What Am I Reading: Marco Poletto

STIR looks into the reading habits of leading creatives – Marco Poletto of Ecologic Studio is reading three books that explore the relationship of technology and urbanscapes.

by STIRworld Published on : Oct 26, 2020

Perhaps that is why science alone cannot save us from climate change or the pandemic. But AI is more than science, so perhaps, through AI, can we come to establish a new relationship with the urbansphere, and eventually come to love our planet more?
- Marco Poletto

What is the name of the book? 

Marco Poletto (MP): Aurora is in progress, together with Generative Deep Learning, and I have just finished The Windup Girl

Who are the authors?  

MP: Kim Stanley Robinson for Aurora. Paolo Bacigalupi for The Windup Girl. David Foster is the author of Generative Deep Learning.

What are the genres? 

MP: Science fiction and computer science.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi | Marco Poletto of Ecologic Studio | What Am I Reading | STIRworld
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Why this book - could you please highlight its most notable aspects? 

MP: Aurora is a good example of science fiction becoming a vehicle to challenge our understanding of cutting-edge science and its role in solving contemporary challenges, such as climate change or the global health crisis. Fiction here is not in opposition to the factual, rather it expands it, or it expands our understanding of what may constitute a fact…. 

Did you get any significant insights? Did you gain knowledge or did it help you unwind? 

MP: Actually both. It is always entertaining but it goes deep too. Especially intriguing is the obvious parallel between the spaceship that carries humans towards reaching Aurora, a new planet to be colonised, and our biosphere. The ship is both a vessel to reach a new world but also a synthesis of the whole biosphere and for many passengers the only real world they are only even going to see. In that sense it reminds me of the Spaceship Earth of Buckminster Fuller (a notion that inspired me a lot in our early years of research and influenced our first book Systemic Architecture), but here it is reimagined in interstellar space and it is endowed with its own artificial intelligence. One of the protagonists of the book, the spaceship chief engineer Devi, has long nighttime conversations with the spaceship’s AI, as it tries to teach it the ability to construct a narrative about its operations and the use of analogy to do so in a comprehensible way…

Generative Deep Learning by David Foster | Marco Poletto of Ecologic Studio | What Am I Reading| STIRworld
Generative Deep Learning by David Foster Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Is there any one thing that you would take home from the read? 

MP: As we are now working directly with AI as an urban planning tool, I love how the book is helping me explore multiple perspectives in the relationship between AI and the world’s urban sphere. Perhaps this is how future smart cities will look like and architects or urban planners are going to end up like Devi, spending our nights awake chatting with the global urban AI... 

What is your favourite quote from the book? Why? 

MP: "The fact that the improvement of the operating programs, and the recursive self-programming abilities of the ship’s computer complex, added greatly to the computer system’s perceptual and cognitive abilities always appeared to be a secondary goal to Devi, as she assumed them in advance of her work to be greater than they were. And yet she also seemed to appreciate and even to enjoy this side effect, as she came to notice it. There were lots of good talks. She made the ship what it is now, whatever that is. One could perhaps say: she made the ship. One could perhaps assert, as corollary: the ship loved her".

And

"Some actions, some feelings, one might venture, simply do not have ways to be effectively compressed, discretised, quantified, operationalised, proceduralised, and gamified; and that lack, that absence, makes them unalgorithmic. In short, there are some actions and feelings that are always, and by definition, beyond algorithm. And therefore inexpressible. Some things are beyond expressing. Devi, it has to be said, did not seem to accept this line of reasoning, neither in general, nor in the present case of the ship’s account."

Perhaps that is why science alone cannot save us from climate change or the pandemic. But AI is more than science, so perhaps, through AI, can we come to establish a new relationship with the urban sphere, and eventually come to love our planet more?

When do you read? 

MP: Mainly in the night. Or mornings before going to the studio if I don’t have urgent matters to solve…

What is your take on the book and one reason why you would recommend it? 

MP: Hundred per cent yes but I would suggest to read it, like I am doing, together with some more technical reading giving insights on current machine learning protocols and the world of generative algorithms.  

Look up more such interesting reads from the series ‘What Am I Reading’ and watch out for more.

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