Brain Pickings

Bookbinders: 1961 Documentary Romanticizes Book Craftsmanship

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Earlier this week, we took a detour from our intense interest in the evolution of publishing and instead examined its past with a fascinating 1947 documentary on making books. Today, we’re back with some excellent companion viewing: The 1961 documentary Bookbinders, part of the America at Work series by the AFL-CIO, which frames the book production process with enough romanticism to make today’s most notorious “better-nevers” nod along like the bobblehead dogs on the dashboard of a New York cabbie.

Americans at work, in an art that is the preservation of all arts: The making of books. These men are masters of their tools, from the most primitive instruments to the latest equipments of the machine age. With other craftsmen, these are the people who make the pen mightier than the sword.”

For a richer celebration of this vanishing craft, we highly recommend Lark’s 500 Handmade Books: Inspiring Interpretations of a Timeless Form.

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They Draw & Cook: Recipes Illustrated by Artists from Around the World

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There are countless individuals in this world who love to cook. There are also copious amounts of doodlers out there. Once in a while, a magical intersection of two such groups occurs, and luckily for them, and more-so, for us, a digital venue exists to celebrate the fusion of the two.

They Draw & Cook is essentially a recipe site that features cuisines from around the world, but its beauty and differentiation is that all the recipes are illustrated. As opposed to the text-heavy format for recipes we’re all used to, the illustrated approach challenges foodies to simply demonstrate the process for cooking a dish, but also telling a story about that dish: Its origins, its ingredients, and perhaps even the feelings and memories that come about when smelling them.

Even for those of us who aren’t interested in doing much cooking ourselves, the site is an absolute treat of unique hand-drawn visual art.

Every three days, six new visual recipes are posted. So go ahead and add this to your reading list if you’re interested in challenging your taste buds, or need inspiration for your shiny new Moleskine.

Len Kendall is the cofounder of the3six5 project. (Featured on Brain Pickings here.) He enjoys being clever, quippy, and constructively grumpy.

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Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine & the Quest to Know Everything

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What the perceived masculinity of robots has to do with the future of human knowledge.

Earlier this month, we looked at the superhuman capacities of the human brain, from the quest to hack memory and remember everything to the extraordinary mind of an autistic savant. For the past four years, IBM scientists have been putting their own very human minds together to build the ultimate superhuman artificial intelligence: A supercomputer known as Watson. In an ultimate litmus test for Watson’s computational cognition, they set out to prep and pit it against the world’s best players in a round of Jeopardy. And they granted one man rare access to document it all: Journalist Stephen Baker.

In Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything, he captures the fascinating process of trying to teach a machine language, knowledge and common sense, wrapped in a narrative that reads part like a sports story, with its riveting championship ups and downs, and part like the living incarnation of yesteryear’s science fiction, but is at its heart about the passion for and future of human knowledge.

Jeopardy is just a showcase for a new type of machine. Look, we’re going to be living with these things, working with them, and using them as external lobes of our brains. Final Jeopardy follows the education of one such machine. Readers, I’m hoping, will get a feel for its potential as well as its limitations. And that will help them understand what skills and knowledge they’ll need to carry around in their own heads. Of course, I’m also hoping they’ll enjoy the story.” ~ Stephen Baker

Watson and Google are very different animals. Google uses your brain to help you find an answer. It asks you for really, really clear instructions that a computer can understand, and then it leads you to a webpage and leaves it up to you to find the answer. Watson, on the other hand, has to make sense of the English itself, the really complex English of a Jeopardy clue. Then it has to hunt, find an answer, and determine if it has confidence that it’s the right answer or not, and whether it has enough confidence to bet on it. It’s a much more sophisticated process.” ~ Stephen Baker

Amazon has a revealing Q&A with the author and Omnivoracious has an excellent two-part podcast, where Baker talks about the fascinating ins-and-outs of this monumental quest.

There was lots of debate within IBM about Watson’s name and image. How human should it be? Many worried that the public would view Watson as scary: a machine that learns our secrets and steals our jobs. So they decided to limit Watson’s human qualities. They would give its friendly, masculine avoice a machine-like overtone. And its face, if you could call it that, would simply be a circular avatar—no eyes, nose or mouth, just streaming patterns representing flowing data. Despite these choices, I’ve noticed that fellow Jeopardy players immediately start to respond to Watson as another human — and not necessarily a friendly one. It’s playing the game, after all. And it usually beats them.” ~ Stephen Baker

Absorbing, dynamic and just the right amount of uncomfortable, Final Jeopardy is as much a rigorously researched lens for the process of sicence and technology as it is a subtle yet palpable moral and philosophical inquiry into the future of humanity.

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