Sex and Sensibility
By Maria Popova
HUMAN VS. MACHINE: CHECK-MATE
In every sci-fi movie we’ve seen, androids always seem to come short on something, be it intellectual flexibility, or social skills, or adaptation capacity. This seems to be the quintessential problem with artificial intelligence: it just can’t fully replicate the mind-blowing capabilities of the human brain.
Enter Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an extremely smart yet not recognized nearly enough concept that aims to reconcile human and machine, solving the biggest shortcoming of 2.0 services.
First, the brilliant name. The original “Turk” was a mechanical chess-playing automaton invented by Austrian-Hungarian baron Wolfgang von Kempelen. The machine, a life-sized model of a human upper body complete with a black beard and grey eyes, was so good it went on to defeat Napoleon Bonaparte and our very own Ben Franklin. Which must’ve made them all the more infuriated, especially after they found out it was, you know, a hoax. You see, our boy Wolfgang had a real human chess master pretzeled inside the machine, operating it. The point: human intellectual mastery is always king.
So Amazon decided to tackle the intellectual shortcomings of complex software applications by introducing “artificial artificial intelligence,” reversing the traditional relationship between humans and applications wherein the human gives a command and the application executes it. Instead, the Amazon Mechanical Turk allows applications to send requests to real humans and have flesh-and-blood brains complete tasks. The said humans are, of course, paid to go to the website, search for tasks and complete them.
Yeah, well, who cares? Most businesses and web developers (a.k.a. “requesters”) do. Or should. Because the Amazon Mechanical Turk allows them to do what they used to do the traditional algorithm-driven way in a smarter, higher-quality, more cost-efficient one. The service can be used for anything from precise image search filtering to hardcore search child safety. To ensure quality and make sure they’re not getting ripped off, requesters can approve HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks) before they pay for them. Amazon also keeps contributors’ records over time to make sure the human machinery involved is top-notch.
Yep, it’s a brilliant concept, but it’s also a lot to digest. So take some of Amazon’s Pepto on the subject and give your own human brain an appreciative pat on the occipital lobe for being such a brilliant, unsurpassed piece of intellectual machinery.
DOLLAR, MEET THE OTHER GREEN
In the midst of all the campaigning and finger-pointing as to who exactly is responsible for global warming, it’s easy to forget it’s less about culprits and blame and gripes, and more about simple, daily ecological sensibility. So any effort to make that whole sensibility thing a bit easier is refreshing and commendable. Which is why we dig Spring.com, a portal of sorts where you can shop for all things green.
These folks have sifted through the retail world, online and off, for the greenest in food, fashion, beauty, home, and lifestyle products. You can browse by conveniently narrow sub-categories (such as Finance, Tech, Kids, and Pets, among others, all within the Lifestyle category), and you can sort products by price or by “type of green” (waste-reducing, vegan, sustainable, organic, recycled, and more). And, of course, you can always search.
But what makes Spring.com more than a shopping site is the little (or, in this case, a lot) extra stuff. Like their instructional, informative, or merely entertaining videos on anything from how to cook a chef-level organic meal, to who the latest green movers and shakers are, to how to sport the best organic home bar.
Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that their slogan is “Sexy people are into green.” Kind of reminds you that the green movement isn’t run entirely by balding, middle-aged, overweight politicians. There are, in fact, some rather hot (not in an environmentally harmful way) people involved, people like this ecological Indiana Jones.
While we’re at it, in this age of global competition, why not apply all the mine-is-bigger-than-yoursing to the subject of global warming? That’s exactly what Breathing Earth is doing by providing a snapshot of each country’s carbon footprint via carbon dioxide emission crossed with a real-time animation of birth and death occurrences to illustrate birth and death rates. The US, of course, tops it all at 1000 tons of CO2 emitted every 5.4 seconds (with a person dying every 12.8 seconds and one being born every 7.5). Just for comparison, Bulgaria emits those same 1000 tons of CO2 every 12.5 minutes. (Yes, minutes.)
So being the data geeks we are, we have our reservations about it. While most of the data come from legit sources (World Factbook, the UN, the US Census), some of it, such as data on the smaller countries for which there are no stats available, is merely an estimation (based on their economy, population and neighbors, so maybe an educated guess rather than a shot in the dark, but still an estimation.) Still, the concept, the slick visual and the real-time cool factor earn the project some serious Brain Pickings kudos.
Breathing Earth is the brain child of Polish-born, Australia-dwelling multimedia design student (yes, student) David Bleja, a.k.a. StillWater. Based on his other work, he seems just like the kind of talented, socially-conscious young chap that initiates and inspires real change. (Unlike, you know, the latest celebriho endorsing a mandatory post-jail face-saving cause.)
In this culture, and especially in this business, it’s hard to deny the impact of powerful sexual imagery. But not all erotic stuff is created equal. So the thoughtful (and by now probably very, very horny) folks at the Nerve Film Lounge have partnered with the Independent Film Channel to bring us The 50 Greatest Sex Scenes in Cinema.
We’re pretty sure you’ll opt for their presentation, complete with visuals and video, over our plain-spoken one. But, just in case, here’s a round-up of the top 10:
10. Madeline Kahn’s intense, innuendo-driven, one-liner-for-foreplay encounter with Frankenstein in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1974)
9. The unlawfully steamy exchange between Ellen Barkin and Dennis Quaid in The Big Easy (1987)
7. Daniel Day-Lewis’ passionate yet romance- driven affair with his Pakistani business partner in My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) at a time when society’s acceptance of gay rights was a far cry from the Brokeback Mountain critical acclaim
6. The opening scene of French movie Betty Blue (1985) in which Beatrice Dalle and Jean-Hugues Anglade flirtatiously open a 2-hour nudity fest
5. Tereza (Juliette Binoche) taking nude photographs of her lover’s (Daniel Day-Lewis again) wife Sabina (Lena Olin) under sexually charged silence in Philip Kaufman’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)
4. Tom Cruise’s semi-delusional (ed: so that’s when it all started…) sexual encounter with Rebecca De Mornay in Risky Business (1993)
3. The impromptu yet mind-blowingly intense makeout-leads-to-more between Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring in David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (2001)
2. Maria Bello and Viggo Mortensen’s violent stairwell sex in David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (2005)
1. Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland’s voyeuristic interstitial collage of lovemaking in Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973)
And since we’re not ones to give you any of that don’t-try-this-at-home crap, please do. By all means, do try this at home if, and whenever, you’ve got the opportunity. Just don’t get too cinematically inspired. Because we all know where those home tapes always end up.
DONATELLO COULDN’T PULL THIS OFF
We got to wondering whatever happened to plaid. So we decided to bring it back with the help of a Burberry-for-geeks effort called Tiny Plaid Ninjas. Part arbitrary entertainment, part foray into delightful flash animation, this digital weirdo even has its own gear store.
The whole thing, along with other similarly borderline idiotic yet incredibly amusing projects, is the doing of a mysterious University of Michingan Computer Engineering grad who wouldn’t even reveal his name, but would reveal the fact that he has sold a Plaid Ninja thong on June 4th, 2005. We dig his (or her?) irreverent approach to, well, everything, plus we feel compelled to root for villain-or-underdog-depending-on-how-you-look-at-it Argyle Ninja.
Published September 4, 2007