Ice, dark matter, Photoshop, AlphaGo, and Haydn
by Rob Tiller
The forecast on Friday called for major snow, but in downtown Raleigh we only got a couple of inches. Still, the roads got very icy and temperatures went down into the teens. We stayed home, cozy and warm, and caught up on backlogged magazines and Netflix.
One of the New Year’s thoughts I saw recently was a tough one: a wish for lots of failure in 2017. The idea is, if you’re operating outside your comfort zone and trying new things, you’ll be doing some stumbling and falling. Failure doesn’t usually feel good, but it can be a sign that you’re going somewhere. On the other hand, if you aren’t having any failures, either you’re the luckiest human in history or you’re stuck.
One way to assure a level of failure is to try keeping up with contemporary physics. I’d thought it was reasonably well settled that a quarter or so of the universe was made up of so-far undetected dark matter. But the BBC reported last week that after recent failures of big experiments to verify the theory, some reputable scientists are reconsidering. It sometimes seems that there is so much human knowledge you could never get to the bottom of it, but there is still so much we do not understand.
Anyhow, I’m looking forward to plenty of failures in the coming year. In photography, I’ve been struggling to get a thorough working knowledge of the relevant tools in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. They’re wonderful, but far from intuitive, and at times intensely frustrating.
This week I made up my mind to get a level of competence at using Photoshop layers to combine images. Being iced in gave me a chance to practice, and I discovered many methods that do not work before getting on the right path.
As one of my colleagues recently noted, if you need to know something, you should always try asking Google. Whatever you need to know, there’s usually already a video or a blog post with an answer on the internet. This is certainly generally true for Lightroom and Photoshop, though it took several tries to find the necessary guide post for my layers problem.
Speaking of Google, a word of congratulations to the AI researchers at its DeepMind unit for the latest advances of AlphaGo. Go, which is more complex than chess, was until recently well beyond the reach of artificial intelligence. No more. AlphaGo, which beat a famous Go master a few months ago, last week took on the world’s top player and other distinguished masters and beat them all, 60 games to nil.
In the Wall Street Journal’s report, the vanquished masters seemed stunned by the unconventional and varied style of AlphaGo. It seemed to have absorbed all existing human Go experience and wisdom, and gone far beyond. This is exciting, but also scary. The singularity may be closer than we thought.
To stay calm and balanced, I recommend listening to some Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). Perhaps because of so many unsettling current events, I’ve been spending time with his piano trios and string quartets, of which there are many. This is really charming classical music, which tends to get overshadowed by Mozart. There are many fine recordings easily available on Spotify.