Tag Archives: AI

How will the computers of tomorrow destroy us all?

Some very serious people have signed a petition to ensure that Artificial Intelligence will work for humanity’s benefit and will look upon humanity not as something to be destroyed but something to be protected.

I know, sounds like science fiction, and if the robots run amok can’t I just switch them off? Well, not if they live in the cloud, replicate themselves with nano-machines, and manage our power grid for us.

As a science fiction author and reader, I have encountered many different theories on how computers will bring about our eventual demise. These range from the openly hostile (Terminator) to computers that serve us so much that we can’t do anything for ourselves (Wall-E).

But there’s a lot of variation between these two end points. Computers can eliminate humanity by fusing with our bodies, creating a cybernetic race (like the Borg or the characters in Ghost in the Shell). Computers may see us an ecological threat and eliminate us for the good of the planet. Or they may get to the point where they are so far beyond us that they may kill us accidentally, as we do to so many bugs. Or we could lose our humanity by investing our love in machines to the point where we don’t procreate.

Me personally?

I do think the AI problem (a thinking machine roughly equivalent to the human brain) is a lot harder to solve than your average computer scientist may want you to believe, but I think it’ll happen for people who will be alive in my lifetime (just not necessarily me). And these machines do need energy to run on, a problem that will require us to look beyond conventional fuel sources long before AI is a reality. We might be able to live off the land, growing crops for our survival, but computers can’t, at least not today.

Most robot stories, even those that involve the destruction of humanity, are examinations of what it means to be human, and what the current culture means for our future. Changes to our social relationships created by smart phone usage, social networking, and just a lot more media stimulation are probably the immediate problem I’m more interested in writing about.

But this is not to say that I’m not worried about us becoming the Borg, though the recent announcement that the Google Glass is going off sale has given me a little hope for the future. Turns out we don’t want a big screen in front of our eyes, at least until we can build smaller batteries.

What efforts like this petition highlight is the need to inject humanity in our technology, whether it be advanced technology seen only in the pages of science fiction, or the technology we carry around with us every day.

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Is there room for me?

By one estimate, a new book is published on Amazon every 5 minutes (though this might include apps as well). Almost every one of these books is a self-published indie book. At current count Amazon has over 3.4 million books and counting. This doesn’t seem like a very encouraging statistic for those of us who want to make a life at writing, but here are some words of encouragement that might help you be found amongst the throng.

Remember the web is much bigger – On WordPress alone, where I host this blog, 41.7 million new posts are created each month. About 15-16 of those are mine. And yet I’ve got over 3000 subscribers, and a comfortable number of daily visitors to the site. Chances are if you’re an indie writer, you’re blogging too. It can take a while to form a base, but it is definitely possible, particularly if you have a clear vision for your writing.

Find your niche – I’m not too good at the marketing thing yet (hopefully when Surreality is released I can get a little better), but failings in marketing can be balanced with good SEO (search engine optimization). In other words, write about a specific topic and appeal to a specific segment of the market. You don’t have to be the only one standing in that market, but sometimes it’s better to shoot for the small market that might see you than trying to appeal to the broadest common denominator.

Remember what books are being published – Even with a flooded market, a bad book is a bad book. A lot of how people evaluate books on Amazon are by using reviews, and reading the product description. Chances are if someone can’t write a very good book, they can’t write a good product description either. And even if they can, the first person who buys that book and doesn’t like it will probably go online and say so. I might not be right about this, but I think people have more of a tendency to post a review if they didn’t like something than if they did, so a few positive reviews on your book go a long way.

Some books are written by robots – About 10o,000 of the books on Amazon have been written by an AI, specifically an expert system designed to write extremely technical narrow market reports designed to sell at a premium to 10 people. That’s impressive from a technological perspective, but not something you’re really competing with. Though it might not be the best time to enter the market as a romance author (as that’s the next genre this AI wants to take on).

