AI Expert Newsletter
AI - The art and science of making computers do interesting
things that are not in their nature.
Welcome to a new year and the January AI 2005 Expert. This month,
I decided to take a cue from the Christmas special issue magazines
and do something a little different. So I've put together an alphabetical
Artificial Intelligence miscellany for your delight and delectation.
AI being as rich and diverse as it is, there's a lot of variety:
new and old; applied and pure; people and programs; from AI-complete
problems to a zomboid Santa Clause. Next month's Newsletter will
include a do-it-yourself on machine learning using Prolog and other
free software, while in a future issue I hope to include a tutorial
on the connection between symbolic and subsymbolic reasoning.
According to that compendium of hacker slang and culture the Jargon
File, an AI-complete problem is one
that requires creating human-level intelligence. Computer vision,
for example, is generally believed to be such a problem. However,
this wasn't always the case: legend
has it that back in 1967, Marvin Minsky assigned computer vision
to one of his students as a summer project. And despite the next
entry in this alphabet, literary quality language translation -
more than just converting reports and making approximate estimates
at Google pages - is probably another. If setting or choosing student
projects, it is wise to check for AI-completeness.
- Jargon File main page. To get to the dictionary, go to "Browse
the Jargon File", and then to the "Glossary" link about half way
down the contents.
Small, yellow, mind-bogglingly improbable, and a biological universal
translator when resident in your ear, the Babelfish
in Douglas Adams's Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy gave
its name to AltaVista's Babel
Fish online translation service. This is claimed to be the first
to hit the Web, but it is no longer alone. Earlier this year, I
found myself using the PROMT
online English-Russian translator to help me parameterise the error
messages in a Web-based
Russian economic simulator. Type fragments of Russian text on
a virtual Cyrillic keyboard, paste into a Web text box, bash the
Translate button, check the English, then type, paste and
translate back. Wouldn't this have seemed utterly science-fictional
back when the name AI was coined? Back when the First Officer in
any self-respecting space opera would stuff xenocontaminant swabs
into his utility belt and sling a universal translator pack over
his shoulder just before venturing out onto the alien soil...
- Wikipedia entry for Douglas Adams's fish, including his fideist
disproof of the existence of God.
Systran, the translation engine on which Babel Fish is based.
The Babel Fish online translator.
- The PROMT online translator.
- Is it worth learning translation technology? by Joseba
Abaitua, University of Deusto, enquiring what human translators
need know of computer translation. He examines Jaime de Ojeda's
Spanish translation of Lewis Carroll's Twinkle, twinkle, little
bat and the problems a mechanical Ojeda would have in solving
the "formal hurdles" of Carroll's original.
Compositional systems are those whose meanings can be calculated
as a function of their parts and the way these are put together.
Thus the meaning, or value, of the expression 1*2+3*4 can be calculated
by applying the add function to the meaning of parts 1*2 and 3*4.
Compositionality is good when designing data structures and programming
languages, because it makes things built from them modular and easy
to process by recursive decomposition, without having to worry about
the context the parts occur in. Simon Peyton-Jones has an excellent
example in his Composing
Contracts: An Adventure in Financial Engineering, where
he describes how to build representations for a large number of
financial contracts, and a compositional semantics for calculating
their value. The compositionality makes it much easier to add new
kinds of contracts than in other valuation engines.
Compositionality in representational systems is deemed so important
that AAAI organised an autumn conference this year on compositional
connectionism in cognitive modeling. I'll end this entry with
a quote from the call for papers:
The open-ended productivity of the human capabilities
aspired to by AI (e.g., perception, cognition, and language) is
generally taken to be a consequence of compositionality; i.e., the
ability to combine constituents recursively. The aim of this symposium
is to expose connectionist researchers to the broadest possible
range of conceptions of composition - including those conceptions
that pose the greatest challenge for connectionism - while simultaneously
alerting other AI and cognitive science researchers to the range
of possibilities for connectionist implementation of composition.
- Composing Contracts: An Adventure in Financial Engineering.
- Doug Arnold's course notes on Prolog and natural language processing,
Essex University. There are two links to an introduction to compositional
semantics using lambda-calculus and Prolog.
- Page for the AAAI Fall 2004 Symposium Series, with a link to the
symposium on compositional connectionism in cognitive modeling.
I haven't found any of the papers available online, although they
exist in dumb media as an AAAI Press technical report - see www.aaai.org/Press/Reports/Symposia/Fall/fs-04-03.html.
However, the two links below indicate the kind of work that goes
on. Both papers describe attempts to design nets with compositional
semantics. Rushton does this by using activation values which are
matrices rather than scalars, and can represent several binary relations
at once; Werning uses oscillatory neural networks.
Compositional Semantics in a Localist Neural Network J.N.
Rushton, University of Georgia.
- Semantic Models in Neural Networks, by Markus Werning,
University of Düsseldorf.
Č is for two Čapeks. As everyone knows, it was Czech
author Karel Čapek who wrote Rossum's
Universal Robots, the play in which mad inventor Old Rossum
usurps the role of the Creator by artificially reproducing a man
in painstaking detail, while the practical industrialist Young Rossum
produces a stripped-down version of humanity to be sold as inexpensive
workers. Many people also believe he invented the word "robot",
but apparently it was actually his brother Josef. Had Karel done
so, we'd now
be studying laborics.
The word itself is derived from a Slavonic root for "work", but
there's some disagreement on its exact connotations. Some references
say it didn't just mean "work", but work done as a serf - the
most convincing I've seen is that when Czechoslovakia was still
feudal, "robota" referred to those days of the week that peasants
had to work without pay on the lands of noblemen. After feudalism
passed, "robota" continued to be used for work that one wasn't exactly
doing voluntarily or for fun, while today's younger Czechs and Slovaks
tend to use it to mean work that's boring or uninteresting.
Čapek did not write only about robots. The Gardener's
Year is a sweet little gardening diary, surprisingly similar
in feeling to the way an English author might write. Apocryphal
Tales views historical and mythical figures from an unusual
angle, for example the baker whose business slumps because of the
miracle of the loaves and fishes. War with the Newts pits
humanity against giant newts (who behave better than most humans),
with satire on journalistic writing, animal intelligence testing,
and much else. And in The Absolute at Large, atom-splitting
power stations release the God immanent within every particle of
matter; unfortunately, since there is more than one power station,
they each give rise to their own Gods, which then begin to fight.
- Wikipedia entry for Čapek, with summaries and publication
details for some of his books.
- Dominik Zunt's site on Čapek, with evidence for Josef as
originator of the word "robot".
- Maxfield and Montrose about the word.
- Dennis Jerz's page on Čapek contains a detailed summary of
Rossum's Universal Robots.
- About Apocryphal Tales.
- The Robotics FAQ on origin and early uses of the word "robot",
Asimov included. It suggests this nice little definition of robotics:
Force through intelligence.
Where AI meet the real world.
We'd all like to avoid death, but biology doesn't want to cooperate.
