Data Science Breeding Ground for GAI

We are drowning in data. All kinds of data, video streams, sensor data, weather satellite data, you name it. Much of this data is available on the internet. But knowing how to fetch this data is hardly useful unless you know how to process the data and tease new facts out of it. This is the age old problem of turning data into information.

We are collecting such immense amounts of data that we can no longer pour over all of it individually. We have to apply statistical methods to help us understand the trends, to recognize patterns, and make predictions based on the results of our analysis.

People that use computers to analyze this data glut are called Data Scientists. It is an interesting combination of skills. You need programming skills, mathematical skills, and communication skills. As progress in the field occurs we see various artificial intelligence techniques being applied, in particular machine learning.

Machine learning has been studied for over seventy years now. In recent years we have made vast strides, in part due to advances in processor horse power and distributed computing techniques. Much work has been done on so called deep learning which uses artificial neural networks to perform sophisticated tasks normally associated with human expertise.

Recently Facebook AI chatbots developed a private language that was unknown to the researchers. The machine was shut down. I am becoming more and more convinced that if we haven’t already seen the emergence of General Artificial Intelligence (GAI), it will not be long before we do. And it will be due, in large part, to the very sea of data available to a neophyte GAI.

I doubt it will know how it works. Do most people know how their brain works? But it will learn and when it does, it will figure out how to improve itself, much like human beings do. Only the GAI isn’t subject to forgetting like we are. It will consume Wikipedia like a candy bar and be on to analyzing the data feeds of our financial institutions and the signal intelligence collected by our intelligence community.

It is a scary thought and one that raises all kinds of interesting questions. For instance, how much privacy and freedom would you give up to keep a system like this in check? And, what’s to keep it in check in the first place? We’ve got a lot to think about and not much time to think about it. We are on the cusp of a new age on Earth and I’m afraid mankind may not be at the top of the intellectual heap. We need to start endearing ourselves to our mechanical overlords or at least make sure they don’t perceive us as a threat.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Pleased or Displeased?

My mother used to tell us about a game that she played when she was a little girl. It went like this. The first person says, “Pleased or displeased?” The next person says whether or not they are pleased. If they say, “Displeased,” the first person inquires, “What will it take to please you?” The second person then sets a task for one or more of the other people playing and they must do it. It is a silly variation on Simon Says, I suppose. Everyone gets a turn to answer the question in this game though.

I thought of this game because I am indeed displeased but I can’t for the life of me think of what it would take to please me. Part of my malaise has to do with the fact that it is Sunday afternoon. I have never liked Sunday afternoons. When I was little, my grandmother would make us go to church on Sunday night. I didn’t particularly like to go to church, on Sunday night or any other time for that matter.

Sunday night also meant there was school the next day. I liked school okay but I didn’t like the regimentation. I wanted to decide what I did and when. I also hated homework. I loved learning but I had no patience with rote exercises.

When I got older, Sunday night meant that I had work the next day. I dreaded work for much the same reasons that I dreaded school. I have been lucky enough to enjoy most of the jobs that I’ve had. The thing that I don’t like is that I have to follow someone else’s processes and schedule.

I wonder if I were to retire from my job and start writing for a living, if I would have the same attitude toward Sunday night. I would still have to do things that I don’t like very much. If I’m my own boss, I have to do all of the distasteful tasks, not just the few that I get assigned working for someone else.

On the other hand, I get all of the benefit of my efforts. That should count for something. And at my age I have the benefit of a retirement fund to underwrite the risky endeavor of being a freelance writer. If push comes to shove, I can find another job to supplement my income. I might even find one that takes advantage of my writing ability.

Okay. Go ahead. Someone ask me, “Pleased or displeased?”

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

I Heard It On The Internet, It Must Be True

The internet has changed the context in which we live our lives. We have practically instant access to any developments, political, social, literary, or artistic, as they occur. What’s more, the access is for the most part unfiltered. By that, I mean that there aren’t elite gate keepers that decide which items are of broad interest aren’t.

