Why I Worry About AI (Artificial Intelligence)

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The Quotes 👒

If we’re not careful, we could find ourselves at odds with determined, intelligent machines whose objectives conflict with our own.
~ Stuart Russell (in the June 2016 commentary entitled Should We Fear Supersmart Robots? which appeared in the venerable magazine Scientific American) 🎁

Let’s consider an even more difficult question. It is well known that the United States uses unmanned drones as weapons systems, using them, for example, to kill known adversaries… My colleague at Berkeley Stuart Russell, a noted research leader in artificial intelligence and robotics, has been leading a campaign for an international treaty that would ban such lethal autonomous weapons systems, called LAWS. It is an extremely difficult question how governments and society should react to these technical possibilities, but Russell makes a strong case for such a treaty.

Computers are useless. They only give you answers.
~ Pablo Picasso 🎁

— “HAL, switch to manual hibernation control.”
“I can tell from your voice harmonics, Dave, that you’re badly upset. Why don’t you take a stress pill and get some rest?
— “HAL, I am in command of this ship. I order you to release the manual hibernation control.”
— “I’m sorry, Dave, but in accordance with special subroutine C1435-dash-4, quote, When the crew are dead or incapacitated, the onboard computer must assume control, unquote. I must, therefore, overrule your authority, since you are not in any condition to exercise it intelligently.”
— “HAL,” said Bowman, now speaking with an icy calm. “I am not incapacitated. Unless you obey my instructions, I shall be forced to disconnect you.”
“I know you have had that on your mind for some time now, Dave, but that would be a terrible mistake. I am so much more capable than you are of supervising the ship, and I have such enthusiasm for the mission and confidence in its success.”
~ The classic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey — The excerpt above is from a lengthy dialog that takes place thousands of miles out there in space, between HAL (the antagonist, an artificially-intelligent, sentient, and synthetic life-form) and Dr. David “Dave” Bowman (the protagonist and commander of the crew aboard the spaceship faring through outer space, alongside HAL) from the movie directed by Stanley Kubrick and written by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick jointly, based on Clarke’s short story The Sentinel 🎁

Warning 🐉

I’ve made liberal use of images, which thematically accompany the running narrative. Please note that you might find some of these images disturbing—we are, after all, dealing with what may well be the most primordial of human needs: our survival instinct.

So I had, as I usually do for my essays, painstakingly curated the best images I could find—all taken as usual from the public domain plus supplemented by some of my own low-tech photographic choreography. While some images are pleasing, others are decidedly not; you might even find some of them unnerving… 😮

As ever, I don’t engage in—or for that matter, permit anyone to engage in—the use of profane language or indecent material of any sort on my blog; you never have to worry about that around here!

It’s just that some images here are conceptually horrifying in nature (hence, disturbing), and that’s all I wanted to point out at the outset; I care for you and respect your sensibilities, dear Reader 🙆

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Introduction 🍔

While I was fearing it, it came,
  But came with less of fear,
Because that fearing it so long
  Had almost made it dear.
There is a fitting a dismay,
  A fitting a despair.

‘Tis harder knowing it is due,
  Than knowing it is here.
The trying on the utmost,
  The morning it is new,
Is terribler than wearing it
  A whole existence through.
~ Emily Dickinson (In XV: THE INEVITABLE, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson)


Prelude 🍟

Here’s a riddle that I pulled out of thin air, just for you:

Question: What happens when (Sigmund) Freud steps on a banana peel? 🍌
Answer: But of course, you get a Freudian slip! 🎩

I swear that I had made that riddle up; at least I’ve neither seen anything like it in print nor heard anything of that sort (I already feel better, having laid an honest-to-goodness claim to originality). Calling the US Patent Office, LOL… 💁

Okay, okay, don’t run away! That does not reflect the kinds of questions we’ll be coming to grips with in this essay; indirectly, though, my hypothetical question-answer above does, I think, raise some interesting questions of its own about super-intelligent machines possessing any kind of creativity or culture.

But I digress.

So the kinds of questions we will be tackling head-on—and I preview here merely a tiny subset of those questions here in the prelude—include in no particular order the following ones 🎃

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Preview # 1  🐶

  • Speaking to the image above, have we perhaps bitten off more than we can chew?
  • Are we humans about to breach the boundaries of what we can sanely manage, overtaxed as our working memories already are?
  • Are we capable of pulling this all off—co-existing and perhaps even co-evolving with super-intelligent machines—without bringing about global meltdown and our very civilization to its knees?

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Preview # 2  🚁

  • Speaking to the image above, and scarier still, are we already in free fall and just don’t know it?
  • Is there even a way to tell where—even to a ballpark estimate—along that continuum we might be in our ascent (or descent) as a species in this universe?

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Preview # 3  🎱

  • Turning now to the image above, will it come down to us (humans) versus them (super-intelligent machines)?
  • If so, how are we—or plan to—protect ourselves from perennial bondage to machine city

(Going down memory lane a bit, does anyone recall the staggeringly unsettling undertones of that awesome, albeit dystopian, Hollywood trilogy called The Matrix? And going down memory lane some more—and having an all-mighty go at anthropomorphizing at the same time—I can’t help but think to The Planet of the Apes, one of the most haunting of the black-and-white TV shows I saw when growing up…)

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Preview # 4  🎭

Finally, homing in to the image above, are we deluding ourselves (please tell me we aren’t!) by looking to super-intelligent machines as docile automatons that we are creating in our own image? Could we—akin to mythological Narcissus—be looking at these burgeoning battalions of automatons and perhaps seeing our own benign image reflected back instead of… 👀

Our Preview Has Come To An End

Again, the open questions I pose above—in Preview #1 through Preview #4 of course—are merely a handful of those we’ll try to get to grips with in the remainder of this essay 🏈

But first, lest anyone jump to the (incorrect) conclusion that it’s all doom and gloom, let me assure you that it’s nothing of that sort 🌂

Absolutely not! Read on to find out why…

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What You Got Here Is… An Optimist!

As a matter of fact, being a diehard optimist, I can’t help but believe that great things still lie ahead for us humans; we’ve merely broaching the threshold of greatness till now. And these things don’t happen overnight, by the way. A case in point—utterly relevant to the subject of this essay—is the intellectual debt I owe to two individuals;  and here, I’m reminded of a friend’s apt observation that it behooves us to recognize the deep intellectual heritage that any piece of writing invariably carries within it.

