Tag: machine learning

AI-generated misinformation is getting more believable, even by experts

I’ve been using thispersondoesnotexist.com for projects recently and, honestly, I wouldn’t be able to tell that most of the faces it generates every time you hit refresh aren’t real people.

For every positive use of this kind of technology, there are of course negatives. Misinformation and disinformation is everywhere. This example shows how even experts in critical fields such as cybersecurity, public safety, and medicine can be fooled, too.

If you use such social media websites as Facebook and Twitter, you may have come across posts flagged with warnings about misinformation. So far, most misinformation—flagged and unflagged—has been aimed at the general public. Imagine the possibility of misinformation—information that is false or misleading—in scientific and technical fields like cybersecurity, public safety, and medicine.There is growing concern about misinformation spreading in these critical fields as a result of common biases and practices in publishing scientific literature, even in peer-reviewed research papers. As a graduate student and as faculty members doing research in cybersecurity, we studied a new avenue of misinformation in the scientific community. We found that it’s possible for artificial intelligence systems to generate false information in critical fields like medicine and defense that is convincing enough to fool experts.

Source: False, AI-generated cybersecurity news was able to fool experts | Fast Company

Mediocrity is a hand-rail

Venus flyrap cyborg

🤖 Engineers Turned Living Venus Flytrap Into Cyborg Robotic Grabber — “The main purpose of this research was to find a way of creating robotic mechanisms able to pick up tiny, delicate objects without harming them. And this particular cyborg creation was able to do just that.”

👀 First Look: Meet the New Linux Distro Inspired by the iPad — “This distro is designed to be a tablet first and a “laptop-lite” experience second. And I do mean “lite”; this is not trying to be a desktop Linux distro that runs tablet apps, but a tablet Linux distro that can run desktop ones – a distinction that’s worth keeping in mind.”

🤯 DALL·E: Creating Images from Text — “GPT-3 showed that language can be used to instruct a large neural network to perform a variety of text generation tasks. Image GPT showed that the same type of neural network can also be used to generate images with high fidelity. We extend these findings to show that manipulating visual concepts through language is now within reach.”

🔊 Surround sound from lightweight roll-to-roll printed loudspeaker paper — “The speaker track, including printed circuitry, weighs just 150 grams and consists of 90 percent conventional paper that can be printed in color on both sides.”

👩‍💻 You can now run Linux on Apple M1 devices — “While Linux, and even Windows, were already usable on Apple Silicon thanks to virtualization, this is the first instance of a non-macOS operating system running natively on the hardware.”

Quotation-as-title by Montesquieu. Image from top-linked post.

As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of demand

Robot saying "I'm not a robot" to people who look like journalists

💬 Welcome to the Next Level of Bullshit

📚 The Best Self-Help Books of the 21st Century

💊 A radical prescription to make work fit for the future

💰 How To Hide A Billion Dollars: Three Techniques The Ultrarich Use To Dodge Ex-Spouses, The Taxman And Disgruntled Business Partners

👣 This desolate English path has killed more than 100 people

Quotation-as-title by Josh Billings. Image from top linked post.

Saturday spinnings

As usual, I’m taking a month off Thought Shrapnel duties during the month of August. So this is my last post for a few weeks.

In the meantime, consider deactivating your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. See how it makes you feel, and perhaps I’ll run into you on the Fediverse? (start here)

Sinead Bovell

I Am a Model and I Know That Artificial Intelligence Will Eventually Take My Job

There are major issues of transparency and authenticity here because the beliefs and opinions don’t actually belong to the digital models, they belong to the models’ creators. And if the creators can’t actually identify with the experiences and groups that these models claim to belong to (i.e., person of color, LGBTQ, etc.), then do they have the right to actually speak on those issues? Or is this a new form of robot cultural appropriation, one in which digital creators are dressing up in experiences that aren’t theirs?

Sinead Bovell (Vogue)

This is an incredible article that looks at machine learning and AI through the lens of an industry I hadn’t thought of as being on the brink of being massively disrupted by technology.

How Capitalism Drives Cancel Culture

It is strange that “cancel culture” has become a project of the left, which spent the 20th century fighting against capricious firings of “troublesome” employees. A lack of due process does not become a moral good just because you sometimes agree with its targets. We all, I hope, want to see sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination decrease. But we should be aware of the economic incentives here, particularly given the speed of social media, which can send a video viral, and see onlookers demand a response, before the basic facts have been established. Afraid of the reputational damage that can be incurred in minutes, companies are behaving in ways that range from thoughtless and uncaring to sadistic.


