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[personal profile] lydy
Slightly edited from comments I posted on File 770:

Context:

The biggest objection to Steven's statement at Opening Ceremonies was not about content, but about context. Context controls meaning. "How are you?" can be a polite place holder, the opening to a bit of small talk, or an invitation to talk about something serious going on in your life. Opening Ceremonies is a time for the staff of the convention to welcome people, thank people, provide some administrivia, and set the tone. It is not a time for conversations. Those happen later in the convention. It is supposed to be a feel-good half hour to ease people into the space that Fourth Street wants to create. What Steven did was an abuse of power in several different ways. In the first place, possibly inadvertently, he made it sound like his particular issue was, in fact, Fourth Street policy. I'm not sure what it says about Steven that he didn't understand before it was pointed out to him. I can think of both charitable and uncharitable explanations, but it really doesn't matter. What matters is what he did.

Although Steven claimed to be trying to start a conversation, everything about his action was designed to shut down conversation, rather than open it up. He spoke from the dias, at an event which is designed as a presentation, from a written speech. It should also be noted that Fourth Street has a single track of programming, most of the convention was at Opening Ceremonies, and probably 20% of the attendees were new to the convention. The fact that several people questioned Steven and pushed back at his behavior is not to his credit. Instead, it underscores how completely outside accepted norms his behavior was. It was sufficiently upsetting that numerous people broke the semiotic frame to challenge him. Alex, also sitting on the dias, could see people being visibly upset, some in tears. Her decision to shut Steven down was probably based, in part, on watching the damage he was doing happen in front of her eyes. If she did it less than gracefully, again, think about the frame. And think about the fact that this was completely unexpected. It is rare for the Safety Coordinator to have to operate in crisis mode. Usually, we are notified of harassment well after the fact, well after the actual crisis is past. This, this was happening right in front of her eyes.

The specific language that Steven chose, most especially "safe space", appeared to be carefully designed to undermine an entire department of the convention. Fourth Street uses the safety model, they have a Safety Coordinator, and they are doing a pretty good job of addressing issues of harassment and bias in the convention. To have someone, from the dias, in a presentation, essentially say, "These are not really Fourth Street's values," was shocking and unacceptable. If, as I gather elsewhere, this was the result of Steven losing an internal political battle, my god was this not the appropriate response.

I prefer to use consent as a model for dealing with crappy behavior in conventions. Using this model, what Steven did was completely beyond the pale. He foisted on an unsuspecting and unconsenting audience and incredibly complicated and uncomfortable topic, and did it in such a way that objecting was very hard, and conversation nearly impossible. Let's say you want to, for example, have a conversation about whether old white guys should be allowed to bang on about cultural appropriation. If it is on the schedule, clearly marked, and the panelists identified, a body could make an intelligent choice about whether or not one wanted to have that conversation. Or a body could decide that they don't have enough spoons for that particular conversation, and not go. It is not ok to try to force other people to talk about the things you want to talk about.

It should also be noted that there are conversations that are not valuable. No one needs to have another conversation about whether or not the Nazis were right about the danger of Jewry destroying Western Europe. No one needs to have another conversation about whether Jim Crow was maybe a good thing for colored people. These conversations give oxygen to toxic concepts, and yield no light. Fourth Street may well decide that some conversations are not likely to yield much enlightenment, but likely to cause actual hurt to attendees. This is not avoiding difficult concepts, this is properly budgeting time. There's a limited amount of Fourth street, an infinity of really cool things to talk about, and I get down on my knees in gratitude to editors who are good at their jobs.

Terms of Art:

I would like to point out that “safe space” is neither a literal nor a metaphorical phrase. It is a term of art, coming out of various complex discussions about how to deal with racism, sexism, and kierarchy. Like the term “positive reinforcement” which, in operant conditioning, doesn’t mean what you think it means, “safe space” has a specific, technical meaning. And the attempt to treat it as either literal or metaphorical completely misses the point. Deliberately so, in most cases.

I have problems with using the term safety to discuss harassment and its attendant issues. However, I am really, really annoyed at the people who use the term “safe space” as a stick to beat people doing real work. And seriously, pretending I don’t know what metaphor is is just not on.

In its most basic sense, “safe space” just means a place where we don’t have to have 101 conversations. A safe space for women means not having to constantly explain why we are fully human, not having to do the work of explaining why harassment is bad. A safe space for people of color means much the same, a space where people of color don’t have to explain their life and experiences and reassure the anxious white people around them. Fourth Street Fantasy Convention is, in point of fact, a “safe space” for fantasists, a place where writers and readers don’t have to explain why this stuff is important, don’t have to justify their passion for fantasy. That conversation is very much off the table.


