Machines learning

But despite the hype (and… oh boy!), not in a good way. So-called artificial intelligence – no relation to intelligence, but the word just seems so suggestive – is actually just machine learning. And who teaches the machine to learn how they learn what they learn? Humans. Thus, AI/ml also includes all the joys of human foibles.

Oh, and not just the racism + sexism. Also, the burning:

For example, recommendation and advertising algorithms are often used in advertising, which in turn drives people to buy more things, which causes more carbon dioxide emissions. It’s also important to understand how AI models are used, Kaack says. A lot of companies, such as Google and Meta, use AI models to do things like classify user comments or recommend content. These actions use very little power but can happen a billion times a day. That adds up.

It’s estimated that the global tech sector accounts for 1.8% to 3.9% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Although only a fraction of those emissions are caused by AI and machine learning, AI’s carbon footprint is still very high for a single field within tech.

With a better understanding of just how much energy AI systems consume, companies and developers can make choices about the trade-offs they are willing to make between pollution and costs, Luccioni says.

I know – that’s your shocked face. But move fast because it’s important to keep up with the language as it changes and the conditions do not, or are made worse. Because the investment society that cultures large language models and the like already feels three steps ahead, because they never under-invest in PR. Relying on ‘companies and developers to make the right choices about trade-offs’ is only in any way reliable to the extent we change the end of that statement above about what they are ‘willing’ to do. Otherwise, we’re only and ever at the mercy of the companies and developers, no matter whether they blame it on some disembodied algorithm, call it machine learning or whatever.

It’s definitely artificial something.

Image via reset.org

Slutty carbon

Sure, it will bond to any old thing – just a fun-loving, good time chemical element with the symbol C and atomic number 6. Call anytime.

And though carbon is not magnetic, it does attract kooks. Okay, no harm there, chacun à son goût and all that. We’re not all kooks. We even devise ways around it – solar, wind, other means of generating that dirty dirty electricity that we enjoy so much. And you won’t believe what happens next:

This scene from the village council meeting in June helps to explain why opponents of three solar projects proposed in Pickaway County, Ohio, can say they have the support of nearly every local elected official. It shows how a committed group of local residents have dominated the debate by packing county, village and township meetings, and making their displeasure known if officials don’t fall into line.

The prevailing emotion is fear, whether it’s fear of the solar projects—or fear of upsetting the people who oppose the projects.

And the local fight has broad implications. The world needs to increase its reliance on renewable energy, an essential part of avoiding the most destructive effects of climate change. Local opposition shows some of the disconnect between global needs and the concerns of some of the people who don’t want to live next door to wind and solar projects.

It’s a little beyond as well as different from traditional NIMBYism, though also quite similar in several ways, as the locals literally don’t want to be living next to utility-scale solar. They don’t want to see it and they don’t want to hear it. Though it’s not a discussion about energy and how they get it at all. “Just leave us alone,” they might say, then step back inside and to watch the ballgame. And there’s the rub.

Whether we blame them for not wanting to connect their own usage of dirty energy to their passions for their freedom not to see it, or blame the local school district that benefits from the increase in tax revenue for not being more vocal in their support for the solar projects, the moment and the conflicts should be noted. The difficulty of telling nominally self-governing people what to do when their own understanding of any right thing is itself in conflict with abstractions like freedom is certainly one of the more devious tricks slutty carbon has played on us.

It’s sort of a next-level struggle with renewables that has nothing to do with energy – because focused on how we’re gonna watch the game or dry the clothes, or even live that far from the grocery store [don’t get me started], the question changes entirely. At least the NIMBYism is familiar.

Image: Carbon–carbon bonds get a break | Nature

Carpool Now

Not that kind.

It’s going to be the boringest, most plausible solutions that save us, part the infinity.

No tech/some tech/even with tech, the radical ideas are already here, sitting… waiting. In a discussion with colleagues about the twin scourges of traffic congestion and parking strife permanently visiting our otherwise sleepy little burg, the needless importation of already-existing strategies (get it?) eludes us in favor of trying to think of different ways to evade the problem. We’re not doing that, precisely, but trying to think of ways to incentive the creation of more surface parking instead of how to have less cars is a different kind of plague. Fortunately, we already have a rested and ready vaccine: the carpool.

It’s a word for when more than 1 person rides/drives together from/to like destinations like work or school.

We then ask our eternal question: is there an app for that?

I kid you not.