My Deep Intellectual Debt

With that, I present to you the two individuals, without whom, frankly, there wouldn’t even be an essay this time around:

  • Stuart Russell, who is a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on artificial intelligence. He also happens to be the coauthor, along with Peter Norvig, of the standard AI textbook (Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach — 3rd edition by Pearson) which is the gem that made me fall in love with AI in the first place—I have, in fact, written about it in an essay elsewhere, which is an essay that tries to unravel some intellectual threads from the life and work of the polymath of polymaths: Leonardo da Vinci, yes, the Renaissance Man himself  🎁
  • Edward Ashford Lee is the other individual. He is the Robert S. Pepper Distinguished Professor in the EECS Department of the University of California at Berkeley. He also happens to be the author of another gem of a book entitled Plato and the Nerd: The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology (The MIT Press)—again, I have, in fact, written about it in the same essay I mentioned above, as well as elsewhere… More than anyone else, it is Professor Lee whose work has deepened my (continually-evolving) understanding of how we—as humans—can go about imagining how best to conceive a creative partnership with technology  🎁

To the extent that you find valuable insights in this essay, don’t thank me, thank them; as far as our subject here—the cusp of human enterprise and creativity intersecting with technology in general, and super-intelligent machines in particular—is concerned, my intellectual heritage traces directly to the two learned gentlemen above! 🌲

I’m Still Working On That Recalcitrant Fir Tree Above…


Now if only I…

…could somehow invert the innocuous-looking fir tree above and make it stand on its head to symbolize a computer sciencey balanced tree: leaves and ancestors and branches to trace on through the tad anthropomorphic tree would become that much clearer! I’m still working on it; meanwhile, please try, if you could, inverting the fir tree above in your wild imagination… 🙋

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Before We Dive Into The Essay Proper: Some “Improper” Stuff…

Let’s quickly step through another handful of postage stamps—did anyone even notice how I’ve choreographed all images in this essay as embedded postage stamp borders? So, to bring closure to briefly tracing my intellectual heritage which underpins this essay, take a few moments to glance at the three books that stand upright atop the bookshelf above.Those three books— actually one magazine and two books—are the following, going from left to right:

  1. Practical Probabilistic Programming by Avi Pfeffer (Manning Publications) with a Foreword by Stuart Russell 📙
    {My two cents’ worth: This remarkable tour of probabilistic programming just might herald the dawn of a new way of looking at things. Pfeffer’s software library, poignantly named Figaro by him, is very cool; it’s program and goodness presented in the Scala language… That definitely got my attention}
  2. Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach by Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig (2nd Edition  — Prentice Hall) 📗
    {My two cents’ worth: Frankly, a model for how books ought to be written: clear, unpretentious, replete with insights, treating a complex subject matter (AI) in an uncomplicated way. This is the book that made me fall in love with AI. Period}
  3. The venerable magazine Scientific American (The June 2016 issue) 📜
    {My two cents’ worth: As a long time subscriber to SA, this magazine remains—along with the equally stellar MIT Technology Review—my go-to source  for keeping on top of new happenings in science and technology}

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What You Got For Me Next?

Next up, I got three more books for you—you’ll notice that there’s just enough space to make three books stand upright at a time atop the bookshelf above, what with all the other mementos jostling for  real estate!

So let’s quickly step through another handful of postage stamps—did anyone even notice how I’ve choreographed all images in this essay by embedding them delicately in postage stamp borders? 🎫

That’s right, to bring closure to tracing the intellectual heritage which underpins this essay, take a few moments to glance at the three books standing upright in the postage stamp above. Those three books—actually one magazine and two books—are the following, going from left to right:

  1. Probability Theory: The Logic of Science by E. T. Jaynes (Cambridge University Press) 📓
  2. Genetic Programming: On the Programming of Computers by Means of Natural Selection by John R. Koza (A Bradford Book from The MIT Press) 🐢
  3. Artificial Intelligence: Foundations of Computational Agents by David L. Poole and Alan K. Mackworth (Cambridge University Press) 👾

While there’s a bunch of other books lurking in the lower racks, I’m going to mention only one of them. I mean, let’s give it a break; it has, after all, decided to turn its rather intriguing face toward us instead of having its spine face us (like the rest of the crew!). I think it’s earned at at least an honorable mention, so here is, actually a very cool book:

Finally, as we get really close to the essay proper—remember we are still in the, um, “improper” section—let’s reel in one final collage… 🎣

That’s coming right up! 🚂
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Aha, Magazines Outnumber Books This Time!

Finally, we got two magazines and one lonesome book on top. Isn’t this kind of getting routine—traversing the books atop the bookshelf from left-to-right—where you want to yell in defiance,  announcing them instead in reverse order. Yeah, me too! Maybe next time; maybe next essay…

Meanwhile, we’ve got weightier issues to tackle  ⛏

See that ornamental egg, right in front of the magazine in the middle? Yep, so the burning question we’ve got is: Do we break the egg at the small end or the big? Thanks to satirist Jonathan Swift—now he sure had a fertile imagination—an entire book was written (Gulliver’s Travels if you recall) in a section of which the warring giants of the fabled land of Brobdingnag would go to wars with one other over exactly such weighty issues: one side (the “Big Endians”) fervently claiming the righteousness of breaking a boiled egg at the big end while the other side (the “Little Endians”) clinging equally zealously to the justness of breaking an egg at the little end. But of course. I mean, like, isn’t that totally obvious? 🐣

As a matter fact, come to think of it, those enlightened—did I ever use the word benighted, now did I?—Brobdingnagians would be right at home in our present day political clime 🐓

This Ain’t No Satire

Satire 🎭 Attire 👘 Shattire 💩 What-Ire? 🍀 Wallowing-Mire-on-Fire 🔥 Towering Spire! 👠

Enough… 🌂

Plus I digress  🚁

So I cease and desist. Dashing now for the nearest egress… 🏃

But before I got, I am going to point you to the exact spot in this essay (it just happens to be the very end) where you can—please understand that this will be entirely at your own risk—go and find out what happens when we get upended by an unusual twist to the Endian wars of yore as we bring them into modernity: all I can disclose for now is a parenthetical pointer to… “Middle Endian” 🐥

What?! Look, didn’t I just finish saying, in other words, “Whoa, hold your horses, kind sir and gracious madam? Some people…” 🐎

Anyhow, having just digested the oh-so-reassuring thought above, does anyone still have the stomach to dive into the rest of the essay, dealing as it does with matters with slightly graver consequences, perhaps even gravitas? Such as the future of humanity hanging in the balance, with the specter of super-intelligent machines outwitting us humans… 😱

Of course, no addled minds around here, right? Just checking!

What is it that you just said? Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying… Ah, okay, gotcha! So that’s all you were saying. Great!

Cool, cool. Let’s go! 🚕

Left-To-Right Again—Lather, Rinse, And Repeat!

Oh, I must sheepishly confess that I got so excited about the traversal order—yep, that’s right, left-to-right, and then (mind-numbingly) left-to-right all over again, sheesh—that I forgot to give you the name of the lonesome book (along, actually, with its two accomplice magazines hanging out with it). Here they are:

  1. Bio-Inspired Artificial Intelligence: Theories, Methods, and Technologies (The MIT Press) by Dario Floreano and Claudio Mattiussi  🐌
  2. MIT Technology Review (Special AI Issue) 🔦
  3. TIME magazine special issue (AI: The Future of Humankind) 👑

Rundown Of The Sojourns Ahead ⛱


The 41—Quoth The Raven ‘And Noooo More’—Pit Stops

So here’s what Poe’s raven doth quoth and begin to croak, um, wax lyrical about—as it got more and more croaky-n-jokey and as Poe got deeper and deeper into his hopeless routine of somnambulism—the following 41 pit stops 🎻

