The Internet Archive is Saving Classic Flash Animations & Games from Extinction: Explore Them Online

Flash is final­ly dead, and the world… does not mourn. Because the announce­ment of its end actu­al­ly came three years ago, “like a guil­lo­tine in a crowd­ed town square,” writes Rhett Jones at Giz­mo­do. It was a slow exe­cu­tion, but it was just. So use­ful in Web 1.0 days for mak­ing ani­ma­tions, games, and seri­ous pre­sen­ta­tions, Flash had become a vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, a viral car­ri­er that couldn’t be patched fast enough to keep the hack­ers out. “Adobe’s Flash died many deaths, but we can tru­ly throw some dirt on its grave and say our final good­byes because it’s get­ting the preser­va­tion treat­ment.” Like the ani­mat­ed GIF, Flash ani­ma­tions have their own online library.

All those love­ly Flash memes—the danc­ing bad­gers and the snake, peanut but­ter and jel­ly time—will be saved for per­plexed future gen­er­a­tions, who will use them to deci­pher the runes of ear­ly 2000’s inter­net-speak. How­ev­er sil­ly they may seem now, there’s no deny­ing that these arti­facts were once cen­tral con­stituents of pop cul­ture.

Flash was much more than a dis­trac­tion or frus­trat­ing brows­er crash­er. It pro­vid­ed a “gate­way,” Jason Scott writes at the Inter­net Archive blog, “for many young cre­ators to fash­ion near-pro­fes­sion­al-lev­el games and ani­ma­tion, giv­ing them the first steps to a lat­er career.” (Even if it was a career mak­ing “advergames.”)

A sin­gle per­son work­ing in their home could hack togeth­er a con­vinc­ing pro­gram, upload it to a huge clear­ing­house like New­grounds, and get feed­back on their work. Some cre­ators even made entire series of games, each improv­ing on the last, until they became full pro­fes­sion­al releas­es on con­soles and PCs.

Always true to its pur­pose, the Inter­net Archive has devised a way to store and play Flash ani­ma­tions using emu­la­tors cre­at­ed by Ruf­fle and the Blue­Max­i­ma Flash­point Project, who have already archived tens of thou­sands of Flash games. All those adorable Home­s­tar Run­ner car­toons? Saved from extinc­tion, which would have been their fate, since “with­out a Flash play­er, flash ani­ma­tions don’t work.” This may seem obvi­ous, but it bears some expla­na­tion. Where image, sound, and video files can be con­vert­ed to oth­er for­mats to make them acces­si­ble to mod­ern play­ers, Flash ani­ma­tions can only exist in a world with Flash. They are like Edison’s wax cylin­ders, with­out the charm­ing three-dimen­sions.

Scott goes into more depth on the rise and fall of Flash, a his­to­ry that begins in 1993 with Flash’s pre­de­ces­sor, SmartS­ketch, which became Future­Wave, which became Flash when it was pur­chased by Macro­me­dia, then by Adobe. By 2005, it start­ed to become unsta­ble, and could­n’t evolve along with new pro­to­cols. HTML5 arrived in 2014 to issue the “final death-blow,” kind of.… Will Flash be missed? It’s doubt­ful. But “like any con­tain­er, Flash itself is not as much of a loss as all the art and cre­ativ­i­ty it held.” The Archive cur­rent­ly hosts over 1,500 Flash ani­ma­tions from those turn-of-the-mil­len­ni­um inter­net days, and there are many more to come. Enter the Archive’s Flash col­lec­tion here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The U.S. Nation­al Archives Launch­es an Ani­mat­ed GIF Archive: See Whit­man, Twain, Hem­ing­way & Oth­ers in Motion

36,000 Flash Games Have Been Archived and Saved Before Flash Goes Extinct: Play Them Offline

What the Entire Inter­net Looked Like in 1973: An Old Map Gets Found in a Pile of Research Papers

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Artificial Intelligence Brings to Life Figures from 7 Famous Paintings: The Mona Lisa, Birth of Venus & More

Denis Shiryaev is an AI wiz­ard who has lib­er­al­ly applied his mag­ic to old film—upscaling, col­oriz­ing, and oth­er­wise mod­ern­iz­ing scenes from Vic­to­ri­an Eng­land, late Tsarist Rus­sia, and Belle Époque Paris. He trained machines to restore the ear­li­est known motion pic­ture, 1888’s Round­hay Gar­den Scene and one of the most mythol­o­gized works of ear­ly cin­e­ma, the Lumière Broth­ers 50-sec­ond Arrival of a Train at La Cio­tat Sta­tion.

