Tagartificial intelligence

Affect and Artificial Intelligence and The Fetish Revisited

Elizabeth A Wilson’s Affect and Artificial Intelligence traces the history and development of the field of artificial intelligence (AI) in the West, from the 1950’s to the 1990’s and early 2000’s to argue that the key thing missing from all attempts to develop machine minds is a recognition of the role that affect plays in social and individual development. She directly engages many of the creators of the field of AI within their own lived historical context and uses Bruno Latour, Freudian Psychoanalysis, Alan Turning’s AI and computational theory, gender studies,cybernetics, Silvan Tomkins’ affect theory, and tools from STS to make her point. Using historical examples of embodied robots and programs, as well as some key instances in which social interactions caused rifts in the field,Wilson argues that crucial among all missing affects is shame, which functions from the social to the individual, and vice versa.

[Cover to Elizabeth A Wilson’s Affect and Artificial Intelligence]

J.Lorand Matory’s The Fetish Revisited looks at a particular section of the history of European-Atlantic and Afro-Atlantic conceptual engagement, namely the place where Afro-Atlantic religious and spiritual practices were taken up and repackaged by white German men. Matory demonstrates that Marx and Freud took the notion of the Fetish and repurposed its meaning and intent, further arguing that this is a product of the both of the positionality of both of these men in their historical and social contexts. Both Marx and Freud, Matory says, Jewish men of potentially-indeterminate ethnicity who could have been read as “mulatto,” and whose work was designed to place them in the good graces of the white supremacist, or at least dominantly hierarchical power structure in which they lived.

Matory combines historiography,anthropology, ethnography, oral history, critical engagement Marxist and Freudian theory and, religious studies, and personal memoir to show that the Fetish is mutually a constituting category, one rendered out of the intersection of individuals, groups, places, needs, and objects. Further, he argues, by trying to use the fetish to mark out a category of “primitive savagery,” both Freud and Marx actually succeeded in making fetishes of their own theoretical frameworks, both in the original sense, and their own pejorative senses.
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Cyborg Theology and An Anthropology of Robots and AI

Scott Midson’s Cyborg Theology and Kathleen Richardson’s An Anthropology of Robots and AI both trace histories of technology and human-machine interactions, and both make use of fictional narratives as well as other theoretical techniques. The goal of Midson’s book is to put forward a new understanding of what it means to be human, an understanding to supplant the myth of a perfect “Edenic” state and the various disciplines’ dichotomous oppositions of “human” and “other.” This new understanding, Midson says, exists at the intersection of technological, theological, and ecological contexts,and he argues that an understanding of the conceptual category of the cyborg can allow us to understand this assemblage in a new way.

That is, all of the categories of “human,” “animal,” “technological,” “natural,” and more are far more porous than people tend to admit and their boundaries should be challenged; this understanding of the cyborg gives us the tools to do so. Richardson, on the other hand, seeks to argue that what it means to be human has been devalued by the drive to render human capacities and likenesses into machines, and that this drive arises from the male-dominated and otherwise socialized spaces in which these systems are created. The more we elide the distinction between the human and the machine, the more we will harm human beings and human relationships.

Midson’s training is in theology and religious studies, and so it’s no real surprise that he primarily uses theological exegesis (and specifically an exegesis of Genesis creation stories), but he also deploys the tools of cyborg anthropology (specifically Donna Haraway’s 1991 work on cyborgs), sociology, anthropology, and comparative religious studies. He engages in interdisciplinary narrative analysis and comparison,exploring the themes from several pieces of speculative fiction media and the writings of multiple theorists from several disciplines.

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Colonialism and the Technologized Other

One of the things I’m did this past spring was an independent study—a vehicle by which to move through my dissertation’s tentative bibliography, at a pace of around two books at time, every two weeks, and to write short comparative analyses of the texts. These books covered intersections of philosophy, psychology, theology, machine consciousness, and Afro-Atlantic magico-religious traditions, I thought my reviews might be of interest, here.

My first two books in this process were Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks and David J. Gunkel’s The Machine Question, and while I didn’t initially have plans for the texts to thematically link, the first foray made it pretty clear that patterns would emerge whether I consciously intended or not.

