Search Results For turing

Picturing The Night Shift

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 24 2015 @ 4:07am


A post shared by Micaela Swegle (@micswegle) on


Jeff Sharlet scrolls through #nightshift pictures on Instragram:

There are the warehouse workers who snap themselves letting a wisp of marijuana smoke slip from between their lips, little Instagram rebellions. There are the soldiers and sailors pulling a night shift for no good reason other than orders, photographing themselves and their comrades on the verge of sleep or already under. Cops in noirish black and white, their pictures framed to show a bit of badge. And nurses. A lot of nurses. Close-up, arm’s length, forced smiles, dead eyes. Scroll through #nightshift, and you’ll see some saints among them and some whose hands you hope will be more alive in an emergency than their ashen faces.

The #nightshift hashtag is especially well populated by the armed professions and the healing ones. Sometimes they are almost one and the same, as in the case of @armedmedic3153, a.k.a. Marcelo Aguirre, a paramedic in Newark and suburban New Jersey. He owns an AR-15, a ­9-millimeter­ and a shotgun, but the only thing he shoots on the night shift is his camera. He works nights so he can study days; he wants to be a doctor. Nights are good preparation for that: You get more serious cases. You learn on the job. A 12-hour course each night you’re on. Twenty-four hours if you take a double. After a while, the adrenaline that juices you when you’re new — when you’re still keeping a tally of the lives you’ve saved — disappears. You just do the job. “High speed and low drag,” Aguirre told me when I called. “Please ignore the siren,” he said. “We’re going to a call.” A stroke. Nothing to get excited about. Coffee sustains him. He stays clean. Some guys, he said, use Provigil, but that’s prescribed. “For shift-work disorder,” he said.

Torturing Her Way To The Top

Dish Staff —  Dec 19 2014 @ 10:52am
by Dish Staff

Matthew Cole reports on a key torture apologist at the CIA who “repeatedly told her superiors and others – including members of Congress – that the ‘torture’ was working and producing useful intelligence, when it was not”:

The expert was not identified by name in the unclassified 528-page summary of the [torture] report, but U.S. officials who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity confirmed that her name was redacted at least three dozen times in an effort to avoid publicly identifying her. In fact, much of the four-month battle between Senate Democrats and the CIA about redactions centered on protecting the identity of the woman, an analyst and later “deputy chief” of the unit devoted to catching or killing Osama bin Laden, according to U.S. officials familiar with the negotiations.

Jane Mayer comments:

Her story runs through the entire report.

She dropped the ball when the C.I.A. was given information that might very well have prevented the 9/11 attacks; she gleefully participated in torture sessions afterward; she misinterpreted intelligence in such a way that it sent the C.I.A. on an absurd chase for Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Montana. And then she falsely told congressional overseers that the torture worked.

Had the Senate Intelligence Committee been permitted to use pseudonyms for the central characters in its report, as all previous congressional studies of intelligence failures, including the widely heralded Church Committee report in 1975, have done, it might not have taken a painstaking, and still somewhat cryptic, investigation after the fact in order for the American public to hold this senior official accountable. Many people who have worked with her over the years expressed shock to NBC that she has been entrusted with so much power. A former intelligence officer who worked directly with her is quoted by NBC, on background, as saying that she bears so much responsibility for so many intelligence failures that “she should be put on trial and put in jail for what she has done.”

Instead, however, she has been promoted to the rank of a general in the military, most recently working as the head of the C.I.A.’s global-jihad unit. In that perch, she oversees the targeting of terror suspects around the world. (She was also, in part, the model for the lead character in “Zero Dark Thirty.”)

by Michelle Dean

Slate has a big package today about “The Year In Outrage.” It’s thought-provoking, worth your time and effort.

I’d rather talk about it laterally, though, than re-litigate old social media controversies. There’s plenty enough of the latter in the Slate thing. Let’s, instead, consider the outrage manufacturing process, which I think is more complicated than usually described. You can do it half by accident. You know, by joking on Twitter.

For example: Last night I was reading Twitter when a link came into my feed. It was to an Los Angeles Review of Books essay about Joan Didion. I clicked.

The first sentence of the piece was a run-on sentence. Then it made proud reference to the author’s attendance at literary parties. I persevered. I was then rewarded with this paragraph:

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 11.10.53 PM

I hope I don’t seem too outraged to you when I say that this is not a good paragraph about Joan Didion. It tells you nothing about Didion. It also doesn’t tell you much about the writer, Emmett Rensin, other than his lack of apparent shame. It would be a pretty embarrassing paragraph to record in your private journal. But there it was, published by the Los Angeles Review of Books. The Los Angeles Review of Books is edited. An editor read this paragraph, and published it.

