Tag Archives: artificial intelligence

Shooting At The Queen, Torchwood, AI: Cheap Books

In Tooth and Claw, Season 2 Episode 2 of Doctor Who 2.0, we see the formation of The Torchwood Institute and the banishing of The Doctor (and Rose) from the United Kingdom. Fat lot that does. Anyway, we also see Queen Victoria make mention of the multiple attempts at her assassination. I suppose it is understandable that some eight or nine (nine if you count the werewolf) attempts were made on her life. She was a women in charge of men in the most patriarchal culture ever (the White West generally, not just UK). They also said “Lock her up!” All the time, and there was a never ending investigation of her use of postage stamps, which by the way she freakin’ invented.

Anyway, I’ve been rewatching the new series, and saw that episode just today. I did not know about all those attempts on Her Majesty’s person, but by the way the fact was written into the script in DWS2E2, I suspected it was for real. So I looked it up. And, I cam across a book on it that was marked down to two bucks in Kindle form!

Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy

During Queen Victoria’s sixty-four years on the British throne, no fewer than eight attempts were made on her life. Seven teenage boys and one man attempted to kill her. Far from letting it inhibit her reign over the empire, Victoria used the notoriety of the attacks to her advantage. Regardless of the traitorous motives—delusions of grandeur, revenge, paranoia, petty grievances, or a preference of prison to the streets—they were a golden opportunity for the queen to revitalize the British crown, strengthen the monarchy, push through favored acts of legislation, and prove her pluck in the face of newfound public support. “It is worth being shot at,” she said, “to see how much one is loved.”

Recounting what Elizabeth Barrett marveled at as “this strange mania of queen-shooting,” and the punishments, unprecedented trials, and fate of these malcontents who were more pitiable than dangerous, Paul Thomas Murphy explores the realities of life in nineteenth-century England—for both the privileged and the impoverished. From these cloak-and-dagger plots of “regicide” to Victoria’s steadfast courage, Shooting Victoria is thrilling, insightful, and, at times, completely mad historical narrative.

For two bucks, we also have Thinking Machines: The Quest for Artificial Intelligence–and Where It’s Taking Us Next by Luke Dormehl.

When most of us think about Artificial Intelligence, our minds go straight to cyborgs, robots, and sci-fi thrillers where machines take over the world. But the truth is that Artificial Intelligence is already among us. It exists in our smartphones, fitness trackers, and refrigerators that tell us when the milk will expire. In some ways, the future people dreamed of at the World’s Fair in the 1960s is already here. We’re teaching our machines how to think like humans, and they’re learning at an incredible rate.

In Thinking Machines, technology journalist Luke Dormehl takes you through the history of AI and how it makes up the foundations of the machines that think for us today. Furthermore, Dormehl speculates on the incredible–and possibly terrifying–future that’s much closer than many would imagine. This remarkable book will invite you to marvel at what now seems commonplace and to dream about a future in which the scope of humanity may need to broaden itself to include intelligent machines.

Can a computer replace J.K. Rowling?

Not yet.

As you know, JK Rowling is the author of the famous Harry Potter series of books (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, etc.), and more recently, of a series of really excellent crime novels (if you’ve not read them, you need to: The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm, and Career of Evil, with a fourth book on the way, I hear).

Intuit’s Max Deutsch fed the seven Harry Potter books to a computer and told it to write a new chapter. It did. It came out as gibberish.

However, it isn’t just random gibberish. When you read the new text, you can see that the dialog for each character is styled somewhat like Rowling’s original characters. The fact that a large number of the sentences make no sense at all, and that many are agrammatical, kinda ruins the flow. It might have been a good idea to run the output from this computer through a grammar checker.

And, of course, other than the random novelty one gets when flipping coins, there is nothing new, no interesting plot elements, new characters, or novel magical tropes in this new text.

Here is an example:

“He’s cheer to their advantage,” Moody retorted suddenly.

“Sorry,” Harry shouted, panicking?—?“I’ll leave those brooms in London, are they?”

“No idea,” said Nearly Headless Nick, casting low close by Cedric, carrying the last bit of treacle Charms, from Harry’s shoulder, and to answer him the common room perched upon it, four arms held a shining knob from when the spider hadn’t felt it seemed. He reached the teams too.

“You believe if we’ve got friendly to come down and out of the library. I think I’ve found out Potter, I asked you he had . . . me. I think he’s not telling Dobby if yeh get with our Hogwarts …”

“What are you doing, Harry?” said Hermione, staring down at her. “Would Malfoy let me easier?”

“Professor Karkaroff slipped down the steps to get the second row of silver hair?”

Harry stared at the shadowy clearing, and pointing to a long, old grin. But she had been many times more like having cards, standing all around and began to sob down the steps over the brakes and Control of Magical Creatures class just pushed with gold.

I think J.K. Rowling gets to keep her job for a while longer…

Kurzweil: How to create a mind

How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed is Ray Kurzweil’s latest book. You may know of him as the author of The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. Kurzweil is a “futurist” and has a reputation as being one of the greatest thinkers of our age, as well as being One of the greatest hucksters of the age, depending on whom you ask. In his new book…

Kurzweil presents a provocative exploration of the most important project in human-machine civilization—reverse engineering the brain to understand precisely how it works and using that knowledge to create even more intelligent machines.

Kurzweil discusses how the brain functions, how the mind emerges from the brain, and the implications of vastly increasing the powers of our intelligence in addressing the world’s problems. He thoughtfully examines emotional and moral intelligence and the origins of consciousness and envisions the radical possibilities of our merging with the intelligent technology we are creating.

Certain to be one of the most widely discussed and debated science books of the year, How to Create a Mind is sure to take its place alongside Kurzweil’s previous classics.

I think there are three key ideas in this book about which I have varying opinions. First, he presents a model of how the brain works. Second, he suggests that we can, in essence, reverse engineer the brain using computing technology. Third, he discusses the rate at which computing technology becomes more capable of doing such a thing, both qualitatively and quantitatively. He ties these idea together with reference to artificial intelligence theory.

Regarding the second point, I have no doubt that we will someday be able to produce a non-biological brain. Brains are physical entities that emerge with very little specification as to architecture, have incredibly dense circuitry that carries enough information for otherwise reasonable people to assert that its information storage capacity is infinite (which it is not, of course), and that involves interactivity among components that allows for some amazing things to happen. I think that when we get close to making a mechanical brain, we would probably want to set aside many of the ways in which actual brains function, in order to create a more effective computing solution, because the brain is a product of Natural Selection and is thus not necessarily all that well deigned. The trick will be sorting out that which is good design for mechanical implementation of human braininess from that which is not good design. Regarding the third point, the expansion of computational abilities, I’m sure the basic ideas Kurzweil lays out are reasonable but furturism about technology seems to run into the same problem over and over again: Somebody invents a qualitatively distinct way of doing something that totally changes the game, and after that, this new way of doing things quantitatively evolves. Predicting the qualitative shifts has been difficult.

My biggest problem with Kurzweil’s book is in relation to the first point, a theory about how the brain’s cortex works. He asserts that the cortex is a self organizing entity that responds to information, creating an ability to manage and recognize patterns. My problem with this is that Kurzweil seems to have not read Deacon’s work (such as The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain and Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter. I’m not saying that Kurzweil is wrong in thinking of the cortex as self organizing in response to the challenges and inputs of pattern recognition. I’m simply saying that this property of the cortex, and of the human mind, has already been identified (mainly by Deacon) and that Kurzweil should sit down with Deacon and have a very long conversation before writing this book! (Well, ok, the next book.) I don’t think they’ve done that yet.