Monday, January 15, 2018

Yet More Incoherent Thinking about AI


I've written before about how sloppy and incoherent a lot of popular writing about artificial intelligence is, for example here and here -- even by people who should know better.

Here's yet another example, a a letter to the editor published in CACM (Communications of the ACM).

The author, a certain Arthur Gardner, claims "my iPhone seemed to understand what I was saying, but it was illusory". But nowhere does Mr. Gardner explain why it was "illusory", nor how he came to believe Siri did not really "understand", nor even what his criteria for "understanding" are.

He goes on to claim that "The code is clever, that is, cleverly designed, but just code." I am not really sure how a computer program can be something other than what it is, namely "code" (jargon for "a program"), or even why Mr. Gardner thinks this is a criticism of something.

Mr. Gardner states "Neither the chess program nor Siri has awareness or understanding". But, lacking rigorous definitions of "awareness" or "understanding", how can Mr. Gardner (or anyone else) make such claims with authority? I would say, for example, that Siri does exhibit rudimentary "awareness" because it responds to its environment. When I call its name, it responds. As for "understanding", again I say that Siri exhibits rudimentary "understanding" because it responds appropriately to many of my utterances. If I say, "Siri, set alarm for 12:30" it understands me and does what I ask. What other meanings of "awareness" and "understanding" does Mr. Gardner appeal to?

Mr. Gardner claims "what we are doing --- reading these words, asking maybe, "Hmmm, what is intelligence?" is something no machine can do." But why? It's easy to write a program that will do exactly that: read words and type out "Hmmm, what is intelligence?" So what, specifically, is the distinction Mr. Gardner is appealing to?

He then says, "That which actually knows, cares, and chooses is the spirit, something every human being has. It is what distinguishes us from animals and from computers." First, there's the usual "actually" dodge. It never matters to the AI skeptic how smart a computer is, it is still never "actually" thinking. Of course, what "actual" thinking is, no one can ever tell me. Then there's the appeal to the "spirit", a nebulous, incoherent thingy that no one has ever shown to exist. And finally, there's the absurd claim that whatever a "spirit" is, it's lacking in animals. How does Mr. Gardner know that for certain? Has he ever observed any primates other than humans? They exhibit, as we can read in books like Chimpanzee Politics, many of the same kinds of "aware" and "intelligent" behaviors that humans indulge in.

This is just more completely incoherent drivel about artificial intelligence, no doubt driven by religion and the need to feel special. Why anyone thought this was worth publishing is beyond me.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Last Moose Story of the Year: The Limping Moose that Halted an Election


Over in Calgary, a limping moose delayed elections back in October.

The article contains helpful advice, such as "if you see a moose, you are always encouraged to back away slowly and to make your way into a building". When hiking in the wilderness, I always keep this in mind.

Finally, remember these immortal words of Tom Shirlaw: "I spent years in the military and even overseas, you could cast your ballot… never stopped by a moose."

Friday, December 08, 2017

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Moose on the Loose


A moose on the loose near a local airport made the news.

Surely there would be no more Canadian way to die than to hit a moose on the runway with your airplane.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Moose Strike Back


Some moose take exception to being hunted.

With luck, this might be a trend.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Friday Moose Blogging


Moose continue to be a major news item.

In Calgary, Alberta, they like to use public transit.

Meanwhile, a popular pastime among motorcyclists is feeding baby moose:

Hat tips to F. R. and J. E. .

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

How to Be a Demagogue


If you're hoping to become a demagogue --- that is, one who "seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument", this article should be essential reading.

Here we have Allen C. Guelzo, a famous historian who really should know better, claiming that "it is not clear what daring thing the owners, coaches, and players of the National Football League thought they were doing Sunday when they collectively took a knee or raised clenched fists while the `The Star Spangled Banner' was played."

Let's ignore for the moment the implied sneer in his choice of "daring"; we'll come back to it later.

"Not clear" what they were doing? Only if you haven't been paying any attention at all.

The recent origin of these protests is, as everybody knows, Colin Kaepernick's 2016 refusal to stand for the national anthem. His motivations are clear, because he has discussed them on several occasions: it is to protest wrongdoing and very real police misconduct against blacks and other minorities.

