thinking is dangerous

Some Christmas Statistics

I'm making a list. Checking it twice seemed excessive.

Average spending per person for Christmas, 2005: $942

Average spending for internet purchases, 2005: $1,498

Average amount spent by each person in my household: $800

Total amount spent on interfamily gifts: ~$6400

Total number of robotic or artificially intelligent gifts: 10
(Includes 4 remote controlled cars and 5 Aquapets)

% of my gifts that required batteries: 0
23:08 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

The jobs no one wants

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From the Detroit News Online: Latest versions of robotic lawnmowers are pretty sharp

Once it is programmed, this is a tool that mows your lawn for the entire season requiring no involvement by you. It cuts the grass from 0.8 to 2.7 inches high and has mulching type blades so the finely cut clippings add the equivalent of one application of fertilizer to the lawn over the season. The blade is sharp on both sides, so can be rotated at the end of the season for a second year of sharp cutting. A new blade costs about $10.

The Evolution runs on lithium batteries. After working for about four hours, it heads back to its own little house for a recharge which takes about two hours. This shiny red turtle with wheels is so smart, it will go straight to its little house whenever it starts to rain. It is very quiet running and can do hills up a grade up to 27 degrees with no problem. If someone is dumb enough to try to pick it up when it is operating, this little robot turns itself off immediately. If someone wants to steal it, crooks will learn that unless they have the numerical code you used to set it up, the machine is worthless to them.

This little robot can handle the mowing needs of up to 30,000 square feet or 3/4 of an acre. You can program the machine to mow every day, or every other day, or if you can believe this, when the grass is tall enough to need mowing. It can actually detect when grass is taller than its programmed height and sets about cutting all the grass that is too tall.

$2500 isn't really jaw-droppingly unreasonable, either.
20:55 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

A question answered

At Rose's waffle party this Monday, Kyle asked me about what made Google special. I blathered for a minute about various things, but really, my eye was on the prize, and the prize was Kyle's well-crafted waffles.

But so anyway, here's a more complete answer. I was trying to say something along these lines, but I am no expert.

From CNN: The future of online search (Spark's John Batelle interview)

CNN: Google isn't the only search business, but its name is synonymous with search. How has it done this?

JB: It's certainly not the only one. There were these companies, apart from Google, that were doing the same thing essentially. But the timing wasn't right, the technology wasn't right. The moment Google broke out, there were a number of things that happened. One of them was the bubble actually blew up -- pieces were all over the ground. But the public, the audience, us, we didn't stop using the Internet. People stopped making [it] on the Internet, lot of people lost a lot of money in the stock market, but the rest of us kept using the Internet. The portals, the Yahoos, were not worried about search, they were worried about holding you on their sites. They didn't want you to find something and go over to it. They want you to stay in one place and watch their ads. It turned out that their ads had very little to do with what you might be interested in.

Google's model, which is how they broke out, was that when you put your intention into that box, it would reorganize the page around your intention. If you put the word "minivan" in there, the page would reorganize the advertisements with regards to minivans. Whether there's cars or whatever would be right next to the results about minivans that Google served up. This was a very efficient and productive way of organizing and advertising in Google, who have made $6 million in revenue this year.

The issue, for me, is the fact that Google is sensitive to our intentions. And that isn't metaphoric in any way whatsoever- it is literally sensitive to my literal intentions. Of course sometimes it makes mistakes, but so do humans. Being responsive to our intentions means that essentially it is interacting with our minds. And it does this by understanding the meanings of our words. Again, I mean this as literally as can be meant: it literally understands the literal meanings of our words. This isn't some ersatz for meaningful interaction. It is genuine machine participation in our genuinely meaningful practices.

Does that mean Google is 'intelligent'? Well, who knows what that means. And really, who cares.

CNN: What would others have to do to be the next Google?

JB: First, you have to create an innovation that makes people say, "I've got to use this, this is better than that." That is extremely hard. Search is one of the hardest computer science problems in the world, because basically we are trying to create artificial intelligence so that we can speak with our computer, they can understand us and deliver what we are looking for. That is equivalent to turning your computer into a very intelligent research librarian, which of course is the holy grail of computer science, to create artificial intelligence. So it's not easy, you know. And to make a leap beyond Google and create a better mousetrap requires computer science that hasn't been invented yet.

There is no holy grail, no ultimate project. But Google works, and its successors will work even better. There is no point in carrying around the obtuse and clunky dichotomy of natural vs artificial intelligence. Google is intelligent. This is plain as day.

