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News

AI vs. Humanity panel discussion comes to Concordia

“Let’s Talk: AI” series hosted by Concordia student groups encouraged re-thinking of common ideas around artificial intelligence.

At 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 6, the School of Community, Public Affairs, and Policy studies (SCPA) and the Engineering & Computer Science Association (ECA) of Concordia came together to co-host a panel on artificial intelligence (AI) titled Let’s Talk: AI Vs Humanity. Moderated by Margie Mendell, professor with Concordia’s SCPA and co-founder of the SCPA 301 course, the panel discussion focussed on the future of AI use and its implications for society.

The panel consisted of Suzanne Kite, an interdisciplinary Indigenous artist and academic, and entrepreneurs Thierry Lindon and Vincent Boucher. Lindon is the co-founder of the Federation of African Canadian Economics and Happily.ai, and Boucher has worked with developing the applications of AI since 2002, with Montreal.AI and Quebec.AI.

“It’s such an important topic,” said Mendell, discussing the pertinence of the panel. “Until recently, people were either dazzled by AI or terrified by what it could possibly do to our lives and societies. The reality really depends on the ability to regulate it,” she said.

As the first American Indigenous artist to use machine learning in her works, Kite’s perspective of AI is shaped by her indigeneity. “[My PhD at Concordia is] basically all the ways that my [Indigenous] community makes relationships now with non-human beings,” she explained.

“I started interviewing lots of elders, lots of community members, and it became clear that in my community and in probably every community all over the world, there’s almost nowhere you can’t find a community or village or a family that has a relationship with a non-human being,” Kite said, before touching on the kinship many individuals feel with their non-human companions.

Boucher’s experience in technology has shaped his perspective on AI and artificial general intelligence (AGI) as a tools to be used for economic development. “I see it as the second industrial revolution,” he said. AGI refers to a kind of artificial intelligence that is able to learn how to do human tasks.

“I’m developing an AGI agent that is able to look at a screen and have access to a keyboard and a mouse and is able to do any kind of task that a human can do,” he said. “People should have AGI agents that are working for them, advancing their capabilities, and developing new business to create wealth.”

Lindon similarly sees AI as a technology to be used for the betterment of society. His work has involved building an algorithm that searches the internet for funding opportunities for underrepresented groups. “We match entrepreneurs, non-profits, institutions, and municipalities with money based on their unique profiles and needs,” he said, describing his work.

Although Lindon is interested in using AI as a tool for social change, he acknowledged that it may be relatively inaccessible for marginalized communities right now. “Black people and Indigenous people have been on the short hand of the economic playing field that is Canada,” he said. “We make sure we’re leveling it.” 

Despite these differences in the applications of AI, all three panelists expressed hope for the future of AI. “I see AI as fire, it can burn you or it can warm you,” Lindon concluded.

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Arts Arts and Culture Culture

“Cartoon Acid”: Between obsolescence and progress 

Visual artist Connor Gottfried pays tribute to the technology of his childhood.

Jan. 1 is often synonymous with renewal and new beginnings. In 2024, the first of the year also happened to fall on a Monday, making this staple date even more symbolic – a new week, new month and new year all at once. As this new chapter begins, Canadian visual artist Connor Gottfried is right on theme with his first-ever exhibition, “Cartoon Acid,” which explores obsolescence and rebirth. 

Gottfried’s artwork was showcased at Montreal’s S16 Gallery from Dec. 14 to Jan. 7. It consisted of colourful, punk technological pieces made with aluminum and acrylic, all featuring some sort of game system from many decades ago, such as an old Nintendo screen or the original Pacman video game. Two Care Bears plushies were sat in the middle of the room wearing what resembled a VR headset with a front screen playing the original Care Bear comics in  loop. 

Gottfried is an artist, a musician, and a “technologist” per his own words, based in Calgary, Alberta. He is the CEO of a company which develops e-learning softwares called Leara eLearning and has produced 25 music albums over the last thirty years as well. “I really like to explore the intersection of art and technology,” he said, “I was exposed to technology from a young age.  I’ve always been fascinated by screens and interactions.” Gottfried started integrating screens and video games into his artwork a few years ago, which led to the creation of more psychedelic pieces such as seen in “Cartoon Acid.”

The exhibition was inspired not only by the artist’s childhood but also by the rapid pace at which technology has evolved since he was a kid. “My works are about the technology of my childhood, but also about technology’s childhood. There was a time where technology was more innocent, still developing, where we played together with technology. Now, it is evolving  into artificial intelligence: it has started growing into its own adulthood and maturity,” Gottfried said. His artwork is an homage to those candid moments of joy he has shared during his childhood with what is now obsolete technology.

