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December 2016

  • With the holidays right around the corner, let us help you find the perfect present for every nerd on your list. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook with #MITPressGift and prepare to be inspired!

    From our Instagram feed #MITPressGift:

    Posted at 12:00 pm on Thu, 22 Dec 2016 in holiday gift guide
  • Clifford Siskin discusses his new book, System: The Shaping of Modern Knowledge, which explains the long history of "blaming the system" from Galileo to the political economy of the early-nineteenth century to today.

    The book opens with Galileo’s “message from the stars,” which is depicted on the jacket. How did Galileo and Enlightenment thinkers contribute to the knowledge of our own computational universe? 

    In the histories I tell about system, I pair Galileo and Francis Bacon as helping to launch system on its upward trajectory at the turn into the seventeenth century. System was first used in English in the same year—1610—that Galileo first trained his improved spyglass on Jupiter and discovered that the world (read "universe") was a world full of systems: Jupiter, like earth, was the center of its own lunar system—and both of those systems were part of a larger one: a solar system. System only became, to use Galileo’s own word, “really” interesting when it became plural—when systems started showing up inside of each other. Seventy-five years later, that interest led Isaac Newton to choose system as the genre to convey the philosophical impact of his discoveries. Empowered by that decision—a tale I tell in detail—system rapidly became the primary form for explanation during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment in the West. The linear growth of systems in print was paced by the publication of what I call Master Systems during the mid and late decades—Systems that attempted to include all previous systems—followed by a takeoff in specialized systems (of education, of the income tax) at the century's end. By that point, system and the world were bound together in a powerful explanatory framework centered at the core of modern knowledge. When they changed, they changed in relationship to each other. Thus our new notion of a computational universe—as I outline in the Coda of the book—combines a new kind of system, algorithmic information processing, with new ways of comprehending the world, as something that systematically computes itself, perhaps into an infinite number of selves.

    Posted at 11:30 am on Mon, 19 Dec 2016 in humanities, science
  • We are pleased to announce that Elizabeth Losh, author of The War on Learning, is receiving an honorable mention in the competition for this year’s Mina P. Shaughnessy Prize, sponsored by the Modern Language Association (MLA). The prize is awarded annually for an outstanding work on language, culture, literature, or literacy with strong application to the teaching of English. It will be presented at the MLA conference in Philadelphia on January 7, 2017.

    Posted at 03:30 pm on Fri, 09 Dec 2016 in
  • We spoke with Rutsuko “Ruth” S. Nagayama, Professor of Psychology at Shizuoka Eiwa Gakuin University, for the latest Spotlight on Science Q&A. Here, she reflects on an article she co-authored in 2007 for PRESENCE: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments. “The Uncanny Valley: Effect of Realism on the Impression of Artificial Human Faces” has been one of the journal’s Top 5 Most Downloaded Articles in the past year. Read the article for free on our SOS page.

     Can you talk a little bit about “the uncanny valley?”

    The uncanny valley is a hypothesis about the psychological reaction when we see a robot, and was proposed by a roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970. Mori argued that  although it would be a good thing to make a robot's appearance more humanlike, people could feel uncomfortable with robots that were almost (but not perfectly)  humanlike.

    A graph used by Mori to explain his hypothesis is well known. In his graph, the horizontal axis represents how much artificial objects (robots, dolls, prosthetics, etc.)  resemble real human beings. The vertical axis represents a kind of impression score of artificial objects as rated by human observers.

    Mori predicted that the more closely artificial objects resembled real humans, the more comfortable our impression of them would be. But when their resemblance reached very close to real humans, we would have negative impressions of them. Mori depicted the occurrence of the negative impressions as a valley in the graph. This portion of the graph is called the uncanny valley. Mori warned that obviously robotic appearance is okay, but making them highly humanlike runs a risk of falling into the valley.

    Posted at 12:30 pm on Mon, 05 Dec 2016 in science, spotlight on science


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