Category Archives: writing

Deus Ex, a video game developer, his art, and reality

The topics of human enhancement and human augmentation have been featured here a number of times from a number of vantage points, including that of a video game seires with some thoughtful story lines known under the Deus Ex banner. (My August 18, 2011 posting, . August 30, 2011 posting, and Sept. 1, 2016 posting are three, which mention Deus Ex in the title but there may be others where the game is noted in the posting.)

A March 19, 2021 posting by Timothy Geigner for Techdirt offers a more fulsome but still brief description of the games along with a surprising declaration (it’s too real) by the game’s creator (Note: Links have been removed),

The Deus Ex franchise has found its way onto Techdirt’s pages a couple of times in the past. If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s a cyberpunk-ish take on the near future with broad themes around human augmentation, and the weaving of broad and famous conspiracy theories. That perhaps makes it somewhat ironic that several of our posts dealing with the franchise have to do with mass media outlets getting confused into thinking its augmentation stories were real life, or the conspiracy theories that centered around leaks for the original game’s sequel were true. The conspiracy theories woven into the original Deus Ex storyline were of the grand variety: takeover of government by biomedical companies pushing a vaccine for a sickness it created, the illuminati, FEMA [US Federal Emergency Management Agency] takeovers, AI-driven surveillance of the public, etc.

And it’s the fact that such conspiracy-driven thinking today led Warren Spector, the creator of the series, to recently state that he probably wouldn’t have created the game today if given the chance. [See pull quote below]

Deus Ex was originally released in 2000 but took place in an alternate 2052 where many of the real world conspiracy theories have come true. The plot included references to vaccinations, black helicopters, FEMA, and ECHELON amongst others, some of which have connotations to real-life events. Spector said, “Interestingly, I’m not sure I’d make Deus Ex today. The conspiracy theories we wrote about are now part of the real world. I don’t want to support that.”

… I’d like to focus on how clearly this illustrates the artistic nature of video games. The desire, or not, to create certain kinds of art due to the reflection such art receives from the broader society is exactly the kind of thing artists operating in other artforms have to deal with. Art imitates life, yes, but in the case of speculative fiction like this, it appears that life can also imitate art. Spector notes that seeing what has happened in the world since Deus Ex was first released in 2000 has had a profound effect on him as an artist. [See pull quote below]

Earlier, Spector had commented on how he was “constantly amazed at how accurate our view of the world ended up being. Frankly it freaks me out a bit.” Some of the conspiracy theories that didn’t end up in the game were those surrounding Denver Airport because they were considered “too silly to include in the game.” These include theories about secret tunnels, connections to aliens and Nazi secret societies, and hidden messages within the airport’s artwork. Spector is now incredulous that they’re “something people actually believe.”

It was possible for Geigner even back to an Oct. 18, 2013 posting to write about a UK newspaper that confused Deus Ex with reality,

… I bring you the British tabloid, The Sun, and their amazing story about an augmented mechanical eyeball that, if associated material is to be believed, allows you to see through walls, color-codes friends and enemies, and permits telescopic zoom. Here’s the reference from The Sun.

Oops. See, part of the reason that Sarif Industries’ cybernetic implants are still in their infancy is that the company doesn’t exist. Sarif Industries is a fictitious company from a cyberpunk video game, Deus Ex, set in a future Detroit. …

There’s more about Spector’s latest comments at a 2021 Game Developers Conference in a March 15, 2021 article by Riley MacLeod for Kotaku. There’s more about Warren Spector here. I always thought Deus Ex was developed by Canadian company, Eidos Montréal and, fter reading the company’s Wikipedia entry, it seems I may have been only partially correct.

Getting back to Deus Ex being ‘too real’, it seems to me that the line between science fiction and reality is increasingly frayed.

InterAction; 2021 congress (congrès) and Science Writers & Communicators of Canada (SWCC) 2021 conference

I’m a little late to the congrès (May 27 -29, 2021) but they’re still taking registrations. Of course, you will need some French language skills.

InterAction

It might be worth testing those French language skills, as the organizers (L’Association des communicateurs scientifiques du Québec [ACS]) have arranged a fairly lively programme (PDF),

JEUDI 27 MAI

13 h 00 à 13 h 30 – Kiosques

13 h 30 à 13 h 45 – Plénière Allocutions d’ouverture du congrès

13 h 45 à 14 h 30 – Plénière Discussion avec Nicolas Martin, animateur de La méthode scientifique à France Culture

14 h 30 à 14 h 45 – Pause

14 h 45 à 16 h 00 – Ateliers

(1) Laboratoire artistique
(2) La polarisation dans les communicationssur les réseaux sociaux en lien avec la COVID: bilan et perspectives

16 h 00 à 16 h 15 – Pause

16 h 15 à 17 h 00 – Plénière Discussion avec Louis T, humoriste

VENDREDI 28 MAI

13 h 30 à 14 h 00 – Kiosques

14 h 00 à 15 h 00 – Plénière Comment communiquer la science en temps de pandémie ?

15 h 00 à 15 h 30 – Pause

15 h 30 à 16 h 45 – Ateliers

(1) Discours et pensée critique
(2) Science et savoirs autochtones

16 h 45 à 17 h 30 – Pause

Dès 17 h 30 – Remise des prix 2021 de l’ACS

You can register here and there’s more information about L’Association des communicateurs scientifiques du Québec (ACS) here.

They’re also promoting the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s upcoming Science Literacy Week September 20 -26, 2021 or Semaine de la culture scientifique.

2021 Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC) Conference

In comparison with ‘Interaction’, the SWCC 2021 conference is titled: “Resilience: COVID-19. Pandemic life. Racial tension. Political unrest. Climate Change.” (The organizers have arranged a virtual conference that runs from June 7, 2021 to June 17, 2021 on nonconsecutive days.

Both organizations are covering many of the same topics but they’ve adopted different tones for approaching them as evidenced in the titles. While I’ve characterized the congrès programme as lively, I’d characterize this conference programme as earnest.

You can find the 2021 conference programme here and you can find registration details here.

Getting to be more literate than humans

Lucinda McKnight, lecturer at Deakin University, Australia, has a February 9, 2021 essay about literacy in the coming age of artificial intelligence (AI) for The Conversation (Note 1: You can also find this essay as a February 10, 2021 news item on phys.org; Note 2: Links have been removed),

Students across Australia have started the new school year using pencils, pens and keyboards to learn to write.

In workplaces, machines are also learning to write, so effectively that within a few years they may write better than humans.

Sometimes they already do, as apps like Grammarly demonstrate. Certainly, much everyday writing humans now do may soon be done by machines with artificial intelligence (AI).

The predictive text commonly used by phone and email software is a form of AI writing that countless humans use every day.

According to an industry research organisation Gartner, AI and related technology will automate production of 30% of all content found on the internet by 2022.

Some prose, poetry, reports, newsletters, opinion articles, reviews, slogans and scripts are already being written by artificial intelligence.

Literacy increasingly means and includes interacting with and critically evaluating AI.

This means our children should no longer be taught just formulaic writing. [emphasis mine] Instead, writing education should encompass skills that go beyond the capacities of artificial intelligence.

McKnight’s focus is on how Australian education should approach the coming AI writer ‘supremacy’, from her February 9, 2021 essay (Note: Links have been removed),

In 2019, the New Yorker magazine did an experiment to see if IT company OpenAI’s natural language generator GPT-2 could write an entire article in the magazine’s distinctive style. This attempt had limited success, with the generator making many errors.