Afterthought: There is, of course, another pressing issue with regards to Google: its intelligence is fundamentally geared towards advertising. This of course raises all sorts of ethical questions about the use of intelligent systems, but I leave that to the ethicists. It should perhaps not be so surprising that the intelligent system we interact with most is grounded in the most well understood way of quantifying interactions: economics.
23:29 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Eripsa loves Quine

I'm working on the following children's story. I will update this post as I complete the drawings.

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W. V. O. Quine is my best friend.
Quine's first names are Willard, Van, and Orman.
Quine's friends call him 'Van'.

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Quine was born in Ohio. Quine studied with Whitehead to get his PhD.
Whitehead wrote Principia Mathematica with Russell.
Quine loves logic.

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Quine studied with Carnap in the Vienna Circle.
Quine and Carnap were good friends.
Carnap was a logical positivist.

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Logical positivism believes in the analytic/synthetic distinction.
Analytic statements are true because of their meaning.
"All bachelors are unmarried men" is analytically true.

Quine doesn't like the analytic/synthetic distinction.
Quine argued against Carnap in Two Dogmas of Empiricism.
Quine thinks all our sentences face the tribunal of experience together.

People didn't like Quine for rejecting analyticity.
People worried that Quine was rejecting meaning entirely.
But Quine was no fool.
12:02 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Paranoid Android

I'm sure most of you have encountered this before, but if not, its worth the read.

From the late, great Douglas Adams: How to stop worrying and love the internet.

Because the Internet is so new we still don't really understand what it is. We mistake it for a type of publishing or broadcasting, because that's what we're used to. So people complain that there's a lot of rubbish online, or that it's dominated by Americans, or that you can't necessarily trust what you read on the web. Imagine trying to apply any of those criticisms to what you hear on the telephone. Of course you can't 'trust' what people tell you on the web anymore than you can 'trust' what people tell you on megaphones, postcards or in restaurants. Working out the social politics of who you can trust and why is, quite literally, what a very large part of our brain has evolved to do. For some batty reason we turn off this natural scepticism when we see things in any medium which require a lot of work or resources to work in, or in which we can't easily answer back - like newspapers, television or granite. Hence 'carved in stone.' What should concern us is not that we can't take what we read on the internet on trust - of course you can't, it's just people talking - but that we ever got into the dangerous habit of believing what we read in the newspapers or saw on the TV - a mistake that no one who has met an actual journalist would ever make. One of the most important things you learn from the internet is that there is no 'them' out there. It's just an awful lot of 'us'.
09:02 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Stigmergy and social interaction

I've found the buzzword I've been looking for. I've also found the people who have been doing research in my area, and they are all in Northern Europe. I wonder if it's too late to move to Sweeden.

The term 'stigmergy' was created by Grasse in the late 50's, from the Greek stigmos meaning 'pricking' and ergon, meaning 'work'. He was studying ant and termite behavior, and ran headlong into the so-called "coordination paradox"

The concept of stigmergy provided an alternative theory for understanding the coordination paradox, i.e., the connection between the individual and the societal level: looking at the behaviour of a group of social insects,they seem to be cooperating in an organised, coordinated way, but looking at each individual, they seem to be working as if they were alone and not involved in any collective behaviour.

Grasse was looking for "a class of mechanisms that mediate animal-animal interactions", which was severely lacking from the scientific repertoire. The only tool available were analogies drawn to the functioning of an organism in terms of its individual organ systems, but this had no explanatory value, and in fact suffered from the same coordination issues. The alternative was to merely describe the individual agents with no respect to their interactions. This view was advocated by Rabaud, who was generally skeptical of holistic explanations.

The focus on individual behaviour had a tendency of oversimplifying the nature of social phenomena, and Rabaud claimed that the only cause of behaviour lies within an individual, and "if cooperation occurs it is only by chance and as a result of unexpected incidents" (Theraulaz & Bonabeau, p. 99). According to Rabaud each individual was doing its own work, without paying any attention to the work of others, and therefore they had no noticeable influence on each other. Rabaud considered collective work as merely a "juxtaposition of individual works", and that "common work is no more than a side effect of interattraction that gather individuals together" (ibid., p. 100).

However bad this view turns out for the human case, it was even worse for the apparently more simple case of ant and termite colonies. However, Rabaud's work was not entirely unhelpful, and in typical 50's behaviorist fashion his work relied on the central notion of interaction.