The car sharing system merges several new people into one car, which leads to meeting new people in one car, and reduces air pollution and noise pollution. The car sharing system saves the economy of each person as they share their rides and also share the cost with the other member by car. This will stop spending endless money on travel. The growth of the global carpooling market is mainly driven by the growing demand for time and cost-saving transportation facilities. A government initiative to promote carpooling due to increasing road congestion is expected to boost market growth.

But I am serious about this. Make it a game, a competition. Give people money, time off, commemorative sweatshirts, rock show tickets, whatever. Just help get us out of cars.

Got ’em by the donors

So… a strange (but relevant!) digression. All the chitter-chatter about the former president not being able to get good legal advice, I mean, the absurdity of that sentence alone.

Anyway, some possible reasons why: 1) he lies constantly, 2) he thinks he’s smarter than everyone – meaning he will get you in real legal trouble if you’re on the record representing him and 3) most important, you’ll get stiffed. So why would any attorney with federal court trial experience put their reputation on the line for any of that? The premise is self-refuting. And here’s where the green gets truly, unfortunately, meta.

He’s raising money on all this legal trouble he’s in – stolen docs, destroyed evidence, obstructing justice… and though it looks like its political fundraising, guess again. Winred is not ActBlue. The RNC is raising money from the gullible to pay his legal bills, causing them to also pull out of media buys for weak candidates, which is all fine with me, sure. But let’s call it what it is: green from the green to protect a racket of degenerate hucksterism.

Wasn’t it weird how fast the feds returned his passports? I mean, go already!

The downfall of cities that are inhuman

High-tech city-region conceptual nightmares get all the attention:

Gray had signed on to a city-building exercise so ambitious that it verges on the fantastical. An internal Neom “style catalog” viewed by Bloomberg Businessweek includes elevators that somehow fly through the sky, an urban spaceport, and buildings shaped like a double helix, a falcon’s outstretched wings, and a flower in bloom. The chosen site in Saudi Arabia’s far northwest, stretching from the sun-scorched Red Sea coast into craggy mountain badlands, has summer temperatures over 100F and almost no fresh water. Yet, according to MBS and his advisers, it will soon be home to millions of people who’ll live in harmony with the environment, relying on desalination plants and a fully renewable electric grid. They’ll benefit from cutting-edge infrastructure and a regulatory system designed expressly to foster new ideas—as long as those ideas don’t include challenging the authority of MBS. There may even be booze. Neom appears to be one of the crown prince’s highest priorities, and the Saudi state is devoting immense resources to making it a reality.

Yet five years into its development, bringing Neom out of the realm of science fiction is proving a formidable challenge, even for a near-absolute ruler with access to a $620 billion sovereign wealth fund. According to more than 25 current and former employees interviewed for this story, as well as 2,700 pages of internal documents, the project has been plagued by setbacks, many stemming from the difficulty of implementing MBS’s grandiose, ever-changing ideas—and of telling a prince who’s overseen the imprisonment of many of his own family members that his desires can’t be met.

The consultants love it, we can be sure. But it’s not just this or similar grandiose, wrecked visions. Every municipality – and they are multitude – that prioritizes roads and personal automobiles faces an acute reckoning. The sci-fi setting isn’t even necessary, the merely ubiquitous [ed. pedestrian? deja ] cities and towns that strand people just far enough away from school, food, work, and/or play represent an invisible disaster, one we don’t understand, one we will seek to blame on anyone but ourselves and in so doing, soften the ground for fascist inroads. It’s pretty straightforward and has everything to do with removing the humanity from daily interactions.

Examples like Neom could do a better job of serving to remind us of the chief failings of our own unworkable burgs, keep us off the hinterlands and more engaged in town life.

Image: A planned seaside hotel. Photographer: Iman Al-Dabbagh

Skins in the game

sidewalk plaque in Charlottesville, Virginia plaque featured chalk graffiti added by local artist Richard Parks.
(Courtesy of Richard Parks)

As if we need reminding (ed: we do!), set aside how much we hate women and remember how racist we are! The discussion about American universities – especially our oldest, most venerable institutions of higher learning – and their deep connections to slavery has barely begun to break through, even and especially at our oldest, most venerable institutions. So, while the public remains largely unaware of the history, we might wonder how universities have for so long escaped scrutiny about the past – about how they were built, how they succeeded, who they succeeded for, and how so much of this was connected to buying and selling people to use as free labor. The NYRB dives into a four new books, and sets the stage rather clearly:

One reason, perhaps, that academic institutions were spared from scrutiny was that they seemed, by design, to be physically removed from the vulgar transactions of commercial life. The trading houses where merchants contracted for consignments of cotton, rum, molasses, and human chattel; the insurance firms that indemnified slave owners for loss of human property; the clothiers that manufactured coarse smocks for enslaved field hands—all these were likely to be found among shops and markets, close to the banks from which they obtained credit and the wharves where human goods were loaded or unloaded for sale.

