Technology to detect art forgeries

Dartmouth researchers have devised a way to use technology to detect art forgeries:

Sparse coding technology has long been an important tool in neuroscience research, allowing scientists to quantitatively determine how optical information is represented by neurons in the brain. Dartmouth researchers have recently extended its use to the field of quantitative art authentication, or stylometry.

By using sparse coding technology to mathematically analyze and compare drawings by famed Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel with a known set of imitations, the researchers were able to distinguish between the genuine works and the forgeries. James Hughes, Daniel Graham, and Daniel Rockmore in the computer science and math departments describe their findings in the paper, “Quantification of artistic style through sparse coding analysis in the drawings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder” recently published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

Sparse coding technology was developed to emulate the human visual system. To translate the complex images first detected by eyes to the simpler models found in the brain, our visual system uses a number of “filter” neurons. These neurons are triggered by specific patterns in the image. The brain has evolved to efficiently identify many predictable patterns found throughout the natural world and is consequently able to minimize the number of filters required per natural image. Conversely, the brain requires many more filters to model images that it has not been previously exposed to.

Hughes, Graham, and Rockmore applied these ideas to their own art authentication technology. Essentially, they imagined a visual system that had evolved while being exposed only to Bruegel drawings. Thus, it would process Bruegel drawings using few filters but would have to use many more when looking at anything else—including Bruegel forgeries.

To create this model the researchers obtained a number of genuine and fake Bruegel drawings. They digitally broke the authentic works up into smaller pieces and using sparse coding technology identified the smallest or “sparsest” set of those pieces that could be used as filters. This set of filters essentially quantified Bruegel’s unique artistic style by capturing properties repeated throughout the artist’s works.

via DUJS Online » Dartmouth researchers spot art forgeries using sparse coding technology.

Good invention! It might not catch all forgeries, though. A problem in the modern art market is how to detect a genuine Jackson Pollock, whose major works consist of random spills of paint on canvas. Forgeries have come on the market that were made in exactly the same way and so look essentially the same. A genuine Pollock is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. A fake Pollock is worthless. But how to tell them apart?

There actually is a way to tell sometimes.
This account of the Pollock forgery below describes how the fake painting was found to contain paint compounds that did not exist until after the artist’s death.

Which is the real Jackson Pollock?
The work on the left is a fake; the one on the right is genuine.

Why does it matter? If a fake Rembrandt looks as good as a real one, why can’t we just enjoy it anyway? (There is an answer to that.)

HT: Joe Carter

Check your phone bill

Look at your phone bill very carefully.  It may well contain small charges that add up to a major world-wide scam:

Roy and John Lin made a devilish fortune in the details of phone bills, according to a federal investigation.

The San Francisco brothers hired overseas telemarketers to offer directory assistance and other services to small businesses and ordinary Americans, according to a major case to be unveiled this week by the Federal Trade Commission. But their real goal was to sneak small, unauthorized fees onto thousands of monthly bills and hope the charges would go unnoticed, court documents state.

The scheme, known as “cramming,” proved to be a boon, the documents show. The Lins’ alleged take: $19 million over five years.

The Lins are among a resurgent wave of crammers who may be ensnaring millions of Americans, federal officials and consumer advocates say. A decade ago, the scam was so widespread that it became one of the most profitable business lines of the Gambino crime family.

A wave of federal and state crackdowns pushed the crime into remission. But as phone bills, both conventional and cellular, have become more complex, crammers are making a comeback by using sophisticated marketing techniques and by launching their schemes from overseas to try to escape the purview of U.S. regulators.

via Misdials help ‘crammers’ ring up millions in phone bill scam –

Read the rest of the article for how these ingenious criminals get on your phone bill.

