Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for June 2007

Is a conscious AI even necessary?

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Good (lenthy) article by David Gelernter:

 Artificial intelligence has been obsessed with several questions from the start: Can we build a mind out of software? If not, why not? If so, what kind of mind are we talking about? A conscious mind? Or an unconscious intelligence that seems to think but experiences nothing and has no inner mental life? These questions are central to our view of computers and how far they can go, of computation and its ultimate meaning–and of the mind and how it works.

They are deep questions with practical implications. AI researchers have long maintained that the mind provides good guidance as we approach subtle, tricky, or deep computing problems. Software today can cope with only a smattering of the information-processing problems that our minds handle routinely–when we recognize faces or pick elements out of large groups based on visual cues, use common sense, understand the nuances of natural language, or recognize what makes a musical cadence final or a joke funny or one movie better than another. AI offers to figure out how thought works and to make that knowledge available to software designers.

It even offers to deepen our understanding of the mind itself. Questions about software and the mind are central to cognitive science and philosophy. Few problems are more far-reaching or have more implications for our fundamental view of ourselves.

The current debate centers on what I’ll call a “simulated conscious mind” versus a “simulated unconscious intelligence.” We hope to learn whether computers make it possible to achieve one, both, or neither.

I believe it is hugely unlikely, though not impossible, that a conscious mind will ever be built out of software. Even if it could be, the result (I will argue) would be fairly useless in itself. But an unconscious simulated intelligence certainly could be built out of software–and might be useful. Unfortunately, AI, cognitive science, and philosophy of mind are nowhere near knowing how to build one. They are missing the most important fact about thought: the “cognitive continuum” that connects the seemingly unconnected puzzle pieces of thinking (for example analytical thought, common sense, analogical thought, free association, creativity, hallucination). The cognitive continuum explains how all these reflect different values of one quantity or parameter that I will call “mental focus” or “concentration”–which changes over the course of a day and a lifetime.

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2007 at 7:23 am

Posted in Science, Software

Apple through the years

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Via DesignVerb:

Apple evolution

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2007 at 6:45 am

Altruism evolutionarily essential

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In any series of philosophical discussions, one sooner or later hits the altruism question: is altruism even possible. Despite many obvious examples, a certain cadre will always maintain that there’s no such thing as altruism. They can maintain this position (it seems to me) by redefining altruism in their own peculiar way—e.g., an altruistic act often provides some pleasure to the actor, thus s/he gets something in return, thus it’s not altruism.

Such sophistry aside, the question remains whether altruism can be taught, or is acquired by practice, not teaching? Or if neither by practice nor by learning, whether it comes to mankind by nature or in some other way?

The answer, it seems, is that altruism comes by nature:

Many researchers have asserted that only people will assist strangers without receiving anything in return, sometimes at great personal cost. However, a new study suggests that chimpanzees also belong to the Good Samaritan club, as do children as young as 18 months of age.


MAY I HELP YOU? New experiments indicate that chimpanzees aid strangers, regardless of personal gain, much as people, including very young children, do.
Max Planck Inst. for Evolutionary Anthropology

Without any prospect of immediate benefit, chimps helped both people and other chimps that they didn’t know, and the 18-month-olds spontaneously assisted adults they’d never seen before, say psychologist Felix Warneken of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and his colleagues.

The roots of human altruism reach back roughly 6 million years to a common ancestor of people and chimps, the researchers propose in the July PLoS Biology.

“Learning and experience are involved in altruistic helping, but our claim is that there is a predisposition [in chimps and people] to develop such behavior without explicit training,” Warneken says.

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2007 at 5:40 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Lily of the Valley

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Shaving soap, that is. The last of my current Mama Bear series, a soap with a nice fragrance. I used the Rooney Style 3 Size 2 (medium) Super—and it was very nice indeed. I had forgotten the pleasures of larger brush. Now I want the G.B. Kent BK8 back again. 🙂

The razor was a Gillette red-tipped Super Speed made in England. I don’t know why, but the English models of Gillette varieties seem always to be more substantial, sturdier, and of better manufacture than the American equivalents. This was no exception, and it did a fine job.

I tried the Geo. F. Trumper Skyy cologne as an aftershave—why not? It worked well.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2007 at 5:30 am

Posted in Shaving

A cruise ship filled with Right-wingers

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Via The Liberal Avenger, this article from The New Republic:

I am standing waist-deep in the Pacific Ocean, indulging in the polite chit-chat beloved by vacationing Americans. A sweet elderly lady from Los Angeles is sitting on the rocks nearby, telling me dreamily about her son. “Is he your only child?” I ask. “Yes,” she answers. “Do you have a child back in England?” she asks me. No, I say. Her face darkens. “You’d better start,” she says. “The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they’ll have the whole of Europe.”

I am getting used to such moments, when holiday geniality bleeds into—well, I’m not sure exactly what. I am traveling on a bright-white cruise ship with two restaurants, five bars, and 500 readers of National Review. Here, the Iraq war has been “an amazing success.” Global warming is not happening. Europe is becoming a new Caliphate. And I have nowhere to run.

From time to time, National Review—the bible of American conservatism—organizes a cruise for its readers. Last November, I paid $1,200 to join them. The rules I imposed on myself were simple: If any of the conservative cruisers asked who I was, I answered honestly, telling them I was a journalist. But, mostly, I just tried to blend in—and find out what conservatives say when they think the rest of us aren’t listening.

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2007 at 7:36 pm

Posted in GOP

Thermocule report

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Last night I slept with both the Thermocule blanket and the Thermocule mattress pad. Wonderful comfort. Last night was warm at times, but I never once woke up feeling sweaty, which is a new thing (post-Thermocule). Bedding can be found here.

If you try this, I’ll be interested to hear about your experience. I love it, myself.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2007 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Iced coffee

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I made this last night and just had a glass. It’s wonderful.

Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee

Time: 5 minutes, plus 12 hours’ resting

1/3 cup ground coffee (medium-coarse grind is best)
Milk (optional).

1. In a jar, stir together coffee and 1 1/2 cups water. Cover and let rest at room temperature overnight or 12 hours.  [If you want to make a larger batch, use 2 1/4 cups of water to 1/2 cup ground coffee. – LG]

2. Strain twice through a coffee filter, a fine-mesh sieve or a sieve lined with cheesecloth. In a tall glass filled with ice, mix equal parts coffee concentrate and water, or to taste. If desired, add milk.

Yield: Two drinks.

NOTE: To make hot coffee, dilute concentrate one-to-one with water and heat in the microwave. [The hot version tastes like instant, IMHO – LG]

The background article includes this information:

Cold-brewed coffee is actually dirt simple to make at home. Online, you’ll find a wealth of forums arguing for this bean or that, bottled water over tap, the 24-hour versus the 12-hour soak. You can even buy the Toddy cold-brew coffee system for about $30.

But you can also bang it out with a Mason jar and a sieve. You just add water to coffee, stir, cover it and leave it out on the counter overnight. A quick two-step filtering the next day (strain the grounds through a sieve, and use a coffee filter to pick up silt), a dilution of the brew one-to-one with water, and you’re done. Except for the time it sits on the kitchen counter, the whole process takes about five minutes.

I was curious to see how it would taste without all the trappings. The answer is, Fantastic. My friend Carter, something of a cold-brewing savant, turned me onto another homegrown trick: freeze some of the concentrate into cubes. Matched with regular ice cubes, they melt into the same ratio as the final blend.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2007 at 11:58 am

Posted in Caffeine, Drinks, Recipes

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