So why not download our mind to a computer? This won't be a new
idea to most AI-ers. According
to Raw Kurzweil, we'll be able to do so by 2040. But in a Slashdot
thread, "cshotton" suggests that Ray's timetable is based on
hardware extrapolation and ignores the complexity of the software
needed, while "MercuryWings" imagines a Microsoft Brain XP download
where downloadees have to be restored from tape after a crash, and
any thought about open source software such as Linux causes a nasty
pain down your side to prevent viral GPL contamination. I'm sure
downloading will eventually be possible - but will it be by running
a massively detailed neural or sub-neural simulation, or by emulating
the mind's symbol-level processing? And let's hope the downloadees
don't become zombies. But anyway, this - the avoidance of death
- must surely be the most noble goal of AI.
www.kurzweilai.net/ - Kurzweil's
- CBC Radio's Quirks & Quarks, with links to Ray Kurzweil's
interview in which he sets out a timetable for the development of
downloading, itself downloadable as MP3 or OGG.
- Review of Kurzweil's The Age of Spiritual Machines.
- Slashdot mind-downloading thread. Some rubbish, but interesting
and amusing postings too.
minduploading.org/ - Home
page for the Society of Neural Prosthetics and Whole Brain Emulation
Science. A quick browse through the references and resources will
demonstrate just how much we still need to find out about neurobiology
before downloading (or uploading as some call it) becomes reality.
Elephants don't play chess. They can find food, locate and dock
with mates, and do all the other things needed for a happy, long
and trombipulative life in a complex and uncertain environment,
but what they can't do is play chess. In other words, they don't
do symbol manipulation, but they survive without needing to. This
was the theme of Rodney
Brooks's paper Elephants
Don't Play Chess. He argued that the traditional AI approach
of manipulating symbols and explicitly representing goals was flawed,
leading to brittle software that, when embodied in robots, would
fnd it difficult and computationally expensive to get around in
the real world. As an alternative, he proposed "subsumption" architectures,
based on layers of steadily more complex behaviours.
For example, a robot vacuum cleaner might have a level-1 layer
which just makes it wander randomly round the room, the only sensory
input being from a touch sensor which causes it to turn slightly
and back off when it hits something. This could be supplemented
with a level-2 layer which uses simple light sensing to bias movement
towards darker regions - likely to be under furniture, where dust
is often ignored. On top of this, a level-3 layer might monitor
the weight of the dust bag, and rebias movement towards a fixed
"emptying" station once the weight crosses a certain threshold.
The point is that these layers are simple to implement and test,
involve direct sensor-to-motor links rather than computationally
slow cognition, and allow systems to be developed incrementally,
while having some ability to get around in the real world right
from the start. As with any approach, subsumption architectures
in particular, and Brooks's approach to robotics in general, have
their critics. However, Brooks's ideas are now being applied, not
only to Mars
exploration robots, but to the literally more mundane matter
of home robotics: his company iRobot
markets the Roomba autonomous vacuum cleaner. For more on this,
see my alphabet entry for "V".
- Rodney Brooks's home page. Elephants Don't Play Chess is
linked via his publications page here, as are other papers on the
- Comparative Reference of Cognitive Architectures by Scott
Dexter, Daniel McKown, Seth Rogers, Richard Simpson, and William
Walsh, University of Michigan. A useful comparison, covering subsumption
amongst other architectures.
- Citeseer abstract and links to SUMPY: A Fuzzy Software Agent,
by Hongjun Song, Stan Franklin, and Aregahegn Negatu. A well-known
paper on an unusual use of subsumption, namely a software agent
which helps maintain a Unix file system by compressing and backing
- Some ideas abstracted from reading Rodney Brooks' book Flesh
and Machines. Point-by-point summary from Oricom Technologies,
including (under the heading "Symbiotic Home Lifeforms"), three
paragraphs on vacuum cleaners and the Roomba.
- Exploring Mars Using Intelligent Robots by Paris Andreou
and Adonis Charalambides, Imperial College. A fairly non-technical
discussion of how to construct a Mars Exploration Rover designed
around a subsumption architecture. There's a good selection of links
and printed references.
- iRobot home page.
Many programmers find the Semantic Web language RDF
scary, because it's touted as a system for giving the Web artificial
intelligence, and that sounds difficult. So reports the December
2004 AAAI news, following a feature in the Sydney Morning Herald.
In fact though, it continues, RDF is just a metadata language, or
language for describing data. Using RDF is about adding such metadata
to the Web so content can be better used by programs. So to do my
bit to dispel the fear, I link below to one beginner's guide to
RDF and two tutorials on using it with Prolog. It's amusing to note
that attitudes to AI vary; the quote below is from the first of
those RDF-Prolog tutorials:
The AI label tends to mark things which aren't yet implemented
in a generally useful manner, often because hardware or general
practices haven't yet caught up. That seems to describe the Semantic
Web pretty well.
- AAAI December 2004 news page. Search for "metadata" to find the
Sydney Morning Herald feature.
- What is RDF? by Tim Bray, updated by Dan Brickley. An easy-to-read
XML.com tutorial on RDF for beginners.
- Bijan Parsia's XML.com tutorials on RDF for Prolog programmers,
using SWI Prolog. A few broken links, but still useful.
- The SWI-Prolog libraries page, including an RDF parser and utilities
for storing and querying RDF.
It is rumoured that, in a certain UK university psychology lab,
the monkeys used as one researcher's experimental subjects have
developed specialised neurons that fire only when confronted by
him. Whether or not this is true, in theories of perception, a Grandmother
Cell is a neuron so specialised that it fires only when confronted
by the face of one's grandmother. The term can, it seems, be
traced back to a lecture series delivered by Jerome Lettvin
in 1969, where he introduced, in a discussion on neural representation,
a hypothetical neuroscientist who discovers in the brains of his
some 18,000 neurons... that responded uniquely only to
the animal's mother, however displayed, whether animate or stuffed,
seen from before or behind, upside down or on a diagonal, or offered
by caricature, photograph or abstraction.
The idea may have originated with one of the early models of visual
perception, Oliver Selfridge's Pandemonium. When applied to letter
recognition, this bottom-up model would start with detectors for low-level
features such as vertical lines, horizontal lines, and parts of circles.
These would feed to higher-level detectors for particular letters,
which would themselves feed to a top-level detector that selects the
most highly activated letter detector and hence the most probable
letter. This is the analogue of the grandmother cell.
- Connectionist Modelling In Psychology: A Localist Manifesto
by Mike Page of the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain
Sciences Unit. An interesting paper in which the author compares
distributed representations in connectionist models with localised
representations, distinguishes between distributed processing and
distributed representation, and shows that distributed models supplemented
with local representations can model pyschological phenomena that
fully distributed models cannot. This paper was the source of my
quote on grandmother cells; the author also explains the "Yellow
Volkswagen cell" .
