The Rise of AI: a 3-Way Reaction

We just finished watching the show Hello World on YouTube, hosted by journalist Ashlee Vance. This episode was entitled The Rise of AI, and was about the emergence of the artificial intelligence industry in Canada.

Below I’ll post some of my thoughts, along with written pieces by Liam and Clara, who watched the episode with me.

Clara’s Reaction

I just finished watching “The Rise Of AI” on Youtube. There were a couple of people who talked to the main person (Ashlee Vance, see below) about Artificial Intelligence (AI for short). It was very interesting. If you would like to watch it, click here. Here are the speakers (listed order of appearance).

Ashlee Vance

Ashlee Vance was born in 1977. He is currently 42. We follow him around Canada as he talks to the people listed below.

Jeffrey Hinton

Geoffrey Hinton has held onto the idea of neural networks for 40 years. In other words, making a computer think like a human. People call him the godfather of Artificial Intelligence. Geoffrey Hinton can’t sit down, otherwise, his disk comes out.

Suzanne Gildert

Suzanne Gildert started the company Kindred. At Kindred, they use trial and error to train their robots. She talked about her robots. My favorite was the cat robot. Hers is also the cat robot. In the video, there were robot pilots. You’ll have to watch the video to get the whole story.

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau is the current Prime Minister of Canada. He is mentioned three times in the video. He is married to Sophie Grégoire Trudeau who is currently 44. He was born December 25, 1971. He is currently 47 years old.

Richard Sutton

Richard Sutton was born in the US, but Canadian politics brought him over to Canada. He wanted to get away from difficult times in the US. He says in the video that he didn’t like that the United States was invading other countries and that he didn’t care for all that.
My favorite bot was Blueberry. He’s so cute! Watch the video to find out more. I think that AI could be good and bad. Ashlee Vance records some responses to his mom talking, and then he calls her. He used his responses to talk to her, then picks up the phone and actually talked to his mom. He asked her if that was scary. She said it would have been if it had been an emergency. Click HERE to go to that part in the video. Overall, I think this was a good video.

Liam’s Reaction

I just watched a YouTube video called The Rise of AI. It was an hour long documentary about the history of AI, what people are doing with it now, and where it might go. There are many different ways that AI could evolve. Humans could co-exist with AI, or AI could take over the world.

I had trouble finding evidence for AI co-existing with us, because as they become as smart and then smarter than us, they might start to think of themselves as the dominant sentient beings, with a kind of Divine Right of Kings sort of belief. They might start to think that since they are smarter than us, it is their job to take care of us, or maybe they will see the damage we have done to the environment and decide that the planet as a whole would be better off without humans. There was a company mentioned in said video that is called Lyrebird. Lyrebird creates realistic artificial voices. In other words, they can clone your voice. Imagine if someone cloned the president’s voice and then made him say something that threatened the security of the country. Kindred AI is working on AI that can sort stuff such as clothing. It is a real possibility that robots could take over the world.

I know that I have been very negative about AI so far, but there is really no way that we can know what AI will do. Instead of eradicating us because of the way we treat the environment, they might help us fix it. Instead of affixing their dominance over us, they might decide to live with us. There is really no way to know which path AI will choose. That is why I am hoping for the best.

Andrew’s Reactions

AI is an endlessly fascinating topic. There are so many angles from which to approach it: the ethics of AI, a map of the realities of AI, the probable futures of AI, the people behind AI, the implications for future economies and governmental systems, what it means to be human in the age of AI, and more.

I’ve been reading about AI recently. I read Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Kai-Fu Lee’s AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, and Max Tegmark’s Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. Of the three, Lee does the best job of explaining how AI actually works. Tegmark lays out the most compelling explanations of possible AI futures.

Ashlee Vance (and the rest of the team behind Hello World) chose to focus on the unique contributions of Canada to artificial intelligence. He interviewed pioneering researchers in AI, did a decent job of explaining how the technology works, talked with a few startups commercializing AI, and talked briefly with AI skeptics about some of the possible future dangers.

