Tuning the Turing Test

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Let’s begin with the world’s greatest sci-fi movie: 2001.  This is from Piers Bizony‘s book on the making of 2001 A Space OdysseyIt's Eye-Conic.  Sorry.

Marvin Minsky had no problem understanding that the emptiness of 2001’s dialogue was intentional:

” … And after the momentous statement that the monolith must have been deliberately buried, one of the astronauts says, “Well, how about a little coffee?”  Kubrick’s idea is that the universe is too majestic for short sighted people.”

Trying to understand an “intelligence” that is much greater than our own is going to be a tough job.  Drinking a cup of java while pondering that gulf might be appropriate.

Which brings us to Alan Turing, the godfather of the modern computer.  He suggested a simple test to determine “intelligence.”  He didn’t define the term either, by the way.  What he said was put a person in a room and let them interact with a human, or machine, in a limited way (like through text only) and let them ask questions.

Today, this remains the best test we have of machine intelligence.

Here’s the problem.  What kind of person are you going to put in that room.  For instance, if you put my mother in law, she’s likely to think that the navigator voice in the GPS is already intelligent.  You should see the conversations they have while we drive along.

If you put some genius, like Doug Hofstadter or Doug Lenat in that room, chances are they can ask one question and game over.

So, next time you think of the Turing Test, also consider who you are going to put in that room.  If you’re scientifically oriented, then you want a “standard” human.  Good luck!

In the meantime, I’m going to get some coffee.

Space isn’t big enough for: 20%

There’s an ancient saying among managers: 80% of your problems will come from only 20% of the population.  It doesn’t matter if the population is springs that go boing, or people writing programs in your application department.

The further we look, the more galaxies we find.The latest FBI statistics I saw indicated that about 80% of the crimes were being committed by a regular 20% of the population.

In the movie Casablanca, the Chief of Police tells his captain to round up the usual suspects.  In truth, that’s not a bad strategy.  Those people might at least know something, even if not being guilty outright.

Here’s the deal.  Once you get enough people together, anywhere, there’s going to be a small number of “bad apples” who create a bunch of mischief for the “good apples.”

The key word here is — anywhere.

No matter what kind of great people we send to the moon, there will be a few who turn out to be troublemakers.  Why?  Because it’s human nature.

The problem is that the first moon colony isn’t going to have the resources to keep that person in line all the time.  There certainly won’t be someone free to watch them all the time, and if they do something naughty and have to be put away, where will that be?  There won’t be any room for a jail.

So what happens?

In short, there won’t be room for these people.  The early settlers are going to have to make some very tough choices.  Down here where the air is almost free and there’s room to spread out, the cost of taking care of a miscreant is relatively small.

But up there, where there is no air and you can hear every sound your neighbor makes in their sleep, the cost of keeping a nasty person in stir will be very high.

The solution?  Swift vigilante justice.  A community tribunal, and equally swift sentence.  The judge can say cuffs come off, rejoin your friends.  Or the judge can tell them to take a short walk outside the dome, without a suit.

Of course, after that short walk, someone will have to bring him back inside.  After all, in outer space, there isn’t going to be room for cemeteries either.  We’re going to need everybody for fertilizer.

After all, each body is about 80% water, and 20% fertilizer.

 

 

Space isn’t big enough for: iTunes

The concept of having YOUR music playing just for you goes back a few years.  Even before iTunes and other music services there were things called “walkman,” and before that there were portable radios.

The further we look, the more galaxies we find.Here’s the thing.  If you’re jammin to the tunes, and happily banging away on the steering wheel at the same time there’s a “thing” on the road, there’s a better chance that you will hit that thing.

That’s why lots of places are trying to cut down on the number of accidents by putting the brakes on distractions in the car.  Is it working?  Don’t know.

But I do know that distractions can kill.  Doctors who are distracted in the operating room can make mistakes on their patient.  Pilots distracted in the cockpit can make errors regarding their aircraft.  And lunar colonists who are distracted might leave the wrong door open, or close the wrong valve.

Here’s the real deal.  On the moon, a single error could kill everyone.  Putting in safeguards that prevent all stupid mistakes is very expensive.  And getting anything to the moon is going to be costly.  That means we have to choose.

We either make every move to avoid mistakes every way we can.

Or we accept the risk of total failure for the benefit of individual joy.

My suggestion?  Don’t take iTunes or earbuds to the moon.  Too expensive.

 

 

Space isn’t big enough for: Space

Would you buy a hectare of moon for a single credit?

How about a million hectares for the same price?

There’s a LOT of moon, and that means there could be a lot of moon to sell.