Shiryaev’s casu­al dis­tri­b­u­tion of these efforts on YouTube can make us take for grant­ed just how extra­or­di­nary they are. Such recre­ations would have been impos­si­ble just a decade or so ago. But we should not see these as his­toric restora­tions. The soft­ware Shiryaev uses fills in gaps between the frames, allow­ing him to upscale the frame rate and make more natur­is­tic-look­ing images. This often comes at a cost. As Ted Mills wrote in an ear­li­er Open Cul­ture post on Shiryaev’s meth­ods, “there are a lot of arti­facts, squooshy, mor­ph­ing moments where the neur­al net­work can’t fig­ure things out.”

But it’s an evolv­ing tech­nol­o­gy. Unlike wiz­ards of old, Shiryaev hap­pi­ly reveals his trade secrets so enter­pris­ing coders can give it a try them­selves, if they’ve got the bud­get. In his lat­est video, above, he plugs the NVIDIA Quadro RTX 6000, a $4,000 graph­ics card (and does some grip­ing about rights issues), before get­ting to the fun stuff. Rather than make old film look new, he’s “applied a bunch of dif­fer­ent neur­al net­works in an attempt to gen­er­ate real­is­tic faces of peo­ple from famous paint­ings.”

These are, Shiryaev empha­sizes, “esti­ma­tions,” not his­tor­i­cal recre­ations of the faces behind Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and Lady with an Ermine, Botticelli’s mod­el for The Birth of Venus, Vermeer’s for Girl with a Pearl Ear­ring, or Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. In the case of Amer­i­can Goth­ic, we have a pho­to of the mod­el, artist Grant Wood’s sis­ter, to com­pare to the AI’s ver­sion. Fri­da Kahlo’s Self-Por­trait with Thorn Neck­lace and Hum­ming­bird gets the treat­ment. She left per­haps a few hun­dred pho­tographs and some films that prob­a­bly look more like her than the AI ver­sion.

The GIF-like “trans­for­ma­tions,” as they might be called, may remind us of a less fun use of such tech­nol­o­gy: AI’s abil­i­ty to cre­ate real­is­tic faces of peo­ple who don’t exist for devi­ous pur­pos­es and to make “deep fake” videos of those who do. But that needn’t take away from the fact that it’s pret­ty cool to see Botticelli’s Venus, or a sim­u­la­tion of her any­way, smile and blink at us from a dis­tance of over 500 years.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Scenes from Czarist Moscow Vivid­ly Restored with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence (May 1896)

Watch AI-Restored Film of Labor­ers Going Through Life in Vic­to­ri­an Eng­land (1901)

Icon­ic Film from 1896 Restored with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence: Watch an AI-Upscaled Ver­sion of the Lumière Broth­ers’ The Arrival of a Train at La Cio­tat Sta­tion

The Ear­li­est Known Motion Pic­ture, 1888’s Round­hay Gar­den Scene, Restored with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

The Seven Road-Tested Habits of Effective Artists

Fif­teen years ago, a young con­struc­tion work­er named Andrew Price went in search of free 3d soft­ware to help him achieve his goal of ren­der­ing a 3D car.

He stum­bled onto Blender, a just-the-tick­et open source soft­ware that helps users with every aspect of 3D creation—modeling, rig­ging, ani­ma­tion, sim­u­la­tion, ren­der­ing, com­posit­ing, and motion track­ing.

