June 09, 2002

Today's Festival of Inappropriate Technology In London Looks Like It's Great Fun...

One of the interesting things about the internet today is the near-real-time distribution of information about events and activities. Today, for example, there is a "Festival of Inappropriate Technology" going on in London. It looks like a fascinating conference: I know because I am peering over the shoulders of some of those at it and taking notes.

In the next few days, a lot of observations from it are sure to wind up in my email inbox. It really is the next best thing to being there...

Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things

Freeman: We thought we'd go to the moon, but nothing happened for 15 years. Then Sputnik went up and we said, "Thank God, now we'll get moving." We started thinking about how to use nukes to get into space. (Aside, Charlie told me about a story he's working on where the French suboceanic nuclear tests were actually aimed at exterminating the cthuloid sea-monsters -- which is why the Brits didn't really protest)

George: I was 5 years old when the project began and it was a complete black hole of secrecy, Dad couldn't tell me he was working on a spaceship. Then the feds declassified it and he told me that we were moving to California so that we can go to Jupiter and I became consumed with the project. My most recent book with Penguin is the first public thorough documentation of the rise and slow starvation of that project.

Cadigan: How complicated was the Turk (sham Victorian chess-playing automaton)?

Standage: People like Babbage had argued about whether a machine that could play chess was a thinking machine. In the book, I disinter the old story to explore the ancestry of AI and computers. An automata is a self-moving machine, and so is a computer. Think cellular automata. Since the Turk appeared, there have been lots of attempts to define machine intelligence: Interactivity (the earliest automata would just do something, wind down, get wound up and do it again). The Turk would respond -- it would interact and behave non-deterministically. But by that standard, an ATM is intelligent. By Babbage's time, intelligence was memory and foresight. Then Turing, who was very interested in chess, so it became a proxy for intelligence. Then conversation -- the Turing Test. It's always about imitation, trickery, games. The Turk was a trick, it was an imitation.

Cadigan: So instead of trying to develop intelligent machines, we've been tricked into developing machines that play chess! Lately we've been hearing a lot about complexity, and there's this notion that once the complexity of a machine achieves the complexity of a human brain, something intelligent emerges. It's fun to imagine this spontaneous transcendance, but this really isn't good science.

Standage: The more you know about computers, the less likely you are to believe in this. The bigger a computer is, the more brittle it is.

Me: horseshit! The Internet is the most complicated machine we've ever made, and its robustness comes from its complexity and size.

Standage: Kurzweil's arguments are spurious numerical arguments.

Me: Talk about spurious. Ever heard of evolutionary software?


Sunday, June 09, 2002

So we're blogging live from the floor of Extreme Computing 2002 in the Camden Centre, London. It's packed to capacity, and there's a myriad of bizarre stalls showing off - and selling - everything from tea towels with Google searches printed on the front to amazingly ambitious public database schemes. On stage, George and Freeman Dyson, and Tom Standage, have just blown us away with a discussion that rampaged from biotech to (nuclear powered) space flight, and now the lightning presentations have kicked off... and someone's doing an origami demonstration. Things go downhill shortly when I join Tom and Ben on stage to defend blogging against charges of being "fashionable"

.Posted by Neil McIntosh at 2:26 PM

Posted by DeLong at June 9, 2002 01:24 PM

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