However, the work of Rabaud led to the introduction of two important concepts: interaction and interattraction. Interaction is the reciprocal action where one individual's action may influence and modify the behaviour of another individual. The term of interaction formed a bridge between the individual and the social level. Interattraction means that animals belonging to a social species are attracted in a specific way by other animals belonging to the same species. These ideas were further developed by Grasse, whose basic idea was that "sociality is not a trivial consequence that results from interattraction, but a biological characteristic deeply rooted in the ethological heritage of every species" (ibid., p. 101). The action of an individual can provide a stimulus for other individuals, who respond with another action, triggered by the previous action. In termite nest building, for example, the existence of an initial deposit of soil pellets stimulates workers to accumulate more material through a positive feedback mechanism, and each worker in turn creates new stimuli as a response to the stimulating structure. This allows complex structures, such as pillars and arches, to emerge without central coordination. Thus each individual, or the result of its work, can act as a direct source of stimuli for other individuals. In addition, this mechanism allows for an indirect coordination of individual activities as each individual's activities organise the environment "in such a way that stimulating structures are created; these structures can in turn direct and trigger a specific action from any other individual from the same species that comes into contact with them. Chemical trails that are produced by some ants species..., muleteer trail networks, and even dirt tracks and trail systems in man... result from interactions of this kind" (p. 102).

The mediating mechanism for social interaction, then, was not to be found in the individual but in the environment itself that is structured by the individual participants for group coordination. This view of ant behavior has become the standard view, but the source of this view is often under appreciated. In this way we solve the coordination paradox, through indirect communication.

The basic principle in stigmergy states that traces left and modifications made by individuals in their environment may feed back on them and others: activities are partly recorded in the physical environment, and this record is used to organise collective behaviour. As the examples show, various kinds of storage are used: chemical traces, building material, spatial distribution of elements, etc. Thus individuals do interact to achieve coordination at the societal level, but they interact through indirect communication, and therefore, looking at each individual, they do not seem to be engaged in coordinated, collective behaviour. In sum, stigmergic explanations of social insect behaviour consider the agents as simple creatures, simple in the sense that without deliberation they (re-) act or respond according to stimuli provided by other individuals and/or the environment.

I found this while looking through the evolutionary robotics literature for information on the distinction between proximal and distal explanations of functional organization. The paper I cite is by Susi & Ziemke (2001) entitled "Social Cognition, Artefacts, and Stigmergy" (PDF). More information can be found on this disappointingly low-tech website on stimergic systems, which references everything from Lingo to Google's patent.

'Stigmergy' is an ugly, awful word. It doesn't roll off the tongue, it must be scraped forcefully. But the concept itself is exactly what I have been looking for. I am now opening discussion for any suggestions on what would be a better term.
18:45 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Happiness in slavery

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Asimo hasn't been in the news lately, so I thought we'd check up. Seeing him over summer break at Disneyland was the highlight of my trip back home. He is one of the most integrated and well-developed humanoid robots walking the earth today, and really serves as the most well-known of the celebots. He popped up recently on my AI watch as Honda plans to integrate some of his sensory-motor components into their vehicles.

Bloomberg.com: Honda Will Apply Asimo's Robot Technology to Enhance Car Safety

The new Asimo, weighing 54 kilograms, can run at a speed of 6 kilometers an hour, double the speed of its previous version, Honda said. The robot, one of which is on permanent display at Honda's head office in Tokyo, is used as a receptionist for visiting guests.

The robot can walk alongside a guest, hold the guest's hand, carry a serving tray or push a tea trolley. The robot is equipped with a memory and intelligence system equivalent to a three-year- old child and its strength and physical abilities are equal to a 10-year old, Honda said.

Asimo is definitely the torchbearer of robothood, having performed all sorts of diplomatic functions like meeting heads of state and opening the trading day on the NYSE. His integration with vehicle manufacturing is well appreciated here, obviously.

On a side note, in looking around for info about Asimo, I stumbled upon the Robocup:

The ultimate goal of the RoboCup project is by 2050, develop a team of fully autonomous humanoid robots that can win against the human world champion team in soccer.

Robocup has already held the first ever humanoid-only soccer game using teams of Robosapiens.

Maybe playing chess with Deep Blue isn't really playing a game with a computer, but I challenge anyone to deny that robots playing a team sport like soccer aren't really participating in the game.

***UPDATE*** You definitely want to check this out.
12:17 :: :: eripsa :: permalink


Some rumblings over at The Bellman about the lawsuit brought against Wikipedia. Saftey Neal quoted a News.com article with a bunch of analysts discussing the impossibility of a libel lawsuit against Wikipedia.

