Archive for book reviews

Model-Based Clustering, Classification, and Density Estimation Using mclust in R [not a book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2023 by xi'an

même pas peur [not afrAId]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2023 by xi'an

Both the Beeb and The New York Times are posting tonight about a call to pause AI experiments, by AI researchers and others, due to the danger they could pose to humanity. While this reminds me of Superintelligence, a book by Nick Bostrom I found rather unconvincing, and although I agree that automated help-to-decision systems should not become automated decision systems, I am rather surprised at them setting the omnipresent Chat-GPT as the reference not to be exceeded.

“AI systems with human-competitive intelligence can pose profound risks to society and humanity (…) recent months have seen AI labs locked in an out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one – not even their creators – can understand, predict, or reliably control.”

The central (?) issue here is whether something like Chat-GPT can claim anything intelligence, when pumping data from a (inevitably biased) database and producing mostly coherent sentences without any attention to facts. Which is useful when polishing a recommendation letter at the same level as a spelling corrector (but requires checking for potential fake facts inclusions, like imaginary research prizes!)

“Contemporary AI systems are now becoming human-competitive at general tasks, and we must ask ourselves: Should we let machines flood our information channels with propaganda and untruth? Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk loss of control of our civilization?”

The increasingly doom-mongering tone of the above questions is rather over the top (civilization, nothing less?!) and again remindful of Superintelligence, while spreading propaganda and untruth need not wait super-AIs to reach conspiracy theorists.

“Such decisions must not be delegated to unelected tech leaders. Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable (…) Therefore, we call on all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4. This pause should be public and verifiable, and include all key actors. If such a pause cannot be enacted quickly, governments should step in”

A six months period sounds like inappropriate for an existential danger, while the belief that governments want or can intervene sounds rather naïve, given for instance that they lack the ability to judge of the dangerosity of the threat and of the safety nets to be imposed on gigantic black-box systems. Who can judge on the positivity and risk of a billion (trillion?) parameter model? Why is being elected any guarantee of fairness or acumen? Beyond dictatures thriving on surveillance automata, more democratic countries are also happily engaging into problematic AI experiments, incl. AI surveillance of the incoming Paris Olympics. (Another valuable reason to stay away from Paris over the games.)

“AI research and development should be refocused on making today’s powerful, state-of-the-art systems more accurate, safe, interpretable, transparent, robust, aligned, trustworthy, and loyal. In parallel, AI developers must work with policymakers to dramatically accelerate development of robust AI governance systems.”

While these are worthy goals, at a conceptual level—with the practical issue of defining precisely each of these lofty adjectives—, and although I am certainly missing a lot from my ignorance of the field,  this call remains a mystery to me as it sounds unrealistic it could achieve its goal.

Nature snapshots [10 November]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2022 by xi'an

As I was reading Nature in a [noisy] train from Coventry to London, I came across

Greg Bear (1951-2022)

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2022 by xi'an

Just heard that the science-fiction writer Greg Bear had passed away. I read [a French translation of] Blood Music in 1985 or 1986, and while I did not like the second half so much, I remember being impressed by the originality of the story when compared with classics like Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. (Little did I know that Bear would later contribute to the Foundation corpus by Foundation and Chaos, which I have not read to this day.) Later, much later, I read Hull Zero Three, again an original (if space-operatic) book, and Darwin’s Radio, which remains one of my favourite books in science fiction, if only because it is deeply grounded into science. Followed by Darwin’s Children this very summer. (I may have read Moving Mars as the story synopsis sounds familiar, but I am unsure…) A great writer, to whom I am grateful for all the gripping time spent on his page-turning books!

Hugo Awards 2022

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , on September 16, 2022 by xi'an

Here are the results of the Hugo Awards this year, at least those connected with my reads:

Best Novel

Best Novella

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book (not a Hugo)

  • WINNER: The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik (Del Rey Books) [just finished this second volume, too YA by miles!]

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  • WINNER: Dune, screenplay by Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth; directed by Denis Villeneuve; based on the novel Dune by Frank Herbert (Warner Bros / Legendary Entertainment) [to watch]
  • Space Sweepers, written and directed by Jo Sung-hee (Bidangil Pictures) [funny but very light]


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