Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

Trump hasn’t signed a space force into being — yet

Nat says: Okay, so this has been a news story of “bigly” proportions this week — Trump’s announcement of launching a sixth branch of the US military to be named the “space force”; something he mentioned briefly a few months ago but now it looks like he’s making things happen. However, as the shared article states, although Trump has announced his new branch of military, he hasn’t yet signed on the right dotted line to make it official; mainly because no official documentation has actually been written, or received congressional approval. Yet instead of me focusing on similar discussion points that followed this story, such as Trump’s comments about this new military branch being “Separate but equal” to the US Air Force, or his statement that “We must have American dominance in space”, I thought I would take his announcement into a more philosophical direction.

Let’s first ask ourselves — what is our obsession with space? I want you to imagine, for a moment, the human eye. The colours and patterns of the iris look like the known images we have of the Universe, and those colours surround the blackness of the pupil — the “space” where all light passes through. The reason I point this out is because all source of light is in the eye. When we look out into space, we are in fact looking at ourselves, as what you see “out there” is what your brain is doing “in here”. Space is a type of symbolism for our ever elusive mind.

So readily we believe the mind to be something that resides inside our heads, but can you locate your mind? It makes more sense to think that it is our heads that reside in a Universal mind, which we happen to name consciousness. To therefore seek to dominate space, as Trump is so boldly claiming to do, becomes symbolic for what westerners have always desired through technological pursuit: to understand life in order to control it, with the hopes that such a pursuit will one day allow us to understand what we actually want to understand, which is the nature of consciousness (the mind) itself.

Yet we miss the point entirely in such a pursuit. It is in our “doings” that we reveal our own consciousness to ourselves, but we fail to realise this when we are blinded by the belief that we exist as separate beings. What you see in the world is not what you need to see, so to speak, which is the entire message conveyed in works of art, myth and poetry. Let me take this idea one step further. In Indian philosophy, for example, there is the view of consciousness as something that needs to rise, which requires a certain and constant process of “splitting”. The most well-known split can be symbolised by the big bang. The earth, as another example, was once merged with the moon before they split; and the lands of earth were once connected (“Pangaea”) before they too broke apart, just as our population has split across such lands. Even in more modern times, our various social media apps symbolise a split of the self. All technologies, in fact, represent a split of the human form. The wheel, for example, becomes an extension of the foot.

The next big split we are striving towards is living on Mars. So, in this sense, is Trump — of all people — going to help us reach this next split with his desire to dominate space? His pursuit to venture into the void is much more existential than you (or he) might have otherwise thought. However, we can still have a laugh about it for now, especially when things like the ‘Space Force’ song are around.


Facebook develops AI to open your damn eyes in photos

Joel says: Ever taken a great family photo only to realise later that one of the people in it managed to blink at the exact moment the photo was taken? Well Facebook’s latest piece of AI tech looks to be able to fix that. No more photo’s ruined by Blinky Bob or Sleepy Susan anymore!

Facebook released a research paper this week, authored by two Facebook engineers, which outlines a new method of recreating eyes in photos using what’s known as a “exemplar generative adversarial network” or ExGAN. It’s the kind of deep learning that’s already used to generate pictures of faces from scratch and now Facebook wants to use it to fix photo’s you’ve taken that were taken at the exact moment one or more of the subject’s decided to blink.

The tech works by using a deep learning network to recreate eyes from a data set. This is where Facebook has an advantage: it can re-create your eyes using data of your own eyes rather than an existing data library made up of random people. As the article points out, Facebook “already has countless photos of you tagged on its servers from your Facebook profile, ready to cross-reference.”

Facebook is already using machine learning to help identify faces on its platform and to give you tagging suggestions. And while the current technology is just in the research phase, it’s a sign that the social network wants to maintain its dominance as a photo sharing platform.


Is there a smarter path to Artificial Intelligence?

Jakkii says: Ever the hot topic, this week my chosen piece is on Artificial Intelligence – but rather than a particular product branded ‘AI’ as in the Facebook example Joel shared, this piece explores the current “love affair” with Deep Learning as the means to our AI ends and whether there is a ‘smarter’ path to get there.

…some scientists are asking whether deep learning is really so deep after all.

“There is no real intelligence there,” said Michael I. Jordan, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of an essay published in April intended to temper the lofty expectations surrounding A.I. “And I think that trusting these brute force algorithms too much is a faith misplaced.”

Deep learning has technical limitations, and its effectiveness typically relies on huge datasets. Deep learning doesn’t understand, either – it’s more pattern recognition than cognition. This love affair with deep learning, it seems, might be both misguided and misplaced. Indeed, a growing number of people & organisations in the field are exploring other paths towards AI, which the article goes on to discuss. Many are not anti-deep learning, but rather see it as one tool in the kit – instead of the only tool in the kit.

Even Darpa, the Pentagon’s research arm, wants in on the act:

The Pentagon’s research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has proposed a program to seed university research and provide a noncommercial network for sharing ideas on technology to emulate human common-sense reasoning, where deep learning falls short. If approved, the program, Machine Common Sense, would start this fall and most likely run for five years, with total funding of about $60 million.

Artificial Intelligence as we might imagine it is still a long way from reality, but the progress in the field and what we can get computers to do using any range of techniques – including deep learning – is an endless source of wonder to me. While the complex ethics and morality in technology and of AI should never be far from our thoughts, it’s nevertheless exciting to watch the development in this space and imagine the possibilities and opportunities it may bring to us in our personal and working lives, and to our societies as a whole.


Sydney Business Insights – The Future This Week Podcast

This week: entertaining mergers, long haul economics, and the next social network wants your DNA. Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.

The stories this week:

The court’s decision to let AT&T and Time Warner merge is ridiculously bad

Ultra-long-haul flights

Genetic testing sites are the new social networks

Other stories we bring up:

The full court decision AT&T and Time Warner merger

The Kangaroo route

A new era of supersonic flight is almost here

Alternative fuel in aviation

Top 10 aviation innovations

23andMe’s update

Our previous discussion of genetic testing

How do genetic testing sites really work?

How 23andMe works

How Ancestry DNA works

Google is still overwhelmingly white and male

IBMS’s Project Debater


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