Saturday, November 22, 2014

Artificial Intelligence? Not So Fast, Dave

HAL from "2001 Space Odyssey"

Despite what Mr. Kevin Kelly has to say about Artificial Intelligence in the 22.11 issue of Wired (see link, below), I have ample anecdotal evidence demonstrating that AI is impossible to accomplish.

It’s not the engineers I am thinking about when I state that; it’s the rest of us.

AI presupposes human intelligence in the first place. With this, I have a problem. How could we make something artificial when there is scant evidence of its existence in the first place.

Allow me to present a few examples:

Crosswalks: On one of my recent morning walks, I was reminded once again that human beings behind the wheel of a moving vehicle in the northeast are pretty much incapable of stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks even half of the time. If you drive a Mercedes, that figure drops to twenty-five percent. Teenage driver? Fifteen percent.

Even the best-marked crosswalks, with signs and flashing lights, like one I use on many mornings (in front of Town Hall!), do not help much. A Google-car would stop? Why? The Google Boy Geniuses are basing their product on how we drive, with modest improvements.

No. I say scrap all pedestrian crosswalks except on the west coast. In California, Oregon, and Washington drivers actually stop for pedestrians. It must be from generations of eating whole wheat bread, tofu, and seaweed. The one exception is L.A. where being a pedestrian is against the law and will get you a summons.

Turkey Burgers/Turkey Baloney: It’s one thing to have the food-industrial-complex come up with these things, but quite another when people actually fall for them. Sure, they’re healthier due to having less fat, but the whole point of a good burger and a beef or beef/pork baloney sandwich – never, never on whole wheat – is that they taste great because of the fat.

"Gobble. Oink."
Occasionally, while driving through nearby marshlands, I will see a family of wild turkeys crossing the road. I have never heard one of those turkeys moo. Not once. The parents teach the little turkeys to gobble, and in school they learn about their proud history as the choice of the local Siwanoy tribe to offer early settlers for use in a Thanksgiving meal.

There is one highly unusual exception to my objection: turkey bacon. Through some quirk of creation and/or evolution, it turns out that a few, special turkeys can oink. Turkey bacon is actually not bad to eat, although its aroma when cooking in the skillet in the morning cannot compare with the porcine standard.

Self-Checkout: Just before Halloween, I went to a national chain pharmacy/convenience store to get some inexpensive candy for treats. I found four bags of candy, each marked $1.88, and proceeded to the automatic checkout counters.

I successfully swiped each bag. The total came to more than $18, which is not the same as 4 X $1.88, even in the new Common Core Math.

The only attendant helping customers get through these counters was occupied. So, I got on line at the one real checkout counter to lodge my complaint.

That line was not moving. The patron being served in front of me wanted Euros as his change, as he was about to leave the country. No, I do not make this up. The most amazing thing is that the human checkout person clearly did not know a) what Euros were, or b) that the store or any other store nearby did not give change in Euros. Non. Nein. Nada.

I replaced my candy on the shelf and went to a grocery store near my home to buy pretty much the same candy from a human who charged me $21. And, I was happy.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Always On, No Contract


Many readers have found it convenient to download “books” onto tablets, e-readers, or phones. The benefits of being able to carry around a whole library in your case or pocket and sometimes pay less than half the price of a real book to able do it are obvious.

But, a paper or cloth-bound book still has many advantages, a few of which are listed below:

– No password. Really, it’s true. There is nothing to hide.

– Also, no charger. No matter how long it sits on its shelf or on the bedside table, you will not have to charge it.

– Easy to read it in sunlight, even on the beach. Especially on the beach.

– No two-year contract needed in order to subsidize its purchase.

– A new model will not make it obsolete in a month, a year, or even a decade, although a new edition or translation may attract your attention.

– No need to plug it in, and there are no batteries. When it’s dark, you switch on a light and go.

– It does not vibrate, buzz, ring, or play music when you’re in a quiet place.

– It is easily shared with friends or strangers. You just pass it to them. Totally legal.

– It’s always in airplane mode; you can use it during takeoffs and landings without permission.

– Many are big enough to double as doorstops, or small enough to put in your pocket or purse.

– Want local, organic, artisanal, gluten-free? The village bookshop or library.

– Completely wireless; the only connection is you to it.

– You can decorate a wall of shelves with them or stack them on a table or floor.

– You can leave it at home without going into a total panic, running a light, and getting a ticket.

– It may contain a message, but never a voicemail.

– No accessories or apps to buy.

– A great way to raise a lamp; saves buying a taller table.

– Wherever there is light, there is service.

– Would Gideons place a copy of The Good Device in a hotel bedside drawer? Doubtful.

– Many books actually gain value over time, especially signed first-editions.

– You can leave it at a beach, lake, ski, or grandparents’ house without worry or missing your contacts or playlists.

– It won’t help your boss reach you. Ever.