And has thou slain the jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
~ Lewis Carroll (from his poem Jabberwocky)
One Fateful Sunday Afternoon…
As I waded through the outskirts of the marshy swamp one blustery Sunday afternoon, a boisterous bittern bit my rear end off… While fleeting as fleeting could ever be, the experience was painful. Very painful. I’m telling you, it was a gangsta’ bittern, a fleetin’ gangsta, a thug! 👺
It was almost as if the embittered bittern had been lying in wait for me, and then, sneakily using the element of surprise, pounced on me unawares as I enjoyed the Shrek’s swamp. On top of that, having wrought irreparable damage to my rear, the gangsta’ bittern darted away just as quickly as it had arrived on the scene, that bashful bittern did, leaving me disheveled and disoriented!
Alice in Wonderland Or Something!
Meanwhile, as I was lying supine on the barren heath at the edge of the adjoining marshy swamp, and no sooner had I finished licking my wounds, than I turned to my side that I fell into a… rabbit hole. And hey, I’m not talking about some proverbial rabbit hole; this was—read my lips when I say there’s no fake news swirling around here—a legit, corporeal rabbit hole! 🐰
What, You Started Smoking?!
Oh. My. God (See the pipe below? And I don’t even smoke—never did and never will—so what’s up with that!) 💣
Here’s what: In brief, I draw your attention to the-schmancy smoking pipe below, otherwise known as The Treachery of Images—yes we have entered the realm of how things are sometimes (maybe often?) not quite what they appear to be—in the style of the Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte. Keep this point in mind (as you read the remainder of the preamble) and you’ll be good. I promise! 😽
Your Blogger In Recovery Mode
When I came to, having clawed my way out of that labyrinthine rabbit hole—my harrowing encounter with the thug bittern slowly fading into the timeless horizon of pain and confusion—I found myself… dreaming 😴
So there I was, dreaming (along with perhaps, and as best I can recall, the poetry of that big dawg, that fella’, you know, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) in the refrains of The Slave’s Dream like so, yo, beginning with some cafeteria talk of Uncle Ben’s Rice or something. Check this out, rice bowl and all… 🍚
Beside the ungathered rice he lay,
His sickle in his hand;
His breast was bare, his matted hair
Was buried in the sand.
Again, in the mist and shadow of sleep,
He saw his Native Land 👀
Wide through the landscape of his dreams
The lordly Niger flowed;
Beneath the palm-trees on the plain
Once more a king he strode;
And heard the tinkling caravans
Descending the mountain road ⛰
Before him, like a blood-red flag,
The bright flamingoes flew;
From morn till night he… 🐥
Cut, cut! 🎬
Yo, stop right there!! (Methinks I saw a reference above to some highfalutin pink birds or something, like… flamingoes? Arghh!!!).
I don’t want no mention of no bird around here no moh’, Ann Lamott notwithstanding—and here I owe you the reference to a poem that sits atop an essay elsewhere—just having gotten my rear chewed by a cousin of the flamingo: dayum, the gangsta’ bittern, you know! 🐙
Get Those Flamingos Out Of Here… Now!
Let’s take a deep breath now. Counting to 100… Whew, done! There, better? 🐳
(And while all this talk of birds and fishes and surreal stuff may have come across as, um, fishy— by now you may have started noticing the fishiness already engulfing this essay what with the water splotches that I’ve added to the images on top of everything else going on—I urge you to carry on with the rest of the essay… Soldier on, only you can do what must be done!)
