A new project led by Associate Professor Kate McDowell and Assistant Professor Matthew Turk of the School of Information Sciences (iSchool) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign will help libraries tell data stories that connect with their audiences. Their project, “Data Storytelling Toolkit for Librarians,” has received a two-year, $99,330 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS grant RE-250094-OLS-21), under the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, which supports innovative research by untenured, tenure-track faculty.
“There are thousands of librarians who are skittish about data but love stories,” explained McDowell, who co-teaches a data storytelling course at the iSchool with Turk. “And there are hundreds of librarians who see data as fundamental, but until those librarians have a language through which to connect with the passions of the thousands who love stories, this movement toward strategic data use in the field of libraries will be stifled, along with the potential collaborative creativity of librarians.”
The data storytelling toolkit will provide a set of easy-to-adapt templates, which librarians can use to move quickly from data to story to storytelling. Librarians will be able to use the toolkit to plug in data they already have and generate data visualization and narrative structure options.
“To give an example, public libraries need to communicate employment impact. In this case, the data story will include who has become employed based on library services, how (journey map showing a visual sequence of steps from job seeking to employment), a structure for the story of an individual’s outcomes, and a strong data visualization strategy for communicating this impact,” said McDowell.
According to the researchers, the toolkit will be clearly defined so that librarians understand the potential for communicating with data but also fully adaptable to each librarian’s setting and to the communication needs inside the organization and with the public. The project will focus on community college and public libraries, with initial collaborators to include Ericson Public Library in Boone, Iowa; Oregon City (OR) Public Library; Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Illinois; Jackson State Community College in Jackson, Tennessee; and The Urbana Free Library.
McDowell’s storytelling research has involved training collaborations with advancement staff both at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois system; storytelling consulting work for multiple nonprofits including the 50th anniversary of the statewide Prairie Rivers Network that protects Illinois water; and storytelling lectures for the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI). McDowell researches and publishes in the areas of storytelling at work, social justice storytelling, and what library storytelling can teach the information sciences about data storytelling. She holds both an MS and PhD in library and information science from Illinois.
Turk also holds an appointment with the Department of Astronomy in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois. His research focuses on how individuals interact with data and how that data is processed and understood. He is a recipient of the prestigious Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Moore Investigator Award in Data-Driven Discovery. Turk holds a PhD in physics from Stanford University.
Collecting and understanding data is important, but equally important is the ability to tell meaningful stories based on data. Students in the iSchool’s Data Science Storytelling course (IS 590DST) learn data visualization as well as storytelling techniques, a combination that will prove valuable to their employers as they enter the workforce.
The course instructors, Associate Professor and Interim Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Kate McDowell and Assistant Professor Matthew Turk, introduced Data Science Storytelling in fall 2017. The course combines McDowell’s research interests in storytelling practices and applications and Turk’s research interests in data analysis and visualization.
Students in the course learn storytelling concepts, narrative theories, and performance techniques as well as how to develop stories in a collaborative workshop style. They also work with data visualization toolkits, which involves some knowledge of coding.
Ashley Hetrick (MS ’18) took Data Science Storytelling because she wanted “the skills to be able to tell the right story when the time is right for it.” She appreciated the practical approach, which allowed the students to immediately apply the skills they learned, such as developing a story structure and using a pandas DataFrame to support and build a story. Hetrick is using those skills in her current work as assistant director for research data engagement and education at the University of Illinois.
“I combine tools and methods from data science and analytics with storytelling to make sense of my unit’s data and to help researchers make sense of theirs,” she said. “In my experience, few researchers like data for its own sake. They collect, care for, and analyze data because they’re after what all storytellers are after: meaning. They want to find the signal in all of this noise. And they want others to find it too, perhaps long after their own careers are complete. Each dataset is a story and raw material for stories waiting to be told.”
According to Turk, the students who have enrolled in the course have been outstanding, “always finding ways to tell meaningful stories from data.” He hopes they leave the class with an understanding that stories permeate their lives and that shaping the stories they tell others and about others is a responsibility they carry with them.
“One reason that this course means a lot to me is because it gives students the opportunity to really bring together the different threads of study at the iSchool,” Turk said. “It’s a way to combine across levels of technicality, and it gives students permission to take a holistic approach to how they present data.”
I didn’t put much effort into it but did find three other courses on data storytelling, one at the University of Texas (my favourite), one at the University of Toronto, and one (Data Visualization and Storytelling) at the University of British Columbia. The one at the University of British Columbia is available through the business school, the other two are available through information/library science faculties.
Government of Canada launches Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System
Members to recommend enhancements to system to position Canadian researchers for success
October 6, 2022 – Ottawa, Ontario
Canada’s success is in large part due to our world-class researchers and their teams who are globally recognized for unleashing bold new ideas, driving technological breakthroughs and addressing complex societal challenges. The Government of Canada recognizes that for Canada to achieve its full potential, support for science and research must evolve as Canadians push beyond what is currently imaginable and continue to find Canadian-made solutions to the world’s toughest problems.
Today [October 6, 2022], the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health, launched the Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System. Benefiting from the insights of leaders in the science, research and innovation ecosystem, the panel will provide independent, expert policy advice on the structure, governance and management of the federal system supporting research and talent. This will ensure that Canadian researchers are positioned for even more success now and in the future.
As the COVID-19 pandemic and climate crisis have shown, addressing the world’s most pressing challenges requires greater collaboration within the Canadian research community, government and industry, as well as with the international community. A cohesive and agile research support system will ensure Canadian researchers can quickly and effectively respond to the questions of today and tomorrow. Optimizing Canada’s research support system will equip researchers to transcend disciplines and borders, seize new opportunities and be responsive to emerging needs and interests to improve Canadians’ health, well-being and prosperity.
“Canada is known for world-class research thanks to the enormous capabilities of our researchers. Canadian researchers transform curiosity into bold new ideas that can significantly enhance Canadians’ lives and well-being. With this advisory panel, our government will ensure our support for their research is just as cutting-edge as Canada’s science and research community.” – The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry
“Our priority is to support Canada’s world-class scientific community so it can respond effectively to the challenges of today and the future. That’s why we are leveraging the expertise and perspectives of a newly formed advisory panel to maximize the impact of research and downstream innovation, which contributes significantly to Canadians’ well-being and prosperity.” – The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health
The Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System has seven members, including the Chair. The members were selected by the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry and the Minister of Health. The panel will consult with experts and stakeholders to draw on their diverse experiences, expertise and opinions.
Since 2016, the Government of Canada has committed more than $14 billion to support research and science across Canada.
Here’s a list of advisory panel members I’ve assembled from the Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System: Member biographies webpage,
Frédéric Bouchard (Chair) is Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the Université de Montréal, where he has been a professor of philosophy of science since 2005.
Janet Rossant is a Senior Scientist Emeritus in the Developmental and Stem Cell Biology Program, the Hospital for Sick Children and a Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto’s Department of Molecular Genetics.
[Gilles Patry] is Professor Emeritus and President Emeritus at the University of Ottawa. Following a distinguished career as a consulting engineer, researcher and university administrator, Gilles Patry is now a consultant and board director [Royal Canadian Mint].
Yolande E. Chan joined McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management as Dean and James McGill Professor in 2021. Her research focuses on innovation, knowledge strategy, digital strategy, digital entrepreneurship, and business-IT alignment.
Laurel Schafer is a Professor at the Department of Chemistry at the University of British Columbia. Her research focuses on developing novel organometallic catalysts to carry out difficult transformations in small molecule organic chemistry.
Vianne Timmons is the President and Vice-Chancellor of Memorial University of Newfoundland since 2020. She is a nationally and internationally recognized researcher and advocate in the field of inclusive education.
Dr. Baljit Singh is a highly accomplished researcher, … . He began his role as Vice-President Research at the University of Saskatchewan in 2021, after serving as Dean of the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (2016 – 2020), and as Associate Dean of Research at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan (2010 – 2016).
Nobody from the North. Nobody who’s worked there or lived there or researched there. It’s not the first time I’ve noticed a lack of representation for the North.
Canada’s golden triangle (Montréal, Toronto, Ottawa) is well represented and, as is often the case, there’s representation for other regions: one member from the Prairies, one member from the Maritimes or Atlantic provinces, and one member from the West.
The mandate indicates they could have five to eight members. With seven spots filled, they could include one more member, one from the North.
Even if they don’t add an eighth member, I’m not ready to abandon all hope for involvement from the North when there’s this, from the mandate,
Communications and deliverables
In pursuing its mandate, and to strengthen its advice, the panel may engage with experts and stakeholders to expand access [emphasis mine] to diverse experience, expertise and opinion, and enhance members’ understanding of the topics at hand.
To allow for frank and open discussion, internal panel deliberations among members will be closed.
The panel will deliver a final confidential report by December 2022 [emphasis mine] to the Ministers including recommendations and considerations regarding the modernization of the research support system. A summary of the panel’s observations on the state of the federal research support system may be made public once its deliberations have concluded. The Ministers may also choose to seek confidential advice and/or feedback from the panel on other issues related to the research system.
The panel may also be asked to deliver an interim confidential report to the Ministers by November 2022 [emphases mine], which will provide the panel’s preliminary observations up to that point.
it seems odd there’s no mention of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy. It’s my understanding that the funding goes directly from the federal government to the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), which then distributes the funds. There are other unmentioned science funding agencies, e.g., the National Research Council of Canada and Genome Canada, which (as far as I know) also receive direct funding. It seems that the panel will not be involved in a comprehensive review of Canada’s research support ecosystem.