- Course notes on models of human memory by Elizabeth Gordon at
Nottingham. These contain brief evaluations of Pandemonium and other
models - including Minsky's Society of Mind, Kanerva's Sparse Distributed
Memory and Hofstadter's Copycat - against human performance. Other
links on her home page
include her games research, based around Nilsson's teleo-reactive
agents and the Gamebots
- Course slides on object recognition by Darren Burke at Macquarie,
with brief sections on template matching, Pandemonium, Marr, and
Beiderman. His home
page links to other interesting stuff, including research on
visual perception in penguins and sea lions, and on why echidna
brains are so unusually big.
Douglas Hofstadter is the author of Gödel, Escher, Bach,
a book which, with its whimsical form-follows-function dialogues
and examinations of logic, truth and beauty, Gödel's theorem,
Zen, levels of explanation, and Lisp, became popular in the early
80s. He followed it with Metamagical Themas, a collection
of essays first published in Scientific American, and which
show a fascination with style, analogy, metaphor, and translation.
For example: what do all the diverse typefaces we use to write an
A have in common? How could we build a program to recognise that
they're all A's? Turning this through 90 degrees, what is the essence
that distinguishes Courier, say, from Helvetica? If we'd never seen
a B before, how could we build a program to extract the essence
of Helvetica-ness from a Helvetica A and apply it to make a Helvetica
B? How could we apply this essence to letters in a different writing
system, for example Cyrillic, Hebrew, or Chinese?
At the Indiana University Center for Research on Concepts and
Cognition, Hofstadter and colleagues have implemented these ideas
in various programs with "fluid concept" architecture. For example,
the "Copycat" program was written to solve analogy problems such
Suppose the letter-string abc were changed to abd; how
would you change the letter-string ijk in “the same way”?
Possible solutions are:
1. The rightmost letter was replaced by d, hence: ijk
See the links below for more on his research, and my entry for "S"
for thoughts on his approach to AI research.
2. The whole string was replaced by abd, hence ijk -> abd.
3. All c’s were changed to d’s, hence ijk -> ijk.
4. The rightmost letter was replaced by its alphabetic successor:
ijk -> ijl. Most people would give this answer, and apparently so
does Copycat, on 980 out of 1000 runs.
Hofstadter's interests in translation extend far beyond computing.
Person Paper on Purity in Language, first published in Metamagical
Themas and purporting to be by William Satire - an allusion
to New York Times columnist William Safire - is a satirical
and extremely clever piece on racism and sexist language. This is
how it begins:
It's high time someone blew the whistle on all the silly
prattle about revamping our language to suit the purposes of certain
political fanatics. You know what I'm talking about-those who accuse
speakers of English of what they call "racism." This awkward neologism,
constructed by analogy with the well-established term "sexism,"
does not sit well in the ears, if I may mix my metaphors. But let
us grant that in our society there may be injustices here and there
in the treatment of either race from time to time, and let us even
grant these people their terms "racism" and "racist." How valid,
however, are the claims of the self-proclaimed "black libbers,"
or "negrists"-those who would radically change our language in order
to "liberate" us poor dupes from its supposed racist bias? Most
of the clamor, as you certainly know by now, revolves around the
age-old usage of the noun "white" and words built from it, such
as chairwhite, mailwhite, repairwhite, clergywhite, middlewhite,
Frenchwhite, forewhite, whitepower, whiteslaughter, oneupwhiteship,
straw white, whitehandle, and so on ...
- Douglas Hofstadter's home page.
- Wikipedia entry.
- Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition home page. The link
to "research topic pages" leads to more detailed explanations of
the group's research , though some of the pages on specific implementations
are unfortunately still empty.
- Fluid Concept Architecture: A Critical Evaluation by Joaquin
Vanschoren, University of Leuven. An interesting attempt to get
down inside the Copycat architecture and analyse how it works.
- Links to the original source of Copycat, in a somewhat outdated
Lisp, and to a Java reimplementation by Scott Bolland, University
- Daniel Dennett's highly complimentary review of Hofstadter and
colleagues' Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies, including
a point-by-point summary of their work, and comparison with other
- Links to various copies of A Person Paper on Purity in Language
(with Post Scriptum).
I is for Intelligence Amplification, or the use of computing devices
to supplement human brain power. Examples include pen and paper,
slide rules, calculators, computer algebra, the Web, search engines,
and online translators. Some people believe that, rather than work
on general AI, which may be impossible in principle, or at least
infeasible in practice, we should concentrate instead on IA tools
for specific tasks.
- Where is the "Intelligence" behind "Business Intelligence"?
Thoughts on AI and IA by Jay Liebowitz from the Department of Business
and Management at Johns Hopkins University.
- Anders Sandberg's pages on transhumanism and IA. Topics linked
range from mind downloading to intelligence amplification without
computers, including memory-improvement systems and smart drugs.
In my time demonstrating the Oxford
University AI Society at Freshers' Fair, the following two "jokes"
have been thrown at me all too often: "What, Artificial Intelligence?
That's far too hard for me; I don't even have any real intelligence".
And, "What, Artificial Intelligence? I need that; I don't even have
any real intelligence". This entry is, however, not about jokes
aimed at AI, but those generated and enjoyed by it.
Here's a joke said to have been popular in Russia before the Soviet
Union broke up:
Two people are talking about democracy. One is American
and one is Russian. The American tells the Russian: "We have freedom
in America - we can stand next to the White House and call our president
stupid without fear of being punished." The Russian replied, "We
also have freedom in Russia. We can stand in front of the Kremlin
and call your president stupid without being punished, too."
Somehow, this joke seems to be an analogy that hasn't quite worked
out. Perhaps it's like someone telling you the answer to
Suppose the letter-string ab were changed to ba; how
would you change the letter-string abA in “the same way”?
is baA, when you would expect it to be baB. If that reminds you of
my entry on Hofstadter's work, that's not surprising:
he has taken a lot of interest in the subject, as the
seminar linked below on computer puns and humour demonstrates.
Now, as an exercise for the academic reader, what if anything is strange
The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching
for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home
for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When
it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn’t need its brain anymore,
so it eats it! (It's rather like getting tenure.)
- Are Computers Approaching Human-Level Creativity? Seminar #4
of 5: Puns and Humor. Organised by Douglas Hofstadter, and including
Marvin Minsky as panelist, this is an amusing account of a seminar
on computer humour. I'm not sure whether that's because of the panelists'
insights, or despite them.
- AAAI's cartoons page. Below the cartoons are links to various
pieces of work on humour research, including the feature just cited.
- This short Copycat-related page contains the Dennett sea-squirt/tenure
OK, I admit it. I just wanted an excuse to look at pictures of
some really B-I-I-I-G robots, and some of the manufacturers' names
began with K.
- World's greatest android projects page. Lots of robot pin-ups,
with links to the parent universities or companies. I was highly
amused to see that the name of one Australian robot, GURoo, developed
by Gordon Wyeth and colleagues at Queensland, started with the initial
letters of the words "Grossly Underfunded". Will this start a trend?