Remember how the mesmerizing movie The Highlander would seamlessly segue between past and present, foreground and background, reality and fantasy? Well, we are feeling bold enough to try some transmogrifying of our own! From the haunting heath upon which I had been waylaid by the bazooka-wielding bittern, we’ll cut back in time to your blogger’s high school days… 👦
Sailing to Byzantium now folks ⛵
The Elements Of This Essay 👒
What’s going down? Here’s what 🎣
Without further ado, here then are the pit-stops in our semi-Kafkaesque ride that’s about to commence. Buckle up and hang tight:
- The Joy Of Learning 💋
- The Joy Of Discovering One’s Untapped Reservoirs 🏃
- The Joy Of Pushing Oneself To One’s Limits 🏄
So there… 👦
1. The Joy Of Learning 💋
Yo, Memorize Yourself A Macbeth Soliloquy
This is what happened. Segue to modern times, Highlander-style of course…
There I was, a little wet behind the ears—and the wetness I’m talking about now has nothing whatsoever to do with the wetland outskirts upon which I had survived my bittern skirmish moments ago. Yep, so there I was, sitting all alert in my 11th grade English class in high school. Our teacher (I have yet to meet a stricter grammarian than him; more on that later!) announced on his arrival in the classroom that something urgent had come up so he wouldn’t be able to teach our class that day 🎉
No sooner had the first signs of euphoria begun washing across the parched landscape of our adolescent psyche, our English teacher announced—dude, without so much as missing a beat—that he needed for us to memorize a passage from Shakespeare’s great tragedy Macbeth that day while he was attending to his emergency situation, or whatever had come up… 🎭
And all of us were like, “What a tragedy we 11th graders got on our hands, memorizing from a tragedy. Some self-referential mischief going on, too!” 🙈
Shall We Do It?
Some muffled groans were discernible at the moment when our English teacher turned on his heels to walk away. Gawd, wherefore hath mercifulness departed? Left to our languishing condition—I was resigned to it anyway—the long minutes ticked away ⏰
As I sat there memorizing Macbeth’s soliloquy, I was jolted out of my reverie-like absorption by the sound—his voice tinged in equal parts by derision and curiosity—of a snide question from a classmate who was seated four columns to the right of my wooden desk: “Hey Akram, are you actually memorizing the passage?, he asked with incredulity as he looked up from the crumpled pages of The Enquirer magazine that was spread across his desk. And I was like, “Yes… Isn’t that what Mr. Usmani had asked us to do for today’s class?” (See, I was a little wet behind the ears, back in the day, knowing scant little about the ways of the world…) 👶
Woohoo, I Done It!
Your blogger is happy to report that, having got the sordid Macbeth soliloquy down pat, when the time for final exams came around, the major essay-length question which was asked us adolescents—yay, for those rooting for me, and who had a premonition about where all this was going—to effuse on the philosophy of that very soliloquy (the one I had imprinted on my cranium, so to say, in literal-mindedly following Mr. Usmani’s directions on that fateful day earlier) 🎃
Woohoo, I was off to the races! Dude, for one thing, and without so much wasting a minute, I eagerly took up my fountain pen—believe it or not, those relics were the required writing instruments back in the day—and even more eagerly committed to paper about 95% of Macbeth’s soliloquy. Like, verbatim. And then… I effused mightily on what I had already written 😼
So it is not an idle boast as I tell you now—fast-forwarding by a few decades to the year 2018—with a certain amount of pride that I won the class prize for English that year 🏆
There Ain’t No Escapin’ The Grammar Police
To keep my promise to you—juicy details about just how strict a grammarian my English teacher Mr. Usmani was—check this out: One day, and again taking you way back to my schooldays, one of my classmates returned to school, having recovered from a bout of the flu, and having missed a few days of school in that process.
Mr. Usmani, a great guy by the way, inquired into the welfare of my woebegone classmate, who, in a momentary lapse of remaining mindful of exactly who he was talking to, unwittingly replied—yeah dude, he forgot that he was testifying before the grammarian’s grammarian—with the fateful words, “Sir, I had a fever” (O boy, am I glad he didn’t add that his hands felt just like two balloons…) 🎈🎈
My mayne, the wording of that sentence—”Sir, I had a fever”—as you may have guessed, was way too much for the uber-refined, grammarian sensibilities of poor Mr. Usmani. Without missing a beat, he rhetorically asked my woebegone classmate, “Oh, so you didn’t have two fevers or perhaps even three?” Clearly, our honorable English teacher hadn’t been endeared much by my classmate’s response in which he had (may the heavens forgive him for that) made the cardinal mistake of deploying an “a” right smack before the uncountable noun “fever” 😱
Like, dude, classmate of mine—granted that you had managed to get past the delirious phase induced by your bout of influenza—what were you even thinking as you testified on high ground! Amirite? 🙊
Oh. My. God (May the heavens bless his soul.)
2. The Joy Of Discovering One’s Untapped Reservoirs 🏃
Before we move on to the third and final “joy”—and I had struggled with putting it right here instead, as the second joy, before cooler heads prevailed—do allow me to set your expectations regarding what the third “joy” will be about: covering the whole swathe of artificial intelligence (AI) in a single essay (Did anyone wish to enlighten their blogger about the fine art of tilting at windmills? Did anyone mention the name of Don Quixote? Did anyone now?)
