Turing Test Breakthrough

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Eugene Goostman Turing Test

On June 7, 2014, a Russian-based team is said to be the first to create a program that passed the Turing Test. Named after Alan Turing the challenge is to persuade a minimum of 30 percent of humans that the computer is a real person. This is a major milestone in the path towards development of true artificial intelligence.

In tests conducted at the Royal Society in London, the Eugene Goostman program managed to persuade 33 percent of people that it was a 13-year-old boy from Odessa, Ukraine.

We can’t wait to hear what Ray Kurzweil has to say about this!

December 26, 2013

Sadness at learning “the rest of the story”

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Alan TuringI have always been highly aware of Alan Turing and his contributions. Not only was he instrumental in the defeat of the Nazi’s, he was one of the leading scientific lights of the 20th century and a visionary contributor in the fields of mathematics and computing. However, it wasn’t until this week that I realized I knew too little about this great man.

Alan Turing lead the group that broke the “unbreakable” Enigma code used by Nazis in World War II, which was a critical factor in the Nazis defeat by the allies. Turing’s work in the infant field of computer science and his landmark development of the Turing Test, a test to determine if a machine has reached the critical threshold of artificial intelligence, represent core elements of today’s computer science field.

What I didn’t realize is that Alan Turing was gay. Why does that matter? It doesn’t matter to me in the least. All I care about are this great man’s monumental contributions to saving the world from the horrors of the Nazis and his role in shaping the future of our species. Unfortunately, Turing’s sexual orientation mattered to the British government.

In a horrifying series of events, Turing was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 for having sex with a man. He was terminated from his government position, stripped of his security clearances and chemically castrated. After suffering through this living hell, Turing committed suicide in 1954. He was only 41 years old.

Although the British Government issued a posthumous apology in 2009, people in the scientific and gay community considered this to be inadequate. Led by physicist Stephen Hawking, more than 37,000 people, among them scientists, theologians, world leaders and regular people, sent a petition to the queen urging her to right this incredible wrong.

In a decree released Monday by Justice Minister Chris Grayling, Queen Elizabeth wrote that she was “Graciously pleased to extend Our Grace and Mercy unto the said Alan Mathison Turing and to grant him Our Free Pardon posthumously in respect of the said convictions.” This rare pardon was issued under the “Royal Prerogative of Mercy,” which has been used only three other times since 1945.

Since I am an anglophile I hated to bash the British Monarchy and system, but – Come on!!! They are pardoning Alan Turing? They should be begging him for forgiveness. The irony that this man, who helped save the world from a new dark age under the Nazi’s, had his life destroyed by one of the countries most committed to eradicating totalitarianism is almost beyond belief. The effect is the same as if he had been thrown into an oven at Auschwitz! If Turing is looking down on this farce I wonder what he is thinking?

December 3, 2013

Smartphones, eBooks, Africa & Literacy

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My friend Peter sent me a link to a BBC News piece that had a wonderful opening:

Publishers have long bemoaned Africa’s lack of a ‘book culture’ but some hope that the advent of smartphones and the internet could help change this.”

The lure of electronics to children is well known and I for one was disappointed when the promise of the 1990’s, that the use of computers would spread literacy unilaterally across America, never really materialized. (And unless we include cyber pornography, of course, the demographics of whose “readers” hasn’t changed much, I don’t think.)

A smartphone is a computer, however, and texting and social media apps in particular do seem to be forcing literacy upon young people at a phenomenal rate. And while smartphones and data plans are at first blush expensive, when you realize they are delivering the world to everyone around the world without the bigger expense of PCs, Macs, tablets, land lines, et al, they offer tremendous bang for the buck,

I have a smartphone that people laugh at because it is so big (2 1/2 inches by 5) but I use it because I read eMail and eBooks on it when I’m walking around.

I am looking at this computer-smartphone right now and I think of young people in regions where literacy is not flourishing.  Here in my hand is a machine that would be irresistible to them, here in my hand is a reading machine.

September 26, 2013

The End of Quiet Music – A Musician’s Tale

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This op-ed by the musician/Author Alina Simione speaks directly to the challenges facing all artists, musicians and writer today. I encourage you to read it.

The End of Quiet Music

Published in the NY Times: September 25, 2013, 9:42 pm

Not long before my first album was released in 2005, I spent a summer in Russia interviewing small business owners. An American microfinance organization had sent me there to gather rosy statistics and uplifting stories about how their loans had improved the lives of this new crop of entrepreneurs.

Instead, I would arrive in some city with a recently gutted economy, only to have men and women selling knockoff jeans or fruit from Uzbekistan tell me the same thing: they missed the factory. That is, their old jobs working at some inefficient Soviet enterprise. They didn’t like the financial uncertainty of their new jobs or the longer hours. They missed being able to check out at the end of the day. Many of them were less happy with the work itself. I heard the same thing again and again: Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur.