But by 2020, GPT-3, the new version of the machine, trained on even more data, wrote an article for The Guardian newspaper with the headline “A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human?”

This latest much improved generator has implications for the future of journalism, as the Elon Musk-funded OpenAI invests ever more in research and development.

AI writing is said to have voice but no soul. Human writers, as the New Yorker’s John Seabrook says, give “color, personality and emotion to writing by bending the rules”. Students, therefore, need to learn the rules and be encouraged to break them.

Creativity and co-creativity (with machines) should be fostered. Machines are trained on a finite amount of data, to predict and replicate, not to innovate in meaningful and deliberate ways.

AI cannot yet plan and does not have a purpose. Students need to hone skills in purposeful writing that achieves their communication goals.

AI is not yet as complex as the human brain. Humans detect humor and satire. They know words can have multiple and subtle meanings. Humans are capable of perception and insight; they can make advanced evaluative judgements about good and bad writing.

There are calls for humans to become expert in sophisticated forms of writing and in editing writing created by robots as vital future skills.

… OpenAI’s managers originally refused to release GPT-3, ostensibly because they were concerned about the generator being used to create fake material, such as reviews of products or election-related commentary.

AI writing bots have no conscience and may need to be eliminated by humans, as with Microsoft’s racist Twitter prototype, Tay.

Critical, compassionate and nuanced assessment of what AI produces, management and monitoring of content, and decision-making and empathy with readers are all part of the “writing” roles of a democratic future.

It’s an interesting line of thought and McKnight’s ideas about writing education could be applicable beyond Australia., assuming you accept her basic premise.

I have a few other postings here about AI and writing:

Writing and AI or is a robot writing this blog? a July 16, 2014 posting

AI (artificial intelligence) text generator, too dangerous to release? a February 18, 2019 posting

Automated science writing? a September 16, 2019 posting

It seems I have a lot of question about the automation of any kind of writing.

Printing paper loudspeakers

When I was working on my undergraduate communications degree, we spent a fair chunk of time discussing the printed word; this introduction (below in the excerpt) brings back memories. I am going to start with an excerpt from the study (link and citation to follow at the end of this post) before moving on to the news item and press release. It’s a good introduction (Note Links have been removed),

For a long time, paper has been used as storing medium for written information only [emphasis mine]. In combination with the development of printing technologies, it became one of the most relevant materials as information could be reproduced multiple times and brought to millions of people in a simple, cheap, and fast way. However, with the digital revolution the end of paper has been forecasted.

However, paper still has its big advantages. The yearly production is still huge with over 400 million tons worldwide[1] for a wide application range going much beyond conventional books, newspapers, packages, or sanitary products. It is a natural light‐weight, flexible, recyclable, multi‐functional material making it an ideal candidate as part of novel electronic devices, especially based on printed electronics.[2] During the last decade, a wide variety of electronic functionalities have been demonstrated with paper as the common substrate platform. It has been used as basis for organic circuits,[3] microwave and digital electronics,[4] sensors,[5-7] actuators,[8, 9] and many more.

My first posting about this work from Chemnitz University of Technology with paper, loudspeakers, and printed electronics was a May 4, 2012 posting.

Enough of that trip down memory lane, a January 26, 2021 news item on Nanowerk announces research into printing loudspeakers onto roll-to-roll printed paper,

If the Institute for Print and Media Technology at Chemnitz University of Technology [Germany] has its way, many loudspeakers of the future will not only be as thin as paper, but will also sound impressive. This is a reality in the laboratories of the Chemnitz researchers, who back in 2015 developed the multiple award-winning T-Book – a large-format illustrated book equipped with printed electronics. If you turn a page, it begins to sound through a speaker invisibly located inside the sheet of paper.

“The T-Book was and is a milestone in the development of printed electronics, but development is continuing all the time,” says Prof. Dr. Arved C. Hübler, under whose leadership this technology trend, which is becoming increasingly important worldwide, has been driven forward for more than 20 years.

A January 26, 2021 Chemnitz University of Technology press release by Mario Steinebach/Translator: Chelsea Burris, which originated the news item, delves further into the topic,

From single-sheet production to roll-to-roll printing

Five years ago, the sonorous paper loudspeakers from Chemnitz were still manufactured in a semi-automatic single-sheet production process. In this process, ordinary paper or foils are printed with two layers of a conductive organic polymer as electrodes. A piezoelectric layer is sandwiched between them as the active element, which causes the paper or film to vibrate. Loud and clear sound is produced by air displacement. The two sides of the speaker paper can be printed in color. Since this was only possible in individual sheets in limited formats, the efficiency of this relatively slow manufacturing process is very low. That’s why researchers at the Institute of Print and Media Technology have been looking for a new way towards cost-effective mass production since May 2017.

The aim of their latest project, roll-to-roll printed speaker paper (T-Paper for short), was therefore to convert sheet production into roll production. “Researchers from the fields of print media technology, chemistry, physics, acoustics, electrical engineering, and economics from six nations developed a continuous, highly productive, and reliable roll production of loudspeaker webs,” reports project manager Georg C. Schmidt. Not only did they use the roll-to-roll (R2R) printing process for this, but they also developed inline technologies for other process steps, such as the lamination of functional layers. “This allows electronics to be embedded in the paper – invisibly and protected,” says Hübler. In addition, he says, inline polarization of piezoelectric polymer layers has been achieved for the first time and complete inline process monitoring of the printed functional layers is possible. The final project results were published in the renowned journal Advanced Materials in January 2021.

Long and lightweight paper loudspeaker webs for museums, the advertising industry, and Industry 4.0

The potential of loudspeaker paper was extended to other areas of application in the T-Paper project. For example, meter-long loudspeaker installations can now be manufactured in web form or as a circle (T-RING). “In our T-RING prototype, an almost four-meter-long track with 56 individual loudspeakers was connected to form seven segments and shaped into a circle, making a 360° surround sound installation possible,” says Schmidt. The speaker track, including printed circuitry, weighs just 150 grams and consists of 90 percent conventional paper that can be printed in color on both sides. “This means that low-cost infotainment solutions are now possible in museums, at trade shows and in the advertising industry, for example. In public buildings, for example, very homogeneous sound reinforcement of long stretches such as corridors is possible. But the process technology itself could also become interesting for other areas, such as the production of inline measurement systems for Industry 4.0,” says the project manager, looking to the future.

The T-Paper project was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research from 2017 to 2020 with 1.37 million euros as part of the Validation of the technological and societal innovation potential of scientific research – VIP+ funding measure.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Paper‐Embedded Roll‐to‐Roll Mass Printed Piezoelectric Transducers by Georg C. Schmidt, Pramul M. Panicker, Xunlin Qiu, Aravindan J. Benjamin, Ricardo A. Quintana Soler, Issac Wils, Arved C. Hübler. Advanced Materials DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adma.202006437 First published: 18 January 2021

This paper is open access.

For anyone curious about the T-Paper project, you can find it here.

Reading a virus like a book

Teaching grammar and syntax to artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms (specifically natural language processing (NLP) algorithms) has helped researchers understand and predict viral mutations more speedily. This facility is especially useful at a time when the Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus seems to be mutating into more easily transmissible variants.

Will Douglas Heaven’s Jan. 14, 2021 article for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT Technology Review describes the work that links AI, grammar, and mutating viruses (Note: Links have been removed),

Galileo once observed that nature is written in math. Biology might be written in words. Natural-language processing (NLP) algorithms are now able to generate protein sequences and predict virus mutations, including key changes that help the coronavirus evade the immune system.