Back now to the seamy details—shhh… this will be our secret, okay?—of how your blogger came to discover an inner strength (this will serve as a personal example of finding an untapped reservoir) that he scarcely could have imagined (Sigh, if only I could have been able to put it to regular use during my athletic career in school…)
Anyhow, this is what happened. Yo, this is what went down, bro’ 💁
As a 10-year-old—clearly I’m taking you back to the Paleozoic era—what else could have been on the mind of my neighborhood buddies and me but playing the fine sport of cricket and getting our grubby hands on all kinds of delectable stuff! Speaking of yummy things to eat, one sultry Sunday afternoon we all found ourselves all psyched up after an especially closely-contested cricket match in the neighborhood. We wanted to celebrate 🎡
Wussup’ with that? (Hang tight, because that exactly is that we’re going to find out next…) 🔦
Got No Money For The Fiscal Year
Reaching into our decidedly shallow pockets—not that we have deep pockets now in our present day dispensation—we were starkly reminded of our fiscal woes, of how remarkably impecunious we loitering lads all were… What to do? 💰
Somebody suggested that the berries—they grew luxuriously on the vine of the massive wall just three houses down from us—were ripe to eat! Brilliant idea, why hadn’t I thought of it earlier? In deference to our friend’s brilliance, however, our motley crew wended its circuitous way to the ripe berries that were badly beckoning to us by that time.
We approached the wall through an empty plot of land, looking forward to the sweet feast of berries awaiting us! The berries on the vine were draped over wall, but out of reach. Luckily, there was a 5 inch-wide ledge along the perimeter of the wall, just high enough to bring the delicacies within the reach of our grubby hands, still a bit dusty from the game of cricket (But who cared about the trifling matters of hygiene, back in the day!) 🐽
So we hoisted ourselves and, standing there on our toes, began our sumptuous feast 🍇
(Okay, now stay tuned, because this is where my literal-mindedness is about to come into its own in a blaze of glory and gold…) 📺 👑
A Gardener That Cared A Lot
As piano maestro Elton John once sang about the gardener that cared a lot and who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop, let’s talk gardening. Actually not (basket-weaving is out, too, around here!)
No more than five minutes had passed when we heard a voice. It was the gardener of that house, coming in our direction, with—as best as I could tell—a rather grim and determined look on his face. With what I later realized was a scowl on the gardener’s face, he announced loudly, “I’m personally going to have you eat some of these berries!” 👺
And I was, like, “What a great guy this kindly gardener is! He sure is going out of his way to help us lads out, down on our luck as I’m sure he saw all of us were, nice!!” (Little did I know…)
Well, after I took my eyes off the gardener, I noticed—as I quickly glanced around at my pals with whom I was feasting on the berries—that my cohorts were sprinting away through the empty plot of land. Why that was so (I mean, we had all heard this gracious gardener tell us a moment ago that he was personally going to have us eat some of the berries, hadn’t we? Amirite? What gives?) 👀
…signals of interrogation, friendship, threat and appeasement, instantly taken in, seldom, if ever, misread 😳
~ W. H. Auden
Yo, This Is What Went Down
This is what happened next: My entire life swam before me as the gardener came within 5 feet of yours truly. The scowl on his face had grown positively grimmer at that time. My instincts kicked in—all this transpired within a fraction of a second, largely unbeknownst to my conscious mind—and my alarmed amygdala told me to get my rear out of place in a jiffy! 🚁
I Sprint To Save My Life!
