tales by the unexpected

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Categorie: programming

Book review: Our final invention by James Barrat


I read the book: Our final invention by James Barrat. It discusses AI and if it will be the final thing we do. The book was published in october 2013. Although it is a few years old, the discussion in it and the points made are still relevant up until this day.

James Barat is a documentary maker, public speaker and writer. He has worked for National Geographic previous to writing this book. His book was named one of the definitive tech books of 2013. So let’s find out if this title is deserved.

A summary of the book (as written on Amazon):

“Artificial Intelligence helps choose what books you buy, what movies you see, and even who you date. It puts the “smart” in your smartphone and soon it will drive your car. It makes most of the trades on Wall Street, and controls vital energy, water, and transportation infrastructure. But Artificial Intelligence can also threaten our existence.

In as little as a decade, AI could match and then surpass human intelligence. Corporations and government agencies are pouring billions into achieving AI’s Holy Grail—human-level intelligence. Once AI has attained it, scientists argue, it will have survival drives much like our own. We may be forced to compete with a rival more cunning, more powerful, and more alien than we can imagine.
Through profiles of tech visionaries, industry watchdogs, and groundbreaking AI systems, Our Final Invention explores the perils of the heedless pursuit of advanced AI. Until now, human intelligence has had no rival. Can we coexist with beings whose intelligence dwarfs our own? And will they allow us to?”

The writing style of the book is formal, but not done overly. A reader with normal comprehension of English will not constantly be grabbing for his dictionary. What I liked is that no previous knowledge about AI is necesarry as everything relevant is explained in the book. It really guides you through and helps you understand everything necessary to understand the discussion that is happening in the book. Although the book deals with a hefty subject, that of AI, it really is a pleasant read.

People that are interested in technology will gain most of this book. Philosophers and people interested in advancements in society will pick up this book as it is a great read to see what the future will bring. I don’t think it markets to a specific audience. This book is accessible for everybody even slightly interested in the subject as they will get sucked into the discussion almost immediatly. The writer has a very pleasant writing style and a very clear way in making difficult matters understandable. I had no previous knowledge of AI and gained a lot of new tidbits to think about and play with in my mind.

To be honest, this is my first book on the subject, and it sets the bar high for other books on the subject. If all books were explained this clearly, then it would be fun to read. This book explains the dangers and advantages of AI. It explains what the future might bring and the things to look out for in the future. It details the past of AI and what the future might bring and brings different points of view on that future. Some might be gloomy and dystopian, others are kinder. All give us a warning though.

The book focuses this one question: “Will developing AI possess any danger in the future?” It answers this clearly through pitting different points of view against eachother, which gives a clear image of the thinkers in this area and will help you make up your mind on the subject.The book is not so dense to include every single detail of AI and all it’s history, but it gives you enough. It gives you the barebones so you can make an informed opinion on the matter. It really strikes a balance between to little and to much information. The information provided on the subject of AI is enough.

To really propose his argument he uses case examples, he interviews leading researchers and theorists and developers of AI, which, as stated before, gives you a multi-layered perspective of AI and the possible dangers, also the possible advantages. The evidence is based on theories, off course, as we don’t live in that future yet. So it is speculative, but enough information is given to support his point of view and that of other researchers, which helps you learn more and have an informed opinion. Other books might supplement the subject matter, but if you only must read one book on the subject, this will do.

A plus point that I found in the book is a quote I marked in my digital copy, (which can also be applied to autism, and explains phenomenology was this one):

“But consider concepts such as bright, sweet, hard, and sharp. How would an AI know what these perceptions meant, or build upon them to create concepts, if it had no body? Wouldn’t there be a barrier to its becoming intelligent at a human level if it didn’t have senses? To this question Granger said, “Was Helen Keller less human than you? Is a quadriplegic? Can’t we envision a very differently abled intelligence that has vision, and touch sensors, and microphones to hear with? It will surely have somewhat different ideas of bright, sweet, hard, sharp—but it’s very likely that many, many humans, with different taste buds, perhaps disabilities, different cultures, different environments, already have highly varied versions of these concepts.”

As you might have noticed, I recommend this book highly. You can get a copy through my affiliate link here.

My venture into electronics…

My venture into electronics already started from a young age. I was always interested into electronics, already from a young age. I wanted to know how everything worked, but was never stimulated into this by my parents.

Now that I near 30, I am my own boss, and need to make my own decisions on what I want to do with my finite time on this planet, so I decided to give it a try.

I bought myself this:

A funduino Uno, together with a kit, with all kinds of electronics. Cheaper than the official Arduino kit, but just as fun. I knew nothing about electronics, but the projects online provide me with enough material to work through. I also found tutorials on how to program with the Arduino and Python (which I’m also learning at the moment).

Quite exciting actually, because I already have grand visions of salvaging parts from other computers, to use in my own projects, something I didn’t have before I started with this.

As you can see, the funduino I have, is smaller than a playing card case, so it fits snugly into one (what can a mentalist or magician do with one of these?)

