ISIS LOSES LONG KOBANI BATTLE
After more than four months of intense fighting, Kurdish fighters have taken control of the Syrian town of Kobani on the Turkish border and have driven out ISIS fighters, though these still occupy important areas outside the town, Reuters reports. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 1,600 people died in the battle, most of them jihadists, and tens of thousands have fled.
ON THIS DAY
Seventy years ago on this day, Auschwitz was liberated ... Time for your 57-second shot of history!
GUNMEN TAKE HOSTAGES IN LIBYA
Libyan security officials say that gunmen have taken hostages at a luxury Tripoli hotel popular with foreign visitors after a car bomb exploded in front of the building. At least three guards have were killed, and a witness told the AP there were at least five gunmen. The BBC says they could be linked to ISIS. The story is developing.
NEW ENGLAND BATTERED BY BLIZZARD
New York, Boston and most of the Northeast are experiencing a potentially historic blizzard, with snowfall rates approaching 4 inches per hour and winds nearing hurricane force. New York City (see photo above) is effectively closed, and life is expected to be brought to a standstill in the region, as winter storm Juno has already led to more than 7,000 flight cancellations and disrupted ground transportation.
GREEK CABINET TO BE ANNOUNCED
Newly elected Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is expected to unveil his cabinet later today, and his choices will represent a drastic change with the creation of four “super-Ministries,” newspaper To Vima reports. Athens will soon start negotiations with Brussels and other international lenders over the repayment of its debt. The chief economics spokesman for Tsipras’ party Syriza told the BBC that his country could never repay all its debt. “I haven’t met an economist in their heart of hearts that will tell you that Greece will pay back all of that debt,” he said. “It can't be done.”
“I don’t trust the policy of the United States, nor have I exchanged a word with them, but this does not mean I reject a pacific solution to the conflicts,” former Cuban leader Fidel Castro said in his first public comments since the U.S. and Cuba agreed to normalize relations.
S&P DOWNGRADES RUSSIA TO JUNK
Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s has downgraded Russia to junk status, the first time in a decade the country has reached such lows. It comes amid falling oil prices and Western sanctions that have badly hurt the economy, The Guardian reports. The U.S. and EU are threatening further economic sanctions as fighting intensifies again in eastern Ukraine.
The Koch brothers and the conservative political network they oversee plans to spend an astonishing $889 million in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, more than double what they spent in 2012 and almost as much as each party spent at the time.
UN FORCED TO HALT GAZA REBUILD
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees announced it couldn’t repair Gaza houses destroyed by the Israeli army in last summer’s war because donors who pledged to finance the rebuild have failed to pay up. “Virtually none” of the $5.4 billion pledged at the Cairo aid conference last October has reached Gaza, the agency said, adding, “This is distressing and unacceptable.”
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
ARGENTINA TO SHUTTER INTEL AGENCY
Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner has announced plans to dissolve the country’s domestic intelligence agency after the mysterious death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, The New York Times reports. Accusing rogue factions inside the agency of trying to sabotage an agreement with Iran to jointly investigate the 1994 attack on a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, she said she would create a new organization with reduced surveillance powers.
As Le Temps’ Caroline Christinaz reports, a Swiss Simon Jacomet, who was raised by Benedictine monks, makes high-end skis for a very select clientele. “Turning his back on mass production, he targets instead a niche clientele and works with the best brands, such as Bentley or Hublot,” the journalist writes. “He is tech-savvy and lets his imagination flow, inspired by tradition and the nature around him. ‘The people of the Surselva valley have a know-how in terms of craftsmanship, what must be preserved,’ Jacomet says. ‘We need their knowledge to create skis. We're six people in the workshop, and we're all from around here.’”
Read the full article, The Swiss Who Makes The Rolls Royce Of Skis.
UGANDA SUED FOR MEDICAL “BRAIN DRAIN”
A Ugandan think tank is suing the African country’s government in what it says is one of the first ever public interest litigation cases concerning a medical "brain drain," AFP reports. It has denounced the country’s policy to “export” doctors abroad while it desperately lacks medical staff. “Thousands of people will die, thousands die already," it claims, pointing out that 16 women die each day because of complications related to childbirth.