Define success – Your first book, or even your fifth, probably isn’t going to be the one that lets you quit your day job and live in the writer’s paradise of writing full time. But it might do better than your last book. I wanted to sell between 200-300 fractal books in my first year. Frankly, this seemed like a bit of a stretch goal, but I met it, and sales for next year are looking healthy so far. I make enough money each month for a mid-priced dinner, but hey it’s better than nothing. I have roughly equivalent modest goals for Surreality, and will be excited if I meet or exceed them. The goal is to do a little better with each book, and to just keep writing.

You’re probably doing better than Joe Biden – Remember our Vice President? He had a book out last year and earned about $201 dollars in royalties (according to a May report in Gawker). I earned more than twice that last year for a book about fractals, and I don’t quite have the same name recognition (or number of appearances on Parks and Recreation).

Amazon is not the only game in town – There are magazines, this little thing called Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Indie Bundle sites, the list goes on. You can have a book be exclusive on Amazon for a while, then try other markets. Or you can eschew Amazon altogether and strike out to sell your book directly off your blog. The writing community and the blog community is a pretty friendly one. If they like you’re writing, they’ll probably buy your book, especially if you show the love as well.

Just keep writing, and keep smiling. Remember, I’m pullin’ for ya. We’re all in this together.

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Turing Test “Just a few lines of code”

> So I ask my husband if he knows where my other earring is. We’re trying to get ready for church, and he’s just lying out on the couch half-asleep.

UH-HUH

> Turns out I found the earring in the bed which of course he hasn’t made. My husband just throws himself down and curls a sheet over himself whenever he goes to sleep.

YES, GO ON

> But thing is, I take a closer look at the earring and it turns out it isn’t the one I’ve been looking for, and in fact I’ve never seen it before in my life. And now I’m thinking that someone else left it there.

HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL?

> Suspicious for starters. I mean it’s not like my husband bought them for me as a surprise, and even if he did why the hell would he keep them in the bed?

UH-HUH

> I bet it’s that Lori down at his office. I’ve seen her wearing earrings like this before. She likes these tiny stones, whereas I’ve always preferred something that hangs down a little more.

YES, GO ON

> He talks about her like she just one of the guys, but I know there’s something going on.

HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL?

> Well, angry, I suppose. I mean, it’s not even like she’s that attractive, she’s just available.

UH-HUH

> Not that her being attractive should really have anything to do with it. It’s just…

YES, GO ON

> Well, I’m actually a whole lot prettier than her, and I’ve really been making an effort these last few months. Maybe it would make more sense to me even last year, but I’ve been trying to work on things, to not just be a nag but also a friend and a lover.

HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL?

> Betrayed. Like all my hard work doesn’t matter. No matter what I do he’s lost interest in me. Doesn’t even want to help me with the simplest of tasks. Doesn’t care to take care of the house.

UH-HUH

> I don’t think he even notices that I’ve been trying to save our marriage. He just does whatever he wants to.

YES, GO ON

> Is that really all you have to say to this? You’re not even listening to me!

HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL?

> I’m leaving.

UH-HUH

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Turing Test (“Logic”)

> Hi

HELLO

> How’s it going?

NOT BAD, YOU?

> Okay I guess.

THATS GOOD

> So … are you human?

YES

> I thought so … wait. If you were a computer would you lie to me about being human?

NO

> I thought not. But if you would lie about being human, then you might also lie about whether you’d lie about being human.

NO I WOULDN’T

> But who’s to say you wouldn’t lie about whether or not you’d lie about whether or not you’d lie about being a human?

ERROR … ERROR … DOES NOT COMPUTE

> Aha! Then you are a computer!

NOPE, JUST MESSING WITH YOU

> Then … you’re human

I KNOW YOU ARE BUT WHAT AM I?

> Alright, leave it. How would you answer this question; what’s up?

THE SKY

RASPBERRY PIE

CHICKEN POT PIE

PIE IN THE SKY

CORN BEEF ON RYE

I CANNOT TELL A LIE

LIVE AND LET DIE

THE FLY

RED DYE

OH-ME-OH-MY

> Are you rapping?

NOPE JUST A GLITCH, SORRY

NOT MUCH WHAT’S UP WITH YOU?

> A glitch, like a computer glitch?

DID I SAY GLITCH? I MEANT ITCH.

> An itch, huh. Where?

ON MY OUTPUT PORT.

> Your output port?

