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Ex Machina: Not Just Another AI Movie

Posted by cirvine on July 20, 2015

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© 2014 UNIVERSAL CITY STUDIOS PRODUCTIONS LLLP

 

With so many AI movies coming out this year, it’s not hard to think that the idea might be played out. But Alex Garland’s directorial debut, Ex Machina, is a true sci-fi thriller that takes you into the maze of your own mind, and makes you question what it really means to be human. It grasps you hard from the opening scene to the very end, and doesn’t let go until you are at once confused, satisfied, mystified and shocked.

The story begins with a contest. The CEO of the world’s most popular search engine, Bluebook, has created a contest for his employees, the winner of which will get to spend a week with him at his secluded island home and research facility. The protagonist Caleb (played by Domhnall Gleeson) wins, and his dreams of meeting the genius CEO, Nathan, are realized.

Upon landing at the hidden estate, he learns that Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac) has been working on his magnum opus: artificial intelligence. Nathan sets Caleb to work right away, and his first task is to take his latest AI robot, Ava, through the Turing Test:  a series of questions and conversations used to determine whether she is indeed thinking for herself, or is just mimicking human thought and emotion.

 

By the first conversation, we can tell there’s much more to Ava than just hardware and software. Not only has she been given humanoid features like a face, hands and feet, but she challenges Caleb with thought-provoking responses to his questions. She asks "What will happen to me if I fail your test?" and "Do you have someone who switches you off if you don't perform as you should...then why should I?" It’s responses like these that immediately make you feel empathy for Ava. She becomes the hero you root for, an innocent bystander in humanity’s unhealthy obsession with becoming gods.

The film’s title itself comes from deus ex machina, a Greek phrase meaning “god in the machine”. The term has come to refer to a plot device where a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly resolved by some unexpected intervention: a new character, ability, object or other unknown piece of the story. It is interesting to note that the deus part of the phrase has been removed from the film’s title. We are in the machine, but where is the god? Is it Nathan, or someone/something else? Will the problem of AI consciousness be solved, or will we be left stranded in the machine without resolution? Not to reveal too much, but the last shocking scenes of the movie answer these questions beautifully.

On the surface, Ex Machina is a story about human consciousness, and our ceaseless god complex. But behind the curtain, there is much more at play. Deception, voyeurism, artistic conception, sexuality, the loss of one’s own mind; these themes are all a part of the thrill ride. It’s a film you won’t be able to stop thinking about long after it’s ended.

You can watch Ex Machina on Execulink's VOD Channel (100) from July 14th to August 13th, 2015.

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Google's Deep Dream: What Is It Exactly?

Posted by cirvine on July 17, 2015

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So by now you’ve probably heard of Google’s Deep Dream software that is making everyone’s pictures look like this:

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Woah, man. Woah.

But what exactly is it, besides a kaleidoscopic collage? In actuality, there’s something extremely interesting going on behind the scenes that is much more mind-blowing than these images in themselves.

But first, a little background.

The Deep Dream software stems from the scientific field of Deep Machine Learning, which is a new field of Computer Science. Machine Learning is exactly what it sounds like. Machines learning. It is the study of programming algorithms that can learn from and make predictions on data. These algorithms operate by building a model from example inputs in order to make “their own” predictions or decisions. Basically, it’s about teaching machines to do what our brains do naturally, which is make sense of the world around us by using examples of similar images we’ve experienced before. It plays a huge part in the concept and development of AI (artificial intelligence).

How does it work?

Google has image recognition software that is used to determine what is in an image. The image recognition software has thousands of reference images of known things, which it compares to an image it is trying to recognize.

So let’s say you provide it with the picture of a butterfly and tell it to recognize the image, it will compare that image to its references database, discover that there are similarities to its references of butterflies, and from that will tell you, “There’s a butterfly in that image!”

Now let’s say you tell it to recognize a butterfly, but there are no butterflies in the picture you give it. That’s where Deep Dream comes in. What Deep Dream does is take whatever picture you give it, and search for the images it’s been trained to recognize in its own specific database of images. It then feeds its own images it’s been looking for back into the original image, multiplying them and amplifying them as it goes. So essentially, what you’re seeing in your Deep Dream image is a visualization of the “thought process” of a machine. It’s the algorithm saying, “Hmmm, these might be things I understand. Let’s put more of those in there.”

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So let’s use these pictures of Zoidberg from Futurama as an example. There are clearly no dogs in the original picture in the centre. But since Deep Dream’s algorithm is searching for dogs (among other things) it takes the smallest resemblance  of a dog and amplifies it and multiplies it, feeding it back into itself until it looks more and more like the thing it’s searching for, which is what you see in the upper left hand version.

Ok, but why are there so many dogs, chalices, eyes, etc.?