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Arts Exhibit

Yea I made it up, Yea it’s real: Examining digital culture, social media, and the meme-sphere

Concordia students and alumni adopt internet aesthetics to explore the human experience in the digital age in new exhibition

On Feb. 17, artists Edson Niebla Rogil and Dayana Matasheva hosted the vernissage for their exhibition Yea I made it up, Yea it’s real out of their shared Plateau studio.

The show featured 12 artists, including Niebla Rogil and Matasheva, whose works address the effects of the internet on the human experience through mediums ranging from AI-generated audio to livestreaming-inspired video compilations.

For Matasheva, who graduated from film production in 2020, the internet represents an aesthetic endeavour. “I think aesthetically, no one is using the visual vernacular of the internet. We are interested in its aesthetics specifically, rather than just its subject matter.”

After noticing a lack of representation of internet subject matter within traditional gallery spaces, Niebla Rogil and Matasheva issued an open call for like-minded artists.

“There’s a really big focus on technology as a medium, but there’s very little about the cultures that are growing online and changing the landscape of how people interact with each other,” said Concordia intermedia major Liz Waterman, whose sensorial TikTok-inspired video projection Doom Scroll was featured in the exhibition.

“I think that it’s shaping culture and psychology in a way that’s really interesting, and we don’t see enough work about it.”

Yea I made it up, Yea it’s real is the first exhibition organized, hosted, and curated by Niebla Rogil and Matasheva, but the pair have ambitions to move future exhibitions out of their studio into larger spaces, and to continue to host their networking event The Net Worker.

“It’s a recurring event where people shamelessly network and there’s no other purpose to it,” explains Matasheva. “People come together, exchange DIY business cards, they wear business attire and everything. It’s a little bit performative, but it actually is serving a purpose for artists.”

Information about upcoming exhibitions, networking events and more can be found on Niebla Rogil and Matasheva’s Instagram profiles.

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Arts Exhibit

[espace variable | placeholder]: experience art in a post-pandemic flux

Concordia students and alumni open a new online art exhibit in regards to adapting to a world affected by COVID-19

La Centrale galerie Powerhouse hosted the vernissage of their new exhibit [espace variable | placeholder] on the evening of Feb. 2. The online gallery was created, in part, as a statement that the world of art has shifted to the internet. 

It was created out of inspiration from a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg: the third place. Third places are the spaces where people can spend time in between their first place (home) and second place (work). As of recently, the world’s third place is the internet.

The exhibit is divided into four categories: Read, Observe, Listen, and Interact. 

Read, the first category presents texts reflecting artists’ experiences involving themes pertaining to third places, place-making, technological presence, and artistic subversion. 

Observe, the second category, displays the interdisciplinary approach to the concept of placeholding. 

Listen, the third category, involves audible artwork alluding to memory, transmission and reciprocity. 

Interact, the last, is a space which provides literature for readers to further their understanding and research of third places.

This exhibit explores navigation through third places as well as artists’ “(re)telling” of stories about finding a voice, or making a place, of those who have been demeaned by racial injustice.

One of the installations at the vernissage was from artist-in-residence rudi aker of the Byte-sized Sound Creation Residency. “This work, a bird in the hand, is what feels most appropriate to share with a larger public from those recorded conversations,” explains aker in their artist statement. The audio piece is “a move to safeguard our personal and familial histories from the often prying and exploitative consumption of Indigenous oral histories.”

My Little thingliness (SCRUB-A-DUB-DUB-BEBOP), another creation presented at the vernissage, is a spoken-word/sound immersion performance written and performed by Faith Paré. The piece thrashes you into the world of generational forced labour and abuse that Black women succumb to in order to survive white supremacist society. Because of this, Black women of today have the choice and opportunity to work with their minds instead of their hands.

Art history and studio arts major at Concordia India-Lynn Upshaw-Ruffner was the Artistic and Community Alliances Coordinator of [espace variable | placeholder] for some time. Through La Centrale, Upshaw-Ruffner met the Publications and Communications Coordinator Lital Khaikin.

During the creative progress of [espace variable | placeholder], the two developers contacted Paré, who Upshaw-Ruffner had discovered through a project she did at Concordia. Paré knew rudi aker through a class that they took together as well. The [espace variable | placeholder] ex-coordinator met rudi aker through a class on indigenous curatorial methodologies they had together. It goes to show that networking at school is important!

If you want to frequent an art exhibit but hate walking, you can now experience it from your own home. Click here. To access La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse’s website, Click here.

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News

Teachers shift gears to avoid A.I. plagiarism

As concern over students using A.I. chatbots rises, teachers must prepare to deal with the issue constructively.

OpenAI, a leading artificial intelligence research laboratory, has recently launched ChatGPT, a text-generating tool open to all for free. This chatbot is capable of understanding and answering questions through prompts, and hence is becoming extremely popular among students.

Textbots like ChatGPT can rescue last-minute assignments that can range from writing Shakespearean poetry to doing calculus. As such A.I. gets exploited by students, teachers are looking for ways to detect such plagiarism.

