☞ Digital Humanism + Quines
Ever since I read Tim Carmody’s post in 2017 about digital humanism, I couldn’t get his ideas around preserving information out of my head:
In the metaphor of the all-in-one machine, Humanists were first and foremost scanners. They translated knowledge from one technology, and its attendant modes of thinking, into another. They took old things and made them new.
In the spirit of this (and Carmody’s whole post is well worth reading!), I recently built digitalhumanism.org, my small attempt to contribute to this idea: a little site that displays a randomly chosen page from some old computer magazines from the Internet Archive (reload the page to see more). It's pretty simple and currently only shows pages from a few older issues of MacUser, but has actually been quite delightful for me to discover these old pages and the tech that they discuss, especially as seen through the lens of only a few decades of distance.
For example, through this project, I discovered an old example of software for algorithmically generating poetry (in MacUser’s November 1985 issue):
The field of computational creativity feels new, but it obviously has a long history (at least in computer science terms). And through digital humanism, we can see this more clearly.
There’s an about page with some more philosophical thinking behind this project, as well as a list at the bottom that could act as a potential clearinghouse for other projects in this space. Please go check out digitalhumanism.org. And I would love to hear your feedback on this.
I love quines: pieces of code that, when run, output themselves. Delightfully circular and elegant. That’s why I was excited when I discovered a website that is essentially a quine: it displays its own HTML source as the page itself.
From the page, including the source:
<p>Finally, because I believe brutalist design, even when applied to truly naked brutal html quines, is about function, not about deliberate ugliness, I'd like to apply these humble styles that improve the readability of this brutiful missive.</p>
A few articles worth taking a look at:
What did alphabet books use for ‘x’ before x-rays were discovered (and xylophones were well-known)? Pairs well with who people would point to as the embodiment of evil before Hitler.
Computationally-generated AI names, in the style of the AI ship names from the Culture novels of Ian M. Banks: “A reader named Kelly sent me a list of 236 of Iain M. Banks’s Culture ship names from Wikipedia, and I trained the 345 million-parameter version of GPT-2 on them.” See also @cultureshipname.
And in wonky news: “Critical brain dynamics and human intelligence.” This is an academic paper that aims to demonstrate a pretty wild claim: ‘dynamics of more intelligent human participants are closer to a critical state, i.e., the boundary between the paramagnetic phase and the spin-glass (SG) phase. This result was specific to fluid intelligence as opposed to crystalized intelligence. The present results are also consistent with the notion of "edge-of-chaos" neural computation.’
Until next time.
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