Sunday, July 27, 2003

Hard AI

Hard AI (Artificial Intelligence) posits that mind can be instantiated in hardware other than the human brain. If you can do hard AI, then presumably truly intelligent machines can be created or evolved.

The other side of the Cybernetic Singularity is humans being able to migrate their intelligence to silicon -- kind of like "The Matrix", but then throw the body away. In some science fiction, the supposition had been that you have to do a deep, destructive scan of the brain to make such a transfer -- which may not be too far off of the mark. To a computer geek like myself, the hardware/software <=> brain/mind analogy has been intuitively compelling for many years, but as I have studied brain and mind science more, the implementation of the human mind, particularly memory, is seriously intertwined with the neurological hardware -- not the nice layers that we like to do in software.

One of the 1st sci fi novels that was way ahead of the curve on this stuff was "Vacuum Flowers" by Michael Swanwick (1987, now out of print). About when this came out, some of my colleagues and I were talking about the analogies between computer and human design and maintenance:

  • Hardware maintenance engineer <=> doctor
  • Hardware designer <=> genetic engineer (future)
  • Software maintainer <=> psychiatrist
  • Software developer <=> prophet??? self-help guru???
As part of the discussion, we wanted a term for programs that humans could load into their brains and run and couldn't come up with a word we liked -- then out comes "Vacuum Flowers" with "wetware", which is perfect. Other good concepts in the book:
  • Loadable personalities, available at your local book/music/video store. No doubt in my mind, if the average teen could "be" Brittany or whoever the latest is instead of just dressing like them and idolizing them, they would.
  • Designed personalities. One of the main characters has a personality built from four archetypes: trickster, warrior, leader, fool (I think).
  • The earth is a hive mind. The rest of the solar system is very careful to avoid "being assimilated".
All in all, a fantastic read for 1987. I am going to do a reread soon. Swanwick has been very prolific since then, but nothing else quite in this memespace. Some of his stuff tho has a misogynistic streak I've never understood.

Back to hard AI, I think that the machines will far be able to far surpass humans. Human/machine interfaces or outboard processors for minds will probably be de rigeur for competitive survival. There was an interesting rebuttal of the Cybernetic Singularity last year by Jaron Lanier, I think at The Edge. His point was, he wasn't too worried about it as current software was way too buggy to ever get as sophisticated as the mind. Two points against that argument:

  1. The human mind is buggy. If it weren't, we wouldn't need mental hospitals. And even sane minds are subject to many cognitive illusions (see "Inevitable Illusions", Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, 1994). You can also find many references to how overrated human intuition is. Physicians who don't follow strict protocols but rather trust their instincts and intuitions are wrong more often than they are right.
  2. Software is still very young. For instance, basic protocols for component communication have never been stable long enough for any kind of organic growth. The DCOM-CORBA rivaly is now Web Services; early ontology exchange models are now being replaced by DAML-OIL. Interestingly, Lanier has recently invented "Phenotropic Computing" -- current hard defined interfaces are replaced by fuzzy pattern recognition between software components. Very interesting, much more brain-like, much less brittle and thus with much more potential to evolve.
Enough for now. Next up, Greg Egan, AE (Artificial Emotion).

Friday, July 04, 2003

Where was I?

Well, June wasn't quite as bad as May. Only 240 hours of work as opposed to 270. I pretty much worked all last weekend. We had 8 people in at 1am Sunday morning. I left at 2:15, a couple worked until 6 am. Still, had our 1st install of our new product, of which I was one of the principal designers, on Monday, at an 800 pound gorilla financial services corp, and it seems to be going OK. I have worked a full day Saturday 90% of the weekends for the last two years -- I'm trying to quit that. I hate working Sunday too. When you don't take at least one day off on the weekend, you spend the next week with no sense of what day it is. They all kind of seem like Friday. Luckily, things look good enough that everyone can enjoy this 3 day weekend.

I got the new Radiohead CD, "Hail to the Thief". They continue their journey from being a standard grunge band to painting on a blank canvas and doing whatever they feel like. "OK Computer" is still my favorite (duh). Driving to New York, we listened to "Pablo Honey" and "The Bends", their 1st two. The jump from there to "OK Computer" is unbelievable.

Other CDs I got for my birthday from my oldest daughter:

  • Day One, "Ordinary Man". I think I like this one the best. Tasty urban lyrics, popish background.
  • The Incredible Doctor Cyclops, "Invasion". Tres bizarre. Speed ska spy movie themes? Totally campy lead singer? Erica's friend Kelly, who graduated from Dunbar the year before her, is the trumpet player.
  • Chemical Brothers, "Surrender". The 1st Chemical Brothers CD I have, very tasty, great aural textures.
  • Rjd2, "Deadringer". This one isn't clicking much, I need to listen to it a few more times.
My youngest daughter gave me a copy of Outloud Dreamer, "Drink the Sky". Nice tunes, good chick lead singer.

I finished the 3rd George R. R. Martin, "A Storm of Swords" and passed on to my son. I was wondering when he would find time to read it and then I remembered: he reads 300-400 pages an hour, with good retention. So, he can consume this 1100 page time in 4 hours or so. These books are definitely well done -- you can never guess who he's going to kill off next.