Think, on the other hand, of our early colleges: Harvard on its bluff above the Charles River, or Yale looking across New Haven Green toward the Long Island Sound, or Brown atop the heights of Providence. Their architecture (ecclesiastical) and setting (pastoral) seemed to say, “We stand above the fray, removed from the workaday world, in a high-minded sphere of our own.” For people like me whose shelves are filled with books about these colleges, it’s not a bad idea to paste a note every foot or so along the edge of the shelf bearing this reminder from the novelist James McBride: “The web of slavery is sticky business. And at the end of the day, ain’t nobody clear of it.”

And friends, of course it’s not just the Ivies. The preponderance of screaming denials (CRT!) and counter-recriminations (Woke!) arise out of fear and cowardice about facing this history as it bleeds to profusely into our present. Can’t stop the bleeding without finding the wound, cleaning it carefully, repairing as much damage as possible, dressing it and providing all available care for full recuperation. Only then can we attend and check on the healing.

Image via WAPO

New Unscripted: Expedition to Antarctica

The new episode of my interview podcast Unscripted focuses on Patricia Yager, professor of marine sciences, and her recent experience co-leading a research expedition to the Amundsen Sea Polynya in western Antarctica.

While many research projects on the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration were focused on sea level rise and the physical processes related to the melting, Yager served as co-chief scientist and lead P.I. on the project Artemis, designed to better understand the impact of melting glaciers and ice shelves on the coastal ocean’s biological productivity.

“The glaciers are not melting because the air temperature is warm,” Yager said in the interview. “The glaciers are melting because the ocean is warm.”

Listen to the interview on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and subscribe to Unscripted.

All of a piece

photo of freize

In an era/moment/day when fascism is ascendant, it’s a great time to declare which side you are on.

And while that may seem like an obvious statement of alliance with open society, pro-democracy forces, it’s just as important to note those who continue to declare their allegiance to authoritarian white nationalism:

Richard Donoghue, who took over as acting deputy attorney general after Barr left his job in December 2020, also testified that DOJ officials went so far as to tell the White House that Trump’s efforts to get the Department of Justice to parrot his fraud claims were an attempt to outright corrupt the election.

“I recall towards the end saying, ‘What you’re proposing is nothing less than the United States Justice Department meddling in the outcome of the presidential election,’ ” Donoghue testified.

In spite of the day’s dramatic revelations, it seems likely that House Republicans and the rest of the party will continue to rally around the former president, and even Democratic representatives seemed to acknowledge as much. “It’s a reminder that there was a period of time in the days and weeks after Jan. 6 when everybody who now defends the president, and embraces the lie, understood exactly what had happened and in some cases was apparently ashamed of their role,” Rep. Tom Malinowski said. “It was striking to hear—not surprising, but striking—to hear the former president’s attorney general say, finally, that it was all ‘bullshit.’ ”

Believe people when they tell you who they are, who repeatedly remind you that they don’t care about fair elections, are happy to attack the weak and oppressed, who believe that ‘freedom’ refers to theirs and not yours. There is no light between polite Republican voters and outright fascists, and they are not sorry about that in any way, shape, or form. If they were, we would know by now. Instead they remind us again and again: they are one and the same.

We also should note the enormous cowardice of all these so-called patriots who stormed the capitol – as well as those who egged them on and continue to do so – but when they fail and are called out on it, refuse to stand by their BS principles. Plead innocence, hide and refuse to take responsibility for their own dangerous behavior when faced with any consequences whatsoever. Honor? Dignity? Integrity? Forget it, with these people.

Image: Author photo of ’30’s era public art frieze in the fascist style, Rome.

If it woes, it leads

We’re backing into the climate future/present with woes leading the way. It’s the perfect media framing and supports the status quo – yes everything is awful. We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas, let’s see how we can keep cheap gas going a little bit longer. It’s this way, in part, because ALL of the progress is boring. For instance, wide bandgap:

Silicon and silicon carbide are useful in electronics because they are semiconductors: They can switch between being electrical conductors, as metals are, and insulators, as most plastics are. This ability makes semiconductors the key materials in transistors — the fundamental building blocks of modern electronics.