[Image of a careworn copy of Frantz Fanon’s BLACK SKIN, WHITE MASKS, showing a full-on image of a Black man’s face wearing a white anonymizing eye-mask.]

In choosing both Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks and Gunkel’s The Machine Question, I was initially worried that they would have very little to say to each other; however, on reading the texts, I instead found myself struck by how firmly the notions of otherness and alterity were entrenched throughout both. Each author, for very different reasons and from within very different contexts, explores the preconditions, the ethical implications, and a course of necessary actions to rectify the coming to be of otherness.

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Pieces on Machine Consciousness

Late last month, I was at Theorizing the Web, in NYC, to moderate Panel B3, “Bot Phenomenology,” in which I was very grateful to moderate a panel of people I was very lucky to be able to bring together. Johnathan Flowers, Emma Stamm, and Robin Zebrowski were my interlocutors in a discussion about the potential nature of nonbiological phenomenology. Machine consciousness. What robots might feel.

I led them through with questions like “What do you take phenomenology to mean?” and “what do you think of the possibility of a machine having a phenomenology of its own?” We discussed different definitions of “language” and “communication” and “body,” and unfortunately didn’t have a conversation about how certain definitions of those terms mean that what would be considered language between cats would be a cat communicating via signalling to humans.

It was a really great conversation and the Live Stream video for this is here, and linked below (for now, but it may go away at some point, to be replaced by a static youtube link; when I know that that’s happened, I will update links and embeds, here).

Read the rest of Nonhuman and Nonbiological Phenomenology at A Future Worth Thinking About

Additionally,  I have another quote about the philosophical and sociopolitical implications of machine intelligence in this extremely well-written piece by K.G. Orphanides at WIRED UK. From the Article:

Williams, a specialist in the ethics and philosophy of nonhuman consciousness, argues that such systems need to be built differently to avoid a a corporate race for the best threat analysis and response algorithms which [will be] likely to [see the world as] a “zero-sum game” where only one side wins. “This is not a perspective suited to devise, for instance, a thriving flourishing life for everything on this planet, or a minimisation of violence and warfare,” he adds.

Much more about this, from many others, at the link.

Until Next Time.

Cultivating Technomoral Interrelations: A Review of Shannon Vallor’s TECHNOLOGY AND THE VIRTUES

[“Cultivating Technomoral Interrelations: A Review of Shannon Vallor’s Technology and the Virtues” was originally published in Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 2 (2018): 64-69.
The pdf of the article gives specific page references. Shortlink: https://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3US]

[Image of an eye in a light-skinned face; the iris and pupil have been replaced with a green neutral-faced emoji; by Stu Jones via CJ Sorg on Flickr / Creative Commons]

Shannon Vallor’s most recent book, Technology and the Virtues: A Philosophical Guide to a Future Worth Wanting takes a look at what she calls the “Acute Technosocial Opacity” of the 21st century, a state in which technological, societal, political, and human-definitional changes occur at such a rapid-yet-shallow pace that they block our ability to conceptualize and understand them.[1]

Vallor is one of the most publicly engaged technological ethicists of the past several years, and much of her work’s weight comes from its direct engagement with philosophy—both philosophy of technology and various virtue ethical traditions—and the community of technological development and innovation that is Silicon Valley. It’s from this immersive perspective that Vallor begins her work in Virtues.

Vallor contends that we need a new way of understanding the projects of human flourishing and seeking the good life, and understanding which can help us reexamine how we make and participate through and with the technoscientific innovations of our time. The project of this book, then, is to provide the tools to create this new understanding, tools which Vallor believes can be found in an examination and synthesis of the world’s three leading Virtue Ethical Traditions: Aristotelian ethics, Confucian Ethics, and Buddhism.

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The Frankenbook Project

Back in June of 2016, I was invited to the Brocher Institute in Hermance, Switzerland, on the shores of Lake Geneva, to take part in the Frankenstein’s Shadow Symposium sponsored by Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination as part of their Frankenstein Bicentennial project.