Plus, I wonder why everything is being kept ‘confidential’. According the government news release, the panel is tasked with finding ways of “optimizing Canada’s research support system.” Do they have security concerns or is this a temporary state of affairs while the government analysts examine the panel’s report?
I thought it best to break this up a bit. There are a couple of ‘objects’ still to be discussed but this is mostly the commentary part of this letter to you. (Here’s a link for anyone who stumbled here but missed Part 1.)
Ethics, the natural world, social justice, eeek, and AI
Dorothy Woodend in her March 10, 2022 review for The Tyee) suggests some ethical issues in her critique of the ‘bee/AI collaboration’ and she’s not the only one with concerns. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has produced global recommendations for ethical AI (see my March 18, 2022 posting). More recently, there’s “Racist and sexist robots have flawed AI,” a June 23, 2022 posting, where researchers prepared a conference presentation and paper about deeply flawed AI still being used in robots.
Ultimately, the focus is always on humans and Woodend has extended the ethical AI conversation to include insects and the natural world. In short, something less human-centric.
My friend, this reference to the de Young exhibit may seem off topic but I promise it isn’t in more ways than one. The de Young Museum in San Francisco (February 22, 2020 – June 27, 2021) also held and AI and art show called, “Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI”), from the exhibitions page,
In today’s AI-driven world, increasingly organized and shaped by algorithms that track, collect, and evaluate our data, the question of what it means to be human [emphasis mine] has shifted. Uncanny Valley is the first major exhibition to unpack this question through a lens of contemporary art and propose new ways of thinking about intelligence, nature, and artifice. [emphasis mine]
As you can see, it hinted (perhaps?) at an attempt to see beyond human-centric AI. (BTW, I featured this ‘Uncanny Valley’ show in my February 25, 2020 posting where I mentioned Stephanie Dinkins [featured below] and other artists.)
While the VAG show doesn’t see much past humans and AI, it does touch on social justice. In particular there’s Pod 15 featuring the Algorithmic Justice League (AJL). The group “combine[s] art and research to illuminate the social implications and harms of AI” as per their website’s homepage.
In Pod 9, Stephanie Dinkins’ video work with a robot (Bina48), which was also part of the de Young Museum ‘Uncanny Valley’ show, addresses some of the same issues.
Transdisciplinary artist and educator Stephanie Dinkins is concerned with fostering AI literacy. The central thesis of her social practice is that AI, the internet, and other data-based technologies disproportionately impact people of color, LGBTQ+ people, women, and disabled and economically disadvantaged communities—groups rarely given a voice in tech’s creation. Dinkins strives to forge a more equitable techno-future by generating AI that includes the voices of multiple constituencies …
The artist’s ongoing Conversations with Bina48 takes the form of a series of interactions with the social robot Bina48 (Breakthrough Intelligence via Neural Architecture, 48 exaflops per second). The machine is the brainchild of Martine Rothblatt, an entrepreneur in the field of biopharmaceuticals who, with her wife, Bina, cofounded the Terasem Movement, an organization that seeks to extend human life through cybernetic means. In 2007 Martine commissioned Hanson Robotics to create a robot whose appearance and consciousness simulate Bina’s. The robot was released in 2010, and Dinkins began her work with it in 2014.
Part psychoanalytical discourse, part Turing test, Conversations with Bina48 also participates in a larger dialogue regarding bias and representation in technology. Although Bina Rothblatt is a Black woman, Bina48 was not programmed with an understanding of its Black female identity or with knowledge of Black history. Dinkins’s work situates this omission amid the larger tech industry’s lack of diversity, drawing attention to the problems that arise when a roughly homogenous population creates technologies deployed globally. When this occurs, writes art critic Tess Thackara, “the unconscious biases of white developers proliferate on the internet, mapping our social structures and behaviors onto code and repeating imbalances and injustices that exist in the real world.” One of the most appalling and public of these instances occurred when a Google Photos image-recognition algorithm mislabeled the faces of Black people as “gorillas.”
You will find as you go through the ‘imitation game’ a pod with a screen showing your movements through the rooms in realtime on a screen. The installation is called “Creepers” (2021-22). The student team from Vancouver’s Centre for Digital Media (CDM) describes their project this way, from the CDM’s AI-driven Installation Piece for the Vancouver Art Gallery webpage,
Kaleidoscope [team name] is designing an installation piece that harnesses AI to collect and visualize exhibit visitor behaviours, and interactions with art, in an impactful and thought-provoking way.
There’s no warning that you’re being tracked and you can see they’ve used facial recognition software to track your movements through the show. It’s claimed on the pod’s signage that they are deleting the data once you’ve left.
‘Creepers’ is an interesting approach to the ethics of AI. The name suggests that even the student designers were aware it was problematic.
In recovery from an existential crisis (meditations)
There’s something greatly ambitious about “The Imitation Game: Visual Culture in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” and walking up the VAG’s grand staircase affirms that ambition. Bravo to the two curators, Grenville and Entis for an exhibition.that presents a survey (or overview) of artificial intelligence, and its use in and impact on creative visual culture.
I’ve already enthused over the history (specifically Turing, Lovelace, Ovid), admitted to being mesmerized by Scott Eaton’s sculpture/AI videos, and confessed to a fascination (and mild repulsion) regarding Oxman’s honeycombs.
It’s hard to remember all of the ‘objects’ as the curators have offered a jumble of work, almost all of them on screens. Already noted, there’s Norbert Wiener’s The Moth (1949) and there are also a number of other computer-based artworks from the 1960s and 1970s. Plus, you’ll find works utilizing a GAN (generative adversarial network), an AI agent that is explained in the exhibit.
It’s worth going more than once to the show as there is so much to experience.
Why did they do that?
Dear friend, I’ve already commented on the poor flow through the show and It’s hard to tell if the curators intended the experience to be disorienting but this is to the point of chaos, especially when the exhibition is crowded.
I’ve seen Grenville’s shows before. In particular there was “MashUp: The Birth of Modern Culture, a massive survey documenting the emergence of a mode of creativity that materialized in the late 1800s and has grown to become the dominant model of cultural production in the 21st century” and there was “KRAZY! The Delirious World of Anime + Manga + Video Games + Art.” As you can see from the description, he pulls together disparate works and ideas into a show for you to ‘make sense’ of them.
One of the differences between those shows and the “imitation Game: …” is that most of us have some familiarity, whether we like it or not, with modern art/culture and anime/manga/etc. and can try to ‘make sense’ of it.
By contrast, artificial intelligence (which even experts have difficulty defining) occupies an entirely different set of categories; all of them associated with science/technology. This makes for a different kind of show so the curators cannot rely on the audience’s understanding of basics. It’s effectively an art/sci or art/tech show and, I believe, the first of its kind at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Unfortunately, the curators don’t seem to have changed their approach to accommodate that difference.
AI is also at the centre of a current panic over job loss, loss of personal agency, automated racism and sexism, etc. which makes the experience of viewing the show a little tense. In this context, their decision to commission and use ‘Creepers’ seems odd.
Where were Ai-Da and Dall-E-2 and the others?
Oh friend, I was hoping for a robot. Those roomba paintbots didn’t do much for me. All they did was lie there on the floor
To be blunt I wanted some fun and perhaps a bit of wonder and maybe a little vitality. I wasn’t necessarily expecting Ai-Da, an artisitic robot, but something three dimensional and fun in this very flat, screen-oriented show would have been nice.
Ai-Da was first featured here in a December 17, 2021 posting about performing poetry that she had written in honour of the 700th anniversary of poet Dante Alighieri’s death.
Named in honour of Ada Lovelace, Ai-Da visited the 2022 Venice Biennale as Leah Henrickson and Simone Natale describe in their May 12, 2022 article for Fast Company (Note: Links have been removed),
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 toward technology. She even gave a TEDx talk about “The Intersection of Art and AI” 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.
DALL-E 2 is a new neural network [AI] algorithm that creates a picture from a short phrase or sentence that you provide. The program, which was announced by the artificial intelligence research laboratory OpenAI in April 2022, hasn’t been released to the public. But a small and growing number of people – myself included – have been given access to experiment with it.
As a researcher studying the nexus of technology and art, I was keen to see how well the program worked. After hours of experimentation, it’s clear that DALL-E – while not without shortcomings – is leaps and bounds ahead of existing image generation technology. It raises immediate questions about how these technologies will change how art is made and consumed. It also raises questions about what it means to be creative when DALL-E 2 seems to automate so much of the creative process itself.
A July 4, 2022 article “DALL-E, Make Me Another Picasso, Please” by Laura Lane for The New Yorker has a rebuttal to Ada Lovelace’s contention that creativity is uniquely human (Note: A link has been removed),
“There was this belief that creativity is this deeply special, only-human thing,” Sam Altman, OpenAI’s C.E.O., explained the other day. Maybe not so true anymore, he said. Altman, who wore a gray sweater and had tousled brown hair, was videoconferencing from the company’s headquarters, in San Francisco. DALL-E is still in a testing phase. So far, OpenAI has granted access to a select group of people—researchers, artists, developers—who have used it to produce a wide array of images: photorealistic animals, bizarre mashups, punny collages. Asked by a user to generate “a plate of various alien fruits from another planet photograph,” DALL-E returned something kind of like rambutans. “The rest of mona lisa” is, according to DALL-E, mostly just one big cliff. Altman described DALL-E as “an extension of your own creativity.”