I have, in the course of researching a book that touches on Didion, read a great deal of writing about her. It is worse than you’d expect, and a lot of people expect bad writing about Didion. I like to point out a 1970 Los Angeles Times profile that called Didion a “haunted elf.” There are a lot of reasons why this writing is bad, but one is certainly the strong personal feelings Didion’s work seems to evoke. These personal feelings – say, “desire” – then run away with whatever self-control the writer-about-Didion ordinarily possesses.

There is probably a good, self-aware piece to be written about all of that. This Didion piece is plainly not that piece.

I found this paragraph so bad, in a funny way, that I took the screenshot you see above. Then I posted it to Twitter. People responded. My friends and I made some jokes. I decided to add, “My cat just threw up. I think she saw the paragraph about Joan Didion.” I felt momentarily better after a long day. I went to bed.

Because now, waking up this morning and watching everyone chatter about outrage, I feel culpable. In fact, I’ve now deleted that second tweet because it feels mean, the morning after. Obviously we’re talking about a much smaller scale than social media controversies tend to reach. But I’ve done just what everyone typically describes as a gesture of outrage: I’ve found something I think is bad, I’ve lifted it out of context, and I’ve explained why. As a data point, I don’t feel particularly angry about it. More… bemused.

But someone else might think I’m stoking outrage. And then write an editorial about what a terrible person I am for posting this out of context. And then: here I am, who with my laughter at this bad paragraph about Joan Didion, am participating in a force that is destroying culture.

Or… not?

The Next Turing Test

Andrew Sullivan —  Sep 29 2014 @ 8:12am

It’s handwriting, according to Clive Thompson, who marvels that “the most avid prosecutors of Alan Turing’s sly and audacious 1950 thought-experiment have been not philosophers or computer scientists or advanced A.I. labs but … marketers”:

The former folks have foundered for years on the difficulties of understanding the fractal contours of human consciousness. The latter just want you to open up their damn mail.

Comprehending the mysteries of human thought and behavior is hard. Emulating it? Not so much! It’s partly why Turing’s test is so unsettling: Man, are we really that easy to copy?

Mind you, this particular Blade Runner dimension of modern life could quickly diminish in relevance, because frankly, postal mail is itself declining rapidly. The amount of upright, breathing humans who regularly write letters by hand has been shrinking steadily for years. So maybe it’s not long before handwriting flips its its existential polarity. A handwritten envelope will become not a litmus test of humanity but sure-fire proof that we were sent a form letter by an impersonal database. We’ll sort through our paper mail with the inverse logic of today, tossing aside immediately all the letters addressed with pen-script (robot, robot, god, another one sent by a robot) but then pausing at the sudden, startling appearance of an envelope addressed by a dot-matrix printer. Hmmm, we’ll say to ourselves: Now this might be real.

Are We Still Torturing?

Dish Staff —  Aug 11 2014 @ 11:43am
by Dish Staff

Nico Hines and Sami Yousafzai pass along a disturbing new Amnesty International report indicating that the US military “has systematically covered up or disregarded “abundant and compelling evidence” of war crimes, torture, and unlawful killings in Afghanistan as recently as last year”:

[The report] includes detailed investigations of 10 incidents in which at least 140 civilians, including 50 children, were killed in dubious circumstances. In the aftermath of nine of these, eyewitnesses and families report that no one was ever interviewed by the U.S. military. … Among the most disturbing allegations are claims of forcible disappearance, torture, and extrajudicial killings carried out by a rogue unit in Wardak province from the fall of 2012. “We interviewed a former detainee that had a really horrific story of just raw torture,” [report author Joanne] Mariner said. “It’s not only the testimony of this former detainee but a lot of bodies were found showing horrendous crimes of torture—people missing body parts and people whose corpses were badly mutilated.”

One of 125 victims and eyewitnesses interviewed by Amnesty in compiling this report was Qandi Agha, 51, an employee at the provincial Ministry of Culture, who says he was captured by U.S. forces who broke into his home and spirited him away to a dark wooden cell. “On the first night,” he said, “the Americans told me they were going to try 14 different types of torture on me. If I survived, they said, they’d let me go.”