The portrayal of Geoffrey Hinton was especially touching. Hinton is a computer science researcher at the University of Toronto who, along with academic collaborators, was the first to use a deep neural network approach to AI. He believed in the concept from the late 1980s until 2006, when data processing and data availability were able to prove his ideas valid. His triumph is a testament to both sheer stubborn will and the willingness of universities to employ academics for long periods of time without any evident fruit. It’s a perfect test case of the need to fund basic research.

Amara’s Law states that we overestimate the short-term impact of technology while underestimating the long-term impact of technology. I know the first part of this ‘law’ is true with AI: while startups like Lyrebird are a bit creepy, they don’t represent a Terminator-esque nightmare scenario. But I’m not sure if we’re underestimating the long-term impact of AI. When you read this in the future, you’ll have to leave a comment to let me know!

What will tomorrow’s web be like?

I see four trends converging, and I want to make a prediction about how they’ll collide to provide a type of experience that we’ll have on the web of tomorrow.  Those four trends are:

  1. Immersive
  2. Mobile
  3. Video
  4. Immediacy

Immersive

Many developers are striving to provide a more immersive experience.  Whether it’s better

use of space within web sites and web apps, fullscreen options on everything from video players to desktop applications, it seems everyone is looking to add a fullscreen button to their users’ experience.  Users have become intuitively conditioned to look for indicators of this immersive-style experience.  How to do I know?  W

hen I’m using a computer, tablet or mobile device with my children, they constantly scan for the fullscreen button, and ask (beg) me to use it.  I can hear their little voices chanting, “Fullscreen, fullscreen!” in a half-cute, half-annoying chorus of kid-tech-love.

As a matter of fact, I’m composing this blog post in WordPress’s Fullscreen, distraction-free writing experience.

Mobile

We’ve been hearing for years that someday more people will be accessing the web via mobile phones.  Well, someday has arrived.  According to a Pew Internet and American Life Project study from two years ago, 28% of Americans access the web primarily from their mobile phones.  And 68% of American smartphone users access the web via their smartphones every day.  And this is in the US, where broadband mobile penetration is growing slower than in Africa and Asia.

Video

Cisco estimated in 2011 that the sum of all video content will make up 86% of internet traffic by the year 2016.  When I visit a web site to learn about something, my first instinct now it to look for a 2-minute intro or example video.  Video is increasingly a big deal.

Immediacy

When I talk about immediacy, what I’m really referring to is the low latency of internet-delivered content.  That means that people are figuring out how to deliver content is ways that don’t make you wait around, watching the content load.  Our attention spans are being conditioned to this kind of experience. Designers and developers will continue to push forward our expectations for a low-latency experience.

Where it’s all leading

So when you smash these trends together, what do you get?  The potential for some very interesting stuff.  I think we’re going to see immersive content that blends video with vector-based artwork that we’ll experience on mobile devices (tablets, phablets, Google glass, etc.).  Essentially, we’ll be able to watch little pieces of non-square video in cartoon-like worlds that load quickly on mobile devices in immersive viewing formats.

How will this happen?  That’s the interesting part.  I think it’ll be achieved using HTML5 (or its successor language).  Right now, HTML5 has canvas tags for displaying video content without using a browser plugin.  I predict that these tags will take on more and more attributes, and we’ll start to see blends of little pieces of video, along with vector-style artwork.  Vector is low-latency, and video is rich in experience.

This will happen in much the same way that javascript went from a language for adding simple interactivity to web sites (like a simple submit button) to a full-blown webapp-programming framework (that render products like Gmail).  I don’t think anyone expected the complexity, or the code libraries and other support tools, that we’ve seen emerge from javascript, which started as a more basic programming tool.

In the same way, HTML5 (and its offspring) will bring us some very interesting experiences in the future.  Ever wanted to live in a cartoon?  You may get that chance in the future.

Your Kingdom Come: The 4th of July

This 4th of July, I’m (as ever) torn between faith and patriotism. A friend said that freedom can never be won or maintained by any soldier or government, and that our true freedom only comes from Christ.  I have to agree, but I’m left questioning, “Then why government? And why our government?”

The answer, I believe, is that we were given stewardship of this world in the garden of Eden.  When God told us to multiply and fill the earth, to care for it and govern all that it contains, I believe that political government is part of that mandate.

