That Space Cadet Glow #125
Issue 125 - March 24th 2022
In this issue I get the 'metaverse' off my chest with a bit of a rant, look at how AI researchers can identify pig emotions through their grunts (the pig's grunts, that is, not the researcher's), and look forward to some spectacular space missions.
I've tried really hard not to write about the 'metaverse' (inverted commas deliberate), but the more I hear about it the more despondent and dispirited I get. So, if you'll indulge me, I'd just like to get this out of my system, then we need never talk about it again. The 'metaverse' is the biggest marketing ploy this decade, a ruse to accelerate the uptake of technologies that nobody really wants. What's more, nobody can really define what the 'metaverse' is - for marketing people it is whatever you want it to be, whilst for the rest of us it is a mix of Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Video Conferencing, social media and gaming. We really don't need a new, ambiguous and confusing name for things that already exist and are pretty well defined. (This is not just me: here's the view from Vice at the recent SXSW, and a great article from shots.net on how this will impact mental wellbeing, and also worth reading is James Whatley's opinions in his excellent newsletter, who is probably angrier than me about this whole thing. And when Gartner start saying that the metaverse "will provide persistent, decentralized, collaborative and interoperable opportunities and business models that will enable organizations to extend digital business", you know you are in trouble). Facebook (now renamed, ugh, 'Meta') claim that 'soon, everyone will be working in the metaverse'. No, we won't. A few people might try and communicate through VR headsets but 99.999% of us (my estimate) will still go about our business talking to each other face-to-face or on camera. Even more so after the pandemic, we will want to interact with each other in a more, not less, personal way. Most people have been able to cope with remote working by buying a £19.99 webcam from Amazon, but who is going to spend tens of thousands of pounds installing equipment everyone will feel foolish (and slightly nauseous) wearing? I don't want to be an avatar. I want to be me. Rant over.
I'm so happy I could oink
After reporting on facial recognition for pigs, pigs used for trialling robotic surgery, and pig organs being used for human transplants (which, sadly, did not work as the patient died a couple of weeks ago) I can now bring you pig voice recognition. The idea is that we can estimate the emotions that the pigs are expressing based on the types of oinks and grunts they are making. This could, in theory, help improve animal welfare on farms (but, speaking as a vegetarian, unlikely to have the same benefit at abattoirs, TBH). Researchers at Copenhagen University recorded 7,414 noises from more than 400 pigs and used AI to predict how they are feeling based on the noises they make. Now, in order to do this, you need to understand the emotion the pig was feeling at the time you recorded the original noises (i.e. this is a classic supervised learning problem). The researchers had to make their best guess at the time because, obviously, we can't read the minds of pigs. (Predictably, though, there were many hyped-up articles written claiming that this is exactly what the system is doing. It can't. Often people anthropomorphise AI, but in every case the AI is 'just' using clever maths to work out the probability that the new data is one class of a set of previously labelled data). The researchers claim an accuracy of 92% when measuring whether the emotion is positive or negative (again, we don't know the actual emotion, just what the researchers labelled it). The trick now is making this into something that is not just useful to the farmers but could also be beneficial for the pigs themselves.
Fly me to the moon
There have been two big advances for NASA over the last month. In the first, the James Webb Telescope (the much-enhanced replacement for the long-serving Hubble telescope) took its first pictures of deep space. The image, which you can see here, was taken to test the telescope's optics now that the array of mirrors have been aligned correctly. The photograph shows a bright star (2MASS J17554042+655127 to its friends) at its centre, but the resolution of the telescope's systems mean that lots of stars and galaxies can also be made out in the background. This is all really promising for what the telescope will eventually be able to deliver. In the second advancement, NASA rolled out its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for a 'wet dress rehearsal' last week. This huge rocket will eventually take humans back to the moon, but for now it was the first time it had been taken to its launch pad, travelling the 4 miles in 11 hours. Over the next few weeks, it will be checked over, filled with fuel, and taken to a T-10 countdown. Although it won't launch this time, it is hoping that the rocket will take off, unmanned, as early as the summer of this year. For those of us (just) young enough not to remember the Apollo missions, this will surely be an exciting time.
This just piqued my interest. Quite simply, it is a 4 minute video of 32 discordant metronomes that gradually synchronise themselves. Depending on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, this is either a very relaxing experience watching order slowly but surely restored from chaos or a metaphor for how we are all eventually made to comply and fall in line with everyone else. There are even one or two metronomes that try a counter-cyclical approach but eventually come into line. For an explanation of the physics, you can watch here.
Röyksopp - Profound Mysteries
It's been eight years since we had an LP from Röyksopp, and now we only need to wait until next month to hear their new one, Profound Mysteries, in full. In the meantime though, they have released 3 tracks (or 'instalments' as they are calling them), the latest one of which is a brilliant collaboration with Allison Goldfrapp called 'Impossible'. The Norwegian duo continue their usual atmospheric, electronic vibe but with a little bit more bite to it, in line with their new contemporaries such as Bicep and Bonobo. The videos are created with a new 'artifact and visualiser' that has been designed by Australian artist Jonathan Zawada. You can stream the current tracks on your favourite platform, and pre-order the LP, from this link.
And here is a bonus piece of music to demonstrate our solidarity with those suffering so brutally in Ukraine. This is cellist, Denys Karachevtsev, performing Bach’s Cello Suite No. 5 in the centre of a deserted street in his home town of Kharkiv.
Greenhouse Intelligence Ltd thegreenhouse.ai
Andrew Burgess is the founder of Greenhouse Intelligence, a strategic AI advisory firm.
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