Posts Tagged ‘Artificial Intelligence’

Producer of Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Programme Promises Guest Editor Will Be AI

September 30, 2017

Sarah Sands, the new producer of Radio 4’s Today current affairs programme got into the news this week because of the controversy over her intention to expand the range of topics the programme covers. Sands has plenty of experience in the arts, but little as a political journalist. She’s already expanded the programme so that its coverage includes the arts, science, culture and fashion. The programme’s got 7 million listeners, and there are fears that she’s dumbing the show down. The I quoted John Humphries as complaining that she was filling it with ‘girls’ stuff’, as well as a fashion designer or journalist, who described how, when he interviewed her, it was clear he had no understanding or interest in the subject.

Sands has also said that she intends to line up a series of guest editors for the show, one of which will be an A.I. This was followed by a quote from her where she said that it was certain that Artificial Intelligence would outstrip human intelligence as sure as night follows day, but should humans bow to the superhumans?

Despite repeated assertions by computer scientists that next year, or perhaps the year after, no, wait, by the mid 2020s, or sometime soon at any rate, computers will be more intelligent than humans, I remain unconvinced. They’ve been saying that ever since I was at school in the 1970s and 80s. And even before then. The philosopher Hubert L. Dreyfus wrote a book, What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Intelligence, detailing the repeated failures of the attempt to recreate human-level intelligence in machines. One edition of his book was published 20 years ago in the 1990s, but I’ve still got no doubt that nothing much has changed in the intervening years. And looking round Waterstone’s a little while ago I saw a similar book on the shelves, with the title Humans Are Seriously Underrated.

So I really don’t see computers overtaking human journalists any time soon.

And then there’s the question of who this automated editor will be. Somehow I don’t it will be the great, computer-generated vid jockey, who appeared on Channel 4 in the 1980s: M-M-M-Max … Headroom!

Yes, the AI presenter with the big hair, big suits with massive shoulderpads, and an ego to go with it, as well as a fixation with golf and S-S-Severiano Ball-ll-ll-osteros. And also a massive electronic stutter.

Max was one of the biggest things on TV at one point, talking to Terry Wogan, David Letterman, and had his own chat show, whose guests included Boy George and Rutger Hauer.

Here’s a reminder from YouTube what the big guy was like.

This should be the only AI to guest edit, and front, the Today programme.

And yes, I realise it was actually Matt Frewer in rubber mask, suit, and wig, and the only thing that was really computer generated were the patterns behind him. But even so, he had style. And if you can bring back Elvis by hologram, you should be able to do the job for real and generate Max properly on computer this time.

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Lem’s Robots and Marvin the Paranoid Android

February 15, 2017

lem-pic

Polish SF Maestro Stanislaw Lem

Remember Marvin, the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams’ Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? He was the manically depressed robot with a brain the size of a planet, who also suffered from a terrible pain in the diodes all down his left side. I was reminded of him yesterday when reading one of the short stories in Stanislaw Lem’s Mortal Engines (Harmondsworth: Penguin 2016.

Lem’s a highbrow Polish SF writer, who uses his fiction to explore deep philosophical issues, sometimes stretching and challenging the conventions of the short story form itself. One of his volumes, A Perfect Vacuum, consists of reviews of non-existent books. Another one is blurbs, also for books that don’t exist. As you can see from this, he was strongly influenced by the Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges, after whom he’s been hailed as the ‘Borges of Science Fiction’. But he could also write straightforward stories, some of which could be hilariously funny.

Two of his works are collected short stories about robots, The Cyberiad and Mortal Engines. The stories in the Cyberiad, and several in Mortal Engines, are literally technological fairytales, in which electroknights sally forth to battle robotic dragons. Or mad robotic inventors compete with each other to create the most impressive machines, machines which usually go disastrously wrong. One of the stories in Mortal Engines, ‘The Sanatorium of Dr Vliperdius’, is about a journalist who goes to visit a mental hospital for robots. At the end of his visit, just as he is going out, the journo encounters yet another troubled cybernetic soul.

On my way back with the young assistant I met in the corridor a patient who was pulling behind him a heavily laden cart. This individual presented a singular sight, in that he was tied all around with bits of string.

‘You don’t by any chance have a hammer?’ he asked.
‘No’.
‘A shame. My head hurts.’

I engaged him in conversation. He was a robot-hypochondriac. On his squeaking cart he carried a complete set of spare parts. After ten minutes I learned that he got shooting pains in the back during storms, pins and needles all over while watching television, and spots before his eyes when anyone stroked a cat nearby. It grew monotonous, so I left him quickly and headed for the director’s office. (P. 131).

There’s a serious philosophical issue here, apart from Lem’s literary exploration of the kind of delusions mentally ill robots could suffer from, such as the robot earlier in the story, who believes that he’s really organic, but that somebody has stolen his human body and replaced it with the machine he inhabits. If humanity ever creates genuinely sentient machines, which are able to think and reason like humans – and that’s a big ‘if’, despite the assertions of some robotics engineers – then presumably there will come a point when these machines suffer psychological problems, just as humans do.

Mortal Engines was first published in America by Seabury Press in 1977, roughly at the same time Hitch-Hiker came out on radio over here. Hitch-Hiker is full of references to philosophical problems, such as the debate about the existence of God, so clearly both he and Lem saw the same potential for using robots to explore spiritual malaise, and the psychological implication of genuine Artificial Intelligence.

