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  • The PROSE Awards were announced live on Thursday, February 2nd, and we're very pleased to announce that many of our books were category winners or received honorable mentions.

    Posted at 03:30 pm on Mon, 06 Feb 2017 in award
  • 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 12:20 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 12:05 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 10:00 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 11:30 am 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 10:30 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 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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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.