Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett, who passed away this morning, was more than a hero to me. In my mind he was a downright miracle.

I saw him in concert several times, and each time was an astonishment. In addition to being the most sensitive and emotionally intelligent interpreter in our time of the Great American Songbook, he had incredible vocal power.

I remember him, during a recent NYC concert, telling the audience how wonderful the acoustics were there at Radio City Music Hall. Then to show us what he meant, he asked the tech crew to turn off all the amplification.

He then proceeded to belt out an a cappella rendition of the Bart Howard classic In Other Words. His unamplified voice easily filled that cavernous space. And this was when the man was already in his nineties.

Until today, the romantic in me had managed to convince myself that Tony Bennett would continue to live forever. But in a way, he will. Like the man said:

      Let the music play as long as there’s a song to sing
      And I will stay younger than spring

Lexical math, part 2

About a week ago I posed the following lexical math challenge. Given the following sequence:

Thirty three
Thirty six

I asked what is the pattern, and what might be the next number in the sequence?

To answer the first question, note that “Four” contains 4 letters, “Twelve” contains 6 letters, “Thirty three” contains 11 letters, and “Thirty six” contains 9 letters. Dividing value by letter count, we get a linear sequence:

1 = Four / 4
2 = Twelve / 6
3 = Thirty three / 11
4 = Thirty six / 9

Given this pattern, can you figure out what might come next in the sequence?

The ethics of synthetic faces

Yesterday I talked about computer graphic systems that are able to synthesize realistic faces of people who don’t exist. They do this by looking at large numbers of real peoples’ faces, and computing all sorts of statistical data from those faces.

When faces are analyzed this way, each real person’s face ends up being represented in the computer as a single point in a high dimensional mathematical space. If two data points are near each other in that space, then they will tend to produce faces that look similar, but not quite the same.

Once this framework is set up, then to create a new realistic face you can just choose a new point in that high dimensional space. The face that you create will end up looking more like some real people and less like others, but it won’t look exactly like the face of anybody who actually exists.

To me this raises an interesting ethical question: If you are training this model on the faces of all people, then are you violating anybody’s privacy or ownership over their own appearance? Or are you just doing what we all do every day inside our heads — building a model of what a face looks like based on the people we see around us?

And if that is the case, do you then have free license to use that data to create any new faces you want? And if not, then why not?


I am confused as to why some Hollywood studios attempted to gain ownership of the likenesses of extras. The topic is timely because it is one of the issues that led to the current actors’ strike.

As I understand it, studios wanted to insert a clause into contracts that would allow them to scan the likeness of actors hired for the day — and then to retain the right to reuse that data in perpetuity.

The reason I find this puzzling has nothing to do with the ethical considerations, as large as those are. What stumps me is this: Anybody in my field of computer graphics will tell you that it is totally unnecessary.

For quite a few years the technology has existed to synthesize an extremely wide variety of highly realistic human faces. Many technical papers were published showing how to do this, long before the recent A.I. craze.

Didn’t anybody at those studios do even a little research? If they had simply talked to their own effects people, they would have learned all about these existing techniques.

I’m starting to think these studios might not be all that well run.

Live orchestra

If I were a member of SAG-AFTRA, I would certainly do everything I could to fight for the right to not eventually be replaced by an AI. And I think this issue goes beyond monetary interests. It speaks to questions that are far deeper.

An analogous battle once took place on the Broadway stage. At some point technology had advanced to the point where musicals could replace orchestras with high quality recordings. To do so would certainly have saved a lot of money. And some theatergoers might not even have noticed the difference.

But there would have been a difference. Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians fought long and hard to not be replace by machines. And our collective theater-going experience is far richer because of their victory.

The same goes for human actors in movies. There is something beautiful in the bond between human performer and human audience. It would be a shame if that bond were to end up being broken, or replaced, by some technological alternative, simply in the name of cost-cutting.

A striking situation

At midnight last night the actors of SAG-AFTRA went on strike, joining the already striking screenwriters. To kick things off, the SAG-AFTRA union president, Fran Drescher, gave an fiery and defiant speech.

This is the first time that two major Hollywood unions have been on strike at the same time since 1960. when Ronald Reagan was the president of the actors’ guild. Reagan, of course, famously went on to become president of the United States.

Maybe one result of all this is that Fran Drescher will also one day become president of the United States. That would be a fascinating turn of events.

But if that happens, the worst nightmare of Republicans will come true. America will finally become a Nanny state.

Just one thing

I was talking with my mom today, and the conversation got around to the future of wearable technology. We found that we agreed very strongly on one thing.

It would be great to have an ordinary looking pair of glasses, with a little unobtrusive camera and a little unobtrusive display that does just one capability: When you are talking to somebody, it shows you their name.

Just think how much social awkwardness and embarrassment would be saved by this one simple innovation. I suspect that if it came on the market today, millions of people would buy it.

Lexical math

I’ve been thinking that it would be fun to explore puzzles that combine math challenges with lexical challenges. Here is a simple example:

Consider the following sequence:

Thirty three
Thirty six

(1) Can you figure out the pattern?

(2) What number might come next in this sequence?

I will give the answer in a few days.