Term of art, for fuck’s sake. It really chaps my ass to watch people attempt to abuse language in this fashion, especially people who claim to be professional writers. Sententiously insisting that they are speaking metaphorically, while simultaneously insisting that other people are speaking literally.

Language does weird shit, especially when you try to create precise terms. Writers do weird shit to language; it is their stock in trade. Pay some fucking attention. The language is going at right angles again. Like it does. All the fucking time.



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Posted by John Scalzi

Hey! I’m going to Denver Comic Con this weekend! I’ll be on panels and signing books! Here is my schedule!

Panels:

Laughter in the Face of Disaster (Friday 6/30 11AM Room 407),

Military Scifi an Institution (Friday 6/30 3PM DCCP4 – Keystone City Room),

Fight the Power! Fiction for Political Change (Friday 6/30 4:30PM Room 402),

The Writing Process of Best Sellers (Saturday 7/1 12PM Room 407),

The Hardness Scale – Is Fiction Better Squishy or Solid? (Saturday 7/1 3PM Room 407),

Economics, Value and Motivating Your Character (Sunday 7/2 11AM Room 407).

Signings:

Friday 6/30 from 1PM-2:50PM at Tattered Cover Signing Booth 2,

Saturday 7/1 from  10:30AM-11:50PM at the Tattered Cover Signing Booth,

Sunday 7/2 from 2PM-4PM at Tattered Cover Signing Booth 2.

Come see me!

Also, thanks to Sisters in Geek, who collected up this information in this article on my and other authors’ schedules, so I didn’t have to. You’re the best, Sisters in Geek!


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Posted by John Scalzi

We interrupt this Tuesday afternoon to bring this fresh stack of new books and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound. What here is a book you would like in your possession? Tell us in the comments!


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Posted by John Scalzi

Memory and language: Two concepts that Desirinia Boskovich had in mind for her novella Never Now Always. And now, here she is, to remember to you, in words, why they were important to her story.

DESIRINA BOSKOVICH:

There are key moments and motifs in fiction that we latch onto as readers, and as writers. Symbolic scenes that loom large for us because they connect in some deeper way with our own buried nightmares and past traumas.

For me one of those moments is in C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, where every single day, bound to that chair, the prince remembers how much he’s forgotten. Fleetingly, he understands he’s a prisoner and also that he can do nothing about it, imprisoned equally by his own enchanted brain.

I was just six or seven when I read this and the horror of it simply overwhelmed me and then infiltrated me: that moment when you know, and simultaneously know the knowledge won’t last.

I think it terrifies me because the vulnerability and powerlessness of that moment is so crushing and absolute.

In Never Now Always, I set out to explore the terror of that moment. And also to face it and conquer it, putting my characters in the same predicament, yet giving them tools to fight.

So the story centers on Lolo, a child who finds herself trapped in a mysterious labyrinth under the supervision of a horde of voiceless alien Caretakers. She is surrounded by many other children, but none of them know how they ended up there, or what happened before. And as the Caretakers subject the children to psychological experiments focused on trauma and memory, their ability to form short-term memories is limited, too. Everything they learn, or think they learn, just slips between their fingers like water.

Then Lolo hits on the concept of writing — scrawling drawings and pictographs as simply as possible, designed to represent these fleeting pieces of story to her future self. Hoping that she stays the same, that her perception persists enough from day to day that when she sees those scribblings later, she’ll still know what they mean.

For me, as the writer of the novella, it was more complicated. The deeper I got into the story, the more I realized how truly challenging it would be to tell a story where the mechanics of narrative are broken, where one thing doesn’t always lead to another and pieces of story don’t necessarily add up.

In some ways every scene felt like a first scene. There are gaps in this story, and continuity errors.

But I also realized that while I wanted my reader to feel somewhat disoriented, I could not let them remain as disoriented as the characters, because that would really not be an enjoyable story to read.

So I also ended up depending heavily on language to do the work — I tried to anchor everything in touch and taste and feelings, always in the present tense, a language reinvented for children whose sense of time is confined to a narrow slice of perpetual now. Everything that’s happening to them is happening in the immediate, and the present is the only moment that matters.

And in that perpetual now is where I think my characters — and I, myself — find redemption and solace. Because love is deeper than language. Because my dog doesn’t need to remember all the days of his life with me to know that with me he’s loved and safe and home; “yesterday” and “tomorrow” don’t actually mean anything. As always, my dog is wiser than I am. So I gave Lolo a dog, too, to help her figure it out.

In the end, the story returns to the one idea I find most comforting: that in this world and the next, life after life, we always make our way back to protect those who’ve protected us, and to be reunited with the souls we’ve loved.

I hope it’s true.

—-

Never Now Always: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.


