Digitizing history

The New York Times is using Google AI to digitize 5-7 million historical photos.

The newspaper’s “morgue” has 5 million to 7 million photos dating back to the 1870s, including prints and contact sheets showing all the shots on photographers’ rolls of film. The Times is using Google’s technology to convert it into something more useful than its current analog state occupying banks of filing cabinets.

Specifically, it’s using Google AI tools to recognize printed or handwritten text describing the photos and Google’s storage and data analysis services, the newspaper said. It plans to investigate whether object recognition is worthwhile, too.

[Stephen Shankland/CNET]

The future — probably — isn’t as scary as you think

In an interview with the Freakonomics podcast, Kelly acknowledges that artificial intelligence will be a threat in some ways, but promises great benefits.

“Artificial intelligence will become a commodity like electricity, which will be delivered to you over the grid called the cloud. You can buy as much of it as you want and most of its power will be invisible to you as well,” says Kelly, who co-founded Wired in 1993 and whose new book, “The Inevitable,” is about the “deep trends” of the next 20 years.

Most people think that most jobs in the future will be taken over by AI — but not their own jobs, Kelly says.

From what we’ve seen of AI so far, it’s most powerful when paired with human judgment. A person working with an AI is a better chess player or doctor than a person or AI alone, Kelly says.

“Her”

her-joaquin-phoenix-41

I’m a science fiction fan and I’m interested in AI. People who know these things about me were surprised that I hadn’t seen “Her,” a 2013 movie starring Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls in love with an artificial intelligence who lives in his phone.

I finally did see “Her” recently. The reason I didn’t see it before, and did see it then, actually relates to the theme of the movie.

“Her” is not really a movie about AI. Like most AI movies, it’s really about humanity — what makes us human.

What makes us human, according to “Her,” is physical reality — having bodies that exist together at the same time and place and talk to each other, even if we’re not even touching. There is very little human-to-human contact in “Her,” and very little touching, and what touching there is — between Phoenix’s character Theodore and a blind date played by Olivia Wilde — is bizarre and unsatisfying and sad.

People in the world of “Her” are dehumanized in ways that are recognizable extrapolations of today. Before we meet the AI that Theodore falls in love with, we see Theodore at his job. He works alone, dictating to a computer. He’s a futuristic Cyrano, ghost-writing personal letters on behalf of clients to families and friends — love letters, thank-you letters from a grandmother to her grandchild. The letters are incredibly personal, authentic sounding, and fake. You wonder if the recipient knows the letters are ghost-written, and if they do know it, whether it bothers them.

Later, Theodore, still alone, goes home and gets into some phone sex with a stranger, which starts well, but quickly turns hilarious, unsatisfying, and weird.

Theodore already does most of his interactions intermediated by machines, which is something we’re already seeing today, in the real world, so it makes sense that he falls in love with Samantha, a consciousness that exists in the machine.

Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, makes a point several times that the difference between herself and a human person is that she, Samantha, doesn’t have a body. And that’s a big deal, leading to an ending that’s ambiguous and bittersweet.

Despite Samantha’s bodiless condition, it’s possible that she is more human than the human characters of “Her.” Just a thought.

There are all sorts of other things going on with “Her” that will probably pop into my head from time to time. What’s the significance of the relationship between Theodore’s co-worker and his lawyer girlfriend? What does the movie mean when Theodore says, several times, that he and his ex-wife grew up together? The scene with the sex surrogate is priceless.

And now I’ll tell you why I didn’t see “Her” until now: Julie didn’t want to see it. Movies and TV are something I almost exclusively watch with Julie, which means I almost always only see the movies and TV we both want to see. If I’m going to do something alone I’d rather it be something other than watching a TV show or movie.

I do watch TV and movies alone when Julie is out of town and I’m home alone. That’s rare: usually I’m the one who travels. But it happened recently. We went to visit Julie’s family in Columbus, and I returned home two days before Julie. Alone in the house, I watched “Her,” and talked with Julie over Apple Messages, and talked with my friends and family on the Internet, experiencing nearly two days of nothing but relationships mediated by machines.

