What I'm Reading - 5/23/2018
Three to five links every weekday - Weird Science edition.
Bernegger is a Swiss-born serial entrepreneur focused on financial technology. It didn't take long after the emergence of the blockchain in 2009 for him to focus specifically on cryptocurrency, where he's maintained meaningful business involvement since 2012. In the same way that decentralization makes cryptocurrency uniquely useful around the world, the residents of Switzerland benefit from the decentralized principles that drive the country's tax code. Someone living just outside of Zurich could pay a fraction of the city's notorious tax while enjoying comparable access to the Swiss capital.
"We have a unique federalistic system that sees the national state — that is, the federal states and its individual counties — compete against each other. This is very healthy for an efficient and transparent government," Bernegger said over a late morning coffee in Zurich. "Additionally, our direct democratic system gives a lot of power to the people, so politicians and their parties have far less influence than in most other democratic countries."
OUTRAGE OVER CARTOON NETWORK’S THUNDERCATS REBOOT RESORTED TO A STRANGE, OLD INSULT: ‘CALARTS STYLE’
Instigated by ThunderCats Roar, the upcoming Cartoon Network reboot of the classic 1980s sword-and-sorcery cartoon featuring feline humanoid aliens, a number of fans took to Twitter to gripe about the artistic style of the series by targeting a handful of alma maters. One school in particular, the California Institute of the Arts, was in the hot seat, as fans complained about how this newer, more humorous take on ThunderCats was drawn not in the muscle-rippling, “realistic” style of the original show but, rather, in something they derisively called “CalArts Style.”
What is CalArts Style? That depends on who you ask. Over the years, prickly animation buffs have come to use the term as a catchall for what they see as a cookie-cutter style of thin-frame animation that has dominated the 2010s. Pointing to shows like Disney XD’s Gravity Falls and Star vs the Forces of Evil, and Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe,The Amazing World of Gumball and now ThunderCats Roar, those fans note the similarity in the designs of the shows’ characters, charging that the originality and artistic quality of cartoons from back in the day has been lost.
Interest in the phenomenon of “deepfakes” has died down a little in recent months, presumably as the public comes to terms with what seems like an inevitability in 2018 — that people can and will use AI to create super-realistic fake videos and images. But a recent news story by BuzzFeed surfaced the term again in an unexpected setting, inviting the question: what is a deepfake anyway?
The article in question was titled “A Belgian Political Party Is Circulating A Trump Deepfake Video.” From the headline you might expect that this was a high-tech political propaganda campaign; someone using AI to put words in Trump’s mouth and mislead voters. In other words, exactly the sort of scenario experts are deeply worried about with deepfakes. But if you watch the actual video, it’s clear this isn’t the case. The clip is an obvious parody, with an exaggerated vocal impersonation and unrealistic computer effects. (A process which most likely didn’t involve AI, though we’re waiting to hear back from the clip’s creators.) At one point “Trump” even says: “We all know climate change is fake, just like this video.”
So should we call this a deepfake? Experts The Verge spoke to were pretty confident saying “no,” but the question raises a number of interesting issues: not only our difficulty in defining deepfakes, but the problems that could arise if the term is applied vaguely in the future. Could “deepfake” become the next “fake news,” for example; a phrase that once described a distinct phenomenon (people publishing fabricated news stories on social media for profit), but that has now been co-opted to discredit legitimate reporting.
I’m not saying you should cancel your gym membership or junk those free weights just yet. However, the potential for CRISPR to change the way we think about our health and how we stay healthy cannot be overstated. While it’s still very much in the early stages of development, some people are already getting impatient.
That’s where biohackers come in. They’re not quite as badass as they sound, but what they’re doing is still pretty amazing and pretty dangerous. They’re basically skipping the part where they wait for the FDA or the World Health Organization to tell everyone that CRISPR is safe. They actually use themselves as guinea pigs to refine CRISPR.
Now, I need to make clear that this is exceedingly risky and not in the “Jurassic Park” sort of way. Tampering with our genome is uncharted, unregulated territory and we don’t yet have a full understanding of the potential dangers. That said, in the field of fitness and sex appeal, CRISPR may put gyms, plastic surgeons, and weight loss clinics on notice.
The work comes from researchers at Cornell University, Google Jigsaw, and Wikimedia, who teamed up to create software that scans a conversation for verbal ticks and predicts whether it will end acrimoniously or amiably. Notably, the software was trained and tested on a hotbed of high-stakes discussion: the “talk page” on Wikipedia articles, where editors discuss changes to phrasing, the need for better sources, and so on.
The software was preprogrammed to look for certain features that past research has shown correlates with a conversational mood. For example, signs that a discussion will go well include gratitude (“Thanks for your help”), greetings (“How’s your day going?”), hedges (“I think that”), and, of course, the liberal use of the word “please.” All this combines to create not only a friendly atmosphere, but an emotional buffer between the two participants. It’s essentially a no-man’s-land of disagreement, where someone can admit they’re wrong without losing face.