More importantly for our first colonists, however, is the cost of LIVABLE real estate.

You could own the whole moon, but you’re only going to live on a little bit of it.

And since you can’t sleep outside very long, you’re going to need a roof,

and walls,

vacuum seals,

oxygen generators,

carbon dioxide scrubbers,

and, well, you get the picture.  Living on the moon is going to be very expensive.  It’s going to be way more expensive than living in downtown Tokyo, Manhattan, and London combined.

Do you know anyone who lives in those places?  If so, then you know that they also live under the following conditions:

Small rooms, thin walls, annoying neighbors, and lots of rules of things that they can’t do.

So, imagine what we’ve figured out.  The moon, cheapest real estate in the universe, yet has the most expensive livable real estate in the universe.  You’ll live in space, where there is no horizon, yet you’ll be able to reach out and touch both of your walls.

Infinite space, yet no place for claustrophobia.

Who knew?

 

Space isn’t big enough for: Inches

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Long ago, back when caves were considered prime real estate, we measured things using our fingers and feet.

More recently, we started defining the best units to use for learning.  There’s this outfit that helps the whole world get its act together.  They work very slowly, and nothing they do is mandatory.  That’s too bad, because the world has a lot of crazy stuff going on.

The world’s largest economy still uses old measurements based on units that don’t convert easily.  Quick, how many inches in a rod?  How about in a mile?

Do the same thing using the metric system.  Badabing!  Easy peasy.

Guess what?  If you’re an American dreaming of living on the moon, you better pack your undies and your sun-tan lotion (SPF 500!), but leave your feet and inches behind.

There’s not enough room.

 

 

Space isn’t big enough for: French

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As I study French using this great app, I come to a fairly sad realization.

Il n’y a pas de place pour la langue.

Even though space is large, mind-bendingly large, our first colonies aren’t going to be big enough for more than one language.

Imagine there being some kind of emergency, like trying to find the jam in the fridge, and you have to call out without thinking.  What if you used the wrong language?

Alright, maybe looking for jam isn’t the best example.  What if your rocket malfunctions and you need to get help immediately?  Hadn’t everyone better be on the same frequency?  As in knowing how to talk?

Learning french is fun.  The way they organize their thoughts are a bit different from the way us American English people normally do it.  But that’s what makes life here on Earth fun.  If I go to France and order some bread and cheese, but end up with a duck and ketchup, it’s only a moment of embarrassment.

Do the same thing on the moon, and it’s many times worse.  Alright, the bread and cheese example is, cheesy, but you get the picture.  Mistakes on the moon are extremely costly, and speaking more than one language comes with a price.

Sacre bleu!

 

 

 

 

Space isn’t big enough for: Mistakes

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Know of anyone hanging a picture on the wall and puncturing their water pipes?

Or using the toilet and maybe having to yell for toilet paper?  Or maybe the plunger?

Being “only human” means that we know we’re going to make mistakes.

Making a mistake here on planetoid Earth is relatively cheap.  Need the plunger?  Go and get it, take your time.

Now take that toilet and put it on the moon.  Not easy, is it?  Costs quite a bit, doesn’t it?  Maybe there’s only one seat for a whole lot of people.  Better be careful!

Oh oh.  Maybe a bit too much pastrami.  Did I break it?

Better not.  There’s nothing else, nowhere else to go!  Lots of people lining up, and now there no happiness to be had.  What’s going to happen now?

 

That’s only the toilet.

Now, what if you hang that picture, but you put a hole where it shouldn’t be, and you lose your air?  Or if the door doesn’t open right, or if the whole roof is going to fall in?

The kind of little mishaps we shrug off as minor become major mashups when you get up there.  The moon may be smaller than the Earth, and the colony may only have a small number of people, but mistakes would be much more expensive.

So, if you think about moving to the moon sometime, make sure to pack your bandaids and duck tape.  But leave your mistakes behind.

Space isn’t big enough.

 

Space isn’t big enough for: Junk

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You may have heard that space is big.  Space people like to remind us that space is big.

By big they mean really big.

Really very mucho super big.

Big deal.

Someday, if you like to dream, then maybe people will live in space.  Maybe not in space, but on the moon or mars.  Living in space would be hard because you still need to stand on something.

There’s this problem.  We don’t live there.  Yet.

If we’re going to live in space, then someone is going to have to make the first step.

Pretend we’re going to live on the moon.  Is there going to be a cushy sofa in every Lunar Living Room?  Or will the furniture be a bit more, rocky?