“We clearly need to come up with new ways to evaluate learning if we want to avoid these bots to be used to fake student work,” said Bérengère Marin-Dubuard, an A.I. enthusiast and teacher in interactive media arts at Dawson College.

Marin-Dubuard also expressed her thoughts on the quality of the text written by the A.I.

“The text generated is interesting, but in the end I’d be surprised if many people just don’t do the work,” she said. “It’s probably even more work to set it up.”

Marin-Dubuard encourages her class to embrace the new technology as a tool, but she remains wary of the threat of plagiarism. 

ChatGPT’s technology relies on natural language processing — a subfield of computer science based on the interaction between computers and human language.

“One part of how ChatGPT works is by learning complex patterns of language usage using a large amount of data,” said Jackie CK Cheung, an associate computer science professor at McGill University and the Associate Scientific Director at Mila A.I. Institute of Quebec. 

“Think at the scale of all the text that is on the internet,” Cheung added. “The system learns to predict which words are likely to occur together in the same context.”

He explained that the developing A.I. would eventually improve as researchers and users feed it new knowledge, a process known as “deep learning.”

Cheung knew that the easily accessible ChatGPT and related models could increase students’ temptation to plagiarize. He noted that instructors will have to adapt their methods of evaluation, and try resorting more to in-person or oral communication. Cheung added;

“There could also be innovations in which ChatGPT-like models can be used as an aid to help with improving the learning process itself.” 

A question of ethics has remained, as A.I. continues to develop in art and writing. Both art and text generators have been accused of plagiarism. Last month, artists online flooded art-hosting websites to prevent A.I. from generating proper images. Last week, a substack blog was outed as being written by A.I. by one of its plagiarized writers. 

Julia Anderson, who finds new ways to interact with developing technology and has collaborated with the Montreal A.I. Ethics Institute, said that A.I. should not be simply used to do the work for you. She believes that ChatGPT and similar models could be used as tools to help conceptualize projects or aid in teaching and supporting students. A.I. tools like LEX offer support in conceptualizing ideas, something Anderson thought teachers could use to aid them in making a curriculum. 

“You can make a similar argument with other technologies, like Google translate,” Anderson said. “But it’ll be at the discretion of the user to decide what to edit.”

With schools now beginning to look for methods of detecting A.I. plagiarism, Edward Tian, a 22-year-old computer science major from Princeton University, developed GPTZero. The program can detect work written by the OpenAI software. 

Other methods of dissuading students’ temptations to plagiarize, according to Anderson, could include digital watermarks and the requirement to pay in order to be able to copy text. 

Nonetheless, Anderson understands that such measures cannot strictly assure legitimacy. 

“Going forward I’m sure there’s going to be more problems,” she said. “At the end of the day, it comes down to human discretion.”

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Arts

SIGHT+SOUND: a festival that expands beyond linear definitions of art

Dancing While Waiting (for the end of the world): an exhibit that makes you question the intermediate between one’s body and the inevitable apocalypse

The 12th edition of the digital art festival, SIGHT+SOUND, took place at the Eastern Bloc from Oct. 26 to 30, and performances will continue until Nov. 12.  It’s a festival that primarily aims to provide a platform for emerging artists.

The curators of SIGHT+SOUND are Sarah Ève Tousignant and Nathalie Bachand. 

After two years of moving to an online format during the pandemic, this edition of the festival comes in full force as people are able to interact with the artwork in-person once again. 

The Eastern Bloc was founded in 2007 and is an art center that brings together technology, art, and science. It provides a laboratory space, proposes workshops, and hosts exhibits. SIGHT+SOUND’s theme this year is Dancing While Waiting (for the end of the world). 

The festival is composed not only of an exhibition section but also of a series of dance performances and musical and audio works/installations. It plays between the grounds of definable and uncategorizable artwork. Venues are located all across Montreal. 

The main exhibit was packed into a small rectangular room. Upon entering, one was immediately drawn to a table on the right side of the room that was organized with a series of pillow computers and screens. 

Table at entrance of exhibit – ESTHER MORAND/THE CONCORDIAN

On the left, visitors could raise a tablet over hanging clothes, and view a green body shaped into a dress through the screen. 

Screens were installed at either end of the room, displaying videos of artists’ works. People could use headphones to listen, which created a sense of isolation from the rest of the exhibit as visitors’ eyes and ears were entirely fixated on the short video. Strange and almost human-like figures appeared on the screens. 

In the middle of the room, two large panels perpendicular to each other showed two video screenings simultaneously, while a TV lodged at an angle displayed a TV prompter. One video, tinted in red, showed a woman racing, while the other displayed dancing bodies — some drawn, and some in live-action. 

