Could What You Do Without Thinking Be the Key to Artificial Intelligence?

My Master’s thesis explored the links between intuition and intelligence. I found that measures of intuition were closely related with intelligence: people who tend to rely on quick, unconscious decision making also tended to be more intelligent. When poking at the implications, I wrote:

The intuition-intelligence link also holds promise in the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI). Herbert Simon (see Frantz, 2003) has used AI as a framework for understanding intuition. However, this also works in the other direction. A greater understanding of intuition’s role in human intelligence can be translated to improved artificial intelligence. For example, Deep Blue, a chess-playing AI, was said to be incapable of intuition, while the computer’s opponent in a famous 1997 chess match, Garry Kasparov, was known for his intuitive style of play (IBM, 1997).  While it is difficult to describe a computer’s decision-making process as conscious or unconscious, the AI’s method does resemble analytic thought rather than intuitive thought as defined here. Deep Blue searched through all possible chess moves, step-by-step, in order to determine the best one. Kasparov, in contrast, had already intuitively narrowed down the choices to a small number of moves before consciously determining the most intelligent one. Considering that, according to IBM, Deep Blue could consider 200 000 000 chess positions per second, and Kasparov could only consider 3 positions per second, Kasparov’s unconscious intuitive processing must have been quite extensive in order to even compete with Deep Blue. Deep Blue’s lack of intuition did not seem to be an obstacle in that match (the AI won), but perhaps an approximation of human intuition would lead to even greater, more efficient intelligence in machines.

That was back in 2007, just a decade after Deep Blue beat Kasparov at chess. Here we are another decade later, and Google’s AlphaGo has beat a champion at the more complex game of Go.

I’m no expert on machine learning, but my understanding is that AlphaGo does not play in the same way as Deep Blue, which brute-forces the calculation of 200 000 000 positions per second. That’s the equivalent of conscious deliberation: considering every possibility, then choosing the best one. Intuition, however, relies on non-conscious calculations. Most possibilities have already been ruled out when an intuitive decisions enters consciousness, which is why intuition can seem like magic to the conscious minds experiencing it.

Intuition seems closer to how AlphaGo works. By studying millions of human Go moves, then playing against itself to become better than human (creepy), it learns patterns. When playing a game, instead of flipping through every possible move, it has already narrowed down the possibilities based on its vast, learning-fueled “unconscious” mind. AI has been improved by making it more human.

Which is to say: hah! I was right! I called this ten years ago! Pay me a million dollars, Google.


P.S. This Wired article also rather beautifully expresses the match in terms of human/machine symmetry.

The Age of the Companion is Here

doctor_who___companions_by_strawberrygina-d3a6q8i

[I don’t watch Dr. Who and have no idea if this makes sense] [Source]

For the last seven years or so, our technology lives have revolved around apps. The majority of what we do with our devices is a result of choosing an app, then opening it up to get something done*. Call it the Age of the App.

I believe that in 2016 we are moving into a different age: The Age of the Companion.

A companion isn’t a piece of software that you open to get something done. Rather, it proactively works with you to get things done, works autonomously when you’re not around, and may integrate multiple apps and hardware to work.

That’s still a vague definition, but it ties together a trend I’m seeing that hasn’t yet had a good name put to it.

The simplest examples are companions that work directly alongside or inside good old apps (remember apps? From the previous age? Those were the days). Facebook’s M is a companion that lives inside of Facebook Messenger–which is itself a sort of companion to Facebook. M’s artificial intelligence is able to chat with a person, offering assistance with almost anything; a good example is getting it to cancel your cable subscription for you. A companion that helps you avoid the pure evil of Rogers or Comcast is sure to become your best friend pretty quick. Right now, a human on the other end takes over when the AI can’t, but that will become less common as AI improves.

Similarly, I’ve been using an app called Lark that could be considered a companion. It gathers information from HealthKit (e.g. steps taken, weight, sleep) and sends proactive notifications to motivate you to be healthier. When you open the app, it chats with you, Messenger-style, to gather more information and offer advice.

These examples are software, but companions can be hardware too. The Apple Watch is a bit muddled in its purpose, but I think it works best as a companion to both you and your iPhone. It sends notifications, sure, but even when you’re not paying attention to it, it’s gathering data about you, occasionally offering up advice based on that data (“you’ve almost reached your goal” is a good example; “stand up” every hour is … less good). It can pass information on to other companions (like Lark), essentially forming an AI committee that collaborates to better your life.