BLIZZARD FRIENDS, WITH BENEFITS
As New Yorkers prepare for a three-foot snowfall, some of them want to ensure that they don’t spend it alone.
When the world gets closer, we help you see farther
Ai-Da is touted as the first bonafide robot artist. But should we consider her paintings and poetry original or creative? Is this even art at all?
Ai-Da sits behind a desk, paintbrush in hand. She looks up at the person posing for her, and then back down as she dabs another blob of paint onto the canvas. A lifelike portrait is taking shape. If you didn’t know a robot produced it, this portrait could pass as the work of a human artist.
Ai-Da is touted as the “first robot to paint like an artist”, and an exhibition of her work called Leaping into the Metaverse opened at the Venice Biennale.
Ai-Da produces portraits of sitting subjects using a robotic hand attached to her lifelike feminine figure. She’s also able to talk, giving detailed answers to questions about her artistic process and attitudes towards technology. She even gave a TEDx talk about “The Intersection of Art and AI” (artificial intelligence) in Oxford a few years ago. While the words she speaks are programmed, Ai-Da’s creators have also been experimenting with having her write and perform her own poetry.
But how are we to interpret Ai-Da’s output? Should we consider her paintings and poetry original or creative? Are these works actually art?
Subjectivity is truth
What discussions about AI and creativity often overlook is the fact that creativity is not an absolute quality that can be defined, measured and reproduced objectively. When we describe an object – for instance, a child’s drawing – as being creative, we project our own assumptions about culture onto it.
It is always us – humans – who decide if what AI has created is art.
Indeed, art never exists in isolation. It always needs someone to give it “art” status. And the criteria for whether you think something is art is informed by both your individual expectations and broader cultural conceptions.
If we extend this line of thinking to AI, it follows that no AI application or robot can objectively be “creative”. It is always us – humans – who decide if what AI has created is art.
In our recent research, we propose the concept of the “Lovelace effect” to refer to when and how machines such as robots and AI are seen as original and creative. The Lovelace effect – named after the 19th century mathematician often called the first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace – shifts the focus from the technological capabilities of machines to the reactions and perceptions of those machines by humans.
The programmer of an AI application or the designer of a robot does not just use technical means to make the public see their machine as creative. This also happens through presentation: how, where and why we interact with a technology; how we talk about that technology; and where we feel that technology fits in our personal and cultural contexts.
Ai-Da standing next to her self-portrait in exhibition "Ai-Da: Portrait of the Robot."
Eye of the beholder
Our reception of Ai-Da is, in fact, informed by various cues that suggest her “human” and “artist” status. For example, Ai-Da’s robotic figure looks much like a human – she’s even called a “she”, with a feminine-sounding name that not-so-subtly suggests an Ada Lovelace influence.
This femininity is further asserted by the blunt bob that frames her face (although she has sported some other funky hairstyles in the past), perfectly preened eyebrows and painted lips. Indeed, Ai-Da looks much like the quirky title character of the 2001 film Amélie. This is a woman we have seen before, either in film or our everyday lives.
Ai-Da also wears conventionally “artsy” clothing, including overalls, mixed fabric patterns and eccentric cuts. In these outfits, she produces paintings that look like a human could have made them, and which are sometimes framed and displayed among human work.
Ai-Da produces paintings that look like a human could have made them.
We also talk about her as we would a human artist. An article in the Guardian, for example, gives a shout-out to “the world premier of her solo exhibition at the 2022 Venice Biennale”. If we didn’t know that Ai-Da was a robot, we could easily be led to appreciate her work as we would that of any other artist.
Some may see robot-produced paintings as coming from creative computers, while others may be more sceptical, given the fact that robots act on clear human instructions. In any case, attributions of creativity never depend on technical configurations alone – no computer is objectively creative. Rather, attributions of computational creativity are largely inspired by contexts of reception. In other words, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.
As the Lovelace effect shows, through particular social cues, audiences are prompted to think about output as art, systems as artists, and computers as creative. Just like the frames around Ai-Da’s paintings, the frames we use to talk about AI output indicate whether or not what we are looking at can be called art. But, as with any piece of art, your appreciation of AI output ultimately depends on your own interpretation.