The United States Government is not the answer to all things, nor the answer to ultimate freedom.  All things we have, freedom in its several types included, are ours because God has willed it so.  In the specific case of freedom, God sent his son, Jesus, to secure that freedom and redeem us for Himself.

But if we’re living out the redeemed lives we’ve been given, we can’t ignore the several mandates that political governance can  fulfill.  Far from ignoring the structures that order our communal lives, we’re to pay attention to those structures; to provide for justice and care for the oppressed.  If we call ourselves Christians, then our government should not be ignored, but attended to carefully.  We need to enter into dialogue with others, to seek optimal ordering of our communal life, to provide justice and order.  Even political freedom should be on our list of priorities if follow carefully God’s mandate to govern the earth.

You probably won’t hear me saying that our government is optimal, or that our nation is the only nation on earth with the truth.  For truth doesn’t reside in our political structures, but those structures should reflect truth if we’re obedient to the governance mandate.  You won’t hear me say that it’s the American Way to put a boot in anyone’s fundament, though that brand of overblown patriotic pride fascinates me in the same way that a car accident slows down traffic.

But you will hear me say that it’s our responsibility to craft and mold a government that reflects the character of God.  A nation with such an orientation wisely seeks justice on a national and global scale, and reflects the very good values of freedom and equanimity that we learn from our creator’s nature.  I seek to join in the crafting of such a government.  And to the extent that our government reflects this orientation, I will celebrate.  Indeed, we encourage what we celebrate, so I celebrate the political freedom that so many have worked and died to craft.  Though it’s only a reflection of true freedom from the tyranny of sin and death, it’s still a worthy reflection.

And as I pray that God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven, I will work in the space and time I occupy to make that prayer a reality.  Not that I seek to create a theistic government, but a government that reflects the goodness of God.

Why religion and politics shouldn’t mix

This is one of my favorite topics. I’ve been thinking about it and reading about it for some time now. I don’t have it figured out to my satisfaction, but I came to a new thought this morning, so I figured I should share.

I was pondering the nature of religion and the nature of politics, and I realized they have something inverse in common. The reason religion and politics should not mix is partly due to their relationship to compromise.

Religion in general and Protestant Christianity in particular should not compromise. The philosophical game of religion is played on the field of truth claims.  Negotiating or compromising on truth claims is like kicking field goals for your opponent.  It’s not a good idea.  This is the (very good) reason that people have died for their religious convictions throughout the centuries.

Politics, on the other hand, lives with an entirely different relationship to compromise.  For a politcian, compromise IS the game.  Legislature and governance is all about negotiating between competing interests.  If different interests didn’t exist, governments wouldn’t need to exist, either.  That’s why politics is so easy to criticize, fun to talk about (e.g. ‘Those idiots in [Washington, Sacramento, Madison, Dakar, etc.] wouldn’t know the right thing to do if it bit them on the hand!”), and so demanding of wisdom.  Compromise IS the task of government, and it’s not an easy one.

So every time a pastor asks his congregation to vote a particular way, he is speaking from one realm into another: he is speaking from a position that’s used to wielding divine authority to make absolute truth claims into a realm where issues always have different sides and a single voice bearing the best idea is not guaranteed to make headway.  In politics, strength of conviction falls subservient to the power of coalition.  That’s not a fault of politics; it’s just the nature of politics.  But this pastor is likely to create an unproductive voting bloc.  He’s likely to create or encourage a group of people to take a position they can’t back down from.  In the end, it makes for bad politics and bad blood.

And every time a governmental leader speaks toward the realm of religion, it’s natural (but altogether inappropritate) that he should ask for compromise and ecumenism.  He, who is used to compromise as a way of doing business, naturally expects this from the realm of religion.  And he’s dead wrong.  Religion thrives on truth claims, and asking religious people to deny what they know as truth for some greater good is like asking religion to drink poison.

There are many outworkings of this continued tension between church and state, and they’re likely to be messy.  I can’t claim any kind of special ability to negotiate such perilous waters just because I understand the larger principle.  But I can offer one guiding question for discussion: what can we do to build up a HEALTHY wall of separation ‘twixt the two very important areas?