Amazon is a surprising early leader in the Age of the Companion. The Echo is a semi-creepy always-listening rod that sits in your house and collaborates with various apps to help you, interacting using mics and speakers alone, as if it thinks it’s people. Their Dash technology detects when physical goods (detergent, printer ink, medical supplies) are running low and automatically orders more. Soon, Prime Air delivery drones will take over from there, flying packages to your home in 30 minutes. Right now I wouldn’t consider those single-purpose drones companions, but what if they ask “can I grab anything else on the way?” before coming? What if they ask “can I help mow your lawn while I’m here?” when they arrive? Maybe putting blades on our AI isn’t advisable (especially after they talk to evil cable companies; it might give them ideas), but, you get the gist.

See the pattern? This isn’t just software. It’s not just the Internet of Things. It’s not just artificial intelligence. It’s all these advancements working together to automatically, proactively make a specific person’s life better.

In the Age of Companions, “there’s an app for that” is replaced by “can we help with that?”

It’ll get disturbing before it gets mundane. “Hey uhhh, your watch detected a drop in serotonin, and your calendar said you’re free for a few hours, so I invited all your nearby friends over to cheer you up. Also, watch out, your new puppy is about to air-drop.” But when companions mature, the world will be much different, and hopefully better. The nice thing is that the Age of Companions is already underway, so even if Lark doesn’t prolong our lives indefinitely, we’ll get to experience a different world if we’re around for a few more years.

The future is becoming a complicated place to live in, but at least we won’t have to do it alone.


 

* It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always this way. Most machines served a single function; a phone was a phone (like, a thing you talked into), a screen was a screen, a camera was a camera, etc. Computers have always had applications, of course, but they were expensive toolsets, different than what we generally consider “apps” today.


 

P.S. Andy Berdan pointed me to another perfect example called x.ai. It automatically works to schedule meetings with a group of people, just by including its address in a regular email. It highlights that, like the other examples above, these companions aren’t apps, and they can run on many platforms.

Our established technology—hardware, sensors, apps, messaging, even email—is becoming a platform for companions. Just like clocks are now only tiny pieces of smartphones, all our whiz-bang gadgets and applications are becoming nothing more than infrastructure upon which companions are built.

BlackBerry Acquires Good Technology: Initial Analyst-Type Thoughts

In a surprise move, BlackBerry has announced its purchase of Good Technology. Enterprise mobility management (EMM) is one of my main areas of focus here at Info-Tech, so this is big news in my little world. Here are some initial thoughts:

  • This isn’t surprising. We’ve been expecting consolidation in the EMM space since the days when it was just a few small vendors doing it. In the past few years, those small fish have been gobbled up by bigger fish, and now the market is dominated by the terrors of the enterprise seas. BlackBerry may having sagging fins and a few missing scales, but it’s still just another step along the expected path to EMM consolidation.
  • This is surprising. BlackBerry isn’t like some of the big acquirers (think VMware acquiring AirWatch) that were missing an EMM product and bought into the market. One could argue that BlackBerry invented EMM with BES, and BES 12 is a perfectly decent, but lagging, cross-platform management suite. Now they’ve acquired Good Technology which is … a decent but lagging cross-platform management suite. What gap is BlackBerry filling? (Hah, “blackberry filling.”)
  • Is this a joint admission of defeat? This seems like two dinosaurs linking arms in hopes of taking a stand against the meteor. BlackBerry failed to evolve when consumerization brought better hardware, and related management technology, into their enterprise territory. Good failed to evolve when those same forces made users realize they’re perfectly able to get work done without a clunky pain-in-the-butt locked-down container. So they’re both behind other EMM vendors, and maybe this is an admission that they need each other’s help to catch up. They can put their enterprise experience and patents together to go (somehow) take back the territory being ravaged by VMware, Citrix, IBM, and MobileIron.
  • What is MobileIron going to do? They’re the last major pure-play EMM vendor left (except maybe SOTI). MobileIron has been stubborn about moving forward without the backing of a larger vendor, developing its own technology when it can, and forming strong partnerships when it can’t. It has fiercely defended its patents against other vendors—such as Good—to remain self-sufficient. But then again, AirWatch seemed like it was doing fine on its own before VMware came along. I just wonder who would grab MobileIron. Google? Samsung? Amazon’s been making some insane moves. Maybe a telecom company like AT&T or Verizon will purchase MobileIron instead of just selling it under a different name.

So, we are living in interesting times for EMM. As it gains footholds in areas like Windows 10 management and the Internet of Thing, moving beyond mobility alone (and maybe needing a new acronym), it will continue to be interesting. It remains to be seen if BlackBerry and Good can form some supergroup that takes back the enterprise stage, or if this acquisition is just the wailing of two dying cats.

