Wired Podcast, Recycling & Claude Parent

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Claude Parent in his house which, instead of furniture, had inclined planes–and women in orange turbans lounging on them

Wired’s Gadget Lab recently invited me to be on their Podcast to discuss Should This Exist, and the recent article by Olivia Solon about IBM using Flickr Creative Commons licensed photos to train their facial recognition AI–NOT something anyone would have anticipated when those photos were licensed in the early 2000s.

China is rejecting our trash. I was surprised to learn that since China started rejecting our trash, more and more is being put into our landfill here in the U.S. It’s astonishing that shipping trash to China is (was!) more economical than recycling it here.

Claude Parent was an architect who conceived of “the function of the oblique” working on buildings that did not hew to the horizontal, but had slanted floors, and were more like landscapes–imagine lying on a hill, or settling into a pond–than typical interiors. This made people active, rather than passive, in his buildings.  Parent worked with artists and theorists such as Yves Tanguy and Paul Virilio, and there are photos of him in conversation with people using slanted platforms instead of furniture. Like Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, Parent’s Manifesto is made up of disruptive maneuvers to free yourself from conventional thinking:

Twelve Subversive Acts to Dodge the System
1. Open the Imaginary
2. Operate in Illusion
3. Dislodge the Immobile
4. Think Continuity
5. Surf on the Surface
6. Live in Obliqueness
7. Destabilize
8. Use the Fall
9. Fracture
10. Practice Inversion
11. Orchestrate Conflict
12. Limit Without Closing


Architecture Principe Paul Virilio, Claude Parent. Just the names of the chapters intrigue: The Oblique Function. Potentialism. Bunker Archaeology. Power and Imagination. It was an era of manifestos, ideology and brutalism.

 

Finland’s “National Happiness” shouldn’t mean “Move to Finland”

Header_countryside_red_house_cottage-1024x580.jpgThese headlines are stupid and I get annoyed with them every year:

Unhappy? Move to Finland

Want to be happy? Try Moving to Finland

The annual “national happiness” index came out again, and as usual, Finland and the other Nordic countries top the list. So we see these inane headlines again, recommending that people MOVE to Finland (or Denmark or Iceland or Norway). Yes there are many marvelous things about Finland–saunas, pulla, endless lakes, little red wooden houses, hedgehogs and a love of nature. But rather than move, agitate for the Nordic model at home and follow the recipe for national happiness.

What National Happiness means is that most people in Finland have enough to eat, are clothed and housed, have national daycare, a good education and national healthcare.  That is what it means. Finland also has one of the lowest rates of immigration among the Nordic countries– only 5.8% of their population in 2015 was foreign-born, and most of those immigrants were from Russia or Estonia. Moving to Finland wouldn’t be easy, nor would it make any change to the average person’s happiness, that is, if they have food, clothing, shelter, work and healthcare. But what Finland has–and this is significant– is the happiest (safest, healthiest, best cared for) POOR people in the world.

So don’t move to Finland unless you’re eager to embrace 7 months of winter! Instead, agitate for national healthcare, universally good schools, and a social safety net that catches all who fall.


A witty, informative, and popular travelogue about the Scandinavian countries and how they may not be as happy or as perfect as we assume, “The Almost Nearly Perfect People offers up the ideal mixture of intriguing and revealing facts” (Laura Miller, Salon).

Emma Kunz

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Born to a family of weavers in Switzerland, Emma Kunz was a mystic, who would sometimes work on a drawing for 48 hours without interruption. She divined the future using pendulums and though she created a large body of work, and published three books, her artwork was not shown until after her death.

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World Receivers: Georgiana Houghton – Hilma af Klint – Emma Kunz, an examination of the work of three visionary women artists. In the middle of the nineteenth century, in England, Sweden, and Switzerland, respectively, Georgiana Houghton, Hilma af Klint, and Emma Kunz each developed their own abstract pictorial language. Though working completely independently from one another, these three artists shared a desire to make visible the laws of nature, the intellect, and the supernatural.

Though there is an exhibit of her work coming soon to the Serpentine Gallery in London, but I can’t recommend it, since a large part of their funding comes from the felons in the Sackler family, who are responsible for the opiate crisis in the United States, and its plague of death, especially among the poor.

Thwarting the Supermajority

Thwarting the Supermajority

Tim Wu points out in his article The Oppression of the Supermajority that the much-vaunted political divides in this country are fictitious and that the country is largely unified. In fact what is happening is that the Supermajority of voters who agree on a large slate of issues are being thwarted by their own government. He writes:

The defining political fact of our time is not polarization. It’s the inability of even large bipartisan majorities to get what they want on issues like these. Call it the oppression of the supermajority.

He puts together a short list of some of the issues we agree upon, which

“About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultrawealthy. The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support. Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws. Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. The list goes on.”

What’s causing this? Wu believes it is legislative stagnation, the gridlock created by industry groups, donor interests and the commitment of our elected leaders to preserving this gridlock.


Read some of Tim’s Books:

The Attention Merchants:

“From Tim Wu, author of the award-winning The Master Switch ( a New Yorker and Fortune Book of the Year) and who coined the term “net neutrality”—a revelatory, ambitious and urgent account of how the capture and re-sale of human attention became the defining industry of our time. 

