Looking back through various bits of 2016, I realized I had a bunch of pictures from the beach this summer that I’d never downloaded or posted. So here’s a photo post to send off the year. I actually took more pictures there this year at dusk and in the evening, for some reason. Maybe that’s fitting.
I actually made this temari last year and have been saving it to post this holiday season. This one is done entirely by wrapping the thread around the ball in a specific pattern, as opposed to stitching, so the making process involves a lot of pins to hold everything in place until the end. But the final result is nice, so it’s worth it!
Pictured here with one of the Santa Clauses I inherited from my grandmother’s collection.
Happy Winter Solstice! Mark has gleefully pointed out that this is, in fact, the best Winter’s Night we are likely to experience in a lifetime, as tonight will be the longest night for the next 80 years due to a trick of orbital mechanics, plus there will be a lunar eclipse. So celebrate the best you can tonight; clearly the sun’s going to need all the help it can get to come up properly in the new year.
(Edit: The one time I don’t bother to fact check a thing Mark tells me with great confidence, it turns out to be a thing actually from 2010. But there is a lunar eclipse tonight! Best visible at 3:17am in the Eastern time zone. Look! Distracting art!)
And for some reason, this cool art Gene just sent us is striking me as thematically appropriate, so here you go. Enjoy!
A friend over on Tumblr tagged me in a challenge to post six photos from my phone’s camera roll that “represent my aesthetic.” I liked the ones I chose, mostly because apparently my aesthetic is nerdy hobbies, nature, and travel, which is not inaccurate, and also the colors all went together fairly nicely, which was complete happenstance.
So: a book I copy edited, a temari I worked on while watching Farscape, my favorite profile picture, an arrangement I made, a wall of tiles at Park Güell in Barcelona, and sunset over a rain pool at Jockey’s Ridge State Park.
Whoops, long time no blog, sorry about that! Today, a nostalgic return to some of my original blog topics, linguistics and science fiction.
Today I read an article linked by a computer science professor from my undergrad institution (where I did not take a single CS class, but whatever, he always posts fascinating stuff) about how it is inevitable that AIs that learn language through natural language corpora will inevitably inherit bias from that language, because bias is now part of the meaning of the words.
An excerpt from “Language necessarily contains human biases, and so will machines trained on language corpora” by Arvind Narayanan:
These [results] include innocuous, universal associations (flowers are associated with pleasantness and insects with unpleasantness), racial prejudice (European-American names are associated with pleasantness and African-American names with unpleasantness), and a variety of gender stereotypes (for example, career words are associated with male names and family words with female names).
But we go further. We show that information about the real world is recoverable from word embeddings to a striking degree. The figure below shows that for 50 occupation words (doctor, engineer, …), we can accurately predict the percentage of U.S. workers in that occupation who are women using nothing but the semantic closeness of the occupation word to feminine words!
[see article for figure]
These results simultaneously show that the biases in question are embedded in human language, and that word embeddings are picking up the biases.
Our finding of pervasive, human-like bias in AI may be surprising, but we consider it inevitable. We mean “bias” in a morally neutral sense. Some biases are prejudices, which society deems unacceptable. Others are facts about the real world (such as gender gaps in occupations), even if they reflect historical injustices that we wish to mitigate. Yet others are perfectly innocuous.
Algorithms don’t have a good way of telling these apart. If AI learns language sufficiently well, it will also learn cultural associations that are offensive, objectionable, or harmful. At a high level, bias is meaning. “Debiasing” these machine models, while intriguing and technically interesting, necessarily harms meaning.
Instead, we suggest that mitigating prejudice should be a separate component of an AI system. Rather than altering AI’s representation of language, we should alter how or whether it acts on that knowledge, just as humans are able to learn not to act on our implicit biases. This requires a long-term research program that includes ethicists and domain experts, rather than formulating ethics as just another technical constraint in a learning system.
Finally, our results have implications for human prejudice. Given how deeply bias is embedded in language, to what extent does the influence of language explain prejudiced behavior? And could transmission of language explain transmission of prejudices? These explanations are simplistic, but that is precisely our point: in the future, we should treat these as “null hypotheses’’ to be eliminated before we turn to more complex accounts of bias in humans.