The key insight making this possible is that many properties of biological systems can be interpreted in terms of words and sentences. “We’re learning the language of evolution,” says Bonnie Berger, a computational biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT].

In the last few years, a handful of researchers—including teams from geneticist George Church’s [Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at Harvard University and MIT, etc.] lab and Salesforce [emphasis mine]—have shown that protein sequences and genetic codes can be modeled using NLP techniques.

In a study published in Science today, Berger and her colleagues pull several of these strands together and use NLP to predict mutations that allow viruses to avoid being detected by antibodies in the human immune system, a process known as viral immune escape. The basic idea is that the interpretation of a virus by an immune system is analogous to the interpretation of a sentence by a human.

Berger’s team uses two different linguistic concepts: grammar and semantics (or meaning). The genetic or evolutionary fitness of a virus—characteristics such as how good it is at infecting a host—can be interpreted in terms of grammatical correctness. A successful, infectious virus is grammatically correct; an unsuccessful one is not.

Similarly, mutations of a virus can be interpreted in terms of semantics. Mutations that make a virus appear different to things in its environment—such as changes in its surface proteins that make it invisible to certain antibodies—have altered its meaning. Viruses with different mutations can have different meanings, and a virus with a different meaning may need different antibodies to read it.

Instead of millions of sentences, they trained the NLP model on thousands of genetic sequences taken from three different viruses: 45,000 unique sequences for a strain of influenza, 60,000 for a strain of HIV, and between 3,000 and 4,000 for a strain of Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes covid-19. “There’s less data for the coronavirus because there’s been less surveillance,” says Brian Hie, a graduate student at MIT, who built the models.

The overall aim of the approach is to identify mutations that might let a virus escape an immune system without making it less infectious—that is, mutations that change a virus’s meaning without making it grammatically incorrect.

But it’s also just the beginning. Treating genetic mutations as changes in meaning could be applied in different ways across biology. “A good analogy can go a long way,” says Bryson [Bryan Bryson, a biologist at MIT].

If you have time, I recommend reading Heaven’s Jan. 14, 2021 article in its entirety as it’s well written with clear explanations. As for the article’s mentions of George Church and Salesforce, the former could be expected while the latter is not (by me, I speak for no one else).

I find it fascinating that a company which describes itself (from What is Salesforce?) as providing “… customer relationship management, or CRM. It gives all your departments — including marketing, sales, commerce, and service — a shared view of your customers … ” seems to be conducting investigations into one (or more?) areas of biology.

For those who’d like to dive into the science as described in Heaven’s article, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Learning the language of viral evolution and escape by Brian Hie, Ellen D. Zhong, Bonnie Berger, Bryan Bryson. Science 15 Jan 2021: Vol. 371, Issue 6526, pp. 284-288 DOI: 10.1126/science.abd7331

This paper appears to be open access (or it is, at least for now).

There is also a preprint version available on bioRxiv, which is an open access repository.

Science communication: perspectives from 39 countries

Bravo to the team behind “Communicating Science: A Global Perspective” published in September 2020 by the Australian National University Press!

Two of the editors, Toss Gascoigne (Visiting fellow, Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, Australian National University) and Joan Leach (Professor, Australian National University) have written November 8, 2020 essay featuring their book for The Conversation,

It’s a challenging time to be a science communicator. The current pandemic, climate crisis, and concerns over new technologies from artificial intelligence to genetic modification by CRISPR demand public accountability, clear discussion and the ability to disagree in public.

Since the Second World War, there have been many efforts to negotiate a social contract between science and civil society. In the West, part of that negotiation has emphasised the distribution of scientific knowledge. But how is the relationship between science and society formulated around the globe?

We collected stories from 39 countries together into a book. …

The term “science communication” is not universal. For 50 years, what is called “science communication” in Australia has had different names in other countries: “science popularisation”, “public understanding”, “vulgarisation”, “public understanding of science”, and the cultivation of a “scientific temper”.

Colombia uses the term “the social appropriation of science and technology”. This definition underscores that scientific knowledge is transformed through social interaction.

Each definition delivers insights into how science and society are positioned. Is science imagined as part of society? Is science held in high esteem? Does association with social issues lessen or strengthen the perception of science?

Governments play a variety of roles in the stories we collected. The 1970s German government stood back, perhaps recalling the unsavoury relationship between Nazi propaganda and science. Private foundations filled the gap by funding ambitious programs to train science journalists. In the United States, the absence of a strong central agency encouraged diversity in a field described variously as “vibrant”, “jostling” or “cacophonous”.

Russia saw a state-driven focus on science through the communist years, to modernise and industrialise. In 1990 the Knowledge Society’s weekly science newspaper Argumenty i Fakty had the highest weekly circulation of any newspaper in the world: 33.5 million copies. But the collapse of the Soviet Union showed how fragile these scientific views were, as people turned to mysticism.

Eighteen countries contributing to the book have a recent colonial history, and many are from the Global South. They saw the end of colonial rule as an opportunity to embrace science. …

Science in these countries focused mainly on health, the environment and agriculture. Nigeria’s polio vaccine campaign was almost derailed in 2003 when two influential groups, the Supreme Council for Shari’ah in Nigeria and the Kaduna State Council of Imams and Ulamas, declared the vaccine contained anti-fertility substances and was part of a Western conspiracy to sterilise children. Only after five Muslim leaders witnessed a successful vaccine program in Egypt was it recognised as being compatible with the Qur’an.

If you have time, I recommend reading the entire essay, which can be found here in November 8, 2020 essay on The Conversation or in a Nov. 9, 2020 news item on phys.org.

I found more information about the book on the Australian National University Press’s Communicating Science: A Global Perspective webpage,

This collection charts the emergence of modern science communication across the world. This is the first volume to map investment around the globe in science centres, university courses and research, publications and conferences as well as tell the national stories of science communication.

Communicating Science describes the pathways followed by 39 different countries. All continents and many cultures are represented. For some countries, this is the first time that their science communication story has been told. [emphasis mine]

Here’s a link to and a citation for the book,

Communicating Science; A Global Perspective. Edited by Toss Gascoigne, Bernard Schiele, Joan Leach, Michelle Riedlinger, Bruce V. Lewenstein, Luisa Massarani, Peter Broks. DOI: http://doi.org/10.22459/CS.2020 ISBN (print): 9781760463656 ISBN (online): 9781760463663 Imprint [Publisher]: ANU Press Publication date: Sep 2020

The paper copy is $150 and I assume those are Australian dollars. There are free online and e-versions but they do ask you to: Please read Conditions of use before downloading the formats.

A commentary on the Canadian chapter, mostly

Before launching into the commentary, Here’s a bit about words.

Terminology

Terminology, whether it’s within one language or across two or more languages, is almost always an issue and science communication is no exception as is noted in the Introduction (Subsection 4, page 11),

In the course of compiling the chapters, we found that the term ‘science communication’ has many definitions and not all researchers or practitioners agree on its goals and boundaries. It has been variously described as an objective, goals, a process, a result and an outcome. This confusion over a definition is reflected in the terminology used internationally for the field. From the second half of the 20th century, what we have chosen to call ‘science communication’ for this book has flown under different headings: ‘science popularisation, ‘public understanding’, ‘vulgarisation’, ‘social appropriation of science and technology’, ‘public understanding of science’ and ‘scientific temper’ for example. In all, the chapters mention 24 separate terms for the expression ‘science communication’ that we chose. We have taken note of that variety.

