Wednesday, June 29, 2016

FLAG played NYC last night


Last year I noticed my good friends in the band FLAG (mostly former members of BLACK FLAG) had a really weak publicity photo, I promised next time I am in the same town as all of them I'd be happy to make a new photo for them, So before last nights gig we went out back behind the venue and made some photos. I shot half a roll of B&W film and then a few digital images with my iPod... Here's a few of the digi-images, I assume the film ones will be much better, but here's these:

Monday, June 27, 2016

School Life Monday:
LITERATURE - Gustave Flaubert


The great French 19th century novelist Gustave Flaubert understood tragedy, France, the bourgeoisie and laughter.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sweden powers up world’s first electric highway outside Stockholm

from CleanTechCanada

Design allows trucks to seamlessly connect and disconnect from electrified overhead wires while traveling at speeds of up to 90 kilometres per hour

MUNICH—Amid the rush of vehicles on Highway E16—a few kilometres outside Gävle in central Sweden—Siemens AG and Swedish heavy vehicle maker Scania AB have powered up the world’s first eHighway.

Running along a two-kilometre stretch of road, and designed to slash emissions in the carbon-intensive transportation industry, the pilot project will test an electrified overhead wire system, or catenary, specially-designed to allow transport trucks to draw power from the grid.

“By far the greatest part of the goods transported in Sweden goes on the road, but only a limited part of the goods can be moved to other traffic types,” Anders Berndtsson, chief strategist at the Swedish Transport Administration (STA), said. “That is why we must free the trucks from their dependence on fossil fuels, so that they can be of use also in the future.”

“Electric roads offer this possibility and are an excellent complement to the transport system,” he added.

A specially-designed, moveable pantograph enables an automatic connection between the systems overhead contact line and the vehicle at speeds of up to 90 km/h. PHOTO: Siemens/Scania CV AB
Contracted by the SFA and installed northwest of Stockholm, the overhead wire system functions similarly to the catenaries that power electric rail lines around the world. Unlike trains that remain on the electrified lines along their entire route, the eHighway is designed to allow trucks to seamlessly connect and disconnect from the wires while traveling at speeds of up to 90 km per hour.

Siemens says the design will cut energy consumption in half compared to conventional internal combustion engines.

While the German conglomerate designed the overhead electrical system, Sweden’s Scania manufactured and adapted a pair of heavy duty trucks for use in the demonstration project. The eHighway vehicles run using diesel hybrid drive, allowing them to operate like typical fuel-burning vehicles in areas that aren’t electrified, or on grid power while connected to the catenary system. Maintaining the adaptability of conventional trucks, the design would allow for a staged roll-out of the technology—a common issue when implementing next generation technologies.

Running for two years, the pilot will determine if the system can be commercialized and deployed more broadly. It’s the first project of its kind to run in real-world conditions on a public road.

While Sweden has committed to transforming its transportation system to run fossil fuel-free by 2030, the technology could also be applied in other areas. Siemens noted it is also currently developing another eHighway pilot project that will roll out in California in 2017.


via The PreSurfer

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Disaster Control
from the New York Times

In 1966, a B-52 bomber on a Cold War nuclear patrol exploded over Spain, releasing four hydrogen bombs. Fifty years later, Air Force veterans involved with the cleanup are sick and want recognition.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron urge people to eat less meat

who woulda thunk it.


from The Guardian:
Terminator actor and director fronting a new campaign to try and curb animal product consumption, endorsing initiatives in China to reduce meat eating by 50%


More than two decades since the first, gut-crunching Terminator movie, James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger have collaborated again on a campaign encouraging people to cut down on the amount of meat they eat.

Spearheaded by WildAid, the drive has American and Chinese audiences in its crosshairs, and endorses efforts by the latter government to reduce the population’s meat consumption by 50%.

“You have to respect that,” says Cameron in backstage footage from the shoot. “That’s a leadership position.” The director, whose off-screen ecological activism has been detected in the plots of films such as Avatar, said he’d been stirred into action after clocking his own hypocrisy.

“How can I call myself an environmentalist when I’m contributing to environmental degradation by what I eat?”

Speaking alongside Cameron, Schwarzenegger reports health benefits of cutting down his meat and dairy intake on the advice of doctors. “I’m slowly getting off meat,” he says, “and I tell you: I feel fantastic.”

The video, which is part of a wider strategy including billboards and online pledges, features Schwarzenegger staggering through a ravaged landscape presumably destroyed in part by the carbon emissions of the livestock industry.

