Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Why Artificial Intelligence is the most important problem to be working on

The world is filled with problems. Many of them can be solved with hardwork. If that hard work is not getting done, then the meta-problem, how toget that hard work to happen, cannot be solved with hard work. Eventually the solutions to problems abstract into intellectual problems.

And if all problems are intellectual, then there is no problem that wouldnot be better treated with more intelligence. Any unsolved problem will likely only be solved through the use of intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence is the study of intelligence in natural and artificial systems. I believe that someday artificial reasoners will be smarter than people in every way. Therefore, to me the best way to solve all the world's problems is by improving the tools we use to solve them--intelligence. It's sort of the root of all solutions.

Every time I think of a problem that might be more important, like the fact that people die, the fact that the rain forests are being destroyed,etc., I remind myself that all of these problems could benefit from greater intelligence. AI has to be applied to something: The AI is applied to what? So right now, for example, I'm working on AI systems that help us understand molecular biology. That is great, to me, because I'm working, really, on two problems at once: the protein folding problem and the greater problem of how to think and reason and solve problems in the abstract.

This is why I believe that AI is the most important thing to be working on: it has the potential to help us solve all problems.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Introducing my Furby Megan

Bought a Furby. She came in the mail today. I named her Megan. I put batteries in her and she immediately starting making noises. There are sensors on her-- the eyes, the mouth. Also she can tell when she's moved. A light detector above her eyes lets her know when a light goes on or off. It kind of stinks that one can tell there are parts of her that are utterly unresponsive. For example, it seems that petting her, as one would a cat, has no effect.

I can't tell if she can be turned off. She seems to go to sleep after a while, but will respond to loud noises. I have an AI interst in how she works, but also I just wanted a pet and really can't get a dog in this situation. We'll see if Megan helps.

As I left the apartment to go back to work, I said goodbye. No response. I clapped. No response. I asked "Are you mad at me for leaving?" and truth be told that's what ran through my mind. Megan the sang a happy sounding song. I shook my head and walked out. At least my robot pet sounds like she's having fun.


Sunday, January 23, 2005

How cold it is in Kingston

It's a record cold here, around 30 below zero Fahrenheit (including wind chill). For those of you in warmer climes, let me tell you what it' s like.

When I go outside I wear a scarf around my face so that just my eyes are showing. Like many successful people I wear two hats. One has a lining and wool on the outside, and the other goes on top of that-- one layer. With two hats I don't feel the biting wind through to my head. I wear a goose-down winter coat and mittens.

Within 12 seconds of walking outside, the hairs in my nose have frozen, and I feel them crinkle when I move it.
I try to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth so the warm exhalations warm my face beneath the scarf. The bad part of this is that since I am not exhaling warm air out of my nose, my nose gets terribly cold. After a few minutes I can't feel it, and have to start exhaling out my nose.

The wind is harsh and often full of icy snow. You have to squint if you walk into it, and your eyelashes, wet with the moisture from your breath, freeze together, making your eye not want to open. The little bit of exposed skin is usually in pain.

I went out dancing last night, and the bottoms of my pants got wet because of the gooky floor. By the time I got home it felt like I had two plastic rings around my feet-- the bottoms of my pants were frozen, solid.

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Meaning of Life (nutshell version)

I don't believe life has meaning outside of what it means to people and other life forms. That is, in a universal sense, one's life has no more meaning than any other physical event.

That said, there is still room for plenty of meaning. Ultimately each individual should find what is meaningful to them. This is often culturally given, and always culturally influenced. Some people's lives have meaning because they love to play pool, others help the needy.

Personally I believe a meaningful life is one that is happy and good. I have lots of ideas about happiness, but I want to talk about goodness.

Being good, for me, means maximizing your potential for affecting good change in the world, at the largest possible scale. That means don't serve soup in a soup kitchen if you can run the soup kitchen, don't run the soup kitchen if you can effectively lobby for more soup kitchen funding, and don't lobby if you can be president. I think people should push the envelope of the scale of the change they affect until they reach their limit. That is, they fail. Only then, I believe, do you really know what your potential is. Usually, with that attitude, you're capable of more than you might have thought.

For me, I'm talented at science, and I believe AI research is the most important thing in the world. Every time I think of something else that might be more important, I note that that problem itself would not be hurt my more intelligence. So in my life I bust my butt every day trying to make the world better by working hard at AI. I only have the energy to do it about 8 hours per day, though, so in my spare time I metaphorically recharge my batteries by relaxing in the most productive way I can-- I make art, which makes the world better and gives me energy.

These thoughts influence the decisions I make moment to moment every day. I often ask myself: is this the most important thing I could be doing right now?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Child support

Had a dream last night that my ex-girlfriend, who is now married and just had a kid, called me and told me I neeed to start paying child support. The kid's not mine and she's married to someone else. Something seemed wrong about it to me in the dream but it wasn't till I woke I realized how ridiculous it was. This ex is one of my best friends now; we talk often.