September 09, 2002

I have just spent the

I have just spent the last, oh, hour or so reading the weekly blog "The Story About the Baby", and I've spent much of that time laughing, choking, and/or spraying mouthsful of Coke onto my monitor. Run, don't walk, etc., etc.

I haven't posted in a few days because the net connection to our house was down, and I was much too lazy to schlep the three blocks to the CIT to actually check my mail or post to the blog. Instead, I obliterated the damn Babylonians and am currently working to ensure that Persia meets the same fate. The year is 1910 and I have Modern Armor and Mechanized Infantry on my side: hear me roar!

Also over the weekend, I finished reading a book called The Turing Option. I picked it up in a used bookstore in Philadelphia; it caught my eye because its authors were Harry Harrison and Marvin Minsky. For the non-initiated, Marvin Minsky is a big name in the field of artificial intelligence, and is incidentally my academic grandfather---my advisor's advisor. Harry Harrison, on the other hand, is a really funny author of various sci-fi books, and is probably best known for his Stainless Steel Rat series.

The book takes place in 2023, and it was written in 1992. This is important to note, because in a problem universal to sci-fi (though perhaps worse here than usual), there are places in the book where an explicit or implicit prediction has gone screamingly wrong. Mentions of a still-active Warsaw Pact, for instance, are impossibly jarring. Frequent references to computers with "thousands of megabytes" fall a bit flat, both for the assumption that that would be impressive and the failure to use the correct term "gigabyte" (which was already in use in the early 90s, so they really missed the boat there).

That said, it really was a good book, and worth reading. The premise is that science is on the brink of discovering true machine intelligence, and there are a number of interests who wish to have that information and are willing to go to astounding lengths to acquire it and keep it secret. The book thus ends up being a mystery novel of sorts---how did the crime happen, and who done it?---while spending a great deal of time on some very well-informed speculation on the nature of intelligence and the necessary components of any replication thereof. More credence is given to the Cyc database than I usually am accustomed to, but that may be a function of when the book was written: ten years ago, a lot of people believed pretty strongly in Cyc or something like it as a necessary foundation for any true machine intelligence. I wonder what Minsky thinks of it now.

Also worth noting, if you do read the book, are the extra chapters of the book, that weren't published, that Minsky has put on his web page.

"Jon, didn't you say the table was granite? You don't need coasters unless you plan to set core-temp lava or dildos vibrating at the resonant frequency of quartz on top of it." --Eva Schillace Posted by blahedo at 9:26pm on 9 Sep 2002

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