Schachliteratur

Es gibt sie noch, die Personen, die Schachbücher lesen und kaufen. In vielen Sprachen existiert die Niche der heimlichen Strategen. „Teaching old dogs new tricks“ oder ist es eher „teaching young dogs old tricks“. Das ist eine empirische Frage. Nicht nur Zeitungen für sogenannte BildungsbürgerInnen haben noch kleine Spalten zumeist mit Schachproblemen. Manchmal findet sich Schachspielen sogar als Schulfach. Lesestoff zum Schachspiel findet sich reichlich. Schach in der Literatur ist jedoch verschieden von der Schachliteratur, die sich mit Strategien und Tempi befasst.

Das Lesen von Schachliteratur mit Meisterpartien hervorragender Spielenden ist vergleichbar dem Lesen einer Partitur einer Symphonie oder Oper. Das Kino spielt sich dabei überwiegend im Kopf ab. Gelegentliche unvermittelte Gesten oder Ah-laute sollten den Spielenden ihrer Verzückung wegen entschuldigt werden. Vielleicht sollten die Schulen diese Kulturtechniken mehr vermitteln. Macron‘s Vorschlag Theaterspielen mehr in den Schulen zu vermitteln erscheint in diesem Vergleich als ein Entgegenkommen an die „Generation der sich ständig selbst inszenierenden“. Mehr Spielen ist aber schon mal ein wegweisender Vorschlag.

Schachbücher 2024

AI Reader

In the middle of the hype around AI it is useful to take stock of the reflection and evolution of AI. In my own analyses and writings on AI it evident that a narrowing of focus has taken place. Whereas before 2022 the writing dealt more with digital technologies in general. The links to the literature on the social construction of technologies was obvious. Algorithms and AI was a part of the broader topic of society and technology.
This has changed. The public debate is focused on “everything AI now”. We look at technological developments largely through the lens of AI now. Hence, my focus of assessments of technology from a societal perspective follows this trend. In a collection of blog entries on AI we try to demonstrate the far reaching changes that have started to have an impact on us. In the last few months the all encompassing concern about AI’s effect on us needs full attention of social scientists, policy makers, companies and the public at large. We can no longer leave this topic to the software engineers alone. By the way, they themselves ask us to get involved and take the latest advances in AI more seriously.
As a “flipbook” the online reading is rather comfortable (Link to flipbook publisher MPL). The pdf or epub files of the blog entries allow to directly follow the links to sources in webpages or other publications (AI and Society 2p 2024-4-18). The cycles of analyses and comments have become faster. Traditional book writing suffers from time lags that risk to make pubications outdated rather quickly. Dynamic ebook writing might bridge the gap between time to reflect and speed to publish or inform the wider public.

AI Travel

Playing around with AI it is nice to test take fun examples. Image you want to plan a vacation, then the use of AI is ready to suggest to you a couple of things to do. Of course, AI is eager to propose travelling services like transport or accommodation to you where it is likely to earn some commissions. So far, the use of the “Vacation Planer of Microsoft’s BING Copilot” is free of charge. In entering the time period and a region as well as some basic activities you’ll receive suggestions with quotes on the sources (webpages of public services from tourist offices mostly). It seems like trustworthy sources and the suggestions of D-Day activities in Normandy is a positive surprise to me. These are popular activities which attract huge international crowds every year.
Thinking further on the potentials it becomes evident that travel suggestions will be biased to those paying for ranking higher on the algorithms selection criteria, which are not disclosed. Entering into the chat with the AI you and AI can target more precisely locations and also hotels etc. You are disclosing more of your own preferences in the easy-going chat and probably next time you will be surprised to be recommended the same activities at another location again.
So far, I have bought travel guides or literature about locations to prepare vacations. This is likely to change. I complement my traditional search or planning with the “surprises” from AI for travelling. I rediscovered, for example, the public service of tourist offices and their publications ahead of the travel rather than the leaflets at the local tourist office. In order to plan ahead there is value in the augmented search and compilation capacities of AI. Drafting a letter in foreign languages is also no problem for AI. The evaluation of the usefulness of AI, however, can only be answered after the vacation. Outdated info or databases have a huge potential to spoil the fun parts as well.

