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I have a confession to make. I am an outsider. I never saw the original Blade Runner, and I don’t particularly even like sci-fi. Going in, I also didn’t have a clear idea about what the movie was going to be about, though my partner did give me an excruciatingly long history of the movie’s relationship to noir/sci-fi/western films on the way to the theater. (I literally had to check to see if my ears were bleeding).

Perhaps this makes me unqualified to speak about the merits or faults of the film. On the other hand, for this reason—and reasons of my own personal history—I may have related to this movie differently than other reviewers.

I write this reflecting as an online sex worker—someone who professionally plays the role of virtual girlfriend. Someone who, despite the fact that I am a living breathing human being with my own life and agency, takes on a role in my work that looks strikingly similar to Joi—the holographic AI girlfriend of K, the protagonist. more...

When the team here at Cyborgology first started working on The Quantified Mind, a collaboratively authored post about the increasing metrification of academic life, production, and “success”, I immediately reached out to Zach Kaiser, a close friend and collaborator. Last year, Zach produced Our Program, a short film narrated by a professor from a large research institution at which a newly implemented set of performance indicators has the full attention of the faculty.

For my post this week, then, I’d like to consider Zach an Artist in Residence at Cyborgology—someone using the production and dissemination of works that embody the types of cultural phenomena or theories covered on the blog (as it turns out, this is not Zach’s first film featured on Cyborgology). I suppose it’s up to him if he’d like to include the position on his CV. In the following, I would like to present some of my reactions to the film and let Zach respond, hopefully raising questions that can be asked in dialogue with the ones presented at the end of The Quantified Mind. In full disclosure, I am very familiar with Zach’s scholarship and art (I’m listed as a co-author or co-artist on much of it, though not Our Program in particular), so I hope I don’t lead the witness too much here.

But first, the film:


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Findings from a recent study out of Stanford University Business School by Yilun Wang and Michal Kosinski indicate that AI can correctly identify sexual preference based on images of a person’s face. The study used 35,000 images from a popular U.S. dating site to test the accuracy of algorithms in determining self-identified sexual orientation. Their sample images include cis-white people who identify as either heterosexual or homosexual. The researchers’ algorithm correctly assessed the sexual identity of men 81% of the time and women 74%. When the software had access to multiple images of each face, accuracy increased to 91% for images of men and 84% for images of women. In contrast, humans correctly discerned men’s sexual identity 61% of the time and for women, only 54%.

The authors of the study note that algorithmic detection was based on “gender atypical” expressions and “grooming” practices along with fixed facial features, such as forehead size and nose length. Homosexual-identified men appeared more feminized than their heterosexual counterparts, while lesbian women appeared more masculine. Wang and Kosinski argue that their findings show “strong support” for prenatal hormone exposure which predisposes people to same-sex attraction and has clear markers in both physiology and behavior. According to the authors’ analysis and subsequent media coverage, people with same-sex attraction were “born that way” and the essential nature of sexuality was revealed through a sophisticated technological apparatus.

While the authors demonstrate an impressive show of programming, they employ bad science, faulty philosophy, and irresponsible politics. This is because the study and its surrounding commentary maintain two lines of essentialism, and both are wrong. more...

Swarm of Birds

It feels good / To know that you really care
It feels good / To know that I can relax when I’m with you
It feels good / To know that I can be by your side
– “Feels Good” – TONY! TONI! TONE! 

Some time ago, absentmindedly tweeting about the woeful state of higher education, I received a notification that one of my tweets was liked. This being somewhat rare, I excitedly went to check out who it was from, only to find that it was one of the institutions I was directly critiquing. If they had actually read the tweets I’m sure they wouldn’t have actually ‘liked’ them, so what gives?

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to me. Periodically, as I’m sure many of us do, I get likes, follows, and retweets that seem incongruous with the content of my posts. Some are a result of Twitter users actively seeking to aggregate info, gain followers, and increase their social media presence. Others are fully automated Twitter bots.

Twitter bots, for the uninitiated, are pieces of software that use automated scripts to crawl the Twitterverse in search of particular words or phrases, to follow, like, or retweet others. In 2014 Twitter revealed that as many as 8.5% of its active accounts were likely bots. Beyond mere annoyance at the lack of a human interlocutor behind a ‘like’ or ‘follow,’ however, why care about the presence of Twitter bots or the use of algorithms to harness the power of social media?

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Google’s “Project Glass,” is the Augmented Reality (AR) Heads-up-Display (HUD) glasses offering that Google is designing for a near future Internet interactive experience.

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(Video credit: Google)

From watching their demonstration video, I certainly have some questions and observations. Google’s vision (no pun intended) of the future is a place where people ignore women except as witnesses to their achievements, talk with their mouth full, and put their live friends on hold to interact with a machine (oh wait, that’s what people do now); and is one without ads (wait…what?). Thankfully, rebelliouspixels mixed them in: more...

MVS Virtual Cable™ and Virtual Signs™

In early February, I attended a fascinating conference hosted by the Telecom Council of Silicon Valley. This is a first rate organization and the conference did not disappoint. Many executives were present from various telecom, mobile, middleware, AR, audio, video, electronics and computer companies to discuss the future of the “connected car.”

The car is apparently one of the next battlefields for ownership of our personal data and privacy. It is an intimate environment and there will soon be enough sensors to document every human habit and behavior within it. While cars will become the panoptic reporter to our every move, people will also be burdened with an overwhelming amount of data ostensibly aimed at “aiding” them in the driving task. There will be touch activated windshields, Augmented Reality (AR) navigation lines projected onto the windshield that guide drivers on a track of navigation, and the blending of both scenarios with the addition of ads showing up on screen. Audio feedback based on sensor activity is currently available as a service in certain commercial vehicles. Installed sensors monitor driver behavior and provide immediate audio feedback if a driver changes lanes suddenly, is speeding or engages in other unsafe behaviors. more...

In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a group of truth-seekers entreats Deep Thought, an artificially-intelligent supercomputer, to reveal the answer to the most elusive question in existence, “What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?”

Deep Thought takes up the challenge, but warns that it will require no less than seven and a half million years to produce the answer. Given the scope of the challenge, Deep Thought’s petitioners accept the computer’s terms and leave it to their descendants to benefit from Deep Thought’s protracted ruminations. Finally, following eons of cogitation, Deep Thought stirs and announces, ominously, that the long-awaited answer is ready–but Deep Thought adds that the answer is unlikely to be a crowd-pleaser. Their patience at an end, Deep Thought’s supplicants insist that the computer unveil the monumental secret that they have waited so long and faithfully to hear. At that, Deep Thought heaves an electronic sigh and pronounces that the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything is…

…forty-two. more...