The internet as collectivist monster

Jaron Lanier was one of the inventors of “virutal reality,” but now he is saying that the internet has turned into a collectivist monster.  From a review of his book  entitled You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto:

A self-confessed “humanistic softie,” Lanier is fighting to wrest control of technology from the “ascendant tribe” of technologists who believe that wisdom emerges from vast crowds, rather than from distinct, individual human beings. According to Lanier, the Internet designs made by that “winning subculture” degrade the very definition of humanness. The saddest example comes from young people who brag of their thousands of friends on Facebook. To them, Lanier replies that this “can only be true if the idea of friendship is reduced.”

Anyone who has followed technology and for years has resented the adoration heaped upon the ascendant tribe will positively swoon as Lanier throws into one great dustbin such sacred concepts as Web 2.0, singularity, hive mind, wikis, the long tail, the noosphere, the cloud, snippets, crowds, social networking and the Creative Commons — dismissing them all as “cybernetic totalism” and, more fun yet, as potential “fascism.”

The “cybernetic totalists” base their thinking on decades-old ideas known as “chaos” or “complexity” theory, which began with a question about ants: How does something as complex as a colony arise from the interactions of dumb ants? This approach can be useful if one is studying mass phenomena such as traffic jams. The problem comes when we try to apply ant-derived thinking to people who are trying to lead creative, expressive lives.

In the totalist model, algorithms (most of them secret and proprietary, such as Google’s search engine) create knowledge by making links among the system's many human participants. From this possibly infinite set of connections arises intelligence. The creative actor is no longer the human being but the system and its algorithms, out of which emerges a living, nonhuman or trans-human higher being. (Lanier does not hesitate to compare this to religion.) There are some, such as Google co-founder Larry Page, who believe the Internet will soon be alive.

The poor human participants become “peasants” working for the “lords” of technology: those who have deeper access to the workings of the Web (read Google, Yahoo and hedge funds with vast analytic resources) and who profit from our volunteer labor. Our role is simply to keep contributing our code-bits and snippets and Facebook pages. We become what Lanier calls “computer peripherals,” and he is raising a defense against this reduction of our being.

Lanier says there is still time “to promote alternate designs [of the Internet] that resonate with human-kindness.” He is fighting for something “ineffable” in the human imagination and creativity; for us to see personhood as “a quest, a mystery, and a leap of faith.” These are not views normally expressed by computer scientists, and anyone but Lanier would get laughed off the stage. Yet he dares to say the forbidden: that computers as we know them may be incapable of truly representing human thoughts and relationships.

This book is very much like the Jaron Lanier he shows in his public appearances: mind-bending, exuberant, brilliant, thinking in all directions. He describes how computer software locks us into rigid ways of thinking (which brings up the next logical question, though he fails to ask it: How can a computer, with its need for standard interfaces, not lock us into the behavior and thought patterns implicit in our software?). He discusses how pack-like attacks arise on the Web wherever there is an opportunity for “consequence-free, transient anonymity.” The topic hardly matters: “Jihadi chat looks just like poodle chat.”

He describes the sad, stressful lives of young people who “must manage their online reputations constantly.” He makes the point that the free use of everything on the Web leads to endless mashups, except for the one thing legally protected from being mashed-up: ads, making advertising the one thing on the Internet that can be “owned.” In the book's final pages, he tries to imagine an alternative to “totalist” computing: a new sort of virtual-reality software that would allow us to express ourselves through transformations of our virtual bodies, as if we were cephalopods. All of which sounds quite wild, but so did virtual reality in 1980.

via Book review: You Are Not a Gadget, by Jaron Lanier –

Buy the book here.

How the Beatles increased health care costs

I am greatly intrigued by unintended consequences, odd connections, and strangely related events.  In a book about health care, Thomas Goetz explains how the Beatles were to blame for our rising health care costs.  Back in 1955, a small electronics company named EMI bought Capitol Records, which in 1966 signed a new British group called the Beatles.  EMI made so much money from the Beatles that they hardly knew what to do with it.  What they did was to invest it in some experimental medical technology that developed into the CT-scan, which could give 3-D X-rays.  This, in turn, led to other devices, such as MRIs and PET-scans.