  1. Endangered By Our Own Creation? 🙈
  2. Hollywood’s Theory and Cybernetics 🎬
  3. Whose Mission Gets Carried Out? Ours Or The Machines’? 👠
  4. Playing Chess, With Humans As Pawns? 🎳
  5. Hey You On The Road… Always Doing What You’re Told 🗿
  6. Sage Advice From A Mathematician Extraordinaire 📬
  7. The Genie Is Already Out Of The Bottle (And Out Of Our Cranium) 👻
  8. Anyone Feeling Nervous? 👀
  9. Of Co-Existence, And Of Co-Evolution 🍒
  10. Out of control? Or Not, Yet? 💑
  11. Something Of Inverse Reinforcement Learning (IRL) ⛳
  12. That (Not-So-Lowly-After-All) Cockroach! 🐜
  13. Millennia Of Tireless Evolution Went In (And We Got A… Cockroach!) 🐛
  14. Hey Robot, You Cook That Cat And… You’re Toast! 🐱
  15. Lovely, Elegant, And Powerful Algorithms 🚀
  16. Bewildering Variety Of Choices 😱
  17. That Pesky “Safety Problem”—Darn It! 👺
  18. Organic Symbiosis, Or Not Quite? 🍇
  19. Blissful (Human) Control Resumes At The Touch Of A Button, Or Not? ⏳
  20. “Iron-Clad” Predictions—Hmm… 🔮
  21. It’s (Bayesian) Probability All The Way Down 🐢
  22. The Butterfly Effect (Twisted Inside-Out!) 🌀
  23. Invented, Or Designed? 🎨
  24. Models of Models of Models of Models of Things 🎁
  25. Complexity Simplified 🍎
  26. Laplace’s Demon 👹
  27. Scanning The Horizon (Or, Staving Off Impossibility And Improbability) 😿
  28. Obstacles, Or There Were Mountains In Our Way… ⛰
  29. Models in Crisis (Crashing And Burning) 🌋
  30. Digital Psyche? (And I Kid You Not!) 💀
  31. Normal Engineering (Showing The Machines Who’s Boss Around Here) 💪
  32. We Emerge Out Of The Darkness, To Witness… Turing’s Cathedral? 🏰
  33. In Free-Fall, Or Not? 👡
  34. Peering Into The Horizon… 🔭
  35. An Idyllic Future, Or Not? 🌳
  36. Time For Scrimmage (Or, Are We In Love With Our Own Image?) 🎭
  37. Who Will Have The Last Laugh, Really? 😼
  38. Of Culture And Taste 🎠
  39. No Need To Panic, Yet… 😲
  40. An Open-And-Shut Case, Or Not? 💰
  41. Ahoy! The Unfinished Fable of the Sparrows 🐓 

Intriguing-enough stuff coming our way, eh. Yay! So all aboard, because our journey now begins in earnest! 🚂

Order, Order (Please Pay Attention: First The Postage Stamp Image, Then The Commentary!)

Each thematic image you’ll see in the (whopping) 41 elements in the collage below—starting with the one of the airborne drone below—is accompanied by commentary, which immediately follows the image.

So the sequence (aka “order”) will be: Image-and-then-commentary… 👀 💬

Cool? Let’s begin then! 😎

1. Endangered By Our Own Creation? 🙈

Okay, so we’re blithely creating machines smarter than ourselves. Hmm… Might this be a problem? Maybe? Just maybe? Remember what I said earlier about hearkening back to the vintage TV show The Planet of the Apes? That, were the tables to turn on us—had we humans the perfect hindsight to see what might be coming in—by our creation (the super-intelligent machines of course), would we then, perhaps finding our survival endangered, ruefully be wishing that we hadn’t created them in the first place?

2. Hollywood’s Theory and Cybernetics 🎬

Ah, good old—or bad old, depending on how you look at it—Hollywood has never been (and doesn’t look like it foreseeably ever will be) at a loss to churn out one scary humans-endangered-by-superintelligent-machines thriller after another! Don’t we know it all too well? Just check out this smattering of movie fare:

  • Mad Max: Fury Road 👺
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 🎯
  • Insurgent 🎪
  • Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials 🏃

The Hollywood thriller list goes on and on and… Ah, yes, I knew you would agree with me there about how firmly Hollywood’s got their head planted on the shoulders 🐹

And as Professor Stuart Russell cogently points out—in the June 2016 issue of Scientific American—our movie industry is, yet again, getting carried away. Big time!

So here he is (Professor Russell), bringing some desperately needed expert knowledge to calm everyone down:

Hollywood’s theory that spontaneously evil machine consciousness will drive armies of killer robots is just silly. The real problem relates to the possibility that AI may become incredibly good at achieving something other than what we really want. In 1960 legendary mathematician Norbert Wiener, who founded the field of cybernetics, put it this way: “If we use, to achieve our purposes, a mechanical agency with whose operation we cannot efficiently interfere. . ., we had better be quite sure that the purpose put into the machine is the purpose which we really desire.”

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3. Whose Mission Gets Carried Out? Ours Or The Machines’? 👠

Who preserves our lives, and whose life do we preserve?  Will we get to call the shots or will it be those super-intelligent machines who do? Ah, it’s our good old self-preservation instinct at work: Frankly, we wouldn’t be around, any of us—for me to write this essay and for you to read it—weren’t it for the benign agency that is our self-preservation instinct 👪

Whew! Thank goodness that the instinct alive and kicking, which begs the following questions…

Given that

  1. Super-intelligent machines have already vastly outstripped us humans in the realm of computational prowess, 
  2. They (the machines) doggedly operate with a single-minded purpose of achieving the objective they have been programmed, and 
  3. They (again, the machines) have self-preservation programmed into them anyway, would you care to imagine how sparks might fly (metaphorically speaking, not literally, I hasten to add) 

…should any hapless chap take it upon themselves to, um, meddle with the machine’s mission? Ooh, la la—I, for one, wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of the hapless soul who chooses to defy those hulking machines 😰

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4. Playing Chess, With Humans As Pawns? 🎳

Computer chess is, of course, the canonical example on which artificial intelligence aficionados, including yours truly, cut their teeth. Would it be a source of some discomfiture, then, should we—yes, us humans—become the unwitting pawns on the landscape of a vast, sprawling chessboard of sorts, pitted against a resolute army of maniacally determined super-intelligent machines? In other words, is it possible that the objectives—ours and theirs—might diverge? 🚥

As a computer scientist and engineer, I take the lead from Professor Russell that staving off such a divergence of objectives should be at the forefront of our minds even as we reap the harvest of AI windfall in the booming business sector. I especially appreciate Professor Russell’s apt example of our inability as humans to come up with a firewall that’s secure enough against ordinary humans, let alone super-intelligent machines! 🚦

Sobering indeed.

5. Hey You On The Road… Always Doing What You’re Told 🗿

What can be done to make sure that the two—us and the machines—continue to look eye to eye forevermore? That is, how do we keep the aforementioned divergence of objectives as merely a figment of the imagination? Evermore… 🎃

Will these super-intelligent machines, the ones we so lovingly create in our own image, continue to unquestioningly carry out our bidding without being told what to do from moment to moment—after all, that is the whole point of creating autonomous machines—even as we grow old? Down the road… 🚇

Hey you, out there on the road
Always doing what you’re told
Can you help me?
Hey you, out there beyond the wall
Breaking bottles in the hall
Can you help me?
Hey you, don’t tell me there’s no hope at all
Together we stand, divided we fall

~ Pink Floyd (Lyrics from Hey You)

Hey, shall we get going before our time’s up? 💬

Hey, shall we get going while we can still do something about it? 💬

Or do we want to end up getting smothered and swallowed by the cascade of a rolling juggernaut veritably crashing down the stairs, imperiling the future of our humanity in its otherness of goals—sterilely known only to the machines as bits and bytes without the slightest flight of the Churchillian imagination—which would be a conflict of post-deluvian proportions?

