Archive for robots

Klara and the Sun [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2022 by xi'an

Klara and the Sun is the latest book of Kazuo Ishiguro. I am a big admirer of Ishiguro’s books and always moved by their bittersweet exploration of humanity (or humanness?!). The remains of the day is one of my favourite books, competing with Graham Greene’s The end of the affair,  and I deeply enjoyed When we were orphans, Never let me go, and The buried giant. While this latest book exhibits the same craftsmanship in depicting human feelings and incomplete (in the sense of unsatisfactory) relations, I feel like I missed some component of the book, too many hints, the overall message… Not that I rushed through it, contrary to my habit, reading a few chapters at a time during lunch breaks. But I cannot set the separation between the subjective perception of Klara [the robotic friend], which is very clearly limited, both by her robotic sensors [lacking a sense of smell for instance] and her learning algorithm, furthermore aggravated by her wasting (?) some material to sabotage a machine, and the real world [within the novel, a vague two-tiered USA]. Because the perspective is always Klara’s. This confusion may be completely intentional and is in that sense brilliant. But I remained perplexed by the Sun central episode in the novel, which I fear reveals a side of the story I did not get. Like Джозі в якийсь момент перетворилася на робота? [Using Ukrainian to avoid spoilers for most readers!]  (In a way, Klara and the Sun is a variation on Never let me go, both dealing with a future where copies of humans could be available, for those who could afford it.)

the rising [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2021 by xi'an

When I received this second volume of the Alchemy Wars, the rising, it was most fortunately a weekend, and I devoured it within the two days! As hinted at by the title, hence not truly a spoiler!, this book ends up with the rise of the robots, thanks to the main characters already there in the first volume, Jax (reXened Daniel) the freed robot, Bérénice [missing her acute accents] the French master spy (code name Talleyrand), and Longchamp the charismatic commander of the Montréal (renamed Marseille-in-the-West) fortress. While the author seems to have invested more in the language of the Dutch Empire than in the one of the remaining French exiled to Québec, I did not spot crimes de lèse majesté on my native language (except for the above accents). A mystery remains though as to how, when crossing the Atlantic ocean, fugitives end up in Honfleur, east Normandy, and far inside the Channel. Returning to the plot per se, while its pace is breathless, with the revolutions of the characters’ paths bringing them into predictable contacts, and the dialogues are still great, the recourse to a hidden subterranean complex irked me as usual, while the repeated escapes of Bérénice from certain death, capture, brainwash, are just too much, even with the help of dei ex machina. This second volume is also less into pondering the meaning of free will and freedom, even though the sad discovery by Jax (sorry, Daniel!) of Neverland being somewhat a mirror of Netherlands is well-thought. Now waiting for the last volume and another free wekend (or a trip to Marseille!).

the mechanical [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2021 by xi'an

Read this 2015 book by Ian Tregillis with growing excitement as I was first unsure why I had ordered it. It is a mix of the Baroque Cycle and of the Difference engine, with Huygens playing the central role (rather than Newton). The postulate of the story is that he found [in the 1600’s] a way to create robots (or mechanicals, or yet Clakkers) with autonomy, prodigious strength, and unlimited “life” time. Endowing the Netherlands with such an advantage as to become the unique European power. Except for a small population of French people, living in exile in Montréal, renamed as Marseille-in-the-West, where the descendants of Louis XIV were desperately fighting the Dutch robots with their barely sufficient chemical skills… In addition to this appealing alternate history, where the French are arguing about the free will of the machines, and building underground railways to convey rogue mechanicals outside the Dutch empire, partly for being Catholics and hence following the Pope’s doctrine [and partly to try to produce their own robots], where the Pope is also a refugee in Québec, and where New Amsterdam has not turned into New York, but is a thriving colonial city in America, linked to the mother country by mechanical boats and Zeppelin-like airships, the machines are constrained to obey the humans, with the Queen’s wishes at the top of a hierarchy of constraints. And no Asimov’s law to prevent them from being used as weapons, to the French’s sorrow! But their degree of autonomous thought is such that a mere loosening of a component may remove the compulsion and turn them into rogues, i.e, free willed robots. On the converse side, a nefarious guild in charge of a Calvinist faith and of the maintenance of the robots is attempting to extend this control of the Dutch State over some humans. Which makes for a great setting discussing the blurry border between humans and AIs, with both humans and Clakkers bringing their arguments to the game… I am now eagely waiting for the second and third volumes in the series of The Alchemy Wars to arrive in the mail to continue the story!

Tales from the Loop

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2020 by xi'an

Yet another indulgence during the coronavirus quarantine was watching the series Tales from the Loop (on Amazon Prime), a science-fiction show mixing the mundane with the supernatural, as far as space opera as one can imagine. No superheroes or super-villains, but simple glitches in an otherwise sleepy Midwest small town, operating a synchrotron that opens possibilities beyond the rules of physics, especially about time. A sort of minimalist dystopia. Some critics complained at the pace or the lack of plot, which is completely beyond the point imho, as the inner life of the characters overwhelms the need for action, if any, and leaves one with bittersweet regrets in the same way closing a Maupassant or a Brontë novel makes one feel sorry for the characters and their lost opportunities. Amazingly, the idea for the show started from the eerily beautiful digital paintings of Simon Stålenhag, where he inserted rusting robots and other futuristic but decaying elements in otherwise old-fashioned (I mean from the 1980’s!, with floppy disk computers!) semi-urban landscapes. The main characters are often children and teenagers, who either perceive better than their elders the surreal capacities of their environment or are yet able to question reality into a learning experience. Rarely a happy one, although the episode corresponding to the above painting is a moving exception. Each episode is directed by a different person, including Mark Romanek (who filmed the dystopian Never let me go) and Jodie Foster for the last one. Which explains for different moods from one to the next although there is never a discontinuity in the narrative. And the hauntingly beautiful music is from Philip Glass. Highly recommended!

Statistical rethinking [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2016 by xi'an

Statistical Rethinking: A Bayesian Course with Examples in R and Stan is a new book by Richard McElreath that CRC Press sent me for review in CHANCE. While the book was already discussed on Andrew’s blog three months ago, and [rightly so!] enthusiastically recommended by Rasmus Bååth on Amazon, here are the reasons why I am quite impressed by Statistical Rethinking!

“Make no mistake: you will wreck Prague eventually.” (p.10)

While the book has a lot in common with Bayesian Data Analysis, from being in the same CRC series to adopting a pragmatic and weakly informative approach to Bayesian analysis, to supporting the use of STAN, it also nicely develops its own ecosystem and idiosyncrasies, with a noticeable Jaynesian bent. To start with, I like the highly personal style with clear attempts to make the concepts memorable for students by resorting to external concepts. The best example is the call to the myth of the golem in the first chapter, which McElreath uses as an warning for the use of statistical models (which almost are anagrams to golems!). Golems and models [and robots, another concept invented in Prague!] are man-made devices that strive to accomplish the goal set to them without heeding the consequences of their actions. This first chapter of Statistical Rethinking is setting the ground for the rest of the book and gets quite philosophical (albeit in a readable way!) as a result. In particular, there is a most coherent call against hypothesis testing, which by itself justifies the title of the book. Continue reading

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