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Comment Re:This is pretty obvious. (Score 1) 301

Who would have bet on self-driving cars the next 20 years in 2010? And yet, we seem to be on the brink of it.

Who would bet on self-driving cars that work safely and reliably in the next 20 years right now? It's always easy to wheel out some dandy-looking prototype that works fairly well 99% of the time. But that remaining 1% is what hurts you. Given tens of millions of people hurtling about in "self-driving" cars, how many deaths, injuries and other harm does that tiny-sounding 1% represent?

How about facial recognition systems for airports and other public places that don't produce prohibitive numbers of false psoitives? How about speech recognition systems that get above that hard-to-improve-on 99% accuracy? (Sounds great until you work out that with 500-600 words per page, 99% accuracy means 5-6 errors per page - randomly distributed so you have to proof-read everything you have just so breezily dictated).

Comment And they said it could never be done! (Score 3, Insightful) 301

"Called DeepCoder, the software can take requirements by the developer, search through a massive database of code snippets and deliver working code in seconds..."

This I have got to see. By the way, I notice that the first thing mentioned is the proposed name. "DeepCoder" - well, with a name like that, how could anything go wrong? After finding that name, I expect the rest of the project was all downhill. So to speak. Erm...

1. "...take requirements by the developer..." Expressed in what form? As random remarks over a cup of coffee - in which case the usual proportion of incorrect, incompatible and misconceived requirements can be expected, along with the standard quota of perhaps 90% of the requirements not being mentioned at all (because no one has thought of them). Or perhaps in some rigorously defined logical format, in which case we might simply call them "pseudocode" or "Model Driven Design" or perhaps "formal methods".

2. " through a massive database of code snippets and deliver working code in seconds..." Ah, the long awaited "Frankenstein IDE"! Now you too can have a loving companion or friends stitched together from offcuts of raw liver and other offal. If only it weren't so easy to pass so airily over real difficulties to conjure up images of working code delivered in seconds. I wonder if Microsoft has thought of providing some kind of validation utility to make sure that the "working code" actually implements the requirements?

Comment Always Assuming... (Score 2) 57

...(and it's a pretty big assumption) that human beings themselves survive for the next 200 years. And have good enough technology to reach other planets. Our descendants in the year 2217 (if any) may have their work cut out finding enough food and fighting off enemies who want to take their food.

As our numbers grow, and it becomes increasingly obvious that none of our fancifully so-called "leaders" have either the power or the intelligence to do anything to curb the growth, Homo Sapiens [sic] stands revealed as a species which throws up the occasional intelligent individual - but which cannot possibly be deemed intelligent as a whole.

Otherwise, how come no one is in charge? When did you last hear of a bunch of people who were faced by serious threats to their existence, and survived without any central leadership? Instead, we have bought into the "capitalist free market free enterprise democracy" fantasy, which essentially says that if everyone goes flat out in pursuit of his or her own selfish ends, the overall result will be the best of all possible worlds for everyone.

To be honest, you couldn't get away with that as a plot line in "Doctor Who".

Comment Re:Rose tinted glasses (Score 2) 465

World wars have a similar effect. Lots of people die, lots of work to be done, few people able to do it, price of labour goes up.

Actually, the total US deaths in WW1 and WW2 combined were about 522,000. Almost insignificant. Only slightly more than the Russian dead in the Battle of Stalingrad alone.

Comment There is nothing new under the sun (Score 4, Interesting) 388

"Gentlemen, you are now about to embark on a course of studies which will occupy you for two years. Together, they form a noble adventure. But I would like to remind you of an important point. Nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life, save only this, that if you work hard and intelligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole, purpose of education".

- John Alexander Smith, Professor of Moral Philosophy, Oxford University, 1914.

Comment Re:The end (Score 1) 85

Er, not really. As long as the "intelligence" takes the form of algorithms, that means human beings are devising sets of rules for computers to follow. That is not very intelligent - or, at least, the intelligence involved is indirect, remote and attenuated. The people who specify the software's behaviour must communicate what they want clearly, unambiguously, completely and consistently to the programmers, who then have to do the same thing in their code. Finally, the computer does whatever the original specifiers could think of in response to events that they were able to conceive of. A physical analogy would be trying to tie your shoelaces using a pair of 30-foot-long tweezers - only much worse.

The very essence of real intelligence is the ability to recognise patterns immediately and respond to them in creatively flexible - if not always entirely new - ways. The art of making neural networks and the like, which are able to work that way, is in its infancy.

And even when those systems become "production strength", we will face their biggest problem: non-transparency. How far can you trust a superhuman intelligence that not only doesn't explain to you the reasons for its decisions, but is fundamentally unable to do so?

For details, see James Hogan's SF novel "The Two Faces of Tomorrow" (you can skip the fictional part for our purposes here, and just read the lectures on AI). By the way, Hogan was a computer engineer.

Comment Re:Should be obvious (Score 2) 130

Considering we're supposed to be the smartest animal on the planet you'd think we would have learned by now.

A few individuals - a very few - are intelligent, and of those some are creatively intelligent. The species homo sapiens is not intelligent. How can you argue otherwise, when other social animals such as wasps, ants, bees and termites have thriven for over 100 million years, whereas we have existed as a distinct species for maybe 2 million years and in our present, grotesquely mutated, "civilized" form for 10,000 years - and we are on the very brink of self-extermination?

There is no call for anything drastic or spectacular like thermonuclear war. All it will take is another century of "progress".

'Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded--here and there, now and then--are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as “bad luck.”'

- Notebooks of Lazarus Long, from "Time Enough For Love" by R. A. Heinlein

Comment Is this the new definition of insanity? (Score 4, Interesting) 130

“Every year, in late winter or early spring, some 3,000 trucks drive across the United States carrying around 40 billion bees to California’s Central Valley, which houses more than 60 million almond trees... Californian growers now spend $250 million a year on bees”.

"Farmageddon", Philip Lymbery with Isabel Oakeshott, p 63.

Californian growers do not spend that money for fun. They do it because otherwise they will have no crop. Good luck producing 40 billion tiny artificial bees. (Although if the idea goes forward I would buy shares in the manufacturer - just as you will notice that there has never been a massive government IT project that Oracle didn't love).

A simpler and more practical idea would be to stop killing off the bees, which do a great job entirely free of charge.

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Imagination is more important than knowledge. -- Albert Einstein