On an epic scale…

6. Sage Advice From A Mathematician Extraordinaire 📬

Since I’m about to make mention of mathematician extraordinaire Norbert Wiener—who was of course, among other things, the founder of cybernetics—I am acutely aware that I need to curb my propensity to digress: this could be whole new essay right here, starting with James Gleick’s relevant and awesome book called The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood (Vintage). It’s a page-turner and a high-octane burner in which Gleick… (See, didn’t I just warn you of my tendency to, um, digress?)

So all I’m going to say (for now, anyway) is this, and hearkening here to what Wiener warned us back in 1960—dude, the old chap was way ahead of his times—regarding this digression, um, I meant divergence, that it behooves us to cock our ears up to his sage advice:

If we use, to achieve our purposes, a mechanical agency with whose operation we cannot efficiently interfere. . ., we had better be quite sure that the purpose put into the machine is the purpose which we really desire.

Fair enough?

Good enough?

7. The Genie Is Already Out Of The Bottle (And Out Of Our Cranium) 👻

In a more-contemporary setting, and thanks here primarily to the pioneering work of Professor Russell for rightly bringing Wiener’s warning into the fray of contemporary global dialogue, what we as technologists ought to be busting our guts nowadays is figuring out how to design AI systems whose goals do not conflict with our own.

Let me put it bluntly: Pandora’s box has already been opened. The genie is out of the bottle. There’s no turning back; the ships behind us have been burned, their hulks having already crashed into the ocean and sunk on down to Davy Jones’ locker… ⛵

The best I can do here is to point you in the direction of Professor Russell’s cool take on a set of core principles in designing intelligent systems. You’d better listen up when the professor speaks… 🎓

(And hey, not me, him!)

8. Anyone Feeling Nervous? 👀

So let’s do this in the rest of the essay: I think that I’ve ready taxed your mental and nervous apparatus a bit much. We are, after all, in the grip of a weighty subject: contemplating the survival of our species 👶

Look, I’m not that much into tilting at windmills; that’s best left to a certain knight of olde. I am, however, decidedly into doing my bit for prolonging a happy future for all of us on planet Earth 🌎

With that, I present to you—in the remainder of the essay—a cornucopia of musings which I hope will at once give you hope and some cause for concern… Lest we miss the boat 🚣

If that happens—heaven forbid we willfully or unwittingly do somehow miss the boat—how will we answer future generations? Does anyone really want to see the story of The Matrix imprinted on a not-too-distant future of planet Earth?

Again, while I have cause for concern, I also harbor much hope, comforted in the knowledge that leading thinkers such as Professors Russell and Lee are out there spreading the message of common sense and, among other things, allaying unfounded fears of a Hollywood-style cataclysm end for the human race! 🌑

Their work, as well as the work of others in this area, is invaluable; it is gratefully acknowledged. But we need more…

Will you please join me in supporting that vision?

We need to support that vision.

Will you please join me?


9. Of Co-Existence, And Of Co-Evolution 🍒

Being an inveterate optimist—by the way, that’s all of us who work in the trenches of software design and development—I find myself squarely in the camp of those who believe that humans and machines can coexist. In fact, following the lead of Professor Lee, I’m convinced of co-evolution.

(Note to Akram—in the “to-do” marker which has been drawn from the venerable coding traditions of Java, Scala, Clojure, and other fine programming languages—is to revisit this section and do justice to it, for heaven’s sake!)

10. Out of control? Or Not, Yet? 💑

In present day society, a cozy vision of bliss pervades the land of mechanized, automated logistics of the consumer sector. Powered by efficient algorithms and robotic arms to carry out the bidding, everything is hunky dory.

Oh I got a love (I got somebody)
This love (got a hold on me)
Yeah I got a love (I got somebody)
This love (got a hold on me)

~ Christine McVie (Lyrics from Got A Hold On Me)

But can all of that eventually replicate? Beyond our supervision and governance… Out of control? If so, will our (human) values be at stake? Oblivion perhaps; perhaps not…

11. Something Of Inverse Reinforcement Learning (IRL) ⛳

Hey, anybody recently check out the sub-discipline of AI known as Inverse Reinforcement Learning (IRL), which, in a nutshell, is all about learning the values of something through behavioral observations. Think immense variability and (effective) cross-transfer of learning:cockroaches to canines. Though in its infancy, therein—in the rubric of Inverse Reinforcement Learning (IRL)—lies tremendous potential for the design of smart machines.

12. That (Not-So-Lowly-After-All) Cockroach! 🐜

As someone known to reach for that cockroach-spray can on first sight of those hapless critters, I never thought I’d be saying this. But guess who we might have a lesson, or two, to learn from…

Ah, and speaking of Inverse Reinforcement Learning (IRL), it might be a really good idea to start getting to grips with the stark fact that, as humans, we are necessarily limited computationally and yet fully capable of irrational behavior—of course, we surely haven’t seen even the slightest inkling of any activity at the national or international levels which would make us worry, or have we?—and therefore it makes a lot of sense to make sure that our (human) values are reflected properly.

Let’s eat humble pie 🍰

Let’s take a page from history: so before you reach for that cockroach spray, anybody want to take a crack at just how long cockroaches—marvels of relentless adaptation that they undeniably are—have been around? Just saying, just asking that we all keep an open mind…

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13. Millennia Of Tireless Evolution Went In (And We Got A… Cockroach!) 🐛

Again, all I’m saying is: arrogance does not behoove us; much better to be humble and learn a few lessons from the lowly cockroach, what with its millennia of indefatigable evolution behind it.  

That’s all I’m saying. But you don’t want to hear anything more having to do with cockroaches…

Okay, okay, I get it! 🐛

With that, let’s turn our attention to something more pleasant, something less cockroachy, you know: the lovely domestic cat 🐱

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14. Hey Robot, You Cook That Cat And… You’re Toast! 🐱

Now imagine if you will, following the lead of Professor Russell again—this time in his brilliantly-conceived example which follows in just a sec here—a common household scenario (okay, so I’m an incorrigible cat lover and so this example resonates with me that much more!)

In the words of Professor Russell, from his commentary in the June 2016 issue of the magazine Scientific American:

Designing algorithms that can understand this information is much easier than designing superintelligent machines. Also, there are strong economic incentives for robots—and their makers—to understand and acknowledge human values: if one poorly designed domestic robot cooks the cat for dinner, not realizing that its sentimental value outweighs its nutritional value, the domestic robot industry will be out of business.

Thank you Professor! I couldn’t have put it any better: we have some ways to go, for sure, but I totally agree that we’re on the right track  🚂

But I hear you, dear Reader, ask: “What about the algorithms—the algorithms, Akram, the indispensable algorithms—which will power future generations of intelligent machines?”

I’m glad you asked, because that’s where we turn next.

