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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Chicken AI

My wife has acquired a flock of 8 chickens. As a city boy, I find this weird, but she is a farm girl and she loves chickens. I don’t mind the fresh eggs anyhow.

So, I found myself wondering about chicken intelligence. As I look at the chickens, I find myself curious about building a chicken AI. There has been so much over hype about the imminent AI taking over the world, so I thought about what we might have to do that to build a chicken AI, that is, a computer that was as smart as a chicken.

There are 8 chickens on our land. One avoids all the others. Let’s call it the autistic chicken. My wife informs me that there is a dominant chicken. One of the perks of being the dominant chicken is getting to sleep on the highest rung of the coop. (I don’t know why this matters to the chicken — this never came up in Brooklyn when I was growing up.) The chickens like to hang out together  (except for the autistic one). Why I come by they all try to be close to me., I don’t know why. I am not feeding them  so it has nothing to do with food. I do make chicken noises at them, and they make them back until I go away.

So, what would be going on in the mind of a chicken? 

From Modern Farmer: 

Purpose of the Pecking Order

Pecking order rank determines the order in which chickens are allowed to access food, water, and dust-bathing areas. It determines who gets the most comfortable nesting boxes and the best spots on the roosting bar. The good news is that, at least among a flock of chickens born and raised together, the pecking order is established early on and the birds live in relative harmony, with only minor skirmishes now and then to reinforce who is in charge.

The chicken at the top of pecking order has a special role to play in the flock. Because they are so strong and healthy, it’s their responsibility to keep constant watch for predators and usher the others to safety when a circling hawk appears or a strange rustling is heard in the bushes nearby. The top chicken is also expected to be an expert at sniffing out food sources, such as a nest of tasty grubs under a fallen log, or a bunch of kitchen scraps that the farmer dropped on their way to the compost pile. Even though the top chicken has the right to eat first, he or she usually lets the others feed, while keeping a vigilant watch for predators, and dines only after everyone else has had their fill.

Certainly a chicken has clear needs and it tries to figure out a way to get what it wants. This is a simple idea but one that is way beyond any AI program that is out there today. No one told the chicken which needs to have. It just has them. It wasn’t programmed by a human to have those needs. And, no one told the chicken how to get its needs fulfilled. And, no one told the autistic chicken to avoid all other chickens most of the time. So while you can get a computer to do these things, what we cannot do, at least not yet, is to get computers to generate their own needs and to figure out ways to fulfill them. The reason for that is that thinking requires observation, copying, the weighing of the pros and cons of various behaviors, and learning from the results.  And you also have to figure out when the pecking order has been established and it is time to give up trying to better your position. 

Chickens clearly have a rich sensory system, so much of what they “figure out” would come from what they see and feel. When ELIZA responds to someone saying they are feeling sad with “why are you feeling sad?” it is not relying on much cognitive power. A person who know who he or she was talking with, would sense the sadness and possibly be able to know where it was coming from, so it might respond “ you have simply got to get over her.”

The lesson here for AI is simple enough. The chickens are reasoning from data but probably not using statistics to do it. The chickens can copy behaviour and they can try things out to see if they work and then know what has and has not worked and get smarter from experience. Awareness of the world around you and sensing who might do what, matters a great deal.

Will AI be able to do this someday? I assume so. We are not there yet however.

The chickens come to visit my foot: 

The autistic chicken: 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

AI is everywhere. Just ask anyone.

This was on the John Oliver show this week. As he points out, this is pure nonsense:

Of course, we could just note that the speaker is just ignorant about what AI means and is really talking about machine learning. Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on machine learning:

Machine learning is closely related to (and often overlaps with) computational statistics; a discipline which also focuses in prediction-making through the use of computers. It has strong ties to mathematical optimization, matrix theory, linear algebra, and copulas, which delivers methods, theory and application domains to the field. Machine learning is employed in a range of computing tasks where designing and programming explicit algorithms is unfeasible. Example applications include spam filtering, optical character recognition (OCR),[5] search engines and computer vision. Machine learning is sometimes conflated with data mining,[6] where the latter sub-field focuses more on exploratory data analysis and is known as unsupervised learning.[4]:vii[7]

But can statistical approaches to text processing do what the speaker suggests? Yes. It is called search and journalists already do this. Could a computer automatically do search? I am not even sure what that means. A computer can’t do anything that it hasn’t been told how to do and for which clear parameters haven’t been specified. Getting the computer to “automatically” find photography doesn’t sound so difficult. And it is quite easy if you are looking for a picture of John Oliver for example. Or is it?

Here are some pictures that appear on Google images search for “John Oliver.” 

How would the machine know which of these pictures are appropriate for a newspaper to use? It wouldn’t.

As AI heads for its inevitable winter due to over promising, I am hoping for Global Warming (of investors.)

