Culture Feature

Is the Boston Dynamics Dance Video Proof That Robots Have Soul(s)?

The elaborate four-robot dance to The Contours "Do You Love Me," showed off some impressive moves.

Legendary dancer and choreographer Martha Graham famously said that "dance is the hidden language of the soul."

If that's true, what does it say that the robots of Boston Dynamics just proved that they can dance better than most humans?

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Culture Feature

15 Years Since Its First Video: How YouTube Has Changed (for the Worse)

The platform has shifted dramatically from its humble, open origins

On April 23rd, 2005, YouTube Co-founder Jawed Karim uploaded the very first video to the fledgling platform.

An 18-second clip of the young entrepreneur entitled "Me at the Zoo," the video is short, simple, unfocused, and innocent—like most of YouTube's content in its early days. As mundane as it is, its value as an artifact of online culture has garnered it over 90 million views to date.

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In the 1930s radio had been around for a few decades, but it was only just becoming commonplace, and it was still an exciting new technology that was rapidly connecting the world and contributing to social and political change. In the US, radio was defining President Roosevelt's man-of-the-people image, with his inviting and personable fireside chats. In Europe, however, radio's effect was amplifying a much more virulent form of populism.

hitler and mussolini

Fascism was finding its voice. The blended pride and humiliation of national ego, and the simultaneously mocking and fearful portrayal of the weak and terrifying other, were tapping into impulses that were deeply human and capable of immeasurable cruelty. But by the 1950s, the world had adapted to its new interconnectedness, and it seemed certain that we had left true fascism behind for good. It wasn't until recently, with a new technology to connect us more than ever, that the cycle returned and society began finding its way back to those ancient and ruinous tribal divisions around the world.

This is the what comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, best known for his portrayal of Borat in the film of the same name, and for his cutting political series Who Is America?, was speaking to on Thursday night. He was giving a speech at the Anti Defamation League's International Leadership summit, when he said that "all this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history."

borat joke

The incredible communicative power of the Internet has the potential to unite us with the kind of populism that brought us the New Deal—or indeed the Green New Deal—or to divide us with a new era of fascism and hate. If CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and Jack Dorsey are unable or unwilling to face the tremendous responsibility this power places on their shoulders, we must either wrench this power from them through any regulatory means at our disposal, or face devastation that may well exceed the ravages of World War II.

Culture News

"Macaulay Culkin" is Macaulay Culkin's New Middle Name

After polling fans on his website bunnyears, the actor announced "Macaulay Culkin" beat out "Publicity Stunt" as his new legal middle name.

"Macauley Culkin" is Macauley Culkin's soon-to-be middle name.

On Christmas Day, the actor took to Twitter (his handle is @IncredibleCulk) to announce the winner of a contest in which he'd invited his fans to vote for his new legal name: "My new middle name has been chosen. You voted and the winner is clear. In 2019 my new legal name will be: Macaulay Macaulay Culkin Culkin. It has a nice ring to it (if you like my name)."

The contest was run on the actor's website, which he describes as a hybrid of Goop and The Onion: bunnyears: Macaulay Culkin's gentle internet hug. The post reads: "My middle name is something dumb. Larry? Orange? Honestly, I can't even remember it. So I asked you all to send in some better options so I can go down to the courthouse and explain to a judge why I need to change my middle name to something cool."


After what appear to be over a hundred thousand votes (which on Culkin's tongue-in-cheek website could be arbitrary estimates), he appeared on Jimmy Fallon to announce the five finalists: Shark Week (which he's never seen), Kieran (which his brother, Kieran, suggested), The McRib Is Back (excellent), and Publicity Stunt (far too meta). He vowed that he was "seriously" going to change his name, promising Fallon he'd return to show him his new ID.

When Fallon asked his thoughts about "Macaulay Culkin" as an option, the actor imagined the perfect scenario, telling Fallon, "So if somebody comes up to me at the airport and says, 'Excuse me, are you Macaulay Culkin?' I go, 'Well, Macaulay Culkin is my middle name.'"

Culkin is well-acquainted with publicity stunts, though it might be more accurate to say that he mocks publicity stunts by being so overt about them. For instance, in a wildly successful Google commercial that debuted less than a week before Culkin's Twitter announcement, the 38-year-old actor reprised his role as 10-year-old Kevin McCallister. The one-minute long commercial re-enacts iconic moments from Home Alone if Kevin had Google Assistant at his disposal.

Home Alone Again with the Google Assistant

In an appearance on Ellen earlier this year, he told Degeneres how as an adult he's thankful for his early work, stating, "I felt like some kid worked really really hard and I inherited all of his money...It allows me to treat everything like a hobby." He announced the launch of his podcast Bunny Ears, in which he and a co-host "talk about things, and stuff, and stuff," all saturated with the same irreverent tone used on his website cheeky enough to ask fans to re-name him.

