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And it comes right down and lands on the ground

February 8, 2009

First the good news – I wrote six pages of chapter two today!  Happy breakthrough, as I haven’t done anything new since I had my gall bladder out the beginning of December.  Reading Daemon was helpful in allowing me to get past the difficulty of the expository stuff – i.e., I can glide over a lot of technical info (assumption of knowledge) but the chatbot stuff has got to come in, at least in dribs and drabs (induction of knowledge).   With luck and persistence, the Monolith will meet Momentum again this week and I’ll have chapter 2 ready to post by this coming weekend, the 14th/15th.

Now the bad news:  The Richard Dooling book, Rapture for the Geeks, is a huge disappointment.  A cobbled-together pile of what feels like story ideas, old Wired articles, and even, FSM help us, Computers for Dummies.  The first 66 pages, like many in the latter part of the book, have got to be contractually-mandated verbiage/filler to make enough words for a book, covering random things like the history of the earth, the abacus, how much money you get if you double a penny all month, etc.  The middle of the book proclaims that the Singularity is a Faustian bargain and the Unabomber was right about technology overwhelming us, some mysterious “we” will hand power over to AI and we’ll all become Soylent Green – then it deals with how to “survive” the awful Singularity (which like the creation of the A-bomb will be impossible for our curious cat minds to resist) by…knowing about computers – open source is good, learn to program, here’s what HTML looks like kids, eat your Linux, playing video games with your kid is an acceptable substitution for athletic activity – and then really trowels on the filler with random bits about atheism and tries to tie that in (not very hard) with how “religious” people are about their software choices.  Even the bulk of what there is about the Singularity is a rehashing of other articles, although the links to the sources are at least usefully provided.  Never mind Emily Dickinson turned into a Python script.

Dooling also enjoys bashing Microsoft – I mean, really enjoys it.  Full disclosure: I work for a vendor to a MS subsidiary, but that’s hardly the same as drinking the Kool-Aid.  He bashes either Microsoft, Windows or Internet Explorer on hardback pages 5, 6, 12, 19, 22, 34, 67, 95, 106, 121, 122, 123, then takes a break until page 170, 181, 183 and finally, on page 197, finally says why he hates Microsoft (software licensing is bad) for ten pages, after which I stopped looking.  I can only imagine a Microsoft dis gets an automatic laugh when he does some public appearance, so he thought he’d milk it for all it was worth in the book.

I did learn a few things of interest: one was that Jeff Hawkins, author of On Intelligence and the brazillionaire behind Palm, thinks AI should be approached the same way I do:

At Numenta…Hawkins and other neurotech entrepreneurs are developing new types of computer memory systems modeled after the human neocortex and called Hierarchical Temporal Memory (HTM) after theories set forth in On Intelligence.  Never mind the whole brain, Hawkins seems to say in his book, the intelligence he’s interested in resides in the neurocortex…Why not just focus on that part of the human brain that is responsible, like so many AI programs, for pattern recognition?  …Why not worry about just 20 to 25 billion neurons and only about a third of the brain’s synapses – the neurons involved in pattern matching, picking stocks, weather simulation, scanning databases for terrorists, and picking genetic sequences out of genomes?

Why not, indeed.  I remember getting Hawkins’ book years ago when I started this project, and setting it aside.  Looks like it’s time to get it again.  All the same, zero stars on this book.

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