How to teach a computer to ride a bicycle

A visualisation of an unsteered bicycle, shown in an academic figure

I don’t often leave home these days, and there is ever a day in a week that I ever do, it’s Friday. It’s the day my mother goes to her religious class in the morning, and as I drop her off at the building I drive to any nearby cafés and read till she texts me.

I looked through my email of newsletters today and found this issue of The Margins guestwritten by Andrew Granato. He wrote about the climate change of the abandoned Internet, where he revisited the old websites in the 2000s — ones before the advertisers decided it was a good idea to place all their ads across your pages and track your every movement, ones where you could experiment with all sorts of projects and abandon at your own cost and you are not obliged to monetise on them anyway, ones where you could safely scream into the void.

This whole paragraph was what reminded me of how fun it was to tinker with every bit of CSS glitter on Myspace, and the glee that I rekindled as I built my first Twitter bot this year:

I think the main thing that is being lost in this shift is the (relative) ability to experiment freely and have a culture that reflects that option. The old internet was less overtly commercial and more willing to suspend disbelief about something that was obviously dumb if there was fun to be had from it, and so you could screw around and float in a sea of people doing the same thing and it wouldn’t matter at all. It was often innocent in the sense that people didn’t much assign real meaning to it, so you could start things and abandon them in this other sphere of life without feeling like it was even really you that was doing it.

Also TIL, link rot — where a combination of website redesigns, name changes, intentional website discontinuations, and various random other factors and errors result in some fraction of web links becoming nonviable constantly. “The web is in a constant state of erosion”, Granato adds.

Finally, there is no end to academic wonders — as I found this academic paper called It Takes Two Neurons to Ride a Bicycle, where the author attempted to teach a computer how to ride a bike. I haven’t read the whole thing in entirety yet, but I was taken a fancy to the instabilisation of an unsteered bicycle, visualised above.

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