Tuesday 20 September, 2022

Floral tribute

Seen on a walk the other day. 

Quote of the Day

”Every scientific statement must remain tentative for ever.

  • Karl Popper in Logik der Forschung, 1934

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

J.S. Bach | Cantata Ich habe genung BWV 82 | Mortensen | Netherlands Bach Society


What made me think of it after watching the Queen’s funeral was one of the programme notes: “Death was seen as a deliverance from the earthly vale of tears, and as a chance to unite with your creator. So rather than being heart-rending, the music exudes a subdued melancholy.”

It was recorded for the ‘All of Bach’ project on February 1st 2014 in the Geertekerk in Utrecht.

Long Read of the Day

Form, function, and the giant gulf between drawing a picture and understanding the world

A characteristically sharp essay by Gary Marcus asking awkward questions about the sensation du jour — machine-learning systems that can generate interesting graphics in response to a text prompt. They are clearly brilliant at drawing images. But how well do they understand the world?

In assessing progress towards general intelligence, the critical question should be, how much do systems like Dall-E, Imagen, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion really understand the world, such that they can reason on and act on that knowledge? When thinking about how they fit into AI, both narrow and broad, here are three questions you could ask:

  1. Can the image synthesis systems generate high quality images?

  2. Can they correlate their linguistic input with the images they produce?

  3. Do they understand the world that underlies the images they represent?

Seems to me that the answer to #3 is obvious: no.

Worth reading, though.

Remembering Philip

My notes yesterday about the Queen and her funeral led to some lovely emails from readers. David Vincent, the social historian (a draft of whose forthcoming book on the pandemic I am currently reading), wrote with a revealing account of a meeting with the late Queen’s husband:

The Queen and Philip paid a state visit to Keele around 2000. As Deputy Vice Chancellor I was allocated the deputy monarch to take around the campus. We arrived back in the main hall in which were assembled a hundred of the great and the good of North Staffordshire, standing around in groups of ten. We were meant to meet up with the Queen, but we had arrived first. Philip did not want to wait for her. So I took him through the hall, introducing him to each person – ‘This is Mr Blenkinsop of Allied Ball Bearings’ – with the aid of a crib sheet. When we arrived at the end, the Queen appeared, and Philip said he would take her round. I still had the crib sheet. Without it, he introduced her to each guest in turn, getting their name faultlessly correct. Back at the beginning, awestruck, I said to Philip (who was already about seventy), ‘how did you do that?’ ‘It’s the ties’ he said. ‘I remember each tie, and then the name of its wearer.’ I thought then, as I think now, that you can forget all the stuff about service and moral stature. Those two were just consummate professionals, really good at a really difficult job.

And Sheila Hayman reminded me of “Dining with a prince could leave you hungry for more”, a lovely piece she wrote for the Guardian in 2017 about her mother’s experience of lunch with Philip at Buck House.

Her mathematics weren’t as arcane as my dad’s, but her skills in running committees were second to none, and in addition to bludgeoning the Soviet Union into extending their olympiad to the entire world, she’d become president of the London Mathematical Society, of which the prince was patron. The lunch was her reward, but all she saw was an irritating requirement to obtain a hat.

Quakers have always had trouble with the symbolism of hats; in George Fox’s day they refused to take them off, and by now apparently having to put one on was an issue, especially when it involved the outlay of cash on something that would never be worn again. A week of mulling later, she dashed up to Peter Jones in her lunch-break, and came home triumphant, waving some offcuts of ribbon and lace, which she stitched together in 15 minutes before pinning it to her hair as she left.

Naturally, I was waiting by the front door when she got back, already planning my outfit for the first date with Prince Edward…

It’s worth reading just for the denouement!

My commonplace booklet

Carl Sagan’s Keynote Address on the threat of global warming — given in 1990. And here he is in 1985 testifying before Congress on climate change.

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