 

The Curse of Bigness

From the man who coined the term “net neutrality,” author of The Master Switch and The Attention Merchants, comes a warning about the dangers of excessive corporate and industrial concentration for our economic and political future.”

Mark Hollis, R.I.P.

Mark Hollis has died, I recently learned from Brian Behlendorf’s post on Twitter, the frontman for Talk Talk, a band that started out with some easy pop hits, toured with Duran Duran and then diverted their talents into incredible albums like Spirit of Eden, on which this song, The Rainbow, appeared.

Beautiful, tentative singing by Mark Hollis. And here’s a somewhat ponderous interview with him talking about the making of the album.

 

Should This Exist? Woebot

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We can summon cars at the push of a button, we can video chat with our grandparents, and we can listen to any song, from any era, at any time.  Yet the same devices that enable those miracles have ushered in an epidemic of anxiety and depression, which has hit our kids particularly hard. Studies show a clear connection between technology use and feelings of loneliness and depression. We’re more powerful than ever, and our needs are instantly satisfied, but we are dying inside.

My guest on this episode of Should This Exist? Is Alison Darcy, PhD, clinical therapist and creator of Woebot, a friendly AI-powered chatbot that aims to change this by being there for you 24/7, and delivering Cognitive Behavioral Therapy–or CBT– whenever depression descends and a black cloud of negative thoughts hovers over you. In its first day of operation it treated more people than a therapist could in a year.

For most people in the world, seeing a therapist isn’t practical or affordable, and having one just a tap away in your pocket can change your life. Because Woebot has had millions of chat sessions, it has also generated more data than a therapist will in a lifetime, and its algorithms can optimize its responses better.

But what if Woebot drives us even farther apart? We asked Esther Perel, renowned couples therapist, best-selling author, and host of her own hit podcast. She said:

“AI stands for artificial intelligence, but it also stands for artificial intimacy, the idea that a bot, app or machine will answer you the way you want to be answered, and suspend your awareness that it has actually been programmed.”

Perfectly human-like AI could lead to mass emotional dependency on technology, similar to how movies like Her and Blade Runner 2049 show dependency on virtual girlfriends. And there’s an entire industry growing around providing children with robot friends. 

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Pilvi Takala, a Finnish artist, recently had an exhibition at Kiasma called Second Shift showing her work around emotional labor. Emotional labor is the often unseen and unappreciated work required of employees, group members or family members beyond manual or mental labor, and the work that needs to be done to care for others. It’s responsible for a lot of female exhaustion. One of Pilvi’s works was Invisible Friend, which came from her experience working as a paid “girlfriend” over the internet. One thing that occurred to me was that women might be liberated from more emotional labor by apps like Woebot, and wouldn’t that be an amazing outcome. Watch the video here: Pilvi Takala: Workers Forum.

But in the end, it seems like a bad idea to use technology to solve a problem that technology has itself created. Shouldn’t we put down our phones and join the conversations around us? Shouldn’t people, not AI, bring us back to ourselves? Shouldn’t women be relieved of emotional labor by, say, men? But then again, is this the way out of the sorrows of the world? Join us on Should This Exist? to discuss this issue, and send us your feedback by posting a review! We read each one, and it really matters for the following episodes.

NYT Review of “Mama’s Last Hug”

Mama, the long-time matriarch of the Burgers Zoo chimpanzee colony, with her daughter Moniek. At the time of this photo Mama was at the height of her power. She did not physically dominate any fully grown males, but nevertheless wielded immense political influence.” Credit: Frans de Waal

Just pre-ordered Mama’s Last Hug by Frans de Waal, based on this review, which starts, as the book does, with this anecdote:

The two old friends hadn’t seen each other lately. Now one of them was on her deathbed, crippled with arthritis, refusing food and drink, dying of old age. Her friend had come to say goodbye. At first she didn’t seem to notice him. But when she realized he was there, her reaction was unmistakable: Her face broke into an ecstatic grin. She cried out in delight. She reached for her visitor’s head and stroked his hair. As he caressed her face, she draped her arm around his neck and pulled him closer.

The mutual emotion so evident in this deathbed reunion was especially moving and remarkable because the visitor, Dr. Jan Van Hooff, was a Dutch biologist, and his friend, Mama, was a chimpanzee. The event — recorded on a cellphone, shown on TV and widely shared on the internet — provides the opening story and title for the ethologist Frans de Waal’s game-changing new book, “Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves.”

Science has historically ignored emotions, dismissed them as irrelevant, as impossible to study, as beneath our regard. The technology we’ve built is unable to detect it, and so emotion has been invisible to us as we communicate through our machines, using clumsy signals such as emoticons, and agreeing to be misunderstood, misinterpreted and reduced to a smaller and smaller version of ourselves, even eliminating nuance and expression to use technology.

Emotions, de Waal writes, “are our body’s way of ensuring we do what is best for us.” Unlike instinct — which leads to preprogrammed, rigid responses — emotions “focus the mind and prepare the body while leaving room for experience and judgment.” Emotions “may be slippery,” he writes, “but they are also by far the most salient aspect of our lives. They give meaning to everything.”

The world we live in–the Technic–denigrates and disparages our emotions, and this is damaging and deadly to our humanity.  Looking forward to getting my copy!


From the Amazon review: “De Waal discusses facial expressions, the emotions behind human politics, the illusion of free will, animal sentience, and, of course, Mama’s life and death. “