Price describes his ear­ly learn­ing style as “play­ing it by ear,” sam­pling tuto­ri­als, some of which he couldn’t be both­ered to com­plete.

Desire for free­lance gigs led him to forge a new iden­ti­ty, that of a Blender Guru, whose tuto­ri­als, pod­casts, and arti­cles would help oth­er new users get the hang of the soft­ware.

But it wasn’t declar­ing him­self an expert that ulti­mate­ly improved his artis­tic skills. It was hold­ing his own feet over the fire by plac­ing a bet with his younger cousin, who stood to gain $1000 if Price failed to rack up 1,000 “likes” by post­ing 2D draw­ings to Art­Sta­tion with­in a 6‑month peri­od.

(If he succeeded—which he did, 3 days before his self-imposed deadline—his cousin owed him noth­ing. Loss aver­sion proved to be a more pow­er­ful moti­va­tor than any car­rot on a stick…)

In order to snag the req­ui­site likes, Price found that he need­ed to revise some habits and com­mit to a more robust dai­ly prac­tice, a jour­ney he detailed in a pre­sen­ta­tion at the 2016 Blender Con­fer­ence.

Price con­fess­es that the chal­lenge taught him much about draw­ing and paint­ing, but even more about hav­ing an effec­tive artis­tic prac­tice. His sev­en rules apply to any num­ber of cre­ative forms:


Andrew Price’s Rules for an Effec­tive Artist Prac­tice:

  1. Prac­tice Dai­ly

A num­ber of pro­lif­ic artists have sub­scribed to this belief over the years, includ­ing nov­el­ist (and moth­er!) JK Rowl­ing, come­di­an Jer­ry Sein­feld, auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal per­former Mike Bir­bli­gia, and mem­oirist David Sedaris.

If you feel too fried to uphold your end of the bar­gain, pre­tend to go easy on your­self with a lit­tle trick Price picked up from music pro­duc­er Rick Rubin: Do the absolute min­i­mum. You’ll like­ly find that per­form­ing the min­i­mum posi­tions you to do much more than that. Your resis­tance is not so much to the doing as it is to the embark­ing.

  1. Quan­ti­ty over Per­fec­tion­ism Mas­querad­ing as Qual­i­ty

This harkens back to Rule Num­ber One. Who are we to say which of our works will be judged wor­thy. Just keep putting it out there—remember it’s all prac­tice, and law of aver­ages favors those whose out­put is, like Picasso’s, prodi­gious. Don’t stand in the way of progress by split­ting a sin­gle work’s end­less hairs.

  1. Steal With­out Rip­ping Off

Immerse your­self in the cre­ative bril­liance of those you admire. Then prof­it off your own improved efforts, a prac­tice advo­cat­ed by the likes of musi­cian David Bowie, com­put­er vision­ary Steve Jobs, and artist/social com­men­ta­tor Banksy.

  1. Edu­cate Your­self

As a stand-alone, that old chest­nut about prac­tice mak­ing per­fect is not suf­fi­cient to the task. Whether you seek out online tuto­ri­als, as Price did, enroll in a class, or des­ig­nate a men­tor, a con­sci­en­tious com­mit­ment to study your craft will help you to bet­ter mas­ter it.

  1. Give your­self a break

Bang­ing your head against the wall is not good for your brain. Price cel­e­brates author Stephen King’s prac­tice of giv­ing the first draft of a new nov­el six weeks to mar­i­nate. Your break may be short­er. Three days may be ample to juice you up cre­ative­ly. Just make sure it’s in your cal­en­dar to get back to it.

  1. Seek Feed­back

Film­mak­er Tai­ka Wait­i­tirap­per Kanye Westand the big goril­las at Pixar are not threat­ened by oth­ers’ opin­ions. Seek them out. You may learn some­thing.

  1. Cre­ate What You Want To

Pas­sion projects are the key to cre­ative longevi­ty and plea­sur­able process. Don’t cater to a fick­le pub­lic, or the shift­ing sands of fash­ion. Pur­sue the sorts of things that inter­est you.