He said he suffered electric shocks, beatings, simulated drowning, hanging from the ceiling, partial burial in freezing conditions, and the extraordinary and degrading torment of having a length of string tied tightly around his penis. “They left the string around my penis for four days. My abdomen was bulging. I wasn’t able to pee for those four days,” he said.

He was lucky. He says half of the men he was incarcerated with did not survive the ordeal, and he claims to have watched one man be beaten to death by a redheaded American commando.

Passing The Turing Test, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 12 2014 @ 7:58am

With the last weekend’s breakthrough being called into question, Brian Barrett argues that these days, the Turing test “isn’t so much a test of computer intelligence as it is human gullibility”:

A bad chatbot might luck its way to victory if the judges aren’t familiar with tell-tale signs of chatbot-ness. That’s usually of less importance when your panel includes experts in the field of computer science. In this case, it included an actor from Red Dwarf and a member of the House of Lords, both of whom are incredibly accomplished and by all indications brilliant minds, but not specifically trained in this field.

David Auerbach argues that “Eugene Goostman” did in fact pass the Turing test – but that the test itself has a fatal flaw:

Trashing the Reading results, Hunch CEO Chris Dixon tweeted, “The point of the Turing Test is that you pass it when you’ve built machines that can fully simulate human thinking.” No, that is precisely not how you pass the Turing test. You pass the Turing test by convincing judges that a computer program is human. That’s it. Turing was interested in one black-box metric for how we might gauge “human intelligence,” precisely because it has been so difficult to establish what it is to “simulate human thinking.” Turing’s test is only one measure.

So the Reading contest was not the travesty of the Turing test that Dixon claims. Dixon’s problem isn’t with the Reading contest – it’s with the Turing test itself. People are arguing over whether the test was conducted fairly and whether the metrics were right, but the problem is more fundamental than that.”Intelligence” is a notoriously difficult concept to pin down. Statistician Cosma Shalizi has debunked the idea of any measurable general factor of intelligence like IQ. Nonetheless, the word exists, and so we search for some way to measure it. … The Turing test, famous as it is, is only one possible concrete measure of human intelligence, and by no means the best one.

Elizabeth Lopatto offers some background about how Turing turned imitating a conversation into a proxy for intelligence:

The strength of the test is obvious: “intelligence” and “thinking” are fuzzy words, and no definition from psychology or neuroscience has been sufficiently general and precise to apply to machines. The Turing test side steps the messy bits to provide a pragmatic framework for testing.

But this strength is also the test’s weakness. Turing at no point explicitly says that his test is meant to provide a measure of intelligence. For instance: human behavior isn’t necessarily intelligent behavior—take responding to an insult with anger. Or typos: normal and human, but intelligent?

Joseph Stromberg still believes the episode was noteworthy:

This announcement certainly doesn’t mean that self-aware robots are about to take over the world – and it doesn’t even mean that there’s one out there capable of consistently fooling people into thinking its a human. It does, however, mean that one has crossed the threshold Turing predicted would be passed by 2000, a meaningful milestone on the way to artificial intelligence.

That said, there are plenty more milestones that still need to be passed — even in terms of the Turing test. The Loebner prize, for instance, will award a silver medal for the first program to pass a text-only test, but a gold medal for one that passes an audio test — something that’s probably still a long way off.

But a less-charitable George Dvorsky makes the case that it’s time to abandon the “bullshit” Turing test:

Turing had no way of knowing that human conversation – or the appearance of it  – could be simulated by natural language processing (NLP) software and the rise of chatterbots. Yes, these programs exhibit intelligence — but they’re intelligent in the same way that calculators are intelligent. Which isn’t really very intelligent at all. More crucially, the introduction of these programs to Turing Test competitions fail to answer the ultimate question posed by the test: Can machines think?

Though impressive, and despite their apparent ability to fool human judges, these machines – or more accurately, software programs – do not think in the same way humans do. … It’s all smoke and mirrors, folks. There’s no thinking going on here – just quasi pre-programmed responses spouted out by sophisticated algorithms. But because Turing’s conjecture was directed at assessing the presence of human-like cognition in a machine, his test falls flat.

Passing The Turing Test

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 9 2014 @ 4:00pm

Dante D’Orazio takes note of this weekend’s big news out of London:

Eugene Goostman seems like a typical 13-year-old Ukrainian boy – at least, that’s what a third of judges at a Turing Test competition this Saturday thought. Goostman says that he likes hamburgers and candy and that his father is a gynecologist, but it’s all a lie. This boy is a program created by computer engineers led by Russian Vladimir Veselov and Ukrainian Eugene Demchenko.