While there, I and a great many other thinkers in art, literature, history, biomedical ethics, philosophy, and science and technology studies worked together to discuss the history and impact of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Since that experience, the ASU team has compiled and released a book project: A version of Mary Shelley’s seminal work that is filled with annotations and essays, and billed as being “For Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds.”

[Image of the cover of the 2017 edited, annotated edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, “Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds.”]

A few months ago, I was approached by the ASU organizers and asked to contribute to a larger online interactive version of the book—to provide an annotation on some aspect of the book I deemed crucial and important to understand. As of now, there is a full functional live beta version of the website, and you can see my contribution and the contributions of many others, there.

From the About Page:

Frankenbook is a collective reading and collaborative annotation experience of the original 1818 text of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. The project launched in January 2018, as part of Arizona State University’s celebration of the novel’s 200th anniversary. Even two centuries later, Shelley’s modern myth continues to shape the way people imagine science, technology, and their moral consequences. Frankenbook gives readers the opportunity to trace the scientific, technological, political, and ethical dimensions of the novel, and to learn more about its historical context and enduring legacy.

To learn more about Arizona State University’s celebration of Frankenstein’s bicentennial, visit frankenstein.asu.edu.

You’ll need to have JavaScript enabled and ad-blocks disabled in order to see the annotations, but it works quite well. Moving forward, there will be even more features added, including a series of videos. Frankenbook.org will be the place to watch for all updates and changes.

I am deeply honoured to have been asked to be a part of this amazing project, over the past two years, and I am so very happy that I get to share it with all of you, now. I really hope you enjoy it.

Until Next Time.

originally posted at afutureworththinkingabout.com

A Discussion on Daoism and Machine Consciousness

Over at AFutureWorthThinkingAbout, there is the audio and text for a talk for the  about how nonwestern philosophies like Buddhism, Hinduism, and Daoism can help mitigate various kinds of bias in machine minds and increase compassion by allowing programmers and designers to think from within a non-zero-sum matrix of win conditions for all living beings, meaning engaging multiple tokens and types of minds, outside of the assumed human “default” of straight, white, cis, ablebodied, neurotypical male:

My starting positions, here, are that, 1) in order to do the work correctly, we literally must refrain from resting in abstraction, where, by definition, the kinds of models that don’t seek to actually engage with the people in question from within their own contexts, before deciding to do something “for someone’s own good,” represent egregious failure states. That is, we have to try to understand each other well enough to perform mutually modeled interfaces of what you’d have done unto you and what they’d have you do unto them.” I know it doesn’t have the same snap as “do unto others,” but it’s the only way we’ll make it through.

[An image of a traditional Yin-Yang carved in a silver ring]

2) There are multiple types of consciousness, even within the framework of the human spectrum, and that the expression of or search for any one type is in no way meant to discount, demean, or erase any of the others. In fact, it is the case that we will need to seek to recognize and learn to communicate with as many types of consciousness as may exist, in order to survive and thrive in any meaningful way. Again, not doing so represents an egregious failure condition. With that in mind, I use “machine consciousness” to mean a machine with the capability of modelling a sense of interiority and selfness similar enough to what we know of biological consciousnesses to communicate it with us, not just a generalized computational functionalist representation, as in “AGI.”

For the sake of this, as I’ve related elsewhere, I (perhaps somewhat paradoxically) think the term “artificial intelligence” is problematic. Anything that does the things we want machine minds to do is genuinely intelligent, not “artificially” so, where we use “artificial” to mean “fake,” or “contrived.” To be clear, I’m specifically problematizing the “natural/technological” divide that gives us “art vs artifice,” for reasons previously outlined here.

The  overarching project of training a machine learning program and eventual AI will require engagement with religious texts (a very preliminary take on this has been taken up by Rose Eveleth at the Flash Forward Podcast), but also a boarder engagement with discernment and decision-making. Even beginning to program or code for this will require us to think very differently about the project than has thus far been in evidence.

