Category Archives: Culture

The uncanny baby valley

I can’t wait for the day when robots and humans will co-exist…or when robots will take over the planet, Matrix-style.

Until that time actually occurs, I’m pretty sure we have nothing to worry about because people in general are still scared. There’s this concept in psychology and robotics (I think those are the appropriate fields…) called the Uncanny Valley. For those unfamiliar and unwilling to click on the link, it’s the concept that as robots/figures/other objects approach the look of a healthy human, the more we feel familiar with it – comfortable, not afraid, not worried about its actions.

However, there comes a point when the other appears TOO human. At this point, our comfort with the other drops…by a lot. It is this drop that is the uncanny valley. Example – a zombie or a corpse appear more human than a robot, but we feel much less comfortable with these two because they are too close to humans, yet very clearly aren’t. It’s interesting to think about how humans feel comfort in the familiar, yet when things are too familiar we recoil.

This can be seen in peoples reactions to things beyond objects. When someone we barely knows acknowledges us at a bar, we don’t really make much about it. However, when they are overly familiar with us – addressing us by name, asking personal questions they shouldn’t be asking, we feel uncomfortable. Odd, isn’t it? You’d think we would feel better that someone is trying to be approachable.

Okay, long detour…lets get back to the robots! Is it well accepted that babies learn best by being socialized? I feel like I read that in some study before….if anything, this study proves it. It appears that some researchers have decided to start training babies to be familiar with their future robot overlords. By getting the child comfortable in their environment, then introducing a robot figure as if it was human, the researchers have been able to convince babies that robots have some sense of intelligence or thought.

If, once again, you are too lazy to click through for the article, here is a brief summary: researchers took babies, half of whom were presented a robot with which the researcher interacted with to make it appear to have sentience, while the other half were presented a robot with whom no one interacted with. The babies were witness of this interaction.

The babies who saw the researcher interact with the robot were more likely to act as if the robot itself was a real person and pay attention to its behavior. For example, if the robot were to look in one direction, the baby was more likely to look in that direction if it saw the interaction.

To me, the most interesting part of the article is that this shows our social judgments/skills can be basically trained, even at a young age. That, and we just need to get babies used to robots, but also to be cautious so that robots don’t get to smart and take us over.

Source: Human or Robot? Ask the baby

Idealistic love

Sometimes, I’m so glad I was never this idealistic. I never once thought that I would find “The One” on my first time out. I never lived a fantasy life in my head of traveling and idealizing things that I had no real idea about.

It’s interesting to now be writing about this article, after reading/writing about how homophobia hurts straight men. I’ve always wondered what people think of when they read books by the Lost Generation, that generation of the grew up during WWI, affected by the war. From my understanding, this was essentially a generation who lost their youth – having had to serve in WWI or at least witness what was going on.  It’s not about a carefree lifestyle, but rather a general disaffection towards society and societal norms. Expats in France are what we traditionally think of when we think of the Lost Generation. Their disaffection comes off as being aloof and romantic – moving from place to place without any worries.

To bring it up to modern times, they are a little bit like hipsters – mobile, untethered lifestyles, attempts to be at the forefront of culture. However, the Lost Generation has a reason behind their attitude. To witness something of the scale of WWI can severely affect anyone – they are firsthand witnesses to the effects of war, be it losing a loved one or fighting in the war itself. Their response is to live life to the fullest – to experience things that they haven’t before and may never get to.

I’m unsure about their thoughts on love. Do they take the same approach to love as they do with their careers and experiences? Do they jump from one love to another, wanting to experience as many different versions of love as possible? I would think they would drag the love of their lives to everywhere they go, ceaselessly jumping from job to job, country to country. This is such an idealistic lifestyle – nothing can really come out of it.

I feel that we have an innate need to settle down sometimes. I don’t mean the American dream of the white picket fence and the the 2.5 kids and dog. But that we all feel that urge to have some normalcy in our lives. At this point in my life, I don’t think I can deal with permanency. I love the idea of being able to pack up and leave at a moments notice. I hate that I’ve tied myself down to items – I’m such a materialistic person and it makes me feel terrible. I idealize the technomads for what they do, but can’t really imagine myself doing that.

