Wednesday 19 April, 2023

The end of the valley

Langdale, in the Lake District, on a glorious September day last year.

Quote of the Day

”Plato was, in my view, a very unreliable Platonist. He was too much of a philosopher to think that anything he had said was the last word.”

  • Gilbert Ryle

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

The late, lamented Alec Finn and Mary Bergin | Maid on the Green & Pádraig O’Keeffe’s


Long Read of the Day

The approaching tsunami of addictive AI-created content will overwhelm us

A perceptive essay by Charles Arthur about what lies ahead for societies that are currently playing delightedly with Generative AI like cheerful imbeciles. And the really striking thing is that he wrote it last August, two months before ChatGPT broke cover.

I sometimes wonder how often companies that rely on future technologies get their smartest people together in a room to sketch out future scenarios. Because they must do, right? When Apple came up with the first iPod, there was a certain sketchiness to it: the product was put together in a matter of months. But immediately after that, the march of product improvement (smaller form, then flash storage, then no screen, then touchscreen) showed that the executives must have sat down in a room and mapped out what would be in reach, both financial and technical, as the years rolled on.

So let’s do the same, but for machine learning and content. We’ll just put a bunch of elements here and see what shakes out…

Do read the whole thing. It’s sobering.

Doc’s dream

This (from Doc Searls’s blog) sure woke me up.

Her name is Mary Johnson. Born in 1917, the year the U.S. entered WWI, two years before women in the same country got the right to vote, she died in 1944, not long before the end of WWII. She was buried, unembalmed, in the cemetery of a Chicago church that was later abandoned. Her grave was unmarked. To make room for new commercial development in 2023, the church was razed and occupants of the cemetery were respectfully and quietly disinterred, and moved to a working cemetery elsewhere in town. In the midst, efforts were made by the coroner’s office to discover the identities of the bodies from unmarked graves before they were to be reburied. Mary’s was among them.

The difference with Mary was that her body appeared to be unchanged: a bit dusty under bits of casket lining, with light flecks on her dark skin. Except for that, she looked like she had died yesterday. When they removed her body from the casket in the hospital morgue where she was taken for DNA sampling, she was still flexible. I asked the pathologist what would account for her perfect state of preservation. The pathologist said she had no idea. Even the best embalming jobs age in the ground.

When the pathologist was out of the room, I reached to lift one of Mary’s eyelids. Before my fingers touched, both lids opened, slightly. I called out, “Come here! Come here!” Nobody came. Then both eyes opened. Her body shook as she tried to breathe.

“Code Blue! I yelled.

She was alive. Somehow, alive. After what, eighty years?

There’s more. An astonishingly vivid dream.

My commonplace booklet

ps: Lewis Carroll on postcripts

A postscript is a very useful invention, but it is not meant (as so many ladies suppose) to contain the real gist of the letter; it serves rather to throw into the shade any little matter we do not wish to make a fuss about. For example, your friend had promised to execute a commission for you in town but forgot it, thereby putting you to great inconvenience; and he now writes to apologize for his negligence. It would be cruel, and needlessly crushing, to make it the main subject of your reply. How much more gracefully it comes in thus! “P.S. Don’t distress yourself any more about having omitted that little matter in town. I won’t deny that it did put my plans out a little, at the time, but it’s all right now. I often forget things myself, and ‘those who live in glass houses, mustn’t throw stones,’ you know!”

From Lapham’s Quarterly.

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