Legal Identity Theft

Lisa was researching diapers online. She came across an offer that promised free diapers if she’s fill out a survey. Fair enough; we’re really in need of diapers, so she bit. And was dragged into a horrible cesspool of legal identity theft.

“Legal identity theft? What’s that?” you may ask. Here’s my definition: It’s when you’re tricked into a network of so-called permission-based marketing. Lisa gave up her name, phone number, address, e-mail address, and some important personal facts, such as the fact that we’re parents and the age of our child. She thought such information would be helpful to the diaper company, who would reciprocate with a little bit of free product. Sound too good to be true? It didn’t to us. But it was.

After giving out her contact information, Lisa found out that she had to sign up for a certain number of paid offers to qualify for the free diapers.  These offers ranged from other baby products to life insurance.  Some were subscription-based, and claimed to offer free opt-out options.  That last claim rings a bit hollow to my ear.  Within 30 minutes, she received the first phone call on her cell phone, this one from a life insurance agent who was insistent that she sign up for a special offer.

Your contact information is worth something.  Specifically, about $40.  That’s an average for people who sell data to purveyors of generic mailing lists.  Other qualifying factors, such as parenthood and home ownership, can raise that premium.

There’s also a black market for identity information, and by most accounts it’s cheaper to buy your data (this time incuding credit card numbers and bank account numbers) on this market.  Makes me wonder when marketeers will start going to the dark side for cheaper info.

Be careful what you sign up for, folks.  I read the privacy disclosure on a recent credit card statement (the fine print, if you will) and discovered that I need to opt out of Bank of America sharing my contact info with other companies.  They have a special phone number you need to call if you don’t want your data shared.

Book Report: Mexifornia

What a book!  This one, written by Victor Davis Hanson, was alternately hard to read and fascinating.  It wasn’t hard to read in terms of reading level, though that may make the ideas in the book accessible to fewer people.  it was hard to read because of the raw honesty with which Hanson talks about issues of race and immigration.

As a small-town farmer and now university professor, he blasts what he terms the race industry for their tactics, which he claims serve only to further alienate those who are already aliens in California.  He waxes a bit nostalgic about his growing-up years and the approach to racial integration demonstrated by his early teachers.  But he also claims that the usually-ugly specter of modern lowest-common-denominator culture holds much promise for racial integration, even despite it’s otherwise putrid pallor.

As a classicist, Hanson offers a fascinating solution set, complete with alternate futures.  He’s wise enough to predict several outcomes, and because of this will probably be seen by history as prescient.

I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to debate or understand our public policy options with regard to illegal immigration.  At 150 pages, it’s almost short enough to be considered a long pamphlet.

Even if you judge this book by its cover, it still garners high marks.  The presentation and cover art are visually pleasing.

My two critiques:

  1. I think the writing style puts this book and its important message out of the grasp of some people.  The issues to debate will need all our minds and wills, and I’d hate to see these important thoughts lost because of the form they take.
  2. I’d like to see the author’s preferred solution set fleshed out a little more.  I guess this isn’t a policy platform, but a powerful discussion-starter.  I know that it goes a long way toward giving my future policy stance on illegal immigration a firm footing.

What am I thinking!?

Hi, Shinnfans. I know what you’re wondering. I know because I subtly implanted the question in your minds using the title of this blog post. You want to know what I’m thinking. If this was a play, here’s how the dialogue would pan out:

You (internally, maybe even a fleeting thought): “Andrew hasn’t been writing much lately. All he’s been doing is posting images and stupid little videos with internet babble or pictures that move too fast to be seen well.”

Me (Andrew): “Huh. Good point.” (Hangs mouth open, looking kind of dumb. Realizes audience is watching and quickly snaps into a brow-furrowing, hard-thinking expression.)

You: “Come on, why don’t you get right on that, do some thinking and reading, create some meaningful content, and give us something to either chew on, disagree with, or totally walk away from because it would require us to think too much.”

Me (Andrew): “Um, I’m kind of busy right now. Can I do that later?” (For a moment, that dumb look comes back.)