If you care about progressive causes, then woke capitalism is not your friend. It is actively impeding the cause, siphoning off energy, and deluding us into thinking that change is happening faster and deeper than it really is. When people talk about the “excesses of the left”—a phenomenon that blights the electoral prospects of progressive parties by alienating swing voters—in many cases they’re talking about the jumpy overreactions of corporations that aren’t left-wing at all.

Helen Lewis (The Atlantic)

Cancel culture is problematic, and mainly because of the unequal power structures involved. This is an important read. See also this article by Albert Wenger which has some suggestions towards the end in this regard.

Woman working at a laptop

How to Stay Productive When the World Is on Fire

The goal of productivity is to get the things you have to get done finished so you can spend more time on the things you want to do. Don’t fall into the busy trap, where you judge your self-worth by how productive you are or how much you’ve contributed to your company or manager. We’re all just trying to keep our heads above water. I hope these tips will help you do the same.

Alan Henry (WIRED)

As I wrote yesterday on my personal blog, I have a bit of an issue with perfectionism. So this reminder, along with the other great advice in the article, was a timely reminder.

Why you should be thanking your employees more often

If you treat somebody with disdain, of course, you give that person a psychological incentive to diminish your opinion and to want you to be less powerful. Inversely, if you demonstrate understanding and appreciation of someone’s contribution, you create a psychological incentive in the individual to give greater weight to your opinion. And that person will want to strengthen the weight of your opinion in the eyes of others. Appreciation and gratitude breed appreciation and gratitude.

Bruce Tulgan (Fast Company)

Creating a productive, psychologically safe, and emotionally intelligent environment means thanking people for the work they do. That means for their day-to-day activities, not just when they put in a herculean effort. A paycheck is not thanks enough for the work we do and the value we provide.

Old blue boat

Nostalgia reimagined

More interesting still is that nostalgia can bring to mind time-periods we didn’t directly experience. In the film Midnight in Paris (2011), Gil is overwhelmed by nostalgic thoughts about 1920s Paris – which he, a modern-day screenwriter, hasn’t experienced – yet his feelings are nothing short of nostalgic. Indeed, feeling nostalgic for a time one didn’t actually live through appears to be a common phenomenon if all the chatrooms, Facebook pages and websites dedicated to it are anything to go by. In fact, a new word has been coined to capture this precise variant of nostalgia – anemoia, defined by the Urban Dictionary and the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows as ‘nostalgia for a time you’ve never known’.

How can we make sense of the fact that people feel nostalgia not only for past experiences but also for generic time periods? My suggestion, inspired by recent evidence from cognitive psychology and neuroscience, is that the variety of nostalgia’s objects is explained by the fact that its cognitive component is not an autobiographical memory, but a mental simulation – an imagination, if you will – of which episodic recollections are a sub-class.

Nigel Warburton (Aeon)

In the UK at least, shows like Downton Abbey and Call The Midwife are popular. My view of this is that, as this article would seem to support, it’s a kind of nostalgia for a time that was imagined to be better.

There’s a sinister side to this, as well. This kind of nostalgia seems to be particularly prevalent among more conservative-leaning (white) people harking back to a time of greater divisions in society along race and class lines. I think it’s rather disturbing.

The World Is Noisy. These Groups Want to Restore the Quiet

Quiet Parks International (QPI) is a nonprofit working to establish certification for quiet parks to raise awareness of and preserve quiet places. The fledgling organization—whose members include audio engineers, scientists, environmentalists, and musicians—has identified at least 262 sites worldwide, including 30 in the US, that it believes are quiet or could become so with management changes….

QPI has no regulatory authority, but like the International Dark Sky Association’s Dark Sky Parks initiative, the nonprofit believes its certification—granted only after a detailed, three-day sound analysis—can encourage public support of preservation efforts and provide guidelines for protection. “The places that are quiet today … are basically leftovers—places that are out of the way,” Quiet Parks cofounder Gordon Hempton says.

