Don Levy: A cinematic journey through visual effects
It’s been 110 years since Georges Méliès sent a spaceship slamming into the eye of the man on the moon. So how far have visual effects come since then? Working closely with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Don Levy takes us on a visual journey through special effects, from the fakery of early technology to the seamless marvels of modern filmmaking.
Edge.org asks “What should we be worried about?”
Some selections from this article:
I. Chinese eugenics, by Geoffrey Miller
China has been running the world’s largest and most successful eugenics program for more than thirty years, driving China’s ever-faster rise as the global superpower. I worry that this poses some existential threat to Western civilization. Yet the most likely result is that America and Europe linger around a few hundred more years as also-rans on the world-historical stage, nursing our anti-hereditarian political correctness to the bitter end.
When I learned about Chinese eugenics this summer, I was astonished that its population policies had received so little attention. China makes no secret of its eugenic ambitions, in either its cultural history or its government policies.
For generations, Chinese intellectuals have emphasized close ties between the state (guojia), the nation (minzu), the population (renkou), the Han race (zhongzu), and, more recently, the Chinese gene-pool (jiyinku). Traditional Chinese medicine focused on preventing birth defects, promoting maternal health and “fetal education” (taijiao) during pregnancy, and nourishing the father’s semen (yangjing) and mother’s blood (pingxue) to produce bright, healthy babies (see Frank Dikötter’s book Imperfect Conceptions). Many scientists and reformers of Republican China (1912-1949) were ardent Darwinians and Galtonians. They worried about racial extinction (miezhong) and “the science of deformed fetuses” (jitaixue), and saw eugenics as a way to restore China’s rightful place as the world’s leading civilization after a century of humiliation by European colonialism. The Communist revolution kept these eugenic ideals from having much policy impact for a few decades though. Mao Zedong was too obsessed with promoting military and manufacturing power, and too terrified of peasant revolt, to interfere with traditional Chinese reproductive practices.
II. We Don’t Do Politics, by Brian Eno
Most of the smart people I know want nothing to do with politics. We avoid it like the plague—like Edge avoids it, in fact. Is this because we feel that politics isn’t where anything significant happens? Or because we’re too taken up with what we’re doing, be it Quantum Physics or Statistical Genomics or Generative Music? Or because we’re too polite to get into arguments with people? Or because we just think that things will work out fine if we let them be—that The Invisible Hand or The Technosphere will mysteriously sort them out?
Whatever the reasons for our quiescence, politics is still being done—just not by us. It’s politics that gave us Iraq and Afghanistan and a few hundred thousand casualties. It’s politics that’s bleeding the poorer nations for the debts of their former dictators. It’s politics that allows special interests to run the country. It’s politics that helped the banks wreck the economy. It’s politics that prohibits gay marriage and stem cell research but nurtures Gaza and Guantanamo.
But we don’t do politics. We expect other people to do it for us, and grumble when they get it wrong. We feel that our responsibility stops at the ballot box, if we even get that far. After that we’re as laissez-faire as we can get away with.
What worries me is that while we’re laissez-ing, someone else is faire-ing.
III. Relevant Smart-ness, by Evgeny Morozov
I worry that as the problem-solving power of our technologies increases, our ability to distinguish between important and trivial or even non-existent problems diminishes. Just because we have “smart” solutions to fix every single problem under the sun doesn’t mean that all of them deserve our attention. In fact, some of them may not be problems at all; that certain social and individual situations are awkward, imperfect noisy, opaque or risky might be by design. Or, as the geeks like to say, some bugs are not bugs—some bugs are features.
IV. Knowing the Universe, by Lawrence Krauss
Actually, the very cause of the acceleration of our universe may be forever impossible to pin down. If empty space has energy, then this energy can cause the observed acceleration of the universe. But as there is no known laboratory experiment that can probe this energy, the only way we may be able to probe it is to observe the expansion of the universe over time. A constant rate of acceleration is consistent with a fundamental energy in empty space, but it is also consistent with a host of other possible sources of trapped energy in some otherwise invisible fields. We may have no way of knowing. And if it is really associated with the properties of empty space, we may never know why, because that too may be an accident, with different energies in different universes. With just a single universe to probe, we may never know.
