Monthly Archives: February 2011

Mind vs. Machine – Magazine – The Atlantic


Mind vs. Machine

In the race to build computers that can think like humans, the proving ground is the Turing Test—an annual battle between the world’s most advanced artificial-intelligence programs and ordinary people. The objective? To find out whether a computer can act “more human” than a person. In his own quest to beat the machines, the author discovers that the march of technology isn’t just changing how we live, it’s raising new questions about what it means to be human.

The tl;dr for this is: some description of the Loebner prize, and the conclusion that machine intelligence will never surpass human intelligence because we can always adapt and think harder.

That’s just crap.

Typical of this is the description of Deep Blue’s competition with Garry Kasparov: in the first match, Kasparov won. In the second, Deep Blue won. There wasn’t a third match because IBM declined. True, that’s a bit of a dick move on IBM’s part, but that doesn’t somehow imply that Kasparov would have taken the next match, and it’s clear at this point what the outcome would be: today an average desktop computer plays at grandmaster level; a custom hardware assembly like Deep Blue would crush all humans.

The article closes with:

No, I think that, while the first year that computers pass the Turing Test will certainly be a historic one, it will not mark the end of the story. Indeed, the next year’s Turing Test will truly be the one to watch—the one where we humans, knocked to the canvas, must pull ourselves up; the one where we learn how to be better friends, artists, teachers, parents, lovers; the one where we come back. More human than ever.

That’s poetic, but again, it’s crap. For the time being we can mark each new achievement in artificial intelligence with a retreat to some higher standard that humans can meet but computers cannot. When a computer bested the world Checkers champion Dr. Marion Tinsley, Chess became the A.I. standard for humans. Now that Chess is done for, Go becomes our standard. Jeopardy has just fallen to the machines, but I’d bet Cryptic Crosswords will be human-solvable alone for some time.

That said, there is nothing a human can do that a machine will not eventually be able to do, and someday do better. And once machines can do a thing better, no amount of re-doubling our efforts will make us better again.

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Space stasis: What the strange persistence of rockets can teach us about innovation. – By Neal Stephenson – Slate Magazine

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I agree that we need to look for alternative ways to get to space. Space elevators seem possible (soon-ish) but ultimately impractical and fragile. When nanotechnology becomes commonplace we’ll likely clean the air of excess carbon dioxide, and the excess carbon could be used to build a space launch tower in the form of a largely hollow, several hundred KM tall mountain.

Despite China’s might, US factories maintain edge

Yet America remains by far the No. 1 manufacturing country. It out-produces No. 2 China by more than 40 percent. U.S. manufacturers cranked out nearly $1.7 trillion in goods in 2009, according to the United Nations.

The story of American factories essentially boils down to this: They’ve managed to make more goods with fewer workers.

Efficiency can be painful, but the overall result is good.