Implic­it in Price’s sev­en com­mand­ments is the notion that some­thing may have to budge—your night­ly cock­tails, the num­ber of hours spent on social media, that extra half hour in bed after the alarm goes off… Don’t neglect your famil­ial or civic oblig­a­tions, but nei­ther should you short­change your art. Life’s too short.

Read the tran­script of Andrew Price’s Blender Con­fer­ence pre­sen­ta­tion here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Dai­ly Habits of Famous Writ­ers: Franz Kaf­ka, Haru­ki Muraka­mi, Stephen King & More

The Dai­ly Habits of High­ly Pro­duc­tive Philoso­phers: Niet­zsche, Marx & Immanuel Kant

How to Read Many More Books in a Year: Watch a Short Doc­u­men­tary Fea­tur­ing Some of the World’s Most Beau­ti­ful Book­stores

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Decem­ber 9 when her month­ly book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain cel­e­brates Dennison’s Christ­mas Book (1921). Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Cy Kuckenbaker’s Time Collapse Videos Let You See Daily Life As You’ve Never Seen It Before

There are apps to track the num­ber of dai­ly min­utes you habit­u­al­ly frit­ter away on social media, but can your smart­phone help you get a han­dle on the auto­mo­tive col­or pref­er­ences of mid­day San Diego dri­vers?

Or the num­ber of planes land­ing at San Diego Inter­na­tion­al Air­port on the day after Thanks­giv­ing?

Or, for that mat­ter, the traf­fic pat­terns of non-pro­fes­sion­al surfers hop­ing to catch a wave at at Point Loma?

No, but film­mak­er Cy Kuck­en­bak­er can.

His “time col­lapse” videos stemmed from a desire to get to know the city in which he lives with the same vig­or he brought to bear as a Peace Corps vol­un­teer in his 20s, explor­ing Iraq, Africa, and East­ern Europe.

This impulse might lead oth­ers to join a club, take a class, or check out restau­rants in an unfa­mil­iar neigh­bor­hood.

For Kuck­en­bak­er, it means set­ting up his cam­era for a fixed shot, uncer­tain if his exper­i­ment will even work, then spend­ing hours and hours in the edit­ing room, remov­ing the time between events with­out alter­ing the speed of his sub­jects.

It’s a form that requires a lot of patience on the part of its cre­ator.

He esti­mates that he spent 2 hours edit­ing for every sec­ond of Mid­day Traf­fic Time Col­lapsed and Reor­ga­nized by Col­or: San Diego Study #3, above, pro­vid­ing him ample time to lis­ten to the fol­low­ing audio­books (get your free Audi­ble tri­al here):

Rev­o­lu­tion 1989 by Vic­tor Sebestyen

How Music Works by David Byrne

Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Hen­ry Dana

Super Sad True Love Sto­ry by Gary Shteyn­gart

1493 by Charles Mann

1491 by Charles Mann

With the Old Breed by E. Sledge

The Emper­or of Mal­adies by Sid­dhartha Mukher­jee

The Unbear­able Light­ness of Being by Milan Kun­dera

Each car was keyed out of the orig­i­nal shot, then ranked and rein­sert­ed based on col­or. 28 of the raw footage’s 462 didn’t make the cut due to errat­ic shape or move­ment. See if you can spot them in the extreme­ly ordi­nary-look­ing orig­i­nal footage, below. Extra cred­it for spot­ting the emp­ty Gatorade bot­tle that made it into every frame of the com­pres­sion:

His stud­ies may not reveal much about his home city to the aver­age tourist, but Kuck­en­bak­er him­self is able to inter­pret the num­bers in ways that go beyond mere quan­ti­ty and aver­ages, such as San Die­gans’ appar­ent vehic­u­lar col­or pref­er­ence:

Nation­al­ly, red is a more pop­u­lar col­or than blue. But not San Diego. San Diego, there’s more blue than red, so it’s like, you know, an out­lier. And I thought about that for a while and it’s like, per­son­al­ly, the way I under­stand the city, that makes sense to me. The sort of tone of the city, the atti­tude of the city—it’s an ocean city. I can see why peo­ple would think, “Well, I live in San Diego. Why would I have a red… I want a blue car!”