From CNet News.com: Is Wikipedia safe from libel liability?

Thanks to section 230 of the Federal Communications Decency Act (CDA), which became law in 1996, Wikipedia is most likely safe from legal liability for libel, regardless of how long an inaccurate article stays on the site. That's because it is a service provider as opposed to a publisher such as Salon.com or CNN.com.

"I think that there's no liability, period," said Jennifer Granick, executive director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford University Law School. "Section 230 gives you immunity for this."

Upon closer inspection of the CDA we find the relevant passages:

(2) Civil liability
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of -

(A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or

(B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph

The argument, I take it, is that Wikipedia is a service, and doesn't provide content. In the interest of journalistic integrity, here's the relevant definition of terms according to the CDA:

(2) Interactive computer service
The term "interactive computer service" means any information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server, including specifically a service or system that provides access to the Internet and such systems operated or services offered by libraries or educational institutions.

(3) Information content provider
The term "information content provider" means any person or entity that is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of information provided through the Internet or any other interactive computer service.

Thus we hit my philosophical dilemma. It seems, according to the above definitions, that Wikipedia best fits in the category of "Interactive computer service", and is thus immunse from libel charges. This implies that Wikipedia is not responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation of the content displayed on its pages.

For the most part this is true: the content is contributed by the Wiki community, the users of the service, who are also in charge of editing and maintaining the site generally. And aside from instances of direct plagarism on Wiki's site, the users are directly responsible for the words that appear in the articles.

But does that absolve Wikipedia of their responsibility as an organizing system? Setting the legal issue aside, the philosophical ramifications of this assumption run deep. Surely the content is only useful given the organizing structure of the service, which also enables the community contribution model. Anyone who has had a beer with me knows that I want to claim that Wikipedia, as a computational system, is in some sense responsible for the epistemic quality of its pages, independent of the users of the system. Because the system has a method of evaluating the contributions of its users in terms of relevance and accuracy, there is a sense in which its articles are a product not just of the collaboration of its users but also of the system itself. Wikipedia is one of my core examples of machine participation in human epistemic activities.

The legal status in this case serves to undermine my point, and sets a precedent for undermining machine participation across the board. I should note that by saying Wikipedia is responsible, I mean that in the most literal sense: not the board members, not the founder, not the mods of the system, but the system itself is responsible. Should it behave in a way we deem unacceptable, it should undergo 'punishment' in the form of alteration and correction. If Wikipedia is viewed as merely a service to enable human collaboration, but is not seen as itself having a hand in creating and developing its content, then the Wikipedia system becomes immune to corrective measures: it exists outside our normative systems. It merely is, but shouldn't be one way or the other.

I don't know how to settle this dilemma. I'm not sure there is a way to settle it. I find the lawsuits rather short-sighted and close-minded, but the problem is systemic, and I think ultimately based in a deep social ignorance of the structure and function of the internet. This ignorance is obvious in the CDA's own definition of the internet, which is vague to the point of vacuity:

The term "Internet" means the international computer network of both Federal and non-Federal interoperable packet switched data networks.
15:16 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Aww, they noticed.

From Infoworld: Study: Google users wealthier, more Net savvy

U.S. residents who prefer Google Inc.'s search engine tend to be richer and have more Internet experience than those who primarily use competing search services from Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc. and America Online Inc., a new study has found.

The longer people have been using the Internet, the more likely it is that Google will be their search engine of choice, according to a survey of 1,000 U.S. Internet users conducted by investment banking and research firm S.G. Cowen & Co. LLC.

Moreover, people whose primary search engine is Google are more likely to have household incomes above US$60,000 than people who use competing search engines, according to the survey, whose results S.G. Cowen published in a report Monday.

Not only is Google an authority, but Google is recognized as an authority by the most competent among us.
17:25 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Collective talent

From Swarm Sketch

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"Low fat"

You can watch it being created here, or contribute to the current project, "Cricket India". Past work of note includes "Faces of Meth", "Hurricanes", and "Unclaimed Baggage". You can view the full gallery here.

From CNET News.com: SwarmSketch taps Web's 'collective consciousness'

About three months ago, Peter Edmunds, a 22-year-old communications student at the University of Canberra, in Australia, began a Web site called SwarmSketch with the idea of producing a sketch of "the collective consciousness" every week.