Fighting Leakers at Apple

2017-06-27 11:25
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Posted by Bruce Schneier

Apple is fighting its own battle against leakers, using people and tactics from the NSA.

According to the hour-long presentation, Apple's Global Security team employs an undisclosed number of investigators around the world to prevent information from reaching competitors, counterfeiters, and the press, as well as hunt down the source when leaks do occur. Some of these investigators have previously worked at U.S. intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA), law enforcement agencies like the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service, and in the U.S. military.

The information is from an internal briefing, which was leaked.

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The Delirium Brief The Delirium Brief

So The Delirium Brief is imminent! It officially goes on sale on July 13th in the UK and (in a different binding, from a different publisher) on July 11th in the USA.

I'll be doing my usual launch reading/signing event in Edinburgh at Blackwell's Bookshop on Wednesday July 12th — it's a ticketed event but tickets are free.

You can order signed copies of The Delirium Brief both from Blackwell's (see the bottom of the linked event page for details) and from my favourite local specialist SF bookstore, Transreal Fiction in Edinburgh. (Transreal takes Paypal and can ship overseas; Mike can also provide signed copies of many of my other books upon request.)

(no subject)

2017-06-26 17:46
secretagentmoof: (Default)
[personal profile] secretagentmoof
I've bought my one-way tickets to Las Vegas (for DefCon) and Chicago (for after DefCon), so I'm pretty committed. Shipping the electronics - since Amtrak Express won't accept them - will be rather annoying. Not sure how much I should do the "live out of a suitcase" thing immediately or wait a week or two.

Still to do: figure out w/ my landlord who exactly is doing what; cancel DSL + electric/gas; change-of-address forms; notifying SF/CA that I'm moving out of state and so will no longer be eligible for the resident-of-SF health insurance (gulp).
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

David Crisp, "Gianforte: Congress’ newest misdemeanor", Last Best News 6/25/2017:

In case you were wondering whether Greg Gianforte will ever live down his body slam of a reporter for the Guardian, here’s a clue.

The Associated Press reported last week that Gianforte drew boos from the Republican side of the aisle during his brief speech following his swearing in as Montana’s representative in the U.S. House. The murmurs apparently had nothing to do with misdemeanor assault but came in response to Gianforte’s call to “drain the swamp” and for a bill denying pay to members of Congress if they fail to balance the budget.

But what’s really interesting is the C-SPAN transcript of Gianforte’s swearing in. The transcripts, according to a FAQ at the C-SPAN website, are drawn from the closed captioning that scrolls on the screen during sessions of Congress. The transcripts are included on the website to help visitors find the video they want, not to provide an accurate record of the actual speeches.

But they can nevertheless be revealing. On the tape, House Speaker Paul Ryan swears in Gianforte, then says, “Congratulations, you are now a member of the 115th Congress.” On the transcript, Ryan says, “Congratulations, you are now misdemeanor of the 115th Congress.”

Here's the audio:

And here's a screenshot of the relevant segment of the captioning, which actually says "CONGRATULATIONS, ARE YOU NOW MISDEMEANOR OF THE 115TH CONGRESS":

 

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Posted by John Scalzi

The first time I personally encountered Harry Potter was not long after the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, came out. I was 30 and my daughter was an infant, so in neither case were these particular Scalzis the target demographic for the books, but by that time the buzz (and sales) of the series were pretty significant. So one day in the airport, while I was browsing in a bookstore, I picked up Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and opened it up near the end, to the part where Dobby the House Elf is given a sock.

I read it for a few pages to get the sense of Rowling’s style, and then put the book back on the shelf and thought, “well, okay, that’s not for me.” Why not for me? In this case, it was something about the writing of that particular scene. I could see how all the pieces fit together, and I could see how it was working, and I could also see that all of it seemed pitched to someone who wasn’t me, 30-year-old John Scalzi. This didn’t mean it wasn’t a good book or the right book for someone else; by the age of thirty I had gathered enough wisdom (and, dare I say it, humility) to recognize that “not for me” was not the same as “not for anyone.” But I didn’t feel the click that made me want to keep reading. Evidently, Harry Potter was not for me.

And that was okay! There is a lot of stuff in the common culture that is not for me, particularly when it’s pitched to people who are younger or older than I am. Dawson’s Creek and The Vampire Diaries are not for me, just like My Three Sons or Dark Shadows were not for me. Emerson Lake and Palmer was not for me, nor was N*Sync, nor is Ariana Grande. Doctor Who’s first iteration was not for me and I have to admit I’m only passably interested in the current version. I could be here for days with a list of all the things that are not for me. Again, which is fine! There are lots of things that I decided are for me. I was happy with them.

