Is there art in artificial intelligence?

I mentioned the fascinating Science Café talk on Deep Learning. At the very end, there was a thought provoking question raised by an artist in the audience who asked whether such machines could create works of art. The speaker pondered the question and answered that in his opinion, the answer is no. His reasoning was that in a work of art, the artist is trying to convey something based on their life experiences and emotions and a computer, however sophisticated and capable of learning, would not be able to draw upon such resources.
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Mass killing victims so far are simply not rich or important enough

And so we go through this once again, where somebody guns down a large number of people and Republican politicians scramble to find any reason to blame other than the one that stares them in the face and that is the easy access to high-powered weapons. What is clear is that the present system of background checks is utterly inadequate to prevent such carnages because it takes only one person with just one weapon to cause so many deaths.
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The impact of Deep Learning on our lives

The last meeting of Science Café Cleveland had as its presenter Wyatt Newman, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, who gave a fascinating presentation on the state of Deep Learning, the term given by the Artificial Intelligence community to the next stage of AI development, where machines learn to identify things and make decisions for novel situations that they have not been previously programed to deal with. It is this feature, for example, that enables self-driving vehicles to identify the various things it encounters on roads and take appropriate actions.
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Supercut of the Special Effects Oscar winners

I enjoyed this supercut of brief clips from all the past Oscar winners in the Special Effects category starting from 1927, plus all the nominees for this year’s award. While I have a deep admiration for the people who produce these amazing effects, I must admit to a soft spot for the ones from the early days before they were all done using computer graphics. How they could have got the effects using just physical models and camera trickery really impresses me.
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Some pet peeves

There are some things that in the grand scheme of life don’t matter at all but still annoy me.

One is the increasing use of overwrought headlines for news stories that promise way more than they deliver. As one might expect, I read a lot of progressive websites and am sick of overwrought and exaggerated headlines that say that this or that conservative on some program was ‘totally destroyed’ or ‘eviscerated’ or ‘went down in flames’ or ‘had a meltdown’ or something similarly dramatic. The articles never match the hype and all that usually happened is that the allegedly destroyed person simply got into a shouting match with other guests or the hosts, hardly a novelty on talk shows these days. I understand the need to generate clicks and traffic in order to generate revenue but in my case the result has been the opposite of what is intended. I actually avoid clicking on stories that have such headlines.
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The alcohol problem

I do not drink alcohol, except for the occasional champagne or wine at weddings and other social events when such beverages are used to toast people. But I grew up in a family where most of the men drank a lot and Sri Lanka has a lot of heavy drinkers so I am familiar with the problems that alcohol can cause. Given that environment, why I did not start drinking myself I do not know. Perhaps seeing the adverse ways it caused people to behave was one factor. Another may be that my group of friends in college, the age when most people pick up the habit, were not drinkers either and so it was not part of our group activities and there was no peer pressure. Alcohol was not cheap and we preferred to spend our money on films and food. It was only much later that I learned of the genetic element that predisposes some people to become alcoholics and so it is perhaps a good thing that I did not start, just in case I had the gene and it may have been triggered.
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Jew or Jewish?

Last week’s episode of the excellent radio program This American Life dealt with the trouble that can arise when people say or do something that alienates their former allies. There were two main stories. One dealt with a “dyed-in-the-wool, glock-toting, blood-red Republican from Louisiana” who proposed a bill in the state legislature that would make the bringing of toy guns to school a punishable offense. She did this after the sheriff in her parish (which is what they call counties in that state) told her about finding a gun in a school that was so realistic that it took him several minutes of close examination to figure out that it was a fake. And yet, even though that could have had deadly consequence if someone else mistook it for a real gun, he could not charge the person with any offense because there was no law on the books that prohibited highly realistic toy weapons, though these are increasingly available. But even though her proposed legislation dealt purely with toys guns and said nothing about real guns, the gun-nuts went ballistic on her, accusing her of betraying the Second Amendment because she was contributing to the impression that guns are bad.
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Film review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

I recently watched this sequel to the 1982 film Blade Runner and enjoyed it. It continues the theme of what happens when, in a dystopian future society, technology enables the creation of ‘replicants’, human-like synthetic creatures that are almost impossible to distinguish from human beings. In this film, it explores the possibility that they might become able to reproduce.
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