“Less meat, less heat, more life,” concludes the actor in the film, who also states that the notion meat is needed for muscle strength is incorrect.

The campaign makes curious contrast with a video released earlier this week, fronted by Matt Damon, Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara, lobbying for an end to the torture and slaughter of some 10,000 dogs in the far east as part of an annual food festival.

GO TO WILD_AID to see and hear more.



Thursday, June 23, 2016

Samantha Bee puts the NRA before a firing squad

via Boing Boing



The NRA -- tone-deaf, intransigent, monied -- are seemingly unstoppable, but if anyone can shoot 'em down, it's Samantha Bee, whose tight, funny, rage-filled 5:30 on America's gun lobby is practically armor-piercing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

LOVE & HATE Automobiles
the future

if there is one thing I have learned in my life from the concept drawings that i saw in the magazines as a kid that seemed unimaginable at the time, they eventually come true!

These few, similarly to the Mercedes clip i posted last year, are even more insane than the dream cars of my child hood, but they will probably happen sooner than we expect . . .









That said I have not owned a car for over 20 years, thankfully.

Living in NYC allows me the luxury of walking everywhere or using a pretty good MTA.

GEF

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Gun control defeated in Senate. #Orlando means nothing if you're paid by the NRA.

from our friend Xeni at Boing Boing:



Serious question: Isn't one of the primary purposes of our government to protect American lives? Because today, our government chose not to. Again.

One week after 49 Americans were shot to death in an Orlando nightclub, the Senate today voted no on four different measures to limit gun sales. At least they're consistent. Each time there's a mass shooting, and they occur with alarming frequency and regularity, our politicians do nothing. They tweet thoughts, talk on TV about prayers, and take absolutely zero action.

Today's deadlock was split predictably between Democrats and Republicans, on amendments that would block people who are the federal terrorism watch list from being able to buy guns. The proposed changes would have also closed loopholes in background check laws.

“As the votes were held, families of gun violence victims looked on from the Senate chamber,” writes Jennifer Steinhauer in the New York Times.

“Our constituents see a disturbing pattern of inaction,” Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said on the Senate floor on Monday. “Sadly, our efforts are blocked by the Republican Congress, who take their marching orders from the National Rifle Association.”



From the Times:
Further action on gun safety measures or mental health provisions seemed unlikely before the fall election, given the rush to finish a series of spending bills and the relatively limited time that Congress will be in session before November.

In addition, the four gun measures were attached to legislation that contains several other thorny issues, such as the question of whether to take passports away from terrorism suspects, which suggests there will be little chance for further debate.
Related: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump today “walked back” his earlier inflammatory remarks that armed clubgoers could have prevented the Orlando massacre.

Monday, June 20, 2016

School of Life Monday
LITERATURE - Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was one of the most popular writers in English in the 19th century. He deserves our attention for his ideas about sympathy, popularity and happiness

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Public Image Ltd. bootleg: The original band, live in New York, 1980

from Dangerous Minds:


In the 80s and 90s heyday of the “VHS tape trading underground”—from whence oozed choice fare like Jeff Krulik and John Heyn’s “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” Todd Haynes‘ unorthodox Karen Carpenter bio Superstar and Apocalypse Pooh—the territory was covered in every major city and college town by a small cast of characters—often marginally employed losers who gained a certain amount of notoriety and geek pecking order prestige by the scarcity of their video treasure chests.

These social outcasts and otaku misfits usually kept tight reins on what they had. The less uptight of these guys would trade a full two hour tape for another full two hour tape, whereas others would demand two tapes for every one they traded you. Many were real pricks and would only trade for something they wanted, not something that you wanted. (The sort who might say “Sorry man, but rules are rules.” You know the type.) In this way, back then bootleggers and tape traders were the clutch point between collectors and what they coveted most. It wasn’t unusual for bootleg VHS tapes to sell for $50. “Deals” would be brokered between two assholes, one with a pristine 2nd generation of the demented TV movie Bad Ronald, the other frantically bargaining with him because, of course, acquiring a copy of a shitty movie like Bad Ronald was a matter of extreme importance. With Bittorrent, and before that eBay, this vibrant—albeit somewhat stunted and idiotic—fanboy culture eventually evaporated.