L is for Lenat. Roughly half-way between the birth of Lisp and
the end of the Japanese Fifth Generation project, Douglas Lenat
wrote the mathematical discovery program AM, to test the hypothesis
that simple heuristics and a uniform control structure could generate
creativity. AM was initialised with definitions of various set-theoretic
functions, plus heuristics for creativity. These included rules
like (I translate from the Lisp) "If a function is interesting,
its inverse is worth investigating"; "A concept is more interesting
if it has been discovered by several independent routes"; and "The
result of making both arguments of a two-argument function the same
may be interesting". From these, AM conjectured the existence of
integers, addition, multiplication, factorisation, primes, the Unique
Factorisation Theorem, and Goldbach's conjecture.
These results were impressive, and caused much argument about
whether Lenat had biased his creativity heuristics towards such
discoveries. But unfortunately, AM then spun off into unproductive
conjectures about numbers with prime numbers of prime factors and
other such stuff. This led Lenat to argue that as AM discovered
new mathematical entities, it would need to discover new discovery
rules too. Mathematicians realise that set theory is a different
kind of beast from number theory: research methods that suit one
don't suit the other. To put this into practice, Lenat designed
AM's successor Eurisko, which did try to discover new discovery
rules as it ran, evaluating each new rule by its usefulness at making
Eurisko is fun because it gave rise to a lot of folklore. There's
an amusing little bit at the end of George Johnson's popular account,
The Computer With A Mind Of Its Own. He tells how, in Eurisko,
sometimes a "mutant" heuristic would appear that did little more
than continually cause itself to be triggered, causing an infinite
loop. During one run, Lenat noticed that the number representing
the usefulness of one newly discovered heuristic kept rising, indicating
that Eurisko had made a particularly valuable find. As it turned
out the heuristic performed no useful function. It simply examined
the pool of new concepts, located those with the highest usefulness
values, and marked them as having been created by itself.. Read
the article also to find out how Eurisko was banned from the Traveller
war-game tournament, because it proved too successful at generating
These days, Lenat is best known for Cyc, his attempt to express
as much as possible of human knowledge in logical form, as a resource
of common-sense knowledge for AI reasoning systems. According to
Marvin Minsky in a speech
delivered in 2003, AI has been brain dead for 15 years, Cyc
being one of the few worthwhile exceptions. Others may disagree
- but where else can you find what Scientific
American tells us is just one of the chunks of knowledge
in Cyc's knowledge base. Need I translate?
(holdsIn (YearFn 1998)
- Eurisko, The Computer With A Mind Of Its Own by freelance
writer George Johnson. A nice popular-science account of AM and
Eurisko, and of why Lenat wrote them.
- Paper on appling market discipline to Eurisko's rules.
- Thesis on the discovery program Cyrano, by Ken Haase, MIT. Includes
a reasonably detailed comparison with AM, and a run through AM's
- Wired feature on Minsky's recent pronouncement: AI Founder
Blasts Modern Research.
www.cyc.com/ - Cycorp home page.
- A somewhat sceptical 1994 report on Cyc by Vaughan Pratt, Stanford.
- An assortment of Cyc-related links from Jorn Barger.
- Some useful links on common-sense reasoning from AAAI, including
classic papers such as John McCarthy's 1959 Programs
with Common Sense, news, and various items concerning Cyc.
Search for "An Entity Named Monica" to find Scientific American's
Cyc translation of presidential mis-doings.
The word "meme" was coined by Richard Dawkins in his book The
Selfish Gene to denote a piece of information that, like a gene,
can replicate and evolve. Examples of memes include proselytizing
religions, catchphrases, nursery rhymes, advertising jingles, and
the idea of memes itself. If genes compete for physical resources
such as food and light, memes can be seen as competing for resources
such as storage space (whether in books, academic papers, Web pages,
or brains) and replication efficiency (whether by word-of-mouth
gossip, transfer of virus-infected floppies, or propagation of Internet
worms). It's hard to make memetics, the study of memes, as rigorous
as genetics, because genes, or at least DNA strands, are clearly-definable
physical objects. But there have been some interesting attempts
at applying memetics to, for example, memory.
Anyway, as Edmund Chattoe's paper on Virtual
Urban Legends: Investigating the Ecology of the World Wide Web
illustrates, some of it needs no excuse other than that it's fun.
- Huge list of memetics links from G.B. Waldschmidt at Indiana University
- Purdue University Fort Wayne.
- A long list of links to memetics-related publications, including
papers by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Peter Medawar.
- Virtual Urban Legends: Investigating the Ecology of the World
Wide Web by Edmund Chattoe, Sociology Department, Oxford University.
- A Day in the Life of a Meme by Liane Gabora, Center for
the Study of the Evolution and Origin of Life, University of California.
The paper, which "outlines a theory of how memes evolve, and illustrates
how a memetic perspective provides not only not only a foundation
for research into the dynamics of concepts and artifacts at the
societal level, but a synthetic framework for understanding how
mental representations are generated, organized, stored, retrieved,
and expressed at the level of the individual", is a meme-based theory
vmyths.com/ - The Vmyths site,
where you can "Learn about computer virus myths, hoaxes, urban
legends, hysteria, and the implications if you believe in them".
Not unrelated to memes, since both computer viruses, and hoaxes
about computer viruses, can be seen as memes.
Is there one general principle underlying intelligence, or is
it a collection of domain-specific hacks and tricks bodged together?
Roughly speaking, "neats" believe the former and "scruffies" the
latter. Or, as the Jargon
File puts it, neats tend to believe that logic is king, while
scruffies favor looser, more ad-hoc methods driven by empirical
According to Wendy Lehnert, in her AI memoir Cognition,
Computers, and Car Bombs: How Yale Prepared Me for the 90's,
the term originated with Roger Schank and Robert Abelson in their
research into detailed symbolic models of human memory and belief.
As Lehnert says,
In particular, certain personality traits go hand and
hand with certain styles of research. Schank and Abelson hit upon
one such phenomenon along these lines and dubbed it the neats vs.
the scruffies. These terms moved into the mainstream AI community
during the early 80s, shortly after Abelson presented the phenomenon
in a keynote address at the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science
Society in 1981.
She goes on to quote from this address to the effect that because
the world is messy,
models of mind become garrulous and intractable as they
become more and more realistic. If one's emphasis is on science
more than on cognition, however, the canons of hard science dictate
a strategy of the isolation of idealized subsystems which can be
modeled with elegant productive formalisms. Clarity and precision
are highly prized, even at the expense of common sense realism.
To caricature this tendency with a phrases from John Tukey, the
motto of the narrow hard scientist is, "Be exactly wrong, rather
than approximately right".
But the conflict goes deeper. Indeed,
the stylistic division is the same polarization that
arises in all fields of science, as well as in art, in politics,
in religion, in child rearing - and in all spheres of human endeavor.
