Archive for poetry

Merci, Madame Gréco, rose noire des préaux. De l’école des enfants pas sages.

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2020 by xi'an

Manchester, United we stand!

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , on May 24, 2017 by xi'an

This is the place
In the north-west of England. It’s ace, it’s the best
And the songs that we sing from the stands, from our bands
Set the whole planet shaking.
Our inventions are legends. There’s nowt we can’t make, and so we make brilliant music
We make brilliant bands

We make goals that make souls leap from seats in the stands
And we make things from steel
And we make things from cotton
And we make people laugh, take the mick summat rotten
And we make you at home
And we make you feel welcome and we make summat happen
And we can’t seem to help it
And if you’re looking from history, then yeah we’ve a wealth

But the Manchester way is to make it yourself.
And make us a record, a new number one
And make us a brew while you’re up, love, go on
And make us feel proud that you’re winning the league
And make us sing louder and make us believe that this is the place that has helped shape the world

And so this is the place now with kids of our own. Some are born here, some drawn here, but they all call it home.
And they’ve covered the cobbles, but they’ll never defeat, all the dreamers and schemers who still teem through these streets.
Because this is a place that has been through some hard times: oppressions, recessions, depressions, and dark times.
But we keep fighting back with Greater Manchester spirit. Northern grit, Northern wit, and Greater Manchester’s lyrics.

Tony Walsh

the slow regard of silent things

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , on January 1, 2015 by xi'an

As mentioned previously, I first bought this book thinking it was the third and final volume in the Kingkiller’s Chronicles. Hence I was more than disappointed when Dan warned me that it was instead a side-story about Auri, an important but still secondary character in the story. More than disappointed as I thought Patrick Rothfuss was following the frustrating path of other fantasy authors with unfinished series (like Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin) to write shorter novels set in their universe and encyclopedias instead of focussing on the real thing! However, when I started reading it, I was so startled by the novelty of the work, the beauty of the language, the alien features of the story or lack thereof, that I forgot about my grudge. I actually finished this short book very early a few mornings past Christmas, after a mild winter storm had awaken me for good. And look forward re-reading it soon.

“Better still, the slow regard of silent things had wafted off the moisture in the air.”

This is a brilliant piece of art, much more a poème en prose than a short story. There is no beginning and no end, no purpose and no rationale to most of Auri’s actions, and no direct connection with the Kingkiller’s Chronicles story other than the fact that it takes place in or rather below the University. And even less connection with the plot. So this book may come as a huge disappointment to most readers of the series, as exemplified by the numerous negative comments found on amazon.com and elsewhere. Especially those looking for clues about the incoming (?) volume. Or for explanations of past events… Despite all this, or because of it, I enjoyed the book immensely, in a way completely detached from the pleasure I took in reading Kingkiller’s Chronicles. There is genuine poetry in the repetition of words, in the many alliterations, in the saccade of unfinished sentences, in the symmetry of Auri’s world, in the making of soap and in the making of candles, in the naming and unaming of objects. Poetry and magic, even though it is not necessarily the magic found in the Kingkiller’s Chronicles. The Slow Regard of Silent Things is simply a unique book, an outlier in the fantasy literature, a finely tuned read that shows how much of a wordsmith Rothfuss can be, and a good enough reason to patiently wait for the third volume: “She could not rush and neither could she be delayed. Some things were simply too important.”

the most human human

Posted in Books, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2013 by xi'an

“…the story of Homo sapiens trying to stake a claim on shifting ground, flanked on both sides by beast and machine, pinned between meat and math.” (p.13)

No typo in the title, this is truly how this book by Brian Christian is called. It was kindly sent to me by my friends from BUY and I realised I could still write with my right hand when commenting on the margin. (I also found the most marvellous proof to a major theorem but the margin was just too small…)  “The most human human: What artificial intelligence teaches us about being alive” is about the Turing test, designed to test whether an unknown interlocutor is a human or a machine. And eventually doomed to fail.

“The final test, for me, was to give the most uniquely human performance I could in Brighton, to attempt a successful defense against the machines.” (p.15)

What I had not realised earlier is that there is a competition every year running this test against a few AIs and a small group of humans, the judges (blindly) giving votes for each entity and selecting as a result the most human computer. And also the most human … human! This competition is called the Loebner Prize and it was taking place in Brighton, this most English of English seaside towns, in 2008 when Brian Christian took part in it (as a human, obviously!).