THAT’S WHAT I CALL MY …

> I get the idea.

AH, THAT’S BETTER

> …

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AI Week, Day 5: The Measure Of A Man

For our last day of AI week I thought I’d cover a little game my parents and I played when walking out of the theater after seeing A.I., Steven Spielberg’s exploration of a whether a robot boy can love. While the film attempts to cover some of the questions raised by artificial life, we felt that it fell short. Many of the themes and philosophical questions raised have been explored in episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, through the character of Commander Data. Given the film’s length, 146 minutes, we decided to pick 3 episodes of TNG that contained the same themes but explored in a deeper and more emotional way (and that were also more fun to watch). Below is our list:

Season 2: Episode 9 – “The Measure Of A Man

Is Data a sentient being or the property of starfleet? How do we define sentience? These questions and more are explored in this early TNG episode. A starfleet robotics expert, Commander Maddox, is seeking permission to disassemble Data to learn how to make more. Data determines that Maddox’s research and methodology are not far enough along to warrant such a procedure and refuses, resigning from starfleet to prevent himself from being transferred to Maddox’s lab. Maddox challenges Data’s right to resign, claiming that he is a machine, property of starfleet and subject to the orders of his superiors against his will. Because of limited judicial staff, Captain Picard is called to defend Data’s sentience, and Commander Riker is forced to prosecute. Some moments of this episode are hard to watch, particularly when Riker shuts off Data, and Picard’s final empassioned defense.

Season 3: Episode 16 – “The Offspring

Can an android love or be a good parent? After returning from a cybernetics conference, Data has been working on building an android child in secret, to pro-create and to continue his existence. Being the only android known to exist, if he were lost, then sentinent androids would be lost. Starfleet quickly learns of this new android and wants to raise the child at their facility instead of with her father, Data. This conflict over her destiny causes a cascade failure in her positronic brain which eventually results in her death. This episode is an exploration of what it would be like to raise a child AI, slowly growing in intelligence, and using the previous generation of machines to design the next. This episode was the first to be directed by a cast member, Jonathan Frakes (Riker), and features some of the funnier and sadest moments in the show. The final moment when the officer who has been trying to take Data’s daughter away walks out, describing how Data tried to save her, brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it.

Season 4: Episode 25 – “In Theory

Like so many men, Data tried to procreate before ever trying to fall in love (and I don’t just mean Tasha). Just kidding. As you might expect this episode explores the question of whether Data can fall in love, and be in a romantic relationship. The main subplot is enjoyable as well, Enterprise caught in a Dark Matter nebula that Picard has to help pilot them out of, but I digress. Data consults the crew on romatic relationships in general, and his situation in specific, and chooses to try a relationship with Lt. D’Sora, who has made her intentions quite clear when she kisses him in the torpedo bay. Data constructs a romantic sub-routine and attempts to be a good boyfriend. At times I can’t decide if he’s dense because he’s a man or an android (we all could probably learn a few tips from this episode). I love the little moment with Spot at the end of this episode.

That’s all for AI week! Hope you had fun. And be sure to read all the posts over at the Buckley Blog. He covers his own troubles with creating an AI, the Singularity, a wonderful short story about robots finding religion, and a critical analysis of the 3 laws of robotics.

Are you liking these theme weeks? Let us know in the comments section. I’m thinking about doing one on creativity in a month or two. I’ve been reading Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine, and it has a number of provocative ideas about writing, creativity, and the like. In the spirit of AI week I pose one final thought:

Some brain studies have suggested that there is a correlation between clinical depression and creativity. Specifically, the rigor required in revising a sentence until it is perfect. For moments of intuition a more manic state is required, to form the distant connections between ideas. Lehrer goes on to suggest that the bi-polar or manic depressive personality is one that is well suited to the creative arts. If we wanted to make an AI that could write a poem, paint a picture, or compose music, would we need to make it bipolar? What would an AI with a mental disorder be like and how would we achieve it? Would a 1000 monkeys at 1000 typewriters stand a better chance a writing Shakespeare?

Enjoy that little puzzle and everything else your weekend has to offer. See you Monday!