Perpendicular screens at SIGHT & SOUND, ESTHER MORAND/THE CONCORDIAN

The sharp contrast of black words on the white screen offered a clear reflection of the seriousness of the statement. The text was set as a sort of conversation, discussing climate anxiety and the inability of humanity to focus on saving itself. 

The festival sought to retract individuals from their preconditioned lives surrounded by technology, and allow them to reflect on their states of servitude. It was intended to bring awareness to social spaces, and reappropriate what it means to be in contact with one another.

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Arts

Eastern Bloc’s strong comeback showcases interactive technologies

Technology fuses with physical interactions in Eastern Bloc’s most recent exhibition titled Techno//Mysticism. The show features four works from emerging artists who explore new possibilities for technology in their artistic practices. It is the first event to take place in the art gallery’s new space. 

“Ultimately, technology may never provide the transcendence we seek, instead operating as a pixelated reflection of our enduring quest for meaning, both inside and outside of the digital realm,” reads the opening statement of the exhibition. This excerpt sets the tone for a show that leaves visitors with unanswered questions and reflections on their relationship with the digital world. 

Located on Louvain St. in the industrial area of the District Central, the Eastern Bloc gallery is not exactly the type of business that one would expect to come across in the neighbourhood. With windows offering a view of the surrounding concrete buildings and parking spaces, the art hub feels like a little world of its own. 

Catherine Averback, production coordinator for Eastern Bloc, described the pieces of the show as “very physical, both in terms of their actual scale, and in the way that the audience is asked to interact with them.” Xuan Ye’s work ERROAR!#1, placed beside the entrance, particularly speaks to this statement. The piece is a large-scale representation of an artificial intelligence brain that has been printed on a two metre square vinyl sheet. 

The artist was inspired by the defeat of one of the most talented players of the board game Go, Lee Sedol, against an AI adversary called AlphaGo in 2016. The piece presents the immensity and complexity of AlphaGo’s brain. Ye invites visitors to get close to the work and even walk on it. A QR code grants access to an augmented reality website. Visitors are then able to experience the work and see words appear on top of it through the platform. 

By this point, visitors might have noticed constant rumbling sounds playing in the gallery. They get louder and louder when approaching the work titled O )))) Ghost Echoes ; Where Pathways Meet. The high tower-like creation features small windows to look into. To see what is presented, one must step on the sand surrounding the piece. The closer visitors get to the installation, the more the volume increases. 

Marilou Lyonnais A. created this sound installation with Etienne Montenegro. O )))) Ghost Echoes ; Where Pathways Meet is equipped with a system that detects human presence and distributes sound accordingly. The videos featured in the art creation present internet archives gathered by the artists. As explained in the presentation of the work, the piece considers the relationship individuals have to technology since it “evokes the echoes of virtual solitude and media feedback,” reads the text accompanying the art piece in the gallery.

For Averback, another aspect of the show is that “all of the works in there physicalize technology in a way that the visitor […] becomes very aware of the container and not just the content.” This reflection especially relates to Baron Lanteigne’s work, Nature Morte 7, which first shows the insides of an electronic system to the audience. 

Lanteigne assembled seven screens in a visually striking sculpture. The main piece hangs from the ceiling. Viewers first see its electronic inner workings highlighted by fluorescent lights. It features colourful digital videos at the front of the exhibit, and on the floor six illuminated screens are placed on top of a pile of cables. An abundance of bright green plastic leaves complements the work. Their presence enhances the piece title’s play on words, being Nature Morte 7, as digital representations of nature are contrasted with fake physical plants.

The Scryer, an intriguing art creation by Nicolas Lapointe, also requires visitors to get closer to experience it fully. A long and thin white marble piece catches the eye. On it are minuscule inscriptions. A microscope slowly scans the line of the text which is transmitted on a screen beside the work for viewers to read. Lapointe’s creation presents excerpts of advertisements on Kijiji that were engraved with a laser on the marble. The art piece presents an interesting duality between the meticulous work of the creator and the absurdity of the words featured in the work.

Lapointe’s work, The Scryer, features a marble piece engraved with kijiji advertisement retranscritions. VERONIQUE MORIN/The Concordian

In Techno//Mysticism, Eastern Bloc has brought together a small group of artists who all question the place given to the digital aspects of our society. As explained by Averback, the show reflects on “the ways that technology and our lives are sometimes confusingly interlinked.”

This exhibition also speaks to Eastern Bloc’s larger mission, which is aimed at supporting emerging artists and their experiments with science and technology. The art hub’s new spaces provide creators with more possibilities for workshop spaces and artistic residencies.

With this new show, the gallery offers a unique experience by balancing discoveries, curiosity, and absurdity.

Techno//Mysticism is presented until Feb. 26 at 53 Louvain St. W.

