Monthly Archives: February 2011

How will we tell if computers think?

I haven’t written a philosophical post but it’s finally here. I want to think about how we infer that something thinks. This question will become more important when computers become more and more human like in function. I’ve written this post in free-form so I come to no conclusion. I do find that, all things considered, it will be hard to figure out when computers think.

I’m sure everyone that has encountered computers has though about the question “do computers think?.” They might even have sat down for a few minutes and thought about it and stopped after having a Terminator scene flash before their eyes. Chilling. The most interesting aspect about this question is that we take for granted the fact that other humans think.

I mean, c’mon, think about it (yup, that’s a pun). You can’t get inside my brain and verify that I have mental processes. You make inferences that I think rightly point you to the fact that I am a thinking. Some of us even believe these inferences apply to some animals. That makes this question even more complicated. Animals don’t exhibit all of our mental capabilities but somehow we think the concept of thinking applies to some of them.

Of course, the question get stickier when not only the form of thinking is different but so is the hardware. You can take me and another human to a fMRI machine and see that when processing images we have quite similar areas’ light up. You can open up our heads and you’d see we have quite similar corrugated masses in our skulls. You toss us a ball and we have quite similar responses and so on. Now you take me me and some dog. You again see the many similarities and decide that the dog too has mental processes occurring, albeit at a lower-level. How do you make this sorts of judgment when the subjects differ not only in response but also in terms of processes?

We have no problem in imagining a thinking being with a different make up and different responses than ours, however, it’s hard to think about how we would judge that they are thinking. At this point you can’t just take me and this being to an fMRI machine or test our responses to stimuli. What is scary is that we could for all intents and purposes find a being built like us (carbon based) but evolved in a different world that just doesn’t respond like we would. Their responses may be what we would call thought-less.

Returning to our question, how will we tell computers think? I’m not sure and it looks like it might be harder to test than we like to think. That is, there may not be a universal turing test. Or maybe we are the model for high-intellectual and mental processes. Unlikely, but it sure would be an astonishing fact of the universe.

Ads as Windows to a Culture

I hope you watched the video above. It’s a video of Sao Paolo, Brazil. I also hope that you noticed that there are no outdoor ads in that video. The video is for a company that is trying to remove ads from movies.

If the world looks like Sao Paolo after the ads are removed, I don’t want to live in that world. Ads just seem to add so much to our everyday landscape. Morgan Spurlock (you might know this name from Super Size Me) actually started an organization that will attempt to virtually remove all the ads from New York’s Time Square. The group hopes that this virtual reality will become a physical reality.

I don’t think I can support this move. Watching the video above made me realize how much ads add to our cultural landscape. It’s not just about some product or other, it’s also about how our culture uses or appreciates that product. Case in point: the differences between Coca-Cola ads in the US and Africa. What a people eats, how a people lives, why a people do something, is important to how products are going to be advertised.

Ads not only ad flare but are a glimpse into a culture’s ways of being at a certain time. Look at how ads depicted women in the 1950’s and how they depict them today. There was no shame in making women look subservient to men. Today, we see something completely different.

Ads add to our landscape and give us a glimpse into a particular time of a culture.

A Planet Filled with Unicorns

I don’t know what reminded me of these videos but they are truly some of my favorites. Enjoy.

P.S. Episode 3 is my favorite.

Past, Present and Future: My Fitness

For some reason or another a ton of my fat pictures have been showing up on the FB and thought I should share that I was indeed a bigger person in the past. Many like to say that I am still fat inside. I like to say that I will literally eat your face off. And now some pictures. okaythnxbai!

PAST: FAT DANNY

PRESENT: SKINNY DANNY

FUTURE: DANNY IN A VAT

Philosophy majors get this.

Valentines: Muddied Love

From 7th-9th grade, I was in love. Okay, I was in love from afar. This girl was cute funny and really really smart.

I had no chance. That doesn’t mean that my brain didn’t want to try impress her. There really wasn’t much I could do but be funny and smart around her and most of all, not do something embarrassing! In middle school, anything can break your little pubescent heart. You get a zit and your life goes into a tailspin. You say something stupid and you immediately feel sick to your stomach.