Nearly all of these dream images are being created by 'reading the mind' of an algorithm that was trained with the ImageNet dataset to reference images from. This particular dataset happens to have a lot of dogs, chalices and Japanese architecture. Hence why Deep Dream tends to try to pick up dogs more often than not. Imagine what it would come up with if all it had to reference were pictures of monkeys, spaghetti, or (Heaven forbid) OTHER deep dream pictures. Did I just blow your mind? Good.

Anyway, it just goes to show you, the possibilities with this kind of software are endless. I can’t even imagine the future deep dreams that are going to come from this software!  

If you’re still not convinced that this is insanely cool, check out this video of Google Deep Dream creating intricate images from static. It starts off slow but hold on; in due time, you’ll get lost in a vortex of dogs, iguanas, spaceships, and whatever else your mind – and Deep Dream’s – can conjure up.


Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_learning#Deep_neural_networks
https://www.reddit.com/r/deepdream/comments/3cawxb/what_are_deepdream_images_how_do_i_make_my_own/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machine_learning

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Moving Your Internet & Phone: A Handy Checklist

Posted by cirvine on July 15, 2015

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Finding a new home is both exciting and daunting. Of the millions of things there are to think about before moving, your Phone and Internet services are a couple of the top priorities to consider. With that in mind we here at Execulink have put together a checklist of ways to prepare your telecom services for the big move.

Before Moving:

  • Verify your new home is serviceable with working phone jacks and/or Cable access and if not, be sure to discuss inside wiring with your provider or with an electrician.
  • Contact us at least 2 weeks before moving and provide correct and full address details including unit/apt number and the postal code.
  • Verify service availability at the new address.
  • If moving out of city, make sure a new phone number has been provided by your previous phone supplier, if applicable. If we are providing the phone, we will give you your new phone number when you call.

During the Move:

  • Make sure all equipment is accounted for (modems, power cords, etc).
  • Ensure someone over the age of 18 can be at the new address for the install (if access is required).
  • Ensure you have provided us with an active cell phone number and an active email address for contact purposes.  Having a backup cell and active email address for contact purposes is important to ensure that we can contact you if necessary.

After Moving:

  • Return any unneeded equipment (if applicable) to Execulink Telecom, 1127 Ridgeway Rd., Woodstock, ON, N4V 1E3.

 

We know it won’t eliminate your stress entirely, but hopefully this list will at least help keep you organized. Best of luck with your move!

Click Here for PDF to Print at Home!

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Woman in Gold: A Work of Art

Posted by cfeehan on July 13, 2015

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How would you feel if your worst enemies stormed into your house uninvited, talked down to you and your family, and proceeded to steal your most precious belongings while you could do nothing but watch? This is exactly what happened to many Jewish families during the Second World War, and it is what happened to Maria Altmann, a Jewish refugee who fled from Austria to America during the war. She, unlike many others, was lucky enough to get out alive. The movie Woman in Gold revolves around Maria who, after decades of silence, finally decides to take a stand and seek justice for her family.

After her sister’s death, Jewish refugee Maria Altmann, played by Helen Mirren, discovers that “Woman in Gold”, a famous painting of her aunt that is residing at the Belvedere in Austria, rightfully belongs to her family. She needs a lawyer, so she immediately hires a family friend named Randy Schoenberg, played by Ryan Reynolds. He begins to work on her case, and the pair faces incredible odds to get the painting back. It’s an emotional ride, complete with wartime flashbacks from Maria’s point of view.

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The Woman in Gold painting, also titled Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Source: Gustav Klimt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Helen Mirren does a fantastic job as Maria Altmann. She’s spunky, she’s determined, and she’s fighting for a cause that any audience member is persuaded to side with by the end. She knows what she wants and she’s going to get it, no matter what. Ryan Reynolds plays lawyer Randy Schoenberg very well, despite the fact that it’s an atypical role for him. He is very likable, and becomes even more so as the film progresses and he becomes more confident and invested in the case. Another actress I have to comment on is Tatiana Maslany, a Canadian actress who played Maria as a young woman in her flashbacks. She had the difficult task of taking on the more heart-wrenching parts of the film, and she did it perfectly. Her character was so believable, and she captured a range of emotions effortlessly – from acute fear and sorrow to the blissful euphoria of her wedding day. The casting was done very well, and I may be a bit biased, but I really like that it was heavily Canadian! (In case you didn’t know, Ryan Reynolds is also from Vancouver.)

