Higher Education: AI

Higher Education: AI

A memo from the Cloud Room, written by Christopher Frizzelle.

The inaugural lecture of The Goodship Academy of Higher Education was a blast. If you haven’t checked out our previous blog post with recordings from the event, you can do so here. To end cap night one of Higher Education, below is a set of lecture notes.


Memo from the Cloud Room

Higher Education Lectures Notes for September 16, 2015

In case your memory is somewhere in the clouds…
  • The Goodship’s very first lecture/salon took place September 16, 2015. It was drizzling outside.
  • The lecturer was Blaise Aguera y Arcas, formerly of Microsoft, who now works in machine learning at Google. He talked about artificial intelligence, vectors of economic progress for men and women, how machines are outthinking us, and what machines’ capacity to outthink indicates about the future of labor and culture.
  • The facilitator was Greg Lundgren.
  • The talk was organized into five themes. One was: “Is art so uniquely human after all?” Another was: “The end of male dominance.”
  • Before our very eyes, a photo of Sir Ian McKellen as Gandolf was turned into a hypothetical painting by Picasso. It was created by a machine that was elaborating and extrapolating Picasso’s style having studied another Picasso painting. In a sense, the machine had to think to do that.
  • Another example of machine thinking: A computer trained to identify objects based on thousands of existing images was given an image of clouds. The computer hadn’t been trained to recognize clouds; it was asked what it saw in the clouds. Through repetitive intensification of top-down processing, other images began to emerge in the clouds. “It looks like some kind of Buddhist village,” Blaise said as heads and buildings seemed to be emerging out of the cloudscape.
  • “This is what it hallucinates into the image,” Blaise said as more and more objects (in particular animals, in particular animals’ eyes) took over the screen. Soon, we were deep inside an infinite fractal fantasia. What the machine saw in the clouds was either mind-blowingly wonderful or slightly upsetting, depending whom you asked.
  • “It seems like the network likes to obsess on certain things,” Blaise said, as kinds of images recurred. He also said: “the attraction to eyes is evidence of something interesting about eyes,” “the shape of eyes is a shape neural networks like, including ours,” and “a lot of what we think about being human is really just intelligence.”

Notes for the future…
  • Blaise is so brilliant that those of us whose heads were in the clouds had trouble keeping up with the wealth of wonders. There was so much fascinating material it could have been broken up into 10 talks—which come to think of it is not a bad idea.
  • Blaise definitely needs to come back to the Cloud Room and do the cloud-image thing again, because we can’t stop thinking about it and still don’t fully appreciate what it suggests about nature and machinery—which is a lovely feeling. Our own elusive understanding fills us with longing.
  • Next time we’ll have a working microphonewe didn’t plan to amplify speakers’ voices but the size of the crowd demanded it. We appreciate everyone’s patience and participation.
  • The white piano is gorgeous.
  • “Here’s an idea for future ones,” said one guest. “No cell phones. No cameras. Everyone has to sketch.”
  • “It’s all about connection. As a society, we’re starving for connection,” said Jody Hall, proprietor of Goodship, explaining the series.

Thanks for joining us for the inaugural sail. What a way to embark on this odyssey.

We will be experimenting with the format, and we’d love your feedback. For information and tickets to future lectures, visit the event page. To send questions or comments to The Goodship, email goodtimes@thegoodship.com.