Psychologist Silvan Tomkins characterizes this overriding conflict
as that between characterologically left-wing and right-wing world
views. The left-wing personality finds the sources of value and
truth to lie within individuals, whose reactions to the world define
what is important. The right-wing personality asserts that all human
behavior is to be understood and judged according to rules or norms
which exist independent of human reaction.
- Jargon File entry.
- Cognition, Computers, and Car Bombs: How Yale Prepared Me for
the 90's, by Wendy Lehnert.
- Must Intelligent Systems Be Scruffy? by Aaron Sloman. An
entertaining general paper, written in 1989 as connectionism was
becoming popular, in which he asserts that yes, they must, even
to the extent of forcing us to deal with "scruffy semantics". But,
he concludes, horrified rejection of AI is not the correct response.
- The Scruffspace forum article for "Scruffy?", concerning
first use of the words. Their main page says
scruffspace is dedicated to those interested in applying
ai techniques to shape every aspect of humans' lives. more specifically,
it is a common ground for exchanging resources pertaining to understanding
how and what techniques in modern artificial intelligence can be
applied to solving problems in ubiquitous computing. it is maintained
by Max, with the hopes that it will attract other scruffies who
will contribute to make this a more interesting resource.
I have just been told that Taiwan has no ambassador from the US,
but does deploy an air-to-air missile called the AIM-7M. Or, as
my informant expressed it,
<rdfs:comment>A kind of #$AirToAirMissile currently (2000)
used by #$Taiwan-RepublicOfChina.
<rdf:type rdf:resource="#ExistingObjectType" />
<rdf:type rdf:resource="#ProductTypeByBrand" />
<rdf:type rdf:resource="#FormalProductType" />
<rdfs:subClassOf rdf:resource="#AirToAirMissile" />
<rdfs:subClassOf rdf:resource="#GuidedMissile" />
<rdfs:comment>A collection of persons; a subset of #$Diplomat. Each
element of #$Ambassador is a person who is the officially appointed
chief representative of a country's government in dealing with another
government or an international organization. For example, the collection
#$Ambassador includes the U.S. ambassadors to #$Japan, #$Russia,
#$China-PeoplesRepublic, and other countries, and also the U.S.
ambassador to the #$UnitedNationsOrganization. A country sends
an ambassador to another country only if it officially recognizes that
country's sovereign status; e.g., currently there is no U.S. ambassador
<rdf:type rdf:resource="#PersonTypeByOccupation" />
<rdf:type rdf:resource="#PersonTypeByPositionInOrg" />
<rdfs:subClassOf rdf:resource="#Minister-Diplomatic" />
These are only two of the assertions in OpenCyc's latest release of
its "OWL scaffolding", an
ontology or knowledge-classification hierarchy containing, it is claimed,
links relating over 60,000 items.
Now, I'm not currently writing any military or diplomatic reasoning
programs. But the same source also tells me that the abominable
snowman is a sentient, mythological, hairy animal; abrin is a powdery
biological toxin; absinthe is an illegal liquor with a bitter taste;
and Absolut is a brand of vodka. Presumably, were I to search for
"vodka", I'd find it's a legal liquor with a burning taste. Olympic
pentathlon, skeet shooting, and soling; paper clips, paper bags,
Paxil and petals; confusion (generic), Confucian gifts; these are
a few of my favourite things. Sorry, got a bit carried away there.
Anyway, this is a huge repository of common-sense information, and
it's all free! This is OpenCyc,
the open-source version of Lenat's Cyc. One must know how to use
these ontologies, of course - I committed an error by saying the
knowledge base had told me the AIM-7M is used by Taiwan, because
that was only in the comment, so can't (yet...) be interpreted by
a machine. But the point is that this and the rest of OpenCyc's
knowledge are all open source. With such resources now available,
combined with the power of modern computers, this is an excellent
time to experiment with common-sense reasoning in AI.
www.opencyc.org/ - OpenCyc
home page. The ontology referred to above, and the licence conditions,
are both linked from here.
Home page for OWL, linking to a wide range of resources.
- AI Expert Newsletter for June 2003, with Dennis Merrit's
explanation of ontologies and common-sense reasoning, and links
to ontologies and related software.
www.opensource.org/ - Home
page for the Open Source Initiative. Lots of information on topics
such as GPL and other open-source licenses, possible business models
for open-source software, and the advantages of open-source development.
- Seven open source business strategies for competitive advantage.
An interesting article from IT Manager's Journal on profiting
from open-sourcing one's software.
I recently read Time's Eye, the new Stephen Baxter and
Arthur C Clarke novel which has mysterious satellites appear and
scramble time, forming a patchwork of eras into which are thrown
an ape-woman, some twenty first-century soldiers and astronauts
and their futuristic mobile phone, Rudyard Kipling, and Alexander
the Great and Genghis Khan, with their hordes. Perhaps it's because
numerically speaking, most of the others were soldiers looting and
pillaging everything in sight, but I found the book's most sympathetic
character to be the mobile phone. Equipped with "sentience circuits",
the phone is ever-helpful, offering much-needed advice on everything
from weather conditions to history; and it talks and jokes with
its users as if it were human. When at the end of one chapter, it
has to be turned off to conserve a no-longer-replaceable battery
and asks "Will I dream?", I felt a definite pang.
Many SF authors have coined names for their personal intelligence
assistants - compad, comsole, belt, spex - and it's exciting to
think that we've advanced so far that Baxter and Clarke could extrapolate
an existing device rather than having to invent one. But do I feel
like that about my own mobile? Or Microsoft's paperclip? Or any
photocopier I have ever met anywhere in the world? No. Tools like
these need to do much more to understand their user's current state
and goals, to plan how to help, and to understand how to give advice
or assistance with least irritation to the user, bearing in mind
his current mental and emotional state. There is actually a lot
of research on this, but it's so difficult that very little has
yet entered our everyday applications. The AAAI
page on interfaces has some interesting news items, such as
this one from the January 2005 Scientific American: "'If
we could just give our computers and phones some understanding of
the limits of human attention and memory, it would make them seem
a lot more thoughtful and courteous,' says Eric Horvitz of Microsoft
Research. Horvitz, [Roel] Vertegaal, [Ted] Selker and [Rosalind]
Picard are among a small but growing number of researchers trying
to teach computers, phones, cars and other gadgets to behave less
like egocentric oafs and more like considerate colleagues."
And in another novel, 3001: The Final Odyssey, Arthur C
Clarke suggests that considerate software may make humans more considerate,
Illogical though it seemed, most of the human race had
found it impossible not to be polite to its artificial children,
however simple-minded they might be. Whole volumes of psychology,
as well as popular guides (How Not to Hurt Your Computer's Feelings;
Artificial Intelligence - Real Irritation were two of the
best-known titles) had been written on the subject of Man-Machine
etiquette. Long ago it had been decided that, however inconsequential
rudeness to robots might appear to be, it should be discouraged.
All too easily, it could spread to human relationships as well.
