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Posts Tagged ‘artificial intelligence

“Humans as we know them are just one morphological waypoint on the long road of evolution”*…


Imagine a world where the human race is no longer the dominant species.

Extinct through war or spectacular accident. By devastating pandemic, super-natural disaster, or cosmic cataclysm.

Passed through the Singularity to become unrecognisably posthuman, and left the natural order forever behind.

Infected by a virus, hijacked by a parasite or otherwise co-opted to become ex-human – a “bio zombie” – moved sideways to a new position as ecological actor.

Gently absorbed into – or completely overshadowed by the unfathomable actions of – a superior civilisation comprising benevolent – or unacknowledging – emissaries from the stars (or extra-dimensions).

Dethroned by the return of ancient species, the reawakening of the slumbering Old Ones… Out-competed by the arrival of an invasive species from another world making the Earth just one habitat in a galactic ecology.

It could be far into the future or The Day After Tomorrow.

Robots may rule the world… not so much enslaving as letting us retire to a life of Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism; life in The Culture as Iain M. Banks foresaw it could be.

What is the world like then? After us…

Imagine a world where the human race is no longer the dominant species: “What is the Post-Human World.”

* Annalee Newitz in “When Will Humanity Finally Die Out?


As we stretch our frames, we might spare a thought for Marvin Minsky; he died on this date in 2016.  A biochemist and cognitive scientist by training, he was founding director of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Project (the MIT AI Lab).  Minsky authored several widely-used texts, and made many contributions to AI, cognitive psychology, mathematics, computational linguistics, robotics, and optics.  He holds several patents, including those for the first neural-network simulator (SNARC, 1951), the first head-mounted graphical display, the first confocal scanning microscope, and the LOGO “turtle” device (with his friend and frequent collaborator Seymour Papert).  His other inventions include mechanical hands and the “Muse” synthesizer.



Written by LW

January 24, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Maybe the only significant difference between a really smart simulation and a human being was the noise they made when you punched them”*…


… So humans won’t play a significant role in the spreading of intelligence across the cosmos. But that’s OK. Don’t think of humans as the crown of creation. Instead view human civilization as part of a much grander scheme, an important step (but not the last one) on the path of the universe towards higher complexity. Now it seems ready to take its next step, a step comparable to the invention of life itself over 3.5 billion years ago.

This is more than just another industrial revolution. This is something new that transcends humankind and even biology. It is a privilege to witness its beginnings, and contribute something to it…

Jürgen Schmidhube—  of whom it’s been said,  “When A.I. Matures, It May Call Jürgen Schmidhuber ‘Dad’” — shares the reasoning behind his almost breathless anticipation of intelligence-to-come: “Falling Walls: The Past, Present and Future of Artificial Intelligence.”

Then, for a different perspective on (essentially) the same assumption about the future, read Slavoj Žižek’s “Bladerunner 2049: A View of Post-Human Capitalism.”

* Terry Pratchett, The Long Earth


As we welcome our computer overlords, we might recall that it was on this date in 1930 that Henry W. Jeffries invented the Rotolactor.  Housed in the Lactorium of the Walker Gordon Laboratory Company, Inc., at Plainsboro, N.J., it was a 50-stall revolving platform that enabled the milking of 1,680 cows in seven hours by rotating them into position with the milking machines.  A spiffy version of the Rotolactor, displayed at the 1939 New York World’s Fair in the Borden building as part of the “Dairy World of Tomorrow,” was one of the most popular attractions in the Fair’s Food Zone.




“Artificial intelligence is growing up fast”*…


Every moment of your waking life and whenever you dream, you have the distinct inner feeling of being “you.” When you see the warm hues of a sunrise, smell the aroma of morning coffee or mull over a new idea, you are having conscious experience. But could an artificial intelligence (AI) ever have experience, like some of the androids depicted in Westworld or the synthetic beings in Blade Runner?

The question is not so far-fetched. Robots are currently being developed to work inside nuclear reactors, fight wars and care for the elderly. As AIs grow more sophisticated, they are projected to take over many human jobs within the next few decades. So we must ponder the question: Could AIs develop conscious experience?…

It’s not easy, but a newly proposed test might be able to detect consciousness in a machine: “Is anyone home? A way to find out if AI has become self-aware.

* Diane Ackerman


As we ponder personhood, we might recall that it was on this date in 1967 that US Navy recalled Captain Grace Murray Hopper to active duty to help develop the programming language COBOL.  With a team drawn from several computer manufacturers and the Pentagon, Hopper – who had worked on the Mark I and II computers at Harvard in the 1940s – created the specifications for COBOL (COmmon Business Oriented Language) with business uses in mind.  These early COBOL efforts aimed at creating easily-readable computer programs with as much machine independence as possible.

A seminal computer scientist and ultimately Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy, “Amazing Grace” (as she was known to many in her field) had invented the first compiler for a computer programming language, and appears also to have also been the first to coin the word “bug” in the context of computer science, taping into her logbook a moth which had fallen into a relay of the Harvard Mark II computer.

She has both a ship (the guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper) and a super-computer (the Cray XE6 “Hopper” at NERSC) named in her honor.

 source [and here]


Written by LW

August 1, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Eternity is a child playing, playing checkers; the kingdom belongs to a child.”*…


Marion Tinsley—math professor, minister, and the best checkers player in the world—sat across a game board from a computer, dying.

Tinsley had been the world’s best for 40 years, a time during which he’d lost a handful of games to humans, but never a match. It’s possible no single person had ever dominated a competitive pursuit the way Tinsley dominated checkers. But this was a different sort of competition, the Man-Machine World Championship.