Citizens Gardens

There are multiple ways to link citizens to gardens. Most people would link citizens to the property of their own garden. This is more the perspective of people from the countryside. The aim of citizens who can afford it have a garden, many others wish to have one and all of them enjoy public garden spaces. An intermediate version of the public versus private property of citizens’ garden is the joint ownership of groups of like-minded people to work together in the shared property or rented garden space. The recreational and health effects are well documented, if care is exercised with utensils etc. Spring is the ideal time to join projects again as the results of a little bit of gardening will be visible and enjoyable for several months afterwards. Gardens are also meeting points for people of all walks of life as in the vicinity of the European Parliament in Brussels. The Citizens’ Garden has a different function to people gardening there. When you puzzled about Europe after a visit to the Parliament or the Museum of the History of Europe, then it is time for a stroll and relax in the garden nearby.
Alternatively, the Exhibition Centre of Tour & Taxis in Brussels not too far away from the North train station has an impressive indoor garden for the times of rough weather conditions. At the time of the book fair culture in the indoor garden made a splendid combination. There is a green version of Europe. It is like a small plant. It needs a lot of time and care to grow.

Forest Management

Responsible forest management is key. To safeguard against the loss of biodiversity the management of forests can achieve a great deal as the study in Nature of 2024-4-10 has demonstrated. Reducing hunting by humans in dense tropical forests allows bigger species to survive and thrive compared to forests with easy access by roads. FSC certification of forests helps significantly to protect wildlife. The ability to ameliorate biodiversity of forests is assisted by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) through the responsible management, preservation and limitation of access to wild forests. This is an important message that in fact it is still possible to preserve wildlife also of larger species if we only really commit to the cause. It is well worth to support such initiatives and monitor the progress. Of course, any such success attracts new hunters and a continuation of the FSC efforts is needed for the benefit of the whole biodiversity on our planet as there is no planet B.

Berlin Zoo 2024

Series Evaluation

The monitoring of TV series is a serious science. The evaluation of so-called binch viewing has redrawn attention to the field of media studies again. We observe a bit across Europe, following the US experience, the change of TV productions into series that may run over several years. The successful format of a TV series draws advertising to the relatively constant audience. Most series have a particular age group as their target group. Viewing behavior determines time slots allocated. Each group has its own prime time. The publisher of books had their successes with similar series of for example children’s picture books or cartoons. Asterix, Martine and similar book series have basically applied the same “serial” mechanism before. Popular success creates its own dynamics. Therefore the evaluation of such serial productions should stay on our research agenda of the social sciences as well.

In a radio discussion “France Culture” has juxtaposed the 2 currents of series evaluation in a concise way. One current of assessment holds the view that rather than high versus low culture, the debate should take popular culture seriously. It augments the set of experiences as the characters in a TV series live through a kind of “experimental setting” each time anew. The variety of experiences is catching popular attention as they are beyond the scope of the spectator’s usual life settings and thereby a learning opportunity. This highlights the value of the content in the evaluation. This requires a thorough scrutiny of that content to evaluate an emancipatory value of viewing it (Sandra Lauglier, 2023).

An opposing view is defended by Bertrand Cochard (2024) with reference to the conflict about one’ use of free time available to us and how we spend it. His criticism takes issue with the amount of time “lost” by viewers of series. Time is not spent twice. The loss of time alone or side by side rather than spending it with other persons or physically active constitutes a major risk to the social fabric of society.The jury is still out on the issue. We likely see the start of a series of entries on this topic as well.