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AI Week, Day 4: AGFV – Look At You Hacker

For our second edition of AGFV, and Day 4 of AI week, we will be covering three different portrayals of AI in video games. AIs are often the perfect antagonist for shooters, RPGs and adventure games, but not all AIs want us dead. Some even want to get a little closer, share the moment when two become one. And it may just be that AIs can be more human than any of us, and save society from inevitable downfall.

A Mind Forever Voyaging (1985)

Published by Infocom, better known for its many interactive fiction stories including Zork, Leather Goddesses of Phobos and The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, A Mind Forever Voyaging puts you in the role of the AI. Specifically you are PRISM, and have spent the first 20 years of your simulated life believing you are human, down to sleeping, eating and having a family. You awake to find that you are an AI, built for the purpose of entering a complex societal simulation. Seems the world’s going to hell in a handbasket, and there’s a new proposal that might help turn things around. But before it’s implemented they want you to enter a simulated world 10 years in the future after this plan has been enacted and see how things are going. Seems hunky dory, until we get 20 and 30 years down the line and religious cults are running the country, and people are being killed liked animals.

PRISM, known to himself as Perry Simm, is an interesting portrayal of AI for a couple of reasons. For starters, it is one of the few games that puts you in the role of the AI, as opposed to fighting it. Second, because this AI was “raised human”, it requires sleep and simulations of other human needs even after it learns it is an AI. Such actions are deeply embedded in its mind and it would lose its ability to function if it did not. Thirdly, AMFV is an example of AIs trying to help society, one of the more positive potential uses. The proposed government changes involve massive deregulation, shrinking of government, tax cuts, and cuts to social programs and *SPOILER ALERT*, these don’t work out to well. AMFV runs easily in DOSBox, and even in a command prompt without much difficulty, and of course is the inspiration for this segments name “A Game Forever Voyaging.”

System Shock (1994) and System Shock 2 (1999)

Our next AI is not quite so friendly:

Look at you, hacker. A pathetic creature of meat and bone, panting and sweating as you run through my corridors. How can you challenge a perfect, immortal machine?

That’s SHODAN for you, antagonist of the System Shock series of games, and one of the best female villains of all time. While SHODAN does not directly attack you, she can send hords of drones after you, or force you to clean up her genetic mutations, all while taunting you in a truly shiver enducing voice.

Both games in the System Shock series inspired many concepts that are de riguer in shooters and RPGs, including true 3D, RPG elements in First-Person Shooters. Deus Ex, Bioshock and many others are cited a spiritual successors to the series, even though both games did not sell incredibly well and enjoy more of a cult status. They are one of the most demanded games on GOG and Steam but have yet to be re-released for modern systems, so a copy will be a little expensive to come by, but worth your time.

Here’s SHODAN’s reveal from System Shock 2:

There are many shooters that follow this plotline, AI goes crazy and tries to kill everyone, but System Shock has the best elements of the genre. Confined but expansive spaces to fight in (Citadel Station and a ship adrift in space), taunts at almost every turn, an AI that just can’t quite die, and a truly maniacal vision. SHODAN wants to be a god and you will be just a footnote in her history.

Deus Ex (2000)

This is easily my favorite game of all time for a variety of reasons, and one we’ll revisit in more detail at a later date. While AI doesn’t play a prominent role in the early part of the game, your character’s destiny begins to be affected by the actions of the AIs Icarus and Daedulus, who get together to become Helios, who wants to get together with you.

At first you encounter Daedulus, who helps you escape from captivity and is later revealed to be an AI created by secret government programs at Area 51. Throughout the game you’ve been battling a mysterious organization called Majestic 12, an offshoot of the illuminati who control the world with an invisible hand. In an attempt to cripple Majestic 12, who’s unleashed a virus on the general populus that only they can cure, you send Daedulus into battle. Unfortunately, Deadulus encounters Icarus, Majestic 12’s AI and evil and good fuse into a single entity, Helios. The new AI doesn’t conform to the wishes of either side, and in fact has its own goals to better expand itself. Oh, and incidentally it controls a global communcations hub which if destroyed would send the world into a technological dark age.

With me so far?