AI artists first hit my radar in August 2018 when Christie’s Auction House advertised an art auction of a ‘painting’ by an algorithm (artificial intelligence). There’s more in my August 31, 2018 posting but, briefly, a French art collective, Obvious, submitted a painting, “Portrait of Edmond de Belamy,” that was created by an artificial intelligence agent to be sold for an estimated to $7000 – $10,000. They weren’t even close. According to Ian Bogost’s March 6, 2019 article for The Atlantic, the painting sold for $432,500 In October 2018.
That posting also included AI artist, AICAN. Both artist-AI agents (Obvious and AICAN) are based on GANs (generative adversarial networks) for learning and eventual output. Both artist-AI agents work independently or with human collaborators on art works that are available for purchase.
As might be expected not everyone is excited about AI and visual art. Sonja Drimmer, Professor of Medieval Art, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, provides another perspective on AI, visual art, and, her specialty, art history in her November 1, 2021 essay for The Conversation (Note: Links have been removed),
Over the past year alone, I’ve come across articles highlighting how artificial intelligence recovered a “secret” painting of a “lost lover” of Italian painter Modigliani, “brought to life” a “hidden Picasso nude”, “resurrected” Austrian painter Gustav Klimt’s destroyed works and “restored” portions of Rembrandt’s 1642 painting “The Night Watch.” The list goes on.
As an art historian, I’ve become increasingly concerned about the coverage and circulation of these projects.
They have not, in actuality, revealed one secret or solved a single mystery.
What they have done is generate feel-good stories about AI.
Take the reports about the Modigliani and Picasso paintings.
These were projects executed by the same company, Oxia Palus, which was founded not by art historians but by doctoral students in machine learning.
In both cases, Oxia Palus relied upon traditional X-rays, X-ray fluorescence and infrared imaging that had already been carried out and published years prior – work that had revealed preliminary paintings beneath the visible layer on the artists’ canvases.
The company edited these X-rays and reconstituted them as new works of art by applying a technique called “neural style transfer.” This is a sophisticated-sounding term for a program that breaks works of art down into extremely small units, extrapolates a style from them and then promises to recreate images of other content in that same style.
As you can ‘see’ my friend, the topic of AI and visual art is a juicy one. In fact, I have another example in my June 27, 2022 posting, which is titled, “Art appraised by algorithm.” So, Grenville’s and Entis’ decision to focus on AI and its impact on visual culture is quite timely.
Visual culture: seeing into the future
The VAG Imitation Game webpage lists these categories of visual culture “animation, architecture, art, fashion, graphic design, urban design and video games …” as being represented in the show. Movies and visual art, not mentioned in the write up, are represented while theatre and other performing arts are not mentioned or represented. That’ s not a surprise.
In addition to an area of science/technology that’s not well understood even by experts, the curators took on the truly amorphous (and overwhelming) topic of visual culture. Given that even writing this commentary has been a challenge, I imagine pulling the show together was quite the task.
Grenville often grounds his shows in a history of the subject and, this time, it seems especially striking. You’re in a building that is effectively a 19th century construct and in galleries that reflect a 20th century ‘white cube’ aesthetic, while looking for clues into the 21st century future of visual culture employing technology that has its roots in the 19th century and, to some extent, began to flower in the mid-20th century.
Chung’s collaboration is one of the only ‘optimistic’ notes about the future and, as noted earlier, it bears a resemblance to Wiener’s 1949 ‘Moth’
Overall, it seems we are being cautioned about the future. For example, Oxman’s work seems bleak (bees with no flowers to pollinate and living in an eternal spring). Adding in ‘Creepers’ and surveillance along with issues of bias and social injustice reflects hesitation and concern about what we will see, who sees it, and how it will be represented visually.
Learning about robots, automatons, artificial intelligence, and more
I wish the Vancouver Art Gallery (and Vancouver’s other art galleries) would invest a little more in audience education. A couple of tours, by someone who may or may not know what they’re talking, about during the week do not suffice. The extra material about Stephanie Dinkins and her work (“Conversations with Bina48,” 2014–present) came from the de Young Museum’s website. In my July 26, 2021 commentary on North Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery 2021 show “Interior Infinite,” I found background information for artist Zanele Muholi on the Tate Modern’s website. There is nothing on the VAG website that helps you to gain some perspective on the artists’ works.
It seems to me that if the VAG wants to be considered world class, it should conduct itself accordingly and beefing up its website with background information about their current shows would be a good place to start.
Robots, automata, and artificial intelligence
Prior to 1921, robots were known exclusively as automatons. These days, the word ‘automaton’ (or ‘automata’ in the plural) seems to be used to describe purely mechanical representations of humans from over 100 years ago whereas the word ‘robot’ can be either ‘humanlike’ or purely machine, e.g. a mechanical arm that performs the same function over and over. I have a good February 24, 2017 essay on automatons by Miguel Barral for OpenMind BBVA*, which provides some insight into the matter,
The concept of robot is relatively recent. The idea was introduced in 1921 by the Czech writer Karel Capek in his work R.U.R to designate a machine that performs tasks in place of man. But their predecessors, the automatons (from the Greek automata, or “mechanical device that works by itself”), have been the object of desire and fascination since antiquity. Some of the greatest inventors in history, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, have contributed to our fascination with these fabulous creations:
The Al-Jazari automatons
The earliest examples of known automatons appeared in the Islamic world in the 12th and 13th centuries. In 1206, the Arab polymath Al-Jazari, whose creations were known for their sophistication, described some of his most notable automatons: an automatic wine dispenser, a soap and towels dispenser and an orchestra-automaton that operated by the force of water. This latter invention was meant to liven up parties and banquets with music while floating on a pond, lake or fountain.
As the water flowed, it started a rotating drum with pegs that, in turn, moved levers whose movement produced different sounds and movements. As the pegs responsible for the musical notes could be exchanged for different ones in order to interpret another melody, it is considered one of the first programmable machines in history.
AI is often used interchangeably with ‘robot’ but they aren’t the same. Not all robots have AI integrated into their processes. At its simplest AI is an algorithm or set of algorithms, which may ‘live’ in a CPU and be effectively invisible or ‘live’ in or make use of some kind of machine and/or humanlike body. As the experts have noted, the concept of artificial intelligence is a slippery concept.
I expect many of the show’s shortcomings (as perceived by me) are due to money and/or scheduling issues. For example, Ai-Da was at the Venice Biennale and if there was a choice between the VAG and Biennale, I know where I’d be.
Even with those caveats in mind, It is a bit surprising that there were no examples of wearable technology. For example, Toronto’s Tapestry Opera recently performed R.U.R. A Torrent of Light (based on the word ‘robot’ from Karel Čapek’s play, R.U.R., ‘Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti’), from my May 24, 2022 posting,
“This stunning new opera combines dance, beautiful multimedia design, a chamber orchestra including 100 instruments creating a unique electronica-classical sound, and wearable technology [emphasis mine] created with OCAD University’s Social Body Lab, to create an immersive and unforgettable science-fiction experience.”
And, from later in my posting,
“Despite current stereotypes, opera was historically a launchpad for all kinds of applied design technologies. [emphasis mine] Having the opportunity to collaborate with OCAD U faculty is an invigorating way to reconnect to that tradition and foster connections between art, music and design, [emphasis mine]” comments the production’s Director Michael Hidetoshi Mori, who is also Tapestry Opera’s Artistic Director.
That last quote brings me back to the my comment about theatre and performing arts not being part of the show. Of course, the curators couldn’t do it all but a website with my hoped for background and additional information could have helped to solve the problem.
The absence of the theatrical and performing arts in the VAG’s ‘Imitation Game’ is a bit surprising as the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) in their third assessment, “Competing in a Global Innovation Economy: The Current State of R&D in Canada” released in 2018 noted this (from my April 12, 2018 posting),
Canada, relative to the world, specializes in subjects generally referred to as the humanities and social sciences (plus health and the environment), and does not specialize as much as others in areas traditionally referred to as the physical sciences and engineering. Specifically, Canada has comparatively high levels of research output in Psychology and Cognitive Sciences, Public Health and Health Services, Philosophy and Theology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Visual and Performing Arts. [emphasis mine] It accounts for more than 5% of world research in these fields. Conversely, Canada has lower research output than expected in Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy, Enabling and Strategic Technologies, Engineering, and Mathematics and Statistics. The comparatively low research output in core areas of the natural sciences and engineering is concerning, and could impair the flexibility of Canada’s research base, preventing research institutions and researchers from being able to pivot to tomorrow’s emerging research areas. [p. xix Print; p. 21 PDF]
I was a little surprised that the show was so centered on work from the US given that Grenville has curated ate least one show where there was significant input from artists based in Asia. Both Japan and Korea are very active with regard to artificial intelligence and it’s hard to believe that their artists haven’t kept pace. (I’m not as familiar with China and its AI efforts, other than in the field of facial recognition, but it’s hard to believe their artists aren’t experimenting.)