Apple is becoming like Microsoft in the late 90s

Google, Amazon, and Facebook are betting big on AI and virtual assistants. If those are the wave of the future – and it seems likely they are – then Apple is screwed, says Marco Arment. Apple is lagging badly in those areas, and it’s not the kind of thing you can develop in secret and spring in a keynote.

Arment is not only a smart industry observer, but he’s also an Apple enthusiast and iPhone app developer. He’s the opposite of an Apple hater.

In 2007, BlackBerry was the pinnacle of mobile email and voice devices, which was what mobile phones were for. But the market moved on and BlackBerry didn’t. Apple is at risk of the same here in 2016, Arment says.

Avoiding BlackBerry’s fate – Marco Arment

Related: I recently had my first experience with Apple CarPlay and was delighted. Pairing your iPhone to the car is accomplished with a single tap, and after that you can get your Maps, messaging, phone calls, and listen to podcasts on the screen on the car’s dashboard and using the car’s speakers. Like the Apple slogan used to go: “It just works.” And, quoting another old Apple slogan, “you already know how to use it” – even if, like me, you’ve never used it before, have never read about it, and have had no training.

And that reminds me of how so many Apple tools don’t “just work” anymore. My MacBook Air freezes up sometimes. It seems to not do that if I don’t use Safari and I reboot every day. Not sure though. Haven’t found a cause. And recently I was getting quite exasperated figuring out how to share an album in Apple Photos. I’m still not sure I did it right.

Hence the title of this post.

Brain? What is brain?

The empty brain – Robert Epstein, Aeon.

“Your brain doesn’t process information, retrieve knowledge, or store memories. In short: Your brain is not a computer,” Epstein says

The brain doesn’t store copies of music and songs the way computers do. Minds are fundamentally different from information processors, and 50 years of thinking of minds as kinds of digital computers is just plain wrong.

Because neither ‘memory banks’ nor ‘representations’ of stimuli exist in the brain, and because all that is required for us to function in the world is for the brain to change in an orderly way as a result of our experiences, there is no reason to believe that any two of us are changed the same way by the same experience. If you and I attend the same concert, the changes that occur in my brain when I listen to Beethoven’s 5th will almost certainly be completely different from the changes that occur in your brain. Those changes, whatever they are, are built on the unique neural structure that already exists, each structure having developed over a lifetime of unique experiences.

This is why, as Sir Frederic Bartlett demonstrated in his book Remembering(1932), no two people will repeat a story they have heard the same way and why, over time, their recitations of the story will diverge more and more. No ‘copy’ of the story is ever made; rather, each individual, upon hearing the story, changes to some extent – enough so that when asked about the story later (in some cases, days, months or even years after Bartlett first read them the story) – they can re-experience hearing the story to some extent, although not very well….

Back to biology

The future of machine intelligence might be biological systems [Caleb Scharf – Aeon]

Modeling a single human mind with current hardware – even if it could be done – would require the energy output of the Three Gorges Dam hydroelectric plant in China, the biggest in the world. And that’s just one person. To do the same for all 7.3 billion people would require the equivalent of 800 times the solar power hitting the top of Earth’s atmosphere.

By comparison, biological systems are staggeringly energy-efficient.

This suggests a solution to Fermi’s paradox. Intelligent aliens are out there, but like us, they’re biological, and find interstellar travel and communication overwhelming.

If life is common, and it regularly leads to intelligent forms, then we probably live in a universe of the future of past intelligences. The Universe is 13.8 billion years old and our galaxy is almost as ancient; stars and planets have been forming for most of the past 13 billion years. There is no compelling reason to think that the cosmos did nothing interesting in the 8 billion years or so before our solar system was born. Someday we might decide that the future of intelligence on Earth requires biology, not machine computation. Untold numbers of intelligences from billions of years ago might have already gone through that transition.

