But what is a neural network?

19 minutes

La reina (the queen)

18 minutes

Santiago

1 minute

Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise

1 minute

Walter Lippmann, public opinion and propaganda

18 minutes

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Why artificial neural networks have a long way to go before they can ‘see’ like us

Artificial neural networks were created to imitate processes in our brains, and in many respects – such as performing the quick, complex calculations necessary to win strategic games such as chess and Go – they’ve already surpassed us. But if you’ve ever clicked through a CAPTCHA test online to prove you’re human, you know that our visual cortex still reigns supreme over its artificial imitators (for now, at least). So if schooling world chess champions has become a breeze, what’s so hard about, say, positively identifying a handwritten ‘9’? This explainer from the US YouTuber Grant Sanderson, who creates maths videos under the moniker 3Blue1Brown, works from a program designed to identify handwritten variations of each of the 10 Arabic numerals (0-9) to detail the basics of how artificial neural networks operate. It’s a handy crash-course – and one that will almost certainly make you appreciate the extraordinary amount of work your brain does to accomplish what might seem like simple tasks.

Video by 3Blue1Brown

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Heavy is the 11-year-old head that wears the crown at an Argentinian beauty pageant

‘It gets heavier and heavier by the minute. Until the callus forms. Right, Memi?’

With an unflinching focus, the Argentinian filmmaker Manuel Abramovich traces the boredom, annoyance and pain – and perhaps confusion – that pass across the face of María Emilia Frocalassi (‘Memi’) as her mother fits her with a lavish, heavy headpiece. The 11-year-old has recently won a beauty pageant and will be competing in another held as part of carnival celebrations in rural Argentina. Intercutting the pageant preparations with Memi’s tennis and swimming lessons, Abramovich binds the whole spectacle together with a soundtrack of adults relentlessly dispensing directions and expectations. When Memi finally starts to crack, it’s perhaps not just under the weight of her enormous headdress. A winner of dozens of film-festival accolades since its 2013 release, the critically acclaimed short La Reina (The Queen) is a strikingly original and confronting exploration of adolescence, tradition and the dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship.

Director: Manuel Abramovich

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Our biological past and our technological future play out on a single human face

In this animated self-portrait, the UK artist Emma Allen uses her face as a canvas for a remarkable, millennia-spanning stop-motion. With her features always visible but transformed by the images painted across them, Allen takes us through evolution, from primordial creatures, through large mammals, to humans, before offering a vision of what’s to come – a future in which we transcend the limits of (or perhaps lose touch with) biology. For more from Allen, watch her short video Adam on the experience and neuroscience of depression.

Video by Emma Allen

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Do the Volgelkop bop: how a newly discovered bird-of-paradise dazzles his mate

Beginning in 2004, the evolutionary biologist Ed Scholes of Cornell University in New York and the US nature photographer Tim Laman embarked on an ambitious project to find and film the 39 then-known members of the birds-of-paradise family that live in remote regions of New Guinea, Australia and nearby islands. Living in largely predator-free habitats have allowed male birds-of-paradise to develop some of the world’s most colourful plumage and elaborate mating displays, making them the favourites of many a David Attenborough nature documentary.

During a 2016 trek to west New Guinea, Laman and Scholes did one better than simply capturing new images of these birds – they discovered a new species. Now known as the Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise (Lophorina niedda), it was previously considered a subspecies of the Greater superb bird-of-paradise. However, Laman and Scholes’s documentation of the male’s mating dance revealed enough difference in its song, movement and feather display for the Vogelkop superb to be recognised as a distinct species. With its first documented observation dating back to 1930, this video marks the first known time that the male Vogelkop superb has been caught on camera in all its shimmying, brilliant black-and-blue glory.

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Before Chomsky, there was Lippmann: the First World War and ‘manufactured consent’

While the ‘manufacture of consent’ is an idea now mostly associated with Noam Chomsky, the phrase was actually coined by the US journalist and writer Walter Lippman in his influential book Public Opinion (1922) – a fact that Chomsky and Edward S Herman, his co-author of Manufacturing Consent (1988), readily acknowledge. Lippman contended that, because the world is too complex for any individual to comprehend, a strong society needs people and institutions specialised in collecting data and creating the most accurate interpretations of reality possible. When used properly, this information should allow decisionmakers to ‘manufacture consent’ in the public interest. However, in one of the most damning critiques of democracy, Lippman identifies how public opinion is instead largely forged by political elites with self-serving interests – powerful people manipulating narratives to their own ends. This video essay from the YouTube channel Then & Now dives into Lippman’s legacy, starting with his study of the rise of the importance of public opinion during the First World War, and extending through an examination of why, a century after Public Opinion, democracy still has a major mass-media problem.

Director: Lewis Waller

Video by Then & Now

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Why artificial neural networks have a long way to go before they can ‘see’ like us

Artificial neural networks were created to imitate processes in our brains, and in many respects – such as performing the quick, complex calculations necessary to win strategic games such as chess and Go – they’ve already surpassed us. But if you’ve ever clicked through a CAPTCHA test online to prove you’re human, you know that our visual cortex still reigns supreme over its artificial imitators (for now, at least). So if schooling world chess champions has become a breeze, what’s so hard about, say, positively identifying a handwritten ‘9’? This explainer from the US YouTuber Grant Sanderson, who creates maths videos under the moniker 3Blue1Brown, works from a program designed to identify handwritten variations of each of the 10 Arabic numerals (0-9) to detail the basics of how artificial neural networks operate. It’s a handy crash-course – and one that will almost certainly make you appreciate the extraordinary amount of work your brain does to accomplish what might seem like simple tasks.

Video by 3Blue1Brown

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