And so with Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling, whose niche in my mind I pretty much figured had been occupied by Will Stanton and Meg Murry, and Susan Cooper and Madeleine L’Engle. I didn’t worry too much about whether Kids These Days were reading The Dark is Rising or the Wrinkle in Time series, for the same reason I didn’t worry too much if today’s kids were really into Tears for Fears or the Go-Gos, to name but two bands whose discographies were pertinent to my teenage years. Every generation finds their storytellers, in literature and music and art in general. I was okay letting J.K. Rowling and her stories belong to the generation of young people after mine. Yes, I know, very gracious of me.

But as it turns out neither Harry Potter nor J.K. Rowling were done with me. First, of course, it turned out that Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley (and Rowling) weren’t Tears for Fears; they were the Beatles. And like the Beatles they weren’t just popular. They materially changed common culture — for a start, because they also changed the industry that they came out of, and the work of everyone in their field, who either responded to them or were influenced by them. Now, one may, like me, decide a phenomenon like that isn’t for you, but when literally(!) the world is changing to deal with and make room for that phenomenon, you still have to acknowledge that it’s there and work with it, or at least around it. Particularly when and if, like me, it comes out of the fields (in this case publishing and writing) you hope to be in, and in my case were eventually part of.

Second, I found another way in to Rowling’s wizarding world: through the movies, which were for me in a way that I, from that snippet of the second book, assumed the books were not. In retrospect this is not at all surprising — I was a professional film critic for several years, and I’ve written two books on film, and, as anyone who has ever read my novels can tell you, the storytelling structure of film is a huge influence on my storytelling in prose. My professional and creative interest in film helped that version of Harry Potter’s story speak to me.

(And in point of fact this is not the first time I had found the film/TV version of a story working better for me. I’ve written in detail about how I think the Peter Jackson’s take on The Lord of the Rings is better — or at least better for me, in terms of story presentation — than the Tolkien books; likewise I am deeper into the Game of Thrones universe through the TV series than I was through the books. In all these cases, I’m not suggesting the prose version has failed in some way and the films “fix” them. They obviously work for millions of people. More to the point, different media allow creators to do different things, and reach different people. As was the case here.)

Having gotten through the door with the series via film was a good thing, because as it turned out Harry Potter is for me — which is to say that I find the world that Rowling created to be deep and thoughtful and interesting in ways I didn’t expect. And because it’s interesting and engaging to me as someone who approached it as an adult, I understand better why it’s so very deeply affecting for the readers who literally grew up in tandem with Harry and Hermione and Ron and all the rest of the students at Hogwarts. They aren’t just characters to them, any more than Will Stanton or Meg Murry were just characters to me. They were and are contemporaries and friends. Harry Potter’s Hogwarts year had several million students in it. It’s a miracle they all fit in the dining hall.

One way or another, lightly or deeply, it’s turned out Harry Potter is for more people than I would have expected, all those years ago. This is one reason why 20 years after the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we’re getting the sort of retrospectives on the series that Sgt. Pepper’s got 20 years down the road from its release, and why, just like everyone knew which Beatle was their favorite, now everyone knows which Hogwarts house they’d personally be sorted into, or would want to be.

(Personal moment here: I assumed I was a Ravenclaw, because come on, but then went to the Pottermore site and was sorted into Gryffindor, which annoyed me but on reflection I realized was correct, damn it. Also, re: the Beatles, John is Slytherin, Paul is Gryffindor, George is Ravenclaw and Ringo is so very Hufflepuff. Fight me on this).

This is not to say the Potterverse is perfect or that J.K. Rowling is infallable as a writer or human. It’s not and she’s not. But then again, none of the universes I’ve written are perfect, and I sure as hell am not infallible, either. Fictional universes don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be a space people want to explore and keep exploring, year after year. I can’t say that I know Rowling to any great extent — we’ve exchanged pleasantries on Twitter, which I try not to let her know I’ve geeked out about — but I do admire her, as a writer and a worldbuilder, and as someone who has decided that she needs to be engaged in our world and time. From her public persona at least, it’s no great surprise that Harry and Hermione and Ron came out of her brain, or that she created such great antagonists for them. I think she sees what the world can run downhill toward, and how quickly that can happen, and that people need to stand against that, and stand with each other as they do so.

Which is another reason I’m glad that I found Harry Potter is for me, and for millions of other people. We need that now in 2017. I need it now. There’s very little chance J.K. Rowling knew, 20 years ago, that her books and her characters would be needed like this today. But I hope she knows it now, today and every day.


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Posted by Bruce Schneier

Sad story of someone whose computer became owned by a griefer:

The trouble began last year when he noticed strange things happening: files went missing from his computer; his Facebook picture was changed; and texts from his daughter didn't reach him or arrived changed.