Silicon carbide differs from silicon in that it has a wide bandgap, meaning that it requires more energy to switch between the two states. Wide bandgap, or WBG, semiconductors are advantageous in power electronics because they can move more power more efficiently.

Silicon carbide is the senior citizen of WBGs, having been under development as a transistor material for decades. In that time, engineers have started using younger upstart WBG materials, like gallium nitride, or GaN. In the 1980s, researchers used gallium nitride to create the world’s first bright blue LEDs. Blue light comprises high-energy photons; gallium nitride, with its wide bandgap, was the first semiconductor that could practically produce photons with the sufficient energy. In 2014, three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for that innovation, which became ubiquitous in devices like TV screens and light bulbs.

Lately, researchers have started using gallium nitride to improve power electronics. The material reached commercial fruition over the past few years in adapters for charging phones and computers. These adapters are smaller, lighter, faster-charging and more efficient than traditional ones that use silicon transistors.

“A typical charger that you buy for your computer is 90 percent efficient,” said Jim Witham, chief executive of GaN Systems, a Canadian company that supplied the transistors in Apple’s gallium-nitride laptop chargers, which were released last fall. “Gallium nitride is 98 percent efficient. You can cut power losses by four times.”

Keep going, science.

Stare decisis

The previous three Supreme Court Justice nominees – Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barret – knowingly lied in their confirmation hearings.

From an archived Artforum preview:

Through October 15, New York’s Museum of Sex hosts Barcelona-based artist Laia Abril’s exhibition “On Abortion: And the Repercussions of Lack of Access.” One chapter of her larger project “A History of Misogyny,” “On Abortion” chronicles obstacles to reproductive choice in across the world. Abril employs a documentary mode common to conceptual art, drawing on the testimonies of individuals who were denied care. She pairs black-and-white photographic portraits of her subjects with typed statements and evidentiary images of their struggles, such as maps of their travels to neighboring countries for health care and photos of shadowy waiting rooms and plum pits (as one woman describes the size of her fetus). The subjects include Françoise, a septuagenarian Frenchwoman who performed five thousand clandestine abortions from the ’70s to the ’90s, to three Chinese women—identified by their initials ZWF, FJ, and GYL—whose abortions and sterilizations were forced upon them. Abril also uses the photographic grid format to depict the desperate measures people have taken to end pregnancy throughout history, from herbal mixtures to the coat hanger method. Alongside Abril’s work, curator Lissa Rivera exhibits birth-control artifacts from the Museum of Sex holdings and gynecological tools from the Burns Archive, a private collection in Manhattan devoted to medical photography and objects from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The sober nature of Abril’s exhibition sharply contrasts with the spectacular format of the MoSex shows directly above and below hers—on webcam models and fin de siècle stag films, respectively. Still, on a recent busy Friday night at the museum, “On Abortion” invited quiet contemplation from a busy crowd.

In January and February, the two-part show “Abortion Is Normal” was mounted at the downtown galleries Eva Presenhuber and Arsenal Contemporary Art. Conceived as a fundraiser for Downtown for Democracy, a liberal super PAC, the show donated its proceeds to Planned Parenthood and efforts to support voter education on reproductive rights. Curated by Project for Empty Space Newark cofounders Rebecca Pauline Jampol and Jasmine Wahi and co-organized by Marilyn Minter, Gina Nanni, Laurie Simmons, and Sandy Tait, the show brought together over fifty diverse artists—several with blue-chip appeal, like Barbara Kruger and Cindy Sherman. While the title polemically defined reproductive rights as normal healthcare, the works on view approached bodily and sexual autonomy in various ways, oscillating in attitude between anger, celebration, and grief. Carrie Mae Weems’s photograph The Broken, See Duchamp, 2012–16, depicts the artist in a spread-eagled posture reminiscent of Etant donnés; Hayv Kahraman’s paintings of fair-skinned, dark-haired women, punctuated with woven bits of canvas, suggest the fracturing and mending potentials of art in the wake of traumas related to sexual violation and migration. Jane Kaplowitz’s painted portraits of Ruth Bader Ginsburg lionize the Supreme Court Justice, while Jon Kessler’s multimedia collage Birmingham, 2019, mourns the victims of the 1998 bombing of an Alabama abortion clinic by the terrorist Eric Rudolph.

Image: Hayv Kahraman, Barricade 1, 2018, oil on linen, 50 x 78 x 3”.