prisoners style, it begins:

We need an organization dedicated to ending the Trump Administration.

So here it is.  Welcome to the Resistance Movement! We want Donald Trump indicted, or we want him impeached and convicted, or we want to force him to resign.  Any way it happens, the Angry Creamsicle has got to go.

This is not an organization for people who have mixed feelings about Donald Trump, or who worry about whether VP Pence would be better or worse, or are willing to let Senate Republicans “investigate” Trump and leave it at that.  No.  This is an organization for people who have decided that TRUMP MUST GO – and are ready to take action to make that happen.

The left-populist Orlando rapscallion is at it again. The four-term ex-congressman and failed Florida Senate candidate, the self-styled “congressman with guts,” appears to have a new and unsurprisingly unique field operation. His Resistance Movement is not to be confused the “resistance” to Trump that Nancy Pelosi claims to spearhead while refusing to play the impeachment card. Grayson may or may not have created or authorized a website calling itself The Resistance (http://www.lockhimupnow.org/) but he’s certainly promoting it and, if true to form, intends to capitalize on it…somehow.

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How Technology Stakeholders Lose

An excerpt from a work in progress, a book called The Silica Papers: Who Technology Is and What She Wants, a set of essays that looks into what we can expect from this strange brave new world.

Our addictions to technology, especially of the digital sort and especially among the young, are manifest, but they aren’t entirely technology’s fault. Nor are they just the result of falling unto temptation, although practicing a bit more mindfulness and self-discipline wouldn’t hurt. Few of us ever asked for this stuff. We got it whether we wanted it or not, dreamed up by inventors and shoveled at us by the marketplace, packaged to titillate. And even what we think of as the good stuff often has a seamy underside that tries to hook us and then takes what it wants from us while we’re mesmerized. Technology won’t be denied, but the particular shapes it takes are fabricated by other forces that may not have our best interests at heart. Here are two stories of how our economy shapes the tech scene that in turn shapes us.

The Water Cooler Has Ears

For starters, you might not know that online social media is older than the personal computer. Forty years back, you only needed a computer terminal, a modem, and a telephone to participate in collaborative messaging apps called electronic bulletin board systems (BBS). They ran on minicomputers, were noncommercial, and staffed by volunteers (called SysOps). Some relics of that era still exist, but as the Net unfolded, BBS’s begat Usenet, then Reddit, Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. piled on, demonstrating that computer users crave real-time online contact—the core social media value proposition. But sooner or later, almost all proprietary social media platforms succumb to Wall Street discipline to monetize our personal data, relentlessly upgrade, piling on features we never wanted or needed, and stalk us wherever we roam.

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State of Emojincy⚠

Today we celebrate the release by Sony Pictures of “The Emoji Movie,” rated PG (for saucy language). Rush to see it before it sinks without a trace. One look at the animation’s trailer told me it’s everything I hoped it wouldn’t be. Okay, the characters look authentic and are well voiced by prominent actors, but finding Patrick Stewart reduced to playing a pile of poop  was particularly depressing. Basically the entire film is a promo for the eponymous app plus others for Google, Facebook, YouTube and DropBox. It is meant for children, of course, but the the protagonist is pathetic and the plot is a downer. Critics were sad-faced, to say the least, with reactions ranging from  to  to . Writing for rogerebert.com, critic Peter Sobczynski ended his review with

“The Emoji Movie” may be as depressing of a film experience as anything to come out this year but if the [lack of positive] reaction of the kids that I saw it with is any indication, there may be hope for the future after all.

We can hope against hope. The very fact that an emoji movie exists alarms me, but that it’s propaganda for big Internet brands hardly comes as a surprise. I guess I should get used to seeing more of that.

Continue reading “State of Emojincy⚠”

Letter to an Erstwhile Comrade

Dear Alexander, wherever you are,

Happy birthday, comrade! How’s the struggle going out there? Tell me, cuz we need your help, now more than ever.

For reasons I could enumerate but can’t concretely substantiate, I’m writing via Celestial Post rather than virtually. I’m not sure what has made loquacious me, unlike you, fraught to propel words across the Net. Perhaps fear of blowback from the minions of ascendant reactionary forces, armed and eager to smite dissidents with Puritan vengeance. There’s no way to get through to them but one can still try to get around them. Continue reading “Letter to an Erstwhile Comrade”

Channeling Molly

Newspaper columnist and Texas raconteur Molly Ivins’ mortal coil left this plane on January 31, 2007 (Oh Lord, have we been without her for a decade?), dubious that she was bound for greater glory. Alas, she never got to witness the accidental ascendance of Donald R. Trump, not that it would have surprised her. She surely would have had plenty to say about the state of affairs that allowed yet another buffoon (the last one being “Shrub,” her affectionate moniker for Bush Lite) to leave the middle class behind as he terrorized the planet.

Most of the right-wing pols who had to pull her barbs from their behinds considered her a fifth-columnist, but all she was was a dogged, sharp-tongued reporter of liberal persuasion who took down political bloviation and chicanery with devastating down-home humor. She is sorely missed, and in her absence the self-awareness of the politicking class in the Republic of Texas—if not everywhere—has sunk below irony. As Molly once said, the thing about holes is when you’re in one, stop digging. Oh sure, we have Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, and Andy Borowitz to deliver unto us outrage over political jackassery, but who remains to make us giggle by exposing political mendacity in regular columns syndicated in hundreds of newspapers? But then, does anyone read newspapers anymore? Continue reading “Channeling Molly”

Discuss Among Your Various Selves

Half my life is an act of revision.
– John Irving

I’m with J.I. It seems most of the second half of my life has been devoted unlearning the craft of writing. Despite having written millions of words in all manner of forms, creative writing remains tedious, if not downright torturous. When I write a short story, I can easily compile four or five drafts before it starts to look okay. My current novel underwent seven month-long revisions. Now I love to write, but this is too much. Hoping to short-circuit this busywork, I decided to perform an experiment on a human subject. I would observe myself writing to pinpoint where it bogs down by drafting a mini-scene and taking note of what I had to do to whip it into shape. Prompted by a short story I’m having trouble with, this text popped out of my head:

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Lights! Camera! Aristotle!

Having written a subversive action novel focused on terrorism that some early readers indicated would make a great movie, I gave the project some thought and soon concluded that my story was a natural for film adaptation. It has a simple, linear plot with subplots to spare and at least half of its settings were real places I hadn’t had to make up, with sharp, luminous details.

Suspecting that there was more to this I needed to know, I straightaway dove into the turbulent and treacherous waters of screenwriting, only to surface gasping over how ginormous and competitive, how overflowing with talent, copy, and productions the screenplay marketplace is. Not to mention the secondary markets for script consultants, synopsizers, agents, contests, how-to books, DVDs, webinars, and software products wanting to help you write screenplays that sell. Emerging from my brief and bewildering dip into these waters, it was closeup clear that to navigate a course to celluloid I needed to consult sage practitioners of the art. Continue reading “Lights! Camera! Aristotle!”