I cannot tell you how many of these dumb “negotiations” I was involved in myself, often with some pretty petty Gollum-like characters. Luckily I had several good “trading cards” in my hand to play, so I always got what I wanted. Three “top traders” that I will admit to back then were Robert Frank’s rarely seen Rolling Stones documentary Cocksucker Blues that I got via a guy I worked with who had himself transferred the film to tape under Robert Frank’s personal supervision; another was the oddball black and white latenight TV commercial for Captain Beefheart’s Lick My Decals Off, Baby album (dubbed by me from an ancient 2” videotape master possessed by an MTV producer who told me to make a copy for myself) and a sharp, first generation dub of an off air recording of Public Image Limited on American Bandstand.

I bring up the PiL clip in particular just to mention that the version that was used on a well-circulated bootleg PiL DVD anthology—one which Amazon used to sell like it was a legit release—that came out about 15 years ago was a grandchild (at least) of my Bandstand clip. I could tell this—definitively—because of the split-second of what preceded it, an outtake of the same Cramps set that was shot for Urgh! A Music War. The clip had been trading around for maybe fifteen years at that point and now it had come full circle. (As for Cocksucker Blues, if you see a brief videotape warble just as the title card fades out...)
But that’s how those things used to get around. They were quite literally copied one at a time and spread from hand to hand. Which brings me to the topic of this post, another PiL performance—unquestionably the greatest live PiL performance on video—director/editor Paul Dougherty‘s short document of PiL performing at the Great Gildersleeves, a low rent heavy metal bar in NYC, on April 22, 1980 that was bootlegged on this very same DVD. When I bought my copy—at the Pasadena Flea Market—as I scanned the contents and saw that this was on it, I thought I’d hit bootleg PiL paydirt. Sadly it was poor quality.

Now I know Paul. I actually met him at a screening of the PiL Tape, his video for Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop” and his classic clip for Pulsallama’s “The Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body” when he was showing them at the ICA in London. Many times over the years I’ve asked him for a copy of the PiL Tape—he knows that I’m a complete PiL freak—and every time he just firmly said “No.”

He gave an interview to the The Filth and the Fury fanzine about the so-called PiL Tape in 1999:
Have you any idea how the bootleg videos of your film surfaced? The amazing thing is that until a couple of years ago no one even knew PiL had played the gig, let alone knew that it was filmed!

Paul Dougherty: I have a strong hunch how it leaked but I’m not certain. Because I know all too well how easy it is to copy videos, I was able to keep it bottled up for over 15 years.
They updated the interview on the PiL fansite Fodderstompf in 2013 to indicate “the offending leaker has been identified, case closed.”

There have been crappy uploads of this material from time to time on YouTube. They come and go, but I’ve never seen all of it in one piece and in quality as good as the embedded clip below (although it’s variable in places, too). Other than the precious few TV clips of the original band—John Lydon, Keith Levene, Jah Wobble, Martin Atkins—this is the ONLY live footage that exists of this line-up. It was shot with two cameras and they took sound from the audio board. It’s very easily the best PiL bootleg—and that’s not just my opinion, the webmaster of the definitive PiL website feels the same way:
This video recording features the classic 1980 Lydon, Levene, Wobble & Atkins line up playing live in New York. The best PiL bootleg EVER!! Filmed by two cameras, one at the back / middle, and one on the left-hand side of the stage. This recording is not really a bootleg, BUT neither is it an official release…

NY filmmaker & producer Paul Dougherty had full permission to film the band, however, it was never intended for an official release. It is unknown how ANY recordings of this tape circulated, Dougherty has closely guarded the footage all this time, and is very disappointed about the leak. In fact, he is very keen to find the source of the leek, so if you can help, get in touch…

Obviously, it’s well filmed, there are some great close ups of the band (even though John spends most of the time crouched down at the front of the stage). The colour is a bit faded here and there, but despite the age of the recording it’s decent quality. Unfortunately it’s only four songs, although ‘Careering’ from the gig has also surfaced separately, but the footage is absolutely superb! Look out for when John gets a young, hip looking, black kid up on stage to dance with him during ‘Bad Baby’, superb stuff (Lydon later claimed the kid was a transsexual!!).