There’s going to be a lot of things that will have to be different.  Very different from what we like to see in the movies.

If we study behavior, these are things we should think about before we try Lunar living.

After all, the cost of a ticket to the moon is high, and we have to pack light.  That means we can only take the essentials.

Space just isn’t big enough for junk.

 

 

 

 

Space isn’t big enough for: Utopia

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We think of space as big.  Infinitely big.

For all intents, it is.  Big.

Space is so big, that every single person living on Earth today could have their own habitable planet somewhere in our galaxy.  If having your own planet isn’t utopia, I don’t know what utopia means.

Wait a moment, wait a moment.  There’s a problem.

Getting there is going to be tough.  Very tough.  I don’t think anyone has really thought through how truly terribly roughly tough it’s going to be.  So that’s what this is about.

I like to pretend that someday our descendants will live on the moon and Mars.  However, it’s mighty expensive to get stuff up there.  That means they are going to have to pack their bags very very light.

Not only bags as in real suitcases, but bags as in what they carry mentally.

Mentally?  What is he talking about?  Why would it be expensive to take an idea up to the moon?

It’s not the cost of transport that makes some ideas expensive.  It’s the cost of having the idea once you’re there.  As a quick example, let’s set the wayback machine to when North America was “discovered” by Europeans.

One of the first things the new arrivals did was use their guns.  They used them a lot.  In fact, they pretty much eliminated the bison population, and a whole lot of birds to boot.

Can we agree that the first settlers going to the moon are not going to be shooting off guns?  In fact, they may not even be allowed to take guns.  That’s for another day.

Do you get the idea?  Even an idea can be expensive.  Shooting off guns when you wanted to was a “freedom” of the wild frontier.  Well, space is so much more wild that even guns can’t be allowed.

Here’s where utopia comes in.  We think of utopia as a fun place.  A place where we get our way.

Not for the first settlers of the moon.  Heck, probably not for the first million Lunites.

You see, life is going to be tough, very tough.  Everyone is going to have to work hard, almost all the time.  And there’s going to have to be a tough central authority.

There’s an awful lot of things that can go wrong, no matter how we set up the future.  We’ll be talking about those as we go along.  But for the moment, if you’re thinking of living on the moon, don’t bother packing your Utopia.

Space isn’t big enough.  Not yet.

 

Forgotten Warriors

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Living things behave, because life encompasses everything we do.

A forgotten war hero of WWII

From hugging a newborn to burying Dad.  There’s no good reason to pretend economic behavior is different from psychological behavior.  Not one.  Life isn’t about religion, it’s not about being political.  All these categories are made up so it’s easier for us to apply for grants.

One way to illustrate this is to draw connections between things that seem so different that any similarities must be the work of a crazy man.

Did someone call for a crazy man?  That’s me.

Consider two warriors, different, but similar.

Warrior One.  This is the name of a yoga asana, and my exhibit number one.  The greatest evangelist of yoga in the 20th century was Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.  He spawned a bunch of other yogis, including one who should be more famous, Indra Devi.

The problem with TK is that he wasn’t good at tooting his own horn.  Another problem was that his famous students were better at marketing.  As a result, their names are well-known and TK is forgotten.  That’s too bad.  He made more sense than any of his students.

Warrior Two, also a known asana, and exhibit two.  But in this case, the exhibit has nothing to do with yoga.  Bear with me.  Or more accurately, HellCat with me.  This was an aircraft that fought most of the air battles in the Pacific.  It was produced in the greatest numbers, brought down the most enemy aircraft, and saved the most pilots.  It was an incredible warrior.

Chances are you never heard of the HellCat.  And that’s because newer, prettier aircraft came along and took the final bows.  No one stood up to help us remember the aircraft, the pilots, and even the workers (many of whom were women) who built the HellCat.  It is a forgotten warrior.

Here’s the connection.  Very different disciplines; yoga is selfish, designed to free us from our perception of bodily weakness and develop strength, while the other belongs to the discipline of war.  The first gave us a teacher of great teachers, the other gave us a machine that defended us from those who wanted to impose their will upon ours.

Both worked hard, tirelessly, without concern for their own celebrity or accumulation of wealth.  TK didn’t do it himself, and he wouldn’t let those around him do any marketing either.  The HellCat, as a machine, didn’t have a choice, but the legions of people surrounding it did.  And they chose to let the HellCat have its day, and later, its rest.

As a student of behavior, I’m not arguing that these warriors were good or bad, or even that their impacts were good or bad.  That’s ancient history.

As a student of behavior, what I argue is that we don’t let them be forgotten.

For what they have given us is priceless.