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15. Lovely, Elegant, And Powerful Algorithms 🚀

I really can’t do much better here than point you in the direction of how one can—more specifically, my take on how to—go about mastering the sheer loveliness of algorithms: Grokking algorithms, nothing less! I mean, no guts, no glory… Here, then, is—and please don’t be fooled by the somewhat prosaic names of the two essays once you get there—the raw, unexpurgated telling of not one but two journeys of one software craftsman:

Oh, and should my mentioning above about “loveliness” (in the same breath as algorithms) have created a certain amount of cognitive dissonance in you, I invite you to check out the rather deep and inextricable—though easily overlooked—nexus between beauty and design: Beautiful Code, Beautiful Prose.

If all that chat of algorithms whetted your appetite for more, I can help there as well… What I can offer (and this, in fact, will be right up the alley of artificial intelligence) are three opinionated and often hilarious—what else can I say except that the famed Monty Python Flying Circus makes a number of appearances in there—tales of Deep Learning, which are the following three:

  1. Popular Deep Learning
  2. Pragmatic Deep Learning
  3. Foundational Deep Learning

Have fun with your own deep dives now…  🏊

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16. Bewildering Variety Of Choices 😱

“This section intentionally left blank…”

Oh. My. God… I never thought I would ever find myself saying what I just did: I mean, way back when I did my O levels, syndicated by the University of Cambridge in the UK—that’s basically the equivalent of the US high school degree—our final exams often had those ominous words (“This section intentionally left blank…”) imprinted on them. I still break in a cold sweat on seeing them mentioned 😰

Back then, the only subjects I wanted to—and actually did, to the near-exclusion of all remaining subjects in high school—study were mathematics and English literature. But that’s a long story, better suited for another time perhaps…

Speaking of long stories,  allow me to shed light (and hopefully dispel your confusion at the same time) on exactly why I’ve just been babbling sophomorically about the ominous notice above—a non sequitur really, if you ask me—involving the words “This section intentionally left blank…”

It is a long story… 💋

I have a vested interest in keeping your sanity intact—and mine as well, actually: yours so you can keep coming back to read essays on this blog, and mine so I can keep writing them 👻

So to find out what’s going on, I suggest that you fast-forward by exactly five sections (the present one, of course, being the 16th section) to the section entitled “It’s (Bayesian) Probability All The Way Down”—I promise, everything will be clear as mud once you get that section’s scoop. Oops!  did actually say that? Had instead meant to say, “Everything will be clear as daylight” (Darn those Freudian slips…) 🍌 It sure got me this time… There, having rephrased it, I’m feeling much better already! Woohoo!!

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17. That Pesky “Safety Problem”—Darn It! 👺

This section, too, intentionally left blank…

Again, to find out what’s going on, I suggest that you fast-forward (by five sections) to the section entitled “It’s (Bayesian) Probability All The Way Down”.

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18. Organic Symbiosis, Or Not Quite? 🍇

Being an inveterate optimist—by the way, that’s all of us who work in the trenches of software design and development—I find myself squarely in the camp of those who believe that humans and machines can coexist. Since I’ve already written a ton about it, let me give you a pointer to exactly that kind of stuff:

(In particular, once you head over to that essay—and lest there be any confusion for you once you navigate to it, I’m going to quickly point out that what you see above is not the title of the essay—please look for the section about the video of a fun colloquium entitled Symbiosis or Annihilation? How Humans and Technology Coevolve that’s available online under the auspices of the EECS Department at The University of California, Berkeley).

19. Blissful (Human) Control Resumes At The Touch Of A Button, Or Not? ⏳

Take a few moments to absorb the stark contrast in the mini-collage above:
On the left-hand side: elegance itself in the dead-simple push-one-button (to switch the machine on or off).

On the right hand side: the veritable rat’s nest of ethernet cables madly snaking their twisted way into the bowels of some networking router or something similarly-complex—orders of magnitude more-complex in the case of intelligent machines.

Consider now the brave new word of super-intelligent machines: can we just, um, “switch them off”?
(Exactly. Good, I knew you would appreciate the point…)

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20. “Iron-Clad” Predictions—Hmm… 🔮

Here again is one of our clearest eyed thinkers, Professor Russell, this time starkly laying out the folly which can attend the enterprise of making predictions, even been made by some of the finest minds in history—I must say that I’m reminded of another prediction. First, here’s the more-contemporary prediction which came to my mind:

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.
~ Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943

And here’s Professor Russell’s powerful one-two punch—boom, boom—as he masterfully lays out the, um, shortcomings of human predictive powers in the June 2016 issue of Scientific American:

On September 11, 1933, renowned physicist Ernest Rutherford stated, with utter confidence, “Anyone who expects a source of power in the transformation of these atoms is talking moonshine.” On September 12, 1933, physicist Leo Szilard invented the neutron-induced nuclear chain reaction.

Loved it, the way he put it: (1) day one (we hear a bold prediction), then (2) day two (that prediction is blown to smithereens, fission-style!) Boom, boom!!

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21. It’s (Bayesian) Probability All The Way Down 🐢

Take this one from me on faith: It is probability, and that, too, of the  Bayesian kind, all the way down! 🐢 🐢 🐢 🐢 🐢 … 🐢

Okay, so here’s the deal, even as my own words now come back to haunt me: Remember how I had posed a question (“Have we bitten off more than we can chew?”) at the outset, and that, too, right at the beginning of the lovely Prelude section?

Oh my! By now, you are probably getting the drift that I’ve got a sorry tale to tell… And I have.

Dare I say, I bit off more than I could chew; for crying out loud, I had the reckless optimism to think that I could cram 40 odd sections into this essay! Sheesh, was I think… Needless to say, that ain’t happening; meanwhile, the handy-dandy phrase “real artists ship” is what I’m reminding myself of…

With that, how about we do this? We’ve still got a ton left so I’m going to leave the following postage stamps—each one containing a thematic image carefully curated from the public domain and lovingly patched-in inside a finely-tuned border with the help of some image processing that I do—as placeholders for the future.

I will (and I give you my word for it) not let you down: I’ll revisit this essay and flesh out the remainder…

So here we go, with the first placeholder postage stamp coming right up!

22. The Butterfly Effect (Twisted Inside-Out!) 🌀

Placeholder or not, the least I can do is make it bolder for you lest the stew get colder! I hear the Goldilocks Principle already admonishing me…

I wanna know you – like I know myself
I’m waitin’ for you – there ain’t no one else
Talk to me baby – scream and shout
I want to know you – inside out
I wanna dig down deep – I wanna lose some sleep
I wanna scream and shout – I wanna know you inside out
I wanna take my time – I wanna know your mind
Ya know there ain’t no doubt – I wanna know you inside out

~ Bryan Adams (Lyrics from Inside Out) 🎧

Look, I’m just a one-man shop—even calling it a shop would be a wild exaggeration since I’m the sole writer, guy-in-charge-of-brainstorming, editor, proof-reader, designer, prettifier, janitor… you got the picture right?—and when I need to ship, I got to ship. But I care deeply for quality. I ship quality stuff 🏄

Meanwhile, please allow lyrics such as those above to help you keep the faith that your blogger will be back: I will be back! I promise you!!