- AAAI page on interfaces, with a good variety of news and background
reading. Search for "Considerate Computing" to find the quote above.
- SFRevu interview with Stephen Baxter. To quote the interviwer:
... I think we underestimate our ability to anthropomorphize
devices. I've always felt bad for Clarke's Hal-9000 in 2001, and
yes, the cell phone in Time's Eye is one of my favorite characters,
though I wish it had gotten more air time.
Need an efficient sort? Here's the Jargon
File recommendation for a linear-time version:
A spectacular variant of bogo-sort [algorithm which repeatedly
throws a deck of cards in the air, picks them up at random, and
then tests whether they are in order] has been proposed which has
the interesting property that, if the Many Worlds interpretation
of quantum mechanics is true, it can sort an arbitrarily large array
in linear time. (In the Many-Worlds model, the result of any quantum
action is to split the universe-before into a sheaf of universes-after,
one for each possible way the state vector can collapse; in any
one of the universes-after the result appears random.) The steps
are: 1. Permute the array randomly using a quantum process, 2. If
the array is not sorted, destroy the universe (checking that the
list is sorted requires O(n) time). Implementation of step 2 is
left as an exercise for the reader.
As an implementation hint, should step 2 prove too challenging, I
recommend inserting a small explosive charge into your PC and hooking
it to the sortedness test, thus merely destroying yourself
instead. Subjectively, the result will be the same, since all versions
of you that perceive the array as unsorted will vanish, the only surviving
subjective awareness being one that perceives the sorted version of
Quantum bogo-sort is a spoof, but if you were brave enough to
try it, would it actually work? It is after all just a form of distributed
computation, albeit an extreme one which grabs resources not from
adjacent chips on a bus or computers in a network, but from adjacent
universes in a multiverse. And this, roughly speaking, is the principle
behind quantum computation, a topic which is taken very seriously
indeed. To quote from an FAQ at the Centre
for Quantum Computation,
What's all this about parallel universes? If you only
want to predict what quantum computers will be able to do, you only
need the equations of quantum mechanics. But if you want to explain
how they will do it, you need to understand that the computer you
can see and touch is only one tiny facet of a far larger object,
which is just as real even though its existence is only detectable
indirectly, through the computational work it does for us. The best
way to describe the structure of a quantum computer is not at present
clear, but in some respects it is like many computers similar to
the one we see, performing different but correlated computations
which affect each other through quantum interference.
In fact, the Centre has such excellent tutorials on its site that
I shall plead lack of space and leave you to follow their links. I
have also included two links as starting points for the question of
whether or not our minds use, or require, quantum effects - a belief
held, as many readers will know, by cosmologist Roger Penrose amongst
others. And to finish, for those with sufficient maths, I highly recommend
his new book The Road to Reality as a guide to the mathematics
underlying our universe.
- Jargon File entry for bogo-sort.
www.qubit.org/ - Centre for Quantum
- David Deutsch's home page. Deutsch wrote The
Fabric of Reality, a fascinating justification of the many-universes
interpretation, based on four main strands: quantum physics; the
theory of evolution; the theory of computation; and the theory of
knowledge, explanation and understanding. The book has many enjoyable
insights, of which I'll mention just one: that many-universes gives
us a way to distinguish knowledge (or useful information) from junk.
Think of a sequence of DNA in some organism, containing one subsequence
of meaningful genetic coding and one of junk DNA. The meaningful
coding will have had an important causal role in each universe,
because it helped determine the organism. So in those universes
where the organism is the same, so will be the non-junk DNA. The
junk DNA has no such role, and so will vary at random.
- David Park's review of The Fabric of Reality.
- Fun page of aphorisms and laws which I discovered linked from
- Wikipedia entry for Roger Penrose, including his views on consciousness
and quantum mechanics.
- Synopsis of the topics covered by the Tucson Quantum Mind Conference,
- About Penrose's The Road to Reality.
Become the leader of one million artificial intelligences! This
is the promise of Elixir Studio's long-awaited game Republic:
The Revolution, finally released in late 2003. Set in the
ex-Soviet breakup country of Novistrana, Republic is a game of politics.
Starting with a single loyal supporter, a tiny secret HQ and a very
small base of local support, you must build up a nationwide faction
powerful enough to oust the President and take over Novistrana,
while fighting off other factions who vye for control. There is
much devious social interaction, as you persuade, hire and recruit
all manner of specialist characters to your cause or use less ethical
methods such as blackmail to achieve your aims.
Rendered by Elixir's "Totality Engine", the graphics is said to
be superbly detailed, and looks it from the screen shots - for example,
each post-Revolution building has its own unique pattern of bullet
holes. And the AI is said to be equally detailed: as your viewpoint
roams the city, characters go about their daily business, buying
loaves of bread, entering cafés, commuting on the city transport
system. Many details remain confidential (I would love to see an
open source version), but from a Strategyplanet
machines appear to form an important part of the implementation.
The AAAI page on video
games, toys, robotic pets and entertainment carries news on
a huge variety of games: it's fascinating to watch this and other
sources to see the latest tricks used by designers as they build
AI into their games.
- Elixir's Republic page.
- In a GameSpy interview with James "Prophet" Fudge, Elixir
explain why playing a shadow government could be more fun than attending
the Republican National Convention.
- "DNM"'s review of Republic for Deadalfs. One of the more
critical I have read, suggesting that the AI made little difference
to the reviewer's enjoyment. www.strategyplanet.com/republic/ai.shtml
- Jonathan Mayer's detailed examination of where AI features in
- This AAAI page on video games, toys, robotic pets and entertainment
has lots of interesting games material. Search for "Game sequel
takes leaps in AI technology" and read about the new Sims game.
Like Republic, this would appear to have some nifty AI.
- A Finite State Machine Framework by Jason Brownlee. Short
tutorial from AI depot, with state diagrams, showing how finite
state machines are used in Quake. Of course, any commercial game
will use many confidential tricks not covered in such publications.
Back under my entry for "H", I wrote about Douglas
Hofstadter's work on understanding analogical problem-solving and
the nature of style. One project I hinted at but didn't name is
This tries to understand two important aspects of letters: the "categorical
sameness" possessed by letters belonging to a given category, for
example "a"; and the "stylistic sameness" possessed by letters belonging
to a given style, for example Helvetica. It does so by designing
"gridfonts" - lowercase alphabets whose letters are made by selecting
straight line segments from a predefined grid. Style comes in because
the program is first seeded with one or more letters drawn upon
the grid in a particular way, and must then try to draw the other
letters in the same style. This is made more difficult because the
grids are usually small - 6 by 2 in the Letter Spirit page cited
above - so there's very little freedom to vary the way any given
letter is drawn.
Now think of some well-known modern art movements - Impressionist,
Fauvism, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Cubism. Each has its own style,
but it's difficult to say just what distinguishes one from another.
The history of artistic styles is a huge subject. Do the cognitive
mechanisms underlying it have anything in common with styling Letter
Spirit's 26 letters in their tiny grids? Can we possibly learn anything
useful about style in general by playing around with such microworlds?