Very few of the chapters which are organized by country name attempt to establish a definition. The chapter on Canada written by Michelle Riedlinger, Alexandre Schiele and Germana Barata is one of the many not offering any definitions for ‘science communication’. Although, it does offer a few other terms used as synonyms or closely allied concepts (also without definitions). They include ‘science or scientific culture’, which (according to a Nov.13.20 email from Toss Gascoigne in response to my question about science culture being a term unique to Canada) has French roots and is used in France and Canada.

Scope

The scope for both the book and the chapter on Canada is substantive and everyone involved is to be lauded for their efforts. Here’s how the book is described on the publisher’s ‘Communicating Science; A Global Perspective’ webpage (Note: more about the emphases in the ‘I love you; we need to talk’ subsection below),

This collection charts the emergence of modern science communication across the world. This is the first volume to map investment around the globe in science centres, university courses and research, publications and conferences as well as tell the national stories of science communication. [emphases mine]

The authors of the Canada chapter managed to squeeze a lot of Canadian science communication history into 21 pp. of text.

Quite an accomplishment. I am particularly admiring as earlier this year I decided to produce a 10 year overview (2010 – 19) of science culture in Canada and got carried away proceeded to write a 25,000 word, multi-part series.

Given the November 8, 2020 essay and its storytelling style, I wasn’t expecting the largely historical review I found in both the Canada and France chapters. I advise reading the Introduction to the book first as that will set expectations more accurately.

I love you; we need to talk

I learned a lot about the history of science communication in Canada. It’s the first time I’ve seen a document that pulls together so much material ranging from 19th century efforts to relatively contemporaneous efforts, i.e., 2018 or thereabouts.

There’s something quite exciting about recognizing the deep roots that science communication has in Canada.

I just wish the authors hadn’t taken ‘the two cultures’ (French and English) route. By doing so, they managed to write a history that ignores a lot of other influences including that of Canada’s Indigenous peoples and their impact on Canadian science, science culture, and, increasingly, science communication. (Confession, I too missed the impact from Indigenous peoples in my series.)

Plus, ‘two cultures’ seems a dated (1970s?) view of Canadian society and, by extension, its science culture and communication.

This was not the only element that seemed out of date. The authors mentioned Canada’s National Science and Technology Week without noting that the effort was rebranded in 2016 as ‘Science Odyssey’ (plus, its dates moved from Oct. to May of each year).

No surprise, the professional and institutional nature of science communication was heavily emphasized. So, it was delightful to find a section (2.10 on page 11) titled, “Citizen involvement in science communication.” Perhaps, they were constrained for space as they didn’t include the astronomy community, which I believe is amongst our oldest citizen science groups with roots that can be traced back to the 19th century (1868).

There are some other omissions (unless noted otherwise, I managed to include something on the topic in my series):

  • the Canadian Arctic and/or The North (I tried but did not succeed)
  • art/science (also known as sciart) communities
  • the maker and do-it-yourself (DIY) communities
  • open science, specifically, the open science initiative at McGill University’s Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital) (can’t remember but I probably missed this too)
  • the immigrant communities and their impact (especially obvious in light of the January 2020 downed PS752 Flight from Iran to the Ukraine; many of the passengers were Canadians and/or students coming to study and a stunning percentage of those people were in science and/or technology) (I didn’t do as good as job as I should have)
  • women or gender issues (I missed it too)
  • BIPOC representation (yes, I missed it)
  • LGBTQ+ representation (yes, me too)
  • social sciences (yes, me too)
  • etc.

The bits I emphasized in the publisher’s description of the book “science centres, university courses and research, publications and conferences as well as tell the national stories of science communication” set up tension between a ‘national story of science communication’ and a ‘national story of institutionalized and/or academic science communication’.

Clearly, the authors had an almost impossible task and by including citizen science and social media and some independent actors they made an attempt to recognize the totality. Still, I wish they had managed even a sentence or two mentioning some of these other communities of interest and/or noting the omissions.

Here’s more about the difficulties I think the authors encountered.

It’s all about central Canada

As noted with other problems, this one happened to me too (in my 2010 – 19 Canadian science culture overview). It’s as if the provinces of Ontario and Québec exert a centrifugal force throughout every aspect of our nationhood including our science and science communication. Almost everything tracks back to those provinces.

The authors have mentioned most of the provinces, although none of the three Northern territories, in their chapter, evidence they made an attempt. What confounds me is the 7 pp. of 21 pp. of text dedicated to Québec alone, in addition to the Québec mentions in the other 14 pp. If there was a problem with word count, couldn’t they have shaved off a paragraph or two to include some or all of the omissions I noted earlier? Or added a paragraph or two to the chapter?

Framing and authors

By framing the discussion about Canada within the ‘two culture’ paradigm, the authors made things difficult for themselves. Take a look at the title and first sentence for the chapter,

CANADA
One country, two cultures: Two routes to science communication

This chapter provides an account of modern science communication in Canada, including historical factors influencing its development, and the development of the distinct Province of Quebec. …

The title and discussion frame the article so tightly that anything outside the frame is an outlier, i.e., they ‘baked’ in the bias. It’s very similar to the problem in scientific research where you have to be careful about your research question because asking the wrong question or framing it poorly will result in problematic research.

Authors

It’s not unusual for family members to work in the same field and even work together (Marie and Pierre Curie spring to mind). I believe the failure to acknowledge (I checked the introduction, the acknowledgements, and the Canada chapter) the relationship between one of the authors (Alexandre Schiele, son) of the Canada chapter to one of the book’s editors (Bernard Schiele, father) was an oversight. (Both also have some sort of affiliation with the Université du Québec à Montréal [UQAM]).

Anyway, I hope subsequent editions of the book will include an acknowledgement. These days, transparency is important, eh?

Having gotten that out of the way, I was curious about the ‘Canada’ authors and found this on p. 204,

Contributors

Dr Michelle Riedlinger is an associate professor at the University of the Fraser Valley, British Columbia, Canada, and secretary of the PCST Network [Public Communication of Science and Technology Network] and her career spans the practical and theoretical sides of science communication.

Dr Alexandre Schiele holds a PhD in communication science (Sorbonne) and another in political science (University of Quebec). He is working on a project ‘Mapping the New Science Communication Landscape in Canada’.

Dr Germana Barata is a science communication researcher at the Laboratory of Advanced Studies in Journalism (Labjor) at the State University of Campinas, Brazil, and a member of the Scientific Committee of the PCST Network.

Outsiders often provide perceptive and thoughtful commentary. I did not find any discernible trace of that perspective n the chapter despite all three authors having extensive experience in other countries.

Riedlinger is more strongly associated with Australia than Canada (source: Riedlinger’s biography on the Public Communication of Science and Technology Network). As of July 2020, she is a senior lecturer at Australia’s Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Interestingly, she is also a Board member of the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC) (source: her QUT biography). I’ll get back to this membership later.

Barata is (or was?) a research associate at Simon Fraser University’s Canada Scholar Communications Lab (ScholCommLab) (source: Barata’s SFU biography) in addition to her work in Brazil.

Those two would seem to cover the southern hemisphere. The third gives us the northern hemisphere.

A. Schiele (source: his CV on ResearchGate) is (or was?) a researcher at the UQAM (Université du Québec à Montréa) East Asia Observatory and is (or was?) at (source: profile on Academia.edu) The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Louis Frieberg Center for East Asian Studies.