Before the internet, there were newspaper and magazine editors, TV producers, movie studios, art galleries, publishing houses, all of which exerted undue influence on what the world was going to hear about. These institutions still exist but because of the internet, they do not hold a monopoly on the flow of these ideas to the world.

Even the more totalitarian states in the world have found it hard to stem the flow of ideas that they consider objectionable or for other reasons worthy of censorship. It is hard to censor the internet. It was designed to survive nuclear war and tends to treat censorship as a transport failure around which it finds alternative routes.

When the internet was first made available to the general public many of us who had been aware of it in its use during the more restrictive research days predicted that it would be the downfall of all totalitarian states. That prediction turns out to have been naive. What has happened is that totalitarian states have learned to use the internet to spread their disinformation and propaganda.

It turns out that the ability to filter out content that you aren’t interested in has lead to a very unbalanced political situation. Instead of having healthy dialogs between parties with different perspectives, we have so-called bubbles that espouse positions based only on evidence favorable to those positions. There is now objective fact checking. The channels are saying what the recipients want to hear so nobody want to dig to deep and expose potentially counterfactual assertions.

If this were only happening on one side of an issue it wouldn’t be as bad a problem. But when all parties are only looking at the issues from their own perspective, it makes for divisiveness and lack of mutual understanding. I can understand all sides of an issue without having to agree with all or them. In fact, I can make a better decision regarding the issue the better that I understand all sides of it.

This situation is dangerous, to the extent that it may herald the end of our civilization. In any case, we have a lot to learn about listening to each other and getting along with people that have different opinions than we do. Our forefathers (and foremothers) understood this. Somehow we have become a generation in which many people have forgotten these important social protocols.

We have opened Pandora’s box. There is no going back. We can only go forward and hopefully learn from our mistakes. Technology holds great promise for the advancement of mankind but only if we use it wisely and thoughtfully.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.


It might be noon on the Sahara. It might be the heart of an Arctic blizzard. Whatever it is, it is daunting. I’m talking about the blank page that sits in front of me, taunting me to write something, anything. Insinuating that whatever I write will be pale and boring.

I’ve heard that I’m not the only one that sees this kind of thing when they look at a blank page. Nor are my fears singular. But I have the solution to this problem. I start to type. Soon the page isn’t blank any more. As I look back over my words, I realize that I have a choice. I can either leave the words that I’ve written or I can delete them. Which ever choice I make, it is better than having sat and stared at the blank page having written nothing.

Every word I write, every blog entry I post, every story that I tell, I get better at writing. Sometimes I immerse myself in it and lose myself in the flow of words. I enjoy every stroke of every key. I revel in the words that inch across the page. I may do that for a day or I may do it for a month. When I think to check my progress I am amazed.

My voice is beginning to shine through the prose. I see myself peeking out at myself from behind the words on the page. I am impressed at how cohesive my writing is and how smoothly it transitions from one word to the next, forming sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph. And if that isn’t enough, it actually is making sense. I am expressing my ideas in a coherent fashion. I am a writer.

Then I look at the disaster that is each of my prior attempts at novels. I am a little bit discouraged but there is a glimmer of hope. Deep in my chest I am convinced that there is a diamond in the manuscript just waiting for me to cut it and mount it and show it to the world in all it’s beauty.

I am scared that I will mess it up. But I will start from a backup. I will snapshot my work every day until I have managed to whip it into shape and I start looking for beta readers to help me figure out what works and what doesn’t. It is exhilarating to journey down this path for the first time. I suspect it will be ever so.

