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  • 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
  • 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 01:00 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 12:30 pm 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 04:30 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 01:30 pm on Mon, 05 Dec 2016 in science, spotlight on science
  • Paul Shepheard's Artificial Love: A Story of Machines and Architecture features individuals experiencing their lives in the context of architecture. In the following excerpt, Shepheard takes Thanksgiving Day as an opportunity to reflect on the diaspora of his family and the evolution of human emotional bonds. Download and read A BIT of Artificial Love for free.

    John is detailed to look after Juliet because he’s the only one with his hands free. I’m in the kitchen wrestling with the pink corpse of a turkey and my wife B is out in the yard chopping logs for the fire. Once a year we stack the fireplace and ignite it to celebrate the family hearth; it is the time when we compress our far-flung clan into one room and enact the ritual of Thanksgiving.

    Posted at 01:00 am on Thu, 24 Nov 2016 in
  • It may be the last day of University Press Week but we've still got a great Roundup of blog posts! Today's theme is #FollowFriday

    Posted at 03:00 pm on Fri, 18 Nov 2016 in university press week
  • Today is the last day of University Press Week. We've been sharing posts from our university press community across the world, and today we're contributing a little more. Recently the MIT Press Bookstore moved from it's location on Main Street in Kendall Square, Cambridge, to Mass. Ave. in Cambridge. Justin Kehoe, a member of our editorial department and former MIT Press Bookstore employee, reflected on the move and the changes. 

    Posted at 10:28 am on Fri, 18 Nov 2016 in university press week
  • University Press Week continues! This week, University Presses are reflecting on community and what that means for them. Today's theme is Throw Back to the Future.

    Posted at 03:32 pm on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 in university press week
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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.