Archive for Blade Runner

blade runner [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , on November 12, 2017 by xi'an

As the new Blade Runner 2049 film is now out, I realised I have never read the original Philip K Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?… So, when I came by it in the wonderful Libreria Marcopolo in Venezia last month, with some time to kill waiting for a free dinner table nearby (and a delicious plate of spaghetti al nero di seppia!), I bought at last the book and read it within a couple evenings. (Plus a trip back from the airport.) While the book is fascinating, both in its construction and in its connection with the first Blade Runner movie, I am somehow disappointed now I have finished it, as I was expecting a somewhat deeper story. [Warning: spoilers to follow!] On the one hand, the post-nuclear California and the hopeless life of those who cannot emigrate to Mars are bleaker and more hopeless than Ridley Scott’s film, with the yearning of Deckard for real animals (rather than his electric sheep) a major focus of the book. And only of the book. For a reason that remains unclear to me, especially because Deckard grows more and more empathic towards androids, and not only towards the ambiguous and fascinating Rachael, while being less and less convinced of his ability to “retire” rogue androids… And of distinguishing between humans and androids. And also because he ends up nurturing a toad he spotted in a deserted location, believing it to be a real animal. The background of the society, its reliance on brainless reality shows and on a religion involving augmented reality, all are great components of the novel, although they feel a bit out-dated fifty years later. (And later than the date the story is supposed to take place.) The human sheltering and helping the fugitive androids is a “chickenhead”, term used in the book for the challenged humans unable to pass the tests for emigrating to Mars. Rather than a robot designer and geek as in the film.

On the other hand, the quasi- or near-humanity of the androids hunted by Deckard is much more better rendered in the film. (Maybe simply because it is a film and hence effortlessly conveys this humanity of actors playing androids. Just like C3PO in Star Wars!) Which connections with expressionisms à la Fritz Lang and noir movies of the 50’s are almost enough to make it a masterpiece. In the book, the androids are much more inconsistent, with repeated hints that they miss some parts of the human experience. There is no lengthy fight between Deckard and the superior (android) Roy. No final existentialist message from the later. And no rescuing of Deckard that makes the android stand ethically (and literally) above Deckard. The only android with some depth is Rachael, albeit with confusing scenes. (If not as confusing as the sequence at the alternative police station that just does not make sense. Unless Deckard himself is an android, a possibility hardly envisioned in the book,.) While Scott’s Blade Runner may seem to hammer its message a wee bit too heavily, it does much better at preserving ambiguity on who is human and who is not, and at the murky moral ground of humans versus androids. In fine, I remain more impacted by the multiple dimensions, perceptions, and uncertainties in Blade Runner.  Than in Philip K Dick’s novel. Still worth reading or re-reading against watching or re-watching these movies…

[Some book covers on this page are taken from a webpage with 23 alternative covers for Do androids dream of electronic sheep?”.]

Le Monde and the replication crisis

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2015 by xi'an

An rather poor coverage of the latest article in Science on the replication crisis in psychology in Le Monde Sciences & Medicine weekly pages (and mentioned a few days ago on Andrew’s blog, with the terrific if unrelated poster for Blade Runner…):

L’étude repose également sur le rôle d’un critère très critiqué, la “valeur p”, qui est un indicateur statistique estimant la probabilité que l’effet soit bien significatif.

As you may guess from the above (pardon my French!), the author of this summary of the Science article (a) has never heard of a p-value (which translates as niveau de signification in French statistics books) and (b) confuses the probability of exceeding the observed quantity under the null with the probability of the alternative. The remainder of the paper is more classical, pointing out the need for preregistered protocols in experimental sciences. Even though it mostly states evidence, like the decrease in significant effects for prepublished protocols. Apart from this mostly useless entry, rather interesting snapshots in the issue: Stephen Hawking’s views on how information could escape a black hole, an IBM software for predicting schizophrenia, Parkinson disease as a result of hyperactive neurons, diseased Formica fusca ants taking some harmful drugs to heal, …