 

Visuals courtesy Véronique Morin

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News

Concordia PhD candidate reaches new heights in bioprinting development

After years of research and development, Hamid Ebrahimi Orimi and his team have made great strides in researching and developing new bioprinting technologies

How has illness impacted you and your loved ones? Every year, millions of people are affected by health issues relating to their organs. While the industry surrounding organ donation saves thousands of lives, it simply isn’t enough. Although the field of bioprinting is nowhere near the stage of the reprinting and transplantation of organs, progress is being made incrementally in the eventual recreation of human tissue here at Concordia by PhD candidate Hamid Ebrahimi Orimi and his team.

Among those in the field of bioprinting, Orimi stands out. As he earns his PhD in mechanical engineering at Concordia, he is also part of a team of bioprinting experts in Montreal. The team is composed of researchers and supervisors from Concordia’s Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science, as well as from the Université de Montréal. The team has been working on a new and innovative approach that could have massive impacts in the field.

So what is bioprinting? Bioprinting technology utilizes biomaterials to replicate natural tissues, like those found in human organs. The process involves a special method of layering to simulate biological tissues. These materials are referred to as bio-inks. Based on Orimi and his team’s technological advances, their newly developed equipment can synthesize droplets of these bio-inks at much quicker rate than other kinds of bioprinters. 

What makes the developments of this team so unique is that they have been able to “validate the feasibility of bioprinting primary adult sensory neurons using a newly developed laser-assisted cell bioprinting technology, known as Laser-Induced Side Transfer (LIST).” Through the team’s research, a type of bioprinting technology has been created through the use of lasers. Their paper on the subject was published in the scientific journal Micromachines. The development of this laser has been a game-changer.

As Orimi himself put it, “I’ve been working on this for the past five years — my PhD work has led me to all these discoveries. I’ve spent years on the development of this auto-mechanical device, which will be able to develop cells needed for bioprinting.”

Since the start of this project, the team has come a long way. “One of our main challenges was about developing the capillary cells properly through the LIST. However, we’ve seen progress in other areas. My colleague, for example, has used the laser technology to work on the cells of the cornea, where there are no blood vessels”, said Orimi.

Because capillaries are the smallest of blood vessels, recreating their cells through the LIST is quite challenging at the moment. The development of tissues that don’t contain capillaries has been sped up because of this.

Since the publication of their paper in Micromachines earlier this summer, further developments have been made. While the paper from July mentioned that the viability of the neuron cells was around 87 per cent on average, “we are now looking at a viability rate of around 93 to 95 per cent,” Orini stated.

For those less familiar with the terminology, there is a distinction to be made between the viability of cells and their functionality. As Orimi put it, “the viability refers to whether or not the cells can survive in the proper substrate (proper substrate: a surface where an organism grows). Functionality is about if they communicate with other cells and mimic behaviours found in human tissue.” While functionality seems to be the bigger concern at the moment, the viability of the bioprinted cells is only improving as research continues.

According to Orimi, the development of their LIST will only accelerate bioprinting technology. What the team hopes to do is to use their laser to assist in the manufacturing of medication. 

“Currently, labs primarily use mice and other animals when doing their research. By the advancements of bioprinting, they would be able to test on manufactured human tissue, which would be better for the accuracy of the drugs.”

The prospects of bioprinting, thanks to the work of dedicated researchers across the world, are looking bright. While there is still a long way to go, Orimi and his team are positive that their laser technology will be of great use as they continue their research.

 

Photograph by Oona Barrett

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Arts

Going back in time in La vie sans applis

Rediscovering life before digital technology, Internet and social media

Walking through the exhibition feels like traveling back in time. For some, it will seem like an unknown life, whereas for others, it will seem familiar. 

Exhibited at the historical Musée de Lachine, La vie sans applis invites viewers to take a walk in a space that shows them life without the internet or social media. The exhibition is presented through different sections, which include social media, photos, music, games, e-mail, and more. It’s presented in a manner that displays the evolution of these different subjects. Each section also provides three types of information: a historical fact about Lachine, a “did you know,” and environmental facts.

When entering the room, viewers can see a blue wall to their left, where photographs of people are displayed. Pictures of hockey teams, as well as people fishing, playing tennis or running a marathon, can be admired among many other photographs. Ironically, in today’s world, this would be similar to an Instagram or Facebook feed. Perhaps it could also make visitors think of an old family photo album that they peek at once in a while. 

When looking at the photo, video and music sections, there are a variety of objects that can be gazed upon. One can see the evolution of cameras, now old relics with different shapes and sizes. In today’s world, we are able to instantly take pictures with our cell phones. Still, some take pleasure in using a film camera, waiting with excitement for the shots to be developed. Aesthetically, old-school looks better. 

Phonograph records dating from 1923, and an electric and battery operated radio circa 1937 are among other objects seen in the section. Today, there’s no need to worry when it comes to music, considering the multitude of apps that allow people the opportunity to listen to whatever they like. The internet has allowed younger generations to discover music from once upon a time, and help older generations look for their favourite older music with a better sound quality.

