Tags: intelligence

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Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

The Juvet Agenda

Questions prompted by the Clearleft gathering in Norway to discuss AI.

Sunday, October 29th, 2017

Five thoughts on design and AI by Richard Pope - IF

I like Richard’s five reminders:

  1. Just because the technology feels magic, it doesn’t mean making it understandable requires magic.
  2. Designers are going to need to get familiar with new materials to make things make sense to people.
  3. We need to make sure people have an option to object when something isn’t right.
  4. We should not fall into the trap of assuming the way to make machine learning understandable should be purely individualistic.
  5. We also need to think about how we design regulators too.

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

A minority report on artificial intelligence

Want to feel old? Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report was released fifteen years ago.

It casts a long shadow. For a decade after the film’s release, it was referenced at least once at every conference relating to human-computer interaction. Unsurprisingly, most of the focus has been on the technology in the film. The hardware and interfaces in Minority Report came out of a think tank assembled in pre-production. It provided plenty of fodder for technologists to mock and praise in subsequent years: gestural interfaces, autonomous cars, miniature drones, airpods, ubiquitous advertising and surveillance.

At the time of the film’s release, a lot of the discussion centred on picking apart the plot. The discussions had the same tone of time-travel paradoxes, the kind thrown up by films like Looper and Interstellar. But Minority Report isn’t a film about time travel, it’s a film about prediction.

Or rather, the plot is about prediction. The film—like so many great works of cinema—is about seeing. It’s packed with images of eyes, visions, fragments, and reflections.

The theme of prediction was rarely referenced by technologists in the subsequent years. After all, that aspect of the story—as opposed to the gadgets, gizmos, and interfaces—was one rooted in a fantastical conceit; the idea of people with precognitive abilities.

But if you replace that human element with machines, the central conceit starts to look all too plausible. It’s suggested right there in the film:

It helps not to think of them as human.

To which the response is:

No, they’re so much more than that.

Suppose that Agatha, Arthur, and Dashiell weren’t people in a floatation tank, but banks of servers packed with neural nets: the kinds of machines that are already making predictions on trading stocks and shares, traffic flows, mortgage applications …and, yes, crime.

Precogs are pattern recognition filters, that’s all.

Rewatching Minority Report now, it holds up very well indeed. Apart from the misstep of the final ten minutes, it’s a fast-paced twisty noir thriller. For all the attention to detail in its world-building and technology, the idea that may yet prove to be most prescient is the concept of Precrime, introduced in the original Philip K. Dick short story, The Minority Report.

Minority Report works today as a commentary on Artificial Intelligence …which is ironic given that Spielberg directed a film one year earlier ostensibly about A.I.. In truth, that film has little to say about technology …but much to say about humanity.

Like Minority Report, A.I. was very loosely based on an existing short story: Super-Toys Last All Summer Long by Brian Aldiss. It’s a perfectly-crafted short story that is deeply, almost unbearably, sad.

When I had the great privilege of interviewing Brian Aldiss, I tried to convey how much the story affected me.

Jeremy: …the short story is so sad, there’s such an incredible sadness to it that…

Brian: Well it’s psychological, that’s why. But I didn’t think it works as a movie; sadly, I have to say.

At the time of its release, the general consensus was that A.I. was a mess. It’s true. The film is a mess, but I think that, like Minority Report, it’s worth revisiting.

Watching now, A.I. feels like a horror film to me. The horror comes not—as we first suspect—from the artificial intelligence. The horror comes from the humans. I don’t mean the cruelty of the flesh fairs. I’m talking about the cruelty of Monica, who activates David’s unconditional love only to reject it (watching now, both scenes—the activation and the rejection—are equally horrific). Then there’s the cruelty of the people of who created an artificial person capable of deep, never-ending love, without considering the implications.

There is no robot uprising in the film. The machines want only to fulfil their purpose. But by the end of the film, the human race is gone and the descendants of the machines remain. Based on the conduct of humanity that we’re shown, it’s hard to mourn our species’ extinction. For a film that was panned for being overly sentimental, it is a thoroughly bleak assessment of what makes us human.

The question of what makes us human underpins A.I., Minority Report, and the short stories that spawned them. With distance, it gets easier to brush aside the technological trappings and see the bigger questions beneath. As Al Robertson writes, it’s about leaving the future behind:

SF’s most enduring works don’t live on because they accurately predict tomorrow. In fact, technologically speaking they’re very often wrong about it. They stay readable because they think about what change does to people and how we cope with it.

Monday, November 21st, 2016

Is Dark Matter Hiding Aliens?

Here’s a fun cosmic hypothesis on the scale of an Olaf Stapeldon story. There are even implications for data storage:

By storing its essential data in photons, life could give itself a distributed backup system. And it could go further, manipulating new photons emitted by stars to dictate how they interact with matter. Fronts of electromagnetic radiation could be reaching across the cosmos to set in motion chains of interstellar or planetary chemistry with exquisite timing, exploiting wave interference and excitation energies in atoms and molecules.

Friday, February 1st, 2013

The Creeping Garden

I, for one, welcome our slime mould overlords.

The slime mould is being used to explore biological-inspired design, emergence theory, unconventional computing and robot controllers, much of which borders on the world of science fiction.

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

The Coming Technological Singularity

Vernor Vinge’s original 1993 motherlode of the singularity.

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

The Robot-Readable World – Blog – BERG

Wonderful musings from Matt on meeting the emerging machine intelligence halfway.

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Op-Ed Contributor - Mind Over Mass Media - NYTimes.com

An excellent rebuttal by Steven Pinker to Nicholas Carr's usual trolling.

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

Cleverest crows opt for two tools

Crows is smart. And yes, I am using the "Bookmark this..." link at the end of the article.

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

Co-evolution of neocortex size, group size and language in humans

The Dunbar number gets bandied about a lot in conversations about social networks these days. Here's the original paper that shows the research behind the oft-misused term.

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

Skeptic: The Magazine: Featured Article

A good, if somewhat dispiriting, overview of Artificial Intelligence. (There's some nice typesetting on this page)