His Point Loma com­pres­sion boiled an hour’s surf­ing down to 2 min­utes and 15 sec­onds that KPBS’ David Wag­n­er her­ald­ed as “a surfer­’s wildest dream come true, a fan­ta­sy break where per­fect waves roll in one after anoth­er like clock­work, no lulls in between.”

The raw footage and Kuckenbaker’s doc­u­men­ta­tion of the After Effects tech­nique used to com­pos­ite the waves speaks to a slight­ly more tedious real­i­ty. No word on what audio books got him through this one, though he goes into the tech­ni­cal specs and quotes Joseph Con­rad on his blog.

The com­pres­sion of the near­ly 70 arriv­ing Black Fri­day flights that kicked off Kuckenbaker’s San Diego-based time col­laps­es in 2012 feels a bit mar­tial, espe­cial­ly if Ride of the Valkyries just hap­pens to be play­ing in the back­ground. It makes me wor­ry for San Diego, and also wish for a Kuck­en­bak­er to come col­lapse time in my town.

See more of Cy Kuckenbaker’s Time Col­lapse videos here.

via Twist­ed Sifter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

53 Years of Nuclear Test­ing in 14 Min­utes: A Time Lapse Film by Japan­ese Artist Isao Hashimo­to

Becom­ing: A Short Time­lapse Film Shows a Sin­gle Cell Mor­ph­ing Into a Com­plete, Com­plex Liv­ing Organ­ism

The Milky Way in Time-Lapse Video

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Sep­tem­ber 9 for anoth­er sea­son of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Jurassic Park Without Dinosaurs: Watch Humans Stare in Amazement at a World Stripped of CGI Creations

How many times have you encoun­tered an oth­er­wise per­fect view spoiled by a new­ly erect­ed high rise, a con­struc­tion crane, or a CGI bra­chiosaurus?

Con­stant­ly, right?

Video edi­tor William Hirsch makes light work of Juras­sic Park’s pri­ma­ry attrac­tions’ first appear­ance, lit­er­al­ly eras­ing them from the scene.

Hirsch esti­mat­ed that it took him about a week to get rid of those pesky ‘saurs using noth­ing fanci­er than After Effects’s built in tools, which include the motion track­ing soft­ware Mocha.

It’s equal parts ridicu­lous and love­ly to see humans sud­den­ly thun­der­struck by the unspoiled land­scape they’ve been dri­ving through.

These days, of course, Lau­ra Dern would have to glance up from her phone, not a paper map.

Though it’s not such a stretch to imag­ine Juras­sic Park’s author’s suc­ces­sor, the late Michael Crich­ton’s lit­er­ary heir, hard at work on a dystopi­an nov­el titled Park.

At the time of its release, Juras­sic Park’s dinosaurs were a spe­cial effects game chang­er. Their num­bers were sup­ple­ment­ed by some non-com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed ani­ma­tron­ic mod­els, though no doubt Spiel­berg was appre­hen­sive giv­en the way his robot­ic sharks act­ed up on the set of Jaws. The human play­ers may have had more screen time, but the dinosaurs’ 15 min­utes of footage has result­ed in a last­ing fame, extend­ing decades beyond the expect­ed 15 min­utes.

Unex­pect­ed­ly, Hirsch’s dinosaurs, or rather, lack there­of, have gen­er­at­ed the most excite­ment with regard to his project. But his atten­tion to detail is also laud­able. Above, he reveals how he tweaked the access badge dan­gling from the rear view mir­ror of the park’s all-ter­rain vehi­cle.

Are we wrong to think that John Williams’ swelling orig­i­nal score feels more organ­ic in this dinosaur-free con­text? Rivers, trees, and vast amounts of skies have been known to spur com­posers to such heights.