This has to be one of my favourite PiL videos, it’s an absolute must have for PiL fans. It’s also the only concert footage of the 1980 line-up I know exists…





Friday, June 17, 2016

Chuck D Speaks On Black Baseball Players

from Public Enemy.com

Almost sixty-nine years have passed since Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, but despite the progress spurred on by this historic act, the sport faces declining numbers of both black players and black fans. Chris Rock has even likened being a black baseball fan to being part of an endangered species. In an interview with Complex, Chuck D discussed why the sport he loves is becoming an increasingly foreign experience to black youth.
In the 80's, black players represented about twenty percent of the MLB. Now they represent less than eight percent. "It disturbs me because of my own personal adoration with something I was obsessed with baseball as a [teenager]. I was obsessed with the game," Chuck said when asked how he felt about the sharp decline in black players.
Chuck sees this as another symptom of American society's eagerness to jail black men. "Number one, baseball in the United States of America starts with relationship of father to son. Ya hear me? Starts with the relationship of father to son. My father played baseball with myself and my brother... When you have the eradication of the black community and the destruction of black fatherhood for whatever reasons it might be—you can say it’s a redefinition of the family but there are actual facts. Meaning what? There was 100,000 black men in prison in 1970, and there’s well over a million and a half now in U.S. prisons... If you take the father away from the son, you’re going to have a lot of missing [opportunities for] explaining how we should work together as a team..."
"The black community has been fragmented seriously, since the 1980s, for a bunch of different reasons. Be it drugs, guns, a whole bunch of areas of non-development," Chuck said. "Baseball fields were always full in black communities in the United States in the ‘50s, in the ‘60s and in the ‘70s. They were full and at the same time you’d go to the sideline and fathers would almost always outnumber the sons. You don’t see that nowhere no more."
Chuck also takes issue with people claiming that the sport is boring, or that the reason it's failed to attract the attention of young athletes is because it's not as exciting to watch as say, basketball or football. "So when people say baseball is boring, yeah it’s boring because you don’t have the time to understand, to grasp it. Don’t just say it’s wack because you don’t understand," Chuck said. 
You can read the full interview, which includes more of Chuck's thoughts on how baseball has changed since he was obsessed with it as a teen, over at Complex.
By Michael Lacerna for PublicEnemy.com

Thursday, June 16, 2016

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE
WRITERS SPEAK OUT AGAINST DONALD TRUMP

from LitHub.com
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE
Because, as writers, we are particularly aware of the many ways that language can be abused in the name of power;
Because we believe that any democracy worthy of the name rests on pluralism, welcomes principled disagreement, and achieves consensus through reasoned debate;
Because American history, despite periods of nativism and bigotry, has from the first been a grand experiment in bringing people of different backgrounds together, not pitting them against one another;
Because the history of dictatorship is the history of manipulation and division, demagoguery and lies;
Because the search for justice is predicated on a respect for the truth;
Because we believe that knowledge, experience, flexibility, and historical awareness are indispensable in a leader;
Because neither wealth nor celebrity qualifies anyone to speak for the United States, to lead its military, to maintain its alliances, or to represent its people;
Because the rise of a political candidate who deliberately appeals to the basest and most violent elements in society, who encourages aggression among his followers, shouts down opponents, intimidates dissenters, and denigrates women and minorities, demands, from each of us, an immediate and forceful response;
For all these reasons, we, the undersigned, as a matter of conscience, oppose, unequivocally, the candidacy of Donald J. Trump for the Presidency of the United States.

Follow @WritersOnTrump and #WritersOnTrump for more info.

Monday, June 13, 2016

School of Life Monday:
What's wrong with the media


The media is supposed to tell us everything important: so why, after spending so long with it, are we generally so overloaded, confused and oddly unfocused on the stuff that really matters?



Sunday, June 12, 2016

Best tweet of the day yesterday
Minor Threat print at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Friday, June 10, 2016

Henry the Emotional Environmentalist


found somewhere in the social media sphere...
Love this kid.



FOLLOW HENRY AT: https://www.facebook.com/emotionalenv...

DEAD, DYING, DIED. 😂😂😂 Picked Henry up from school the other day and I had no idea he was this passionate about our planet. Don't litter or he might call you the "S" word!

Feel free to share, Henry the Emotional Environmentalist wants to make sure everyone stops being so dumb to the environment.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

What everyone earns working on a $200m blockbuster




Find out the budget breakdown of a hypothetical Hollywood blockbuster.

In using the budgets of actual +200MM blockbuster movies as references, this video excludes non-human costs, and reflects an approximation of the take home pay of all humans involved, based on average union rates.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Glen E. Friedman Live Discussion Moderated by Alec MacKaye at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, Washington DC (2015)

Repete Wednesday:


Glen E. Friedman Live Discussion Moderated by Alec MacKaye at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, Washington DC (2015) from Burning Flags Press on Vimeo.

On October 25th 2015, Glen E. Friedman and Alec MacKaye sat down in front of a standing room only audience in the Grand Hall of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in Washington DC where the DC PUNK ARCHIVE is held. It was one of several events to celebrate the 1st anniversary of of the Punk Archive. They had a discussion about Glen's work and answered questions from the audience. This is a simple one camera lo-fi documentation of the event.