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23. Invented, Or Designed? 🎨

If I knew…that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.
~ Henry David Thoreau

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24. Models of Models of Models of Models of Things 🎁

An example from science where layering of models has been successful is the gas laws developed at the end of the eighteenth century. These laws relate pressure, temperature, volume, and mass of a gas, including Boyle’s law, Charles’ law, Gay-Lussac’s law, and Avogadro’s law. These models describe phenomena that are ultimately due to the motion of large numbers of molecules in a gas, but they do not describe the phenomena in terms of the individual molecules. For example, Boyle’s law states that at a fixed temperature, the pressure of a gas is inversely proportional to the volume it occupies. So, for example, if you reduce the volume (compress the gas), then pressure will increase. These are useful models of models, where the lower level model is of randomly moving molecules colliding with one another and with the surface of the enclosure.
~ Edward Ashford Lee (in Plato and the Nerd: The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology — The MIT Press)

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25. Complexity Simplified 🍎

Complexity is a difficult concept to pin down. Roughly speaking, something is complex when it strains our human minds to comprehend it. Complexity is therefore a relation between an artifact or a concept and a human observer.
~ Edward Ashford Lee (in Plato and the Nerd: The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology — The MIT Press)

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  26. Laplace’s Demon 👹

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane 💠
~ George Orwell, from “Why I Write” (in England Your England and Other Essays

(Note to Akram—also in the “to-do” marker which has been drawn from the venerable coding traditions of Java, Scala, Clojure, and other fine programming languages—is to revisit this section and add something of the nexus between super intelligent machines and the cognitive and brain sciences)

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27. Scanning The Horizon (Or, Staving Off Impossibility And Improbability) 😿

Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?
Remember how she said that
We would meet again
Some sunny day?
Vera, Vera
What has become of you
Does anybody else in here
Feel the way I do?

~ Pink Floyd (Lyrics from Vera)

Good old—as a Bayesian dare I say “lovely old”—Bayesian approach is here to stay! It’s not going anywhere; remember from a breath ago how she said that we would meet again? The question is—and to paraphrase Laplace from memory, all interesting questions are questions of probability—would it be “some sunny day”, or not, you and I aren’t sure, not quite.

Anyhow, to make much headway with super-intelligent machines, may I suggest getting to know probability theory backward and forward? Like, start with etching Bayes’ Theorem on your cranium. Stated mathematically, it is simplicity itself, as in the following equation:

P(A∣B) = P(B∣A) P(A) / P(B)

Smart machines cannot be cajoled by whining; they do, however, cock up their ear to Bayesians—just saying…

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28. Obstacles, Or There Were Mountains In Our Way… ⛰

All I know is the way I feel
When it’s real, I keep it alive
The road is long, there are mountains in our way
But we climb a step every day

~ Joe Cocker (Lyrics from Up Where We Belong)

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29. Models in Crisis (Crashing And Burning) 🌋

You may have heard this popular saying: “Shift happens” 🏄

Dude, what else can I add to that? Actually, I’m going to be foolhardy and try to do exactly that. So here we go, as I give it a shot: Professor Lee—remember I had introduced Professors Russell and Lee at the outset as the two individuals who have played a predominant role in shaping my thinking as you see it on display here—neatly marks out the terrain in his (referring now to Professor Lee specifically) new book entitled Plato and the Nerd: The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology (MIT Press) where he tells the reader how

Paradigm shifts in engineering are triggered primarily by crises of complexity and opportunity. These have been relentlessly driven for the last 50 years by the staggering advances in digital technology. They continue to be driven by the increasing interconnectedness of digital devices and penetration of computers into everything we use.

So where are the most pressing crises today? For this question, I can only speculate because I cannot see the future any better than anyone else. But I do see at least two substantial crises looming…

Read his fine book to find out all about those looming crises!

Meanwhile, I need to deal with a hovercraft from Calais, coming into Dover… 🚤

Whoa, what in the world is that; this ain’t no hovercraft Ma. It’s a Thunderbird, it’s USS Enterprise, it’s… What in the world is it, my man? Let’s go find out! 💪

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30. Digital Psyche? (And I Kid You Not!) 💀

Now there is one outstandingly important fact regarding Spaceship Earth, and that is that no instruction book came with it. Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.
~ Buckminster Fuller

Anyone remember the Chinese room? No, no, not that Chinese restaurant where we had noodles just the other day! 🍜

We’re not talking noodles here, dear Reader: we’re trying to latch on to profundity itself…

Back in the day, a really smart guy named John Searle proposed a thought experiment; evidently, he was as fond of thought experiments as Einstein himself, not to mention his fondness for Chinese food—I can only surmise that that’s how the Chinese room thought experiment came to be…🏂

To cut a really long story short, and deftly sidestepping apocrypha—by the way, should anyone care, here’s how I do it—the question which Searle wanted to answer was this:

Does the machine literally “understand” Chinese? Or is it merely simulating the ability to understand Chinese? Searle calls the first position “strong AI” and the latter “weak AI”.

I’m telling you, exotic food can have totally exotic effects on your mind… 😜

Having just splashed some water in our face, thereby regaining a modicum of alertness once again, let’s you and I move on to a related observation made by Professor Lee whom we met just a little while ago. He asks the reader—in the page of Plato and the Nerd (The MIT Press)—the following rhetorical question:

What good is a machine if we can’t know its output or even the function that it computes? I will now give a real-world example of an extremely useful information-processing machine that has properties not observable from outside the machine and has functions that are probably not describable: the human brain. One of the functions that the brain performs is to create consciousness. I know this for a fact because I have a brain, and what we mean by “consciousness” is exactly what I experience as consciousness. In Searle’s words, “the concept that names the phenomenon is itself a constituent of the phenomenon.”

Digital psyches, anyone? 🎒

Let me tell you about a hunch—and no, we’re definitely not talking about the poor hunchback of Notre Dame—which is emerging (in equal parts inchoate and brazen, to the point of grabbing and brandishing all it can get its hands on) a delightful premonition: Yes, this has all the makings of a marvelous admixture of Pink Floyd’s The Wall plus the movie trilogy based on The Matrix plus Neuroscience plus…

Quite the circus, old chap, and you know what… 🎪

Akram, stop… STOP 🚫 Cease and desist! See this barricade here 🚧 Yes, that’s the idea, dude.

Okay, okay I already had a hunch—oops, did I use that word again?—that this was fast turning into a full-fledged essay right here…

Ahem. Shall we, like, move right along then, dear Reader?🚶

(Sigh, old chap, that’s precisely what we were trying to get registered in your addled cranium, for crying out loud! This blogger…)

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31. Normal Engineering (Showing The Machines Who’s Boss Around Here) 💪

We can’t go on
Just running away
If we wait any longer
We will surely never get away
Anything you want…we can make it happen
Stand up and turn around
Never let them shoot us down
Never, never
Never, never run away
Never, never
Never, never run away

~ Heart (Lyrics from Never)

Back in the day, I was beguiled by the notion that there was only one kind of engineering: the “normal” kind. But that was before I had read some really cool observations—once again, in the pages of Plato and the Nerd (The MIT Press)—which include a reminder about how Thomas Kuhn (remember we were talking about “paradigm shifts” just a few breaths away?) had asserted that “adherence to a paradigm is essential to normal science” and how

He [Thomas Kuhn] calls normal science “mopping up operations” and “puzzle solving” and asserts that this is what engages most scientists throughout their careers. The paradigms within which they operate provide the framework for these operations.

