Sunday, October 30, 2016

First time in Spain - exploring Valencia

I was fortunate enough to travel to a conference being held in Valencia this week. It sounds glamorous but I spent most of the days I was there either in the conference rooms (no windows) or in my hotel checking work emails (at least I had windows).

Nice hotel though, right next to the conference centre

When I was working in my room the view wasn't bad

We mainly got to see Valencia by night, so I don't have any good photos of the architecture. This is the city hall.

And this is the North train station. Not bad for a train station.

After floods in the 70s they diverted the river around the city and turned the river bed into a huge sunken park. Whoever thought of that was a visionary. The old bridges still cross the park.

In the park you can walk under the bridges.

There's lots to see in the park and at the South end are some amazing buildings.

They don't miss an opportunity for some art - this big purple sculpture was on a roundabout.

The front of this building was covered in traffic cones.

This is one of the metro stations., I thought it was rather lovely.

There's lots of graffiti on the streets as well. Someone likes drawing these cute ninja dudes. They pop up everywhere.

Valencia is famous for its paella. They sell paella pans on the street alongside other souvenirs.

Paella goes nicely with cerveza. This is Valencia IPA (VIPA). It has a peachy aroma and tastes lovely.

It was a brief visit, made all the more brief by having to work at the conference. But I really like Valencia and I definitely want to go back.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Could Twitter be the venue for a real world Turing Test?

Alan Turing is in the news at the moment, but the thing I've been thinking about is the test named after him. The Turing Test is a way of assessing machine intelligence, with the mark of true machine intelligence being when it is indistinguishable from a human.

Two things about machine intelligence. I recently phoned up my credit card company and had a complete conversation with a very effective voice recognition system that said goodbye at the end of the phone call when all the things I wanted to sort out had been sorted. I actually said goodbye back before I realised what I was doing. The other thing was a game where you press the next word suggested by your phone's autocomplete function until you end up in a repeating loop (which you will). Several people (presumed humans) on an online message board posted their autocomplete paragraphs, all of which made some sort of sense up to a point. It read like people's attempts to communicate in another language, where the words kind of made sense but didn't really.

Spambots have been part of the Internet it feels like forever. Some of the spam comments that get posted on my other website are almost convincing. They steal text and manipulate it in mimicry of actual comments. Bots are also the bane of Twitter, fake followers, odd retweeters of old tweets, little unintelligent ghosts masquerading as real people. Recently, a guy I follow boasted that he set up a new Twitter account as an experiment and attracted 10,000 followers in a weekend - almost all of them bots. He then said that despite the bot problem, Twitter was still an excellent place for a "natter".

That got me thinking, we natter on Twitter to people we know, and to some people we only know through Twitter, and we know the difference between a real person tweeting and a bot. We can spot it and differentiate. But for how long?

The problem with Turing Tests is that if you knew you were being tested that would make you suspicious of the conversation you were having. You would look for clues that it wasn't a human on the other end of the conversation. But what if you weren't primed like that?

Twitter actually could be a real world Turing Test testing-ground. Set up an intelligent machine to interact with people and see if people did actually interact with it, thinking it was human. How long would it be before people worked out it wasn't?

There is a whole lot of information in the Wikipedia article about the Turing Test, including the question of whether people should be told whether they are possibly talking to a computer. But if you don't want people to know, I think Twitter will be the place to run it.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Yes, you can polish a turd

Yonks back my very good friend, Matt, informed me that I was correct when I said you can't polish a turd, but, he went on to say, you can roll it in glitter!

Anyone who has spent any time in a communications department knows that sooner or later you will have to pick up the glitter and start rolling. That great idea for an ad campaign that the CEO has had in the shower that morning and now you have to make it work? Pass the glitter. That begging letter the head of finance loves because it's full of stats about how much it costs to run the charity for ten minutes? Pass the glitter. (True story - I wrote a letter that was a real heartstring-tugger which came back turned into something like a cross between a maths lecture and a shopping list. The letter bombed and a few months later I was out of a job.) Someone has had a great idea to do "something" on Facebook and "make it go viral"? Crap, we've run out of glitter.

"Roll it in glitter!" became one of my favourite catchphrases until I discovered it was possible to polish turds. If you leave it long enough. Corprolites are fossilised dinosaur poos. Over time, with a bit of pressure, the dino dumps have been turned into stone. You can find them for sale all over the web. And do you know what's special about these pleistocene plops? You can polish them. (as can be seen at the Poozeum.)

So there you go. Next time someone tells you that you can't polish a turd you have a couple of options. You can reach for the glitter. Or bury it for a hundred million years.