Saturday, May 26, 2007

Artificial Intelligence

Ever been frustrated to the point of screaming because you couldn't get some gadget to do what it was designed to do? Of course you have. We all have.

Then, at the height of your outrage, some helpful bystander -- your father-in-law, perhaps -- will say, "You have to be smarter than the machine."

Right.

I once took a sledge hammer to a wristwatch/stopwatch/lap-counter that somehow thought I wanted it to beep every day at 4 a.m.

It wasn't smart enough to run.

Now I see that the processing power of your average desktop computer is expected to surpass that of the human brain by 2022.

Really?

On one hand, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. It's been 10 years since a computer first defeated the world's reigning chess champion. You remember IBM's Deep Blue beating Garry Kasparov in 1997, don't you?

(Yeah, me neither, but I looked it up.)

The funny thing is, with computers having gotten twice as fast every couple of years, you'd think they'd be able to do a lot more by now. Like recognize your voice. I have better luck with our five-month-old puppy than any computer I've tried to talk to on the phone.

Now, I'm no engineer, but I get to rub shoulders with some of the best where I work, and I was pleased to see this quote from James Gosling:

"Chess is remarkably simple from a machine's point of view. But to humans it appears complex. Similarly some things that appear simple are far more complex than we perceive them to be."

He noted, for example, that understanding speech is very different from merely recognizing it. From that perspective, a three-year-old child outshines the best computer.

We'll see where they are in 2022, but I wouldn't bet against the brain.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

How Sweet Life Can Be


On the beach at Hanalei Bay we listened to the whoosh and sizzle of gentle waves as they slapped the shore and washed through the course brown sand.

We were not the first ones on the beach—a lone woman and two other couples had beaten us there—but everyone was quiet, said good-morning in passing, and otherwise kept their distance.

We could see tiny fish in the ankle-deep water that stretched a good distance off shore before it got any deeper, and on the sand little translucent crabs moved like dustballs in the wind.

We walked inland along the bay as far as the big black boulders (they looked like giant briquettes) and watched black crabs as big as your hand show off their skill as rock climbers. We were surprised to see them actually jump from one rock to the next.

It was the first morning of our first real vacation. The first time we flew somewhere together. The first time we didn't stay with family. Hers or mine. It was also the first time I realized just how sweet life could be.

It's been nearly 20 years, but I can still bring back the feeling if I try.