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The Art of Spinning

Question: How is DJ'ing an art form?
 
DJ Spooky:  Well let’s look like back at the history of the idea of the record.  In my book "Sound Unbound" we traced the guy who actually came up with the main concept for the graphic design of the record cover sleeve.  His name is Alex Steinweiss. And one of the things in my book that we really tried to figure out was the revolution in graphic design that occurred when people put images on album covers.  Now if you think about the 20th century and the idea of visual vocabulary the album occupies a really important space in the cultural landscape and, above all... Try this experiment: one day go in a record store and just try and guess what the music sounds like by looking at the album cover.  You’ll get this kind of psychological relationship to the imagery of the music, but that idea is translated to iPhone apps.  It’s translated to the small, you know, kind of icons on your computer.  You name it. The idea of a visual icon that gives you a sense of information very quickly and that you can easily just say "That's what the style is."  That is something that I think record cover sleeves really led towards, but at the same time the album as we know it didn’t come into being until mainly after the Second World War because record labels realized they’d be able to make a lot more money putting all the singles of an artist onto one album and selling the whole album as a kind of a concept. So by the time the 60s rolled in that became a huge art form in its own right with bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Hendrix doing total concept albums, same thing with Pink Floyd.  Now if you fast forward to the 70s and Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Caz, all these guys that were essentially, like, the DNA of what we’re doing now.  One of the main things that differentiates them from artists before is that they made albums based on the fact that they didn’t care about the band as a thing in its own right.  They cared about manipulating the recording and that became the album.  Usually bands would make a song to record for an album, but what happens with the deejays you say "Well the album is everything we need.  Thanks band: you can go away now."  You know you don’t really need the band or the singer/songwriter in the same way, so you look at everything as part of your palette.  When you think about a composer you know like Wagner or Pier Boulez or something like that most of the issues a composer is working with are about discreet, notated music that someone else will play. But if I take that person and play them as a record I’m becoming not only a conductor and composer of collage, but at the same time I’m looking at a whole layer of what goes into copyright law, who owns those memories, who owns the way that that sound gets remixed and transformed and above all how much fun it is to actually just mess with other people’s stuff.  So yeah, I like the idea of it as a trickster motif.  You know like you’re kind of just messing around with people’s memories of songs. 
 
Question: How does science fiction influence your work?
 
DJ Spooky:  I’ve tended to find that myths of the near future give people the ability to really kind of explore the present, so say for example if look at William Gibson and his book Neuromancer or if you look at J.G. Ballard or Samuel Delaney those are probably three of my favorite writers in that genre.  All of them project slightly to the near future as a way of talking about the current moment and I think science fiction and sound is a really interesting thing.  You might as well think of it as sonic fiction.  When you’re coming up with different ways of getting old memories to transform—you’re scratching, you’re doing all this kind of sampling—what ends up happening is that you’re becoming a kind of writer with sound.  In fact, if you look at the root word of phonograph it just means phonetics of graphology, phono-graph, writing with sound, so graphology.  You know graffiti, same root word.  Phonetics, you know speech, all this kind of stuff, phonograph, simple, but when you unpack the meaning it actually kind of expands out and that is what I was going for in my book "Sound Unbound" was to try and get people to figure out how do we unpack some of the meanings that go into these kinds of sonically coded landscapes. So yeah, science fiction or sonic fiction.  I kind of like punning on that. 

Recorded on April 8, 2010

DJing is like being a conductor, and a composer of collage—you get to "mess around with people’s memories of songs."

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

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  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
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  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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