The poten­tial­ly lethal pre­his­toric beasts are out of the way, but that line “We’re gonna make a for­tune with this place” retains an air of omi­nous fore­shad­ow­ing, giv­en the plen­ti­ful nat­ur­al resources on dis­play. Some­times humans can do more dam­age than dinosaurs.

If that feels too intense, you can also retreat to the escapist plea­sures of the orig­i­nal, below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Cap­ti­vat­ing GIFs Reveal the Mag­i­cal Spe­cial Effects in Clas­sic Silent Films

Game of Thrones: A Great Behind-the-Scenes Look at The Show’s Visu­al Effects

The Blade Run­ner Pro­mo­tion­al Film

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Octo­ber 15 for anoth­er month­ly install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Discover Rare 1980s CDs by Lou Reed, Devo & Talking Heads That Combined Music with Computer Graphics

When it first hit the mar­ket in 1982, the com­pact disc famous­ly promised “per­fect sound that lasts for­ev­er.” But inno­va­tion has a way of march­ing con­tin­u­al­ly on, and nat­u­ral­ly the inno­va­tors soon start­ed won­der­ing: what if per­fect sound isn’t enough? What if con­sumers want some­thing to go with it, some­thing to look at? And so, when com­pact disc co-devel­op­ers Sony and Philips updat­ed its stan­dards, they includ­ed doc­u­men­ta­tion on the use of the for­mat’s chan­nels not occu­pied by audio data. So was born the CD+G, which boast­ed “not only the CD’s full, dig­i­tal sound, but also video infor­ma­tion — graph­ics — view­able on any tele­vi­sion set or video mon­i­tor.”

That text comes from a pack­age scan post­ed by the online CD+G Muse­um, whose Youtube chan­nel fea­tures rips of near­ly every record released on the for­mat, begin­ning with the first, the Fire­sign The­atre’s Eat or Be Eat­en.

When it came out, lis­ten­ers who hap­pened to own a CD+G‑compatible play­er (or a CD+G‑compatible video game con­sole, my own choice at the time hav­ing been the Tur­bo­grafx-16) could see that beloved “head com­e­dy” troupe’s dense­ly lay­ered stu­dio pro­duc­tion and even more dense­ly lay­ered humor accom­pa­nied by images ren­dered in psy­che­del­ic col­or — or as psy­che­del­ic as images can get with only six­teen col­ors avail­able on the palette, not to men­tion a res­o­lu­tion of 288 pix­els by 192 pix­els, not much larg­er than a icon on the home screen of a mod­ern smart­phone. Those lim­i­ta­tions may make CD+G graph­ics look unim­pres­sive today, but just imag­ine what a cut­ting-edge nov­el­ty they must have seemed in the late 1980s when they first appeared.

Dis­play­ing lyrics for karaoke singers was the most obvi­ous use of CD+G tech­nol­o­gy, but its short lifes­pan also saw a fair few exper­i­ments on such oth­er major-label releas­es, all view­able at the CD+G Muse­um, as Lou Reed’s New York, which com­bines lyrics with dig­i­tized pho­tog­ra­phy of the epony­mous city; Talk­ing Heads’ Naked, which pro­vides musi­cal infor­ma­tion such as the chord changes and instru­ments play­ing on each phrase; Johann Sebas­t­ian Bach’s St. Matthew Pas­sion, which trans­lates the libret­to along­side works of art; and Devo’s sin­gle “Dis­co Dancer,” which tells the ori­gin sto­ry of those “five Spud­boys from Ohio.” With these and almost every oth­er CD+G release avail­able at the CD+G muse­um, you’ll have no short­age of not just back­ground music but back­ground visu­als for your next late-80s-ear­ly-90s-themed par­ty.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch 1970s Ani­ma­tions of Songs by Joni Mitchell, Jim Croce & The Kinks, Aired on The Son­ny & Cher Show

The Sto­ry of How Beethoven Helped Make It So That CDs Could Play 74 Min­utes of Music

Dis­cov­er the Lost Ear­ly Com­put­er Art of Telidon, Canada’s TV Pro­to-Inter­net from the 1970s