Jenny Morber (WIRED)

I live in a part of the world close to both a designated Dark Sky Park and mountains into which I can escape. Light and noise pollution threaten both of them, so I’m glad to hear of these efforts.

Header image by Uillian Vargas

Friday fluctuations

Have a quick skim through these links that I came across this week and found interesting:

  • Overrated: Ludwig Wittgenstein (Standpoint) — “Wittgenstein’s reputation for genius did not depend on incomprehensibility alone. He was also “tortured”, rude and unreliable. He had an intense gaze. He spent months in cold places like Norway to isolate himself. He temporarily quit philosophy, because he believed that he had solved all its problems in his 1922 Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and worked as a gardener. He gave away his family fortune. And, of course, he was Austrian, as so many of the best geniuses are.”
  • EdTech Resistance (Ben Williamson) ⁠— “We should not and cannot ignore these tensions and challenges. They are early signals of resistance ahead for edtech which need to be engaged with before they turn to public outrage. By paying attention to and acting on edtech resistances it may be possible to create education systems, curricula and practices that are fair and trustworthy. It is important not to allow edtech resistance to metamorphose into resistance to education itself.”
  • The Guardian view on machine learning: a computer cleverer than you? (The Guardian) — “The promise of AI is that it will imbue machines with the ability to spot patterns from data, and make decisions faster and better than humans do. What happens if they make worse decisions faster? Governments need to pause and take stock of the societal repercussions of allowing machines over a few decades to replicate human skills that have been evolving for millions of years.”
  • A nerdocratic oath (Scott Aaronson) — “I will never allow anyone else to make me a cog. I will never do what is stupid or horrible because “that’s what the regulations say” or “that’s what my supervisor said,” and then sleep soundly at night. I’ll never do my part for a project unless I’m satisfied that the project’s broader goals are, at worst, morally neutral. There’s no one on earth who gets to say: “I just solve technical problems. Moral implications are outside my scope”.”
  • Privacy is power (Aeon) — “The power that comes about as a result of knowing personal details about someone is a very particular kind of power. Like economic power and political power, privacy power is a distinct type of power, but it also allows those who hold it the possibility of transforming it into economic, political and other kinds of power. Power over others’ privacy is the quintessential kind of power in the digital age.”
  • The Symmetry and Chaos of the World’s Megacities (WIRED) — “Koopmans manages to create fresh-looking images by finding unique vantage points, often by scouting his locations on Google Earth. As a rule, he tries to get as high as he can—one of his favorite tricks is talking local work crews into letting him shoot from the cockpit of a construction crane.”
  • Green cities of the future – what we can expect in 2050 (RNZ) — “In their lush vision of the future, a hyperloop monorail races past in the foreground and greenery drapes the sides of skyscrapers that house communal gardens and vertical farms.”
  • Wittgenstein Teaches Elementary School (Existential Comics) ⁠— “And I’ll have you all know, there is no crying in predicate logic.”
  • Ask Yourself These 5 Questions to Inspire a More Meaningful Career Move (Inc.) — “Introspection on the right things can lead to the life you want.”

Image from Do It Yurtself

Saturday strikings

This week’s roundup is going out a day later than usual, as yesterday was the Global Climate Strike and Thought Shrapnel was striking too!

Here’s what I’ve been paying attention to this week:

