ANOTHER GRAND YEAR

So long as you measure your income in fractions of a million or more (and have no conscience), this chart should make you feel terrific. It takes just a minute to absorb.

THE THINKING MAN’S CHESS

Tim Bonham: ‘Allen Brand wrote: ‘You might also find it interesting to note that the Big Blue programmers actually cheated to claim the win over the world champion. They changed the program after every game!’ It’s Deep Blue, not Big Blue. And it was Garry Kasparov, reigning world champion, whom it beat in a game in 1997. And how can this be called cheating when the rules specifically allowed it? It’s common for ALL chess players to adjust their playing style before playing the same opponent the next time – that’s called learning from experience.’

☞ Ah, but wouldn’t it have been even more impressive if Deep Blue had learned from experience unassisted by humans? That day is likely coming.

Mark L.: ‘Hey, a topic I am actually an expert in for a change….computer chess programming. I have written and even made money off of chess playing programs (one I wrote was called Grandmaster Chess, although it was a little before programs could play at Grandmaster level). The strongest programs in the world now have chess ratings hundreds of points higher than the strongest humans. Here is some data. The rating for ‘Rybka‘ on an off-the-shelf, four-processor computer is over 3100. Gary Kasparov, a past world champion, had a rating of about 2800. Recent matches between chess programs and humans have been very one-sided, with the computer crushing the humans, including world champions. Anyone interested in programming chess can find more information at talkchess.com or chessprogramming.wikispaces.com. It is a fun hobby, both stimulating and creative. And in the future, maybe we can program our own brains to beat the machines – for a while at least! (BTW – There are now ‘free style’ chess matches where people can use any technology they want to help them play. The winners are always humans who use computers. The human-computer combo is much stronger than computers alone.)’

Monty Goolsby: ‘Perhaps you could introduce your readers to Arimaa, a chess-type game that appears to be computer resistant. And maybe discuss why computers are bad Contract Bridge players.’

☞ ‘Cause they’re no dummies?

AND AFTER THEY BEAT US AT CHESS?

John Seiffer (pt 2): ‘I know you’re an optimist and all that, but when you want to see the dark side of technology read Bill Joy, one of the co-founders of Sun Micro Systems, he’s no techno-slouch. The actual future is probably somewhere in the middle. I think one has to pick the approach that motivates one to act properly in the present.’

Consider this sobering passage that Joy excerpts from one of Ray Kurzweil’s books:

. . . It might be argued that the human race would never be foolish enough to hand over all the power to the machines. But we are suggesting neither that the human race would voluntarily turn power over to the machines nor that the machines would willfully seize power. What we do suggest is that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines’ decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won’t be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.

On the other hand it is possible that human control over the machines may be retained. In that case the average man may have control over certain private machines of his own, such as his car or his personal computer, but control over large systems of machines will be in the hands of a tiny elite – just as it is today, but with two differences. Due to improved techniques the elite will have greater control over the masses; and because human work will no longer be necessary the masses will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system. If the elite is ruthless they may simply decide to exterminate the mass of humanity. If they are humane they may use propaganda or other psychological or biological techniques to reduce the birth rate until the mass of humanity becomes extinct, leaving the world to the elite. Or, if the elite consists of soft-hearted liberals, they may decide to play the role of good shepherds to the rest of the human race. They will see to it that everyone’s physical needs are satisfied, that all children are raised under psychologically hygienic conditions, that everyone has a wholesome hobby to keep him busy, and that anyone who may become dissatisfied undergoes “treatment” to cure his “problem.” Of course, life will be so purposeless that people will have to be biologically or psychologically engineered either to remove their need for the power process or make them “sublimate” their drive for power into some harmless hobby. These engineered human beings may be happy in such a society, but they will most certainly not be free. They will have been reduced to the status of domestic animals.

☞ Joy continues:

In the [Kurzweil] book, you don’t discover until you turn the page that the author of this passage is Theodore Kaczynski – the Unabomber. I am no apologist for Kaczynski. His bombs killed three people during a 17-year terror campaign and wounded many others. One of his bombs gravely injured my friend David Gelernter, one of the most brilliant and visionary computer scientists of our time. Like many of my colleagues, I felt that I could easily have been the Unabomber’s next target.

Kaczynski’s actions were murderous and, in my view, criminally insane. He is clearly a Luddite, but simply saying this does not dismiss his argument; as difficult as it is for me to acknowledge, I saw some merit in the reasoning in this single passage. I felt compelled to confront it.

. . .

Biological species almost never survive encounters with superior competitors. Ten million years ago, South and North America were separated by a sunken Panama isthmus. South America, like Australia today, was populated by marsupial mammals, including pouched equivalents of rats, deers, and tigers. When the isthmus connecting North and South America rose, it took only a few thousand years for the northern placental species, with slightly more effective metabolisms and reproductive and nervous systems, to displace and eliminate almost all the southern marsupials.

In a completely free marketplace, superior robots would surely affect humans as North American placentals affected South American marsupials (and as humans have affected countless species). Robotic industries would compete vigorously among themselves for matter, energy, and space, incidentally driving their price beyond human reach. Unable to afford the necessities of life, biological humans would be squeezed out of existence.

☞ I won’t quote any more – but it gets worse. (Read it for yourself.)

We live in interesting times. This coming year should be as interesting as they get. Here’s wishing you a healthy, happy, prosperous – progressive – 2008.

 

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