"Nobody believed me," says Gary. "My wife and my brother thought I had lost my mind. They scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist for me."

But he built up a body of evidence and called in a professional cybersecurity firm. It found that his email addresses had been compromised, his phone records hacked and altered, and an entire virtual internet interface created.

"All my communications were going through a man-in-the-middle unauthorised server," he explains.

It's the "psychiatrist" quote that got me. I regularly get e-mails from people explaining in graphic detail how their whole lives have been hacked. Most of them are just paranoid. But a few of them are probably legitimate. And I have no way of telling them apart.

This problem isn't going away. As computers permeate even more aspects of our lives, it's going to get even more debilitating. And we don't have any way, other than hiring a "professional cybersecurity firm," of telling the paranoids from the victims.

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Posted by Bruce Schneier

In a proposed rule by the FAA, it argues that software in an Embraer S.A. Model ERJ 190-300 airplane is secure because it's proprietary:

In addition, the operating systems for current airplane systems are usually and historically proprietary. Therefore, they are not as susceptible to corruption from worms, viruses, and other malicious actions as are more-widely used commercial operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows, because access to the design details of these proprietary operating systems is limited to the system developer and airplane integrator. Some systems installed on the Embraer Model ERJ 190-300 airplane will use operating systems that are widely used and commercially available from third-party software suppliers. The security vulnerabilities of these operating systems may be more widely known than are the vulnerabilities of proprietary operating systems that the avionics manufacturers currently use.

Longtime readers will immediately recognize the "security by obscurity" argument. Its main problem is that it's fragile. The information is likely less obscure than you think, and even if it is truly obscure, once it's published you've just lost all your security.

This is me from 2014, 2004, and 2002.

The comment period for this proposed rule is ongoing. If you comment, please be polite -- they're more likely to listen to you.

"The Real Threat of AI"

2017-06-26 12:39
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

Kai-Fu Lee has an interesting opinion piece in yesterday's NYT: –"The Real Threat of Artificial Intelligence":

What worries you about the coming world of artificial intelligence?

Too often the answer to this question resembles the plot of a sci-fi thriller. People worry that developments in A.I. will bring about the “singularity” — that point in history when A.I. surpasses human intelligence, leading to an unimaginable revolution in human affairs. Or they wonder whether instead of our controlling artificial intelligence, it will control us, turning us, in effect, into cyborgs.

These are interesting issues to contemplate, but they are not pressing. They concern situations that may not arise for hundreds of years, if ever. […]

This doesn’t mean we have nothing to worry about. On the contrary, the A.I. products that now exist are improving faster than most people realize and promise to radically transform our world, not always for the better. They are only tools, not a competing form of intelligence. But they will reshape what work means and how wealth is created, leading to unprecedented economic inequalities and even altering the global balance of power.

Read the whole thing — and then compare it to Norbert Wiener's expression of very similar concerns in 1950, discussed in "AI panics", 11/27/2016, and "Intellectual automation", 3/7/2011.

Wiener's warnings were certainly premature. Kai-Fu Lee has a more plausible case to make, though it's possible that the climb is going to be somewhat steeper and slower than he suggests it will be.

But as both Wiener and Lee explain, the eventual social and political consequences will be profound. Kai-Fu is conditionally optimistic, though his meta-Keynesian prescriptions may strike some as naive:

One way or another, we are going to have to start thinking about how to minimize the looming A.I.-fueled gap between the haves and the have-nots, both within and between nations. Or to put the matter more optimistically: A.I. is presenting us with an opportunity to rethink economic inequality on a global scale. These challenges are too far-ranging in their effects for any nation to isolate itself from the rest of the world.

It's not clear why the global 0.01% should be any more benevolent than it it now — Norbert Wiener put it this way:

Let us remember that the automatic machine, whatever we think of any feelings it may have or may not have, is the precise economic equivalent of slave labor. Any labor which competes with slave labor must accept the economic conditions of slave labor. It is perfectly clear that this will produce an unemployment situation, in comparison with which the present recession and even the depression of the thirties will seem a pleasant joke. This depression will ruin many industries-possibly even the industries which have taken advantage of the new potentialities. However, there is nothing in the industrial tradition which forbids an industrialist to make a sure and quick profit, and to get out before the crash touches him personally.

Thus the new industrial revolution is a two-edged sword. It may be used for the benefit of humanity, but only if humanity survives long enough to enter a period in which such a benefit is possible. It may also be used to destroy humanity, and if it is not used intelligently it can go very far in that direction.