Perhaps later on in my life, I will get that urge. I will feel the desire to settle down with a loved one. It could happen soon, it could happen later. Right now? I’m just trying to live life…Everything’s gonna be okay….

Source: Would Hemingway Cry?

The backlash against things not considered “masculine”

It’s funny to read this article – I just finished reading a book called American Nerd, in which there was a section describing why there is such hatred towards the nerd and what Americas reaction towards the nerd was like in the early part of this century. The backlash against the nerd was that nerds in general behaved in a way that was non-traditionally masculine, eschewing things like sports, physicality, grunting (kidding!) – things we think of when we think of JOCK. It was almost as if Nerds were launching an attack on the American male, and so the JOCK and the persecution against nerds started.

The concept of intimacy between men is not always about a sexual nature. There are cases in which men are close to each other and show intimacy by being friends and caring for each other. One can see this still in Korea, where men can be seen holding hands and actually showing emotions. This was the norm apparently in America before the 20th century.

Think of America, pre-Industrial Revolution. People were moving from the farm to the city, losing the supposed masculinity of working on a farm. To many people, this meant that men were become sissies. I guess that showing emotions was okay for men pre-Industrial Revolution since they were also doing hyper masculine things on the farm. However, they lose this identity when they move to the city and become urbanized. The backlash against non-masculine ideals becomes stronger because they are no longer balanced by farm work. Men are discouraged from acting in anyway unmasculine, or else their masculinity will be called into question.

This is getting a bit long winded, but I guess my point is that homophobia is hurtful to everyone. For gay people, it hurts because of the general stigma against homosexuality, leading to gay bashing, suicides, depression, etc. For straight men, it discourages anything that could be construed as homosexual behavior. This doesn’t mean intercourse or even anything remotely sexual. This includes what has been traditionally thought of as feminine ideals – such as showing emotions, physical affection, etc.

Source: Homophobia Hurts Straight Men Too

A fractal/recursive social network

Today’s announcement of a modified Groups feature brought out my latent mathiness (the concept of recursion/fractals)  with this thought – that Facebook is now opening up…a Facebook.

From my understanding of Groups, it will be a closed social network that you can invite subgroups of your friends to, kind of what Facebook was like in the beginning. Great and hopefully useful feature.

However, some points:

1) It’s a nice feature because then you can create subject specific groups. In my case, it would probably be Family, Library Dorks, Grad School, Work

2) If your goal is to communicate to specific groups, then yay. If your goal is to exclude people, then boo. If you have to exclude people, why did you add them in the first place?

The Mashable article makes the point that I wanted to make – why is there a need to cloister ourselves inside Facebook? It’s probably because we have added people we don’t want to interact with and now, through a lack of regulated social media etiquette, we don’t know what to do about them. Do we delete them? Do we block them? Do we hide them? Will they know?

Source: Groups feature is the new Facebook

Creator Glut

One thing that I’ve been meaning to do has been to do stuff. I’m in this rut where I just don’t feel like doing anything cool.

I haven’t knitted anything in forever. I haven’t finished any of my art projects. I haven’t been studying Processing.

Looks like I’m not only in this rut. According to a new study, less people are creating content. Less new content, more eyeballs looking at the same content. This is definitely a bad thing in terms of Internet culture – with the same users creating content, this can fork one of two ways: we might end up with creators constantly reinventing themselves to come up with new and exciting ideas, or we might end up with creators rehashing the same, stale ideas constantly.

I’d like to hope that new creators show up – maybe teens or young adults just discovering their voice, encouraged by what they see on the Internet, transitioning from a Spectator to a Creator. Older people can contribute as well – they offer a different perspective on the Internet and Internet culture as whole. I especially would like to see those on the cusp to partake in creation – those users who were born in the 80s and know what it’s like to not use a computer to do their homework, but also have lived through the digital revolution. The Digital Half-Natives.

Source:Social Networking Users are Creating Less Content