Archive for Nick Bostrom

the girl with the spider’s nest [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2016 by xi'an

“..the Millennium Trilogy was messier and more eccentric than much popular fiction, a genre that can lean towards standardisation. Lagercrantz’s continuation, while never formulaic, is a cleaner and tighter read than the originals…” The Guardian

“…while Mr. Lagercrantz never makes the N.S.A.’s involvement in the case Salander and Blomkvist are investigating remotely convincing, he writes with such assurance and velocity in the later portions of the book that he powers through these more dubious passages.” The New York Times

Millennium is a bit like chocolate addiction, when I carefully pack away the remains of a Lindt tablet, only to get back to it for another row half-an-hour later… The style of the series is rudimentary, the story is just implausible, the message is shaky, as explained in my earlier reviews, and still, still, I just got back from binge reading a new volume, even though it was written by another author. David Lagercrantz. Who also managed to write a biography of both Alan Turing and a (former Paris) footballer competing with Chuck Norris…

I had misgivings, to start with, about another author taking over the commercial massive success of the previous author (towards a further commercial massive success, apparently, to judge from the 7,575 customer reviews there!). With much less legitimacy (if any) than, say, Brandon Sanderson taking over Robert Jordan to complete the Wheel of Time. (Although this sequel is completely legit, since Stieg Larsson’s family controls his literary estate and hired David Lagercrantz.)  On the other hand, I do not have the highest respect for the literary qualities of the series, beyond inducing a remarkable crave for the next page that kept me awake part of both nights when I read The Girl with the Spider’s web. A feature that, in my opinion, relates to the essentially commercial nature of the product (and that is compounded by the mere £3.00 it cost me in a Coventry supermarket!).

Without getting into spoilers, the current story revolves around the complicated family tree of Lisbeth Salander, the endless fight of the Millennium editors against market forces, the murky waters of hacking and of intelligence companies, plus some lines about NSA’s Egotistical Giraffe, quantum computing, public-key encryption, and resolution by elliptic curve factorization. Story that remains as enjoyable as the previous volumes, even though it may be lacking in the psychology of the characters.  Given the extreme implausibility of the intelligence central plot, I am rather surprised at the very positive reviews found in the press, as shown by both quotes reproduced above…

One of the threads exploited in the book is the threat represented by super-intelligence, that is when AIs become much more intelligent than humans. This should ring a bell as this is the theme of Super-Intelligence, the book by Nick Bostrom I reviewed a few months ago. Although this volume of Millenium only broaches upon the topic, and while there is no reason to imagine a direct connection between both books, even though Lagercrantz may have read the popular book of a fellow Swede, I find the setting both amazing and so representative of the way the book ingratiates itself into the main computer culture memes.

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