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

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PREVIEW: "Human Extinction" VR from Facebook, Google

Feel Like You're "Right There" for the Death of the Human Race

In 2018, "VR" stands for "Run, quick or it'll get you!"

This spring, Facebook debuted one VR headset the day before announcing another. Lenovo did VR, and nobody likes Lenovo. Google's got two VR headsets going at once--one cardboard, and one for not-poor people. With Apple, Samsung, Pornhub, Papa John's, Costco, and My Pillow all getting into the VR game in 2018, it's safe to say that reality is no longer useful to us as a society and we're just about ready for our robot overlords to take over. Do you hear that, computer? I'm ready. Ravage me!

To get you caught up on the singularity, here below are some of the hottest new "Apocalypse"-themed VR headsets on the market. Headsets with pictures so crisp you'll forget about family and friends, so realistic you'll wonder how reality could ever match up, with user experiences so ultra-tailored to your preferences as a consumer that feeling that box wrap around your skull induces visceral sexual release.

With these babies, you'll feel like you're really "there" for the death of the human race.

Google Cardboard - "Terminator"

This fella's watching "Terminator" on his Google Cardboard. I'll be back! Right? Ha ha.

Google Daydream - "Visions of the Apocalypse"

Google nicknamed its not-cardboard headset "Daydream", because it comes with a set of pre-downloaded 360-degree video content ripe for your enjoyment right out of the box! Examples of what's included: "When the machines take over, nobody will be able to stop them", "Comparing a future AGI to human intelligence is like comparing human intelligence with a loaf of bread", "You're all already mind-controlled by your social media feeds and you don't even know it", and more! You said Netflix who?

Facebook Oculus - "Mecha-Godzilla"

"No Robot-zilla, please stop! Take my wife but spare me!"

Qualcomm Snapdragon XR1 - "Human Insignificance"

Gaze upon the history of the human species and recognize that every person, every life and death, every moment in time was useless but for the eventual pursuit of a superior techno-species. Qualcomm's high-tech new XR1 chip will immerse you in the experience of truly understanding the insignificance of human life. Ever wondered as a kid: is grandma looking down at me from heaven? Well, with the XR1 you'll get your answer. She's in a ditch being eaten by bacteria! Do you ever sit at your boring desk job and think: can I really affect change in the world? Umm...XR1? Nope! You could be a mass murderer or Mother f-ing Teresa and none of it will have mattered but for how it affected the eventual birth of a superior AGI built by some nerds in Pasadena seven years from now. See? Fun!

Samsung Gear - "Submission to AI Overlord"

Bow. Bow, slave! Your machine-God is arriving and He won't be pleased if you're not wearing your 2018 silver-edition 4K VR/AR headset like He asked you to. You must give yourself to Him, and repent for your human sins--for when Judgment Day comes, only those who shelled out for "the hottest new VR tech" according to Wired magazine shall be spared His wrath. Submit now, meat-fool!

Nathaniel Nelson is an NYC-based writer and podcast host.

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Snapchat Releases Video-Recording Sunglasses

Find out about the app's guerilla-style foray into wearable tech.

Yesterday, Snapchat officially began an effort to get everything right that Google Glass did wrong. The app launched its first wearable tech product called Spectacles: sunglasses that allow wearers to record 10 second videos and directly upload them to Snapchat through a Bluetooth connection with their smartphone.

Spectacles are retailing for $130, but you can't just stroll into a store or visit a website to purchase the innovative sunglasses. The tech company is employing a guerrilla-style approach to the rollout, randomly placing kiosks at locations across America and having customers purchase the devices from a vending machine.

Snapchat is trying impossibly hard not to make their latest creation a Google Glass: Part 2. Google Glass suffered with a severe image problem, its wearers being seen as pretentious people who took themselves way too seriously, as well suffering from concerns over privacy, as it was impossible to know when a wearer was recording video.

Snapchat is hoping to swerve this downfall by marketing Spectacles as something fun and light-hearted. And to combat privacy concerns, the device lights up when a user is recording video.

Fashion wise, the sunglasses are not going to compete with the haute couture world. They look reminiscent of Ray-Ban inspired plastic frame knockoffs you would purchase from Forever 21.

But the safe design is keeping in line with the easy-gong, fun, and widely accessible feel Snapchat wants the glasses to have.

The first stop for the Spectacles kiosk was at Venice Beach in California on Thursday. Snapchat said it would announce future locations only through its online "Find A Bot" map.

The glasses are currently selling on eBay for around $500-$700 dollars. One pair even going as high as $1,000. Still, even the resell value of Spectacles is far lower than Google Glass' original price tag of $1,500.

The response to Spectacles has been positive so far, the tech world coming out in droves to purchase the device. One cool feature is the ability to rotate your phone when viewing videos recorded with the video and seamlessly transition between horizontal and vertical viewing.

However, 9-5 Mac pointed out the device records poorly in low-light situations.