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

This Is Your Kids’ Brains on Internet Algorithms: A Chilling Case Study Shows What’s Wrong with the Internet Today

Mul­ti­me­dia artist and writer James Bri­dle has a new book out, and it’s terrifying—appropriately so, I would say—in its analy­sis of “the dan­gers of trust­ing com­put­ers to explain (and, increas­ing­ly, run) the world,” as Adi Robert­son writes at The Verge. Sum­ming up one of his argu­ments in his New Dark Age: Tech­nol­o­gy and the End of the Future, Bri­dle writes, “We know more and more about the world, while being less and less able to do any­thing about it.” As Bri­dle tells Robert­son in a short inter­view, he doesn’t see the prob­lems as irre­me­di­a­ble, pro­vid­ed we gain “some kind of agency with­in these sys­tems.” But he insists that we must face head-on cer­tain facts about our dystopi­an, sci-fi-like real­i­ty.

In the brief TED talk above, you can see Bri­dle do just that, begin­ning with an analy­sis of the mil­lions of pro­lif­er­at­ing videos for chil­dren, with bil­lions of views, on YouTube, a case study that quick­ly goes to some dis­turb­ing places. Videos show­ing a pair of hands unwrap­ping choco­late eggs to reveal a toy with­in “are like crack for lit­tle kids,” says Bri­dle, who watch them over and over. Auto­play fer­ries them on to weird­er and weird­er iter­a­tions, which even­tu­al­ly end up with danc­ing Hitlers and their favorite car­toon char­ac­ters per­form­ing lewd and vio­lent acts. Some of the videos seem to be made by pro­fes­sion­al ani­ma­tors and “whole­some kid’s enter­tain­ers,” some seem assem­bled by soft­ware, some by “peo­ple who clear­ly shouldn’t be around chil­dren at all.”

The algo­rithms that dri­ve the bizarre uni­verse of these videos are used to “hack the brains of very small chil­dren in return for adver­tis­ing rev­enue,” says Bri­dle. “At least that what I hope they’re doing it for.” Bri­dle soon bridges the machin­ery of kids’ YouTube with the adult ver­sion. “It’s impos­si­ble to know,” he says, who’s post­ing these mil­lions of videos, “or what their motives might be…. Real­ly it’s exact­ly the same mech­a­nism that’s hap­pen­ing across most of our dig­i­tal ser­vices, where it’s impos­si­ble to know where this infor­ma­tion is com­ing from.” The children’s videos are “basi­cal­ly fake news for kids. We’re train­ing them from birth to click on the very first link that comes along, regard­less of what the source is.”

High school and col­lege teach­ers already deal with the prob­lem of stu­dents who can­not judge good infor­ma­tion from bad—and who can­not real­ly be blamed for it, since mil­lions of adults seem unable to do so as well. In sur­vey­ing YouTube children’s videos, Bri­dle finds him­self ask­ing the same ques­tions that arise in response to so much online con­tent: “Is this a bot? Is this a per­son? Is this a troll? What does it mean that we can’t tell the dif­fer­ence between these things any­more?” The lan­guage of online con­tent is a hash of pop­u­lar tags meant to be read by machine algo­rithms, not humans. But real peo­ple per­form­ing in an “algo­rith­mi­cal­ly opti­mized sys­tem” seem forced to “act out these increas­ing­ly bizarre com­bi­na­tions of words.”

With­in this cul­ture, he says, “even if you’re human, you have to end up behav­ing like a machine just to sur­vive.” What makes the sce­nario even dark­er is that machines repli­cate the worst aspects of human behav­ior, not because they’re evil but because that’s what they’re taught to do. To think that tech­nol­o­gy is neu­tral is a dan­ger­ous­ly naïve view, Bri­dle argues. Humans encode their his­tor­i­cal bias­es into the data, then entrust to A.I. such crit­i­cal func­tions as not only children’s enter­tain­ment, but also pre­dic­tive polic­ing and rec­om­mend­ing crim­i­nal sen­tences. As Bri­dle notes in the short video above, A.I. inher­its the racism of its cre­ators, rather than act­ing as a “lev­el­ing force.”