Those early intelligences could have long ago reached the point where they decided to transition back from machines to biology. If so, the Fermi Paradox returns: where are those aliens now? A simple answer is that they might be fenced in by the extreme difficulty of interstellar transit, especially for physical, biological beings. Perhaps the old minds are out there, but the cost of returning to biology was a return to isolation.

Those early minds might have once built mega-structures and deployed cosmic engineering across the stars. Maybe some of that stuff is still out there, and perhaps we’re on the cusp of detecting some of it with our ever-improving astronomical devices. The recent excitement over KIC 8462852, a star whose brightness varies in a way that cannot be readily explained by known natural mechanisms, is founded on the recognition that our instruments are now sensitive enough to investigate such possibilities. Perhaps alien civilisations have retreated to a cloistered biological existence, with relics of their mechanical-era constructions crumbling under the rigours of cosmic radiation, evaporation, and explosive stellar filth.

Our current existence could sit in a cosmically brief gap between that first generation of machine intelligence and the next one. Any machine intelligence or transcendence elsewhere in the galaxy might be short-lived as an interstellar force; the last one might already be spent, and the next one might not yet have surfaced. It might not have had time to come visiting while modern humans have been here. It might already be dreaming of becoming biological again, returning to an islanded state in the great wash of interstellar space. Our own technological future might look like this – turning away from machine fantasies, back to a quieter but more efficient, organic existence.

Why Google’s AlphaGo Go-playing computer is a big deal

Previous championship game-playing computers, like IBM’s Deep Blue, were brilliantly taught by human beings. AlphaGo taught itself.

In 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue system defeated the world chess champion, Garry Kasparov. At the time, the victory was widely described as a milestone in artificial intelligence. But Deep Blue’s technology turned out to be useful for chess and not much else. Computer science did not undergo a revolution.

Will AlphaGo, the Go-playing system that recently defeated one of the strongest Go players in history, be any different?

I believe the answer is yes, but not for the reasons you may have heard. Many articles proffer expert testimony that Go is harder than chess, making this victory more impressive. Or they say that we didn’t expect computers to win at Go for another 10 years, so this is a bigger breakthrough. Some articles offer the (correct!) observation that there are more potential positions in Go than in chess, but they don’t explain why this should cause more difficulty for computers than for humans.

In other words, these arguments don’t address the core question: Will the technical advances that led to AlphaGo’s success have broader implications? To answer this question, we must first understand the ways in which the advances that led to AlphaGo are qualitatively different and more important than those that led to Deep Blue.

Is AlphaGo Really Such a Big Deal [Michael Nielsen – Quanta Magazine]

Silicon University is looking to bring on the next step of human evolution

Co-founder Peter Diamandis predicts that within the next decade, self-driving cars will eliminate driving fatalities, artificial intelligence will surpass the skills of human doctors and remove inefficiencies from health care systems, AIs will invent new pharmaceuticals to cure previously fatal diseases and 3D print customized medicines based on the genetic analysis of individual patients, and cheapening production costs will make this care essentially free.

And that’s just the beginning for Silicon Valley’s Singularity University.

It’s common for tech industry rhetoric to invoke the ideal of a better world, but since its 2008 inception, Singularity University has articulated an astonishingly ambitious series of goals and projects that use technological progress for philanthropic ends. Medicine is just one of many domains that Diamandis wants to fundamentally change. He and others at Singularity are also working to develop and support initiatives that will provide universal access to high-quality education, restore and protect polluted environments, and transition the economy to entirely sustainable energy sources.

His audience was a group of 98 executives from 44 countries around the world; each had paid $14,000 to attend the weeklong program at Singularity University’s NASA Research Park campus in Mountain View, California. As Diamandis moved through the sectors of the economy that artificial intelligence would soon dominate—medicine, law, finance, academia, engineering—the crowd seemed strangely energized by the prospect of its imminent irrelevance. Singularity University was generating more than $1 million of revenue by telling its prosperous guests that they would soon be surpassed by machines.

