Thursday, August 11, 2011

Money-Crazed, AI-Driven

Two notes on culture. I’ve got to fix these moments sharply in my head just in case, over in the next world, they have historical archivists whose only access to data are the well-resolved memory pictures of the living.

The first concerns photos of traders published in the papers every time the markets plunge. The traders are always staring at computer screens, the screens themselves not visible to us. They stare with uniquely tense, mesmerized, yet vaguely troubled expressions on their faces—as if looking at a gigantic sci-fi monster. There is an awe in these faces. Beholding that awe—if we don’t know the context—we’d never imagine that they are watching the unfolding of an activity entirely produced by human beings acting deliberately, in detail, communicating sell and buy orders by means of machinery of the most extreme sophistication humanity has as yet seen. All of the communications rest on computers, hence my reference to Artificial Intelligence, not least some of the trading—done by computers following buy-sell algorithms carefully programmed by people with astounding mathematical skills.

The second is an amusing personal experience. The pool where twice weekly Brigitte does water aerobics is right next to a sandy beach on Lake Saint Claire. Of late I’ve accompanied her and, while she does her thing, I sit on an Adirondacks chair, read a book, or watch the beach. The other day I took my little Kodak and—not having tried this before—I rested it on the wide armrest of my chair and let it take a digital film of minute wave movements, the slow distant slide of sailing yachts, swallows flying swiftly by, the occasional people flip-flopping along carrying towels, and so on.

Later I engaged the services of YouTube to turn my camera’s digital feed into an actual video, planning to use it on a family photo blog. It all went splendidly—and I had a video for true contemplatives: In five minutes virtually nothing happens at all. The sail boats are too far away, the birds are too fast, the waves do move—but you have to concentrate to see them. Sun-drenched total boredom, if you like.

Imagine my surprise when, an hour or so later, YouTube informs me by e-mail that I may have committed copyright infringement against Giant Music Company So-And-So—and lest I endanger my massive assets in a lawsuit, YouTube invites me to visit their site and clear the matter up. Good Lord, I thought. What did I do? Exercising what lawyers call due diligence, I investigated immediately—by watching Sun-Drenched Total Boredom yet again. Well, sure enough. At our pool management sometimes plays music over a loudspeaker. You know how it is these days. Music must be present—lest Modern Man die of tedium. There is music behind narrative in documentaries, music behind drama lest I fail to know how to feel (romantic, tense, scared). Therefore music, pop music, while the good people of Grosse Pointe Farms splash in the pool. And some of that music, quite distant, broken up by distance, but audible, was right there, captured by my sophisticated little Kodak’s enormously capable sound system—and this camera about the size of my billfold! Copyright violation!

Money crazed and AI-driven. For surely, I thought, laboriously clearing up the matter by answering YouTube’s lengthy questionnaire by means of keyboard, screen, and Internet linkages (landlines, wireless, satellite, etc.), surely, I thought, no human being, watching that video, could possibly think me a Copyright Violator! The little film had all the facts. Distant music played for the public. All broken up. But no human being was actually involved in YouTube’s message to me. It was all done by AI. Wasn’t it? A machine examined my video, ingenuously captured the pattern of the music, matched it to a database of music, identified it as the sole property of Giant Music Company So-And-So, selected the appropriate standard text to send me, put it in an e-mail, and sent it to me for Action Now.

I hope the archivists over beyond the Border up there will appreciate this little snippet and treasure it as a true marker of the state of affairs in the twenty-first century of the current era.

Our lake, by the way, was named after Saint Clare of Assisi, originally called Chiara Offreducio (1194-1253). She was one of Francis of Assisi’s earliest followers, founded the Order of Poor Ladies, and was the first woman, so Wikipedia tells me, to write a Monastic Rule. My knowing this, to be sure, is a by-product of my twenty-first century experience, and due to my due diligence in looking up the exact spelling of Lake Saint Claire. I bring you an image of Saint Clare, also from Wikipedia here. As for the archivists over there, I expect that they’ve already heard of Chiara and have her on file.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that is quite a story. Amazing.

    Enjoy the live and lovely view in your park. And pull that Adirondack chair far enough from the speakers to get the view sans background music next time.


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