As we’ve seen the CEOs of tech com­pa­nies tak­en to task for the use of their plat­forms for pro­pa­gan­da, dis­in­for­ma­tion, hate speech, and wild con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, we’ve also seen them respond to the prob­lem by promis­ing to solve it with more auto­mat­ed machine learn­ing algo­rithms. In oth­er words, to address the issues with the same tech­nol­o­gy that cre­at­ed them—technology that no one real­ly seems to under­stand. Let­ting “unac­count­able sys­tems” dri­ven almost sole­ly by ads con­trol glob­al net­works with ever-increas­ing influ­ence over world affairs seems wild­ly irre­spon­si­ble, and has already cre­at­ed a sit­u­a­tion, Bri­dle argues in his book, in which impe­ri­al­ism has “moved up to infra­struc­ture lev­el” and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries are the most “pow­er­ful nar­ra­tives of our time,” as he says below.

Bridle’s claims might them­selves sound like alarmist con­spir­a­cies if they weren’t so alarm­ing­ly obvi­ous to most any­one pay­ing atten­tion. In an essay on Medi­um he writes a much more in-depth analy­sis of YouTube kids’ con­tent, devel­op­ing one of the argu­ments in his book. Bri­dle is one of many writ­ers and researchers cov­er­ing this ter­rain. Some oth­er good pop­u­lar books on the sub­ject come from schol­ars and tech­nol­o­gists like Tim Wu and Jaron Lanier. They are well worth read­ing and pay­ing atten­tion to, even if we might dis­agree with some of their argu­ments and pre­scrip­tions.

As Bri­dle him­self argues in his inter­view at The Verge, the best approach to deal­ing with what seems like a night­mar­ish sit­u­a­tion is to devel­op a “sys­temic lit­er­a­cy,” learn­ing “to think clear­ly about sub­jects that seem dif­fi­cult and com­plex,” but which nonethe­less, as we can clear­ly see, have tremen­dous impact on our every­day lives and the soci­ety our kids will inher­it.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Infor­ma­tion Over­load Robs Us of Our Cre­ativ­i­ty: What the Sci­en­tif­ic Research Shows

The Case for Delet­ing Your Social Media Accounts & Doing Valu­able “Deep Work” Instead, Accord­ing to Prof. Cal New­port

The Diderot Effect: Enlight­en­ment Philoso­pher Denis Diderot Explains the Psy­chol­o­gy of Con­sumerism & Our Waste­ful Spend­ing

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

The Van Gogh of Microsoft Excel: How a Japanese Retiree Makes Intricate Landscape Paintings with Spreadsheet Software

Just when you thought you’ve mas­tered Microsoft Excel–creating piv­ot tables, VLOOKUPs and the rest–you dis­cov­er the fea­ture you nev­er knew was there. The one that lets you cre­ate Japan­ese land­scape paint­ings. When Tat­suo Hori­uchi retired, he found that fea­ture and leaned on it, hard. Now 77 years old, he has enough land­scape paint­ings to stage an exhibition–all made with the point and click of a mouse.

So what’s the moral of this sto­ry? Maybe it’s you’re nev­er too old to make art. Or maybe it’s nev­er too late to mas­ter those hid­den fea­tures and push tech­nol­o­gy to the bleed­ing edge. In Tat­suo’s case, he’s doing both.

via Swiss Miss

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Art of Hand-Drawn Japan­ese Ani­me: A Deep Study of How Kat­suhi­ro Otomo’s Aki­ra Uses Light

A Hyp­not­ic Look at How Japan­ese Samu­rai Swords Are Made

Down­load 2,500 Beau­ti­ful Wood­block Prints and Draw­ings by Japan­ese Mas­ters (1600–1915)

The Art of the Japan­ese Teapot: Watch a Mas­ter Crafts­man at Work, from the Begin­ning Until the Star­tling End

Enter a Dig­i­tal Archive of 213,000+ Beau­ti­ful Japan­ese Wood­block Prints

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