Hofstadter argues that we can, and that just as in other sciences,
where to study a phenomenon we isolate it as far as possible from
other influences, so should we when doing AI. Unfortunately, this
is not the way most AI research proceeds.
Whether or not you believe that analogy and style are central
to cognition, the use of microworlds is an important question for
AI. Let me finish with a quote from a source I've mentioned before,
Daniel Dennett's review
of Hofstadter's work. Are your somersaults special?
Hofstadter has numerous important reflections to offer
on "the knotty problem of evaluating research," and one of the book's
virtues is to draw clearly for us "the vastness of the gulf that
can separate different research projects that on the surface seem
to belong to the same field. Those people who are interested in
results will begin with a standard technology, not even questioning
it at all, and then build a big system that solves many complex
problems and impresses a lot of people." He has taken a different
path, and has often had difficulties convincing the grown-ups that
it is a good one: "When there's a little kid trying somersaults
out for the first time next to a flashy gymnast doing flawless flips
on a balance beam, who's going to pay any attention to the kid?"
A fair complaint, but part of the problem, now redressed by this
book, was that the little kid didn't try to explain (in an efficient
format accessible to impatient grown-ups) why his somersaults were
- The Letter Spirit project. Introduction to the project,
with pictures of various gridfonts, and links to research papers.
- Daniel Dennett's highly complimentary review of Hofstadter and
colleagues' Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies, including
a point-by-point summary of their work, and comparison with other
AI architectures (also linked from my entry on "Hofstadter").
- A Day in the Life of... Douglas Hofstadter, from the ACM
student magazine Crossroads.
- Paper on A microworld approach to the formalization of musical
knowledge by Henkjan Honing, Music Cognition Research Group
(MMM), University of Amsterdam and Radboud University Nijmegen.
Paper on applying AI to musical cognition. Microworlds play a key
role in this research, and the paper includes a defence of their
Teledildonics is the integration of telepresence with sex. Classified
by the Jargon
File as "ha ha only serious", the word is, according to Wikipedia,
not so humorous and speculative that it can't be used in serious
contexts, and is indeed the only commonly-used word to express the
precise concept. So far, teledildonics seems limited to mobile
phone attachments and Internet-controlled
sex toys on the tactile side, and virtual chatbot girlfriends
(see AAAI link below) on the psychoemulatory. But as our understanding
of neural interfacing increases, I am certain that this Erotic
Computation Group page will no longer be just a spoof. Ah well,
that's quite enough work for tonight. Time to turn down the lights,
open a bottle of wine, and load my favourite recording onto the
- Jargon File entry.
- Wikipedia entry.
- Wired on sex attachments for Cell Phones That Do It.
- Wired on the Ins and Outs of Teledildonics, featuring
the Internet-controllable sex toys.
- AAAI report - search for "Sex, lies and AI" - on a Hong Kong company
with whose virtual hi-res chatbot you can carry on a virtual affair
www.monzy.com/ecg/ - An
amusing spoof page for the MIT Erotic Computation Group.
"Unconvincing" is an adjective that applies to almost every film
ever made about AI. And as AAAI's science
fiction page reports from the Artificial
Intelligence in the cinema site, almost every robot film ever,
from Robby the Robot in The Mechanical Statue (1907) and Proteus
IV in The Rubber Man (1909) onwards, concern mechanical men going
out of control. The provision of counterexamples is left as an exercise
for the viewer.
- AAAI's science fiction page. This includes a link to Artificial
Intelligence in the cinema and other film sites.
I have long believed that - as I suggested in the November
2004 AI Expert - one of the main forces driving robotics will
be the non-threatening and enjoyable niche for robot pets and other
toys. Now I learn there's another. According to a US Today
feature reported by the AAAI
page on Smart Rooms, Smart Houses & Household Appliances,
it's aging baby boomers, who, as they get older, will need, and
be happy to buy, increasing amounts of hi-tech domestic help, the
robot vacuum cleaners included.
This brings me back to my alphabet entry for "E".
Vacuum cleaners don't play chess. This is because they - or at least
the Roomba, manufactured
by Rodney Brooks's company iRobot
- are, like elephants, controlled by a subsumption architecture.
As "profesor" says on the robot-vacuum
cleaner Slashdot thread:
it's neat to watch it and see the subsumption architecture
in action: "Oh look, it changed from spiraling behavior to wall
following. Now it's just going straight then turning when it finds
One side-effect of these new robots is vacuum-cleaner hackers.
Under the heading "Geek DIY", the AAAI page on Software,
Open Source Projects & Hardware reports that Phil Mass,
Chris Casey and Elliot Mack, part of the Roomba design team, had
in fact hoped that it would intrigue robotics enthusiasts:
The Roomba is a tempting hacker target - big payload,
multiple onboard sensors. But its cleaning duties get in the way.
Despite the fact that the machine will insist in trying to clean up,
there is a Roomba hackers' site, at www.roombacommunity.com/.
One of their projects is the Zoomba,
a Roomba with its microprocessor replaced so it can be used as a platform
for robotics experimentation. Suggested applications include a Zoomba
maze solver, and a mobile security robot made from a Zoomba with wireless
Webcam. There's even Zoomba tag - get two Zoombas, control them with
Javelin Stamp micros, and program them to find and chase one another.
- AAAI page on Smart Rooms, Smart Houses & Household Appliances.
The news item about baby boomers and home robots can be found under
the heading "Domestic bliss through mechanical marvels".
- A good selection of robot vacuum cleaners from the OnRobo home
and entertainment robotics site.
- Slashdot thread. The posting about watching the subsumption architecture
is by "profesor", October 18.
- AAAI page on Software, Open Source Projects & Hardware.
The item about hacking the Roomba is under the heading "Geek DIY".
- The Roomba Community hacker site. This page links to the Zoomba
W is for Winter. Not the one currently reducing my neighbourhood
to near-Siberian cold, but the AI Winter of the late 80s. The phrase
was coined by analogy with "nuclear winter" - the theory that mass
use of nuclear weapons would blot out the sun with smoke and dust,
causing plunging global temperatures, a frozen Earth, and the extinction
of humanity. The AI Winter merely caused the extinction of AI companies,
partly because of the hype over expert systems and the disillusionment
caused when business discovered their limitations. These included
brittleness, and the inability to explain their advice at a level
of abstraction naïve users could understand. H P Newquist's
book The Brain Makers is an interesting read on the business
aspects of the Winter - he describes how the only demo one company
could give of their technology was a baby expert system for choosing
the best wine to accompany a dinner - but a review
on Amazon advises taking his account with a grain of salt. Some
posters on a recent AI winter comp.lang.lisp discussion advise doing
the same, while others say it's pretty accurate.
- Amazon review of The Brain Makers.
- Guy Steele and Richard Gabriel's paper on the evolution of Lisp,
from Lisp 1.5 in 1960 to standards development at the turn of the
90s. This looks briefly at the Winter from the viewpoint of Lisp.