And both current events and recent history suggest that large groups of motivated people with simple weapons are not easily overcome by superior technology. So whatever the ultimate outcome, we may get there after we relive years like 18111848, 1871, 1905, 1917, 1949, 1965, …

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Posted by Mark Liberman

As I've observed several times over the years, automatic speech recognition is getting better and better, to the point where some experts can plausibly advance claims of "achieving human parity". It's not hard to create material where humans still win, but in a lot of ordinary-life recordings, the machines do an excellent job.

Just like human listeners, computer ASR algorithms combine "bottom-up" information about the audio with "top-down" information about the context — both the local word-sequence context and various layers of broader context. In general, the machines are more dependent than humans are on the top-down information, in the sense that their performance on (even carefully-pronounced) jabberwocky or word salad is generally rather poor.

But recently I've been noting some cases where an ASR system unexpectedly fails to take account of what seem like some obvious local word-sequence likelihoods. To check my impression that such events are fairly common, I picked a random youtube video from YouTube's welcome page — Bill Maher's 6/23/2017 monologue — and fetched the "auto-generated" closed captions.


Here's an example that combines impressive overall performance with one weird mistake:

5:07 Mitch McConnell says he wants a vote
5:10 before the 4th of July when Trump voters
5:13 traditionally blow their hands off
5:19 oh the fourth of July hey summers here
5:24 boy it was real Beach weather in Phoenix
5:26 the other day did you see that it was
5:28 122 122 plains could not take off hey
5:34 climate deniers
5:36 if melting IceCaps and rising oceans and
5:40 pandemics aren't enough to scare you not
5:42 being able to leave Phoenix that should
5:50 work

I'll give the machine a pass on "summers" instead of "summer's", and we can ignore the issue of "oh" vs. "ah", and forgive the hallucinated "work" at the end — but "plains could not take off"? In Psalm 114:4 the mountains skipped like rams, but not even then did the plains take off.

A bit later:

6:32 but speaking of solar Donald Trump broke
6:36 some news at the rally that the wall you
6:39 know the wall between us and Mexico it's
6:41 going to have solar panels on he said it
6:43 was his idea solar battles okay so the
6:47 wall which is never going to be built
6:49 which Mexico is never going to be paying
6:52 for which now has imaginary so propels
6:56 on because if it's one big Donald Trump
6:59 AIDS it's fake news

So the system got "solar panels" right the first time, but then heard "solar battles" and "so propels". In fairness, Maher kind of garbles the last one into something like "solar pels":

But still, I don't think anyone in the audience heard "so propels".

And then at the end, "if it's one thing Donald Trump hates it's fake news" get turned into "if it's one big Donald Trump AIDS it's fake news":

In that case, I don't hear any acoustic phonetic excuses. And surely "one thing Donald Trump hates" is a priori a more probable word string than "one big Donald Trump AIDS"…

I don't know which generation of ASR Google is using to generate YouTube captions. But it's possible that this sort of thing is an example of the sometimes-peculiar behavior of RNN language models.

[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

Conversation between me and Krissy yesterday:

Me: With all this bullshit around health care, and the possibility of pre-existing conditions and insurance caps coming back, we should probably look into supplemental insurance.

Krissy: I got us supplemental insurance years ago.

Me: You did?

Krissy: Yes. I even have policies for very specific things.

Me: Like what?

Krissy: I have an insurance policy on your hands.

Me: My hands?

Krissy: You’re a writer. You use your hands. If something happens to your hands, it’s a problem. We’ll need to pay for someone for you to dictate to.

Me: You’ve insured my hands.

Krissy: Yes.

Me: I’m not going to lie. That’s literally the sexiest thing you’ve said to me this whole damn month.


[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

Jamil Anderlini in the Financial Times (6/21/17), "The dark side of China’s national renewal", writes:

To an English-speaking ear, rejuvenation has positive connotations and all nations have the right to rejuvenate themselves through peaceful efforts.

But the official translation of this crucial slogan is deeply misleading. In Chinese it is “Zhonghua minzu weida fuxing” and the important part of the phrase is “Zhonghua minzu” — the “Chinese nation” according to party propaganda. A more accurate, although not perfect, translation would be the “Chinese race”.

That is certainly how it is interpreted in China. The concept technically includes all 56 official ethnicities, including Tibetans, Muslim Uighurs and ethnic Koreans, but is almost universally understood to mean the majority Han ethnic group, who make up more than 90 per cent of the population.

The most interesting thing about Zhonghua minzu is that it very deliberately and specifically incorporates anyone with Chinese blood anywhere in the world, no matter how long ago their ancestors left the Chinese mainland.

“The Chinese race is a big family and feelings of love for the motherland, passion for the homeland, are infused in the blood of every single person with Chinese ancestry,” asserted Chinese premier Li Keqiang in a recent speech.

This is a highly perceptive, and troubling, article that merits reading in its entirety.