The following 10 seconds are etched in my memory: As the gardener started hauling himself over the wall, I was sprinting in the other direction. So fast was I sprinting as I could never have imagined myself doing. This was the flight part—of the “fight or flight” equation of stress—as I had never experienced before. Ever 😹
And no, that was not the end of it either. As I glanced back over my pumping shoulders, with the gardener in my pursuit, I saw a 4 foot tall wall (marking the boundary of the empty plot of land) straight ahead. This was no time to slow down. No Sir! Without so much as slowing down a bit, I maintained my sprinting pace and literally high-jumped over that wall; the 400 meters hurdles race on the track-field anyone? 🏃
I made it to safety unscathed and caught up with my cricket posse. Goodness, it was quite the education I got that day! 🎓
3. The Joy Of Pushing Oneself To One’s Limits 🏄
A sentence uttered makes a world appear
Where all things happen as it says they do;
We doubt the speaker, not the tongue we hear:
Words have no word for words that are not true 🎭
~ W. H. Auden
An Interlude To Magical Numbers…
Before I ask you to visualize something, I want you to keep the number 41 in mind. Nothing magical about that number. But since I brought up the shtick of magic numbers, I might as well digress a tad—into the realm of functional programming, a field in which I profess a deep and abiding interest—to tell you about how some people get a little carried away when it comes to magic numbers: Take the case of computer scientist Miran Lipovaca (who is the author of a really cool book on the functional programming language Haskell, entitled Learn You a Haskell for Great Good!: A Beginner’s Guide) who shares with the reader a bit of his background by divulging how
…[in] addition to his passion for Haskell, he enjoys boxing, playing bass guitar, and, of course, drawing. He has a fascination with dancing skeletons and the number 71, and when he walks through automatic doors he pretends that he’s actually opening them with his mind 👞
Now how about that? But the number I’ve got for you—plain old 41—is rooted in prosaic reality (Hang tight. More in just a bit…) 🏀
Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Push Me Around!
Let’s now talk in earnest about pushing one’s own limits…
Yep, the time has arrived for you to picture something, which is simply this: There I was—your loyal servant the blogger—in the fairly early phases of putting together an essay that became Why I Worry About AI (Artificial Intelligence). I had at my fingertips a wide swathe off (intellectual) material to work with:
- The June 2016 commentary entitled Should We Fear Supersmart Robots? By Stuart Russell, which appeared in the venerable magazine Scientific American 👊
- The theme of the classic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey—the story takes place thousands of miles out there in space, and you can read up the chill’ conversation 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 👻
- The placement of the Emily Dickinson poem entitled XV: THE INEVITABLE 👷
- A boatload of public domain images that I had culled for their significance and relevance to the subject at hand, and last, but certainly not least 🚛
- A Modest Proposal inspired by the unparalleled genius of Jonathan Swift’s satire 🐡
Now how about that for a tonne of things to corral in a doozy essay?! (And did I even make mention of another essay, also on super intelligence, that it, in turn, inspired?)
Yo, What Went Down
So this is what happened. This is what went down, yo 🎪
As I contemplated what I had just gotten myself into—throwing caution to the wind and pretty much locking myself into a situation that I couldn’t rescind—I found myself telling telling myself (hey, how about that for meta-recursion?) something like, “You get what you get, and you don’t have a fit!” If full candor, the stark message in my self-talk did little to comfort me; I was in cognitive dissonance central…
Should I, in the spirit of the French Foreign Legion, follow the dictum, “When in doubt, gallop!” No, that’s not quite going to work; I really can’t run away from you all, dear readers, now can I? So in a fit of literal-mindedness, I plunged into the task of assembling no less than 41—see, I had told you that my magic number is rooted in far prosaic reality—short commentary sections which would make up the bulk of the essay. Gulp. Fo-fo,fo-…Forty one? Yes, brutha, 41 to be sure—that’s exactically what’s going down in our hood’ 📬
Cutting To The Chase
To cut a long story short—you can see the results for yourself right here—I did pull it all off, mostly… (In the grand tradition of writing software code, I put a handful of strategic markers, the TODO(s), across the collage, with the sincere intent of revisiting and fleshing out the TODO(s)).
When it comes to discovering the unanticipated joys of literal-mindedness, yours truly has been there, done that, and got the T-shirt! (And had a ton of fun doing it) 👕
Yo, check out the cool cat below—hey, any feline that yawns half as endearingly as this one gets registered as cool in my book—and let me know: Is that the enigmatic disappearing Cheshire Cat or something? (I’m tellin’ ya, as if you hadn’t noticed this before, especially you longtime readers: I’m a stickler for detail. No fake news ain’t gonna fly around in this neighborhood. Uh-uh!) 🐱
When I communicate my thought and my sentiments to a friend with whom I am in full sympathy, so that my feelings pass into him and I am conscious of what he feels, do I not live in his brain as well as in my own—most literally? 😘
~ Charles Sanders Peirce
Detective, Will We Ever Find Out?