That a third of judges were convinced that Goostman was a human is significant – at least 30 percent of judges must be swayed for a computer to pass the famous Turing Test. The test, created by legendary computer scientist Alan Turing in 1950, was designed to answer the question “Can machines think?” and is a well-known staple of artificial intelligence studies. Goostman passed the test at the Turing Test 2014 competition in London on Saturday, and the event’s organizers at the University of Reading say it’s the first computer to succeed.

Kabir Chibber looks back to Turing’s exact prediction:

He said in 1950:

I believe that in about 50 years’ time it will be possible to program computers… to make them play the imitation game so well that an average interrogator will not have more than 70 percent chance of making the right identification after five minutes of questioning.

While this didn’t happen by the year 2000, it seems Turing was off by only 14 years.

Nathan Mattise has more on this weekend’s breakthrough:

Eugene was one of five supercomputers tackling the challenge at this weekend’s event, held precisely 60 years after Turing’s death on June 7, 1954. It was designed by a team in Saint Petersburg, Russia, led by creator Vladimir Veselov (who was born in Russia and now lives in the US). An earlier version of Eugene is hosted online for anyone to interact with, according to The Independent (though with interest understandably high right now, we’ve been unable to access it).

“Eugene was ‘born’ in 2001. Our main idea was that he can claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn’t know everything,” Veselov said according to the event press release. “We spent a lot of time developing a character with a believable personality. This year we improved the ‘dialog controller’ which makes the conversation far more human-like when compared to programs that just answer questions. Going forward we plan to make Eugene smarter and continue working on improving what we refer to as ‘conversation logic.'”

Polly Mosendz suggests Goostman wouldn’t have passed the test if he weren’t a teenbot:

Developer Veselov explained that, “Our main idea was that he can claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn’t know everything.” So if the judges asked him something he was not programmed to know, judges might write that off as a factor of his age instead of his lack of humanity.

Pranav Dixit comments that “a chatbot successfully pretending to be a 13-year-old boy for whom English is a second language ain’t exactly Hal 9000,” but calls the event “an obviously exciting breakthrough.” Robert T. Gonzalez and George Dvorsky elaborate:

The chatbot is not thinking in the cognitive sense; it’s a sophisticated simulator of human conversation run by scripts. In other words, this is far from the milestone it’s been made out to be. That said, it is important, because it supports the idea that we have entered an era in which it will become increasingly difficult to discern chatbots from real humans.

“Having a computer that can trick a human into thinking that someone, or even something, is a person we trust is a wake-up call to cybercrime [and the] Turing Test is a vital tool for combatting that threat,” said competition organizer Kevin Warwick on the subject of the test’s implications for modern society. “It is important to understand more fully how online, real-time communication of this type can influence an individual human in such a way that they are fooled into believing something is true…when in fact it is not.”

Update from a reader:

This chatbot absolutely did NOT pass the Turing test – not even close. Nor is it a breakthrough in any technical or conceptual sense. “Passing the Turing test” does not mean fooling more than 30% of judges within 5 minutes – that’s just what Turing thought might be possible by 2000. Passing the Turing test means fooling a capable judge after an extended, thorough interrogation.

As hilariously demonstrated by MIT computer scientist Scott Aaronson, this chatbot cannot even tell you whether a shoebox is bigger than Mt Everest, or how many legs a camel has.

Another passes along this article, which “pretty much blows all the claims out of the water – and makes clear the whole thing was a PR stunt by a “scientist” who specializes in PR stunts.”

Capturing Chaos

Andrew Sullivan —  Mar 6 2014 @ 10:03am

Screen shot 2014-02-19 at 11.47.27 AM

Photographer Marcel Christ combines his backgrounds in chemistry and photography to create startling images:

Through experimentation with countless liquids, the artist finds ways to give life to otherwise inanimate objects. In this ongoing series, Powder, Christ captures the expressive movement of colorful powders that pop out against a solid black background in unpredictable formations that result in an organized chaos.

From an interview with the artist:

I love to show things you can’t see with the naked eye, combined with all different subjects and textures. That includes bursts of powder and explosions. The aesthetics of destruction are very beautiful. That specific moment you see in these images lasts barely 1/10 000 of a second. A few moments later, the studio is a mess.

Find more of his work here.