His opponent was Chinook, a checkers-playing program programmed by Jonathan Schaeffer, a round, frizzy-haired professor from the University of Alberta, who operated the machine. Through obsessive work, Chinook had become very good. It hadn’t lost a game in its last 125—and since they’d come close to defeating Tinsley in 1992, Schaeffer’s team had spent thousands of hours perfecting his machine.

The night before the match, Tinsley dreamt that God spoke to him and said, “I like Jonathan, too,” which had led him to believe that he might have lost exclusive divine backing.

So, they sat in the now-defunct Computer Museum in Boston. The room was large, but the crowd numbered in the teens. The two men were slated to play 30 matches over the next two weeks. The year was 1994, before Garry Kasparov and Deep Blue or Lee Sedol and AlphaGo

The story of a duel between two men, one who dies, and the nature of the quest to build artificial intelligence: “How Checkers Was Solved.”

* Heraclitus


As we triangulate a triple jump, we might send precisely-programmed birthday greetings to Joseph F. Engelberger; he was born on this date in 1925.  An engineer and entrepreneur who is widely considered “the father of robotics,” he worked from a patented technology created by George Devol to create the first industrial robot; then, with a partner, created Unimation, the first industrial robotics company.  The Robotics Industries Association presents the Joseph F. Engelberger Awards annually to “persons who have contributed outstandingly to the furtherance of the science and practice of robotics.”




“The karma of humans is AI”*…


The black box… penetrable?

Already, mathematical models are being used to help determine who makes parole, who’s approved for a loan, and who gets hired for a job. If you could get access to these mathematical models, it would be possible to understand their reasoning. But banks, the military, employers, and others are now turning their attention to more complex machine-learning approaches that could make automated decision-making altogether inscrutable. Deep learning, the most common of these approaches, represents a fundamentally different way to program computers. “It is a problem that is already relevant, and it’s going to be much more relevant in the future,” says Tommi Jaakkola, a professor at MIT who works on applications of machine learning. “Whether it’s an investment decision, a medical decision, or maybe a military decision, you don’t want to just rely on a ‘black box’ method.”

There’s already an argument that being able to interrogate an AI system about how it reached its conclusions is a fundamental legal right. Starting in the summer of 2018, the European Union may require that companies be able to give users an explanation for decisions that automated systems reach. This might be impossible, even for systems that seem relatively simple on the surface, such as the apps and websites that use deep learning to serve ads or recommend songs. The computers that run those services have programmed themselves, and they have done it in ways we cannot understand. Even the engineers who build these apps cannot fully explain their behavior…

No one really knows how the most advanced algorithms do what they do. That could be a problem: “The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI.”

* Raghu Venkatesh


As we get to know our new overlords, we might spare a thought for the painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, physicist, chemist, anatomist, botanist, geologist, cartographer, and writer– the archetypical Renaissance Man– Leonardo da Vinci.  Quite possibly the greatest genius of the last Millennium, he died on this date in 1519.

Self-portrait in red chalk, circa 1512-15


Written by LW

May 2, 2017 at 1:01 am

“He does nothing, but he does it very well”*…


It might look like a simple chess problem, but this puzzle could finally help scientists uncover what makes the human mind so unique, and why it may never be matched by a computer…

The chess problem – originally drawn by Sir Roger Penrose – has been devised to defeat an artificially intelligent (AI) computer but be solvable for humans. The Penrose Institute scientists are inviting readers to workout how white can win, or force a stalemate and then share their reasoning…

The backstory– and a chance to crack the puzzle– at “Can you solve the chess problem which holds key to human consciousness?

P.H. Clarke after his match with Tigran Petrosian


As we make our moves, we might note that today is International Tabletop Day, a day devoted to the celebration of tabletop gaming.  Find a place to play here.



Written by LW

April 29, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The sad thing about artificial intelligence is that it lacks artifice and therefore intelligence”*…


For the past few decades, humans have ceded thrones to artificial intelligence in games of all kinds. In 1995, a program called Chinook won a man vs. machine world checkers championship. In 1997, Garry Kasparov, probably the best (human) chess player of all time, lost a match to an IBM computer called Deep Blue. In 2007, checkers was “solved,” mathematically ensuring that no human would ever again beat the best machine. In 2011, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter were routed on “Jeopardy!” by another IBM creation, Watson. And last March, a human champion of Go, Lee Sedol, fell to a Google program in devastating and bewildering fashion.

Poker may be close to all we have left…

But not, perhaps, for long: “The Machines Are Coming For Poker.”

* Jean Baudrillard


As we cut ’em thin to win, we might spare a thought for Giambattista Vico; he died on this date in 1744. A political philosopher, rhetorician, historian, and jurist, Vico was one of the greatest Enlightenment thinkers. Best known for the Scienza Nuova (1725, often published in English as New Science), he famously criticized the expansion and development of modern rationalism and was an apologist for classical antiquity.

He was an important precursor of systemic and complexity thinking (as opposed to Cartesian analysis and other kinds of reductionism); and he can be credited with the first exposition of the fundamental aspects of social science, though his views did not necessarily influence the first social scientists.  Vico is often claimed to have fathered modern philosophy of history (although the term is not found in his text; Vico speaks of a “history of philosophy narrated philosophically”). While he was not strictly speaking a historicist, interest in him has been driven by historicists (like Isaiah Berlin).


Written by LW

January 23, 2017 at 1:01 am

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