In this post, I will focus on some key terms.

First of all, front and center, what is this mínzú 民族?  It can mean lots of things:  nation, nationality, people, ethnic group, race, volk.  This is not the first time that mínzú 民族 has erupted on the international stage.  One of the most notable instances was four years ago, emanating right here from the University of Pennsylvania.  The incident is well recounted by R.L.G. in "Johnson" at The Economist (5/21/13), "Of nations, peoples, countries and mínzú:  Differing terms for ethnicity, citizenship and group belonging ruffle feathers":

DID Joe Biden insult China?  The American vice-president has a habit of sticking his foot into his mouth, and in this case, the recent graduation speech he gave at the University of Pennsylvania inspired a viral rant by a "disappointed" Chinese student at Penn, Zhang Tianpu. What was Mr Biden's sin? Was it Mr Biden's suggestion that creative thought is stifled in China?

You cannot think different in a nation where you cannot breathe free. You cannot think different in a nation where you aren't able to challenge orthodoxy, because change only comes from challenging orthodoxy.

No, that wasn't it.

The source of the insult is a surprising one: Mr Biden called China a "great nation", and a "nation" repeatedly after that. Victor Mair, the resident sinologist at the Language Log blog, translates Mr Zhang's complaint.

In this sentence, "You CANNOT think different in a nation where you aren't able to challenge orthodoxy", he used the word "nation". This is what really infuriated me, because in English "nation" indicates "race, ethnicity", which is different from "country, state". "Country, state" perhaps places more emphasis on the notion of the entirety of the country, even to the point of referring to the idea of government.

Mr Mair explains:

The weakness in Zhang's reasoning lies mainly in his confusion over the multiple meanings of the word mínzú 民族…. [M]ínzú 民族 can mean "ethnic group; race; nationality; people; nation".  Coming from the English side, we must keep in mind that "nation" can be translated into Chinese as guó 国 ("country"), guójiā 国家 ("country"), guódù 国度 ("country; state"), bāng 邦 ("state"), and, yes, mínzú 民族 ("ethnic group; race; nationality; people; nation").

It is clear that, when Biden said "China is a great nation", he was respectfully referring to the country as a whole.  Yet the sensitivity to questions of ethnicity in China, especially with regard to the shǎoshù mínzú 少数民族 ("ethnic / national minorities"), e.g., Uyghurs, Tibetans, and scores of others, caused Zhang to take umbrage over something that the Vice President never intended.

In a later post about smartphone zombies, Cant. dai1tau4 zuk6 / MSM dītóu zú 低頭族 (“head-down tribe”), "Tribes" (3/10/15), I wrote:

The first word I think of when I see 族 as a suffix is Mandarin mínzú, Japanese minzoku 民族 (“nation; nationality; people”), which is formed from 民 (“people; subjects; civilians”) + 族 (“family clan; ethnic group; tribe”).  The term is a neologism coined in the late 19th century by Japanese thinkers to match the Western (especially German) concept of “nation”.

… I have assembled a large amount of material concerning the absence of mínzú / minzoku 民族 as a lexical item corresponding to “nation” in China before it was introduced from Meiji [1868-1912] Japan.

When we prefix mínzú 民族 with shǎoshù 少数 ("few; small number; minority"), we have shǎoshù mínzú 少数民族 ("minority; national minority; ethnic minority").  Here it gets really tricky, because, as Anderlini points out in his article, there are officially 56 ethnic groups (mínzú 民族) in China, of which 55 are shǎoshù mínzú 少数民族 ("minorities; national minorities; ethnic minorities; ethnic groups"), with the 56th being the dominant, majority (over 90%) Hàn mínzú 汉民族 ("Han nationality; Han ethnic group").  Consequently, when Chinese politicians talk about the blood of the Chinese race, it's important to know whether they are are referring to Hàn mínzú 汉民族 ("Han nationality; Han ethnic group"), Zhōnghuá mínzú 中华民族 ("Chinese nation / people", where Zhōnghuá 中华 is understood as "Central cultural florescence"), or something else.  In each case, we need to judge carefully whether they meant to include all the ethnicities within the sovereign territory of the PRC or in the whole world, or whether they were referring specifically to individuals of Han ethnicity within the sovereign territory of the PRC or in the whole world.  Often, for politicians, as for poets, ambiguity is desirable, or at least convenient.

There are no less than half a dozen other words for "(the) people" that are in common use in Mandarin.  I won't go into all of them here, but will mention only one:  rénmín 人民, as in rénmínbì 人民币 ("RMB; people's currency") and Rénmín rìbào 人民日报 ("People's Daily").  This term, rénmín 人民, does not get involved with race, ethnicity, nation, and so on, but emphasizes the population as a whole.