After looking at their biographies and CV, the Canada book chapter is even more disappointing. Yes, the authors were constrained by the book’s raison d’être and the way they framed their chapter but , perhaps, there’s something more to the story?

The future of science communication and the ‘elephant in the room’

At the conclusion of the Canada chapter (pp. 194-6), there’s this,

4. The future for modern science communication in Canada

Recent surveys of Canadian science communicators identified though Twitter and Instagram show that, compared to traditional science communication professionals, social media communicators are younger, paid less (or not at all) for their science communication activities, and have been communicating for fewer years than other kinds of science communicators (Riedlinger, Barata and Schiele [A], 2019). They are more likely to have a science background (rather than communication, journalism or education background) and are less likely to be members of professional associations. These communicators tend to be based in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, and communicate with each other through their own informal networks. Canadian social media science communicators are primarily located in the provinces identified by Schiele [B] and Landry (2012) as the most prolific regions for science communication in Canada, where Canada’s most prestigious and traditional universities are located, and where the bulk of Canada’s population is concentrated. While some science journalists and communicators in Canada mourn the perceived loss of control over science communication as a loss of quality and accuracy, others welcome digital technology for the public engagement potential it offers. For example, Canadian science Instagram communicator Samantha Yammine [emphasis mine] was recently criticised in a Sciencemagazine op-ed piece for trivialising scientific endeavours on social media (Wright, 2018). However, supporters of Yammine argued that she was successfully responding to the Instagram medium in her communication (see, for example, Lougheed, 2018 [emphasis mine]; Marks, 2018). Science has subsequently published an article by Yammine and other social media communicators on the benefits of social media for science communication (Yammine, Liu, Jarreau and Coe, 2018). Social media platforms are allowing space for sociopolitically motivated communicators in Canada to work productively. The impact of these social media science communication efforts is difficult to assess; yet open science for consensus building and support for science in society efforts are needed in Canada now more than ever.

Canada has seen increased investments in science as described by the Naylor Report and the Global Young Academy, but science communication and outreach efforts are still needed to support science culture nationally (Boon, 2017a) [emphasis mine]. Funding for activities happens at the federal level through agency funding; however, Canadian scientists, science communicators and science policymakers have criticised some recent initiatives for being primarily aimed at youth rather than adults, supporting mainly traditional and established organisations rather than innovative science communication initiatives, and having limited connection with the current and broader community of science communicators in Canada. While some science communicators are actively advocating for greater institutional support for a wider range of science communication initiatives (see Boon, 2017b) [emphasis mine], governments and scientific communities have been slow to respond.

Austerity continues to dominate public policy in Quebec, and science culture has ceased to be a priority. The Society for the Promotion of Science and Technology dissolved in 2010 and State-sponsored PCST in Quebec has come to an end. PCST actors and networks in Quebec persevere although they face difficulties in achieving an online presence in a global, yet overwhelmingly Anglophone, social media environment. However, the European Union program Horizon 2020 may very well encourage a new period of renewed government interest in science communication.

As a preface to the next subsection, I want to note that the relationships and networks I’m describing are not problematic or evil or sinister in and of themselves. We all work with friends and acquaintances and, even, family when we can. If not, we find other ways to establish affiliations such as professional and informal networks.

The advantages include confidence in the work quality, knowing deadlines will be met and that you’ll be treated fairly and acknowledged, getting a fast start, etc. There are many advantages and one of the biggest disadvantages (in my opinion) is ‘group think’, i.e., the tendency for a group to unconsciously reinforce each other’s biases.

Weirdly, outsiders such as myself have a similar problem. While people within networks tend to get reinforcing feedback, ‘group think’, outsiders don’t get much, if any. Without feedback you’re at the mercy of your search techniques and you tend to reinforce your own biases and shortsightedness (you’re inside your own echo chamber). In the end research needs to take those shortcomings, biases, and beliefs into account.

Networks and research can be a trap

All three authors are in one fashion or another closely associated with the PCST Network. Two (Riedlinger and Barata) are board or executive members of the PCST Network and one (A. Schiele) has familial relationship with a book editor (B. Schiele) who is himself an executive member of the PCST Network. (Keep tuned, there’s one more network of relationships coming up.)

Barata, Riedlinger, and A. Schiele were the research team for the ‘Mapping the New Science Communication Landscape in Canada’ project as you can see here. (Note: Oops! There’s a typo in the project title on the webpage, which, unexpectedly, is hosted by Brazil’s Laboratory of Advanced Studies in Journalism [Labjor] where Barata is a researcher.)

My points about ‘Mapping …’ and the Canada book chapter,

  1. The Canada book chapter’s ‘The impact of new and emerging technology …’ has roots that can be traced back to the ‘Mapping’ project, which focused on social media (specifically, Instagram and Twitter).
  2. The ‘Mapping’ project is heavily dependent on one network (not PCST).
  3. The Canada chapter is listed as one of the ‘Mapping’ project’s publications. (Source: Project’s Publications page).
  4. The ‘Impact’ subsection sets the tone for a big chunk of the final subsection, ‘The future …’ both heavily dependent on the ‘Mapping’ project.
  5. The ‘Mapping’ project has a few problems, which I describe in the following.

In the end, two sections of the Canada chapter are heavily dependent on one research project that the authors themselves conducted.

Rather than using an authoritative style, perhaps the authors could have included a sentence indicating that more research is needed before making definitive statements about Canadian science communication and its use of new and emerging technologies and about its future.

The second network and other issues

Counterintuitively, I’m starting with the acknowledgements in the materials produced by the three authors for their ‘Mapping’ project and then examining the Canada chapter’s ‘Impact of new emerging and technologies …’ subsection before getting back to the Canada chapter’s final subsection ‘The future …’.

The authors’ 2019 paper is interesting. You can access the title, “The landscape of science communication in contemporary Canada: A focus on anglophone actors and networks” here on Academia.edu and you can access the author’s 2018 paper “Using social media metrics to identify science communicators in Canada” for the 2018 Science & You conference in Beijing, China here on ResearchGate. Both appear to be open access. That is wonderful and much appreciated.

The 2019 and 2018 papers’ Acknowledgements have something interesting (excerpt from 2019 paper),

This study was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada through Grant (892-2017-2019) to Juan Pablo Alperin [there’s a bit more info. about the grant on Alperin’s CV in the Grants subsection] and Michelle Riedlinger. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. We would like to thank the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC) for their partnership in this project. [emphasis mine] In particular, we are grateful for the continued support and assistance of Shelley McIvor, Janice Benthin and Tim Lougheed [emphasis mine] from SWCC, and Stéphanie Thibault from l’Association des communicateurs scientifiques du Québec (ACS).

It seems the partnership with SWCC very heavily influenced the text found in the Canada chapter’s subsection ‘The impact of new and emerging technologies on science communication (p. 187),

2.12. The impact of new and emerging technologies on science communication

Coupled with government ambivalence towards science communication over the last decade, Canada has experienced the impact of new and emerging technologies and changing economic conditions. These changes have reshaped the mainstream media landscape in many parts of the world, including Canada, and the effects have been exacerbated by neoliberal agendas. The changes and their impacts on Canadian journalism were captured in the Canadian survey report The Shattered Mirror (2017). The survey found that Canadians prefer to be informed through the media but on their own timelines and with little or no cost to themselves.

