Populating the Popular

With the rise of Lore from an obscure podcast about odd moments in “history,” to an Amazon production, there was been a concomitant rise in interest in the possibilities for expanding the scope of the engagement between folklore studies and some form of a “popular audience.” At least two folklorists I know have been contacted by production companies looking to be a part of this emergent interest.

Like its cousin, history, folklore studies has had a strange, and often estranged relationship with popular media. Some of the popular contact has been initiated by folklorists themselves: e.g., Jan Harold Brunvand. Brunvand was a much beloved individual among the folklorists I know, which seems to be unlike how historians felt about, say, Stephen Ambrose — I know, I know, Ambrose had other issues (e.g., plagiarism). There’s also the recent discussion among historians about (yet another) Ken Burns’ film. (See Jonathan Zimmerman’s “What’s So Bad about Ken Burns?”.

Jeffrey Tolbert has written about this and even engaged in a dialogue with the creator of Lore. (For those interested, Tolbert has a personal essay in New Directions in Folklore: [here][].

[here: https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/ndif/article/view/20037

Ignoring Unicode Decode Errors

Working with a sample corpus this morning of fraudulent emails — Rachael Tatman’s Fraudulent Email Corpus on Kaggle, I found myself not able to get past reading the file, thanks to decoding errors:

codec can't decode byte 0xc2

Oof. That byte 0xc2 has bitten me before — I think it may be a Windows thing, but I don’t remember right now, and, more importantly, I don’t care. Data loss is not important in this moment, so simply ignoring the error is my best course forward:

import codecs

fh = codecs.open( "fraudulent_emails_small.txt", "r", encoding='utf-8', errors='ignore')

And done. Thanks, as usual, to a great StackOverflow thread.

BTW, thank you Rachael for making the dataset available!


Louisiana Book Festival 2017

I am delighted to announce that The Amazing Crawfish Boat will be one of the featured books at this year’s Louisiana Book Festival. The book talk is scheduled for Saturday afternoon, 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the First Floor Meeting Room of the Capitol Park Museum. If you’re at the Festival, come say hello or swing by the festival’s store after the talk to find me signing books. See you there!

AIs Talk among Themselves

While science fiction has a long history of human-AI/robot interaction, especially in terms of dialogue, the idea of robots/AIs talking to each other gained a lot more currency in the wake of two Facebook AIs seemingly developing their own language. First, a more reasoned summary of what happend at Facebook from the BBC. And now something a bit more sensational. This Quora post also has a bit more on what happened at Facebook.

All of this concern about AIs talking to each other has a history, at least in science fiction. One moment to consider occurred in 1970’s The Forbin Project in which the USA build a supercomputer to oversee its strategic defense systems (missiles, bombers, you name it), only to discover that the USSR (now Russia) had a similar computer. It’s not too long before the two computers demand to talk directly to each other, then merge to form “World Control.”

One good place to start a larger history of robots and AIs talking to each other is Emily Asher-Perrin’s survey on Tor. (Tor is a long-time publisher of science fiction and fantasy literature; their website contains a mix of original fiction, thoughtful essays, and read or watch-alongs of classic or beloved works in the genres.)

(Perhaps one thing to think about is the difference between robots as corporealized entities and artificial intelligences as noncorporeal entities: our responses to intra-entity dialogue seems to differ significantly based on whether the consciousness is individuated in a way that our own seems to be.)