As for "Zhongguo / China", that too is a huge can of worms, for which see this incisive paper by Arif Dirlik:

"Born in Translation: 'China' in the Making of 'Zhongguo'"

[h.t. John Rohsenow, Bill Bishop]

Bruria Kaufman

2017-06-24 16:53
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

The Annual Reviews have a tradition of featuring retrospective articles by or about senior figures, and the Annual Review of Linguistics has followed this pattern with pieces featuring Morris Halle in the 2016 volume and Bill Labov in 2017. For 2018, we'll be featuring Lila Gleitman.

As background, Barbara Partee, Cynthia McLemore and I spent the last couple of days interviewing Lila about her life and work. We've got more than 7.5 hours of recordings, which is more like a book than an article — and it may very well turn into a book as well, with edited interview material interspersed with reprints of Lila's papers. But what I want to post about today is one of the many things that I learned in the course of the discussions. This was just a footnote in Lila's life story, but it has its own intrinsic interest, and I'm hoping that some readers will be able to provide more information.

I learned that the founder of the Penn Linguistics Department, Zellig Harris, was married to a mathematical physicist named Bruria Kaufman. She worked with John von Neumann, wrote some widely-cited papers on crystal statistics in the late 1940s, published with Albert Einstein (Albert Einstein and Bruria Kaufman. "A new form of the general relativistic field equations", Annals of Mathematics, 1955), and later wrote papers like "Unitary symmetry of oscillators and the Talmi transformation", Journal of Mathematical Physics 1965, and "Special functions of mathematical physics from the viewpoint of Lie algebra", Journal of Mathematical Physics 1966.

The thing that interested me most was that Bruria Kaufman also worked for a while in the 1950s with Harris at Penn, at the same time as others including Lila Gleitman, Aravind Joshi, R.B. Lees, Naomi Sager, Zeno Vendler, and Noam Chomsky. And according to this 1961 NSF report, her contributions included Transformations and Discourse Analysis Papers (TDAP) numbers 19 and 20:

19. Higher-order Substrings and Well-formedness, Bruria Kaufman.
20. Iterative Computation of String Nesting (Fortran Code), Bruria Kaufman.

I've found a couple of citations to these works, but so far not the works themselves.

The 1961 NSF report says that

Paper 15 gives an information [sic — should be informal?] presentation of a general theory and method for syntactic recognition. Papers 16-19 give the actual flow charts of each section of the syntactic analysis program.

where 15-19 are

15. Computable Syntactic Analysis, Zellig S. Harris. (Revised version published as PoFL I, above)
16. Word and Word-Complex Dictionaries, Lila Gleitman.
17. Elimination of Alternative Classifications, Naomi Sager.
18. Recognition of Local Substrings, Aravind K. Joshi.
19. Higher-order Substrings and Well-formedness, Bruria Kaufman.

and "PoFL I" is Harris's String Analysis and Sentence Structure, 1962.

Aravind Joshi and Phil Hopely, "A parser from antiquity", Natural Language Engineering 1996, explains that

A parsing program was designed and implemented at the University of Pennsylvania during the period from June 1958 to July 1959. This program was part of the Transformations and Discourse Analysis Project (TDAP) directed by Zellig S. Harris. The techniques used in this program, besides being influenced by the particular linguistic theory, arose out of the need to deal with the extremely limited computational resources available at that time. The program was essentially a cascade of finite state transducers (FSTs).

More on the history from that source:

The original program was implemented in the assembly language on Univac 1, a single user machine. The machine had acoustic (mercury) delay line memory of 1000 words. Each word was 12 characters/digits, each character/digit was 6 bits. Lila Gleitman, Aravind Joshi, Bruria Kauffman, and Naomi Sager and a little later, Carol Chomsky were involved in the development and implementation of this program. A brief description of the program appears in Joshi 1961 and a somewhat generalized description of the grammar appears in Harris 1962.  This program is the precursor of the string grammar program of Naomi Sager at NYU, leading up to the current parsers of Ralph Grishman (NYU) and Lynette Hirschman (formerly at UNISYS, now at Mitre Corporation). Carol Chomsky took the program to MIT and it was used in the question-answer program of Green, BASEBALL (1961). At Penn, it led to a program for transformational analysis (kernels and transformations) (1963) and, in many ways, influenced the formal work on string adjunction (1972) and later tree-adjunction (1975).

The paper's bibliography cites

Transformations and Discourse Analysis Project (TDAP) Reports, University of Pennsylvania, Reports #15 through #19, 1959-60. Available in the Library of the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) (formerly known as the National Bureau of Standards (NBS)), Bethesda, MD.

So I'll ask my friends at NIST if these works are still there.

 

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