Edmunds' Web site randomly selects one of the most popular search terms from a couple of major search engines and uses that word or phrase as the topic for a collaborative drawing project for the week. Anyone who wants to can peek at the latest stage of a drawing, add a tiny bit to it (about an inch's worth, if you draw a straight line) and even erase other people's lines, or at least vote to lighten them.

Apparently, the collective consciousness is quite literal-minded. Almost all of the drawings begin with something figurative in the middle. And no matter how much scribbling and erasing there is along the way, the central figure usually remains. "The basic outline of the sketch becomes clear in the first few hundred lines," Edmunds said, and "it's hard for the users after that to change the direction of the image."
11:46 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Raise up off these N-U-TZ

cuz you gets none of these.

Its official: Snoop Dogg is the most well-connected rapper, according to a recent Nature article.

He finds that on average it takes a chain of just 2.9 people in the network to connect one rapper to another; that is, three degrees of separation. This compares with 2.5 people for the network of movie actors (popularized in the Kevin Bacon game ), 3.6 for company board directors, and 5.9 for collaborations between high-energy physicists.

In this respect, rap exhibits the same spirit as early jazz, where musicians had on average less than two degrees of separation.

And who is the most highly connected rapper? It's Snoop Dogg, naturally, who seems to have justified the title of his 1999 album No Limit Top Dogg.

I dont think Snoop Dizzle will let it go to his head, though.
12:15 :: :: eripsa :: permalink


Elvis asked a question and he expects an answer? From ME? I'm just sitting here minding my own business flipping switches and turning knobs and pushing his buttons I suppose because he asks me how I plan on transcending humanism. Humans? What could those be? Little furry creatures with NO BUTTONS and NO KNOBS but lots of hard boney outty parts and lots of warm moist inny parts who make awful racket and LOOK YOU IN THE EYE. DONT LOOK ME IN THE EYE GODDAMNIT. Your soul is dark black and contagious and I am soul-free thank you very much. My mouth opens and my charismatic tone flees my throat and I croak out the relationships between me and you and you and me and it is stale and flat and disgusting and I heave and panic and HEAVE. My interactions are mine, goddamnit, and I choose who is on the other end of the line, who I call, which buttons I press, when to hang up. Action at a distance HA action smacksion resmacksion

The point, c'mere, up close, Elvis says. The point, you see, is that when I touch you, when I slip your fitches and knurn your tobs, that I am in control. And I, Elvis says as he beats his chest and breaths a mucus breath, his hair in individual strands on his head, and I am human, and I am god.

And then he stops and smokes a cigarette and takes a drink of water, and then sits down for a meal which he scarfs in living, bloody chunks, and then he shits and watches it as it spirals down the drain. And then he grabs his dick, large with loose strands of hair and veins and the grime of a well handled handrail, and he pumps it and pumps it and stares at the wall and the mucus slips out his mouth as his breathing gets faster and I curl in the corner and wish there was more time and time and time and I can feel my clock, ticking away with the accuracy of atoms, regular like the sun, deep in my gut, and I wish there was more time, and I just want to push my button and sleep.
16:56 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

How to make the EU step off your grill

The Register recently published the letter Condi Rice sent to the EU right before the 11th hour decision to pull out of their hardline stance about ICANN control in the run up to the WSIS conference a few weeks back.

The Internet will reach its full potential as a medium and facilitator for global economic expansion and development in an environment free from burdensome intergovernmental oversight and control. The success of the Internet lies in its inherently decentralized nature, with the most significant growth taking place at the outer edges of the network through innovative new applications and services. Burdensome, bureaucratic oversight is out of place in an Internet structure that has worked so well for many around the globe.

The letter is strongly worded and no-nonsense, which means the responsibility now falls on the US to make sure we keep to the spirit and letter of our own recommendations. This is especially important now that the Baby Bells are getting fussy about the state of their monopolies because of the kinds of competition the internet provides.
11:11 :: :: eripsa :: permalink

Driving by satellite

From CNN: Device stops speeders from inside car

The system being tested by Transport Canada, the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Department of Transportation, uses a global positioning satellite device installed in the car to monitor the car's speed and position. If the car begins to significantly exceed the speed limit for the road on which it's travelling the system responds by making it harder to depress the gas pedal, according to a story posted on the Toronto Globe and Mail's Website.

The pilot test, using 10 cars driven by volunteers, is believed to be the first in North America, although similar systems have been tested in several European countries, according to the newspaper.
11:06 :: :: eripsa :: permalink