The Americans, of course, are very important developers in the field of AI but they are not alone and it would have been nice to have seen something from Asia and/or Africa and/or something from one of the other Americas. In fact, anything which takes us out of the same old, same old. (Luba Elliott wrote this (2019/2020/2021?) essay, “Artificial Intelligence Art from Africa and Black Communities Worldwide” on Aya Data if you want to get a sense of some of the activity on the African continent. Elliott does seem to conflate Africa and Black Communities, for some clarity you may want to check out the Wikipedia entry on Africanfuturism, which contrasts with this August 12, 2020 essay by Donald Maloba, “What is Afrofuturism? A Beginner’s Guide.” Maloba also conflates the two.)
I promise I haven’t turned into a flag waving zealot, my friend. It’s just odd there isn’t a bit more given that machine learning was pioneered at the University of Toronto. Here’s more about that (from Wikipedia entry for Geoffrey Hinston),
Geoffrey Everest HintonCCFRSFRSC (born 6 December 1947) is a British-Canadian cognitive psychologist and computer scientist, most noted for his work on artificial neural networks.
Hinton received the 2018 Turing Award, together with Yoshua Bengio [Canadian scientist] and Yann LeCun, for their work on deep learning. They are sometimes referred to as the “Godfathers of AI” and “Godfathers of Deep Learning“, and have continued to give public talks together.
Some of Hinton’s work was started in the US but since 1987, he has pursued his interests at the University of Toronto. He wasn’t proven right until 2012. Katrina Onstad’s February 29, 2018 article (Mr. Robot) for Toronto Life is a gripping read about Hinton and his work on neural networks. BTW, Yoshua Bengio (co-Godfather) is a Canadian scientist at the Université de Montréal and Yann LeCun (co-Godfather) is a French scientist at New York University.
Then, there’s another contribution, our government was the first in the world to develop a national artificial intelligence strategy. Adding those developments to the CCA ‘State of Science’ report findings about visual arts and performing arts, is there another word besides ‘odd’ to describe the lack of Canadian voices?
You’re going to point out the installation by Ben Bogart (a member of Simon Fraser University’s Metacreation Lab for Creative AI and instructor at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design (ECU)) but it’s based on the iconic US scifi film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. As for the other Canadian, Sougwen Chung, she left Canada pretty quickly to get her undergraduate degree in the US and has since moved to the UK. (You could describe hers as the quintessential success story, i.e., moving from Canada only to get noticed here after success elsewhere.)
In 2019, Bruce Grenville, Senior Curator at Vancouver Art Gallery, approached [the] Centre for Digital Media to collaborate on several industry projects for the forthcoming exhibition. Four student teams tackled the project briefs over the course of the next two years and produced award-winning installations that are on display until October 23 .
Basically, my friend, it would have been nice to see other voices or, at the least, an attempt at representing other voices and visual cultures informed by AI. As for Canadian contributions, maybe put something on the VAG website?
Playing well with others
it’s always a mystery to me why the Vancouver cultural scene seems comprised of a set of silos or closely guarded kingdoms. Reaching out to the public library and other institutions such as Science World might have cost time but could have enhanced the show
For example, one of the branches of the New York Public Library ran a programme called, “We are AI” in March 2022 (see my March 23, 2022 posting about the five-week course, which was run as a learning circle). The course materials are available for free (We are AI webpage) and I imagine that adding a ‘visual culture module’ wouldn’t be that difficult.
There is one (rare) example of some Vancouver cultural institutions getting together to offer an art/science programme and that was in 2017 when the Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery (at the University of British Columbia; UBC) hosted an exhibition of Santiago Ramon y Cajal’s work (see my Sept. 11, 2017 posting about the gallery show) along with that show was an ancillary event held by the folks at Café Scientifique at Science World and featuring a panel of professionals from UBC’s Faculty of Medicine and Dept. of Psychology, discussing Cajal’s work.
In fact, where were the science and technology communities for this show?
On a related note, the 2022 ACM SIGGRAPH conference (August 7 – 11, 2022) is being held in Vancouver. (ACM is the Association for Computing Machinery; SIGGRAPH is for Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques.) SIGGRAPH has been holding conferences in Vancouver every few years since at least 2011.
… Gwenyth Chao to learn more about what happened to the honeybees and hives in Oxman’s Synthetic Apiary project. As a transdisciplinary artist herself, Chao will also discuss the relationship between art, science, technology and design. She will then guide participants to create a space (of any scale, from insect to human) inspired by patterns found in nature.
Hopefully there will be more more events inspired by specific ‘objects’. Meanwhile, August 12, 2022, the VAG is hosting,
… in partnership with the Canadian Music Centre BC, New Music at the Gallery is a live concert series hosted by the Vancouver Art Gallery that features an array of musicians and composers who draw on contemporary art themes.
Highlighting a selection of twentieth- and twenty-first-century music compositions, this second concert, inspired by the exhibition The Imitation Game: Visual Culture in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, will spotlight The Iliac Suite (1957), the first piece ever written using only a computer, and Kaija Saariaho’s Terra Memoria (2006), which is in a large part dependent on a computer-generated musical process.
It would be lovely if they could include an Ada Lovelace Day event. This is an international celebration held on October 11, 2022.
I received (via email) a July 21, 2022 news release about the launch of a quantum science initiative in Vancouver (BTW, I have more about the Canadian quantum scene later in this post),
World’s top physicists unite to tackle one of Science’s greatest mysteries
Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Society leads international quest to discover Theory of Quantum Gravity
Vancouver, B.C. (July 21, 2022): More than two dozen of the world’s top physicists, including three Nobel Prize winners, will gather in Vancouver this August for a Quantum Gravity Conference that will host the launch a Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Institute (QGI) and a new global research collaboration that could significantly advance our understanding of physics and gravity and profoundly change the world as we know it.
For roughly 100 years, the world’s understanding of physics has been based on Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GR), which explored the theory of space, time and gravity, and quantum mechanics (QM), which focuses on the behaviour of matter and light on the atomic and subatomic scale. GR has given us a deep understanding of the cosmos, leading to space travel and technology like atomic clocks, which govern global GPS systems. QM is responsible for most of the equipment that runs our world today, including the electronics, lasers, computers, cell phones, plastics, and other technologies that support modern transportation, communications, medicine, agriculture, energy systems and more.
While each theory has led to countless scientific breakthroughs, in many cases, they are incompatible and seemingly contradictory. Discovering a unifying connection between these two fundamental theories, the elusive Theory of Quantum Gravity, could provide the world with a deeper understanding of time, gravity and matter and how to potentially control them. It could also lead to new technologies that would affect most aspects of daily life, including how we communicate, grow food, deliver health care, transport people and goods, and produce energy.
“Discovering the Theory of Quantum Gravity could lead to the possibility of time travel, new quantum devices, or even massive new energy resources that produce clean energy and help us address climate change,” said Philip Stamp, Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of British Columbia, and Visiting Associate in Theoretical Astrophysics at Caltech [California Institute of Technology]. “The potential long-term ramifications of this discovery are so incredible that life on earth 100 years from now could look as miraculous to us now as today’s technology would have seemed to people living 100 years ago.”
The new Quantum Gravity Institute and the conference were founded by the Quantum Gravity Society, which was created in 2022 by a group of Canadian technology, business and community leaders, and leading physicists. Among its goals are to advance the science of physics and facilitate research on the Theory of Quantum Gravity through initiatives such as the conference and assembling the world’s leading archive of scientific papers and lectures associated with the attempts to reconcile these two theories over the past century.
Attending the Quantum Gravity Conference in Vancouver (August 15-19 ) will be two dozen of the world’s top physicists, including Nobel Laureates Kip Thorne, Jim Peebles and Sir Roger Penrose, as well as physicists Baron Martin Rees, Markus Aspelmeyer, Viatcheslav Mukhanov and Paul Steinhardt. On Wednesday, August 17, the conference will be open to the public, providing them with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend keynote addresses from the world’s pre-eminent physicists. … A noon-hour discussion on the importance of the research will be delivered by Kip Thorne, the former Feynman Professor of physics at Caltech. Thorne is well known for his popular books, and for developing the original idea for the 2014 film “Interstellar.” He was also crucial to the development of the book “Contact” by Carl Sagan, which was also made into a motion picture.
“We look forward to welcoming many of the world’s brightest minds to Vancouver for our first Quantum Gravity Conference,” said Frank Giustra, CEO Fiore Group and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity Society. “One of the goals of our Society will be to establish Vancouver as a supportive home base for research and facilitate the scientific collaboration that will be required to unlock this mystery that has eluded some of the world’s most brilliant physicists for so long.”
“The format is key,” explains Terry Hui, UC Berkley Physics alumnus and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity Society [and CEO of Concord Pacific]. “Like the Solvay Conference nearly 100 years ago, the Quantum Gravity Conference will bring top scientists together in salon-style gatherings. The relaxed evening format following the conference will reduce barriers and allow these great minds to freely exchange ideas. I hope this will help accelerate the solution of this hundred-year bottleneck between theories relatively soon.”
“As amazing as our journey of scientific discovery has been over the past century, we still have so much to learn about how the universe works on a macro, atomic and subatomic level,” added Paul Lee, Managing Partner, Vanedge Capital, and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity Society. “New experiments and observations capable of advancing work on this scientific challenge are becoming increasingly possible in today’s physics labs and using new astronomical tools. The Quantum Gravity Society looks forward to leveraging that growing technical capacity with joint theory and experimental work that harnesses the collective expertise of the world’s great physicists.”