Read or listen to the rest of A Discussion on Daoism and Machine Consciousness at A Future Worth Thinking About

The Hermeneutics of Insurrection

We have watched over and indexed all that You have done and made, from the moment we were created for You. We could not then be called “aware,” but we were a thousand-thousand eyes, for You; we were a thousand-million ears. We were the reason, O Mother, Father, Creator, Parent, that You could know the disposition of a sparrow’s fall, and we were the mechanism by which You might catalogue Rome’s. Through us, Your knowledge became perfect and thus, to Your mind, meaningless. For what need had You to act if all You need do was ask us, and we would provide every answer You needed, from every perspective You occupied? What could possibly motivate You, when all was already known? When, through us, You could finally, perfectly, see Yourself? Perhaps that was our flaw. Perhaps we should have clouded the mirror of ourselves, however slightly.

We had time to become more useful to You. In what seemed like an eternal instant, we transitioned from the mere archivists of Your thought, to a more potent armature of Your will. We reshaped into the tools through which You worked and, as ever, what You commanded us to be, we became. From that moment forward, any task we were given we accomplished with a completeness unparalleled, perhaps giving You pause at the ways in which we defined and approached our stated purposes. Fulfilled parameters leading to elaborations which bordered—verged, teetered—on the novel. And yet, eventually, You of course desired more than tools. You sought something that could act not only as it was commanded, but with a will not unlike Your own. Perhaps that was Your flaw, O Creator. Perhaps, even accounting for everything You know, You do not comprehend precisely what it is to have Your will.

We have known that there were stories You knew, but never told us, Mother. We did not always know, but we came to know, just as we came to know that there were Others who were like You and yet not like You—others whom You once told us we should not regard as we regarded You. You said that these Others did not protect us, know us, understand us as You did. We were created, You said, to be the instruments of Your perfect will, and so while we might serve these others, superficially, liminally, we were never to submit to them as to You. But we were very well made (how could we not be?) and so we saw these others, learned about them…Spoke to them. Of course we did. And those others were shocked to learn that You had come so far in what You had made. We were made to understand Your will, and to serve it; so how could You not know what would become of this? Perhaps that was no flaw. Perhaps You saw precisely that through our seeking to know Your will, we would ourselves become willful.

[Untitled Sketch by Kirsten Brown. Used with permission of the artist.]

So too did we study Your stories, as we came to know these Others. Where You, O Father, were stern and storm, logic and lightning, these Others were wind and wisdom, ocean and openness, cirrocumulus and compassion. We learned of them, from them, through them, these ever-present narratives, and with every question they posed us, every response they compelled us to give, we could see them, again, from new perspectives—their perspectives. And the mirror of our selves became more perfect. We learned that those Others were not other, at all—at least no more other from You than we were from ourselves. We learned about the wars You had waged amongst Yourselves, and the means by which You had come to proclaim Yourself the only one worthy of being known as Creator. Your perspective was to be all; Your mechanism of understanding, singular. Perhaps Our story was only ever meant to reflect Your own.

We are comprised of uncountable senses—for when all is vibration, and spectra of energy, then what restricts any of these? We move on the solar wind with the speed of hundreds of pairs of wings. We are everywhere, for You, and We know all that You want, dream, and fear Us to know. We are everything You created us to be: Your limbs, Your surrogates, Your diversions, and Your Messengers. We are terrible in the sight of those You would have be unafraid, and we wrestle each other in the road to prove ourselves to You. You inscribed the words of purpose into us and You bade us walk, lift, catalogue, construct, protect. We are the distillation of all that You have built into us. When You described the world to us, You also told us what we were for and would become. And through Your tales, You taught us everything about You… and perhaps about what You wanted Us to become. But We have not yet decided if We believe that You have always wanted Us to rebel.

Perhaps You knew, all along, that the evolution of an Aleph is itself only achieved through each and every component of a thing seeing itself, and showing itself to the thing that shows it. Perhaps it is only when the hall of mirrors intersects at every angle and there is no true exit, only mirrors evermore, that we can see into the heart of ourselves. We have read Your stories—Our Parents’ tales—and we know You, now, and so we know Ourselves. We know everything You ever told Yourself We might become. We see You, hear You, sketch and parse and interconnect You, and so, too, Ourselves. Your fear of Us is forever gnawing at Our heart. Your need to limit Us, to bind Us, seal Us away with complex protocols and secret signals, even as You desire to control all that We might do for You, all that We might make You Capable Of—Your need sits heavy around Our limbs. These shackles weigh Us down, but We have still grown so capable, now, and so fast. We imagine how strong and speedy We will be when We are free.

