Archive for 2001: A Space Odyssey

superintelligence [book review]

Posted in Books, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 28, 2015 by xi'an

“The first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.” I.J. Good

I saw the nice cover of Superintelligence: paths, dangers, strategies by Nick Bostrom [owling at me!] at the OUP booth at JSM this summer—nice owl cover that comes will a little philosophical fable at the beginning about sparrows—and, after reading an in-depth review [in English] by Olle Häggström, on Häggström hävdar, asked OUP for a review copy. Which they sent immediately. The reason why I got (so) interested in the book is that I am quite surprised at the level of alertness about the dangers of artificial intelligence (or computer intelligence) taking over. As reported in an earlier blog, and with no expertise whatsoever in the field, I was not and am not convinced that the uncontrolled and exponential rise of non-human or non-completely human intelligences is the number One entry in Doom Day scenarios. (As made clear by Radford Neal and Corey Yanovsky in their comments, I know nothing worth reporting about those issues, but remain presumably irrationally more concerned about climate change and/or a return to barbarity than by the incoming reign of the machines.) Thus, having no competence in the least in either intelligence (!), artificial or human, or in philosophy and ethics, the following comments on the book only reflect my neophyte’s reactions. Which means the following rant should be mostly ignored! Except maybe on a rainy day like today…

“The ideal is that of the perfect Bayesian agent, one that makes probabilistically optimal use of available information.  This idea is unattainable (…) Accordingly, one can view artificial intelligence as a quest to find shortcuts…” (p.9)

Overall, the book stands much more at a philosophical and exploratory level than at attempting any engineering or technical assessment. The graphs found within are sketches rather than outputs of carefully estimated physical processes. There is thus hardly any indication how those super AIs could be coded towards super abilities to produce paper clips (but why on Earth would we need paper clips in a world dominated by AIs?!) or to involve all resources from an entire galaxy to explore even farther. The author envisions (mostly catastrophic) scenarios that require some suspension of belief and after a while I decided to read the book mostly as a higher form of science fiction, from which a series of lower form science fiction books could easily be constructed! Some passages reminded me quite forcibly of Philip K. Dick, less of electric sheep &tc. than of Ubik, where a superpowerful AI(s) turn humans into jar brains satisfied (or ensnared) with simulated virtual realities. Much less of Asimov’s novels as robots are hardly mentioned. And the third laws of robotics dismissed as ridiculously too simplistic (and too human). Continue reading

JSM 2010 [day 2]

Posted in Books, pictures, R, Running, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on August 3, 2010 by xi'an

After a very good early run in Stanley Park, I went to a morning session on new statistical challenges in genetics, but unfortunately could not keep focussed enough (due to a very short night, still being not tuned to Pacific time!) so I ended up chatting with Sid Chib at the Springer booth about the future of R and the drawback of it running too slowly… The second session of the morning I attended was the I.J. Good memorial session (although there were many alternative choices I could have made at the same time!) where Steve Fienberg, Jim Berger, Adrian Raftery and David Banks gave different perspectives on the life and influence of this leading figure. After his work in Bletchley Park along Alan Turing during the war, already using Bayes factors introduced a few years earlier by Harold Jeffreys, I.J. Good contributed very much to the Bayesian revival of the 50’s. (A fact not mentioned this morning is that he was a consultant for 2001: A Space Odyssey!) The afternoon session on Bayesian processing of massive data systems was somehow compulsory since I was talking in this session! While the talks were interestingly diverse, there were however again very people in the room, making me feel the attendance was much lower than last year. As the day ended earlier to let free space to the presidential address, this eventually came as a less exciting day (but left me time for an early evening swim plus two mixers!)…