Why aspies will invent AI

I have been interested in AI a while now, and thinking about programming my own virtual in house assistant like Tony Stark’s Jarvis since I first saw the first Iron Man movie. I don’t know enough programming to even write a more complex programming than that prints more than just a few lines on the screen, but I’m thinking ahead, I always do, and in the mean time, I’m learning a usefull skill.

Why do I think aspies will invent AI?

It’s quite easy, actually. It’s a logical leap. It’s not because Silicon Valley is already Aspie Valhalla, primarily dominated by people on the autism spectrum, but because of a completely different reason.

First a warning

I have to warn you, though. I might be completely off, but it might be usefull to pose this theory anyway, because somebody might pick up the idea and further research a few decennia, or it might just be a joke to people, either way, great fun.

Now: On with the theory.

Why specifically Aspies? It’s not because I’m vain and I want it to be someone like me. No. I’m not that arrogant. It’s because of a more logical, less self-centered reason.

I have noticed, that I have a tendency to think in programming code, or a simulation of programming code while interacting with people. To give you an example: I work at a store at the moment and I have a certain thing I do:

“If person stands to long watching something, ask if you can help”, this is a script I run, to help people and to know when to help. I don’t approach to early, because they will often say that they are just browsing, or they know what they want but they are just looking. It’s the scripting part, because I have scripts and routines for EVERYTHING. From getting dressed, to eating my breakfast, to getting ready for work, for everything. I literally think like a computer. Not in binary (although I don’t see grey areas in a discussion), but in If-then-statements. I also do this in social interactions. When I wanted to approach a female, or when I was in earshot of one. I would do this (this could be cringe-worthy, but it was an opener I actually used. note: I have a tummy.) “I have the body of a God” and when the women started to chuckle or do that eyeball turn thingy, I would look one of them in the eyes, look down and say: “Shame it is Buddha” and then I would introduce myself. or do something else.

It worked to get the conversation going. What I also do, and my dad also did, was copy stand-up comedian scripts ad verbatim and bring them when the situation was appropriate, when a certain keyword was said and it fitted nicely in the conversation, or we thought it did. I have been compared with a stand-up comedian here in my country, because I copy him so well.

Aspies will revolutionize AI because we think so like computers. That’s it. That’s my epiphany. Enjoy your life.

Why I am drawn to computers

When I first thought of this article, I had in mind to talk about programming, but it be about computers in general.

I have had a computer for most of my life. My first computer still had floppies (yes, I’m that old). I remember even a computer that had games on casette tapes. Hear that, kids? Casette tapes. (Now a few of you are frantically googling “Cassete tapes”).

Although I will get my official diagnosis somewhere around march 2017, I am 90 procent sure I’m autistic. I have almost all traits. If I haven’t been taught something, I don’t know it. It’s that simple. I don’t know how to handle unfamiliar situations either. I’m just not programmed for it, and that’s where we are today.

My opinion is that autistic people are a lot like computers. When a computer gets to much to do, it gets slow and eventually shuts down. Or it will give you some kind of aggressive error message. Autistic people are the same. I’m more of the “shutting down”-type. If I get overloaded, I feel myself slowing down, concentrating more and eventually I get tunnel vision, not reacting to a lot of stimuli and I shut down. Not able to talk or process anything anymore, until the fog in my head settles and I’m able to interact once again.

I think shutdowns in my case are buffer overflows, like in computers. My RAM-memory gets to much info and it shuts down, like a computers.

Also, like a computer, I don’t handle multiple instructions well, I must be told in very clear language, what you want from me (and don’t give me multiple instructions at once, or I will forget the last one you gave me, because I was still processing the first one. My brain works in FIFO (First In, First Out)-modus. A computer never multitasks, it is very good at switching tasks so you get the impression of multitasking, but it just switches really, really fast.

Humans are the same way. We are terrible at multitasking. Nobody can multitask. Absolutely nobody. I can prove it. Give me a second while I dig up the video.

Now, Watch the video and come back when you are done. Couldn’t do it, could you? Surprise, surprise.

I seem to function normal as well, until I get buffer overflow, or you give me a task which is very precise. I know out of previous tests that I have very bad fine motorskills (which attests for my bad handwriting and the fact that they advised me to change schools because I was slower than everybody else in my class at woodchop and metal-working).

I just interpret commands that the teachers gave me litterally. If you say to me “file the metal piece until you hit that line” I will make sure that I don’t go over the line, ever. Which will take me ages to get the work done, but I will have the most precise of the whole class, because I regularly check-up if I am close, or over the line. The same with a computer. Don’t give your commands correct, and he will refuse to do the thing you ask him to, give him to strict of a command and he can’t do it, because it conflicts with something else. The same with me.

Although, I taught myself to deviate a bit when they tell me to do a certain thing, but I had to be taught to do so. Everything I know now, from even the smallest skill, I was taught to do so.


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