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January 2017

  • In honor of the Lunar New Year, we share images from China's Vanishing Worlds by Matthias Messmer and Hsin-Mei Chuang capturing poignant scenes of landscapes and lifestyles in rural China. These photographs depict how the New Year is celebrated in China's countryside, far from Beijing or Shanghai.

    A traditional almanac [huangli, sometimes also called a peasant almanac] shows lunar dates and solar cycles and offers advice on what is proper or improper to do on a given day. For instance, it might be appropriate to offer sacrifices to the gods, engage in animal husbandry, marry or make wine; but road-work, in contrast, would be inadvisable. In the past, such calendars were profusely illustrated, as shown in the pictured example from 1949. During the Cultural Revolution, the Communists condemned such calendars as a symbol of the Four Olds. Today, only elderly people in rural areas still refer to such calendars before engaging in daily activities. They usually purchase them in the market around the Chinese New Year.

    Posted at 01:20 pm on Mon, 30 Jan 2017 in art
  • Inauguration Day is finally here: Today Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. One of the key factors that propelled Trump's surprisingly strong appeal to white working-class voters was his promise to revive the American manufacturing sector, which has been losing jobs for many years. Even before taking office, Trump pointed to annoucnements by Carrier, Ford, and Sprint that those companies would retain or add American jobs as early proof that, as he often said during his campaign, he alone can save this sector of America's economy.

    But how realistic is this scenario? Critics and news analysts have already begun picking apart Trump's claims that these deals amount to a manufacturing resurgence, while others are skeptical, to say the least, that a few deals will stem the tide driven by outsourcing and an increasingly digital economy.

    We turned to Vaclav Smil for some perspective on this issue. Smil is the author of, among many other books, Made in the USA, which chronicled the rise and retreat of American manufacturing. True to form, Smil's answers to our questions were detailed, wide-ranging, and offered no simple answers to complex questions.

    Posted at 01:05 pm on Fri, 20 Jan 2017 in
  • The New Year welcomes Emma Hart to the helm of Evolutionary Computation. She takes over the role of Editor-in-Chief from Hans-Georg Beyer (who had assumed the role himself in 2010). Professor Hart is the Director of the Centre for Algorithms, Visualisation and Evolving Systems at Edinburgh Napier University and her research is focused on biologically inspired computing. Professor Hart answered a few questions for us about her work with the journal and her hopes for its future.

    You’ve published a number of articles in Evolutionary Computation (and various other journals) over the years. How did you move from contributor to editor?

    I think it has helped to take as many opportunities as possible to be actively involved in the EC community—this has enabled me to get to know a lot of people across the world. I’ve moved gradually from chairing workshops in smaller conferences to more prominent roles such as Track Chair at GECCO (Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference), Technical Chair at CEC (IEEE Congress on Evolutionary Computation), and General Chair of PPSN (International Conference on Parallel Problem Solving from Nature) in 2016. I also serve on the SIGEVO (ACM Special Interest Group on Genetic and Evolutionary Computation) board and edit the SIGEVO newsletter, which has helped raise my profile. Of course, acting as an Associate Editor of Evolutionary Computation for several years has been incredibly useful in getting a better understanding of how the journal works!

    Posted at 11:00 am on Fri, 13 Jan 2017 in journals
  • David G. Stork, Rambus fellow and editor of HAL's Legacy, celebrates the birthday of science fiction's most famous computer.

    “Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H. A. L. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January, 1992.” —Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

    Nearly a half-century ago, Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick introduced us to cinema’s most compelling example of artificial intelligence: the HAL 9000, a heuristically programmed algorithmic computer. The sentient HAL was not only capable of understanding his human colleagues—he could also speak, see, plan, understand emotion and play chess. Perhaps not surprisingly, HAL was shown to be the most human character in 2001: A Space Odyssey. While Frank Poole died silently in the cold vacuum of space and the demise of the hibernating crew members was revealed by a medical monitor’s trace going flat, by contrast HAL sang a touching yet dissolving rendition of “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do” as David Bowman deliberately shut down his consciousness.

    Posted at 12:30 pm on Thu, 12 Jan 2017 in artificial intelligence, computer science
  • It's National Bird Day! We are celebrating with a passage by Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky from Birdsong, Speech, and Languagewhich considers the cognitive and neural similarities between birdsong and human speech and language.

    Scholars have long been captivated by the parallels between birdsong and human speech and language. Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle had already observed in his Historia Animalium (about 350 BCE) that some songbirds, like children, acquire sophisticated, patterned vocalizations, “ articulated voice, ” in part from listening to adult “ tutors ” but also in part via prior predisposition: “ Some of the small birds do not utter the same voice as their parents when they sing, if they are reared away from home and hear other birds singing. A nightingale has already been observed teaching its chick, suggesting that [birdsong] . . . is receptive to training ” ( Hist. Anim. 1970, 504a35 – 504b3; 536b, 14 – 20 ). Here Aristotle uses the Greek word dialektos to refer to song variation, paralleling human speech, and even anticipates recent work on how the songs of isolated juvenile vocal learning birds might “ drift ” from those of their parents over successive generations. Given two millennia of progress from neuroscience to genomics, we might expect that our insights regarding the parallels between birdsong and human language have advanced since Aristotle ’ s day. But how much have we learned? That is the aim of this book: What can birdsong tell us today about the biology of human speech and language? 

    Posted at 11:30 am on Thu, 05 Jan 2017 in linguistics, neuroscience

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Books, news, and ideas from MIT Press

The MIT PressLog is the official blog of MIT Press. Founded in 2005, the Log chronicles news about MIT Press authors and books. The MIT PressLog also serves as forum for our authors to discuss issues related to their books and scholarship. Views expressed by guest contributors to the blog do not necessarily represent those of MIT Press.