Special thanks to Vicente Gutierrez at Highway magazine (http://www.highwaymagazine.info) for being instrumental in creating and promoting the event with Michelle Casto and Maggie Gilmore at the DC Punk Archive (http://dclibrary.org/punk).

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Mohammad Ali's Life Recipe
How he wanted to be remembered




MUHAMMAD ALI INTERVIEW
WITH DAVID FROST - 1972

David Frost:
What would you like people to think about you when you've gone?

Mohammad Ali:
I'd like for them to say: He took a few cups of love.
He took one tablespoon of patience,
One teaspoon of generosity,
One pint of kindness.
He took one quart of laughter,
One pinch of concern.
And then, he mixed willingness with happiness.
He added lots of faith,
And he stirred it up well.
Then he spred it over a span of a lifetime,
And he served it to it to each and every deserving person he met.

Monday, June 6, 2016

School of Life Monday : the Philosophy of PLATO

from The School of Life



Plato was one of the world's earliest and possibly greatest philosophers. He matters because of his devotion to making humanity more fulfilled.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Rapping, deconstructed: the best rhymers of all time

interesting piece.

from Vox



There's a line in the first verse of MF Doom's track "Beef Rapp" that encapsulates everything I love about rappers who create complex rhyming patterns in their songs. It goes like this:

Whether it is animal, vegetable, or mineral
It's a miracle how he get so lyrical
And proceed to move the crowd like a old Negro spiritual

Not only is MF Doom talking about how he's a great rhymer, he's showing you.

I spoke with Martin Connor, a writer and music theorist who analyzes the rhyming patterns, beats, and rhythmic techniques of some of the greatest rappers, to figure out just how rhyming in rap music has evolved.



From the simple nursery rhyme–like bars of Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks" to the smooth East Coast flow of Notorious B.I.G.'s hit song "Hypnotize" to the speedy delivery of Kendrick Lamar's "Rigamortis," rhyming in rap music has not only evolved, it's gotten better.

The video above explores how some of the greatest rappers of all time create memorable, lyrically dense rhymes.

And here's a playlist highlighting songs that are prime examples of how great rhyming in rap can be.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

WHAT IS A GROUP? A film by IAN F SVENONIUS

WHAT IS A GROUP? A Film By IAN F SVENONIUS
"The first Sci Fi Documentary Rock 'N' Roll Exploitation Film"

Starring KID CONGO POWERS, KATIE GREER, DANIELE YANDEL, MICHELLE MAE, ALEX MINOFF, MARY TIMONY, FRANCY Z GRAHAM, ALYSSA BELL, ERICK JACKSON, IAN F SVENONIUS
With the voices of MADIE MCCORMICK & FRANCY Z GRAHAM

Produced, Directed, Written, and Edited By IAN F SVENONIUS
Camera & Lights by ERIC CHEEVERS & BRAD BAKER
Theme song By ALEX MINOFF
"Free Will" By CHAIN & The GANG
Sound & Noise by IAN F SVENONIUS

A STRAWBERRY CITY PRODUCTION

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Could The Language Barrier Actually Fall Within The Next 10 Years?

from IFL:


Wouldn’t it be wonderful to travel to a foreign country without having to worry about the nuisance of communicating in a different language?
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, technology policy expert Alec Ross argued that, within a decade or so, we’ll be able to communicate with one another via small earpieces with built-in microphones.
No more trying to remember your high school French when checking into a hotel in Paris. Your earpiece will automatically translate “Good evening, I have a reservation” to Bon soir, j’ai une réservation – while immediately translating the receptionist’s unintelligible babble to “I am sorry, Sir, but your credit card has been declined.”
Ross argues that because technological progress is exponential, it’s only a matter of time.
Indeed, some parents are so convinced that this technology is imminent that they’re wondering if their kids should even learn a second language.
Max Ventilla, one of AltSchool Brooklyn’s founders, recently told The New Yorker
…if the reason you are having your child learn a foreign language is so that they can communicate with someone in a different language twenty years from now – well, the relative value of that is changed, surely, by the fact that everyone is going to be walking around with live-translation apps.
Needless to say, communication is only one of the many advantages of learning another language (and I would argue that it’s not even the most important one).
Furthermore, while it’s undeniable that translation tools like Bing TranslatorBabelfish or Google Translate have improved dramatically in recent years, prognosticators like Ross could be getting ahead of themselves.
As a language professor and translator, I understand the complicated nature of language’s relationship with technology and computers. In fact, language contains nuances that are impossible for computers to ever learn how to interpret.
Language rules are special
I still remember grading assignments in Spanish where someone had accidentally written that he’d sawed his parents in half, or where a student and his brother had acquired a well that was both long and pretty. Obviously, what was meant was “I saw my parents” and “my brother and I get along pretty well.” But leave it to a computer to navigate the intricacies of human languages, and there are bound to be blunders.
Even earlier this month, when asked about Twitter’s translation feature for foreign language tweets, the company’s CEO Jack Dorsey conceded that it does not happen in “real time, and the translation is not great.”
Still, anything a computer can “learn,” it will learn. And it’s safe to assume that any finite set of data (like every single work of literature ever written) will eventually make its way into the cloud.
So why not log all the rules by which languages govern themselves?
Simply put: because this is not how languages work. Even if the Florida State Senate has recently ruled that studying computer code is equivalent to learning a foreign language, the two could not be more different.
Programming is a constructed, formal language. Italian, Russian or Chinese – to name a few of the estimated 7,000 languages in the world – are natural, breathing languages which rely as much on social convention as on syntactic, phonetic or semantic rules.
Words don’t indicate meaning
As long as one is dealing with a simple written text, online translation tools will get better at replacing one “signifier” – the name Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure gave to the idea that a sign’s physical form is distinct from its meaning – with another.
Or, in other words, an increase in the quantity and accuracy of the data logged into computers will make them more capable of translating “No es bueno dormir mucho” as “It’s not good to sleep too much,” instead of the faulty “Not good sleep much,” as Google Translate still does.
Replacing a word with its equivalent in the target language is actually the “easy part” of a translator’s job. But even this seems to be a daunting task for computers.
Lost in translation. Images.com/Corbis
So why do programs continue to stumble on what seem like easy translations?
It’s so difficult for computers because translation doesn’t – or shouldn’t – involve simply translating words, sentences or paragraphs. Rather, it’s about translating meaning.
And in order to infer meaning from a specific utterance, humans have to interpret a multitude of elements at the same time.
Think about all the contextual clues that go into understanding an utterance: volume, pitch, situation, even your culture – all are as likely to convey as much meaning as the words you use. Certainly, a mother’s soft-spoken advice to “be careful” elicits a much different response than someone yelling “Be careful!” from the passenger’s seat of your car.
So can computers really interpret?
As the now-classic book Metaphors We Live By has shown, languages are more metaphorical than factual in nature. Language acquisition often relies on learning abstract and figurative concepts that are very hard – if not impossible – to “explain” to a computer.
Since the way we speak often has nothing to do with the reality that surrounds us, machines are – and will continue to be – puzzled by the metaphorical nature of human communications.
This is why even a promising newcomer to the translation game like the website Unbabel, which defines itself as an “AI-powered human-quality translation,” has to rely on an army of 42,000 translators around the world to fine-tune acceptable translations.
You need a human to tell the computer that “I’m seeing red” has little to do with colors, or that “I’m going to change” probably refers to your clothes and not your personality or your self.
If interpreting the intended meaning of a written word is already overwhelming for computers, imagine a world where a machine is in charge of translating what you say out loud in specific situations.
The translation paradox
Nonetheless, technology seems to be trending in that direction. Just as “intelligent personal assistants” like Siri or Alexa are getting better at understanding what you say, there is no reason to think that the future will not bring “personal assistant translators.”
But translating is an altogether different task than finding the nearest Starbucks, because machines aim for perfection and rationality, while languages – and humans – are always imperfect and irrational.
This is the paradox of computers and languages.
If machines become too sophisticated and logical, they’ll never be able to correctly interpret human speech. If they don’t, they’ll never be able to fully interpret all the elements that come into play when two humans communicate.
Therefore, we should be very wary of a device that is incapable of interpreting the world around us. If people from different cultures can offend each other without realizing it, how can we expect a machine to do better?
Will this device be able to detect sarcasm? In Spanish-speaking countries, will it know when to use “tú” or “usted” (the informal and formal personal pronouns for “you”)? Will it be able to sort through the many different forms of address used in Japanese? How will it interpret jokes, puns and other figures of speech?
Unless engineers actually find a way to breathe a soul into a computer – pardon my figurative speech – rest assured that, when it comes to conveying and interpreting meaning using a natural language, a machine will never fully take our place.