Thursday, October 29, 2009

Driving Range

So we went to a driving range with a friend the other week. It was nice to play a "real" game for once, and I did pretty decently if I do say so myself (games are basically all the same, if you're good at Mario the basic skill-sets transfer easily to club and contact sports). My only prior experience with a club, except for the video game variety that is usually used for less than wholesome purposes, was the pitch-and-putt at Cambridge that was usually undertaken after some beers.

As you'd expect, the Japanese affair is well organised and pretty cool; this was very 1980's Japan in my opinion, which is most definitely a good thing. Think business men going there after work, drinking coffee and smoking - very cool.

The Nami also took to the clubs for the first time. Here is a fair representation of her skill...


Hehe, no she did actually get better! When we finally get a new car, this is something I'll be keen to do more often.

Monday, October 12, 2009

AI Interest

So pretty much my only hobby is studying and trying to work out a description of the human mind for building a Synthetic Intelligence (I use this term instead of "Artificial Intelligence", or AI, because who wants to be called "artificial"?). I have this site that has been up for over a year now, describing an as of yet, on paper, unfinished model. Now whilst I get dejected from time to time by the absence of any intelligent conversation I can have on the subject with other people (most people on the internet seem to think the mind is something ethereal), I keep track of visits to my site using Google Analytics, which provides some amusement, and occasionally spurs me on to do more work when I realise some people are actually reading it!

Analytics is a Java based tracker, like a cookie system I gather but it doesn't record everything 100%. However, like everything else Google, it's free and well presented. So I had a look at the data spread over the past year, and Analytics puts it into this neat graphical representation based on the region/city from where the traffic to the site came from...

Now of course there will be a slight bias towards English speaking countries because the site itself is written in English, but Anglais is also the lingua Franca of science, so there is still traffic coming from all over the world (eg. Philippines, Brazil, China, Egypt, Iran). From a technological point of view, the most interesting, and perhaps only point that can be taken from this, is the relatively large amount of traffic that comes from the USA.

City view shows more of a balance between the US and Europe as a whole (Leipzig is number one).

Other minor factors aside, such as the US having a greater number of internet users than other countries, it is easy and interesting to conclude that SI research is being pursued far more aggressively in the US than in other countries. For my site at least, the traffic from the US is four times next place, the UK, and five times Germany.

So what I'm thinking about this morning, is "why?" This site shows the percentage of GDP put into research by a few developed countries, most being around 2-3%. The US is second to Japan, but even adjusting that graph by accounting for actual GDP, the numbers alone sound a bit off the ball. The US is obviously, technologically ahead of every other country, if not publically by far, then at least by several steps. Their space programs alone demonstrate this; in the process of retiring the Shuttle, the most used and most successful space transportation vehicle to date, developing new systems (the Orion rockets), not to mention the NIF (a practical fusion reactor) and military technology which is sometimes (often?) researched and produced off the books. On this note, the US military has shown an interest in developing SI systems, most notably and publically in the DARPA Grand Challenge, where they encourage teams to build driver-less cars. Now the "why?" of all aforementioned research lies primarily in two reasons; technological power translates to both military and economic power, and this is the raison d'etre for US research. Does SI fit into this plan? Very much so!

If machines can be made sentient, then simply because they can be constructed by design means they can be improved, and it is a widely held and old concept (from science fiction) that once one SI is built, that SI will then help design new SIs, and the feedback will create exponentially smarter SIs until a technological and logical limit is reached. Basically, they will become far, far smarter than humans.

Leaving aside what "smart" means (too complex to go into here!) the question then becomes, where can such a being fit into our society? One answer is as an advisor. Kind of like Skynet from the Terminator story, SI advisors will find good homes as economic, political and military strategists. Other, less encouraging, uses of such a technology would include using sub-sentient drones (though more advanced than current military drones, perhaps) for combat.

I, however, would hope for a more optimistic future with SIs, but one that would require massive social and legal transformation. Essentially, laws will have to be rewritten to not speak of "humans" or "adults" but of sentients, being self-aware becomes the defining factor of inclusion within society, making special cases for pre-sentient or mentally damaged individuals. Perhaps then, after social "adjustment", SIs might find homes as citizens. Would you take a machine as a friend?

Just such a situation is a long way off, and perhaps shall follow private and military use, but whatever the ultimate fate of SIs is to be, for the moment it seems to me that the US is more dedicated to SI research than any other country, and perhaps will get there first. What one can make of this is difficult to say, but as a technology it would be akin to the nuclear bomb and space flight; getting there first doesn't stop others getting there (indeed, once it's done, others will try to get there as quick as possible!) but it will probably give you an advantage and that seems to be more than enough as a geopolitical goal.

But then, not everyone is motivated by such banal things as "advantage".

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tentless camping

Last month Nami and I went camping with some friends, we went to a small but popular place called Kobuchizawa, near mount Yatsugatake which we passed earlier this year going to Karuizawa...

The place was called Yatsugatake Auto-camp, and was run by a very friendly and helpful couple. Lots were surrounded by trees, some were for tents and others, like ours, had small wooden huts which the Japanese, ever optimistic, call "cabins". Shed is a more accurate description in my opinion. It was really nice to escape the humidity of Shizuoka, which is only now, in October, beginning to give way and approach more civilized levels. We stayed two nights, and enjoyed our time walking around the town, playing Uno, going to a hot spring, playing badminton, going to a craft center and playing more Uno.

More camping up for this week... we are going to an outdoor festival (not the indoor kind) called Asagiri Jam, and will be camping on Saturday night. Not sure it will be my thing, so will take backup-books and a chair just in case.