Sunday, February 20, 2011

Oh, Google - How Could You?

You know how I can get on a roll, right? Well, that darned paper has got me going.

Some time ago, I started noticing that the Target cash register keeps spitting out Osteo Biflex coupons for me when I use my ATM card to pay for my purchases. It finally dawned on me that Target is tracking what I buy - not through a loyalty card or by asking my phone number, but through my ATM card. I'm now using cash at Target.

This morning I read on Floating Sheep (here) about Google "personalizing" our searches..."the basic point behind the tweaking of their interface was to allow results to incorporate information that your friends and contacts find relevant and share on platforms like Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook."


Then I remembered this NYT article that I had found while preparing for that paper. On the second page, the author describes how an actual person decides what articles go on Yahoo's home page, whereas Google uses an algorithm to perform the same function.

Double huh. And I've always clicked over to Google to do my searches, forsaking the default (Bing) on my home page. Think I'll stop doing that.

I need some ice cream.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Trying to Predict the Unpredictable: The Singularity is Near – Or Is It?

In case anyone's wondering what I've been up to since mid-January when I finished up the Camino series, here's the paper that I turned in this morning to my computer basics teacher at Trident Tech, sans footnotes and bibliography. (Hopefully our AI expert cousin doesn't catch wind of this - it is really VERY basic stuff. Hey, I was limited to 2 pages, alright?)

"In the wake of Watson’s defeat of Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on Wednesday evening’s 'Jeopardy!' episode, it seems a good time to try to achieve a better-informed understanding of the potential of artificial intelligence (AI). This class’s text describes 'current state' quite well; a media review leads to more questions than answers regarding the future.

"One would practically have to have lived under a rock the last few decades to not have been frightened nearly senseless by the computers portrayed in '2001: A Space Odyssey', 'Terminator', 'The Matrix', 'AI', and 'I, Robot'. What makes these computers so frightening is their seeming consciousness and autonomy, their capacity to think and make decisions that negatively impact (read, 'annihilate') humankind. Each one reflects the writer’s – and perhaps society’s – anxious perceptions of artificial intelligence’s potential. For example, in 1969, Stanley Kubrick responded to an interviewer who asked him about HAL’s emotionality, 'The idea of neurotic computers is not uncommon – most advanced computer theorists believe that once you have a computer which is more intelligent than man and capable of learning by experience, it's inevitable that it will develop an equivalent range of emotional reactions – fear, love, hate, envy, etc.'

"AI’s potential has long been a favorite subject of the written media as well. Prior to the introduction of the World Wide Web in late 1993, mathematician/writer/computer scientist Vernor Vinge predicted that the continuing development of artificial intelligence would lead to a 'technological singularity', an event that would occur between the years 2005 and 2030, bringing about the Post-Human era. He argued that at least one of four very likely scenarios would lead to a superhuman intelligence. In a 2007 interview, he stated that there is evidence of these scenarios playing out now. MIT’s Marvin Minsky theorized that robots will inherit the earth as our 'mind-children', and we humans will be able to reconstruct our bodies and brains through the use of nanotechnology. Writer Ray Kurzweil also presents “the Singularity” as beneficial for humankind; he, however, predicts that the singularity will occur in 2045.

"The projections of these experts/futurists aside, can we really predict with any kind of certainty whether a technological singularity will actually occur? If it does occur, will humans benefit, be exterminated, or worse yet – be treated as we have treated our fellow creatures? Watson’s victory this week could cause one to believe that a technological singularity is not far outside the realm of possibility. Yet, how could any human imagine the capabilities or intentions of a super-intelligent entity?

"In 2009, the multidisciplinary scientific society Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence convened in Asilomar to discuss AI’s potential effects on society, how best to steer/control them, and how to smooth the 'rough edges' between AI and society. This group appears to be the one to watch for further enlightenment as we approach the singularity…or not."

Fun stuff, huh? I turned in my programming assignment about 15 minutes ago. It's due at midnight, so I got it in just in time. That class is kickin' my butt!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valley of the Moon

Patty is getting tired of looking at the 300th Post blog when she opens up Pat and Kathie, so here is my latest adventure to the Valley of the Moon this weekend. I try to go out with the Gourmet Hiking Club once a month because they go to such cool places and, not only that, when we get to our destination the group lays out a tablecloth and brings out delicious food prepared by every hiker. I can always count on Kathleen's gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on dark Cranberry bread.

The group was going to 4 wheel drive into the Valley, but Kathleen and I and Laurel, a novice to the group, decided to start out early and walk in to get the extra miles. The reader should understand the Valley is about 70 miles east of San Diego, right on the Mexico-US border, remote desert wilderness, and traveled by two legged "coyotes" and their Border Patrol pursuers. Kathleen and I had lined up a man to hike in with us, but at the last minute he couldn't make it so I packed my little Mace canister. A lot of good that would do.

We started out early at 7:30 AM, expecting to meet up with the Gourmet hikers when they arrived into the Valley, hike around a little bit, then have some yummy lunch. Simple. Just follow the vehicle route in to the point where vehicles could no longer handle the terrain, wait for the rest of the guys, and proceed on the Valley.

Needless to say, we took a wrong fork about 15 minutes into the hike. Seems this used to be an old mining area, lots of mines, and lots of forks off the main road. They all looked like main roads. What's worse, we didn't know we were "lost", so we just kept going - all up hill, ending up on a mountain ridge looking out over the desert and into Mexico. Stunning, but about 10:00 AM I was wondering when those 4 wheelers were going to catch up with us.

I was taking pictures of the beautiful scenery, Laurel and Kathleen are trying to figure out where we were, and - voila! - Laurel spots a group on the road below. Had to be our group. They were going to wrong direction for illegals.

By the time we had bushwacked, bouldered and high tailed it down to the road, the group was gone. We spent the next hour tracking - yep, just like Indians - the main group, wondering if we were getting more "lost" or would there be any food left when we found them. Or, in the back of my mind, could we find our way out of here if we didn't find them.

It wasn't lost on us that because we had counted on a straightforward hike in, meet up with experienced Valley of the Mooners and get guided in the rest of the way that we failed to bring a full size topographic map, left our emergency kit in the car, and had no cell phone service in this remote area.

Just before noon, we finally spotted our group across the Valley floor, a good three quarters mile away, perched high on a rock - eating our picnic without us! We did hook up for a splendid lunch on what was left and, bellies full, we could appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of this special place on the hike out.

Rock formations that one could only wonder "why doesn't that fall off?"

"How did that happen?"

"Looks like a shoe up there".

"I think he's missing a couple fingers on that hand".

Easter Island, fallen over.

"I'm just as tired as you, buddy".

Pac Man

Palisades that would make an Incan proud.

Finally, a cold beer at the end of the hike. Like I said, it's a cool group.

All's well that ends well. But next time no leaving the emergency kit back in the car.