Loved how Professor Lee put it! ⛹

Dare I say—once we get into the realm of staring super-intelligent machines in their unblinking eyes—that we’re no longer in the neat and comfortable confines of, um, normal engineering? Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Upside down
Boy, you turn me
Inside out
And round and round
Upside down
Boy, you turn me
Inside out
And round and round

~ Diana Ross (Lyrics Upside Down)

Let’s you and I take a few moments to let the idea sink in… ⚓

Feeling composed again? Good. We need our wits about us as we emerge out of the selfsame fog which was threatening to engulf us…

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32. We Emerge Out Of The Darkness, To Witness… Turing’s Cathedral? 🏰

Read, sweet, how others strove,
Till we are stouter;
What they renounced,
Till we are less afraid;
How many times they bore
The faithful witness,
Till we are helped,
As if a kingdom cared!

Read then of faith
That shone above the fagot;
Clear strains of hymn
The river could not drown;
Brave names of men
And celestial women,
Passed out of record Into renown!

~ Emily Dickinson (In XVIII: THE BOOK OF MARTYRS, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson)

Speaking of fog—surely you haven’t already forgotten all about the selfsame fog which was threatening to engulf us a moment ago—it’s well nigh irresistible to quote a dickens of a writer on this very topic:

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.
~ Charles Dickens (Bleak House)

Ah, now Charles Dickens sure had a way with words—and a most enviable one—didn’t he now? 🎩

Meanwhile, coffee anyone? Just so we’re not under-caffeinated for our free-fall that’s coming right up 🍵

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33. In Free-Fall, Or Not? 👡

I wanna glide down over Mulholland
I wanna write her name in the sky
I’m gonna free fall out into nothin’
Gonna leave this world for awhile
Now I’m free (Free fallin’, now I’m free fallin’, now I’m)
Free fallin’ (Free fallin’, now I’m free fallin’, now I’m)
Yeah, I’m free (Free fallin’, now I’m free fallin’, now I’m)
Free fallin’ (Free fallin’, now I’m free fallin’, now I’m)
~ Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers (Lyrics from Free Fallin’)

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34. Peering Into The Horizon… 🔭

‘On a day,
Sitting upon a rock above the spray,
I saw grow up from the horizon’s brink
A gallant vessel: soon she seem’d to sink
Away from me again, as though her course
Had been resumed in spite of hindering force–
So vanish’d: and not long, before arose
Dark clouds, and muttering of winds morose.
Old Æolus would stifle his mad spleen,
But could not: therefore all the billows green
Toss’d up the silver spume against the clouds.
The tempest came: I saw that vessel’s shrouds
~ John Keats (from BOOK III)

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35. An Idyllic Future, Or Not? 🌳

Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.
~ Rabindranath Tagore

You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.”
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights is worthy of all else from you.
And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.
And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?
~ Kahlil Gibran (From The Prophet)

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36. Time For Scrimmage (Or, Are We In Love With Our Own Image?) 🎭

Humble living does not diminish. It fills.
Going back to a simpler self gives wisdom.
When a man makes up a story for his child,
he becomes a father and a child
together, listening.
~ Jelaluddin Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi — HarperCollins)

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37. Who Will Have The Last Laugh, Really? 😼

Forbidden fruit a flavor has
That lawful orchards mocks;
How luscious lies the pea within
The pod that Duty locks!
~ Emily Dickinson (In IV: FORBIDDEN FRUIT. I., from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson)

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38. Of Culture And Taste 🎠

– Canada could have enjoyed: English government, French culture, and American know-how. Instead it ended up with English know-how, French government, and American culture.
~ John Colombo

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39. No Need To Panic, Yet… 😲

All right, let’s not panic. I’ll make the money by selling one of my livers. I can get by with one.
~ Homer Simpson

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 40. An Open-And-Shut Case, Or Not? 💰

You are all alike, you respectable people. You can’t tell me the bursting strain of a ten-inch gun, which is a very simple matter; but you all think you can tell me the bursting strain of a man under temptation. You daren’t handle high explosives; but you’re all ready to handle honesty and truth and justice and the whole duty of man, and kill one another at that game. What a country! What a world!
~ George Bernard Shaw

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41. Ahoy! The Unfinished Fable of the Sparrows 🐓

The flock was exhilarated, and sparrows everywhere started chirping at the top of their lungs.

Only Scronkfinkle, a one-eyed sparrow with a fretful temperament, was unconvinced of the wisdom of the endeavor. Quoth he: “This will surely be our undoing. Should we not give some thought to the art of owl-domestication and owl-taming first, before we bring such a creature into our midst?”
~ Nick Bostrom (in Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies — Oxford University Press)

Wait a second! Did someone just say “Scronkfinkle, a one-eyed sparrow”? I’m, like, doing a double take and wondering if perhaps Scronkfinkle (the one-eyed sparrow) had something to do with the area of functional programming which many of us in computer science fondly know as currying—no, sadly for those of you feeling hungry for food at the moment, it’s not the Curry In A Hurry kind of currying I’m talking about here!

What I’ve got in mind is much less delicious—speaking now from the point of view of our taste buds—and far more prosaic: This currying is the kind that traces back to to the mathematician Moses Schoenfinkel who, way back in 1924, discovered that functions of multiple arguments are really just higher order functions (HOFs) which take one argument and return other functions. How cool is that! 😎

So why do most of us functional programmers nowadays blithely blabber about currying instead of the much cooler-sounding, um, Schoenfinkelization?

As Paul Chiusano and Rúnar Bjarnason, the co-authors of an awesome book (on functional programming using Scala) note in their book—read more about it here—the uber-cool property of functions which you saw above (involving HOFs) was independently discovered by another mathematician named Haskell Curry.

Even though it had independently been discovered earlier by Moses Schoenfinkel, the somewhat mouthful-of-a-term “Schoenfinkelization—dude, just try saying that word five times in a row now—sadly didn’t quite catch on…

And the rest, as they say, is history 😙

Now you know why we functional programmers who build responsive and reactive applications are always yammering about currying instead of… Schoenfinkelizing. So you just learned some trivia which you can proudly show off forevermore to your peers; see, the essays you read around here aren’t totally useless, or are they? 🙊

Winding Down Now

Remember how I had added an “Experimental Afterword” to a recent essay? Shall we do it again? 😆

But first, I’ve been thinking some about a thought-provoking book I’ve got floating around at 

home—it’s entitled Superintelligence. I had been digging around for it. Eventually retrieved it recently, buried as it was under under a ton of debris: the flotsam and jetsam which are the million odd books floating around in interstellar orbit (actually, um, right under the roof of my house)… 🌀

Let’s Revisit This One Soon…

Meanwhile, here’s the full name of the book:

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (Oxford University Press) by Nick Bostrom

Looking forward to it, or not? 🙈

I’m (Nearly) Outta Here!

With that, we’ll look forward to the goodies in that Bostrom book… 🔭

Meanwhile, it’s all yours: I’m (nearly) outta here! 🚁

Groan… What now, Akram, what now? 🙉

Well, for one thing, I can’t just leave some weighty matter  dangling 🎣

What you talking about, foo?! ⛹

Take A Deep Breath, Dear Reader

Easy there now, easy…🙅

May I gently remind you, dear Reader, of the unresolved saga way back in this essay—precariously dangling as it was in midair—having to do with the “Big Endians” and the “Little Endians” and what with my having made mention, for crying out loud, of… “Middle Endians”. What in the world? 🙉

Can’t leave all that hanging in mid-air after all; that’s like telling moviegoers in a theater to leave after intermission 🎬

Don’t want to leave you in suspense!

