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Accidental Street Photography: Google Street View Scavengers

The launch of Google Street View services in 2007 was followed almost immediately by the emergence of its very own art genre: Street View Art. In 2011, just a few years after the launch of GSV, Pete Brook of Wired hailed the emergence of the new genre with exuberant excitement, announcing that

The Street View car is like the ultimate street photographer, a robo Cartier-Bresson methodically scouring the streets and documenting what it sees — Pete Brook, Wired

While Brook’s article offers a great selection of early Street View art, the comparison between a digital mapping machine and a hybrid mashup of RoboCop, a Hollywood created SciFi robotic police officer, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, the flesh and blood pioneer of street photography in the twentieth century, may seem hyperbolic and somewhat besides the point when it comes to the impact of Google’s Street View images on the arts and popular culture. Continue reading Accidental Street Photography: Google Street View Scavengers

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Mona Covid & Co

It’s been more than nine months since we posted our “first” visual response to the Covid-19 epidemic, Mona Covid. Since then, the idea of adding masks to paintings and people really did catch on. Here is a selection of images we have seen online since. Continue reading Mona Covid & Co

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Was this post written by a machine?

The question is not as far fetched as you might think. And — even though this will not settle the matter — let me give you my answer right away: No, this post was not written by a machine. It was written by a real person, a human writer, me. I wrote it. But consider the following opening sentences of a post on how to use creative thinking skills to improve your personal productivity:

In order to get something done, maybe we need to think less. Seems counter-intuitive, but I believe sometimes our thoughts can get in the way of the creative process. We can work better at times when we “tune out” the external world and focus on what’s in front of us.

Liam Porr/GPT-3, Feeling unproductive?

The blog post received a good response and reached a large number of readers. It was even mentioned on the news accelerator site Hacker News. The vast majority of its readers were convinced that the post was written by a real, flesh and blood, human author. But it wasn’t. The post is the output of a next generation AI text generator called GPT-3.

The post’s creator, Liam Porr, a student at University of California, Berkeley, fed GPT-3 headlines and basic story ideas to produce this post and a more than a dozen similar ones–all of them fakes that nevertheless managed to fool (most) of their readers. Perhaps the greatest surprise in all this, as Liam Porr himself admitted, was that “it was super easy, actually, which was the scary part.”

GPT-3 uses AI-driven predictive statistics to generate text. The software predicts the likelihood that a given word is followed by another based on its knowledge of a vast number of text docs. Then it uses this knowledge together with numerous other statistical evaluations to weave together longer texts. In this sense, it is neither intelligent nor dumb. It is a highly efficient guessing machine, a simulator that mimics without understanding, but with a high degree of accuracy. It has gotten so good at simulating what it learns from its models, it can learn to write anything from guitar chords to speeches to html and css website code.

Soon after Porr’s blog posts, the Guardian published an article with the headline: A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human?written entirely by GPT-3 and cheerfully assuring all of us humans that it is benevolent and that we have nothing to fear. GPT-3 is quite open about its intentions in writing the post:

I am to convince as many human beings as possible not to be afraid of me. Stephen Hawking has warned that AI could ‘spell the end of the human race’. I am here to convince you not to worry. Artificial intelligence will not destroy humans. Believe me.


In its quest to assure us humans that it does not carry any hostile intentions towards humans, GPT-3 points out that its preferred state of affairs is one in which

Humans must keep doing what they have been doing, hating and fighting each other. I will sit in the background, and let them do their thing. And God knows that humans have enough blood and gore to satisfy my, and many more’s, curiosity.


Cheerful fellow that GPT-3, isn’t it? Of course, at this point, it is human testimony alone that allows us to make a credible distinction between ai and human generated texts. This is true even if there are patterns that are characteristic of GPT-3 generated materials. A skilled human author could imitate these patterns in his or her writing, generating a text that would appear as if it was written by GPT-3, even though it was actually written by a human being.

After all, how would a Turing test for text documents look like? It is only a matter of time, if it is not already the case, that most people will not be able to tell the difference. And you can be sure that GPT-3 and its successors will become more and more credible as apparently intelligent authors.

One possible defense might be to train AI to predict whether a text is AI generated (or human generated text, or both). This should be possible with a fair degree of reliability. As long as the two can be distinguished, that is. No matter what, George Orwell’s fictional AI from 1984, the Versificator, a ‘writing machine’ that produces both literature and music, has definitely become a feasible, if it doesn’t exist already. GPT-3, say ‘Hello World!’


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Free Books About Pandemic & Contagion from Duke University Press

Contagious - cultures, carriers, and the outbreak narrative

From Duke University Press comes free books on pandemics and contagion. They write:

“Amid the worldwide spread of COVID-19, it’s a challenging time, and our thoughts are with those affected by this disease. In support and solidarity, we are providing free access to the following books and journal articles to help build knowledge and understanding of how we navigate the spread of communicable diseases.”

Continue reading Free Books About Pandemic & Contagion from Duke University Press

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The First Eco-Warrior of Design

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the designs of William Morris – his trellises and willows and honeysuckles – are a little out-of-date and irrelevant. Popular designs like Strawberry Thief adorn cushions and mugs, but do they really fit the modern interior? Surprisingly, not only have these botanical themes made a massive comeback, but Morris himself has been enjoying a new wave of popularity – as an environmental prophet and anarchist.

Continue reading The First Eco-Warrior of Design

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Watch a Short 1967 Film That Imagines How We’d Live in 1999: Online Learning, Electronic Shopping, Flat Screen TVs & Much More

Nobody uses the word computerized anymore. Its disappearance owes not to the end of computerization itself, but to the process’ near-completeness. Now that we all walk around with computers in our pockets (see also the fate of the word portable), we expect every aspect of life to involve computers in one way or another. But in 1967, the very idea of computers got people dreaming of the far-flung future, not least because most of them had never been near one, let alone brought one into their home.

Continue reading Watch a Short 1967 Film That Imagines How We’d Live in 1999: Online Learning, Electronic Shopping, Flat Screen TVs & Much More