Maturing With Middlemarch

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 8 2014 @ 3:35pm

In My Life in Middlemarch, Rebecca Mead interweaves memoir and literary criticism, illustrating how George Eliot’s classic has affected her throughout her life.  In a review of the book, Hannah Rosefield describes why the novel endures:

Mead first read the novel aged 17, living in the southwest of England and preparing for university examinations, and she has read it every five years or so since. Middlemarch is, of course, not the only novel that changes with the age of its reader, but it does attract a particular kind of rereading. Writers, academics and non-specialist readers alike talk about a distancing from Dorothea as they grow older, a realization of the irony in Eliot’s portrayal of the girl who wishes she could have married Milton or any other great man “whose odd habits it would have been glorious piety to endure.” They discover their sympathy, especially if they are academics, for Dorothea’s elderly husband Casaubon, the scholar fixated on a project that he has neither the will nor the intellect to complete. To the young, Middlemarch is about the young; to the middle-aged, it’s about middle age.

Pamela Erens elaborates:

[Protagonist] Dorothea feels an inchoate longing to do or become something that the provinces don’t provide a ready picture of. Mead experienced this, too, although she had a better image of what might lie in the big world outside, and opportunities to reach for it.

The “it” in Mead’s case was Oxford University and a life of literature and journalism. But in Dorothea, Eliot was not writing simply about a woman born too soon for a career. Her portrait of youthful longing is more complex than that.

As Virginia Woolf put it, Dorothea and other Eliot heroines experience “a demand for something  —they scarcely know what — for something that is perhaps incompatible with the facts of human existence.” The book speaks, writes Mead, to the part of girlhood that asks:

How on earth might one contain one’s intolerable, overpowering, private yearnings? Where is a woman to put her energies? How is she to express her longings? What can she do to exercise her potential and affect the lives of others? What, in the end, is a young woman to do with herself?

In this sense, Eliot is a poet of youthful longing (not merely in women but also in men) — of what it feels like to suffer “the burthen of larger wants than others seemed to feel,” as Eliot writes of Maggie Tulliver in her earlier novel The Mill on the Floss — and one can see why Middlemarch has hypnotized sensitive, introspective, ambitious young women for many generations.

Torturing The Mentally Ill

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 14 2014 @ 11:46am

Reporting on the shocking treatment of mentally ill inmates in South Carolina’s prisons, Andrew Cohen asks why the state has refused to do anything about it:

On Wednesday, in one of the most wrenching opinions you will ever read, a state judge in Columbia ruled that South Carolina prison officials were culpable of pervasive, systemic, unremitting violations of the state’s constitution by abusing and neglecting mentally ill inmates. The judge, Michael Baxley, a decorated former legislator, called it the “most troubling” case he ever had seen and I cannot disagree. Read the ruling. It’s heartbreaking. The evidence is now sadly familiar to anyone who follows these cases: South Carolina today mistreats these ill people without any evident traces of remorse.  Even though there are few disputed material issues of law or fact in the case, even though the judge implored the state to take responsibility for its conduct, South Carolina declared before the sun had set Wednesday that it would appeal the ruling—and thus likely doom the inmates to years more abuse and neglect. That’s not just “deliberate indifference,” the applicable legal standard in these prison abuse cases. That is immoral.

But what makes this ruling different from all the rest—and why it deserves to become a topic of national conversation—is the emphasis Judge Baxley placed upon the failure of the good people of South Carolina to remedy what they have known was terribly wrong since at least 2000.

Nicole Flatow examines the horrors the inmates suffered:

Jerome Laudman, a schizophrenic, intellectually disabled inmate in South Carolina, was placed in solitary confinement, although he was neither aggressive nor threatening. During his transfer to the “Lee Supermax” facility, he was sprayed with chemical munitions and physically abused by a correctional officer. Although the transfer should have been recorded, the videotape turned up blank. While Laudman was confined naked in his cell, officers observed that Laudman had stopped eating and taking his medication, and appeared sick and weak. They did not report it. A week later, he was found laying in his own feces with 15-20 trays of molding food in his cell, vomiting. Nurses and an officer refused to retrieve his body. When two inmates were eventually sent to remove him, he was transferred unconscious to a hospital, where he died of a heart-attack. …

Other plaintiffs in the case were held naked in restraint chairs for hours at a time without treatment of their injuries, left to urinate in place and forced to stay in a painful “crucifix” position for hours. In one instance, blood pooled beneath an inmate held in a restraint; in another, an inmate’s intestine was protruding from his abdomen as officers tightened restraints surrounding the wound. One inmate was restrained with his arms in a twisted position, soaked in water, and then left outside on a December night.