Thursday, November 22, 2018

A good human plus machine is the best combination.

Today in the class of academic development we covered a bit more about critical thinking, which involves a complex process of questioning and analysis, answering the basic questions: what, when, who, why and how. But then the last question came up; so what? No research would be complete without asking this question; to evaluate, to understand and to question again the core purpose of what is investigated.

So what?, the question came at my mind again, while watching ALPHAGO, a documental film about a computer program that replicates the game board GO, designed and developed by a group of scientist and programmers from the artificial intelligence company Google DeepMind. It took two years to build this program based on complex AI algorithms. But why creating this perfect AI program? Pong, the first video game was created in 1958. Since then many other electronic games were developed with a specific purpose: to entertain, but also to challenge the players. Of course, most of the video games are designed with different levels of expertise so amateurs could start from a basic level and improve their skills by succeeding the various stages of difficulty. The user gains knowledge and reaches a level where beating the machine becomes the real challenge (and fun). But far to be a mere game to entertain, ALPHAGO was created with a different specific purpose; to beat a professional player at game board GO. Being ALPHAGO an artificial intelligence program designed for this particular aim, it doesn’t seem to be a game anymore. It was the human against the machine.

First; Fan Hui, a Chinese born Go player, was challenged. He lost five times against the computer in a row of games he thought before would be easy to win.
Then, Lee Sedol, the South Korean professional Go player, accepted the challenge. With high confidence, he stated that human intuition was still too advanced to be caught up by Artificial Intelligence. He wanted to protect human intelligence. Sedol was sure he would win four out of five games, at least. But the story was different; he was defeated on the first day of play. The Google DeepMind team celebrated the triumph. In a row of five consecutive days of games, Lee Sedol was beaten in the first three. When Sedol loses the third game, everybody could see the struggle, the disappointment, the sadness. One of the brightest minds in the world was defeated repeatedly by a machine. Public and media share the feeling of melancholy and upset. Even the people from ALPHAGO team didn’t feel to celebrate anymore.

Lee Sedol, South Korean professional Go player

The long-standing grand challenge of Ai research of beating a professional player was accomplished. It was a triumph of artificial intelligence generated by humans. But as complex as artificial intelligence is, the game started “thinking” and processing the information received, calculating and making algorithms that mimic what human do with their intuition. Was it still human generated?
Lee Sedol won the fourth game over ALPHAGO. Everybody celebrated the triumph; people felt like there was still hope and faith in humanity. Then he lost the fifth game.

There is no doubt about the advantages and possibilities that Artificial Intelligence, especially in medicine can offer, but when it serves only to expose supremacy or control of a few makes us wonder and ask again: What are the limits of artificial intelligence? It should help humanity, but when developed to make humans powerless, to feel fragile and weak, it loses its purpose. As Gary Kasparov said in a talk: “a good human plus a machine is the best combination”. Let’s not forget that.

Friday, November 16, 2018


Underground stations in London are quite exciting places. This statement might sound mundane for many people as if you think about these areas, they usually are too crowded on pick areas, or you pass by quickly, focus on catching the next train, and most of the times do not bother about observing what is happening around there. But to the eyes of an expat –and artist- metro stations possess a charm and become an exciting place to observe what happens around. The architecture, the spontaneous music performers, graffiti, theatre and movie posters, cafes and stores, even the fashion style of the London commuters, everything contributes to the experience.

A weeks ago, while making connections to arrive at my destination, without a plan, I found myself at Gloucester Road Station, and notice right there a huge installation consisting in graphics drawing panels, large-scale sculptures including giant fried eggs and an automated whisk, video screens and light effects. I knew later that the artwork was British artist Heather Phillipson’s creation and her work, with the title: ‘My name is lettie eggsyrub’ was part of Art on the Underground and initiative of Transport for London that aim to change the way people experience the city. Her work represents the nucleus of conflict, a big operative machine. The intention was to generate a parallel ‘scape’, a disturbance. People interact with the large scales eggs and encounter a similarity, we too begin as eggs. The artist exposes people to this representation that questions about fertility, strength, production, consumption and fragility.

Along Phillipson’s work Art on the Underground displayed other artists artworks around the city like:

The Bower of Bliss an 85-metre long street-level billboard by artist Linder at Southwark station.

Remain, Thriving, series of mural s by Njideka Akunyili Crosby at Brixton Underground Station

The presence of art in public spaces supported by the government, contribute significantly to the idea of the democratisation of art, making it accessible to all, creating a sense of community, identity and presence by enriching, what an everyday experience as the act of commuting every day seems to be.
This initiative, established in 2000, invites artists to create works to be then displayed in London’s Undergrounds where can be seen and experienced by millions every day.

Reference list:

Saturday, November 10, 2018

A Friday afternoon in the National Gallery

One of the most exciting aspects I find about my staying here in London is the active artistic lifestyle the city posses. For now, my visits to galleries and museums have become very regular. The range of offers into the museums are extensive, from new opening exhibitions, lectures, tours, music and workshops.

Last weekend I planned a visit to the National Gallery. The Museum put up a free drawing session open to all public. It is quite an exciting experience attending this kind of meetings in a museum as the event takes place in one of the gallery halls, far from a tradition drawing classroom. This actually gives a new sense to the experience, being surrounded by masterpieces can be a bit overwhelming but at the same time very inspiring.

The design of the idea and process is straightforward. The organisers assign a specific day and select one of the paintings exhibited there for the session. A group of chairs are allocated before the painting and materials are provided to the guests, then everything is ready to start. First, a lecturer explains the history and context of the oeuvre, exploring its details and significance. After he finishes, a second tutor gives essential guidance and tips to start producing the drawing. For an hour session, it represents quite a challenge. There were in total about 30 people participating in the session, all very excited and concentrated in their work. I was able to see some amateur work while others more experimented.

The museum offers this type of sessions every week, and any art enthusiast is welcome and able to attend as many times as desired. The information on the National Gallery website is easy to reach and very clear.

It is interesting to see how institutions like the National Gallery promotes this type of activities, which invite to discover collections from a different perspective by experimenting in a life drawing class. The fulfilment of perceiving art is completed by the execution of the own interpretation, the result of the observation and immersion with no distraction or dispersion which makes the moment and integrated experience.