[I’m sorry that I can’t decide if EMM vendors are fish, dinosaurs, or musical cats. It’s the Friday before a long weekend and my metaphor skills are like a … sort of like … um … they’re bad.]

Laziness Drives Progress

Image via Rinspeed

I think about autonomous cars a lot.

That’s partly because I don’t enjoy driving. However, a lot of people do. Many of those people promise that they will never buy a self-driving vehicle. I propose that laziness will drive that promise right out of them.

Today, even people who own cars will occasionally take a taxi. To the airport, or out drinking, or when traveling. As taxis become autonomous, they will be even more convenient. Imagine tapping your smartphone, then 30 seconds later a car arrives for you, and you can step inside and keep dicking around on your phone, or have a meal, or get work done, until it drops you off right at your destination. And it only costs a few dollars.

Even people who love driving will take advantage of that once in a while. At first maybe it’ll only be to get to the airport. But then it’ll be when they have a deadline coming up, or are really hung over, or are just feeling lazy.

As those situations become more common, and driving your own car becomes less common, the per-trip cost of owning a car becomes prohibitive. Is it worth tens of thousands of dollars in purchase price, fuel, maintenance, and insurance just to drive a car once a day? Once a week? What about once a month?

“I’m too lazy to drive, just this once” can quickly become “I haven’t driven in a month and I might as well sell my car.” As more and more people succumb to laziness and rely on a cloud of autonomous vehicles, houses will gradually lose their driveways and garages, and the thrill of driving will be confined to go-kart tracks.

In short, human laziness will lead to a more efficient, car-ownership-free world.

I think it’ll be a good change. The people who disagree will be too lazy to resist it.

How Artificial Intelligence Will Kill Science With Thought Experiments

Think about this:

Science—empirical study of the world—only exists because thought experiments aren’t good enough. Yet.

Philosophers used to figure out how stuff worked just by thinking about it. They would take stuff they knew about how the world worked, and purely by applying intuition, logic and math to it, figure out new stuff. No new observations were needed; with thought alone, new discoveries could be created out of the raw material of old discoveries. Einstein developed a lot of his theories using thought experiments. He imagined gliding clocks to derive special relativity and accelerating elevators to derive general relativity. With thought alone, he figured out many of the fundamental rules of the universe, which were only later verified with observation.

That last step is always needed, because even the greatest human intelligence can’t account for all variables. Einstein’s intuition could not extend to tiny things, so his thought experiments alone could not predict the quantum weirdness that arose from careful observation of the small. Furthermore, human mental capacity is limited. Short-term memory can’t combine all relevant information at once, and even with Google, no human is capable of accessing all relevant pieces of information in long-term memory at the right times.

But what happens when we go beyond human intelligence?


New York as painted by an artificial intelligence

If we can figure out true artificial intelligence, the limitations above could disappear. There is no reason that we can’t give rise to machines with greater-than-human memory and processing power, and we already have the Internet as a repository of most current knowledge. Like the old philosophers on NZT, AI could take the raw material of stuff we currently know and turn it into new discoveries without any empirical observation.

Taken to a distant but plausible extreme, an advanced AI could perfectly simulate a portion of the world and perform a million thought experiments within it, without ever touching or observing the physical world.

We would never need science as we know it again if there were perfect thought experiments. We wouldn’t need to take the time and money required to mess with reality if new discoveries about reality could be derived just by asking Siri.

It solves ethical issues. There are a lot of potentially world-saving scientific discoveries held back by the fact that science requires messing with people’s real lives. AI could just whip up a virtual life to thought-experiment on. Problem solved.

Of course, AI brings up new ethical problems. Is a fully functioning simulated life any less real than a physical one? Should such a simulation be as fleeting as a thought?

As technology advances, there will be a lot to think about.

Light and Dark in Daily Deals

Dealfind.com, one of those daily deal Groupon clones that everyone got sick of, often posts questionable deals. Some are only useless or frivilous (oh hi Justin Bieber tooth brush), but others are actively deceptive.

One such deal was for a “Crystal Bala Bracelet With Magnetic Hematite Beads.” While careful to avoid specific health claims, they do claim that “in Buddhism, the pañca bala, or Five Strengths are critical to the achievement of enlightenment. Now you can keep them close to you every day with the Bala Bracelet.”

How does a mere bracelet help you achieve enlightenment? Well:

“Crystals catch and refract the light every time you move [and] six beads of magnetic hematite polarize the effect of light and dark”

Sciencey yet spiritual! It must work. It’s not quite the magnetic bracelets you see at summer festivals that claim to cure cancer, but still, manipulative and deceptive.

