Saturday, October 28, 2006

Film Noir's portrayal of AI

How do the various Hollywood visions of the future compare with current AI research & applications?

The Financial Express (Bangladesh's only English-language financial daily) has an entertaining article about the treatment of Artificial Intelligence and other futuristic technologies by the motion picture industry. There seems to be a recurring theme that technological advancement is destined to doom the human race, as opposed to saving it. The writer points out films that showcase believable technology of the near future tend to be pessimitic, like The Terminator series and I, Robot, while more optimistic franchises like Star Trek employ distant and unrealistic technologies. So are these apocalyptic images really the fate of humanity, or is Hollywood just a little technophobic?


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Max Headroom Lives!

Coming soon to your TV: newscasts written, produced and anchored entirely by autonomous software.

Think Ananova without the writers. The system, called News at Seven, generates a script from RSS news feeds customized to a viewer’s interests which is then read by an avatar created using the Half-Life game engine. The system can also augment the broadcast with clips from YouTube or other video sites based on keywords in the news stories.

News at Seven was created by a team of researchers at the Northwestern University Intelligent Information Lab led by Kristian Hammond along with grad students Nathan Nichols and Sara Owsley. Several videos are already available for viewing, including a report on the alleged North Korean nuclear test.

A novelty for now, perhaps, but possibly the next step in the long journey towards building systems we interact with in a much more natural way. Imagine an avatar you could ask questions of or hold a conversation with. Using methods such as those described above, this avatar could instantly become an expert in almost any conceivable subject. Or, instead of re-formatting RSS feeds for a news script, the system could follow some sort of knowledge representation framework to build an information bank for later use. If we replace the RSS feeds with some other form of input, say sensory input, it could create “memories” of “personal experiences.” The question at the heart of the matter is: how do we define understanding? Does the News at Seven avatar understand the stories it presents to its audience? Most would agree that it does not. But what if the avatar was able to keep a record of the information from these stories in an accessible memory bank, and could discuss the matter with other people (or avatars) to formulate decisions, actions or even opinions based on that knowledge? Would that qualify as understanding? Or intentional behavior? Or even conscious thought? What do we humans, as conscious beings, do beyond this that leads us to define it all as consciousness and understanding?

via Slashdot

Monday, October 23, 2006

No More DARPA Prize $$$

Citing a defense spending bill signed by President Bush this month, DARPA will not award any prize money at this year’s Grand Challenge.

DARPA’s interpretation of the new law prohibits the agency from conferring the anticipated $2.7 million award. Instead, the top three teams will each receive a trophy purchased out-of-pocket by DARPA director Tony Tether. This development has raised concerns that some teams will be forced to drop out of the competition and will reduce media coverage of the event.

After last year’s race where Stanford triumphed by successfully navigating a 132-mile desert course, the third Grand Challenge to be held in November 2007 will test the unmanned vehicles’ ability to traverse congested city traffic, avoiding other cars and complying with the rules of the road. Dubbed “The DARPA Urban Challenge,” this race will simulate a military supply mission in an urban environment, pushing the vehicles’ autonomous control systems to their limit. As with the two previous Grand Challenge events, the overall goal is meeting the congressional mandate to make one-third of all military ground vehicles unmanned by 2015.

via News

Darwinian Survival Machines or Anatman? has a lengthy article exploring the soul’s role in human consciousness which has some interesting implications for machine consciousness as well.

The article spans a variety of subjects from psychology to philosophy, and the most interesting passage is in the midst of a discussion about the neurophysical processes behind consciousness and language with philosopher Daniel Dennett:

"This is what I've meant over the years when I've said that the brain is a syntactic engine mimicking a semantic engine." By that, Dennett presumably means that consciousness produces orderly, grammatical representations of something out there in the world that is meaningful, but it does not create meaning. It is not necessary to meaning.

This argument rejects the notion that a Turing machine is not actually conscious since it merely mimics the understanding of language by suggesting that this mechanical procedure is the only system at work within the human mind. By reducing the physical processes in the brain down to their fundamental components, we see that they are no more remarkable than the internal workings of a digital computer. Critics of AI argue that machines & algorithms cannot be conscious since we can observe precisely how they reproduce human behavior. Perhaps once human behavior itself is de-mystified to the point where our consciousness is understood completely, these people will be willing to apply the label of conscious thought more broadly.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Hands-Free Driving

We already know about cars that can drive themselves, park themselves, and maintain a safe following distance.

Now, a consortium including Volvo and DaimlerChrysler is working to develop a control system to better integrate all of the intelligent devices in the vehicle with the human driver. How soon until we're all cruisin' around like John Anderton and Del Spooner?


Mobile Email Back Up

On or about 19 Sept, Google made some changes to their Gmail service.

I had been using my Palm Treo 650 smartphone on the Sprint network to get my email on the go. These changes made the Versamail auto-sync stop working. I couldn't download new email manually either. I was still able to check my messages via webmail on the Blazer browser, but that was a pain in the butt.

I finally had a chance to research this issue, and came across a very helpful Google Groups topic. Basically, I had to disable POP completely, and then re-enable it for all new email. And voila...we're back in business!