How does Prof. Guelzo not know this?

Other players have since joined in the protests. Kaepernick "took a knee" in a game in September 2016, and was joined in his protest by teammate Eric Reid. Kaepernick was quoted as saying, "I can't see another Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Eric Garner. At what point do we take a stand and, as a people, say this isn't right? You [the police] have a badge and you're supposed to be protecting us, not murdering us."

These were completely peaceful protests. Yet the reaction from the far Right has been insane. For example, Pastor Allen Joyner apparently advocated murder of the protesters: "If you don’t want to stand for the national anthem you can line up over there by the fence and let our military personnel take a few shots at you."

In September of this year, a full year after Kaepernick began his protests, President Trump decided to weigh in, advocating that those who protested should be fired. After Trump's remarks, many more players joined the protests. Their reasons have been discussed at length: many players felt that they had to stand up for their 1st amendment rights in the face of a government official --- Trump --- trying to prevent them from exercising them. In doing so, Trump was possibly in violation of 18 U.S. Code § 227 (a).

For example, Baltimore Ravens player Benjamin Watson was quoted as saying, "A lot of guys were upset about the things President Trump said, were upset that he would imply that we can’t exercise our First Amendment rights as players. We were upset that he would imply that we should be fired for exercising those rights. It was very emotional for all of us. We all had decisions to make."

How does Prof. Guelzo not know this? It's been discussed in dozens of articles and interviews.

In my opinion, Prof. Guelzo, who is no fool, probably knows quite well why the players are protesting. But to explore these reasons seriously would detract from his demagogic goal.

You might think a US history professor would applaud players who engage in peaceful protests. You might think a man posting on a site about "American Greatness" could use this to tell us about our 1st amendment rights and why they are vital to American democracy. You might think a professor who wrote a biography of Lincoln would express some concern about a President who uses his bully pulpit to attack protesters and try to get them fired from their jobs.

You would, sadly, be wrong.

Intead, Prof. Guelzo attacks the protesters. He claims they "generat[ed] the comprehensive fury of the American public". But my examination of coverage of the protests shows that the "fury" was far from "comprehensive"; it was decidedly mixed. This is backed up by examining polls that came out last year, after Kaepernick started his protests. For example, in one poll, "70 percent of whites disagreed with Kaepernick's stance, while only 40 percent of racial minorities disagreed with the 49ers quarterback." This is hardly "comprehensive".

Back to Prof. Guelzo's sneer about "daring". Yes, it was daring. It was daring because some players stand to lose their very profitable jobs, especially if owners take President Trump's advice. Colin Kaepernick himself still does not have a position, despite his evident talent. It was daring because far-right demagogues are whipping up anger against the protesters, and who knows where that could lead? We know what happened when they similarly whipped up anger during Pizzagate.

The players certainly are risking a lot more than Prof. Guelzo did by writing his column.

Prof. Guelzo claims that the protesters don't have the moral high ground because so many NFL players are criminals. This is the ad hominem fallacy. I could reply, I suppose, by citing Wyndham Lathem and Amy Bishop as evidence that we shouldn't give much moral high ground to professors, either, but wouldn't that be just adopting Prof. Guelzo's slimy tactics? Hey, I'm not going to defend the misbehavior of professional football players, but does it really have much of a bearing on the protests and their motivations? Whether you're an upstanding citizen or a criminal, you can recognize racism and injustice. Whether you're an upstanding citizen or a criminal, you can support the Constitution. Edward Lawson was a black man who was repeatedly and unfairly treated by the police, even convicted once for nothing. He went to the Supreme Court to argue his case. He won.

You'd think Prof. Guelzo would recognize this.

Prof. Guelzo sneers at the "millionaires of the NFL" who "think they're better or wiser" than a Civil War hero. He offers no evidence at all that these "millionaires" have ever said any such thing, nor that their protests imply such a thing. He does not mention that Kaepernick has a charitable foundation that has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups that help the poor and downtrodden.

You'd think this would rate a mention in Prof. Guelzo's screed.

You'd be wrong. Because that's not the way a demagogue works.