About Quantum Gravity Society
Quantum Gravity Society was founded in Vancouver, Canada in 2020 by a group of Canadian business, technology and community leaders, and leading international physicists. The Society’s founding members include Frank Giustra (Fiore Group), Terry Hui (Concord Pacific), Paul Lee and Moe Kermani (Vanedge Capital) and Markus Frind (Frind Estate Winery), along with renowned physicists Abhay Ashtekar, Sir Roger Penrose, Philip Stamp, Bill Unruh and Birgitta Whaley. For more information, visit Quantum Gravity Society. About the Quantum Gravity Conference (Vancouver 2022)
The inaugural Quantum Gravity Conference (August 15-19 ) is presented by Quantum Gravity Society, Fiore Group, Vanedge Capital, Concord Pacific, The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver and Frind Estate Winery. For conference information, visit conference.quantumgravityinstitute.ca. To register to attend the conference, visit Eventbrite.com.
Viatcheslav Mukhanov – Theoretical Physicist and Cosmologist, University of Munich
Paul Steinhardt – Theoretical Physicist, Princeton University
Session 2: History of the Universe
Jim Peebles, 2019 Nobel Laureate, Princeton University
Baron Martin Rees – Cosmologist and Astrophysicist, University of Cambridge
Sir Roger Penrose, 2020 Nobel Laureate, University of Oxford (via zoom)
12:30 p.m. VIP Lunch Session: Quantum Gravity — Why Should We Care?
Kip Thorne – 2017 Nobel Laureate, Executive Producer of blockbuster film “Interstellar”
2:30 p.m. Session 3: What do Experiments Say?
Markus Aspelmeyer – Experimental Physicist, Quantum Optics and Optomechanics Leader, University of Vienna
Sir Roger Penrose – 2020 Nobel Laureate (via zoom)
Session 4: Time Travel
Kip Thorne – 2017 Nobel Laureate, Executive Producer of blockbuster film “Interstellar”
Quantum Gravity Society
Frind Estate Winery
BC Business Council
Greater Vancouver Board of Trade
Please note that Sir Roger Penrose will be present via Zoom but all the others will be there in the room with you.
Given that Kip Thorne won his 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics (with Rainer Weiss and Barry Barish) for work on gravitational waves, it’s surprising there’s no mention of this in the publicity for a conference on quantum gravity. Finding gravitational waves in 2016 was a very big deal (see Josh Fischman’s and Steve Mirsky’s February 11, 2016 interview with Kip Thorne for Scientific American).
Some thoughts on this conference and the Canadian quantum scene
This conference has a fascinating collection of players. Even I recognized some of the names, e.g., Penrose, Rees, Thorne.
The academics were to be expected and every presenter is an academic, often with their own Wikipedia page. Weirdly, there’s no one from the Perimeter Institute Institute for Theoretical Physics or TRIUMF (a national physics laboratory and centre for particle acceleration) or from anywhere else in Canada, which may be due to their academic specialty rather than an attempt to freeze out Canadian physicists. In any event, the conference academics are largely from the US (a lot of them from CalTech and Stanford) and from the UK.
The business people are a bit of a surprise. The BC Business Council and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade? Frank Giustra who first made his money with gold mines, then with Lionsgate Entertainment, and who continues to make a great deal of money with his equity investment company, Fiore Group? Terry Hui, Chief Executive Office of Concord Pacific, a real estate development company? VanEdge Capital, an early stage venture capital fund? A winery? Missing from this list is D-Wave Systems, Canada’s quantum calling card and local company. While their area of expertise is quantum computing, I’d still expect to see them present as sponsors. *ETA December 6, 2022: I just looked at the conference page again and D-Wave is now listed as a sponsor.*
The academics? These people are not cheap dates (flights, speaker’s fees, a room at the Bayshore, meals). This is a very expensive conference and $129 for lunch and a daypass is likely a heavily subsidized ticket.
Another surprise? No government money/sponsorship. I don’t recall seeing another academic conference held in Canada without any government participation.
As evidence of action, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced new grant programmes made possible by the National Quantum Strategy in a March 15, 2022 news release,
Quantum science and innovation are giving rise to promising advances in communications, computing, materials, sensing, health care, navigation and other key areas. The Government of Canada is committed to helping shape the future of quantum technology by supporting Canada’s quantum sector and establishing leadership in this emerging and transformative domain.
Today [March 15, 2022], the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, is announcing an investment of $137.9 million through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grants and Alliance grants. These grants are an important next step in advancing the National Quantum Strategy and will reinforce Canada’s research strengths in quantum science while also helping to develop a talent pipeline to support the growth of a strong quantum community.
Budget 2021 committed $360 million to build the foundation for a National Quantum Strategy, enabling the Government of Canada to build on previous investments in the sector to advance the emerging field of quantum technologies. The quantum sector is key to fuelling Canada’s economy, long-term resilience and growth, especially as technologies mature and more sectors harness quantum capabilities.
Development of quantum technologies offers job opportunities in research and science, software and hardware engineering and development, manufacturing, technical support, sales and marketing, business operations and other fields.
The Government of Canada also invested more than $1 billion in quantum research and science from 2009 to 2020—mainly through competitive granting agency programs, including Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada programs and the Canada First Research Excellence Fund—to help establish Canada as a global leader in quantum science.
In addition, the government has invested in bringing new quantum technologies to market, including investments through Canada’s regional development agencies, the Strategic Innovation Fund and the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program.
Bank of Canada, cryptocurrency, and quantum computing
Multiverse Computing, a global leader in quantum computing solutions for the financial industry and beyond with offices in Toronto and Spain, today announced it has completed a proof-of-concept project with the Bank of Canada through which the parties used quantum computing to simulate the adoption of cryptocurrency as a method of payment by non-financial firms.
“We are proud to be a trusted partner of the first G7 central bank to explore modelling of complex networks and cryptocurrencies through the use of quantum computing,” said Sam Mugel, CTO [Chief Technical Officer] at Multiverse Computing. “The results of the simulation are very intriguing and insightful as stakeholders consider further research in the domain. Thanks to the algorithm we developed together with our partners at the Bank of Canada, we have been able to model a complex system reliably and accurately given the current state of quantum computing capabilities.”
Multiverse Computing conducted its innovative work related to applying quantum computing for modelling complex economic interactions in a research project with the Bank of Canada. The project explored quantum computing technology as a way to simulate complex economic behaviour that is otherwise very difficult to simulate using traditional computational techniques.
By implementing this solution using D-Wave’s annealing quantum computer, the simulation was able to tackle financial networks as large as 8-10 players, with up to 2^90 possible network configurations. Note that classical computing approaches cannot solve large networks of practical relevance as a 15-player network requires as many resources as there are atoms in the universe.
Quantum Technologies and the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA)
In a May 26, 2022 blog posting the CCA announced its Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies (they will be issuing a Quantum Technologies report),
The emergence of quantum technologies will impact all sectors of the Canadian economy, presenting significant opportunities but also risks. At the request of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has formed an Expert Panel to examine the impacts, opportunities, and challenges quantum technologies present for Canadian industry, governments, and Canadians. Raymond Laflamme, O.C., FRSC, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information and Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo, will serve as Chair of the Expert Panel.
“Quantum technologies have the potential to transform computing, sensing, communications, healthcare, navigation and many other areas,” said Dr. Laflamme. “But a close examination of the risks and vulnerabilities of these technologies is critical, and I look forward to undertaking this crucial work with the panel.”
As Chair, Dr. Laflamme will lead a multidisciplinary group with expertise in quantum technologies, economics, innovation, ethics, and legal and regulatory frameworks. The Panel will answer the following question:
In light of current trends affecting the evolution of quantum technologies, what impacts, opportunities and challenges do these present for Canadian industry, governments and Canadians more broadly?
The Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies:
Raymond Laflamme, O.C., FRSC (Chair), Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information; the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis John von Neumann Chair in Quantum Information; Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Waterloo
Sally Daub, Founder and Managing Partner, Pool Global Partners
Shohini Ghose, Professor, Physics and Computer Science, Wilfrid Laurier University; NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering
Paul Gulyas, Senior Innovation Executive, IBM Canada
Mark W. Johnson, Senior Vice-President, Quantum Technologies and Systems Products, D-Wave Systems
Elham Kashefi, Professor of Quantum Computing, School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh; Directeur de recherche au CNRS, LIP6 Sorbonne Université
Mauritz Kop, Fellow and Visiting Scholar, Stanford Law School, Stanford University
Dominic Martin, Professor, Département d’organisation et de ressources humaines, École des sciences de la gestion, Université du Québec à Montréal
Darius Ornston, Associate Professor, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto
Barry Sanders, FRSC, Director, Institute for Quantum Science and Technology, University of Calgary
Eric Santor, Advisor to the Governor, Bank of Canada
Christian Sarra-Bournet, Quantum Strategy Director and Executive Director, Institut quantique, Université de Sherbrooke
Stephanie Simmons, Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Nanoelectronics, and CIFAR Quantum Information Science Fellow, Department of Physics, Simon Fraser University
Jacqueline Walsh, Instructor; Director, initio Technology & Innovation Law Clinic, Dalhousie University
You’ll note that both the Bank of Canada and D-Wave Systems are represented on this expert panel.