One downside of today’s music devices is streaming. According to an article published in 2019 by Rolling Stone, a researcher from the University of Oslo explored the environmental impact of streaming music and found out that “music consumption in the 2000s resulted in the emission of approximately 157 million kilograms of greenhouse gas equivalents.”

The exhibition suggests that the audience download and save the music on one’s device. Knowing the amount of music we listen to per day, it would be a challenge for everyone to go back to cassettes and vinyl when everything we listen to is on our devices. 

The game section of the exhibition displays familiar pastimes, such as a chess board from 1910, cards from the 20th century, lawn bowling balls from the 19th century and more. Though video games appear to have replaced some of these old forms of entertainment, they are still enjoyed by many out there. In all sincerity, game night with your pals at your favourite board game bar is far more exciting. 

The exhibition also demonstrates the way information was received in the past, how products were promoted and the way encyclopedia collections were equivalent to today’s search engines. Everything that is exhibited in La vie sans applis can be found on a cell phone. Whether you want to use a calculator, look at the world clock, or communicate with distant family members, everything can be done immediately. 

Digital technology has shaped the way the world works as everything travels faster than ever. However, it is essential to take a break and recharge by doing an activity that doesn’t involve using our cell phones. La vie sans applis encourages the audience to think about the relationship people have with their electronic devices. 

In the end, the real question is: would it be possible today to live without them? 

La vie sans applis is being displayed at 1 Chemin du Musée every day from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. until Oct. 10. 

 

Photo by Ana Lucia Londono Flores

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News

Demystifying Dogecoin: The meme cryptocurrency on the rise

Welcome to the doge house

By now, you may have heard of Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency with the face of a dog. Just like what happened with Gamestop last month, this small currency is trying to rocket itself to financial power. Here, we’re going to try to answer all your questions about the budding cryptocurrency.

First off, a quick explanation of what a cryptocurrency is. 

A cryptocurrency is a digital form of money that rides the line between a debit card and cash — entirely on the internet. In its most basic form, you exchange cryptocurrencies with participating entities just like any other purchase online, but instead of involving a bank, the money goes to the other person, more or less directly.

Most cryptocurrencies, such as Dogecoin, are built on a technology called the blockchain. Concordia professor and holder of the Industrial Research Chair in Blockchain Technologies at Concordia, Jeremy Clark says “The blockchain is about building something that’s like a database where’s there’s just one copy of the data and everyone agrees on what that copy of the data is, but it’s not held in a single location.”

It’s easiest to think of cryptocurrencies as a universal, digital version of cash.

The most popular cryptocurrency is Bitcoin (BTC), which you probably have heard of since it recently reached the value of $50,000 USD for one single Bitcoin after automaker Tesla announced it would accept Bitcoin as payment for cars.

Here in the explanation is where it gets meta.

Currencies in the world such as the Canadian dollar (CAD) and the US dollar (USD) are backed by the governments that print the bills. Faith in the monetary system the bills represent gives the currency its value.

Cryptocurrencies are backed by nothing but faith in their value. A Bitcoin has value because we all believe it has value. Just like stocks, cryptocurrencies are volatile and change value rapidly, and are influenced by developments around them.

The U.S. classifies Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as commodities. That’s the same classification as gold.

Think of people who collect vintage coins. They may have a value printed on them, but they can fetch prices much higher. You wouldn’t spend a rare misprinted 1919 quarter on a pack of gum – even though the coin itself would work – because you can sell it for much higher than its printed value.

“Currency isn’t meant to be something that gives you a tremendous return on value,” said Clark, “You want people to use it and not hoard it for the possibility that it doubles its price in a month, it’s meant to be a currency.”

Cryptocurrencies currently work much like that rare misprinted 1919 coin. You can use them to purchase things now or hold onto them in the hopes that they can fetch a higher value later. They both only have value because someone out there says so, and both can technically work like cash.

Cryptocurrencies do offer reasons to be used as currency. They are decentralized so no one agency controls the currency, they are easier to manage and send to individuals being a digital native currency, and cryptocurrencies at large are secure with publicly accessible transaction records.

That being said, a currency should only be valuable in what you can trade it for, and a currency that’s worth more than what you’re spending it on isn’t much of a currency is it?

If circulation never occurs because everyone holds onto their crypto-coins, they’re not really coins anymore. Coins are currency to be traded. You’re holding onto ones and zeros that at one point might have been cash should people have used them as such, but now are just code.

Everyone okay? Existential crisis under control for now? Okay good.

Now onto Dogecoin.

Beyond the popular coins such as Bitcoin and Ethereum ($ETH), there are literally hundreds of cryptocurrencies. They all function similarly but have different features, advantages, and prices.

