Sunday, May 28, 2023

AI: Storytelling, communication and B.S.

A scene from the 1992 film "The Player" seems to foretell a current dispute over the role of artificial intelligence between studios and production companies and the writers who feed them content. The dispute is one among many that have led to an ongoing strike by the writers. In "The Player" a studio executive while in a meeting with other colleagues says:

I've yet to meet a writer who could change water into wine and we have a tendency to treat them like that.

Then, the executive asks for headlines from a newspaper lying on the conference table and shows how those headlines can instantly be fashioned into recognized Hollywood movie formulas.

When another executive who reviews script submissions from writers finally comments, he says:

I was thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we can just get rid of the actors and directors, maybe we've got something.

What was a thought experiment in 1992 has become a reality today. Here is a short science fiction film written by AI. Here is one both written and directed by AI; ironically, it's about AI taking over the world. AI is now simulating actors' voices. And, at some point virtual actors (NOT digital copies of real actors) could make film and television acting obsolete...or will it?

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Faster and faster: The pace of climate change keeps surprising us

This seems like the 10th time that I've read a story that says Greenland's glaciers are melting faster than previously thought and thus the consequences of climate change are moving much more quickly than we have estimated in the past. Even the pace of such stories has picked up. I found some in 2015, 2016, 2019, 2021 and 2022.

And, back in 2013 scientists reported that just a little to the north of Greenland, their models were showing that the median estimate for an ice-free arctic in summer was 2060. (Median means half the results were before 2060 and half the results of the model were after.) Those scientists were convinced at the time that their model might be underestimating the pace of climate change in the Arctic, suggesting that an ice-free arctic might come before 2050.

Fast forward to 2020 when a study suggested that an ice-free Arctic in summer might come as soon as 2035. Not surprisingly, the story notes that the finding is "one of the more direct signs that humans are warming the Earth's climate at an even more dramatic pace than expected."

When I wrote about our human tendency to underestimate the pace of human-induced climate change way back in 2006, few people imagined that climate change would progress as quickly as it has between then and now. The idea that we have time to get ready for climate change or that climate change is "slowing down" has turned out to be a grave miscalculation.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Little things mean a lot: The world's microbiome under threat

Among the most visible species threatened with extinction are leopards, tigers, elephants, orangutans, gorillas and rhinoceroses. What may be of even greater consequence, however, are the millions of species we cannot see, the microbiome of the Earth which is essential to the life of plants and animals worldwide. As the Sixth Great Extinction proceeds, our attention ought to turn as much to these tiny creatures as to the ones who make good television commercials because we can relate to them and because they are such large and grand products of evolution on our planet.

In a recent paper, scientists outline the stakes:

Microbes regulate the major biogeochemical cycles on Earth, to the extent that signatures of microbial biogeochemical activity underpin efforts to discover extraterrestrial life. By regulating global nutrient cycles, greenhouse gas exchange, and disease transmission and protection, the Earth microbiome provides an essential life-support system to our planet. A functioning Earth without a functioning microbiome is nearly unimaginable.

Back in 2017 I asked, "Which species can we do without?" I provided a preliminary but not very helpful answer: "The answer so far is the ones that have already gone extinct while we humans have been around on the planet." But that leaves unanswered which of the remaining species we could do without. I observed:

If you consider that the broader world with which we interact has millions of species of which we are not aware, it becomes apparent that the Sixth Great Extinction is a rather clumsy and thoughtless way to play Russian roulette with human existence. We could easily cause an organism essential to our survival to go extinct without even realizing it.