Significance and artificial intelligence

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2015 by xi'an

As my sorry excuse of an Internet provider has been unable to fix my broken connection for several days, I had more time to read and enjoy the latest Significance I received last week. Plenty of interesting entries, once again! Even though, faithful to my idiosyncrasies, I must definitely criticise the cover (but you may also skip till the end of the paragraph!): It shows a pile of exams higher than the page frame on a student table in a classroom and a vague silhouette sitting behind the exams. I do not know whether or not this is intentional but the silhouette has definitely been added to the original picture (and presumably the exams as well!), because the seat and blackboard behind this silhouette show through it. If this is intentional, does that mean that the poor soul grading this endless pile of exams has long turned into a wraith?! If not intentional, that’s poor workmanship for a magazine usually apt at making the most from the graphical side. (And then I could go on and on about the clearly independent choice of illustrations by the managing editor rather than the author(s) of the article…) End of the digression! Or maybe not because there also was an ugly graph from Knowledge is Beautiful about the causes of plane crashes that made pie-charts look great… Not that all the graphs in the book are bad, far from it!

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.’ S. Hawkins

The central theme of the magazine is artificial intelligence (and machine learning). A point I wanted to mention in a post following the recent doom-like messages of Gates and Hawking about AIs taking over humanity à la Blade Runner… or in Turing’s test. As if they had not already impacted our life so much and in so many ways. And no all positive or for the common good. Witness the ultra-fast codes on the stock market. Witness the self-replicating and modifying computer viruses. Witness the increasingly autonomous military drones. Or witness my silly Internet issue, where I cannot get hold of a person who can tell me what the problem is and what the company is doing to solve it (if anything!), but instead have to listen to endless phone automata that tell me to press “1 if…” and “3 else”, and that my incident ticket has last been updated three days ago… But at the same time the tone of The Independent tribune by Hawking, Russell, Tegmark, and Wilczek is somewhat misguided, if I may object to such luminaries!, and playing on science fiction themes that have been repeated so many times that they are now ingrained, rather than strong scientific arguments. Military robots that could improve themselves to the point of evading their conceptors are surely frightening but much less realistic than a nuclear reaction that could not be stopped in a Fukushima plant. Or than the long-term impacts of genetically modified crops and animals. Or than the current proposals of climate engineering. Or than the emerging nano-particles.

“If we build systems that are game-theoretic or utility maximisers, we won’t get what we’re hoping for.” P. Norvig

The discussion of this scare in Significance does not contribute much in my opinion. It starts with the concept of a perfect Bayesian agent, supposedly the state of an AI creating paperclips, which (who?) ends up using the entire Earth’s resources to make more paperclips. The other articles in this cover story are more relevant, as for instance how AI moved from pure logic to statistical or probabilist intelligence. With Yee Whye Teh discussing Bayesian networks and the example of Google translation (including a perfect translation into French of an English sentence).

Dance Dance Dance

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , on November 25, 2012 by xi'an

In the (rather nice) bookstore in Changi Aiport, I came across this book by Murakami, “Dance Dance Dance”, and got hooked by the cover catchphrase: “If Raymond Chandler had lived long enough to see Blade Runner, he might have written something like Dance Dance Dance“. And the (UK) cover looked great too. (This was also a good opportunity to get rid of my remaining Aussie coins!)

I am not a major fan of Murakami as I find his stories rather uneven and his semi-fantastic undertone sometimes completely alien: e.g., I loved the short stories in after the quake and Kafka on the Shore was a great novel. On the other hand, the first volume of 1Q84 convinced me not to look any further in the series. This novel alas belongs to the second category of books I do not like so much: for one thing, the catchphrase above is just completely inappropriate! This is not a hard-boiled detective story: there are murders, for sure, but the main character is not hard in any sense and the murders are possibly solved by psychics and ghosts. There is no dark technocratic future à la Blade Runner either, only a lingering past that remains hidden behind the daily normality as an harmless ghost. (I do not know the author of the catchphrase but I hope (s)he gets fired from The Observer) The characters in Dance Dance Dance are caricaturesque, even when they have some real depth, like the main character (whose name is never given), and it is difficult to fathom what his motivations are, as he gets carried like flotsam along the various currents of the novel. There is no conclusion to the story: some characters vanish and the main character finds some (short-term) love achievement with an hotel clerk he has been wooing the whole time. The book is not altogether unpleasant, it is well-written with a kind of counter-pace, however the psychological quandary of the main character is simply too complete to stand!