Dogecoin is part of a smaller class of cryptocurrencies called altcoins, short for alternate coins.

Basically, Dogecoin is just like other cryptocurrencies except it was created as a joke with a picture of a dog — the doge meme — as its mascot. Well, that and being quoted on the project’s website as the digital currency “Favoured by Shiba Inus worldwide.”

“I always thought that there would be a sort of winner that would be chosen by the market,” said Clark when referring to the hundreds of smaller coins on the market. Currently, there’s value in many of them and no clear winner.

The Doge in question is an image commonly found in memes. Doge herself is a Shiba Inu named Kabosu from Japan.

So, why should I care?

Dogecoin has had quite the boom as of late.

Just like what happened with Gamestop and other meme stocks, an organized group of Reddit traders all decided to buy into Dogecoin, leading it to achieve a peak value of just under $0.085 USD per Doge on Feb 8.

Eight cents doesn’t sound like much, but this is a massive jump from below one cent per Doge just over a week before.

On top of that, Dogecoin has had lots of support.

Elon Musk, ever the champion of nonsense, tweeted about Dogecoin on Feb. 24 using language reminiscent of r/wallstreetbets and the Gamestop meme stock surge, “Literally, on the actual moon.”

ATM company CoinFlip announced in a tweet on March 1 that it would begin trading Dogecoin at its ATMs across the country.

The Dallas Mavericks basketball team announced on March 4 that they would accept Dogecoin for tickets and merchandise.

“It’s hard to say what the longevity of these things will be if people will continue to prefer having dozens of [currencies] around,” said Clark, “or if eventually, the market will coalesce behind one or two winners.”

For now, all that can be said for the joke-turned cryptocurrency is much coin, such wow.

 

Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Truth is no algorithmic matter

Technology is no better than the next guy when it comes to solving age-old human dilemmas

Meredith Broussard sits calmly at her desk. Behind her on a bookshelf is a copy of her latest book, Artificial Unintelligence, the topic of her latest Zoom talk.

“The people who decided to use an algorithm to decide grades were guilty of ‘technochauvinism,’” she says with a cool and collected tone that trumps the gravity of her research. She’s referring to the infamous decision that attributed artificial scores for a decisive IB exam based on an algorithm that looked at student’s performances pre-pandemic as well as their school ranking over previous years.

Technochauvinism is defined by the presumption that technology-based solutions are superior to human or social ones. This is a central concept to keep in mind when thinking about algorithms and their biases, which — although not always self-evident — sometimes have very tangible consequences.

And these consequences may be more serious than not scoring an A on a final test. With Broussard’s words still ringing in my ears, I stumbled upon an article exposing bias in algorithms used in American hospitals to prioritize access to chronic kidney disease care and kidney transplants. A study had found that the algorithm negatively discriminated against Black patients. It notably interpreted a person’s race as a physiological category instead of a social one — a design decision vehemently disputed by numerous medical studies.

Use of decision-making algorithms has become somewhat of a norm — it can be found anywhere, from the military, to newsrooms, to, most evidently, social media. They have found a purpose in making predictions, determining what is true, or at least, likely enough, and prescribing consequent actions. But in doing so, algorithms tacitly tackle some of our greatest dilemmas around truth, and they do so under the cover of a supposedly objective machine. As the kidney care algorithm clearly demonstrates, their interpretations are not an exact science.

Nonetheless, there is a tendency among humans, especially in the tech sector, to assume technology’s capacities are superior to that of human brains. And in many ways, they do outperform homo sapiens. Decision-making algorithms can be extraordinary tools to help us accomplish tasks faster and at a greater scope. In newsrooms, for instance, they are more efficient and accurate in producing financial and earnings reports. This is one of the promises of GPT-3, the latest language-generating bot, capable of producing human-like but repetitive text. This could significantly alleviate journalists’ workload and spare them from boring tasks.

What an algorithm should not do, however, is universally solve complex philosophical and ethical dilemmas, which humans themselves struggle to define, such as the matter of truth.

The case of the kidney care algorithm clearly illustrates how the ‘truth’ — about who is a priority — presents a clear distortion, embedded in the algorithm’s architecture. It also shows how what we hold to be true is exposed to change. It is subject to debates and additional information that might readjust and refine its meaning, from one that is biased and scientifically inaccurate to its ‘truer’ form that reflects more faithfully social realities.

The problem is perhaps not so much that the technology is imperfect, but rather that it is thought of and presented as something finite, which in turn leads us to be less vigilant of its blind spots and shortcomings. The risk is that the algorithmically prepared ‘truth’ is consumed as an absolute and unbiased one.

Scholars Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel help us to think of truth as a “sorting-out process,” which results from the interactions between all stakeholders. The result does not represent an absolute truth — which, although it sounds compelling and elegant, may not ever be possible, for humans or machines. Rather, the sorting out process aims to paint a less incorrect picture.