Monday, August 1, 2016

Who is ruining our schools? Sorry to tell you: it is you

I was interviewed by El Pais (the newspaper in Spain with the highest circulation) last week, I proposed the usual things about education that I tend to suggest. Eliminate the 1892 curriculum, stop teaching algebra. Eliminate classrooms. Let kids learn whatever interests them. Move to a virtual model where any kid who wants to learn to be a fireman or a doctor or an aerospace engineer could do so (in a virtual world working with the kids who have the same interests who may not live near by and working with a human mentor who can answer their questions and give them help.) I have proposed this kind of thing many times before, most recently in my book: Make School Fun.

The interview is here (of course it is in Spanish):

The reaction was the usual as well. Twitter was alive with people who loved what I had to say, people whose kids hate school, and people who know that it is politicians and publishers/test makers who oppose all change. Math teachers think I am an idiot, which is usual despite the fact that there exists no evidence whatsoever that learning algebra helps you learn to think. Working at anything that required careful reasoning would teach you to think. Math should be taught in context as needed. Build a bridge and you will learn to think. You may need to learn some math as well. Why do we jam this stuff down kids heads despite their interests? It never stays there. No one remembers algebra who fails to use it regularly and very few of us use it at all.

I also, because I like to make trouble, decided to attack Don Quixote. Every Spanish child learns this book. The reporter was upset with me on this one too, because she said it was basic cultural knowledge of Spain that everyone has to have. I asked if that were true in Mexico where everyone has to learn it too, so she stopped pursuing it.

But the attacks online on this one were multiple and very revealing. I responded to one (always a bad idea) by guessing that you could ask any Spanish worker and they would have forgotten the Cervantes that they had been forced to read. The response was that every Spanish worker knew a quote about honey and the mouth of an ass. I asked why this mattered and was told that it taught one how to deal with one’s bosses and customers.

Maybe it does. But here is an idea. Why not teach business instead of literature (to students who are interested in business)? I have learned through living that “neither a borrower nor a lender be” is a very accurate observation. But I didn’t learn it from Shakespeare. I know the quote, but I learned its truth though mistakes I have made (which is pretty much how you learn everything.)
Who is it that keeps insisting on what everyone must read and everyone must know and every course that everyone must take? I have come to realize that although the government enforces this stuff, the real culprit is us. By us I mean the people likely to be reading what I have written here. Intellectuals believe that everything they were “exposed” to in school is valuable in some way. They believe this because they cannot be caught saying: “Shakespeare? Who is that?” 

We intellectuals live in a  world where passing knowledge of Dickens and Thoreau is considered normal, and even if you are a professor of Computer Science, you would be expected to know something about that stuff despite its lack of relevance for your daily life.(Remember that relevance comes after experiences. I didn't care about Dickens until I had lived some. I hated Dickens when I was forced to read to him at 12 and loved him at 30 when I had a sense of what the real issues were in life.)

Also, we forget is how much is not taught if the government considers it inconvenient.

When I am in Spain, I like to point out that nowhere in their history classes do they mention that they wiped out every single Native American in Uruguay which is today (intentionally) a completely white country. In Canada they fail to mention the massacre of the French so that the British could take Nova Scotia. (Leading to the escape of some French to Louisiana.)  The history we learn is meant to make us love our country. This is true for literature too. (Or at least love your language in the case of Americans having to read British literature.) The government wants to make sure its people are ready to lay down their lives for their great country. This gets worse in dictatorships, but it is a basic in democratic countries as well. 

Everyone must be “exposed” to this is the usual argument. Well, you were exposed to chemistry for a year. When was the last time you balanced a chemical equation? You were exposed to logarithms, can you explain how they are used? Exposure doesn't work. A school system run by intellectuals makes a population that is very “undereducated” to use Donald Trump’s term. 

This “under-education”, which is caused by schools that are jamming stuff down kid’s throats who resist it mightily, causes exactly what it was intended to cause. Many times in Washington, I have proposed fixing the education system and teaching people to think instead of to memorize stuff that aren't interested in.  I am very often responded to with: “but who would sweep the streets?” It has been every government’s plan to make school unappealing for the majority of the population so that they will do menial jobs. This was an explicit US policy in 1900 when we had factories we needed to staff. But today, it is just ridiculous. We can't afford to have the vast majority of the population incapable of engaging in anything more that   superficial thought. A population that has learned to hate school is one that is full of people who would rather watch TV than think.  

We don’t even bother to teach people how to raise children or how to have reasonable human relationships. Why don’t we expose students to child rearing, or getting along with others, or how to work, or how to start a business, or how to manage you own finances? Because we must expose them to Cervantes, or Dante, or to Moliere. Pick your country and you will get the intellectuals “must expose” argument. But all this exposure is not working very well. We are not producing the kinds of citizens who can engage in rational arguments and make good decisions about their own lives.