Discover more from Culture & curiosity
This week, a link to an interactive documentary, evidence for the role of the arts in making you healthier, and preparing for my first trip abroad in months.
I’ve often felt out of place. So, I was happy to discover that I’m very, very normal this week in Tijmen Schep’s interactive documentary How Normal Am I?. At least to AIs, that is. AIs judged me more attractive than 40% of the Spice Girls. They gave me 53 years left to live. And I like dogs.
How Normal Am I? is the English translation of a documentary Tijmen created some months ago in Dutch. It opened my eyes to the state of the art of AI. I’ve bumped into Tijmen regularly over the past decade, and have come to see him as an extraordinary person. For instance, I can be sure he won’t read this newsletter because he knows my laptop has been compromised when I connected to the hotel WiFi in St. Petersburg.
From my privileged position, I always assumed that privacy meant little to me, as I have nothing to hide. Tijmen has taught me that privacy is the right to be different.
What Tijmen’s documentary showed to me was that once again, we’re embedding technology with deep human flaws. AIs aren’t racist or sexist because we haven’t perfected them yet. They are flawed because we are. More training most likely will not make them better. As Tristan Greene put it on The Next Web earlier this year:
“Put another way: AI isn’t racist because of its biased output, it’s biased because of its racist input and that bias makes it inherently racist to use in any capacity that affects human outcomes. Even if none of the humans working on an AI system are racist, it will become a racist system if given the chance.”
Being judged more attractive than two of the five Spice Girls by an AI is not an innocent joke. I’m afraid I already know which ones the AI judges as less attractive. Apart from the moral issues I have with this, I can think of at least two other things that are wrong with this.
First, it is impossible to think of the Spice Girls as five independent individuals. And not just musically (name one solo single!). The Cheerleader Effect states that people are prettier in groups. So it would be only fair to judge me against the entire group. Clearly, this is a comparison I lose.
Second is the insight I also referenced in an earlier newsletter that it is not attractiveness that makes people interesting; it is the difference in opinion people have about a person’s beauty. I couldn’t find data on the range of opinions about each individual Spice Girl. Still, I’m pretty sure this data will tell that they are more interesting than I am.
Our culture and the organizations that present and manage it depend on people that dare to think and do differently. This makes privacy a core value for museums, libraries, and others.
Earlier this week, I was sent a PDF of a WHO project that looked at the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being. It is part of a more comprehensive project of the WHO that researches the cultural contexts of health.
Over the years, we’ve all heard about the health benefits of the arts and participating in culture. The WHO reports bring together hundreds of reports to create a comprehensive overview of what we can and cannot expect of the arts. There’s enough in there for at least ten newsletters, so I encourage you to take a deep dive yourself. (Instead of newsletters, I will try to write some articles based on the findings for What Art Can Do.)
“The report finds evidence of the contribution of the arts to the promotion of good health and the prevention of a range of mental and physical health conditions, as well as the treatment or management of acute and chronic conditions arising across the life-course. The arts can be cost-effective solutions since they can frequently draw on existing assets or resources, although more research is needed into the health economics of this field.”
“As such, the arts could help countries reach the integrated targets of key global frameworks, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Thirteenth WHO General Programme of Work, 2019–2023, which aim to increase human capital, reduce inequity and promote multisectoral action for health and well-being.”
The WHO breaks down art participation into nine different components with four immediate areas of impact and outcomes. Clearly, it is not only ‘emotions’ and ‘imagination’ that the arts have to offer, but also cognitive stimulation, social interaction, and even simple physical activity.
I’m off to Germany tomorrow, for my first short trip abroad since February. I’ll be presenting at the eCulture-Salon in Hamburg and do a workshop at the new Port Museum. Only a year ago, a trip to the other side of the world was the most normal thing to do. Now, I’m somewhat nervous about the whole idea. I need to remember to bring cash (Germany is one of the most privacy-minded countries in the world to the extent that most people still pay cash to protect their personal data). I did my Covid-test (a first, negative), but now I need to remember how to pack a bag. It will be fine.
If you happen to be in Hamburg Mon-Wed, do let me know. I’m happy to make most of my first trip and meet as many people as possible. At a distance, obviously.
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Have a great week,