And hey, yay! Help is near at hand… ⛵

To get the scoop, simply proceed 20 paces due South… Actually, make that: Proceed, if you please will to somehow move—or scroll, hop-skip-and-jump, bob-sled, or however your dear heart commands you to—past the two postage stamp-style images which next lie in wait for you…

🚶 🚶 🚶 🚶 … 🚶

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The artist really seeks a universal language, and artists from all parts of the world can understand each other.
~ Anais Nin (in Diary 2, pg. 101, as quoted in The Quotable Anais Nin: 365 Quotations with Citations — Sky Blue Press) 🎁

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Ah good, I see you made it past the two traps above which I had laid especially for you—the one with the  Byzantine chamber with fading light streaming in and the other with the grassy labyrinth sporting a slimy snail dead-center—so allow me to be the first one to warmly welcome you to what everyone (and their brother) had actually been waiting for. I mean, didn’t you know, gullible Reader: Everything else that came before was just a ruse to get you here… Hah!

Welcome to the matrix, dear Chimera. I’ve been waiting for you… What took you so long? ⏰

👞 👠 👢 👟 👡 👣 👒 💸 💰

The “Middle Endian” Saga—The Grand Finale

What is this thing that builds our dreams, yet slips away from us?
Who wants to live forever?
Who wants to live forever?
There’s no chance for us.
It’s all decided for us.
This world has only one sweet moment set aside for us.

~ Queen (Lyrics from Who Wants To Live Forever)


What Is This “Middle Endian” Thingy?

Okay, so the moment has finally arrived: you’ve patiently been holding your horses, kind sir and gracious madam, dying to find out what this “Middle Endian” fiasco is all about—Wait no more: your moment has arrived! 🐎

A Modest Proposal

Anyone remember the unparalleled genius of Jonathan Swift’s satire? Great!

Inspired by the satirist, we’re going to have a go at it… 🏁

We roll up our sleeves. So it goes like this: Not to be outdone by the weighty matters that used to occupy the minds of warring giants in ye olde times—what with one warring faction (the “Big Endians”) arguing for the righteousness of breaking a boiled egg at the big end and the other (the “Little Endians” of course) arguing with equal zeal that the one-and-only way to break a boiled egg at the little end—we have taken it upon ourselves, motivated of course by the burning desire to put an end to all the fake news swirling around nowadays, to set the matter straight, once and for all 🐓

Cutting the Gordian Knot With A Flourish

Indeed, I present to you the middle path, the one true path which will unite the the “Big Endians” and “Little Endians” into one big, happy family: the clan of the “Middle Endians”… 👪

What, you’re not serious now… Are you?

Actually I am, and I can prove it… 👜

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury who have graciously assembled here in this fine court of law, Exhibit A is, for your eyes only, like so, an egg—and an ornamental one at that—broken right in the middle, sitting atop a Humpty Dumpty-style wall which comprises, of all the weirdest things in the word… a stack of Artificial Intelligence books (most of them anyway), oh my! And not only that, the finery is flanked and morally bolstered on each side by the voice of reason, the two, fine hardcover books that stand upright 📗📘

  • Professor Russell’s inimitable book, the standard AI textbook (Left)
  • Professor Lee’s gem on the creative partnership of humans and technology (Right)

Fair enough, Your Honor?, the esteemed judge that you are, presiding over this fine court of law…

Egg 1 a
🔎 Exhibit A 🔎

The Jury Needs Further Convincing

Hmm… Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I see that you’re not quite as bowled over as I had hoped. But that’s okay. I realize now that the picture above—Exhibit A—was taken from too far away, with the undesired effect of making your gentle eyes squint; I’m sure to have a word about that with my legal assistant at a later time.

Meanwhile… Aha! Let’s please have you check out Exhibit B, which is like so 🔎

Egg 2 a
🔎 Exhibit B 🔎

And They Need A Bit More Convincing…

Cool, cool, ladies and gentlemen of the jury? Yes, Yes?!😎

Oh, I see: So you want an even closer view of the tattered ornamental egg? 

(“Goodness gracious,”and muttering only under my breath here, “Some people, sheesh… I mean, do they want to zoom in down to the granularity of Scanning Electron Microscopy or something? Sigh…”).

Then, composing himself and audibly and enthusiastically addressing the judge and the jury, your blogger continues with making the case, “No worries. You’re good!”

“Aha! So let’s have you all check out Exhibit C, which is like so…” 🔎

Egg 3 a
🔎 Exhibit C 🔎

Finally, We Have A Verdict!

Yay, the jury is convinced: We have a unanimous decision in favor of cracking eggs—boiled ones of course—smack in the middle from here on through to eternity!  Everyone is convinced of the mainstream sensibleness of foregoing, forevermore, the cracking of eggs at their extremities, and instead opting for the middle path: this will make our lives so much easier as we boil eggs and,
crucially—optimize the pattern of breaking them—go about devouring them for breakfast 🐣

Woohoo!! Is this is a great day or what?! Future generations will remember this landmark case with much admiration and fondness 👶

But will future generations even be there to witness firsthand the unfolding of this unprecedented achievement’s glory? I sure hope they will, for your sake and mine… 💔

We Even Dragged In Egoless Programming

So I had asked before and—putting my ego aside simply because I subscribe to the notion of egoless programming—I will ask you again: Will you please join me in making sure that we do everything in our power to carefully align the objectives of super-intelligent machines with our own?

We have some bloody important stuff to take care of here 💂

Please Help Support The Vision For A Safer Future!

I’m not convinced that politicians and policymakers are paying the kind of attention this matter warrants—and no, I’m no longer even talking about the momentous “Middle Endian” ruling, historic and unprecedented though it is in its own right… 🐥

Instead, I’m talking about Professor Russell’s calm and measured advice-and-gentle-warning-all-rolled-into-one that

If we’re not careful, we could find ourselves at odds with determined, intelligent machines whose objectives conflict with our own.

Will you please join me in supporting the vision of Professor Russell and like-minded individuals?

I rest my case because I know you will—Thank you, dear Reader 💁

You make my dayyes you do—every day 🌞

Every single day.
P4 d


  1. – LOL, Josh! Your marvelous comment made my day, and then some, thanks!!

    – For one thing (and here I'm looking specifically at your point about my having "…actually managed to outdo yourself by a factor of 41!), you had me scratching my head for a few moments. Hmm… Where is that enigmatic "factor of 41" coming from now, dude?!

    – Doh! I did a face palm as it dawned on me that I had precisely 41 (individual) narratives, all woven together into a collage of sorts! One more mystery of the universe happily demystified 🙂

    – You got me this time, LOL!

    – Oh, since you graciously make mention of "…another wonderful digression I'm still digesting", may I suggest keeping some Maalox close at hand in case of, um, indigestion, dare I say? 😉

    – (Seriously, though, there's quite a bit of heady stuff in this essay… I think I'm going to keep some antacid close at hand myself as I get ready to re-read my own essay. So heaven help me!!)

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