You: “No, we’re a demanding internet audience with short attention spans. If you don’t post good content at least once a day, we stop visiting. In fact, even this is getting kind of long. Can you wrap it up, please?”

Me: “Okay, how about a compromise? Can I tell you what I’m reading so you know what’s coming down the pike?”

You: “Hurry it up. Half of us stopped reading before your last line. The rest of us thought the phrase was, ‘What’s coming down the pipe.’ ”

Me: “You thought wrong, and I get to say so because it’s my blog. Pike in that usage refers to the old term for a road. Here’s my recent reading list, with comments:” </imaginary meta dialogue>

  • Mexifornia: A State of Becoming by Victor Davis Hanson. Really riveting reading. Tackles the question of how to approach illegal Mexican immigration. Heavily criticizes what Hanson terms the race industry. Hanson is a classicist, a professor at Fresno State, and a guy who grew up on a family farm in Selma, California, where he still lives.
  • Inside Today’s Mormonism by Richard Abanes. A little boring, this volume delves into the claims of Mormonism in pretty technical detail. I suppose the level of technical detail is necessary for the book to be authoritative.
  • In The Name of God: Understanding the Mindset of Terrorism by Timothy Demy and Gary P. Stewart. I just started this, and it seems like a pretty generic American defense of the War On Terror â„¢ and The Justness of Our Cause (also tm). Honestly, it takes a lot to impress me these days in a book about terrorism. I read the (dry) 9/11 Commission Report cover-to-cover. I’ve just started this, so it might end up better than it started. If it does, I’ll let you know. Both authors are military chaplains, and one (Timothy Demy) is an officer with whom I served in the Coast Guard.
  • The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright. Speaking of impressive (see previous paragraph), this book blows me away. I’m listening to the audio book form, but it’s a great tome on the long history of Al Qaeda’s major players and the conditions (both personal and political) that gave rise to the organization. Reading this book feels like taking a Master’s-level course in Middle Eastern politics. I briefly considered buying a copy on Amazon.com and sending it to the CIA. Our government needs the level of understanding displayed in this book. The research is thorough and extensive, while the retelling of the story seems journalistic in nature with very little editorial content and a refreshing lack of a discernible agenda. I highly recommend this book.

Just for fun, here are some past posts that cover my reactions to several dimensions of the subject of terrorism:

Liam’s sickness and the power of social networking

Two interesting parts of my life coincided this week: illness and online social networking.

I’m notorious for trying out new internet-based services and web sites. Jott.com takes voice notes from my phone and either schedules appointments with my Google calendar or adds them to my to-do list at rememberthemilk.com. Recently, I linked my account at twitter.com with my profile on the social networking site facebook.com. When I tweet (update my current activities on Twitter in 140 characters or less), a widget on my blog updates, my account at pownce.com updates, and my facebook status updates, as well.

I used to wonder if all this interconnected geekiness held any utility. After all, most of my posts are pretty mundane, to wit:

Today I stopped wondering about the utility because of this post:

Since posting that tweet, I’ve been contacted by three different people to ask how Liam is doing. A family member wrote an e-mail because she saw the news on the blog. A friend sent a text message because he caught the news on twitter. And another friend stopped by our house because she saw my status on Facebook.

This online social network that is usually just a toy now means something; it’s extended the awareness of my friends and allowed me to share the smaller news in my life with people I care about but don’t usually get to see face-to-face. These aren’t some random online friends from a chat room somewhere; they are my real-life friends and family with whom I connect via the increasingly digital fabric of our everyday lives. I may not sit down to coffee with them every day, but we share over HTML tables instead of cafe tables and via Javascript instead of the black caffeinated stuff.

So I challenge you, Shinnfans, to live the digital life with intentionality. Take advantage of ever-easier online social tools and use the opportunity to be transparent and share from your life-stream. Whether you need to e-mail someone an encouraging note or you link with me at twitter.com and sharing your small daily news, be real, caring and Christ-like about it.

And as for Liam, I wish I could report better news. He’s a pretty sick little boy right now, and it’s hard on all of us. But I guarantee that when I have better news to report, you’ll see it in one of my data feeds!