Truth is the product of an ongoing conversation and this conversation should not take place solely within tech companies’ meeting rooms. It requires questioning and debate which cannot happen if one-sided interpretations are embedded in algorithms, dissimulated, and tucked away from the public space.

One simple way to ensure algorithms work for the benefit of human beings is to ensure more transparency about their design. In 2017, a Pew Research Center report on the matter had already called for increased algorithmic literacy, transparency and oversight. Last December, a British governmental report reiterated that proposition.

In the case of kidney care like for the IB test scores, algorithms have been actively contested and their uses have been revoked or appropriately adjusted. They have sparked a conversation about fairness and social justice that brings us closer to a better, more accurate version of truth.

 

 

 

Graphic by @the.beta.lab

Categories
Student Life

Test our knowledge, not the bounds of privacy ethics

Taking an exam shouldn’t mean giving up your privacy

Concordia University’s OnLine Exam (COLE) system, which uses Proctorio’s technology, has received much backlash online, and rightly so. The platform helps to facilitate evaluations even if students cannot physically be present on campus, an unfortunate reality for many amidst our current COVID-19 pandemic world. However, by using Proctorio’s assets, universities are setting a dangerous precedent. One University of Dallas student journalist put it as “spyware cloaked under the guise of being an educational tool.” From knowing what tabs you have open, direct access to your camera and microphone, the ability to see what devices you have plugged in and eject them, it’s an unprecedented amount of power forced by universities onto already pressured students.

Before I go further, I want to emphasize that academic integrity is essential. Cheaters ruin our world, whether through traffic, shoddy quality goods, relationships, or taxes. Academia has a responsibility to protect itself against this, but not just because it hurts other students and our work. Ultimately, how we conduct ourselves in our schooling is how we approach our workplaces and our communities.

But enough is enough. The line was crossed months ago, and the excuse of COVID-19 simply isn’t good enough. These privacy concerns were already discussed at the start of the pandemic. In an April 7 Medium article, a former Bay Street lawyer (and Concordia alumnus), Fahad Diwan, broke down exactly how the university was violating student rights in a legal context. Shocker — he thinks it’s wrong and maybe even illegal.

“The use of Proctorio needs to be suspended until Proctorio can get manifest, free, and enlightened consent from students,” said Diwan in the post, “and Concordia University can demonstrate that online, closed-book exams are absolutely necessary.”

Well, that didn’t happen. The administration and faculties washed their hands of the controversy with the same excuse everyone is using — it’s COVID.

Let me ask my fellow educators and administrators — would you consent to this? Would you accept Concordia creeping into your computer, your files, your emails? And I’m not talking about your work machines. I’m talking about your personal tech because that’s what Proctorio does to students through their pervasive Chrome extension. Maybe you do because you have “nothing to hide.” And if that’s the case, I encourage you to post your login credentials publicly on your social media so we can all see why you are such a good netizen (please don’t do this — it’s against Concordia security policies, but also super stupid). This attitude is stunningly anachronistic that I feel genuine shame for those who utter it. Your computer, your phone, your tech IS YOUR BUSINESS.

But let’s go further: what if you were required to report your GPS location for every class you taught because the university told you they needed to verify where you were working for tax purposes? After COVID, what if they monitored when and where you were in the building because your phone automatically connects to Concordia’s wireless network? What if they said you needed to record all lectures and submit them to the university, where an independent team including students would assess if you were effective in teaching during your class discourse, as well as scanning for other problematic behaviour? What happens when you are required by Instructional and Information Technology Services (IITS) to install software that would monitor your productivity? What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

These are no longer “what ifs.” They are WHENs. Like I said before, school environments dictate how we conduct ourselves in our communities and workplaces. By insisting students use these platforms instead of exploring alternative evaluation methods and being unwilling to show empathy for students, academia will receive the same fate. But what’s worse is that universities are setting up the digital prisons they so often rail against. How come Foucault’s panopticon, widely taught in the humanities, did not at least come up in the conversation when implementing this Orwellian spy apparatus?

I beg this: is it worth protecting against cheats if it makes you lose your soul? We’re not police officers —  we’re educators. We seek to empower our students, not wield power over them. Worse, we tell the world and every employer that these tactics are acceptable and to use them on the next generation of workers.

You might feel powerless in this situation. But students have the agency to resist. So, if you are taking exams this semester with COLE or with any system that uses Proctorio or other invasive technologies, fight back! Put a sign in your room or wear a T-shirt that says #ScrewCole or #ExamsNotProctology. It’s your right to free expression.

Before taking your exams, post photos on your social media and tag local media and journalists — encourage your friends and classmates to do the same. Because having to take a university exam shouldn’t mean your school gets to look through your life, digital or otherwise.

 

 Graphic by Taylor Reddam

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