The thread mentioned on comp.lang.lisp started in April 2003 under
the title "history of AI Winter?".
X is for Xenopsychology, the study of extraterrestrial cognition.
We don't know any E.T.'s, apart perhaps from some fossil Martian
bacteria which wouldn't have done much cognition anyway, but we
can still hypothesise about the way they think. Fredzzpyggl and
Bobsqrppyx may have 17 tentacles per head, look like molten bagpipes
swimming in a sodium sea, and text one another by smell-phone, but
according to Marvin
Minsky, we'll still
be able to communicate with them, because as problem-solvers,
they'll face the same limitations on space, time, and materials
as us, and hence evolve similar mental processes. These include
symbolic representations for plans and goals, and economic thinking
to allocate sparse resources. Not everyone would agree, as I've
indicated in the links below.
- Marvin Minsky's home page. His paper, Communication with Alien
Intelligence, is linked from there.
- Mark Bickhard's tutorial on the physical symbol system hypothesis.
He cites Tim Smither's view that the idea of organisms making symbolic
representations of plans and goals is just folk psychology: unhelpful
in designing robots, and unlikely in natural intelligences.
Under the heading You, Robot, AAAI
News reports that Hans
Moravec, like Ray Kurzweil, believes we'll one day download
our minds into computers. But that's a long way off. In the meantime,
he has started a company, Seegrid,
to build vision systems that enable robots to move supplies around
warehouses with no human direction. Most industrial robots don't
have vision, and hence find it extremely difficult to deal with
As Moravec says, it's a long way from downloading minds, but you
have to start somewhere. Nearly everything sold has to be warehoused
at some point, and at some point it must also be rerouted and shipped.
Seegrid's robots can automate the work now done by human workers
who move millions of tons of supplies and products using dollies,
pallet jacks and forklifts. In the warehouse or out of it, if robots
are going to succeed, the world cannot be adapted to them; they
have to adapt to the world, just like the rest of us.
- Hans Moravec's home page.
www.seegrid.com/ - Seegrid
- AAAI news page with the Seegrid report. The original feature,
from Scientific American, is linked from there.
Once upon a time, there was a man who like everybody else, had
a brain and a mind; and who not like everybody else, believed
his consciousness to be separate from both. Perhaps caused by one
or the other - an epiphenomenon - but certainly not an influence
on either. One day his much-loved pet hamster was run over by a
bus. Heart is pierced by grief, all our hero wanted was to die.
At the same time, he realised how distressing his suicide would
be to friends and family.
Suddenly, from a puff of smoke, stepped an angel who proffered
a marvellous potion. One sip, the angel explained, and consciousness
would be entirely annulled - our hero would never feel anything,
never be aware, ever again. But since consciousness is merely
an epiphenomenon of the brain, this would not affect body and behaviour,
which would carry on exactly as if he were still conscious. Barely
hesitating, the grieving protagonist snatched the potion from the
angel's hand and downed it in one, extinguishing his subjective
awareness for ever. His body, however, continued its daily round.
Twenty-four hours later, with another puff of smoke, the angel reappeared
and asked him how he felt. "That potion you gave me", complained
the protagonist, "didn't work at all. I still feel as much grief,
as much loss, as I ever did."
This, roughly, is the plot of An Unfortunate Dualist, a
little fable by philosopher Raymond
Smullyan, which appears reprinted in the excellent collection
of philosophical essays The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections
on Self and Soul by Hofstadter and Dennett. The protagonist
is a "zombie" - a character who lacks consciousness, but who acts
otherwise exactly as he would if he had it. Zombies frequently participate
in philosophical thought experiments. Often, they do so to demonstrate
how ridiculous it is to assume that one can run an exact simulation
of a human, for example a downloaded brain, without it being conscious.
- Indiana University page for Raymond Smullyan.
- The entry for "zombie" in Chris Eliasmith's Web dictionary of
Philosphy of Mind.
- An excerpt from Daniel Dennett's paper The Unimagined Preposterousness
of Zombies, which he begins with the following provocative remarks:
Sometimes philosophers clutch an insupportable hypothesis
to their bosoms and run headlong over the cliff edge. Then, like
cartoon characters, they hang there in mid-air, until they notice
what they have done and gravity takes over. Just such a boon is
the philosophers' concept of a zombie, a strangely attractive notion
that sums up, in one leaden lump, almost everything that I think
is wrong with current thinking about consciousness. Philosophers
ought to have dropped the zombie like a hot potato, but since they
persist in their embrace, this gives me a golden opportunity to
focus attention on the most seductive error in current thinking.
- Zombies Invade Philosophy! home page. Links to a lot of interesting
philosophy, including papers and a links page by philosopher David
Chalmers. As with Dennett, his stuff is definitely worth reading.
- It's Christmas, so I'll finish with this little story, Zombies
of the North Pole. Written by David Bryant, it features Santa
Clause as you've never seen him before.
I want to credit AAAI, the
American Association for Artificial Intelligence, many of whose
pages I've linked to as backup for my alphabet entries. They have
a diverse collection of resources on various aspects of AI, with
pointers to background reading as well as news. Less seriously,
I've referred to pages from the Jargon
File. A few of my links point at Wikipedia
entries. These can be handy summaries, but one should read them
with caution - some appear to be incomplete, or even wrong in parts.
It's a shame that many Wikipedia authors seem not to declare themselves;
doing so would provide some chance of evaluating their biases and
experience. And to anyone new to the Web, it's worth noting that
in his novel A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge called his
galaxy-spanning communications network, " the Net of a Million Lies".
Or as Matt
Visser's relativity resource page has it, "the net is an example
of semi-organized anarchy with zero quality control". And of course,
textbooks, course notes and research papers can contain errors and
oversimplifications, on the Web or off it.
Following last issue's feature on programming
the Aibo, David Touretzky
mailed to say that he is creating a "Cognitive Robotics" course
for Carnegie Mellon that will use AIBO as the platform. Together
Tira-Thompson and colleagues, David is developing higher-level
cognitive primitives for the Tekkotsu
open-source robot-programming framework that will allow AIBO to
be programmed at a more abstract level than currently possible.
Some preliminary information is available in their paper Cognitive
Primitives for Mobile Robots.
- Jocelyn Paine's feature on programming the Sony Aibo, from the
December 2004 AI Expert.
- David Touretzky's home page.
- Tekkotsu home page.
- Cognitive Primitives for Mobile Robots, by Ethan Tira-Thompson,
Neil Halelamien, Jordan Wales, and David Touretzky, Carnegie Mellon
Past newsletters are available at either www.ddj.com
As ever, interesting links and ideas for future issues are very
welcome. Feel free to contact either myself (below) or Jocelyn <email@example.com>
with comments, thoughts and suggestions.
Until next month,
Copyright ©2004 Amzi! inc., CMP, and Jocelyn Paine. All Rights