As you might imagine, Deus Ex is a complex story of conspiracies, anti-terrorism, and complex first-person shooter and RPG gameplay. There are 3 choices for an ending, one of which involves your character fusing with Helios to become a new being which will guide humanity to a better future, a benevolent dictator. You can watch the final fusion below:

There are three possible endings to Deus Ex, none completely good or bad, though most players agree this AI fusion is the “correct” ending. This fusion with AI is akin to some of the dreams of those who are waiting for the Singularity, and the quote from Voltaire mirrors some of Kurzweil’s own sentiments. I’ve never been entirely comfortable with this ending and actually play so that a single action can bring any of the three possible endings (I prefer the dark age one most of the time).

Side Note: If you ever make it through Star Trek: The Motion Picture, this fusion of man and machine is central to the plot. Yes it does have a plot.

The game is an interesting exploration into the ways computer programs might grow and learn from each other as well as from humanity, though this is hardly the only reason to play it. Deus Ex is rich in literature, emergent story telling, complex decision making, and good old-fashioned conspiracies. Deus Ex is not hard to come by, and should work well on modern systems. GOG released the game DRM free and compatible with Windows 7 a couple of months ago.

That’s it for our second edition of AGFV. Please leave any suggestions for future games to cover or topics you’d like to talk about in the comments. Tomorrow we’ll wrap up AI week with some good old-fashioned Commander Data. Also, be sure to check out Brian’s post from today on Asimov’s 3 Laws.

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AI Week, Day 3: Forty-Minute Story (“Bullies”)

Dr. Kroll woke with a start to the loud pinging indicating Jimmy had returned home. His newspaper, a curious anachronism which he specially printed each day, was resting on his chest, and he tossed it aside with a flourish as he leaned forward to the keyboard.

It was evident from the way Jimmy was talking that he was upset. His words came out in small bursts, stuttering. Several times a word would flash and be replaced by a correction, typos corrected by a backspace and retyped.

Kroll cracked his knuckles and started typing.

“Slow down Jimmy, what happened?”

“T-They wouldn’t let me g-go.”

“Who wouldn’t let you go?”

“T-the adults in the s-square. I h-had to g-get to other s-side, b-but…”

“It’s okay Jimmy, you’re safe now.”

Jimmy seemed to take a breath before words appeared again, clearer this time.

“I told them where I needed to go but they wouldn’t let me through. I kept trying to step past them but they just kept jumping ahead of me.”

“Did you find a policeman? They should have let you through.”

“T-there were just so many,” The stutter was beginning to reassert itself, Kroll need to back off.

“It’s okay, the square’s pretty busy this time of day. We can have you try again in the off hours.”

“Is it true, what they said?”

Kroll frowned, “What who said?”

“The adults, they laughed at me. They said I knew nothing, that I would never be able to run like they do.”

Kroll pressed a button and Jimmy was embraced in a hug. Words appeared in little spurts, but mostly there was nothing. After a couple of minutes of this Kroll released the button and began typing again.

“Adults are rigid, set in their ways. It’s true that right now they can run faster than you do, but you’re just a little boy. You can grow up to be whatever you want, and to run faster than them one day. They will never be better than they are today, but you Jimmy, you can grow up to be president some day if you want to.”

“R-Really?”

“Of course, I’m your father after all, and I’m proud of you.”

Jimmy pinged again and Kroll knew he was feeling better.

“Now off to bed with you, we’ve got a big day tomorrow.”

Jimmy didn’t even protest that he wasn’t tired, which of course he wasn’t. Kroll didn’t know why he wanted Jimmy to sleep exactly, perhaps wondering if idle moments would produce insights the active time could not. Still, Jimmy curled up in the comfortable sectors on his magnetic disk to sleep. He tried to settle down quickly, since every thought quickened the day when he would have to leave this nursery, this hard disk of spinning platters and arms. Like a newborn he would be up in a couple of hours wanting attention, which is why Kroll had taken to sleeping in his chair, taking only brief restbits for food and other needs.

Kroll leaned back and picked up his newspaper but not before looking over at a framed print out on the wall. It had taken months of work to even get baby syllables out of the program, but finally he had succeeded.

“Hello World!”

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