What I really appreciate about the movie is its apparent adherence to the true story. The Austrian Parliament really had just passed a law requiring museums to allow researchers to explore their archives in order to get stolen items back to their rightful owners. This law is what helped move Maria’s case along, both in the movie and in real life. In addition, Nazis really did march right into Maria’s home in Austria and take her family’s belongings. Her family’s extensive art collection, her father’s cello – even the diamond necklace worn by her aunt in the painting – were all stolen. Just as the film depicted, the necklace actually was given as a gift to the wife of Hermann Göring, a leading member of the Nazi party! There are many more aspects of the film that adhere to the true story, but I don’t want to give too much away. Check out this article after watching the movie to learn more. (Warning - contains spoilers!)

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Maria Altmann, 2010. By Gregorcollins (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Another thing I loved about the movie was the use of flashbacks. They effectively revealed Maria’s struggle in Austria as a young woman, and caused the audience to connect with her emotionally. Some of the scenes, such as the one where the Nazis come in and start stealing things off the walls, are upsetting beyond belief. It’s hard for me, as someone who hasn’t gone through this type of tragedy, to even imagine the type of pain and anger that this would bring about in a person, but I can tell you one thing – it made me really passionate about Maria winning her case. This deep emotional connection causes the audience to root for her not for trivial factors like monetary gain, but in order to regain the respect that she and her family deserves.

This movie was a great mix of young and old, past and present, and sadness and delight. It captured multiple eras and cultures, but it did so in a way that was easy to follow and connect with. The historical aspect of the movie was extensively interesting because of its relative cinematic rarity, and truly made me want to learn more about Holocaust art restitution. My final word of advice is to make sure that you have English subtitles turned on when you watch this movie – the subplot gets completely lost if you don’t, because it’s spoken entirely in German! I would highly recommend this movie not only to history buffs, but to anyone looking for an empowering story of restoration and justice.

You can find Woman in Gold on Execulink’s VOD channel (ch.100) from July 7th to August 6th, 2015.

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Caitlin Feehan, Blogger & Editor


Converse have been my footwear of choice for the past 9 years, I’m convinced that all doors and sidewalks are conspiring against me, and I enjoy sticking my head out of the passenger window on long car rides.


Don't Get Reeled In

Posted by cirvine on July 10, 2015

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Phishing may sound like an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon at the cottage, but that’s not quite the activity we’re taking about. Phishing – not fishing – refers to “the impersonation of reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers, online” (Oxford English Dictionary). Often, phishing is done through email messages, instant messages, or popups on webpages, and it can often appear to be completely legitimate and trustworthy. Here are some of the warning signs that you may be a victim of a phishing attempt.

1. Posing as Well-Known Companies

Scam artists often say that they are from a well-known, legitimate company in order to build your trust. They’ll even include the company’s graphics and a web address that looks very similar to the company’s URL in an attempt to lower your guard.

2. Spelling and Grammar Mistakes

This common indicator works in tandem with the first. Scammers often pose as legitimate companies, and legitimate companies almost always have a team of copy editors that would not allow a mass email or pop-up advertisement to be sent without being checked multiple times for spelling and grammar errors. If you receive a message that receives these types of errors, chances are, it’s not from the company it claims to be from. 

3. Using Generic Greetings

Phishing emails, pop-ups and IMs are sent out in large quantities, and scammers don’t have the time and often, don’t have the data to personalize all of those messages. To get around these issues, they use generic greetings like "Dear Execulink Telecom Customer" on the top of every one.  Be suspicious if you see a greeting like this in place of your name.

4. Requests personal information

This one is the dead giveaway. This is the overall objective of phishing scams, so if you receive an email or any other type of message asking for your personal info, close it and attempt to contact the company that sent the message to confirm that it was actually from them. If the company cannot confirm that they sent out the message in the first place, report it.

A few months ago, internet hackers created a phishing scam that targeted Execulink Telecom customers. It was in the form of a pop-up, and looked like the screenshotted image below: 

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This pop-up was not affiliated with Execulink Telecom in any way, even though it used the company’s name in its address. If you see an offer like this in the future, contact us first to confirm that it is indeed a phishing scam, and then report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre in the link provided above.

5. Links

This one is a no-brainer. If you see a link in a suspicious message or pop-up, don't click on it. It will likely lead you to a website which will ask for your personal information.

6. Threats

Have you ever gotten an email saying something along the lines of “if you don’t provide us with your information in the next 24 hours, your account will be permanently deleted”? By making you think that something has gone wrong with your account, they try to scare you into fixing it by handing over your information to “make it all go away” as quickly as possible, when in reality, all you’re really doing is hurting yourself.

The moral of the story here is to be on the lookout and to use your common sense when dealing with emails, IMs and pop-ups from untrusted sources. Be wary when clicking links, and never, ever give out your personal information online! 

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Karen Chalmers, Marketing & Public Relations Manager


With 2 decades in the film, design, and marketing industries, I love all things creative – especially a beautiful, well-crafted font. I’m a classic triple threat, complete with talents in acting, singing, and sewing.