Heroines

In youth we are open for a wide range of influences. Heroines in children’s literature, picture book or cartoons look back on a long history as successful influencers. Creation, transmission and criticism of stereotypes are all part of the scientific reflection on heroines and heros. Nowadays, influencers have taken over picture books through the use of more compelling videos.
In the 1950s,1960s and 1970s picture books or cartoons dominated the influences before mass media like television became more absorbing, addictive and powerful influencers. Children’s books are passed on from one generation to next generation. The French-speaking world (and beyond BBC reference) has witnessed the success of the illustrated booklets of the young “Caroline” (Hachette) and “Martine” (Casterman) exploring the world. Parents passed on their collection to children and had their own parents read the stories to their grand children.
Well, that’s how intergenerational transmission of cultural heritage has worked for a long time. It describes the basic social mechanism. Nevertheless, new forms of influencing emerged with new technologies. Successful illustrated narratives like “Caroline” and “Martine“ were adapted as television series as well. In France you could chose your side of either explorations with Caroline and her group of animals or the adventures of Martine.
Ideally it would be an occasion for the families and friends to discuss pros and cons of each character and, thereby, become aware of what is a stereotype, at least at a later stage of the life course. Gender stereotypes have evolved and to observe 2 boys colouring Martine images in public (Brussels book fair 2024, image below) was a positive surprise. It almost felt like a real world experience of the AI-enabled Barbie explorations.

Surrealist 100

Belgium celebrates 100 years of surrealism with a special exhibition in Brussels at Bozar in 2024. The arts movement has much more to offer than just paintings from Magritte. Many other painters and intellectuals that were instrumental to create and perpetuate the movement are represented there. The French philosopher Breton as spiritus rector of the movement contributed innovative ideas and challenged the artists to do further and further on their journey to explore freedom of expression and freedom of association. The exhibition is centered around the surrealist idea to explore the association of words and images. This time the words are on the walls of the rooms and the images put up in the rooms as kind of obstacles on your journey. Keep challenging, keep questioning the sense of things and our imagination. The journey goes on and there are many artists who are still influenced by surrealism, for example Folon. The texts and images take you along on the journey into the surrealists’ world. If you want to challenge your own way to see things and the associative world, this is the place or catalog to refer to.

Bozar, 2024 100 years of surrealism

AI and PS

AI like in ChatGPT is guided by so-called prompts. After the entry of “what is AI” the machine returns a definition of itself. If you continue the chat with ChatGPT and enter: “Is it useful for public services” (PS), you receive an opinion of AI on its own usefulness (of course positive) and some examples in which AI in the public services have a good potential to improve the state of affairs. The AI ChatGPT is advocating AI for the PS for mainly 4 reasons: (1) efficiency purposes; (2) personalisation of services; (3) citizen engagement; (4) citizen satisfaction. (See image below). The perspective of employees of the public services is not really part of the answer by ChatGPT. This is a more ambiguous part of the answer and would probably need more space and additional explicit prompts to solicit an explicit answer on the issue. With all the know issues of concern of AI like gender bias or biased data as input, the introduction of AI in public services has to be accompanied by a thorough monitoring process. The legal limits to applications of AI are more severe in public services as the production of official documents is subject to additional security concerns.
This does certainly not preclude the use of AI in PS, but it requires more ample and rigorous testing of AI-applications in the PS. Such testing frameworks are still in development even in informatics as the sources of bias a manifold and sometimes tricky to detect even for experts in the field. Prior training with specific data sets (for example of thousands of possible prompts) has to be performed or sets of images for testing adapted to avoid bias. The task is big, but step by step building and testing promise useful results. It remains a challenge to find the right balance between the risks and the potentials of AI in PS.

L’Albatros

Charles Baudelaire has immortalized the albatross in his poem entitled “L’Albatros”. For me it appears like a poem about the beauty of the sea and sea life. The marvelous creatures that populate the sea and its surroundings sometimes seem strange to us. The albatross with its large wings unable to move properly on earth is one of these special animals. They are threatened by human beings in their very survival up to extinction even. A dedicated website to “Les fleurs du mal” with multiple English translations of the same poem may give us the impression that all those who translated the poem wanted to feel this little moment of sublimation like a poet just forgetting for a little while the weight of our earthly existence. The gospel tells us a similar story of life up in the air. It must be so much better to be free and not to be bound to restrictions of gravity. As gods would prefer to stay away from earth just somewhere up in space. The albatross and the sea keep teaching us lessons beyond their physical appearance. (Image bird “dodo” now extinct, model in Berlin Natural History Museum 2024)

