Peter in his blog pointed to a fascinating posting by Robin Sloan about ‘sentence gradients’. His posting describes how he created a tool that make gradients out of text, much like the color gradients we know. It uses neural networks (neuronal networks we called them when I was at university). Neural networks, in other words machine learning, are used to represent texts as numbers (color gradients can be numbers e.g., on just one dimension. If you keep adding dimensions you can represent things that branch off in multiple directions as numbers too.) Sentences are more complex to represent numerically but if you can then it is possible, just like with colors, to find sentences that are numerically between a starting sentence and an ending sentence. Robin Sloan demonstrates the code for it in his blog (go there and try it!), and it creates fascinating results.

Mostly the results are fascinating I think because our minds are hardwired to determine meaning. So when we see a list of sentences we want, we need, we very much need, to find the intended meaning that turns that list into a text.

I immediately thought of other texts that are sometimes harder to fully grasp, but where you know or assume there must be deeper meaning: poems.

So I took a random poem from one of Elmine’s books, and entered the first and last sentence into the tool to make a sentence gradient.

The result was:

I think it is a marvellous coincidence that the word Ceremony comes up.
The original poem is by Thomas Hardy, and titled ‘Without Ceremony’. (Hardy died in 1928, so the poem is in the public domain and can be shown below)

Without Ceremony

It was your way, my dear,
To vanish without a word
When callers, friends, or kin
Had left, and I hastened in
To rejoin you, as I inferred.

And when you’d a mind to career
Off anywhere – say to town –
Your were all on a sudden gone
Before I had thought thereon
Or noticed your trunks were down.

So, now that you disappear
For ever in that swift style,
Your meaning seems to me
Just as it used to be:
‘Good-bye is not worth wile’

I an open letter (PDF) a range of institutions call upon their respective European governments to create ELLIS, the European Lab for Learning and Intelligent Systems. It’s an effort to fortify against brain drain, and instead attract top talent to Europe. It points to the currently weak position in AI of Europe between what is happening in the USA and in China, adding a geo-political dimension. The letter calls not so much for an institution with a large headcount, but for commitment to long term funding to attract and keep the right people. These are similar reasons that led to the founding of CERN, now a global center for physics (and a key driver of things like open access to research and open research data), and more recently the European Molecular Biology Laboratory.

At the core the signatories see France and Germany as most likely to act to start this intra-governmental initiative. It seems this nicely builds upon the announcement by French president Macron late March to invest heavily in AI, and keep / attract the right people for it. He too definitely sees the European dimension to this, even puts European and enlightenment values at the core of it, although he acted within his primary scope of agency, France itself.

(via this Guardian article)

Data, especially lots of it, is the feedstock of machine learning and algorithms. And there’s a race on for who will lead in these fields. This gives it a geopolitical dimension, and makes data a key strategic resource of nations. In between the vast data lakes in corporate silos in the US and the national data spaces geared towards data driven authoritarianism like in China, what is the European answer, what is the proposition Europe can make the world? Ethics based AI. “Enlightenment Inside”.

French President Macron announced spending 1.5 billion in the coming years on AI last month. Wired published an interview with Macron. Below is an extended quote of I think key statements.

AI will raise a lot of issues in ethics, in politics, it will question our democracy and our collective preferences……It could totally dismantle our national cohesion and the way we live together. This leads me to the conclusion that this huge technological revolution is in fact a political revolution…..Europe has not exactly the same collective preferences as US or China. If we want to defend our way to deal with privacy, our collective preference for individual freedom versus technological progress, integrity of human beings and human DNA, if you want to manage your own choice of society, your choice of civilization, you have to be able to be an acting part of this AI revolution . That’s the condition of having a say in designing and defining the rules of AI. That is one of the main reasons why I want to be part of this revolution and even to be one of its leaders. I want to frame the discussion at a global scale….The key driver should not only be technological progress, but human progress. This is a huge issue. I do believe that Europe is a place where we are able to assert collective preferences and articulate them with universal values.

Macron’s actions are largely based on the report by French MP and Fields Medal winning mathematician Cédric Villani, For a Meaningful Artificial Intelligence (PDF)