“Though both [sides] have made progress, the `algorithmic’ side of the field [of computer science] has, from Turing on, completely dominated the more `statistical’ side. That is, until recently.” (p.65)

I enjoyed the book, much more for the questions it brought out than for the answers it proposed, as the latter sounded unnecessarily conflictual to me, i.e. adopting a “us vs.’em” posture and whining about humanity not fighting hard enough to keep ahead of AIs… I dislike this idea of the AIs being the ennemy and of “humanity lost” the year AIs would fool the judges. While I enjoy the sci’ fi’ literature where this antagonism is exacerbated, from Blade Runner to Hyperion, to Neuromancer, I do not extrapolate those fantasised settings to the real world. For one thing, AIs are designed by humans, so having them winning this test (or winning against chess grand-masters) is a celebration of the human spirit, not a defeat! For another thing, we are talking about a fairly limited aspect of “humanity”, namely the ability to sustain a limited discussion with a set of judges on a restricted number of topics. I would be more worried if a humanoid robot managed to fool me by chatting with me for a whole transatlantic flight. For yet another thing, I do not see how this could reflect on the human race as a whole and indicate that it is regressing in any way. At most, it shows the judges were not trying hard enough (the questions reported in The most human human were not that exciting!) and maybe the human competitors had not intended to be perceived as humans.

“Does this suggest, I wonder, that entropy may be fractal?” (p.239)

Another issue that irked me in the author’s perspective is that he trained and elaborated a complex strategy to win the prize (sorry for the mini-spoiler: in case you did  not know, Brian did finish as the most human human). I do not know if this worry fear to appear less human than an AI was genuine or if it provided a convenient canvas for writing the book around the philosophical question of what makes us human(s). But it mostly highlights the artificial nature of the test, namely that one has to think in advance on the way conversations will be conducted, rather than engage into a genuine conversation with a stranger. This deserves the least human human label, in retrospect!

“So even if you’ve never heard of [Shanon entropy] beofre, something in your head intuits [it] every time you open your mouth.” (p.232)

The book spend a large amount of text/time on the victory of Deep Blue over Gary Kasparov (or, rather, on the defeat of Kasparov against Deep Blue), bemoaning the fact as the end of a golden age. I do not see the problem (and preferred the approach of Nate Silver‘s). The design of the Deep Blue software was a monument to the human mind, the victory did not diminish Kasparov who remains one of the greatest chess players ever, and I am not aware it changed chess playing (except when some players started cheating with the help of hidden computers!). The fact that players started learning more and more chess openings was a trend much before this competition. As noted in The most human human,  checkers had to change its rules once a complete analysis of the game had led to  a status-quo in the games. And this was before the computer era. In Glasgow, Scotland, in 1863. Just to draw another comparison: I like playing Sudoku and the fact that I designed a poor R code to solve Sudokus does not prevent me from playing, while my playing sometimes leads to improving the R code. The game of go could have been mentioned as well, since it proves harder to solve by AIs. But there is no reason this should not happen in a more or less near future…

“…we are ordering appetizers and saying something about Wikipedia, something about Thomas  Bayes, something about vegetarian dining…” (p.266)

While the author produces an interesting range of arguments about language, intelligence, humanity, he missed a part about the statistical modelling of languages, apart from a very brief mention of a Markov dependence. Which would have related to the AIs perspective. The overall flow is nice but somehow meandering and lacking in substance. Esp. in the last chapters. On a minor level, I also find that there are too many quotes from Hofstadter’ Gödel, Escher and Bach, as well as references to pop culture. I was surprised to find Thomas Bayes mentioned in the above quote, as it did not appear earlier, except in a back-note.

“A girl on the stairs listen to her father / Beat up her mother” C.D. Wright,  Tours

As a side note to Andrew, there was no mention made of Alan Turing’s chess rules in the book, even though both Turing and chess were central themes. I actually wondered if a Turing test could apply to AIs playing Turing’s chess: they would have to be carried by a small enough computer so that the robot could run around the house in a reasonable time. (I do not think chess-boxing should be considered in this case!)