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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Robots, Downton Abbey, etc.

A couple of misc. notes on items of interest:

-- In Slate there's a piece on "Why Watson is real artificial intelligence," by Miles Brundage and Joanna Bryson, written as a rejoinder to Douglas Hofstadter's "Why Watson and Siri Are Not Real AI," in Popular Mechanics. Why the rejoinder doesn't discuss Siri I'm not sure, and there's an element of semantic quibbling in discussing what constitutes "real AI." Still, I don't think Brundage and Bryson adequately rebut Hofstadter's argument, which is that the programs in question don't understand the meaning of the questions with which they're grappling. The critics cite Daniel Dennett in making the point that intelligence arises from numerous sub-intelligent parts, but the more important point Hofstadter is making is that in current-day AI the parts have not been arranged in such a way as to constitute an entity that actually knows or cares what it's talking about or that it even exists.

-- Castigating "Downton Abbey" for sugar-coating Edwardian* labor relations has been a left-liberal cause and is becoming a right-libertarian one with this Megan McArdle piece (and this gloss on it by Instapundit). I think the show does a decent job of conveying that not every employer of the time was as generally benevolent as the Crawleys, and I am impressed by this Foreign Affairs piece in which Jeremy Musson discusses some ways in which the series' depictions of servant life do have veracity. Bear in mind that the people working in a house like that would have had a set of alternative options in mind that also were not necessarily desirable from a 21st-century middle-class perspective.

* - Added: and post-Edwardian

-- Something to look forward to: man-versus-machine ping pong.


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