Instagram, Drugs, and Music Festivals: an Interview with Ingmar Gorman

Image Credit Miguel Noriega
Image Credit Miguel Noriega

Two weeks ago Zel McCarthy published a story in Thump about a mysterious infographic that’s been making the rounds lately. The infographic purports to show which drugs are popular at various music festivals by scraping Instagram for references to different drugs. Anyone that knows a thing or two about research design would already raise an eyebrow but it gets worse. According to McCarthy:

this intentionally-opaque study was conducted and assembled by a Florida-based content marketing agency Fractl, which works regularly with DrugAbuse.com. While at first glance the site appears to be a credible resource for those struggling with addiction and abuse issues, it’s actually a redirect for for-profit rehab and addiction centers, mainly ones that bankrolls the site.

To help dig deep into the issues of research design, online performativity, and substance use I sat down over Skype with Ingmar Gorman, a clinical psychologist at the New School for Social Research who was quoted in the Thump article saying that this “study” was not only poorly constructed, it was also indicative of an archaic, “moralistic approach” to substance abuse research. What follows is edited to make us both sound more articulate. You can listen to the whole interview (warts and all), using the SoundCloud embed at the end of the interview. The recording, along with the sound of a computer fan and me saying “uhh” a lot, also includes something I’ll call “bonus content” about a study that used the Watson supercomputer to tell if someone was on psychedelics. Enjoy. more...

Sherlock: A Perspective on Technology and Story Telling

[SPOILER ALERT: details about the first episode of Sherlock“A Study In Pink” are discussed below. The ending is not totally given away, but major story details are revealed.]

A few weeks ago, I challenged Kurt Anderson’s claim that cultural progress and innovation had stagnated in the last twenty years. Anderson, I contend, has ignored new mediums (the Internet), re-invented genres (hip-hop, electronic music), and new cultural stereotypes (geek chic, hipsters). But what ties all of these things together is the central thesis that consumer technologies are just as much cultural artifact as clothes or music. No where is this more obvious and brilliantly executed than in BBC One’s updated interpretation of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Set in present day London, “Sherlock” is a reinterpretation of the most famous Holmes mysteries and does an excellent job of translating the Victorian source material into a modern drama. That translation includes dress, idiomatic expressions, and vehicles- but it also includes cell phones, restrictions on smoking, and the War on Terror. Sherlock is a uniquely 21st century show that could not have taken place in the early 2000s or the 90s. more...

Watson: The Benevolent Boy King of the Future

I attended a viewing and panel discussion for the final episode of Jeopardy! IBM Challenge in which IBM’s Watson supercomputer beat reigning champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a 3-night challenge of standard Jeopardy! games. Check out my previous post to read more about the tech behind Watson and what IBM hopes to do with this impressive technology.  This post will focus more on the public perception of Watson, and what it means to have a technology that is credited with producing very accurate conclusions based on complex data.

The panel discussion and viewing event was hosted at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.  In the interest of full disclosure- I am currently enrolled as an M.S./Ph.D student in RPI’s Science and Technology Studies Dept.  It’s also worth noting that Principal Investigator, David Ferrucci; research scientist Chris Welty; and Senior Software Engineer Adam Lally, are all RPI alumni.

I asked a few RPI students, during the preceding reception, two questions: 1) what they foresaw as the first application of Watson, and 2) whether or not they were afraid of Watson.  A group of three guys, Alex, Sean, and Thomas wanted to see this technology replace the Google algorithm or WebMD.  Two women, Anna and Karen, repeated what they’d heard the previous night, that Watson would be a tool to deal with “information overload.”  For the second question, all five students seemed puzzled.  How could a machine that sorts data, be evil? more...

Watson Reminds us of our Relationship to Computers

IBM_Watson

This computer isn’t connected to the internet. It takes up an entire room, and its made by IBM. This sounds like the kind of technology you would find in a 1980 edition of Compute! Magazine. Instead, Engadget has been following the story in the traditional 21st century manner of tech news coverage: live blogging with photos and under-10-minute video interviews. The new computer making news is Watson [official IBM website for the Watson project], a new 80 teraflop supercomputer meant to answer natural language questions. It was demoed last Thursday at IBM’s research facility in Armonk, NY. Watson is being tested in the most grueling tournament of fact retrieval know to humankind: it is competing in several games of Jeopardy! against reigning champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

IBM intends to commercialize the technology by selling it to large medical and data industries who need to provide lots of seemingly routine answers to questions from a wide array of topics. By developing a system that can understand the subtlety of human language -with all of its puns, idiomatic expressions, and contextual meaning- data becomes retrievable in a very human way. more...