by Stephen Downes
Jul 19, 2016
It's important that we note that "we are entering a world where an intelligence assistant recognizes our 'intent.' This could spawn a massive consumer behavior shift, as AI-influenced bots would mean far fewer Google searches by humans." I had hoped that by this time our 'personal learning assistant' could have made the list. Alas. Here's a high resolution version of the image.
Artificial Intelligence as a Service (AIAAS) is here. As this article notes, "At the less-expensive end is a knowledge-based approach that organizes data and language into highly malleable and helpful blocks of information." For example, there's "a virtual assistant known as ABIe (pronounced “Abby”) to answer questions from its 12,000 agents (for All State). It was a bit like hiring Apple’s Siri at a sliver of the cost. Mike Barton, the division’s president, put it this way: 'We think of ABIe as our precursor to cognitive computing on a shoestring.'"
I studied under Verena Huber-Dyson when I was in Calgary and was opened to a world where we question assumptions, consider alternative (but complete and consistent) forms of formalization, and a range of reasons why we ought to question our core 'truths' about mathematics and logic. "This century has seen the development of a powerful tool, that of formalization, in commerce and daily life as well as in the sciences and mathematics. But we must not forget that it is only a tool. An indiscriminate demand for fool proof rules and dogmatic adherence to universal policies must lead to impasses," she writes in this article from 1998. "Think of mathematics as a jungle in which we are trying to find our way. We scramble up trees for lookouts, we jump from one branch to another guided by a good sense of what to expect until we are ready to span tight ropes (proofs) between out posts (axioms) chosen judiciously. And when we stop to ask what guides us so remarkably well, the most convincing answer is that the whole jungle is of our own collective making - in the sense of being a selection out of a primeval soup of possibilities. Monkeys are making of their habitat something quite different from what a pedestrian experiences as a jungle."
"A science of human intelligence is indeed possible," writes Pierre Levy in a post last year, "but on the condition that we solve the problem of the mathematical modelling of language. I am speaking here of a complete scientific modelling of language, one that would not be limited to the purely logical and syntactic aspects or to statistical correlations of corpora of texts, but would be capable of expressing semantic relationships formed between units of meaning, and doing so in an algebraic, generative mode." I think we can agree that Facebook isn't this. Where the question gets hard is when we ask whether this is what we need. Is a scientific modelling of language, or of thought, possible? Is it desirable? Would we find this language physically instantiated in the human brain?
Words like like 'intuition' or 'consciousness' are "suitcase words", says Marvin Minsky in this interview from 1998, "that all of us use to encapsulate our jumbled ideas about our minds. We use those words as suitcases in which to contain all sorts of mysteries that we can't yet explain." And in turn, he says, we start to think of these as entities in their own right, as things with no structures we can analyze. But consciousness, he says, "contains perhaps 40 or 50 different mechanisms that are involved in a huge network of intricate interactions... human brain contains several hundred different sub-organs, each of which does somewhat different things." Or, for example, "A 'meaning' is not a simple thing. It is a complex collection of structures and processes, embedded in a huge network of other such structures and processes." Or memory: "we use... hundreds of different brain centers that use different schemes to represent things in different ways. Learning is no simple thing."
I am increasingly left wondering how long social networks - Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn - can survive. They can disappear absurdly quickly - remember Friendster? MySpace? And I think that dissatisfaction with the existing sites is strong enough that users will quickly drop them if something better comes along. There are several issues. One is the lack of privacy and security. This is what Paul Prinsloo addresses in this article. But there's more. Another are the sorting algorithms that struggle with the basic contradiction between what we want to see and what the social network makes money showing us. Another is the steadily dropping quality of discourse on these sites. The advice to "never read the comments" should now be applied to the daily news.
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