Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The shattering of the inner myth

It's interesting writing this blog. What you don't hear is the voice in my head that speaks the words in a deep rich tone. I lob strange, oddly shaped words at it. And, despite my best efforts to make it trip and fall over those long, tangled polysyllabic strings, it does a victory dance in my head and says "is that all you've got?" I write the words for that rich voice-the voice I will never have.

I laugh when I hear my own voice on video or in audio recordings. It's this slightly slow, slightly effeminate voice. It sounds as if someone reduced the playback speed but raised the pitch about 3/4 of an octave. Don't get me wrong, it has taken me years to grow to accept my voice in all its shrill, slow paced glory-but it doesn't mean I like it. It's just reality. Whether I like it or not.

Truth is, we are all constantly at odds with the image we carry of ourselves. The ideal that we create in regard to the person we want to be verses the reality of who we are. The person we want to project rather than facing the disappointing reality of who we are, or what we have become.

A friend of mine recently shared an insight that I found interesting. He said "when we look in the mirror, the things we find unsettling are the things we see that are in conflict with the mental image of ourselves that we are comparing ourselves against." Reality comes into conflict with the myth we have created, and we fight with our psyches to keep the reality of the truth of who we really are at bay.

It's that inward driven fear of facing the truth of the reality of who we truly are that propels us forward to face the day. The clothes we wear. The things we buy. The inward struggle of the things we want instead of what we actually need. In truth, we need very little. A larger part of the world survives on significantly less than we do. In fact almost half the global population lives on less than $2.50 US per day. 80% of the world's people live on less than $10.00 US per day. Those are astounding numbers.

When I look at what I have, what I want and compare those things to what I really need it is staggering. Looking at the disparity that exists between those diametrically opposed motives is disappointing. It's at this point I must face the ugly truth of who I actually am. It's easy to wave facts and figures and say "look at how bad everyone else is", but that deep, rich voice in my head refuses to say the words that my ego is flinging its way. The deeper truth of the reality is that when I look at the hard truth of data, I'm just as guilty and self absorbed as everyone else. Looking into the high powered mirror of perception that I aim elsewhere now falls squarely and disappointingly on me.

You know, when I sit down to write these entries, I don't know where these words will lead me. The voice I write for takes me down these meandering paths, lacing the way in circuitous streams of words that lead to ribbons of letters that flicker across the screen in the dark of night. Sometimes that stream of words will take me close to the edge of my own inner darkness that comes in conflict with the carefully crafted illusion I have painted for myself. I guess when we skim closely to the true inner voice, we run the risk of finding the boogie man that is really the truth of who we are.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Symbiosis in the realm of the circuit

In my delving into the deeper world of technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and the world of human interaction, I am coming to some conclusions. First, humans are inherently flawed in their thinking process. Emotions, love, dreams-all of these things make us hopelessly and beautifully flawed. Second, computers and technology are endlessly evolving in a flawed linear path that makes their inability to think outside an algorithm beautifully flawed as well.

A year ago, 03, 2010, Wired Magazine published a short piece by Clive Thompson, "Clive Thomson on the Cyborg Advantage" in which he puts forth that the concept of cyborgs already exist. But first we need to start with what exactly is a cyborg. According to the dictionary on my mac it is:

cyborg |ˈsīˌbôrg|


a fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body.

ORIGIN 1960s: blend of cyber- and organism .

To go further, the origin of cyber comes from cybernetics:

cybernetics |ˌsībərˈnetiks|

plural noun [treated as sing. ]

the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things.

So a cybernetic organism (cyborg) is any system-whether organic, or mechanical, or both-that uses the science of communication. As Mr. Thompson asserted, we are already exhibiting cyborg traits in our use of technology to further advance our tasks to completion. Proof in point, as I was writing this post, I went to Google to search for my terms, validate my references and pull together the pieces I needed. I integrated my actions with my computer's to yield a better end result. What is missing from most assertions in the area of artificial intelligence is that we, humans are necessary to set this process in motion. I initiated this piece, not my computer. I knew what I needed to search for in order to assemble the necessary pieces to support my original idea. Had I not acted on the process, the computer would have sat idle.

The beauty of the flawed human thought process is in its ability to "create" that which rests outside of an algorithm. Look at the Netflix Prize winner . While Netflix offered a prize of $1M US, to any one who could who could create a predictive algorithm that would improve automated, movie recommendations accuracy by >10%, it took more than 7,000 teams and individuals over 3 years to create an algorithm using a database of over 1,000,000 movies to show an improvement in predictive modeling that yielded results based on a specified subset of data by a grand total of 10.06%. As a contrast, using Google, IMDB and an understanding of a person, we can get closer to >50% accuracy of predicting a movie a person will like over their having taken a blind guess. We could also flip a coin, but that's not the point. ( I should note here, I do not know the accuracy of correct prediction of the Netfilx algorithm either before or after the 10.06% improvement. Nor, do I have statistical data supporting general accuracy, so work with me here.)

The point is, until a computer recognizes a problem that needs solving, as well as having an understanding of abstract concepts like frustration or irony, it is outside the ability of technology to create the parameters that establish a framework to create the problem to which a dataset can be applied to reach a conclusion that resolves the original issue. Recognizing a problem through observation, creating the framework of the problem and then solving that same problem. That's true intelligence-artificial or organic.

While we look to such milestones as the day a machine passes the vaunted "Turin Test" , and takes home the $100K US Loebner Prize , that will only be the beginning. By the way, the current money is riding on 2029 as being the pivotal year for meeting the Turin Test milestone.

No, what will be the true turning point isn't the ability to fool a judge in to believing a computer is giving human answers, but for intelligent rationalization and observation to arrive at a conclusion. For instance, being able to observe and understand that someone you know well is having a good or a bad day. Sympathy, empathy and understanding. The ability to "read between the lines". For now, the best we can hope for in the foreseeable future is a blended alliance or process that combines the best of human instinct combined with computational analytics. As Garry Kasparov put it, "a weak human with a machine can be better than a strong human with a machine if the weak human has a better process."