Luckily Dealifind has a forum to clear up any misconceptions about the products, so I dug a little deeper. Here’s my conversation:

Mike (me)

Can you provide a link to the peer reviewed scientific articles supporting the claim “six beads of magnetic hematite polarize the effect of light and dark”? I’m sure they just got left off by accident. Thanks!

Amy (Dealfind Admin)

Hi Mike,

Thanks for your inquiry.
Our deal page states:

“In Buddhism, the pañca bala, or Five Strengths are critical to the achievement of enlightenment. Now you can keep them close to you every day with the Bala Bracelet. Each of the crystal-encrusted balls represents one of the bala: Faith, Energy, Mindfulness, Concentration and Wisdom. Six beads of smooth magnetic hematite provide the perfectly polarized color choice to offset the crystals.”

For more of a scientific background, please contact Widget Love at 1.800.990.6771.

Thank you!

Mike

I have to call them just to have any idea about whether or not the bracelet does what it says it does? 😦

Can you at least explain what “polarize the effect of light and dark” and “polarized color” even mean?

I want to know more about what I’m getting into before buying into this sca–…er…product. I’m afraid polarizing my dark could have serious medical effects.

Thx!

The above post was deleted shortly after posting it. Later:

Mike

Oh fiddlesticks, I think my follow-up post failed to go through so I’ll post my question again:

Can you at least explain what “polarize the effect of light and dark” and “polarized color” mean?

Thanks!

Mesha (Dealfind Admin)

Hi Mike,

Thank you for your post.

In this sense polarized means that although the colours range from one extreme to another (both dark and light) they compliment each other and the crystals.

For more of a scientific background, please contact Widget Love at 1.800.990.6771.

I hope this helps! 🙂

Mike

Ah, so it’s saying “there are black rocks and white rocks but they are both rocks.”

Thanks! That clears up everything! I’ll take 50!

That post was deleted too.

Yeah, I’m kind of just being a dick. But trying to sell people bullshit (bullshit capitalizing on the perfectly respectable religion of Buddhism) is also pretty dickish. So screw Dealfind and the dickshit company they promote. It’s just a cheap bracelet, but every penny milked from gullible people through lies is a penny too much.

iBooks, eBooks, and Episodic Writing

Apple announced a new version of iBooks for iPad a few weeks ago, focusing on how it can deliver inexpensive textbooks to students. It’s being pushed as a revolution in education, but does the same update have applicability outside of the classroom?

Aside from the (often gimmicky) interactive widgets and other benefits of electronic books, they offer “current” as another advantage of electronic books. The main idea here, in the context of textbooks, is that a new edition can be distributed inexpensively, without the need to buy a new 5-pound $300 book every year. I see potential for another use: episodic fiction.

Serial publishing is not new. When advances in technology and economy allowed magazines to be widely distributed in the 19th century, it was popular for authors to release long works in short segments. As magazines shifted their focus away from episodic fiction and television replaced that niche, the idea of a serialized work of text started to die (with occasional exceptions, like Stephen King’s The Green Mile). Today, we’re facing more leaps in technology and in the economics of distribution that, I think, have potential to bring serial fiction back.

Imagine this: you hear about an author releasing a story with an intriguing premise. You download the first “episode,” then every, say, Wednesday, you get a notification alerting you that a new episode is out. Either for a small fee per episode (99 cents seems fair) or a flat “season pass,” you get new content every Wednesday for a few months, automatically updated and waiting for you when you open iBooks.

I’m not sure if this is how iBooks currently works (the new textbook stuff, as usual, locks out Canadians), but they seem to be going in that direction with the “books as apps” model. It’s not unique to Apple, either; the same thing could easily be implemented on any other e-reader with minor tweaks. It’s been attempted, but Apple’s app model demonstrates how streamlined it could be1. And in a generation that often prefers TV to movies and Twitter to blogs, maybe we’re ready for bite-sized fiction’s big comeback.

Would you buy a book that updates itself with new content every week? Really, I’m asking, because I have a few stories in the file drawer, and I’m seriously considering experimenting to try turning these tumultuous times into something awesome.


1 Note that Apple’s new updates come with a giant catch: a ridiculous license agreement. The main problem is that if you use iBooks Author to create a work, you can only sell that work through iTunes. It’s equivalent to buying a guitar, then finding an attached note saying you can only sell your music through Gibson’s store. Ridiculous. Hopefully this gets changed, or people realize simple workarounds (change one word in the file using different software; tada! All-new work that can be sold wherever you want).