Canada’s science media have responded to new media in many ways. For example, in 2005, CBC’s Quirks and Quarks became the first major CBC radio show to be made available as a free podcast. Canada’s very active blogging community has been developing from the early 2000s, and recent digital initiatives are helping redefine what independent science communication looks like. These initiatives include Science Borealis, launched in 2013 [emphasis mine] (Science Borealis, 2018), Hakai Magazine [emphasis mine] launched in 2015 (Hakai Magazine, n.d.), and The Conversation Canada launched in 2017 (The Conversation Canada, 2018). Twitter, Instagram and YouTube are also supporting a growing number of science communicators engaging a diverse range of publics in digital spaces. …

[assume my emphasis for this paragraph; I didn’t have the heart to make any readers struggle through that much bolding] In 2016, the Canadian Science Writers Association changed its name to the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada Association (SWCC) to reflect the new diversity of its membership as well as the declining number of full-time journalists in mass media organisations. SWCC now describes itself as a national alliance of professional science communicators in all media, to reflect the blurring boundaries between journalism, science communication and public relations activities (SWCC, 2017). In 2017, SWCC launched the People’s Choice Awards for Canada’s favourite science site and Canada’s favourite blog to reflect the inclusion of new media.

Given that so much of the relatively brief text in this three paragraph subsection is devoted to SWCC and the examples of new media science practitioners (Science Borealis, Hakai Magazine, and Samantha Yammine) are either associated with or members of SWCC, it might have been good idea to make the relationship between the organization and the three authors a little more transparent.

We’re all in this together: PCST, SWCC, Science Borealis, Hakai Magazine, etc.

Here’s a brief recapitulation of the relationships so far: Riedlinger and Barata, both co-authors of the Canada chapter, are executive/board/committee members of the Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) network. As well, Bernard Schiele one of the co-editors of the book is also a committee member of PCST (source: PCST webpage) and, as noted earlier, he’s related to the third co-author of the Canada chapter, Alexandre Schiele.

Plus, Riedlinger is one of the book’s editors.

Interestingly, four of the seven editors for the book are members of the PCST network.

More connections:

  • Remember Riedlinger is also a board member of the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC)?
  • One of the founding members* of Science Borealis (a Canadian science blog aggregator), Sarah Boon is the managing editor for Science Borealis (source: Boon’s LinkedIn profile) and also a member of the SWCC (source: About me webpage on Watershed Notes). *Full disclosure: I too am a co-founding member of Science Borealis.*
    • Boon’s works and works from other SWCC members (e.g., Tim Lougheed) are cited in the conclusion for the Canada chapter.
  • Hakai Magazine and Science Borealis both cited as “… recent digital initiatives … helping redefine what independent science communication looks like.”
    • Hakai’s founding and current editor-in-chief is Jude Isabella, a past board member of the *SWCC’s predecessor organization Canadian Science Writers Association (source: Dec. 11, 2020 communication from Ms. Isabella)*

In short, there are many interlaced relationships.

The looking glass and a lack of self-criticism

Reviewing this work put some shortcomings of and biases in my own work into high relief. It’s one of the eternal problems, blindness, whether it’s a consequence of ‘group think’ or a failure to get out of your own personal bubble. Canadian science communication/culture is a big topic and it’s easy to get trapped in your own bubble or your group’s bubble.

As far as I can tell from reading the conference paper (2018) and the paper published in Cultures of Science (2019), there is no indication in the text that the researchers critiqued their own methodology.

Specifically,. most of the respondents to their survey were from one of two professional science communication organizations (SWCC and ACS [Association des communicateurs scientifiques du Québec]). As for the folks the authors found on Twitter and Instagram, those people had to self-identify as science communicators or use scicomm, commsci, vulgarisation and sciart as hashtags. If you didn’t use one of those hashtags, you weren’t seen. Also, ‘sciart’ can be called ‘artsci’ so, why wasn’t that hashtag also used?

In short, the research seems to have a rather narrow dataset, which is not a problem in and of itself, as long as it’s noted in your paper. Unfortunately, the authors didn’t and that problem/weakness followed the researchers into the book.

Remember the subsection: ‘2.12. The impact of new and emerging technologies on science communication’? As noted, it was heavily influenced by the co-authors own research and in this book, those words attain great authority as they are writing about Canada’s science communication and the ‘The future for modern science communication in Canada‘.

Getting back briefly to connections or, in this case, a lack of. There seems to have been one ‘outside’ editor/reviewer (source: Acknowledgements] for the book, Ranjan Chaudhuri, Associate Professor at National Institute of Industrial Engineering Mumbai (source: Chaudhuri’s LinkedIn profile). He’s the only person amongst the authors and the editors for whom I could find no connection to PCST.

(Book editors who weren’t previously mentioned: Joan Leach and Bruce V. Lewenstein were both invited speakers at the 2016 PCST Talk in Istanbul, Turkey and Peter Broks presented in 2004 at the PCST conference in Barcelona, Spain and his work was presented at a 2018 PCST conference in Dunedin, New Zealand.)

Chaudhuri doesn’t seem to have any connection and the other three seem to have, at best, a weak connection to PCST. That leaves four ‘outsiders’ to critically review and edit chapters from 39 countries. It’s an impossible job.

So, what is the future of science communication in Canada?

In the end, I have love for and two big problems with the Canada chapter.

What were they thinking?

Maybe someone could help me understand why the final paragraph of the Canada chapter is about Québec, the PCST, and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 science funding initiative.

Ending the chapter with the focus, largely, on one province, **an international organization (PCST) incorporated in Australia**, and a European science funding initiative that sunsets in 2020 to be replaced by Horizon Europe 2021-27 confounds me.

Please, someone out there, please help me. How do these impact or set the future for science communication in Canada?

Aside: the authors never mention Québec’s Agence Science-Presse. It’s an independent media outlet founded in 1978 and devoted, as you can see from the name, entirely to science. It seems like an odd omission.

Now, I have another question.

What about other realities, artificial intelligence, and more?

Why didn’t the authors mention virtual reality (VR)/augmented reality (AR)/mixed reality (MR)/cross reality (XR) and others? What about artificial intelligence (AI) and automated writing, i.e., will we need writers and communicators? (For anyone not familiar with the move to automate more of the writing process, see my July 16, 2014 posting “Writing and AI or is a robot writing this blog?” when Associated Press (AP) had made a deal with Automated Insights and my Sept. 16, 2019 posting “Automated science writing?” about some work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT].)

It’s not exactly new but what impact are games of the virtual and real life types having?

All of these technologies and others on the horizon are certain to have an effect on the future of science communication in Canada.

Confession: I too missed these new and emerging technologies when pointing to the future in my own series. (sigh) Blindness affects all of us.

The future

I wish the authors had applied a little more imagination to the ‘future’ because I think it has major possibilities grounded in both new and emerging technologies and in hopes for greater inclusiveness (Indigenous communities, citizen scientists, elders, artists, and more) in the Canadian science communication effort. As for the possible impact these groups and technologies will have on institutionalized and noninstitutionalized science communication, I would dearly like to have seen mention of the possibility if not outright speculation.

The end

There is a lot to admire in the Canada chapter. Given the amount of history they were covering, the authors were admirably succinct and disciplined. There’s a lot to be learned in this chapter.

As for the flaws, as noted many times, I am subject to many of the same ones. I have often longed for a critical reader who can see what I can’t. In some ways, it’s the same problem academics face.