Russian Angst

The title of a book “Russian Angst” by Thomas Franke summarizes the state of Russian society under Putin. It dates back to 2017, but the underlying process of Angst in the Russian society is increasing rather than diminishing due to the already 2 years long intensive hot war of Russia against Ukraine. The Russian Angst is a fear of a continued roll back of its authoritarian rule in Eastern parts of the world and its internal threat that its own people will claim more rights like freedom of speech, freedom of the press and effective democratic voting rights. In a dictatorship the “Angst” is a pervasive phenomenon which creeps into all spheres of live. Franke and Dornblüth (2023) describe the toxic society in Russia. Intoxication and torture of opponents are used by the Putin regime as a threat to suppress critical voices in Russia. Through this a climate of “Angst” is spread so that any internal opposition has to face very high risks to utter any discontent. The experience of a barbarian, totalitarian regime is well known. The threat to life and the presence of intimidation to any disobedient behaviour are strictly persecuted. Nevertheless, the need to think beyond the Putin regime is well under way. The more external and internal, real or imagined threats are countered with brutal force, the more the regime reveals its true kind of governance by force. This invites and leads to the strengthening of counter forces both internally and externally. It seems like box fight in the before last round of a very vulnerable, weakened and isolated boxer. Not many will bet on the likely loser and more countries who previously supported Putin will stop their erroneous policy. Russian Angst and loneliness will further increase.

Sandbox Games

Children from a very early age onwards play strategic games. Even in the sandbox we can learn from surprising talents of how to get the shovel from the other player(s). Having grown up a bit the repertoire of strategies becomes a bit more sophisticated, but most children tend to apply the same ones now and then. For example, to obtain one of the always scarce places on the swing or the balance, you may reach your goal in attracting the occupant(s) to a supposed even more exciting object on the playground or outside of it. Once the occupants leave the swing to join you somewhere else, you rush back to the swing and hope that the other child(ren)/parents are not more powerful to take back the swing. Strategies on the playground are abundant. Most children run, or get run, through the full set of tricky strategies during their youth. If you still want to learn more, study economics (typical economist’s joke). Alternatively, if you like strategies claiming that other children are not following the rules or want to know how best to fix the rules so you’re going to win anyway, study law (lawyer’s jokes). If you believe fairness is your real best argument study sociology, philosophy or theology. Make sure most other people in the playground have a similar set of strategies otherwise fists and tears will be gaining the upper hand.

Zoo Visit

The visit of a zoo is always a great event. Accordingly the prices of a visit have reached levels that are beyond prices for a cinema entry. Usually a whole day is spent with high emotions watching animals sleeping, walking or eating. Sometimes we can watch a training session or a brief medical intervention. Learning about the beauty of biodiversity is important because we treasure more what we like. Looking into the eyes of an animal stimulates affection. Gathering support for the preservation of ecosystems was and still is a great effort. And yet, we have to move beyond preservation to the restoration of ecosystems like in the UNDP projects (Link). Animal parks can contribute to this if we encourage such cooperation and co-financing. The awareness, understanding and willingness to engage in restoration projects is largely increased after the visit of a zoo. A second round effect is the potential to reduce international travel to destinations with rich animal diversity. Restoration is a win-win situation for wildlife habitat and our planet as a whole.

Disappeared

We talk a lot in abstract terms of the loss of biodiversity. In the Museums of Natural History, like the one in Berlin, we can follow the trajectory of extinction of species. The dinosaurs are for most children the greatest attraction. No surprise, they are the biggest ones we have had on our planet. But there is a huge collection of disappeared species represented in the museums which we admire as a lost treasure or species threatened with extinction. Evolution had also created this rather big bird-like creature of the “dodo”. It couldn’t fly anymore and was inhabiting the splendid island of Mauritius. Hungry colonists passing have most likely literally eaten up this rather defenseless animal. Many other extinct species can be admired now only in museums and children feel naturally attached to some species that seem to have human expressions. Panda bears and gorillas rank high on such a list, but also some fish, especially if they smile or look at you straight into your eyes. This should help us take biodiversity and biodegradation more seriously. Children feel intuitively attracted to animals as natural companions. Something we have lost as adults and most of do not even realize this as a deficiency. The Nobel price winning author frm Mauritius has published a collection of short stories „Avers“ which captures the spirit of the island and the loss of species. J.M.G.Le Clézio seems to look at us through the eyes of children or a disappeared species. Magic moments are an escape as well as reason for hope.

