Incomprehensible science

Samuel Arbesman at Slate writes about the likelihood of computers doing science so effectively that the answers they come up with about the universe will be demonstrably true, but beyond the comprehension of any human. Apparently, this has already happened with math.

A computer program known asEureqa that was designed to find patterns and meaning in large datasets not only has recapitulated fundamental laws of physics but has also found explanatory equations that no one really understands. And certain mathematical theorems have been proven by computers, and no one person actually understands the complete proofs, though we know that they are correct.

The article is very clear, really cool, and contains an awesome Issac Asimov quote about relative truth:

“[W]hen people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

Your phone could know how you're feeling

Engineers at the University of Rochester have developed an experimental program that gauges the emotional state of a speaker based on "the volume, pitch, and even the harmonics of their speech." This program achieves 81 percent accuracy in gauging the emotions of the person who's speaking to it, "a significant improvement on earlier studies that only achieved about 55 percent accuracy."

When I got to that part, I began to get worried that this technology could be used to monitor the emotions of your friends on the phone, which strikes me intuitively as invasive.  But when the program is used on a voice other than the one it's trained on, its accuracy drops from 81 percent to about 30.  They're trying to fix that, but it seems to me like it's a good thing -- it'd be great to have a cell phone app that can keep track of how I'm feeling, but which wasn't capable of letting my friends monitor my emotions in the same way.

I also wonder about how this technology might affect society if it becomes ubiquitous.  Would people use it to begin training themselves out of expressing emotion?  Use the phone to give them instant feedback on how to minimize the signs of sadness or anger, or how to fake either?  I'm sure some people would.

But maybe it would lead people to get more in touch with their emotions -- it's easier to keep track of a part of your life like that if you can gather objective statistics about it.  If your phone can tell you "You were more than usually sad this past week," you can get a clearer view about what kind of things make you sad.

It begins: Robot and Frank, a positive film portrayal of AI

(via Boing Boing) Frank is a senior citizen, starting to lose the ability to take care of himself on his own.  Instead of putting him in a home, his daughter gets him a care robot with an advanced AI.  At first he resists, but they become friends, and partners in a jewel heist.

This isn't exactly a positive portrayal, despite what I said in the headline, but at least it's a step past the "Enemies of all humans" portrayal of AI in most media in the last decade.  That trope is dealt with early on -- Frank reacts to the robot at first by saying, "You have got to be kidding me.  That thing is going to murder me in my sleep."

But unless the trailer is a horrible, horrible lie, it doesn't.  Instead, they grow close, and Frank trains Robot in the ways of his past career as a jewel thief.  I don't know how that's going to be portrayed -- whether the robot will come across as naively incapable of telling right from wrong (a negative portrayal), particularly susceptible to criminal acts (a negative portrayal) or whether it handles the complex realities of relationships, friendship, injustice and property rights by making a decision that is influenced by his immediate peers, and by a sense of compassion (a positive portrayal).

I've got my fingers crossed it'll be the latter, and I look forward to seeing this film as soon as possible.  Here's the trailer:

Google brain: Woo!

(via SourceFed) Google is doing the best thing in science yet.  They're creating a "Brain-styled neural network," which they're feeding random information off from YouTube.

So far, the computer knows what a cat is.  That's awesome.  (It's also great that it's what it learned from YouTube.) This isn't really the first step towards artificial intelligence, Google made that first step a long time ago, but it's a big one, and it means we might be close to seeing a singularity-like event.

The fact that the computer is learning how to identify and define things like 'cats' means it will likely soon come up with a definition for 'human,' and that will answer a pretty big question.

I don't think you can just ask a computer what a human is.  I would assume it'd be obvious to anyone that a computer's estimation of what a human is would just be a useful set of guidelines that aren't representative of some deep, universal truth.

In fact, that's my point.  I love the idea of a computer that can learn, because I think it makes it a lot more obvious, and a lot more undeniable, that the way we categorize things isn't some magic, universe-piercing insight, it's just a categorization set that's useful to us.  Our goals are to survive, so we're good at categorizing things in ways that relate to our biological survival.

Google's brain computer's goal would be to successfully interact with humans.  So, it's going to learn how to categorize things in a way that enables it to achieve concept-overlap between itself and the people it talks to.

SourceFed has already given us an example of people freaking out because it's totally going to kill us all.  And it's not going to do that, because it's got no reason to.  What I'm really looking forward to seeing is the people who get obsessively indignant about how it's totally not a human or whatever, and it's an abomination, or shouldn't have equal status, basically the whole spectrum of anti-robot racism is what I think we have to look forward to.

Google's Knowledge Graph

I make no secret of the fact that I love Google.  I mean, I'm not generally optimistic about corporations, and I know Google is capable of screwing things up.  But in general, I think they're one of the handful of entities in the world most meaningfully pushing towards a brighter future. At the heart of that push is the Google search engine, which is sort of the consciousness of the internet -- or, at least, that's the end goal.  In an interview in October of 2000[1. Writing the year 2000 always seems weird.  Like, it doesn't flow properly.  I don't feel like there's a way I can write it that will be satisfying to read in your head.], founder Larry Page said:

[...]artificial intelligence would be the ultimate version of Google. So we have the ultimate search engine that would understand everything on the Web. It would understand exactly what you wanted, and it would give you the right thing. That's obviously artificial intelligence [...] because almost everything is on the Web, right? We're nowhere near doing that now. However, we can get incrementally closer to that, and that is basically what we work on. [...] (Source)

That in mind, I love seeing Google get closer to making the search engine more like AI.  The Knowledge Graph is a huge step towards that.  They're setting up Google to connect ideas in a coherent mesh, similarly to how human minds do.  (Video linked here, embedded below)

The graph would pick up our search habits, and start to connect ideas based on the way humans around the world relate those ideas to each other.  Not only will it allow Google to think more like a person, but that person will be the collective consciousness of all Googling humanity.

This could be scary, sure.  Maybe the hivemind will just reinforce bad species-wide behavior and prejudices.  But maybe this is exactly what we need.  Maybe something like a Mind On The Web is exactly the sort of medium within which we as a species can start developing skills of discipline, self-sacrifice, self-improvement and peace.