Vox Political Apologises! Owen Smith Did Not Buy Twitter Supporters

July 26, 2016

Yesterday I put up a piece from Mike, over at Vox Political, who reported that Owen Smith’s Twitter storm of supporters over the weekend weren’t genuine supporters, but people, whose support he’d purchased from various dodgy internet companies. For a moment, it looked like Smiffy had resorted to the same tactics other dodgy individuals use to buy ‘likes’ on Facebook. Now Mike confesses that he was wrong, and duly apologises. But this doesn’t make Smiffy look much better.

Mike quotes James Earley, an expert on such matters, who says that the messages of support Smiffy got didn’t actually come from any human supporters whatsoever. Nor any mechanical supporters either. They came from bots, programmes set up to spam accounts and redirect their readers to specific websites. To get past the spam filters, these programmes are disguised as humans, and monitor and alter their messages according to whatever’s being discussed on the Net, so that it looks like it might just be from a human. Earley states that mostly, these programmes are entirely unconvincing, but very occasionally, they are good enough to fool you into thinking your dealing with a human on the other end of the line.

This is what appears to have happened here. The tweets Owen Smith had from followers giving their support weren’t from him or his supporters,but were from daft computer programmes instead, trying to get you to follow them to buy, well, if it’s the usual rubbish that gets caught in the spam filters, it’s knock-off watches, Viagra and penis enlargement.

Correction: Pretence of support for Owen Smith WASN’T from purpose-built Twitter accounts; it’s WORSE than that!

This sort of makes Smudger look a bit better than the previous story, as at least he wasn’t buying votes, even if the support he got was nevertheless still fake. But he still isn’t any more popular.

As for the bots, I really do wonder what Alan Turing would make of these machines. Turing was the pioneering computer scientist, who designed the famous test to see if a computer was genuinely intelligent. He ruled that if you were linked to a computer through a teleprinter, and held a conversation with it through a keyboard, but could not tell whether or not you were communicating with a machine or a real person, then the computer had shown that it had real artificial intelligence.

In fact, the Turing test fails as an indicator of genuine intelligence of the part of the machines. They are programme to respond in certain ways, and give answers that simulate intelligence, but the computers themselves have no understanding really of what they’re saying. It’s just automatic mechanical functions. I wonder, however, if the great man would have also been dismayed by the fact that the simulation of intelligence modern machines were being given, weren’t to push forward the frontiers of science and the scientific and philosophical understanding of intelligence, reason, and sentience, but to sell people tat. It’s like finding out that someone really has built an army of Terminators, but instead of lethal killing machines, they’re all dodgy spivs. ‘I’ll be back…with the dodgy Viagra knock-offs.’

Can Anyone Help Katrina

July 28, 2013

Following my post on ‘The Creative Incompetence of the DWP’ I had this comment from Katrina

‘Yes after ATOS turned my partner down at the reassessment even though his condition has worsened the benefits office telephoned after weeks to tell him of their decision, when we tried to find out more they denied phoning. We were told to wait for the letter which on arrival we could not make any sense of, it left us one week to appeal and arrived after they had stopped our benefits. We have no money coming in at the moment because all claims were halted and can receive no help and no explanation. Friends and family have helped us put electricity on our meter and we received some food from the food bank. We live in a village with no public transport so when our last bit of petrol runs out we will be able to make it to the food bank without walking a total of 10 miles. We have no idea how long it will take for the DWP to receive the appeal and they had given us an addressed envelope which the job centre told us was the wrong address. I was lucky to take it to the local JBC as they would never have received it. No one will speak to us about why this has happened or give us any indication as to how we are meant to live in the mean time. If anyone has any suggestions would love to hear from you.’

I’m afraid I’m not really qualified to help her, as I only have limited personal experience of Atos and don’t really have the knowledge of the benefits system to be able to offer much in the way of advice myself. I’ve no doubt that there are many people like her. Mike and Mrs. Mike over at Vox Political live in mid-Wales. It’s a great community there, but it is very isolated, and there is an unemployment problem. A year or so ago, Ian Duncan Smith or one of the other Tory loudmouths showed his ignorance of mid-Wales and its employment problems. He declared that unemployment in that part of the Principality wasn’t really a problem, as the unemployed could simply commute to those parts of Wales, where there is work. All you had to do was get on a bus, ‘and within an hour you would be Cardiff’. Well, that is if there were any buses running. The last one from Mike’s part of the world had been axed some time before. Wales is certainly not alone in this problem. Bus services to villages in England have cut since the 1980s, with the result that you need a car to travel anywhere if you live in the countryside.

As for the incomprehensibility of the letter from Atos, I was talking to a friend of mine, who has had experience dealing with the DWP. He told me that the reason they were incomprehensible is because the law itself is confused and incomprehensible. It’s been altered and amended so often, without any regard for consistency, that it is now a confused, self-contradictory mess of separate legislation. As for the letters, they’re computer-generated. Sort of like a bureaucratic Max Headroom, but without the wit, sharp suits and personality. The stutter, however, has been ramped up to ‘irritating’. When the decision is made and inputted that someone no longer qualifies for benefit, the machine automatically spews out the appropriate letter. No human intelligence is involved, which is why the letters don’t make sense. That also tells you that we are a long way from developing Artificial Intelligence, and that real intelligence in these bureaucracies is also in short supply. It also shows that if you thought Atos was a cold, inhuman organisation run by automatons, you’re right. Literally.

So, if anyone out there does have any suggestions to help Katrina and her partner, please send them in. You’ll not only be helping them, but also thousands like them in a similar situation.