Natural History Museum Berlin 2024

Fertility BPS-SPB

Fertility is another example of the co-determination of the biological, psychological and societal spheres of life. The latest available data for Germany and Sweden in 2023 show a remarkable decline of 10% in the seasonally adjusted Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in both countries (Bujard, Andersson 2024). The TFR was at 1.3 in Germany and 1.5 in Sweden. This means both countries are well below their population replacement rate. In both countries the populations will shrink further. There are no easy answers to the question: why?
The co-determination of the biological, psychological and societal spheres of life seems to be combined driving force. The biological clocks are ticking for women who delayed birth. Maybe pollution of drinking water or PFAS, nanoparticles of plastics disturb fertility. Psychological reasons such as increased anxieties due to the Covid-19 pandemic, lock downs or closed schools have left parents without adequate support for 2 years. Isolation or loneliness could have delayed partnerships and fertility as a consequence. The social environment has also provided additional uncertainty as the cost of living has risen and affordable housing for families is scarce in both countries.
We have probably underestimated the effects of the “Zeitenwende” on people’s mind sets. Sweden has suddenly sought to join NATO to achieve a broader military safety net for its people. In Germany the experience of damages due to war or as a consequence of Russian occupied territory is very present in people’s mind. The war of Russia in Ukraine may have increased uncertainties, anxieties beyond the immediate effects of higher living costs, interest rates or prices for energy. At best fertility might only be delayed for some years, but the consequences of shrinking populations need to be taken seriously. Making societies more welcoming for children and their parents is part of the solution.

AI and dialect

The training of Large Language Models (LLM) uses large data sets to learn about conventions of which words are combined with each other and which ones are less frequently employed in conjunction. Therefore, it does not really come as a surprise that training which uses standardised languages of American English might not be as valid for applications that receive input from minority languages or dialects. The study forthcoming in the field of Computer science and Language by Hofmann et al. (Link) provides evidence of the systematic bias against African American dialects in these models. Dialect prejudice remains a major concern in AI, just like in the day-to-day experiences of many people speaking a dialect. The study highlights that dialect speakers are more likely to be assigned less prestigious jobs if AI is used to sort applicants. Similarly, criminal sentences will harsher for speakers of African American. Even the more frequent attribution of death sentences for dialect speakers was evidenced.
If we translate this evidence to wide-spread applications of AI in the workplace, we realise that there are severe issues to resolve. The European Trade Union Congress (ETUC) has flagged the issue for some time (Link) and made recommendations of how to address these shortcomings. Human control and co-determination by employees are crucial in these applications to the world of work and employment. The need to justify decision-making concerning hiring and firing limit discrimination in the work place. This needs to be preserved in the 21st century collaborating with AI. The language barriers like dialects or multiple official languages in a country ask for a reconsideration of AI to avoid discrimination. Legal systems have to clarify the responsibilities of AI applications before too much harm has been caused.
There are huge potentials of AI as well in the preservation of dialects or interacting in a dialect. The cultural diversity may be preserved more easily, but discriminatory practices have to be eliminated from the basis of these models otherwise they become a severe legal risk for people, companies or public services who apply these large language models without careful scrutiny.
(Image AI BING Designer: 3 robots are in an office. 2 wear suits. 1 wears folklore dress. All speak to each other in a meeting. Cartoon-like style in futuristic setting)