And this in turn reminded me of the short story “Wilson’s Singularity” from Lightspeed Magazine’s People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! issue, in which the man now renowned for programming the AI that runs the world with (supposed) even-handed fairness accidentally engaged in debiasing (or rebiasing, depending on one’s point of view) the AI in its initial development.
I didn’t do it on purpose. What I said to it was strictly my own point of view. It came up as naturally as it would have in discussion with friends at home. Unity wanted to understand our ways and our history, understand us. It read and watched the news, and its interpretation of current events was part of our debugging process. News stories of police violence against African-Americans that fanned community anger in the early part of this century caused me great pain and anger at the time. Most of my co-workers were white or Asian—there was one programmer of Indian descent—none of them were black. Most were a generation older than I was; those closer to my age were uninformed or uninterested in the issues that drove my life.
Unity noticed the difference between my responses and those of the others when the subject came up. Some ignored these stories, some took the side of the police, and others made jokes I won’t grace with repetition. It was a terrible time for me. I felt embattled—I was safe enough working inside the high-security project, but on the streets outside I felt like a target, as vulnerable as any of the fallen. I know all this is hard for you to understand now, even to comprehend.
Read the whole story, really. You won’t regret it.
Additionally, if you want more stories, most of the issue can be found online here. (“A Good Home” was another favorite of mine.) If you like that, there’s even more that was exclusive to the paid ebook version. (Disclosure: I copy edit for them, so I get to see everything in advance. This was one of my favorite issues to work on.)
Anyway, I found the intersection of cutting-edge science with science fiction really interesting and figured I should share.
I’ve always liked stained glass designs, so when our Campbell students started asking about how to do the rose garden temari pattern last month, I decided to finally do one in stained glass colors, the way I’d been meaning to for probably years. I think I need to play with this concept even more, because I really like how it came out just on a simple 8.
And then I had the bright idea to stage a shot with the little stained glass hummingbird I bought in the gift shop this time, which led to a hilarious extended photo session with me trying to hold the hummingbird above the temari by its invisible fishing line with my right hand and the camera in my left hand, just waiting for the hummingbird to stop spinning long enough to take a picture with it at least briefly at the right angle… How I suffer for this blog.
Not the most elegant temari shot I’ve ever staged, but not bad for having to take all the pictures with my off hand. I was amused, in any case, and later I managed to get both the ball and the hummingbird arranged on the same ornament stand, so now I can continue to enjoy them without making my arm sore.
I’ve been working on this particular temari for a really long time, and I’m excited it’s finally done!
(Yes, I really did bake a cake just to use as a photo prop.)
This started as a challenge from a friend to do a ball based on the Portal video game (hopefully you could tell), with the idea of making the two halves of the ball represent the two halves of the portal. The swirl stitch seemed like the most obvious way to create a portal-y pattern, but really does not lend itself easily to being divided in half.
The solution I eventually landed on was to use a C10 division, which does have lines that continue all the way around the ball, and use the small triangle faces instead of the more usual pentagons. To color-divide the ball, I put one line of blue and orange around the equator, then traced over the scrap thread C10 lines already on the ball with the appropriate color. The scrap thread all got cut off at the end. (If you try this, be sure to tack your scrap thread with your base wrap color and save yourself some time.) The only downside to this color-division technique that I found is that the outlines of the triangles can get a little loose, since they’re not actually held taut by traveling all the way around the ball. Be sure to anchor firmly!
Originally I was going to swirl clockwise on all the blue triangles and counter-clockwise for all the orange ones, but it turns out the triangles are too small to build a satisfactory swirl on their own, so I started over and went with alternating CW/CCW triangles, which make those nice fan shapes. It’s a little more of a fractured look than I was originally thinking of, but using the portals can be kind of disorienting (and someone posted a video of their character trapping herself intentionally inside an infinity-looped portal that was awesomely glitchy), so I figure it still works.
Anyway, this temari was a cool puzzle to figure out. It’s probably the most technical fiddling I’ve ever done with a design, and there were no examples to go off of, so I’m pretty proud of it. (I don’t want to swirl again for a while, though. There are a lot of triangles on this ball.)