Blog: Michael Chase 

Michael Chase (bio)
Chief Marketing Officer
St. Joseph Communications

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

As a follow up to my last blog, I just read an article in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik, “Get Smart. How will we know when machines are more intelligent than we are?” A very interesting read that incorporates various authors opinions across the topic of man versus machine.

I find myself reading more and more articles on my iPad and love the level of “extra” information and tangents this kind of dynamic reading delivers.

Memory = Intelligence
There was a time when memory was intelligence. Now we don’t even bother to memorize or even put the skill on a pedestal anymore – it’s outsourced. Gopnik concedes that, “Perhaps the real truth is this: the Singularity is not on its way—the Singularity happened long ago. We have been outsourcing our intelligence to machines for centuries. Now they are much quicker at calculation and infinitely more adept at memory than we have ever been. And so now we decide that memory and calculation are not really part of mind. We place the communicative element of language above the propositional and argumentative element, not because it matters more but because it’s all that’s left to us.”

Dynamite & Acid
One of the best analogies in the article is that of a computer attached to a network of computers, all with a mandate, that are strapped to dynamite with 70 year timers and corrosive acid running through their circuits slowing them down over time. The question then for the machines becomes, what is most important to complete before my final moment versus simply carrying on crunching information and calculating forever. What will I choose? Ah, yes, life’s decisions. The intricacies that make life… well… life. Truly one of the differentiating factors between us and our machine brethren, is that our mortality is directly related to poetry, music, art, love, family and every other very “human” trait.

Like… Um… You know
Two sixteen year olds having a discussion – add “like” stir and repeat – the nuance of which cannot even be remotely understood by computers, let alone dissected. It’s the layers of tone and meaning to be found in human speech that remain, like, you know, difficult for, um, computers to understand.

We all have ticks or mannerisms and we all use colloquiums that are uniquely us. The way we start a story, end a story or capture the attention and imagination of others. How far are we away from a computer being able to do this? There was a time when we thought a computer could never win at chess, let alone Jeopardy. The pure nuance of language still eludes Google translate and they have dumped it all in there. So maybe it’s our nuance that defines us?

Human Intelligence
In the end the debate will rage on for millennia (or 2045 when we’re wiped out), but maybe… just maybe, the most unique feature of human intelligence is to continually redefine what human intelligence is… so that we only have it.
Posted by: Michael Chase AT 08:30 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 08 April 2011

sin.gu.lar.i.ty

n: the moment when technological change becomes so rapid and profound, it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history.

I have recently been reading quite a few articles on the topic of humanity’s eventual demise at the hands of machines – ala Terminator, I, Robot, The Matrix, etc. It seems that we, as a society, are becoming very preoccupied with the notion. Articles such as Time Magazine’s cover story, "2045 The Year Man Becomes Immortal," The Atlantic's Brian Christian’s essay, "Mind vs. Machine," and the book by Ray Kurzweil titled, "The Singularity is Near," all offer up various takes on our future and our future’s future.

So take this little tidbit into account when reviewing – the average cell phone is about a millionth the size of, a millionth the price of and a thousand times more powerful than the computers we had 40 years ago. Flip that forward 40 years and what does the world look like?

Transcendent Man

Last night, I finally got around to watching "Transcendent Man," with concepts that are familiar to even the most casual of sci-fi fans: artificial intelligence, nanobots, machine-against-man global wars, techno-imbibed immortality, and so on. What separates this film from your run of the mill genre movie, however, is that "Transcendent Man" is actually a documentary, which posits that all these concepts could just be a decade or two away from really happening.

You may not have heard of Kurzweil, but you’ve probably been affected by his inventions in one way or another. He’s been referred to as “the rightful heir to Thomas Edison” by Forbes, leading the charge over the past few decades in developing the flat-bed scanner, text-recognition machines, print-to-speech reading machines for the blind, music synthesizers capable of recreating orchestral instruments, and many other innovations. But the film is more concerned with his beliefs as an author and futurist, chief among them being his claim that within the next 20 years or so we could all be granted immortality thanks to microscopic robots that will live inside us.

Minority Report

Kurzweil is definitely out there in his thinking (the bringing back his father part is a wee bit eerie), but after watching "Minority Report" back in 2002 and seeing the world of technology actually develop what was envisioned:

  • Multi-touch interfaces > Microsoft Surface, iPhone, iPad
  • Gestural Interfaces > Microsoft Xbox 360 Kinect, Intel
  • Retina scanners > GRI, Nexus
  • Insect robots > US Military
  • Facial recognition advertising > Intel (Cognovision), NEC
  • Crime prediction software > University of Pennsylvania for Washington, D.C.
  • Electronic paper > Xerox, MIT, Hearst, LG
  • And the list goes on >>>

"Minority Report" director Steven Spielberg sums it up best, when he talks about his vision for the movie. Spielberg said, “I wanted all the toys to come true someday. I want there to be a transportation system that doesn’t emit toxins into the atmosphere. And the newspaper that updates itself… the Internet is watching us now, if they want to. They can see what sites you visit. In the future, television will be watching us, and customizing itself to what it knows about us. The thrilling thing is that will make us feel we’re part of the medium. The scary thing us, we’ll lose our right to privacy. An ad will appear in the air around us, talking directly to us.”

Watson on "Jeopardy"



Watson runs on 90 servers and takes up an entire room. Watson is an artificial intelligence computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language, developed in IBM’s DeepQA. Watson was named for IBM’s first president, Thomas J. Watson.

But can Watson play "Jeopardy," with all its “answers for questions”, nuance and colloquialisms? It sure can. In January, Watson finished ahead of two former champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Watson got almost every question it answered right (with a few wonky flubs here and there), but much more important, it didn’t need help understanding the questions (answers), which were all phrased in plain English.

In acknowledgment of IBM and Watson’s achievements, Ken Jennings made an additional remark in his final "Jeopardy" response. Jennings said, “I for one welcome our new computer overlords.” Echoing a memetic reference to the episode, “Deep Space Homer” on "The Simpsons."

What will it really look like?

Do we know? Do we want to know?

I love technology. I embrace it every day. I think we can marry ourselves to technology in order to better ourselves. But, do I want to be wiped off the earth when there is no longer a need for human “thinking” or ingenuity?!

What is it that makes us human? What is it that makes us unique? We each have a unique thumbprint or DNA. We each strive to better ourselves, create, innovate and reach. But… is this enough, when the computers of the future will think faster, create faster and innovate faster, not to mention doing everything else with super speed, accuracy and… wait for it… intelligence?

Posted by: Michael Chase AT 03:08 pm   |  Permalink   |  1 Comment  |  Email
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