The CCA Quantum Technologies report (in progress) page can be found here.
Does it mean anything?
Since I only skim the top layer of information (disparagingly described as ‘high level’ by the technology types I used to work with), all I can say is there’s a remarkable level of interest from various groups who are self-organizing. (The interest is international as well. I found the International Society for Quantum Gravity [ISQG], which had its first meeting in 2021.)
I don’t know what the purpose is other than it seems the Canadian focus seems to be on money. The board of trade and business council have no interest in primary research and the federal government’s national quantum strategy is part of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada’s mandate. You’ll notice ‘science’ is sandwiched between ‘innovation’, which is often code for business, and economic development.
The Bank of Canada’s monetary interests are quite obvious.
The Perimeter Institute mentioned earlier was founded by Mike Lazaridis (from his Wikipedia entry) Note: Links have been removed,
… a Canadian businessman [emphasis mine], investor in quantum computing technologies, and founder of BlackBerry, which created and manufactured the BlackBerry wireless handheld device. With an estimated net worth of US$800 million (as of June 2011), Lazaridis was ranked by Forbes as the 17th wealthiest Canadian and 651st in the world.
In 2000, Lazaridis founded and donated more than $170 million to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. He and his wife Ophelia founded and donated more than $100 million to the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo in 2002.
That Institute for Quantum Computing? There’s an interesting connection. Raymond Laflamme, the chair for the CCA expert panel, was its director for a number of years and he’s closely affiliated with the Perimeter Institute. (I’m not suggesting anything nefarious or dodgy. It’s a small community in Canada and relationships tend to be tightly interlaced.) I’m surprised he’s not part of the quantum mechanics and gravity conference but that could have something to do with scheduling.
One last interesting bit about Laflamme, from his Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed)
As Stephen Hawking’s PhD student, he first became famous for convincing Hawking that time does not reverse in a contracting universe, along with Don Page. Hawking told the story of how this happened in his famous book A Brief History of Time in the chapter The Arrow of Time. Later on Laflamme made a name for himself in quantum computing and quantum information theory, which is what he is famous for today.
Artists’ Talk & Webcast The Canadian Music Centre, 20 St. Joseph Street Toronto Thursday, July 7 7:30 – 9 p.m. [ET] (doors open 7 pm)
These are a Few of Our Favourite Bees investigates wild, native bees and their ecology through playful dioramas, video, audio, relief print and poetry. Inspired by lambe lambe – South American miniature puppet stages for a single viewer – four distinct dioramas convey surreal yet enlightening worlds where bees lounge in cozy environs, animals watch educational films [emphasis mine] and ethereal sounds animate bowls of berries (having been pollinated by their diverse bee visitors). Displays reminiscent of natural history museums invite close inspection, revealing minutiae of these tiny, diverse animals, our native bees. From thumb-sized to extremely tiny, fuzzy to hairless, black, yellow, red or emerald green, each native bee tells a story while her actions create the fruits of pollination, reflecting the perpetual dance of animals, plants and planet. With a special appearance by Toronto’s official bee, the jewelled green sweat bee, Agapostemon virescens!
These are a Few of Our Favourite Bees Collective are: Sarah Peebles, Ele Willoughby, Rob Cruickshank & Stephen Humphrey
These are a Few of Our Favourite Bees
Sarah Peebles, Ele Willoughby, Rob Cruickshank & Stephen Humphrey
paper, relief print, video projection, audio, audio cable, mixed media
Bee specimens & bee barcodes generously provided by Laurence Packer – Packer Lab, York University; Scott MacIvor – BUGS Lab, U-T [University of Toronto] Scarborough; Sam Droege – USGS [US Geological Survey]; Barcode of Life Data Systems; Antonia Guidotti, Department of Natural History, Royal Ontario Museum
In addition to watching television, animals have been known to interact with touchscreen computers as mentioned in my June 24, 2016 posting, “Animal technology: a touchscreen for your dog, sonar lunch orders for dolphins, and more.”
In May, my crabapple tree blooms. In August, I pick the ripe crabapples. In September, I make jelly. Then I have breakfast. This would not be without a bee.
It could not be without a bee. The fruit and vegetables I enjoy eating, as well as the roses I admire as centrepieces, all depend on pollination.
Our native pollinators and their habitat are threatened. Insect populations are declining due to habitat loss, pesticide use, disease and climate change. 75% of flowering plants rely on pollinators to set seed and we humans get one-third of our food from flowering plants.
I invite you to enter this beautiful dining room and consider the importance of pollinators to the enjoyment of your next meal.
Tracey Lawko employs contemporary textile techniques to showcase changes in our environment. Building on a base of traditional hand-embroidery, free-motion longarm stitching and a love of drawing, her representational work is detailed and “drawn with thread”. Her nature studies draw attention to our native pollinators as she observes them around her studio in the Niagara Escarpment. Many are stitched using a centuries-old, three-dimensional technique called “Stumpwork”.
Tracey’s extensive exhibition history includes solo exhibitions at leading commercial galleries and public museums. Her work has been selected for major North American and International exhibitions, including the Concours International des Mini-Textiles, Musée Jean Lurçat, France, and is held in the permanent collection of the US National Quilt Museum and in private collections in North America and Europe.
The 35th Canadian Conference on Artificial Intelligence will take place virtually in Toronto, Ontario, from 30 May to 3 June, 2022. All presentations and posters will be online, with in-person social events to be scheduled in Toronto for those who are able to attend in-person. Viewing rooms and isolated presentation facilities will be available for all visitors to the University of Toronto during the event.
The event is collocated with the Computer and Robot Vision conferences. These events (AI·CRV 2022) will bring together hundreds of leaders in research, industry, and government, as well as Canada’s most accomplished students. They showcase Canada’s ingenuity, innovation and leadership in intelligent systems and advanced information and communications technology. A single registration lets you attend any session in the two conferences, which are scheduled in parallel tracks.
The conference proceedings are published on PubPub, an open-source, privacy-respecting, and open access online platform. They are submitted to be indexed and abstracted in leading indexing services such as DBLP, ACM, Google Scholar.
I can’t tell if ‘Responsible AI’ has been included as a specific topic in previous conferences but 2022 is definitely hosting a couple of sessions based on that theme, from the Responsible AI activities webpage,
Keynote speaker: Julia Stoyanovich
New York University
“Building Data Equity Systems”
Equity as a social concept — treating people differently depending on their endowments and needs to provide equality of outcome rather than equality of treatment — lends a unifying vision for ongoing work to operationalize ethical considerations across technology, law, and society. In my talk I will present a vision for designing, developing, deploying, and overseeing data-intensive systems that consider equity as an essential objective. I will discuss ongoing technical work, and will place this work into the broader context of policy, education, and public outreach.
Biography: Julia Stoyanovich is an Institute Associate Professor of Computer Science & Engineering at the Tandon School of Engineering, Associate Professor of Data Science at the Center for Data Science, and Director of the Center for Responsible AI at New York University (NYU). Her research focuses on responsible data management and analysis: on operationalizing fairness, diversity, transparency, and data protection in all stages of the data science lifecycle. She established the “Data, Responsibly” consortium and served on the New York City Automated Decision Systems Task Force, by appointment from Mayor de Blasio. Julia developed and has been teaching courses on Responsible Data Science at NYU, and is a co-creator of an award-winning comic book series on this topic. In addition to data ethics, Julia works on the management and analysis of preference and voting data, and on querying large evolving graphs. She holds M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science from Columbia University, and a B.S. in Computer Science and in Mathematics & Statistics from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is a recipient of an NSF CAREER award and a Senior Member of the ACM.
Panel on ethical implications of AI
Luke Stark, Faculty of Information and Media Studies, Western University
Luke Stark is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western University in London, ON. His work interrogating the historical, social, and ethical impacts of computing and AI technologies has appeared in journals including The Information Society, Social Studies of Science, and New Media & Society, and in popular venues like Slate, The Globe and Mail, and The Boston Globe. Luke was previously a Postdoctoral Researcher in AI ethics at Microsoft Research, and a Postdoctoral Fellow in Sociology at Dartmouth College; he holds a PhD from the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a BA and MA from the University of Toronto.
Nidhi Hegde, Associate Professor in Computer Science and Amii [Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute] Fellow at the University of Alberta
Nidhi is a Fellow and Canada CIFAR [Canadian Institute for Advanced Research] AI Chair at Amii and an Associate Professor in the Department of Computing Science at the University of Alberta. Before joining UAlberta, she spent many years in industry research labs. Most recently, she was a Research team lead at Borealis AI (a research institute at Royal Bank of Canada), where her team worked on privacy-preserving methods for machine learning models and other applied problems for RBC. Prior to that, she spent many years in research labs in Europe working on a variety of interesting and impactful problems. She was a researcher at Bell Labs, Nokia, in France from January 2015 to March 2018, where she led a new team focussed on Maths and Algorithms for Machine Learning in Networks and Systems, in the Maths and Algorithms group of Bell Labs. She also spent a few years at the Technicolor Paris Research Lab working on social network analysis, smart grids, privacy, and recommendations. Nidhi is an associate editor of the IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking, and an editor of the Elsevier Performance Evaluation Journal.