  • How does a computer ‘see’ gender? (Pew Research Center) — “Machine learning tools can bring substantial efficiency gains to analyzing large quantities of data, which is why we used this type of system to examine thousands of image search results in our own studies. But unlike traditional computer programs – which follow a highly prescribed set of steps to reach their conclusions – these systems make their decisions in ways that are largely hidden from public view, and highly dependent on the data used to train them. As such, they can be prone to systematic biases and can fail in ways that are difficult to understand and hard to predict in advance.”
  • The Communication We Share with Apes (Nautilus) — “Many primate species use gestures to communicate with others in their groups. Wild chimpanzees have been seen to use at least 66 different hand signals and movements to communicate with each other. Lifting a foot toward another chimp means “climb on me,” while stroking their mouth can mean “give me the object.” In the past, researchers have also successfully taught apes more than 100 words in sign language.”
  • Why degrowth is the only responsible way forward (openDemocracy) — “If we free our imagination from the liberal idea that well-being is best measured by the amount of stuff that we consume, we may discover that a good life could also be materially light. This is the idea of voluntary sufficiency. If we manage to decide collectively and democratically what is necessary and enough for a good life, then we could have plenty.”
  • 3 times when procrastination can be a good thing (Fast Company) — “It took Leonardo da Vinci years to finish painting the Mona Lisa. You could say the masterpiece was created by a master procrastinator. Sure, da Vinci wasn’t under a tight deadline, but his lengthy process demonstrates the idea that we need to work through a lot of bad ideas before we get down to the good ones.”
  • Why can’t we agree on what’s true any more? (The Guardian) — “What if, instead, we accepted the claim that all reports about the world are simply framings of one kind or another, which cannot but involve political and moral ideas about what counts as important? After all, reality becomes incoherent and overwhelming unless it is simplified and narrated in some way or other.
  • A good teacher voice strikes fear into grown men (TES) — “A good teacher voice can cut glass if used with care. It can silence a class of children; it can strike fear into the hearts of grown men. A quiet, carefully placed “Excuse me”, with just the slightest emphasis on the “-se”, is more effective at stopping an argument between adults or children than any amount of reason.”
  • Freeing software (John Ohno) — “The only way to set software free is to unshackle it from the needs of capital. And, capital has become so dependent upon software that an independent ecosystem of anti-capitalist software, sufficiently popular, can starve it of access to the speed and violence it needs to consume ever-doubling quantities of to survive.”
  • Young People Are Going to Save Us All From Office Life (The New York Times) — “Today’s young workers have been called lazy and entitled. Could they, instead, be among the first to understand the proper role of work in life — and end up remaking work for everyone else?”
  • Global climate strikes: Don’t say you’re sorry. We need people who can take action to TAKE ACTUAL ACTION (The Guardian) — “Brenda the civil disobedience penguin gives some handy dos and don’ts for your civil disobedience”

There’s no viagra for enlightenment

This quotation from the enigmatic Russell Brand seemed appropriate for the subject of today’s article: the impact of so-called ‘deepfakes’ on everything from porn to politics.

First, what exactly are ‘deepfakes’? Mark Wilson explains in an article for Fast Company:

In early 2018, [an anonymous Reddit user named Deepfakes] uploaded a machine learning model that could swap one person’s face for another face in any video. Within weeks, low-fi celebrity-swapped porn ran rampant across the web. Reddit soon banned Deepfakes, but the technology had already taken root across the web–and sometimes the quality was more convincing. Everyday people showed that they could do a better job adding Princess Leia’s face to The Force Awakens than the Hollywood special effects studio Industrial Light and Magic did. Deepfakes had suddenly made it possible for anyone to master complex machine learning; you just needed the time to collect enough photographs of a person to train the model. You dragged these images into a folder, and the tool handled the convincing forgery from there.

Mark Wilson

As you’d expect, deepfakes bring up huge ethical issues, as Jessica Lindsay reports for Metro. It’s a classic case of our laws not being able to keep up with what’s technologically possible:

With the advent of deepfake porn, the possibilities have expanded even further, with people who have never starred in adult films looking as though they’re doing sexual acts on camera.

Experts have warned that these videos enable all sorts of bad things to happen, from paedophilia to fabricated revenge porn.


This can be done to make a fake speech to misrepresent a politician’s views, or to create porn videos featuring people who did not star in them.

Jessica Lindsay

It’s not just video, either, with Google’s AI now able to translate speech from one language to another and keep the same voice. Karen Hao embeds examples in an article for MIT Technology Review demonstrating where this is all headed.

The results aren’t perfect, but you can sort of hear how Google’s translator was able to retain the voice and tone of the original speaker. It can do this because it converts audio input directly to audio output without any intermediary steps. In contrast, traditional translational systems convert audio into text, translate the text, and then resynthesize the audio, losing the characteristics of the original voice along the way.

Karen Hao

The impact on democracy could be quite shocking, with the ability to create video and audio that feels real but is actually completely fake.

However, as Mike Caulfield notes, the technology doesn’t even have to be that sophisticated to create something that can be used in a political attack.

There’s a video going around that purportedly shows Nancy Pelosi drunk or unwell, answering a question about Trump in a slow and slurred way. It turns out that it is slowed down, and that the original video shows her quite engaged and articulate.