Sleeping BPS-SPB

Sleeping is a good example of the co-determination of the biological, psychological and societal spheres of life. The environment with the daily cycles of light and dark as well as the social norms of work and rest determine the circadian cycles of hormones. Shift work or otherwise disrupted sleep patterns depend on social norms like regulation of noise or light in cities. Healthy sleep patterns, therefore, depend to a large amount on regulation and implementation of those social norms. Birthday parties are tolerated, but much less the irregular partying in shared housing with lots of neighbours. Reducing social contacts during Covid-19 led to the changes in sleep patterns as well.
The psychological determinants of sleep go well beyond the world of dreams as theorized by Freud. Nowadays, we investigate all sorts of behavioural patterns that have an impact on sleeping like “bedtime technology use” of smartphones or the ability to switch off thinking of problems. Sleeping is a particular functional state of our mind. A lot of sorting of daily impressions into memory occurs during the different phases while sleeping. Persistent disrupted or impeded sleep is recognized as torture in severe cases. Stress at work or working overtime is also a major cause of sleep disorders.
The biological indicators used to investigate sleep have revealed a lot of links of sleep and the hormones of melatonin as well as cortisol. Testing has become more accessible and provides good indicators of how the biological clocks tick within our bodies.
However, we are only at the beginning of the analysis of more complex interactions of the multiple forms of interaction of the bio->psycho->social (BPS) as well as the social->psycho->bio (SPB) co-determination of sleeping. Scientific research is faced with a steep challenge as the direction of causality is not uniform except in very controlled experimental settings. Maybe the arts have coined and popularized a useful term in this respect. “I am in a New York state of mind”.
(Image: extrait of Magritte. La clairvoyance, 1936 and The cultural context of aging, Jay Sokolovsky)

Sleep biology

Biological processes work hard during our sleep. Our immune system in particular benefits a great deal from undisturbed sleep. This is the simplest summary of the study by Kabrita et al. (2024).
We can study the temporal expression pattern of major histocompatibility complex MHC class I for example in mice. 2 groups of sleep-restricted versus normal mice reveal the biological impact of sleep restriction. In comparison to the control group sleep restriction in mice produced a bimodal pattern of Splenocytes with higher protein levels during the resting period. Such an increased protein expression during resting periods indicates a “preparedness for a potential infection”. Sleep recovery, even if short compared to the longer sleep restriction, allows to return to the baseline of protein levels. The good message is that at least mice seem to recover rather quickly from sleep deprivation with their immune response system.
The biology of repeated phases of longer sleep deprivation could inform us on the implications of sleep deprivation on aging processes. The biological responses in single event sleep deprivation seem to show a fast recovery pattern. Probably it is worth studying the same recovery process of groups of young versus aged mice.
Anecdotal evidence from myself indicates that recovery after sleep deprivation in older humans is no longer as fast as at younger ages. Behavioural responses might be less sleep deprivation (less fun) or longer recovery periods (stay in bed longer). The behavioural response of humans appears to be an obvious one. Instead of either or, we tend to go for both at the same time.
(AI Image: BING +Dall-E. one group of mice is partying in a club at night. Another group of mice is sleeping tight in another room. Cartoon-like images. 2024-3-18)

Korallenriff

Kinder verstehen direkt, dass es sich lohnt, Korallenriffe zu erhalten. Plastikmüll in den Meeren gefährdet die Korallenriffe und die bunte Vielfalt an Fischen, die darin leben. Ein kleines Theaterstück dazu von Kathrin Brunner begeistert Kinder, weil es sie erleben lässt, wie einfach Lösungen aussehen können. Den großen Leuten zeigen, wie traurig die Welt aussieht ohne die farbenfrohe Pracht der bunten Fische, wird sie schon zu Veränderungen bringen. Das Theaterstück und Buch dazu wurde am 16.3.2024 im FEZ in Berlin aufgeführt. Das Figurenspiel mit überleitendem Refrain, das vom Publikum gleichsam der Promenade in den „Bildern einer Ausstellung“ (Mussorgsky) mitgesungen haben, bildete jeweils eine gelungene emotionale Überleitung und Aufmerksamkeitspause. Wir wünschen uns noch viele kleine und große Besuchende für diese Aufführungen. Die Kinder werden es uns schon lehren, den blauen Planeten noch zu retten.