At the time, I felt confused — what was so bad about being your own boss? Their words only resonated with me years later, when I abandoned my music career.

The realities of forced entrepreneurship in the music business hit me when, in 2010, the label that released my previous two albums went bankrupt. By the time its Web site vanished without warning one day, I was already done recording a record. Rather than cast about for another struggling indie label, I decided to go the route of so many other bands and put the album out myself.

I had to keep costs low. This meant reaching out to college music stations and packaging every album and promo myself. It meant toggling between spreadsheets, managing a carousel of manufacturers and learning firsthand why my local post office scores a 1.5 on Yelp.

Critically, the album did well. More important, I felt it was my best musical effort. But after a year spent slumped at my computer — a year during which I wrote no new music — I decided it would be my last in the industry.

What I missed most about having a label wasn’t the monetary investment, but the right to be quiet, the insulation provided from incessant self-promotion. I was a singer, not a saleswoman. Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur.

I am not so vain to think the music world will be any worse for my absence, or that my failure had nothing to do with the quality of my music, which is dark and sad and weird. But I’m not the only casualty of the new regime. And the rising body count will include artists with far more resonance than me.

My indie wasn’t run by Benz-driving executives but rather passionate music lovers who invested in art that moved them. This tier of the industry was pretty much knocked out by music piracy. Kickstarter, many seem to think, is its logical replacement. Now musicians can raise money to make an album from their fans (if the old model already made them famous) or from their friends and family (if not). What’s less discussed is how this mechanism naturally winnows out the artists who lack the ability, confidence or desire to publicly solicit donations.

A friend recently asked why I didn’t Kickstart a new album. “You’re friends with Amanda Palmer, for Christ sakes!” he wrote in a Facebook post. It’s true. I’ve known Amanda — who famously raised a record-breaking $1.2 million through Kickstarter to fund her last album — since middle school and she was the maid of honor at my wedding. Yet even Amanda — the social media queen of rock ‘n’ roll — has worried publicly about what the future will hold for the artists who refuse to roll up their sleeves and join the self-promotional melee — tweeting, fund-raising and “incentivizing fans” to run “jampaigns.” Most likely they’ll disappear, the reclusive artist replaced by one offering you a hoodie with her face on it.

For me, salvation came from an unexpected corner. Late one night, after playing a show, I came home to an e-mail from an editor at a publishing house. He’d heard my music on Pandora and bought my albums at the (now defunct) Virgin Megastore in Union Square. He had a question for me: Would I consider writing a book?

Two years later, my collection of essays was published. I did some freelance work for newspapers and published a second book, a novel. This year a university press commissioned another book. Without quite intending to, I’d transformed from a singer into a writer. And from my new vantage point, being quiet didn’t feel like a liability anymore. I could focus on honing my craft rather than doling out download codes.

Of course publishing is facing its own pressures, and the day may come when writers have no option but to become entrepreneurs, too. For now the center continues to hold; you can still write for a newspaper instead of founding your own.

But even if it doesn’t hold, there are other sectors writers can lean on for support. They can seek funding through fellowships or residencies, or teach writing at a university. These kinds of opportunities have helped a significant group of American artists carve out a middle-class living for themselves.

When I got my own first university teaching job, it struck me as odd that it was only by virtue of switching genres that I’d become eligible to help undergrads channel their creativity. I mean, is a Grammy-nominated songwriter any less qualified to teach creative writing than a poet who sold 500 copies of a chapbook? (No offense, poets.) Is the singer Chan Marshall — who announced that she had gone bankrupt last October  — any less worthy of, say, a Guggenheim fellowship than commercially successful writers like Jonathan Franzen or Jennifer Egan?

I think it’s time to reconsider what kind of art is worthy of patronage. For the past 50 years or so, popular music hasn’t been enshrined next to “high brow” art forms like classical music, theater or poetry. Either it wasn’t viewed as good enough or it just didn’t seem necessary. If pop music’s aim was mass appeal, then let the market determine its worth, so the thinking went. But can we honestly tell ourselves that is still true? Today the airwaves are filled with critically acclaimed, structurally innovative and culturally relevant music. Music that can now be had for free.

Instead of helping these musicians, we tell them they just have to adapt to the new realities of the music economy. And short of embedding MP3s in toilet paper, they have. Bands have demonstrated remarkable creativity in trying to monetize whatever they can to make up for the inability to, er, monetize their music itself. They will come over and play Xbox 360 with you or personally record your outgoing voice mail message.

We’ve placed the entire onus of changing-with-the-times on musicians, but why can’t the educational, cultural and governmental institutions that support the arts adapt as well, extending the same opportunities to those whose music provides the soundtrack to our lives? If they don’t, Darwinism will probably ensure that only the musical entrepreneurs survive. I can’t say if the world of music will be better or worse off if that happens, but it will certainly be a lot louder.