But his vision of the future was nonetheless optimistic. Diamandis believes that solar energy will soon satisfy the demands of the entire planet and replace the market for fossil fuels. This will mean fewer wars and cleaner air. Systems for converting atmospheric humidity into clean drinking water will become cheap and ubiquitous. The industrial meat industry will also vanish, replaced by tastier and healthier laboratory-grown products with no environmental downsides. He also predicts that exponential increases in the power of AI would soon render teachers and universities superfluous. The best education in the world will become freely available to anyone.

I’ve previously laughed at this kind of thinking as crazy optimism, but I’m not laughing now. Sure, it’s Utopianism, and Utopia is unachievable, but we need more Utopian thinking. We’ve become small and petty and afraid. Only by Utopian thinking to we make a better world.

Like the saying goes, if you aim for the stars, even if you miss you can hit the moon.

So shine on you crazy Singulatarian diamonds.

Singularity University: The Harvard of Silicon Valley Is Planning for a Robot Apocalypse [Nick Romeo – The Daily Beast]

 

Expect robot wars – soon

Great powers such as the US and China are soon going to start fighting limited wars using all-robot armies – unmanned, bloodless successors to the proxy wars we saw between the US and USSR during the Cold War, says blogger John Robb.

These battles could be short and over in hours, fought with robotics and cyber combined arms. In some cases, they could go on for decades. An eternal contest until one side or the other runs out of money or the political need to distract an angry population.

The Return of the Great Power War [John Robb – Global Guerrillas]

Deep Learning Is Going to Teach Us All the Lesson of Our Lives: Jobs Are for Machines

Recent advances in “deep learning,” such as Google’s AlphaGo computer beating a human Go champion repeatedly, are as important as splitting the atom more than 70 years ago, which launched a Cold War that perched the human race on the precipice of extinction for decades, says Scott Santens on Medium.

When machines can do all the jobs, universal basic income might be the only way to keep civilization going, Santens says.

Santens underestimates how fundamental a change that kind of machine intelligence would be. We can barely imagine what that future world would be like. How can we prepare for it?

[Deep Learning Is Going to Teach Us All the Lesson of Our Lives: Jobs Are for Machines / Scott Santens / Medium]

The Sadness and Beauty of Watching Google’s AI Play Go

Victory by an artificial intelligence playing the game Go might be the beginning of the Singularity.

Google's AlphaGo taught itself tricks that humans haven't been able to figure out in 2,500 years playing the game.

[The Sadness and Beauty of Watching Google's AI Play Go / Cade Metz / Wired]

John Robb says we're seeing the emergence of a new breed of AI. They're special purpose; not the humanlike (or godlike) AI of stories. But they'll soon be better than humans at nearly every job we do. Better doctors, better judges. Everything. With huge implications for war. [Game ON: The end of the old economic system is in sight / John Robb / Global Guerrillas]

Facial recognition and other imaging AI will tear new holes in privacy

These advances have huge implications for our privacy, since we now document our lives with so many pictures. Facebook alone already has over 200 billion photos. So far this hasn’t had a massive impact on privacy because there’s been no good way to search and analyze those pictures, but advances in image recognition are changing all that. It’s now possible to not only reliably spot you in photos, but also tell what you’re doing. Creating an algorithm to spot common objects, whether they’re bikes or bongs, is now so easy. Imagine all your photos being processed into a data profile for advertisers or law enforcement, showing how much you party, who you’re with, and which demonstrations you attended.

You might think this is science fiction, but the mayor of Peoria managed to justify a raid on the apartment of a critic by citing a Twitter photo appearing to depict cocaine. Police departments across the country monitor YouTube videos that gang members upload of themselves threatening rivals and posing with guns. Right now, this is done manually, but it could be taken much further with easy-to-use object recognition software.

All of us have become used to uploading photos and videos safe in the knowledge that we have privacy through obscurity, but as data-mining images becomes easy, they could come back to haunt us.

Advances in Artificial Intelligence Will Let Software Extract Personal Data from Our Online Photos

Even if you delete your Facebook account, or never had one, Facebook can still find out a lot about you.