In musical production there is a technique called double-tracking, and it’s not a perfect metaphor for what’s going on here but it’s instructive. In double tracking you record one part — a vocal or solo — and then you record that part again, with slight variations in timing and tone. Because the two tracks are close, they are perceived as a single track. Because they are different though, the track is “widened” feeling deeper, richer. The trick is for them to be different enough that it widens the track but similar enough that they blend.

Mike Caulfield

This is where blockchain could actually be a useful technology. Caulfield often talks about the importance of ‘going back to the source’ — in other words, checking the provenance of what it is you’re reading, watching, or listening. There’s potential here for checking that something is actually the original document/video/audio.

Ultimately, however, people believe what they want to believe. If they want to believe Donald Trump is an idiot, they’ll read and share things showing him in a negative light. It doesn’t really matter if it’s true or not.

Also check out:

The benefits of Artificial Intelligence

As an historian, I’m surprisingly bad at recalling facts and dates. However, I’d argue that the study of history is actually about the relationship between those facts and dates — which, let’s face it, so long as you’re in the right ballpark, you can always look up.

Understanding the relationship between things, I’d argue, is a demonstration of higher-order competence. This is described well by the SOLO Taxonomy, which I featured in my ebook on digital literacies:

SOLO Taxonomy

This is important, as it helps to explain two related concepts around which people often get confused: ‘artificial intelligence’ and ‘machine learning’. If you look at the diagram above, you can see that the ‘Extended Abstract’ of the SOLO taxonomy also includes the ‘Relational’ part. Similarly, the field of ‘artificial intelligence’ includes ‘machine learning’.

There are some examples of each in this WIRED article, but for the purposes of this post let’s just leave it there. Some of what I want to talk about here involves machine learning and some artificial intelligence. It’s all interesting and affects the future of tech in education and society.

If you’re a gamer, you’ll already be familiar with some of the benefits of AI. No longer are ‘CPU players’ dumb, but actually play a lot like human players. That means with no unfair advantages programmed in by the designers of the game, the AI can work out strategies to defeat opponents. The recent example of OpenAI Five beating the best players at a game called Dota 2, and then internet teams finding vulnerabilities in the system, is a fascinating battle of human versus machine:

“Beating OpenAI Five is a testament to human tenacity and skill. The human teams have been working together to get those wins. The way people win is to take advantage of every single weakness in Five—some coming from the few parts of Five that are scripted rather than learned—gradually build up resources, and most importantly, never engage Five in a fair fight.” OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman told Motherboard.

Deepfakes, are created via “a technique for human image synthesis based on artificial intelligence… that can depict a person or persons saying things or performing actions that never occurred in reality”. There’s plenty of porn, of course, but also politically-motivated videos claiming that people said things they never did.

There’s benefits here, though, too. Recent AI research shows how, soon, it will be possible to replace any game character with one created from your own videos. In other words, you will be able to be in the game!

It only took a few short videos of each activity — fencing, dancing and tennis — to train the system. It was able to filter out other people and compensate for different camera angles. The research resembles Adobe’s “content-aware fill” that also uses AI to remove elements from video, like tourists or garbage cans. Other companies, like NVIDIA, have also built AI that can transform real-life video into virtual landscapes suitable for games.

It’s easy to be scared of all of this, fearful that it’s going to ravage our democratic institutions and cause a meltdown of civilisation. But, actually, the best way to ensure that it’s not used for those purposes is to try and understand it. To play with it. To experiment.

Algorithms have already been appointed to the boards of some companies and, if you think about it, there’s plenty of job roles where automated testing is entirely normal. I’m looking forward to a world where AI makes our lives a whole lot easier and friction-free.

Also check out:

  • AI generates non-stop stream of death metal (Engadget) — “The result isn’t entirely natural, if simply because it’s not limited by the constraints of the human body. There are no real pauses. However, it certainly sounds the part you’ll find plenty of hyper-fast drums, guitar thrashing and guttural growling.”
  • How AI Will Turn Us All Into Filmmakers (WIRED) “AI-assisted editing won’t make Oscar-­worthy auteurs out of us. But amateur visual storytelling will probably explode in complexity.”
  • Experts Weigh in on Merits of AI in Education (THE Journal) — “AI systems are perfect for analyzing students’ progress, providing more practice where needed and moving on to new material when students are ready,” she stated. “This allows time with instructors to focus on more complex learning, including 21st-century skills.”