Need of War

It seems like a horrific idea to talk about the need of war. We might have deemed it outdated to read about the terrible love of war or about the strategy of war. However, the time of war is back in Europe and Eastern Europe feels the real threat and Ukraine the bombs hailing from Russia. Why does Putin love war? The love of war is largely driven by domestic issues. Staying in power for unliked authoritarian leaders is easiest if they indulge in external conflicts. Dictators love war because it makes it easier for them to sustain leadership through brutal force within the country due to a proclaimed external threat or even outright engagement in war. Democratically elected leaders know that they will leave office eventually in a peaceful way (exceptions like Trump are rare). Dictators use any force or terror necessary to stay in power. The love of war is part of this.
Hence, the need of war goes without questioning, if a country in decline or at risk of decline tries to uphold an inefficient, belligerent regime. Beyond rational reasons, such regimes will abuse ideation about national pride, the national interest and anything pertaining to some supposed myths of nationhood to justify its need of war. The dictators have all failed eventually as resistance against this need of useless war is found out by enemies either within or externally. But thousands or millions of victims will suffer. The pressure against the need of war has to rise internally from opposition as well as from alliances of democracies that do not need war to motivate their people to achieve the best they are able to deliver.
Therefore, the defence of democratic rule is, at the same time, a fight against the need of war by some doomed regimes. After winning the war comes the difficult task of winning peace. This means to create a state of affairs and a state of mind that can do without the need of war. If the external threat diminishes the internal threats might rise and have to be contained as well. Lots of challenges, even for mature democracies. (Image: Berlin 2022-10)

AI and S/he

There was hope that artificial intelligence (AI) would be a better version of us. Well, so far that seems to have failed. Let us take gender bias as a pervasive feature even in modern societies, let alone the societies in medieval or industrial age. AI tends to uphold gender biases and might even reinforce them. Why? A recent paper by Kotek, Dockum, Sun (2023) explains the sources for this bias in straightforward terms. AI is based on Large Language Models. These LLMs are trained using big detailed data sets. Through the training on true observed data like detailed data on occupation by gender as observed in the U.S. in 2023, the models tend to have a status quo bias.
This means they abstract from a dynamic evolution of occupations and the potential evolution of gender stereotypes over years. Even deriving growing or decreasing trends of gender dominance in a specific occupation the models have little ground for reasonable or adequate assessment of these trends. Just like thousands of social scientists before them. Projections into the future or assuming a legal obligation of equal representation of gender might still not be in line with human perception of such trends.
Representing women in equal shares among soldiers, 50% of men as secretaries in offices appears rather utopian in 2024, but any share in-between is probably arbitrary and differs widely between countries. Even bigger data sets may account for this in some future day. For the time being these models based on “true” data sets will have a bias towards the status quo, however unsatisfactory this might be.
Now let us just develop on this research finding. Gender bias is only one source of bias among many other forms of bias or discriminatory practices. Ethnicity, age or various abilities complicate the underlying “ground truth” (term used in paper) represented in occupation data sets. The authors identify 4 major shortcoming concerning gender bias in AI based on LLMs: (1) The pronouns s/he were picked even more often than in Bureau of Labor Statistics occupational gender representations; (2) female stereotypes were more amplified than male ones; (3) ambiguity of gender attribution was not flagged as an issue; (4) when found out to be inaccurate LLMs returned “authoritative” responses, which were “often inaccurate”.
These findings have the merit to provide a testing framework for gender bias of AI. Many other biases or potential biases have to be investigated in a similarly rigorous fashion before AI will give us an authoritarian answer, no I am free of any bias in responding to your request. Full stop.

Biographies

The biographies of painters, composers or artists in general can be reconstructed by use of their major works. The biography of René Magritte by Eric Rinckhout (2017) has chosen this way of a retrospective in images and explanatory texts. The biography is built around 50 major images starting with the first one by Magritte at the age of 28. “Les réveries du promeneur” (see below) deal with the confrontation of Magritte with death, suicide and the difficulty to find rational answers to all those questions of why this happens and what becomes of people who experience such a tragedy.
His own childhood was affected by such an event concerning his own mother who suffered from depression. Coping with the evolution of psychic illness over years and the absence of a supportive father have posed a steep challenge for the young person. Creation of art became a coping strategy as well as a relief for those who manage to eventually cross the bridge into their own life leaving behind the bad experiences. J.J. Rousseau was an influence on Magritte as well.
Finding your own destiny and your own style is a process. This process evolves over years. The chronological sequence of 50 images allows to follow the path taken. Thereby, it becomes possible to open up the personal learning and working trajectory of the artist. In retrospective perspective it seems often logical that one style or period of painting follows on from another one. However, in the forward living of the creative life many choices are heavily contingent on other circumstances. Influences of friends, exhibitions, reading, cinema, private or financial situations may determine the creative choices simultaneously or one at a time.
The chronological path of images writes a biography of a special kind. It allows to think in sequences just like in a sequence analysis as sociological methodology. Description, reconstruction, analysis, causality remain a challenge in our attempts to learn and understand more about biographies or the construction and reconstruction of life courses.