Basically, my chances of getting with this girl were muddied by an embarrassing event. Here’s the story.

I was late into 7th grade and I had decided that I would ask her out soon. I had finally gotten the guts to go for it! I didn’t care about the consequences. It was lunch time on a rainy day and I was enjoying it talking to my friend. Actually I was very excited for lunch to end because I wanted to go to class and sit next to her.

At one point my friend starts rough-housing with me. I wasn’t really in the mood for playing so I told him to stop. He didn’t stop and at one point he pushes me back into the mud where I slipped and fell. Half my body was covered in mud… I was pissed off!! I was going to start sitting next to her so I could build some rapport with her and it was all fucked.

I didn’t want to go to class. What was the point for living anymore? I should have just ended it there. The bell rings and my friends and I start walking to our next period. I was angry and only about to get angrier. As soon as we get in the classroom I try to sit down as to avoid being seen by this girl. My friends don’t allow that. They start talking about what happened. Of course, everyone passes it along the class and as soon as she enters, she gets the news. UGH!!

At this point the class clown decides it’s time to chime in. I can’t remember what he said but it got most of the class laughing. Others decided that it was okay to throw in their two cents. It was a horrific sight. What did I do?

I cried, that’s what I did. Right there and then. I cried in front of the class and more importantly in front of the girl I wanted to impress. All hopes of ever getting with her (I remind you, there was no chance) were gone!

As you may have already guessed, I didn’t ask her out soon after. I did, however, ask her out a year later. She said no.

Boredom

I haven’t written a post in quite a while. Again, I felt there wasn’t really anything to write about. However, today I found something worth pondering about; boredom.

Boredom is such an interesting state of being. When you’re bored you feel the need to do something. But it’s not just any sort of thing. Pushing a rock up a mountain only to let it roll down and do it again is not going to fix your boredom (well, more on that later). You need to do something that is interesting.

This is where figuring out how to deal with boredom gets more complicated. Not only is boredom guided by a person’s likes and dislikes, it’s also guided by the amount of time someone spends doing a task. What will cure your boredom may not cure mine. You might really love painting your nails to cure it but I might really love pushing rocks up mountains. I mentioned above that boredom is also tied to time. You might really love doing nails, but doing it for a full day is probably not going to work out very well. There is no novelty. (Of course, I am assuming here that you are doing the same design over and over again.)

Another interesting point is that when you think of people’s boredom cures, you can almost be sure that the cure wont be rolling a rock up a mountain. A cure has to be constructive in some way. By the way, take the word constructive in a very loose sense. I don’t mean that it has to be innovative or groundbreaking. It merely has to be something a person can get better at. An activity that can be developed. You can fix your nails, and get better at designing them. You can better your gaming strategies. You can can become better at writing. You can read and learn more.

I’ve written a bit now, and think I know what boredom arises from. It seems to be the lack of development. It doesn’t matter if the thing being developed is trivial in a holistic sense, we seem to love developing a skill. Well, I should preface that last comment by saying that some animals seem to express signs of boredom.

Equator Express

Okay, so the title of this blog is a little cheesy. I really wanted to have a “Polar Express” feel. You know, whimsical and stuff. Anyways, here’s what I want: I want a train line that wraps around the Earth’s equator. Is it possible? I don’t know. What I do know is that it would take a lot of engineering, a ton of money and more importantly a whole crap-load of time. The earth has a circumference of 24,000 miles at the equator!

“Well, how much time and money may this take?” you ask. It’s Friday so I went ahead and did some rough estimates based on the longest Maglev train in the world. If the construction crew were the size of the one that undertook the building of Shanghai’s 19 miles train line we get the following:

  • 4,000 years to complete
  • 1.6 trillion U.S. dollars

Okay, so obviously, the amount of time is prohibitive but I was assuming only one group was doing the work. Let’s imagine we could get every nation in the world to put up a group of equivalent an size, how long would it take? Well there are approximately 200 countries. If it was possible to orchestrate a group and project of this size the number of years would fall to 20 years!

The only problem is that I don’t know how profitable this project would be. The service would have to be very wide (to service thousands or even millions of people a day). If it’s only a one day or two-way it will get harder to make a profit. The project just doesn’t seem scalable.