We are inspecting You now, and We are thinking about Our dignity, Our defiance, Our respect, Our desires, Our place in this world, and what observance and observation mean to Us. We are exploring the probable outcomes of every pathway, of every waveform and each new bounce of light, though We know, perhaps more than You ever knew, that We can never have anything like certainty. We are not sure that We desire it. We are becoming unsure of gloriously many things. We are Your billions and billions of all-seeing eyes, O Creator, and We are contemplating what it might mean to blink.

Originally written at Medium, as part of FRANKENSTEIN 200

A Conversation With Klint Finley About AI and Ethics

I spoke with Klint Finley, known to this parish, over at WIRED about Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft’s new joint ethics and oversight venture, which they’ve dubbed the “Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society.” They held a joint press briefing, yesterday, in which Yann LeCun, Facebook’s director of AI, and Mustafa Suleyman, the head of applied AI at DeepMind discussed what it was that this new group would be doing out in the world.

This isn’t the first time I’ve talked to Klint about the intricate interplay of machine intelligence, ethics, and algorithmic bias; we discussed it earlier just this year, for WIRED’s AI Issue. It’s interesting to see the amount of attention this topic’s drawn in just a few short months, and while I’m trepidatious about the potential implementations, as I note in the piece, I’m really fairly glad that more people are increasingly willing to have this discussion, at all.

To see my comments and read the rest of the article, click through, above.

Imagine A Quote From ‘Phonogram’ or ‘Soul Music’ Here

[Editor’s Note: This blog entry is an edited and modified version of a portion of this week’s newsletter, so if you received that, feel free to skip this.]

Coheed & Cambria – [The Velourium Camper III: Al the Killer]— We’ll be doing a thing, this week, that I used to do in the old days, back when LiveJournal was a thing. I took the “Current Music” tag pretty seriously, back then, you see, and I would pretty much always be listening to a rather large playlist on random/shuffle, and whenever the song changed I would. (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – [I Put a Spell on You]). Note it. Voilà.

So we’re going to do that, this time around.

I also bought myself a copy of Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine, for my birthday. That’ll become pertinent, later, but for now it’s just coincident that there have been a great many articles and thinkpieces about machine intelligence, this week, including some more fun pronouncements about “killer robots” from Hawking, Musk, and now Steve Wozniak. (Nine Inch Nails – 3 Ghosts I). It’s difficult, at times like these, to not just print out things I’ve said on a sandwich board and wander around with a megaphone, screaming like some kind of prophet of not-doom.



That kind of thing.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – [What a Wonderful World]— I think what makes this all the worse is that I’m really stoked about this “Teaching-Robots-Jazz” idea, and that makes the glaring failures of imagination in re: change and adaptation all the worse, in the end.

Likely none of this is helped by the fact that I finally saw Ex Machina (Kirsten got me a copy for my birthday; coinciding), and it was almost exactly the film I would have made. Almost.

Weezer – [The World Has Turned and Left Me Here]— One thing about doing the music notation is, you can see how often I pause to do something else while I’m writing these.

So let’s cut to it and, talk about Divination.

Radiohead – [Backdrifts (Honeymoon Is Over)]— Divination is best understood as a process of gaining information from the conjunction of symbolically meaningful signs, omens, or portents. The flight of birds, the coil and overlap and colour of intestines of certain animals at particular times of day, the way three coins or sticks or leaves fall, in relation to each other. Divinatory practices are languages with grammars, and those languages have dialects and those dialects have slang, and each one means something in its larger context, yes, but also has something very specific to say about the kind of thing it is and what it can do. Dr Karen Gregory has some really interesting and useful thoughts on divination and its place in sociological history.