Alina Simone is the author of the essay collection “You Must Go and Win” and the novel “Note to Self.”

September 7, 2013

The Young Arts Master Class on Jazz

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I was very pleased to be invited by Lynn Arison and Paul Lehr of Young Arts to the recent premier of their newest documentary for the HBO Master Class Series. Filmed by the Simon and Goodman production team, this documentary features Jazz great Wynton Marsalis and 3 very talented young musicians.

Wynton coaches them in the finer points of Jazz and playing off of one another. Listening to Wynton, what becomes clear is that Jazz is as complicated as any human endeavor and requires very special talent to perfect.

At the event, which was held in a screening room at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, I was very excited to meet my favorite soprano, Renee Fleming!

Renee Fleming & Ned Barrett

Renee Fleming with Ned Barrett

Here is Wynton giving a special performance with the students after the premier.

Wynton Marsalis & Author & company

Wynton Marsalis and 4 very talented young Jazz musicians.


September 2, 2013

Young Arts & Wynton Marsalis

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I am looking forward to attending the premier of a new YoungArts/Simon & Goodman documentary: Wynton Marsalis: A Youngarts Masterclass

This HBO Family Documentary Debuts Sept. 9 but we get a sneak peak on Tuesday September 4 at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

We are pleased to be a part of this event because of our poet Da’ Shawn Mosley’s deep association with Young Arts.

May 29, 2013

Transparency is The Soul of Privacy

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My digital agency, Direct Logic Solutions, recently purchased an e-mail list for a client. The outright purchase of 3rd party lists with unlimited usage rights is becomming the norm in many industries.

In the course of mailing this list, a consumer complained to our client that she was being spammed and she demanded that we tell her where we got her name and how it ended up on that particular list. People who think they are being spammed typically hit the spam button or just opt out. In this case the consumer was very angry and demanded a full explanation.

We have very good database analysts and our service bureau is also a firm with high integrity. Between us we were able to pinpoint the specifics about the record and her name was removed from our database and all of the databases of our service bureau.

We were able to tell her how her name was originally acquired and we could provide her with assurances that her name would never be used by us or our service bureau again.

Her response to our client was worth the effort:

“Thank you! I must say, I have tried to find out how my email address was obtained before, with other companies, and this is the first time that someone actually followed through.

I know that you must be busy, and I appreciate your personal consideration more than you know. …You do your company proud.”

What did we learn? I would argue that we learned the following:

1) Consumers are smart and they will stand up for what they want.

2) They want honesty. When they get it, they love you. It’s when they are lied to that all hell breaks loose. (Science fiction fans will remember the reveal abour why the HAL 9000 computer went homicidal in 2001: A Space Oddessy).

3) Clarity and Accountability for consumers should be the hallmark of every good marketing organization.

May 15, 2013

Ted Spiegel: The Passing of a Giant

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I just learned from some of my Northwestern friends that Ted Spiegel passed away over the weekend at the age of 82. For someone of Ted’s vitality and spirit, he died much too young.

Ted, scion of the Spiegel cataloging family, was very important to me because he helped establish Medill’s graduate direct marketing program in 1987. It was the first program of its kind in the nation and where I got the educational foundation that has formed the basis for my career in digital marketing. Besides being a professor and leader, I considered Ted to be a friend and I will sorely miss him as will his legions of former students and colleagues.

One thing that will always stick out in my memory of Ted and his wonderful wife, Audry, were the holiday postcards that they would send each year. These postcards always featured a picture of Ted and Audry in some kind of extreme sport. Ones that come immediately to mind were “Barn Door Halibut Fishing in Alaska” and “Heli-Hiking” God knows where. I will have to dig up a few of those and post them.   <strong>Some Biographical Information on Ted:</strong> As founder and president of Spiegel Marketing worked as a consultant to businesses, government entities and nonprofits since 1987. His expertise in catalog marketing and business strategy helped clients ranging from Walt Disney to Reader’s Digest to the Library of Congress. As a professor emeritus in service, Spiegel remained  engaged in the Spiegel Digital and Database Research Initiative he helped envision and launch.   In 1991 he received the Charles Down Award as Chicago Direct Marketer of the Year, in 1992 the Edward Mayer Award from the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation for Educational Leadership, and in 2005 he was inducted to the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame. He has served on the Board of Directors of Spiegel, Inc., Integrated Marketing Solutions, a subsidiary of Swiss Colony, Digital Impact, American Blind, CM Partners, and many more. He is the author along with Susan Jones, his partner at the Callahan Group, of MARKETING CONVERGENCE: How the Leading Companies are Profiting from Integrated Online and Offline Marketing Strategies. In 1989 he received a Doctor of Laws, Honorary Degree from National College of Education.

Ted will surely be missed but his memory and influence will never be forgotton.