V. The Rise Of Anti-Intellectualism And The End Of Progress, by Tim O’Reilly
For so many in the techno-elite, even those who don’t entirely subscribe to the unlimited optimism of the Singularity, the notion of perpetual progress and economic growth is somehow taken for granted. As a former classicist turned technologist, I’ve always lived with the shadow of the fall of Rome, the failure of its intellectual culture, and the stasis that gripped the Western world for the better part of a thousand years. What I fear most is that we will lack the will and the foresight to face the world’s problems squarely, but will instead retreat from them into superstition and ignorance.
Consider how in 375 AD, after a dream in which he was whipped for being “a Ciceronian” rather than a Christian, Saint Jerome resolved no more to read the classical authors and to restrict himself only to Christian texts, how the Christians of Alexandria murdered the philosopher and mathematician Hypatia in 415, and realize that, at least in part, the so-called dark ages were not something imposed from without, a breakdown of civilization due to barbarian invasions, but a choice, a turning away from knowledge and discovery into a kind of religious fundamentalism.
Now consider how conservative elements in American religion and politics refuse to accept scientific knowledge, deride their opponents for being “reality based,” and ask yourself, “could that ideology come to rule the most powerful nation on earth? and if it did, what would be the consequences for the world?”
History teaches us that conservative, backward-looking movements often arise under conditions of economic stress. As the world faces problems ranging from climate change to the demographic cliff of aging populations, it’s wise to imagine widely divergent futures.
Yes, we may find technological solutions that propel us into a new golden age of robots, collective intelligence, and an economy built around “the creative class.” But it’s at least as probable that as we fail to find those solutions quickly enough, the world falls into apathy, disbelief in science and progress, and after a melancholy decline, a new dark age.
Civilizations do fail. We have never yet seen one that hasn’t. The difference is that the torch of progress has in the past always passed to another region of the world. But we’ve now, for the first time, got a single global civilization. If it fails, we all fail together.
Full article here
Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Understanding Is A Poor Substitute For Convexity
Something central, very central, is missing in historical accounts of scientific and technological discovery. The discourse and controversies focus on the role of luck as opposed to teleological programs (from telos, ”aim”), that is, ones that rely on pre-set direction from formal science. This is a faux-debate: luck cannot lead to formal research policies; one cannot systematize, formalize, and program randomness. The driver is neither luck nor direction, but must be in the asymmetry (or convexity) of payoffs, a simple mathematical property that has lied hidden from the discourse, and the understanding of which can lead to precise research principles and protocols.
MISSING THE ASYMMETRY
The luck versus knowledge story is as follows. Ironically, we have vastly more evidence for results linked to luck than to those coming from the teleological, outside physics—even after discounting for the sensationalism. In some opaque and nonlinear fields, like medicine or engineering, the teleological exceptions are in the minority, such as a small number of designer drugs. This makes us live in the contradiction that we largely got here to where we are thanks to undirected chance, but we build research programs going forward based on direction and narratives. And, what is worse, we are fully conscious of the inconsistency.
The point we will be making here is that logically, neither trial and error nor “chance” and serendipity can be behind the gains in technology and empirical science attributed to them. By definition chance cannot lead to long term gains (it would no longer be chance); trial and error cannot be unconditionally effective: errors cause planes to crash, buildings to collapse, and knowledge to regress.
The beneficial properties have to reside in the type of exposure, that is, the payoff function and not in the “luck” part: there needs to be a significant asymmetry between the gains (as they need to be large) and the errors (small or harmless), and it is from such asymmetry that luck and trial and error can produce results. The general mathematical property of this asymmetry is convexity (which is explained in Figure 1); functions with larger gains than losses are nonlinear-convex and resemble financial options. Critically, convex payoffs benefit from uncertainty and disorder. The nonlinear properties of the payoff function, that is, convexity, allow us to formulate rational and rigorous research policies, and ones that allow the harvesting of randomness.
Full article here
This infographic created by Jason at Frugal Dad shows that almost all media comes from the same six sources. That’s consolidated from 50 companies back in 1983.
NOTE: This infographic is from last year and is missing some key transactions. GE does not own NBC (or Comcast or any media) anymore. So that 6th company is now Comcast. And Time Warner doesn’t own AOL, so Huffington Post isn’t affiliated with them.
But the fact that a few companies own everything demonstrates “the illusion of choice,” Frugal Dad says. While some big sites, like Digg and Reddit aren’t owned by any of the corporations, Time Warner owns news sites read by millions of Americans every year.