Thank you to the authors and the editors for an unexpected treat. Examining their work made it possible for me to cast a jaundiced eye on some of my own, becoming my own critical reader. Again, thank you to the authors and editors of this book. I just hope this critique proves useful to someone else too.

Links

For anyone who is curious, here’s a link to the authors’ interactive map of the new landscape (Twitter and Instagram) of science communication in Canada. BTW, I was charmed by and it looks like they’re still adding to the map.

My multipart series,

Part 1 covers science communication, science media (mainstream and others such as blogging) and arts as exemplified by music and dance: The decade that was (2010-19) and the decade to come (2020-29): Science culture in Canada (1 of 5).

Part 2 covers art/science (or art/sci or sciart) efforts, science festivals both national and local, international art and technology conferences held in Canada, and various bar/pub/café events: The decade that was (2010-19) and the decade to come (2020-29): Science culture in Canada (2 of 5).

Part 3 covers comedy, do-it-yourself (DIY) biology, chief science advisor, science policy, mathematicians, and more: The decade that was (2010-19) and the decade to come (2020-29): Science culture in Canada (3 of 5).

Part 4 covers citizen science, birds, climate change, indigenous knowledge (science), and the IISD Experimental Lakes Area: The decade that was (2010-19) and the decade to come (2020-29): Science culture in Canada (4 of 5).

Part 5: includes science podcasting, eco art, a Saskatchewan lab with an artist-in-residence, the Order of Canada and children’s science literature, animation and mathematics, publishing science, *French language science media,* and more: The decade that was (2010-19) and the decade to come (2020-29): Science culture in Canada (5 of 5).

Plus,

An addendum: where I make some corrections and include a reference to some ‘biopoetry’: The decade that was (2010-19) and the decade to come (2020-29): Science culture in Canada (an addendum).

There you have it, science communication in Canada, more or less, as a book chapter and as a multipart series warts and all.

*Original: “a past board member of the SWCC’ (source: homepage of Isabella’s eponymous website)” changed on Dec. 11, 2020 to”past board member of SWCC’s predecessor organization Canadian Science Writers Association (source: Dec. 11, 2020 communication from Ms. Isabella)”

**Original:”an Australian organization (PCST)” changed on Dec. 11, 2020 to “an international organization (PCST) incorporated in Australia”

Telling stories about artificial intelligence (AI) and Chinese science fiction; a Nov. 17, 2020 virtual event

[downloaded from https://www.berggruen.org/events/ai-narratives-in-contemporary-chinese-science-fiction/]

Exciting news: Chris Eldred of the Berggruen Institute sent this notice (from his Nov. 13, 2020 email)

Renowned science fiction novelists Hao Jingfang, Chen Qiufan, and Wang Yao (Xia Jia) will be featured in a virtual event next Tuesday, and I thought their discussion may be of interest to you and your readers. The event will explore how AI is used in contemporary Chinese science fiction, and the writers’ roundtable will address questions such as: How does Chinese sci-fi literature since the Reform and Opening-Up compare to sci-fi writing in the West? How does the Wandering Earth narrative and Chinese perspectives on home influence ideas about the impact of AI on the future?

Berggruen Fellow Hao Jingfang is an economist by training and an award-winning author (Hugo Award for Best Novelette). This event will be co-hosted with the University of Cambridge Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence. 

This event will be live streamed on Zoom (agenda and registration link here) on Tuesday, November 17th, from 8:30-11:50 AM GMT / 4:30-7:50 PM CST. Simultaneous English translation will be provided. 

The Berggruen Institute is offering a conversation with authors and researchers about how Chinese science fiction grapples with artificial intelligence (from the Berggruen Institute’s AI Narratives in Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction event page),

AI Narratives in Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction

November 17, 2020

Platform & Language:

Zoom (Chinese and English, with simultaneous translation)

Click here to register.

Discussion points:

1. How does Chinese sci-fi literature since the Reform and Opening-Up compare to sci-fi writing in the West?

2. How does the Wandering Earth narrative and Chinese perspectives on home influence ideas about the impact of AI on the future

About the Speakers:

WU Yan is a professor and PhD supervisor at the Humanities Center of Southern University of Science and Technology. He is a science fiction writer, vice chairman of the China Science Writers Association, recipient of the Thomas D Clareson Award of the American Science Fiction Research Association, and co-founder of the Xingyun (Nebula) Awards for Global Chinese Science Fiction. He is the author of science fictions such as Adventure of the Soul and The Sixth Day of Life and Death, academic works such as Outline of Science Fiction Literature, and textbooks such as Science and Fantasy – Training Course for Youth Imagination and Scientific Innovation.

Sanfeng is a science fiction researcher, visiting researcher of the Humanities Center of Southern University of Science and Technology, chief researcher of Shenzhen Science & Fantasy Growth Foundation, honorary assistant professor of the University of Hong Kong, Secretary-General of the World Chinese Science Fiction Association, and editor-in-chief of Nebula Science Fiction Review. His research covers the history of Chinese science fiction, development of science fiction industry, science fiction and urban development, science fiction and technological innovation, etc.

About the Event

Keynote 1 “Chinese AI Science Fiction in the Early Period of Reform and Opening-Up (1978-1983)”

(改革开放早期(1978-1983)的中国AI科幻小说)

Abstract: Science fiction on the themes of computers and robots emerged early but in a scattered manner in China. In the stories, the protagonists are largely humanlike assistants chiefly collecting data or doing daily manual labor, and this does not fall in the category of today’s artificial intelligence. Major changes took place after the reform and opening-up in 1978 in this regard. In 1979, the number of robot-themed works ballooned. By 1980, the quality of works also saw a quantum leap, and stories on the nature of artificial intelligence began to appear. At this stage, the AI works such as Spy Case Outside the Pitch, Dulles and Alice, Professor Shalom’s Misconception, and Riot on the Ziwei Island That Shocked the World describe how intelligent robots respond to activities such as adversarial ball games (note that these are not chess games), fully integrate into the daily life of humans, and launch collective riots beyond legal norms under special circumstances. The ideas that the growth of artificial intelligence requires a suitable environment, stable family relationship, social adaptation, etc. are still of important value.

Keynote 2 “Algorithm of the Soul: Narrative of AI in Recent Chinese Science Fiction”

(灵魂的算法:近期中国科幻小说中的AI叙事)

Abstract: As artificial intelligence has been applied to the fields of technology and daily life in the past decade, the AI narrative in Chinese science fiction has also seen seismic changes. On the one hand, young authors are aware that the “soul” of AI comes, to a large extent, from machine learning algorithms. As a result, their works often highlight the existence and implementation of algorithms, bringing maneuverability and credibility to the AI. On the other hand, the authors prefer to focus on the conflicts and contradictions in emotions, ethics, and morality caused by AI that penetrate into human life. If the previous AI-themed science fiction is like a distant robot fable, the recent AI narrative assumes contemporary and practical significance. This report focuses on exploring the AI-themed science fiction by several young authors (including Hao Jingfang’s [emphasis mine] The Problem of Love and Where Are You, Chen Qiufan’s Image Maker and Algorithm for Life, and Xia Jia’s Let’s Have a Talk and Shejiang, Baoshu’s Little Girl and Shuangchimu’s The Cock Prince, etc.) to delve into the breakthroughs and achievements in AI narratives.