While most technology, such as DVD players and computers, gets cheaper as it develops and gets better, for reasons that Mr. Goetz tries to explain, these medical devices keep getting MORE expensive.  In 1974, a CT-scan rig cost in the $300,000s.  Now it costs upwards of $2.2 million.  And doctors have been ordering super-expensive tests with these machines at a sky-rocketing rate. According to Mr. Goetz, this is a big reason health care costs have gone up so much.

So the next time your health insurance rates jump up, or you have to pay out of pocket for one of those tests that your insurance doesn’t cover completely, blame  John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

From success of the Fab Four, a key driver of health-care costs arose –

Do you know any similar examples of strange series of causation?

Interconnected laptops as supercomputer

Thanks to Webmonk for alerting me to this curious phenomenon. What started as a mass computer linkup to search for life in outer space has turned into a tool for other kinds of astronomical study. And all those individual computers working together now constitute a supercomputer.

Combined computing power of the MilkyWay@Home project recently surpassed the world’s second fastest supercomputer

At this very moment, tens of thousands of home computers around the world are quietly working together to solve the largest and most basic mysteries of our galaxy.

Enthusiastic and inquisitive volunteers from Africa to Australia are donating the computing power of everything from decade-old desktops to sleek new netbooks to help computer scientists and astronomers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute map the shape of our Milky Way galaxy. Now, just this month, the collected computing power of these humble home computers has surpassed one petaflop, a computing speed that surpasses the world’s second fastest supercomputer.

The project, MilkyWay@Home, uses the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) platform, which is widely known for the SETI@home project used to search for signs of extraterrestrial life. Today, MilkyWay@Home has outgrown even this famous project, in terms of speed, making it the fastest computing project on the BOINC platform and perhaps the second fastest public distributed computing program ever in operation (just behind Folding@home).

The interdisciplinary team behind MilkyWay@Home, which ranges from professors to undergraduates, began the formal development under the BOINC platform in July 2006 and worked tirelessly to build a volunteer base from the ground up to build its computational power.

Each user participating in the project signs up their computer and offers up a percentage of the machine’s operating power that will be dedicated to calculations related to the project. For the MilkyWay@Home project, this means that each personal computer is using data gathered about a very small section of the galaxy to map its shape, density, and movement.

In particular, computers donating processing power to MilkyWay@Home are looking at how the different dwarf galaxies that make up the larger Milky Way galaxy have been moved and stretched following their merger with the larger galaxy millions of years ago. This is done by studying each dwarf’s stellar stream. Their calculations are providing new details on the overall shape and density of dark matter in the Milky Way galaxy, which is widely unknown.

Individual cells link to form an organism; individual persons constitute a society; individual Christians join into the body of Christ. Everything in communion contributes to something bigger than the sum of its parts.

via RPI: News & Events – PCs Around the World Unite To Map the Milky Way.

Vegetative patients with active minds

A new study has found that many comatose patients dismissed as “vegetables” have active minds:

In a study certain to rekindle debate over life-sustaining care for those with grievous brain injuries, researchers report that five patients thought to be in a persistent vegetative state showed brain activity indicating awareness, intent and, in at least one case, a wish to communicate.

Of 54 unresponsive patients whose brains were scanned at medical centers in England and Belgium, those five appeared able, when prompted by researchers, to imagine themselves playing tennis, and four of them demonstrated the ability to imagine themselves walking through the rooms of their homes.

One of those patients — a 22-year-old man who had been unresponsive for five years after an automobile crash — went on to respond to a series of simple questions with brain activity that clearly indicated yes or no answers, researchers said.

Their work is the first to give physicians and families the prospect of a biological test to determine whether a patient who shows no response to his or her surroundings is conscious and aware of them.

via Brains of vegetative patients show life –