Corruption Watch

There is a persistent need to watch carefully whether corruption is involved in political as well as economic deals. Transparency Watch is doing a great job in reporting on corruption cases. In democracy we can talk openly about corruption but in authoritarian regimes it is life-threatening for yourself to talk and report on corruption. The case in Europe around the network of Eva Kaili continues to make headlines due to the ruthless abuse of rules the European Parliament. (Link to Le Soir, image below, 2024) The close monitoring of activities and lobbying of powerful industrial interests targeted on parliamentary candidates and officials will continue to be essential for the survival of democracy. The organization „Abgeordnetenwatch.de“ is doing just this. Investigative journalism needs to complement the work of NGOs in this field. Thanks to these efforts it has become much harder to cover up corruption. Only if the risk to be found out is a credible threat corruption can be contained. Let us watch out carefully and probably with the assistance of AI to uncover early any attempts of corruption.

Clip „Le Soir“ 2024-2-28 p.1

Energy Storage

On a sunny and windy day, even in winter or spring, renewable energy is abundant. If demand is stable prices will drop. Prices will rise again as demand for energy picks up. Hence, this is an obvious case for trading opportunities. All you need is … energy storage. All so-called prosumers, short for producers and simultaneously consumers have a lot to gain if they are able to store energy when it’s abundant and cheap. Sell it when it is expensive or use it yourself if needed. Just keep an eye on the costs of energy storage. A stylish insulated carafe is a well known example of storing hot water for astonishingly long time. Insulation is key to store transformed electric energy here. Other options use kinetic energy like pumping water to a higher level and then generate electricity again when the water returns to the lower level. Of course, batteries are a simple way for energy storage as well. Costs seem to come down rapidly and less environmentally hazardous materials leave the laboratory almost every month. It is about time to consider this seriously. More and more cities have understood that energy storage can generate cash for them (Example Feuchtwangen) and appears to be a worthwhile investment for a local power generating community. For the time being my favorite energy storage is the insulated carafe. It is often the beginning of energizing conversations.

Old school energy storage

L’échiquier

The game of chess has been subject of an ever increasing amount of literature. Not only historically the game, where two kings fight against each other, but the queens are the most powerful figures on the chessboard attracted a great deal of attention. We studied chess in books and watched live tournaments between the best players of the world. Most of this has successfully moved online and we have gotten used to losing against computers for almost all human beings some time ago. The internal federation of chess FIDE lists the top players male and female. The calendar of face to face events is still impressive. The federation operates somehow like a platform of players, as well as for players, to organize their lives as chess players. Anther kind of chess literature is the one that is constructed around the lives of chess players. Some characters get really absorbed into the mental or virtual world of the dialogue between 2 or more characters or players. The real world experience and the game on the board become intertwined or entangled. Losing or winning, to win or not to win, may unbalance whole personalities. Beyond the “Schachnovelle” von Stefan Zweig we have a new addition of fictional writing with autobiographical traits by Jean-Philippe Toussaint (2023) on our desks. « L’échiquier » is a story unfolding in 64 chapters just like the 8 x 8 spots on the chessboard. Of course, the story does not unfold in a linear fashion. It seems as if the players or opponents even change as the game unfolds. Maybe there are more than one game in action. Simultaneously as in some chess tournaments. Some games are blitz games taking just a few minutes, others go on beyond a lifetime. The experience of playing chess even against yourself has a psychological and sociological dimension. You can go round in circles for some or you are like “bowling alone” in the individualized society. About time to shed an additional light on the mystery of the chessboard. Self isolation with a chessboard was also a way of coping with the Covid pandemic. Some still suffer from long Covid and cures are not always easy to find.

L’échiquier, chessboard, Schachbrett