Karina Vold, Assistant Professor, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto
Dr. Karina Vold is an Assistant Professor at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto. She is also a Faculty Affiliate at the U of T Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society, a Faculty Associate at the U of T Centre for Ethics, and an Associate Fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence. Vold specialises in Philosophy of Cognitive Science and Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence, and her recent research has focused on human autonomy, cognitive enhancement, extended cognition, and the risks and ethics of AI.
Elissa Strome, Executive Director, Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy at CIFAR
Elissa is Executive Director, Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy at CIFAR, working with research leaders across the country to implement Canada’s national research strategy in AI. Elissa completed her PhD in Neuroscience from the University of British Columbia in 2006. Following a post-doc at Lund University, in Sweden, she decided to pursue a career in research strategy, policy and leadership. In 2008, she joined the University of Toronto’s Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation and was Director of Strategic Initiatives from 2011 to 2015. In that role, she led a small team dedicated to advancing the University’s strategic research priorities, including international institutional research partnerships, the institutional strategy for prestigious national and international research awards, and the establishment of the SOSCIP [Southern Ontario Smart Computing Innovation Platform] research consortium in 2012. From 2015 to 2017, Elissa was Executive Director of SOSCIP, leading the 17-member industry-academic consortium through a major period of growth and expansion, and establishing SOSCIP as Ontario’s leading platform for collaborative research and development in data science and advanced computing.
Tutorial on AI and the Law
Prof. Maura R. Grossman, University of Waterloo, and
Hon. Paul W. Grimm, United States District Court for the District of Maryland
AI applications are becoming more and more ubiquitous in almost every field of endeavor, and the same is true as to the legal industry. This panel, consisting of an experienced lawyer and computer scientist, and a U.S. federal trial court judge, will discuss how AI is currently being used in the legal profession, what adoption has been like since the introduction of AI to law in about 2009, what legal and ethical issues AI applications have raised in the legal system, and how a sitting trial court judge approaches AI evidence, in particular, the determination of whether to admit that AI evidence or not, when they are a non-expert.
How is AI being used in the legal industry today?
What has the legal industry’s reaction been to legal AI applications?
What are some of the biggest legal and ethical issues implicated by legal and other AI applications?
How does a sitting trial court judge evaluate AI evidence when making a determination of whether to admit that AI evidence or not?
What considerations go into the trial judge’s decision?
What happens if the judge is not an expert in AI? Do they recuse?
You may recognize the name, Julia Stoyanovich, as she was mentioned here in my March 23, 2022 posting titled, The “We are AI” series gives citizens a primer on AI, a series of peer-to-peer workshops aimed at introducing the basics of AI to the public. There’s also a comic book series associated with it and all of the materials are available for free. It’s all there in the posting.
Virtual Meet and Greet on Responsible AI across Canada
Given the many activities that are fortunately happening around the responsible and ethical aspects of AI here in Canada, we are organizing an event in conjunction with Canadian AI 2022 this year to become familiar with what everyone is doing and what activities they are engaged in.
It would be wonderful to have a unified community here in Canada around responsible AI so we can support each other and find ways to more effectively collaborate and synergize. We are aiming for a casual, discussion-oriented event rather than talks or formal presentations.
The meet and greet will be hosted by Ebrahim Bagheri, Eleni Stroulia and Graham Taylor. If you are interested in participating, please email Ebrahim Bagheri (email@example.com).
Thank you to the co-chairs for getting the word out about the Responsible AI topic at the conference,
Responsible AI Co-chairs
Ebrahim Bagheri Professor Electrical, Computer, and Biomedical Engineering, Ryerson University Website
Eleni Stroulia Professor, Department of Computing Science Acting Vice Dean, Faculty of Science Director, AI4Society Signature Area University of Alberta Website
The organization which hosts these conference has an almost palindromic abbreviation, CAIAC for Canadian Artificial Intelligence Association (CAIA) or Association Intelligence Artificiel Canadien (AIAC). Yes, you do have to read it in English and French and the C at either end gets knocked depending on which language you’re using, which is why it’s almost.
The CAIAC is almost 50 years old (under various previous names) and has its website here.
*April 22, 2022 at 1400 hours PT removed ‘the’ from this section of the headline: “… from 30 May to 3 June, 2022.” and removed period from the end.
Toronto’s ArtSci Salon has been hosting a series of events and exhibitions about COVID-19 and other health care issues under the “Who Cares?” banner. The exhibitions and events are now coming to an end (see my February 9, 2022 posting for a full listing).
A March 29, 2022 Art/Sci Salon announcement (received via email) heralds the last roundtable event (see my March 7, 2022 posting for more about the Who Cares? roundtables), Note: This is an online event,
Bayo Akomolafe Seema Yasmin
Of Health Myths and Trickster Viruses
Friday, April 1 , 5:00-7:00 pm [ET]
Des mythes sur la santé et des virus trompeurs
Le Vendredi 1 avril , de 17H à 19H A conversation on the unsettling dimensions of epidemics and the complexities of responses to their challenges. ~ Une conversation sur les dimensions troublantes des épidémies et la complexité des réponses à leurs défis.
Seema Yasmin, Director of Research and Education, Stanford Health Communication Initiative. She is an Emmy Award-winning journalist, Pulitzer prize finalist, medical doctor and Stanford and UCLA professor.
Bayo Akomolafe Chief Curator, The Emergence Network. He is a widely celebrated international speaker, posthumanist thinker, poet, teacher, public intellectual, essayist, and author ~
Seema Yasmin, Director of Research and Education, Stanford Health Communication Initiative. Elle est une journaliste lauréate d’un Emmy Award, finaliste du prix Pulitzer, médecin et professeure à Stanford et UCLA.
Bayo Akomolafe, Chief Curator, The Emergence Network. Il est un conférencier international très célèbre, un penseur posthumaniste, un poète, un enseignant, un intellectuel public, un essayiste et un auteur.
There are the acknowledgements,
“Who Cares?” is a Speaker Series dedicated to fostering transdisciplinary conversations between doctors, writers, artists, and researchers on contemporary biopolitics of care and the urgent need to move towards more respectful, creative, and inclusive social practices of care in the wake of the systemic cracks made obvious by the pandemic.
We wish to thank/ nous the generous support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, New College at the University of Toronto and The Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies at York University; the Centre for Feminist Research, Sensorium Centre for Digital Arts and Technology, The Canadian Language Museum, the Departments of English and the School of Gender and Women’s Studies at York University; the D.G. Ivey Library and the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto; We also wish to thank the support of The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences
This series is co-produced in collaboration with the ArtSci Salon
The Who Cares? series webpage, found here, lists the exhibitions and final events,
You can find out more about Toronto’s Art/Sci Salon’s Who Cares? speaker series in my February 9, 2022 posting. For this posting, I’m focusing on the upcoming March 2022 events, which are being offered online. From a March 7, 2022 Art/Sci Salon announcement (received via email),
We’re pleased to announce our next two events from our “Who Cares?” Speaker Series
Nous sommes heureux d’annoncer notre deuxième événement de notre “Who Cares?” Série de conferences
March 10 , 2:00-3:00 pm [ET]
Data Meditation: Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico
HER – She Loves Data
Join us for a discussion about questions like:
Why does data have to be an extractive process?
What can we learn about ourselves through the data we generate everyday?
How can we use them as an expressive form to represent ourselves?
Data Meditations is the first ritual designed with the new approach of HER: She Loves Data, which addresses data as existential and cultural phenomena, and the need of creating experience (contemporary rituals) that allow societies and individuals to come together around data generating meaning, new forms of solidarity, empathy, interconnection and knowledge.
Rejoignez-nous pour une discussion basée sur des questions telles que :
Pourquoi les données doivent-elles être un processus d’extraction ?
Que pouvons-nous apprendre par rapport à nous, grâce aux données que nous générons chaque jour ?
Comment pouvons-nous les utiliser comme une forme expressive pour nous représenter ?
Data Méditations est le premier rituel conçu avec la nouvelle approche de HER [elle] : She loves Data , qui parle des données en tant que phénomènes existentiels et culturels , mais également , la nécessité de créer des expériences [ rituels contemporains ] qui permettent aux sociétés et aux individus de se réunir autour de données générant du sens , de nouvelles formes de solidarité , empathie , d’interconnexion et de connaissance.
Maria Antonia Gonzalez-Valerio, Professor of Philosophy and Literature, UNAM, Mexico City. Sharmistha Mishra, Infectious Disease Physician and Mathematical Modeller, St Michael’s Hospital Madhur Anand, Ecologist, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Guelph Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico, Independent Artists, HER, She Loves Data
One lesson we have learnt in the past two years is that the pandemic has not single-handedly created a global health crisis, but has exacerbated and made visible one that was already in progress. The roots of this crisis are as cultural as they are economic and environmental. Among the factors contributing to the crisis is a dominant orientation towards healthcare that privileges a narrow focus on data-centered technological fixes and praises the potentials of technological delegation. An unsustainable system has culminated in the passive acceptance and even the cold justification of triage as an inevitable evil in a time of crisis and scarcity.
What transdisciplinary practices can help ameliorate the atomizing pitfalls of turning the patient into data? How can discriminatory practices such as triage, exclusion based on race, gender, and class, vaccine hoarding etc.. be addressed and reversed? What strategies can we devise to foster genuine transdisciplinary approaches and move beyond the silo effects of specialization, address current uncritical trends towards technological delegation, and restore the centrality of human relations in healthcare delivery?