Sigh, as to why the bittern was embittered in the first place… 🐢
Darn, perhaps I’ll never find out: After our brief skirmish, it had instantaneously disappeared like the Cheshire Cat (yo, this cat lover’s telling you about the feline Lewis Carroll’s book so fine called Alice in Wonderland), except that the bittern didn’t leave behind so much as a smile, dayum—methinks it would more likely have been a scowl—by way of a signature trace or something (that I could have run my spectral analyzer on for some forensics, dude, you know, X Files and stuff…).
Dude, what a specter. And yo, Inspector Clouseau, you better remain on high alert—or at least on standby for crying out loud—so we can lean on your legendary detective abilities when the moment arrives for serious forensics. Cool? 😎
A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican.
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week,
But I’m damned if I see how the helican 🐳
~ Ogden Nash
More Birds Fluttering Around? Arghh…
— Stop!!! 🚧
— Look, whatever you do, remember this, don’t do this bird talk (pelicans and stuff, you know). Yo, read my lips: No more—forsooth I say, no more—bird talk (although Car Talk is just fine). Take this from someone with a scarred psyche… 😭
— What you talking about, foo? 🙉
— For crying out loud, yours truly, as he emerged from his delirium, was truly talking about the gangsta’ bittern—heck, for all I know, it might as well have been a barrista bittern—that had swiped mightily at my sorry ass! 🍵
— Oh, I see… 😇
It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious 🔬
~ Alfred North Whitehead (English mathematician and philosopher)
Let’s Do Trend-Spotting
By the way, it’s trend-spotting that we are after; no train-spotting going on here… 🚂
See those tawny, spotted owls looking into the horizon in their selfsame act of trend-spotting? So what’s up with that? Yo, here’s what’s happening: A good friend of mine, Edward, wrote up a book—Plato and the Nerd, published by The MIT Press in 2017—that has just a ton of things going for it. And FWIW, I’ve already written a ton about it. Here, though, I turn to an especially memorable thought, expressed quite musically, where Edward tells the reader how
Because our brains can only fit so much, specialization leads to fragmentation, where insights in one specialty become inaccessible to the others. It can be quite difficult for scientists and engineers to work across specialties. Wulf, writing about Alexander von Humboldt, points out that Humboldt’s integrative, cross-disciplinary approach to science went out of fashion (chapter 2), leading to Humboldt being largely forgotten by the scientific community. She observes that “this growing specialization provided a tunnel vision that focused in on ever greater detail, but ignored the global view that would later become Humboldt’s hallmark”
With this tunnel vision, specialists know more and more about less and less, until they eventually know everything about nothing. Then they become professors, and the courses they teach become barriers, weeding out unsuspecting undergraduates who simply aren’t prepared for the sophistication of the specialty. The professors love their specialty, they want to teach it, and they cannot see that it is esoteric; the arcane and complex analytical methods they have developed are neither easily learned nor easily applied to practical problems. Their discipline fragments into further specialties, and each professor loses the big picture. None is qualified to teach the big picture, and anyway, his or her colleagues would consider any such big picture to be “Mickey Mouse,” too easy and unsophisticated to be worthy of their time.
Mayne, my mayne, what a gangsta’ phrase that was now—that punchline you know, “With this tunnel vision, specialists know more and more about less and less, until they eventually know everything about nothing“, to be precise—which methinks packed a walloping punch 👊
Boom! Sucka, this is your main mayne in the hood, tellin’ ya, it sure got me down good, real good…
Leveling With You
Let me level with ya: I’m all for reversing the pernicious trend of specialization (I’ve written some about it, as a matter fact, yo). Meanwhile, check out my friend Edward’s book. I’m telling you, it is—pardon my French—one helluva trip waiting for ya between the covers of zat book! Even moh’ meanwhile, and clearly my language is fast devolving—or dare I claim, evolving— into gangsta-speak… “Good grief!” as Snoopy would say to Woodstock 🐥
And say if I may—totally by the way—the jabberwock I did slay. Is that cool or what? Amirite? 🏆
“So where’s the proof?,” I heard someone ask… (Dang, some people just don’t take your word for it, now do they?) But hey, hey, check out what I got for you here now, yours truly about to slay the fiery dragon… 🐉