Hao Jingfang, one of the authors mentioned in the abstract, is currently a fellow at the Berggruen Institute and she is scheduled to be a guest according to the co-host’s the University of Cambridge’s Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI) page: Workshop: AI Narratives in Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction programme description (I’ll try not to include too much repetitive information),

Workshop 2 – November 17, 2020

AI Narratives in Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction

Programme

16:30-16:40 CST (8:30-8:40 GMT)  Introductions

SONG Bing, Vice President, Co-Director, Berggruen Research Center, Peking University

Kanta Dihal, Postdoctoral Researcher, Project Lead on Global Narratives, Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, University of Cambridge  

16:40-17:10 CST (8:40-9:10 GMT)  Talk 1 [Chinese AI SciFi and the early period]

17:10-17:40 CST (9:10-9:40 GMT)  Talk 2  [Algorithm of the soul]

17:40-18:10 CST (9:40-10:10 GMT)  Q&A

18:10-18:20 CST (10:10-10:20 GMT) Break

18:20-19:50 CST (10:20-11:50 GMT)  Roundtable Discussion

Host:

HAO Jingfang(郝景芳), author, researcher & Berggruen Fellow

Guests:

Baoshu (宝树), sci-fi and fantasy writer

CHEN Qiufan(陈楸帆), sci-fi writer, screenwriter & translator

Feidao(飞氘), sci-fi writer, Associate Professor in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at Tsinghua University

WANG Yao(王瑶,pen name “Xia Jia”), sci-fi writer, Associate Professor of Chinese Literature at Xi’an Jiaotong University

Suggested Readings

ABOUT CHINESE [Science] FICTION

“What Makes Chinese Fiction Chinese?”, by Xia Jia and Ken Liu,

The Worst of All Possible Universes and the Best of All Possible Earths: Three Body and Chinese Science Fiction”, Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

Science Fiction in China: 2016 in Review

SHORT NOVELS ABOUT ROBOTS/AI/ALGORITHM:

The Robot Who Liked to Tell Tall Tales”, by Feidao, translated by Ken Liu

Goodnight, Melancholy”, by Xia Jia, translated by Ken Liu

The Reunion”, by Chen Qiufan, translated by Emily Jin and Ken Liu, MIT Technology Review, December 16, 2018

Folding Beijing”, by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu

Let’s have a talk”, by Xia Jia

For those of us on the West Coast of North America the event times are: Tuesday, November 17, 2020, 1430 – 1750 or 2:30 – 5:50 pm. *Added On Nov.16.20 at 11:55 am PT: For anyone who can’t attend the live event, a full recording will be posted to YouTube.*

Kudos to all involved in organizing and participating in this event. It’s important to get as many viewpoints as possible on AI and its potential impacts.

Finally and for the curious, there’s another posting about Chinese science fiction here (May 31, 2019).

A mathematical sculptor, a live webcast (May 6, 2020) with theoretical cosmologist and author Katie Mack, & uniting quantum theory with Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity in a drawing

I’ve bookended information about the talk with physicist Katie Mack at Canada’s Perimeter Institute on May 6, 2020 with two items on visual art and mathematics and the sciences.

Mathematical sculpting

Robert Fathauer’s Three-Fold Hyperbolic Form exhibits negative curvature, a concept in geometry and topology that describes a surface curving in two directions at every point. Hemp crochet by Marla Peterson. Image courtesy of Robert Fathauer. [downloaded from https://www.pnas.org/content/114/26/6643.full]

You’ll find this image and a few more in a fascinating 2017 paper (see link and citation below) about mathematical sculpture,

Ferguson [Helaman Ferguson], who holds a doctorate in mathematics, never chose between art and science: now nearly 77 years old, he’s a mathematical sculptor. Working in stone and bronze, Ferguson creates sculptures, often placed on college campuses, that turn deep mathematical ideas into solid objects that anyone—seasoned professors, curious children, wayward mathophobes—can experience for themselves.

Mathematics has an intrinsic aesthetic—proofs are often described as “beautiful” or “elegant”—that can be difficult for mathematicians to communicate to outsiders, says Ferguson. “It isn’t something you can tell somebody about on the street,” he says. “But if I hand them a sculpture, they’re immediately relating to it.” Sculpture, he says, can tell a story about math in an accessible language.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Science and Culture: Armed with a knack for patterns and symmetry, mathematical sculptors create compelling forms by Stephen Ornes. PNAS [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] June 27, 2017 114 (26) 6643-6645; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1706987114

This paper appears to be open access.

Live webcast: theoretical cosmologist & science communicator Katie Mack

The live webcast will take place at 4 pm PT (1600 hours) on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. Here’s more about Katie Mack and the webcast from the event webpage (click through to the event page to get to the webcast) on the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics (PI) website,

In a special live webcast on May 6 [2020] at 7 pm ET [4 pm PT], theoretical cosmologist and science communicator Katie Mack — known to her many Twitter followers as @astrokatie — will answer questions about her favourite subject: the end of the universe.

Mack, who holds a Simons Emmy Noether Visiting Fellowship at Perimeter, will give viewers a sneak peek at her upcoming book, The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking). She will then participate in a live “ask me anything” session, answering questions submitted via social media using the hashtag #piLIVE.

Mack is an Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University whose research investigates dark matter, vacuum decay, and the epoch of reionization. Mack is a popular science communicator on social media, and has contributed to Scientific American, Slate, Sky & Telescope, Time, and Cosmos.

PI is located in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Uniting quantum theory with Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity with a drawing about light

The article by Stephon Alexander was originally published March 16, 2017 for Nautilus. My excerpts are from a getpocket.com selection,

LIGHT IN THE GARDEN: This drawing by the Oakes brothers, Irwin Gardens at the Getty in Winter, inspired the author to think anew about quantum mechanics and general relativity. The meticulous drawing, done on curved paper, allows viewers to reflect on the act of perception. Credit: Ryan and Trevor Oakes [downloaded from http://nautil.us/issue/46/balance/what-this-drawing-taught-me-about-four_dimensional-spacetime]

My aim as a theoretical physicist is to unite quantum theory with Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. While there are a few proposals for this unification, such as string theory and loop quantum gravity, many roadblocks to a complete unification remain.

Einstein’s theory tells us the gravitational force is a direct manifestation of space and time bending. The sun bends the fabric of space, much like a sleeping person bends a mattress. Planetary orbits, including Earth’s, are motion along the contours of the bent space created by the sun. This theory provides some critical insights into the nature of light.

… one summer, I had the most unexpected breakthrough. Beth Jacobs, a member of the New York Academy of Sciences’ Board of Governors, invited me and some friends to her New York City apartment to meet the Oakes twins, artists who have gained attention in recent years for their drawings as well as the innovative technique and inventions they deploy to create them. An Oakes work, Irwin Gardens at the Getty in Winter (2011), an intricate drawing of the famous gardens designed by Robert Irwin at The Getty Museum in Los Angeles, was displayed on the balcony of Jacobs’ apartment overlooking Central Park, with the backdrop of the New York City skyline lit with a warm orange sky moments before sunset.

As I gazed at the drawing, I could feel the artists challenging me to reconsider the nature of light. I began to realize I should consider not only the physics of light, but also how light information is perceived by observers, when theorizing and conceiving new principles to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity. …

Ryan and Trevor Oakes, 35, have been exploring the impact and intersection of visual perception and the physics of light since they were kids. After attending The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City, and years of experimentation and inventing new techniques, the twins exploited the notion that light information is better described when originating from a spherical surface.

Fascinating stuff. BTW, you can find the original article here on Nautilus.