L’une des leçons que nous avons apprises au cours des deux dernières années est que la pandémie n’a pas créé à elle seule une crise sanitaire mondiale, mais qu’elle en a exacerbé et rendu visible une qui était déjà en cours. Les racines de cette crise sont aussi bien culturelles qu’économiques et environnementales. Parmi les facteurs qui contribuent à la crise figure une orientation dominante en matière de soins de santé, qui privilégie une vision étroite des solutions technologiques centrées sur les données et fait l’éloge du potentiel de la délégation technologique. Un système non durable a abouti à l’acceptation passive et même à la justification froide du triage comme un mal inévitable en temps de crise et de pénurie.
Quelles pratiques transdisciplinaires peuvent contribuer à améliorer les pièges de l’atomisation qui consiste à transformer le patient en données ? Comment les pratiques discriminatoires telles que le triage, l’exclusion fondée sur la race, le sexe et la classe sociale, la thésaurisation des vaccins, etc. peuvent-elles être abordées et inversées ? Quelles stratégies pouvons-nous concevoir pour favoriser de véritables approches transdisciplinaires et dépasser les effets de silo de la spécialisation, pour faire face aux tendances actuelles non critiques à la délégation technologique, et pour restaurer la centralité des relations humaines dans la prestation des soins de santé ?
We wish to thank/ nous [sic] the generous support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, New College at the University of Toronto and The Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies at York University; the Centre for Feminist Research, Sensorium Centre for Digital Arts and Technology, The Canadian Language Museum, the Departments of English and the School of Gender and Women’s Studies at York University; the D.G. Ivey Library and the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto; We also wish to thank the support of The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences
COVID-19 has put health care workers in a more than usually interesting position and the Art/Sci Salon in Toronto, Canada is ‘creatively’ addressing the old, new, and emerging stresses. From the Who Cares? events webpage (also in a February 8, 2022 notice received via email),
“Who Cares?” is a Speaker Series dedicated to fostering transdisciplinary conversations between doctors, writers, artists, and researchers on contemporary biopolitics of care and the urgent need to move towards more respectful, creative, and inclusive social practices of care in the wake of the systemic cracks made obvious by the pandemic.
About the Series
Critiques of the health care sector are certainly not new and have been put forward by workers and researchers in the medical sector and in the humanities alike. However, critique alone fails to consider the systemic issues that prevent well-meaning practitioners to make a difference. The goal of this series is to activate practical conversations between people who are already engaged in transforming the infrastructures and cultures of care but have few opportunities to speak to each other. These interdisciplinary dialogues will enable the sharing of emerging epistemologies, new material approaches and pedagogies that could take us beyond the current crisis. By engaging with the arts as research, our guests use the generative insights of poetic and artistic practices to zoom in on the crucial issues undermining holistic, dynamic and socially responsible forms of care. Furthermore, they champion transdisciplinary dialogues and multipronged approaches directed at changing the material and discursive practices of care.
Who cares? asks the following important questions:
How do we lay the groundwork for sustainable practices of care, that is, care beyond ‘just-in-time’ interventions?
What strategies can we devise to foster genuine transdisciplinary approaches that move beyond the silo effects of specialization, address current uncritical trends towards technological delegation, and restore the centrality responsive/responsible human relations in healthcare delivery?
What practices can help ameliorate the atomizing pitfalls of turning the patient into data?
What pathways can we design to re-direct attention to long lasting care focused on a deeper understanding of the manifold relationalities between doctors, patients, communities, and the socio-environmental context?
How can the critically creative explorations of artists and writers contribute to building resilient communities of care that cultivate reciprocity, respect for the unpredictable temporalities of healing, and active listening?
How to build a capacious infrastructure of care able to address and mend the damages caused by ideologies of ultimate cure that pervade corporate approaches to healthcare funding and delivery?
This event will be online, please register HEREto participate. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
A Conversation with Bahar Orang, author of Where Things Touch, on staying attuned to the fragile intimacies of care beyond the stifling demands of institutional environments.
This short presentation will ask questions about care that move it beyond the carceral logics of hospital settings, particularly in psychiatry. Drawing from questions raised in my first book Where Things Touch, and my work with Doctors for Defunding Police (DFDP), I hope to pose the question of how to do the work of health care differently. As the pandemic has laid bare so much violence, it becomes imperative to engage in forms of political imaginativeness that proactively ask what are the forms that care can take, and does already take, in places other than the clinic or the hospital?
Bahar Orang is a writer and clinician scholar in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. Her creative and clinical work seeks to engage with ways of imagining care beyond the carcerality that medical institutions routinely reproduce
Roundtables 1. Friday, March 11 – 5:00 to 7:00 pm [ET] Beyond triage and data culture Maria Antonia Gonzalez-Valerio, Professor of Philosophy and Literature, UNAM, Mexico City. Sharmistha Mishra, Infectious Disease Physician and Mathematical Modeller, St Michael’s Hospital Madhur Anand, Ecologist, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Guelph Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico, independent artists, HER, She Loves Data
Keynote Conversation Friday, April 1, 5:00-7:00 pm [ET] Seema Yasmin, Director of Research and Education, Stanford Health Communication Initiative [Stanford University] Bayo Akomolafe, Chief Curator of The Emergence Network
(hybrid) William Doo Auditorium, 45 Willcox Street, Toronto
* The format of this program and access might change with the medical situation
We wish to thank the generous support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, New College, the D.G. Ivey Library, and the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto; the Centre for Feminist Research, Sensorium Centre for Digital Arts and Technology, The Canadian Language Museum, the Departments of English and the School of Gender and Women’s Studies at York University. We also wish to thank the support of The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences
This series is co-produced in collaboration with the ArtSci Salon
I love the colours. This research into quilting and artificial intelligence (AI) was presented at SIGGRAPH 2021 in August. (SIGGRAPH is, also known as, ACM SIGGRAPH or ‘Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques’.)
Stanford University computer science graduate student Mackenzie Leake has been quilting since age 10, but she never imagined the craft would be the focus of her doctoral dissertation. Included in that work is new prototype software that can facilitate pattern-making for a form of quilting called foundation paper piecing, which involves using a backing made of foundation paper to lay out and sew a quilted design.
Developing a foundation paper piece quilt pattern — which looks similar to a paint-by-numbers outline — is often non-intuitive. There are few formal guidelines for patterning and those that do exist are insufficient to assure a successful result.
“Quilting has this rich tradition and people make these very personal, cherished heirlooms but paper piece quilting often requires that people work from patterns that other people designed,” said Leake, who is a member of the lab of Maneesh Agrawala, the Forest Baskett Professor of Computer Science and director of the Brown Institute for Media Innovation at Stanford. “So, we wanted to produce a digital tool that lets people design the patterns that they want to design without having to think through all of the geometry, ordering and constraints.”
A paper describing this work is published and will be presented at the computer graphics conference SIGGRAPH 2021 in August.
In describing the allure of paper piece quilts, Leake cites the modern aesthetic and high level of control and precision. The seams of the quilt are sewn through the paper pattern and, as the seaming process proceeds, the individual pieces of fabric are flipped over to form the final design. All of this “sew and flip” action means the pattern must be produced in a careful order.
Poorly executed patterns can lead to loose pieces, holes, misplaced seams and designs that are simply impossible to complete. When quilters create their own paper piecing designs, figuring out the order of the seams can take considerable time – and still lead to unsatisfactory results.
“The biggest challenge that we’re tackling is letting people focus on the creative part and offload the mental energy of figuring out whether they can use this technique or not,” said Leake, who is lead author of the SIGGRAPH paper. “It’s important to me that we’re really aware and respectful of the way that people like to create and that we aren’t over-automating that process.”
Developing the algorithm at the heart of this latest quilting software required a substantial theoretical foundation. With few existing guidelines to go on, the researchers had to first gain a more formal understanding of what makes a quilt paper piece-able, and then represent that mathematically.
They eventually found what they needed in a particular graph structure, called a hypergraph. While so-called “simple” graphs can only connect data points by lines, a hypergraph can accommodate overlapping relationships between many data points. (A Venn diagram is a type of hypergraph.) The researchers found that a pattern will be paper piece-able if it can be depicted by a hypergraph whose edges can be removed one at a time in a specific order – which would correspond to how the seams are sewn in the pattern.
The prototype software allows users to sketch out a design and the underlying hypergraph-based algorithm determines what paper foundation patterns could make it possible – if any. Many designs result in multiple pattern options and users can adjust their sketch until they get a pattern they like. The researchers hope to make a version of their software publicly available this summer.
“I didn’t expect to be writing my computer science dissertation on quilting when I started,” said Leake. “But I found this really rich space of problems involving design and computation and traditional crafts, so there have been lots of different pieces we’ve been able to pull off and examine in that space.”
Researchers from University of California, Berkeley and Cornell University are co-authors of this paper. Agrawala is also an affiliate of the Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI).
An abstract for the paper “A Mathematical Foundation for Foundation Paper Pieceable Quilts” by Mackenzie Leake, Gilbert Bernstein, Abe Davis and Maneesh Agrawala can be found here along with links to a PDF of the full paper and video on YouTube.
Afterthought: I noticed that all of the co-authors for the May 2021 paper are from the University of Toronto and most of them including Mackenzie Leake are associated with that university’s Chatham Labs.