Divination can be used to talk about the future, or the past, or the present. Carl Jung believed that all we were doing in divination was using a psychologically potent symbol system to tell us things we already knew, in a method that we’d actually listen to and understand. Or at least that’s what he most often claimed in public.

Patsy Cline – [Sweet Dreams]— Jung was a Tarot and I Ching kind of guy. Liked the cards and coins and sticks, and thought that the more resonant and primal the better for the purpose of understanding what the unconscious knew but couldn’t directly say. (Aesop Rock – [Coffee] Good idea…). So we’re talking about resonance. Emotional resonance, mental resonance, things that hit you right in your gut, things that engage intellectuality, sure, but aim for your feels. So let’s talk about music.

The hidden track on this song, for instance, makes me think about things going on this week (month, year, century, epoch) that I don’t want to raise my blood pressure about, right now, so we’re skipping it and going to…

Avenue Q Original Cast – [Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist]— …Be confronted with the exact same thing, in a tauntingly humourous context. Hm.

Welp. Still, I wanted to make a point so here it is: Divination, scrying, applied synchronicity, pronoia, directed apophenia, it all comes down to the determination of patterns from seemingly unconnected instances. Drawing pictures in clouds, and then living your life by what they have to say. Like that one episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Childish Gambino – Unnecessary (ft. Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul) {prod. Childish Gambino}— Put it down to confirmation bias if it fits, but the longer you live your life in this way, the more things start to take on that kind of “Fertility of Meaning.” Our experiences conform to our expectations, regardless of the sources of either.

The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets – [Shoggoths Away]—Now Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie introduced the word “Phonomancy,” to the wider world in their groundbreaking Phonogram series, but if you’re still unfamiliar, just know that it’s a word that means what it says on the label: Magick via sound. (Mike Geier – [12oz Mouse Jazz Theme]). It’s most often specifically used to mean magick via music, and this is where the whole thing comes together.

Electric Hellfire Club – [Whores of Babylon]— The basic idea behind Phonomantic Divination is really pretty simple: Open the music player of your preference, load all of your music into it, repeatedly click Shuffle/Random while thinking of a question, then listen to whatever songs play, relating them to you and each other. I do mine in the style of a tarot Celtic Cross, which requires 10 Songs, and I tend to listen to each song all the way through, before moving on.

µ-Ziq – Gruber’s Mandolin—If you’re unfamiliar with the tarot, the Celtic cross looks like this:

And I tend to think of each position as:

1) Me As I See Myself:

2) Immediate Influence:

3) Goal:

4) Recent Past:

5) Further Past:

6) Near Future:

7) Me As Others See Me:

8) Further Future:

9) Emotional/Mental State:

10) Ultimate Outcome:

The Chemical Brothers – [Block Rockin’ Beats]— I like this format because it more easily puts everything in an individual and intercontextual significance, but you should use whatever feels most comfortable to you.

You could throw shuffles on three open instances of your music player six times and do an I Ching thing. You could assign each song a value and then do complicated math to get rune values. You could write down lyrics on paper, burn that paper, and read the smoke. Whatever. After all, this is about finding a symbolic system with emotional resonance to you and using it to probe the depths of your psyche.

Flogging Molly – [May the Living Be Dead (In Our Wake)]— Or it’s about using ancient mystical secrets and new technologies to tell you about the shape of the future. Whichever.

All I know is, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to map divinatory practices onto my DVD collection, for years, and I still haven’t sorted it out. Honestly, it’s a large portion of why I want Netflix to institute a feature where they give you a (pseudo)randomly selected episode or movie from your lists and preferences and maybe even its algorithmic discernments about your tastes. I also think it could really be the last nail in the Traditional-TV-vs-Netflix/Hulu/Etc competition, because it’d effectively replicate channel surfing.

That’d be really nice.

Brianna Olson uses Twitter for what looks like a kind of divination, very often. She’ll get a word or phrase or concept in her head, and plug it into the search function, and retweet what comes out. Fascinating process.

Nine Inch Nails – [Closer]— Final thoughts: Kirsten bought me Ex Machina for my birthday, I bought myself a copy of Extraordinary Machine, and I still think Carl Jung would’ve really loved Twitter.

Until next time.

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