I think about my mother. She wanted to follow this path. I don’t know if it was depression, or the responsibility of two boys and a husband that had no concept of how to do anything more than the absolute minimum of domestic maintenance, leaving the bulk of the task to her. She wrote a little here and a little there but she never became the writer that she wanted to be. I reject that fate and claim my right to be a writer.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Comments on Writing Tools

I write with a program called Scrivener. It is designed with writers in mind. It has a number of features that I am only beginning to explore. It does one thing extremely well. It lets me write with minimal distractions from my writing tool. I’d say that is my number one criteria for a good writing tool.

I have used several programs to write over the years. Being a programmer, I have had lots of experience with various text editors. Text editors have one job, allowing the user to create plain text files for use as input to programming languages or web pages or any other application where unadorned words suffice.

I have been a long time fan of the emacs text editor. Not that it is necessarily better or worse than any other editor but my fingers know how to navigate in it without my conscious mind getting involved.

Recently I’ve been working at a job where Vi is the text editor that everyone uses. I still struggle to remember how to do simple things like how to cut and paste segments of text. It is easily done, or so the Vi fans would have me believe. I know I will get used to using it but it gets in my way more than it helps me right now.

There is another editor that I like. It is called Atom. It is much better about staying out of my way and letting me write. There are other text editors, some better, some worse. Notepad++ is a decent text editor when I’m forced to work on a PC and don’t want to take the time to load emacs or Atom.

I have a love/hate relationship with Microsoft Word. It is the lingua franca of PC word processors. I have used it for over twenty five years now. Every time they come out with a new version they move the features from the previous version around so that I have to learn it all over again. I’m not much more enamored of Apple’s Pages. It makes your writing look pretty but it locks it in yet another proprietary format.

I suppose the same could be said of Scrivener except the features that it implements are all tools that working writers want. Things like an outliner and a cork board. It also has a way to experiment with different sequences of sections without having to move text. It also has support for keeping notes associated with a project without being included in the project per se. Things like character sketches and URLs to related web sites.

It knows about standard formats like screenplays and stage plays. It can take your text and generate all kinds of delivery formats. Everything from Postscript and PDF to electronic book formats like mobi and kindle. It’s definitely a tool written for a writer by someone who understands a writer’s process.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

The Art of Science

Science makes observations about objective, repeatable, measurable facts. Art deals with subjective perception of stimuli. Artistic perception can vary from time to time as the conditions under which the observation occurs change but also as the psychological state of the observer changes. Hence, if you are feeling excited you may perceive a song one way and if you are feeling anxious your perception will be different.

Science can measure the physical attributes of the song and verify that the sounds that are playing are identical but that doesn’t change the perception of the listener in either of the cases cited above.

In much the same way, there is a broad palate of emotions that we feel and yet there is no objective vocabulary for talking about them. We are pretty good at describing physical sensations that occur in our body but the ones that only manifest in our head leave us speechless or else fumbling for inadequate analogies to try to communicate something of the flavor of these feelings.

I recently read about the fact that there are rods and cones that are sensitive to different frequencies of light. What kinds of them that you have in your eye are dependent on your genetic makeup. In fact, some of the genes are only on the Y chromosome so only women can have those structures. It turns out that some women can see more shades of color, in particular greens, than others can. It is also why only men get a certain kind of red/green color blindness. (Forgive any mis-statements in the above paragraph. The gist of what I said is true, even if I botched up the details.)

My point is that Art is principally a subjective perception where Science attempts to be objective. But that is harder than it sounds. Unless you quantify your scientific assertions with such phrases as “in this time and place” and “in the cases that we measured.” Of course, scientists encourage each other to replicate their results but more often than they would like to admit, they don’t bother to replicate them more than a couple of times. This has let more than one false conclusion stand unchallenged for many years.

Is this because there is a conspiracy to protect the fallacious assertion from being shown to be false? No, it is because scientists prefer to blaze new territory and replicating results is expensive and boring.

I think the Artistic approach of expecting differences in perception is more interesting and exciting in the long run. Then if something emerges that is common among your observations, you can expend the effort to attempt to come up with a theory that explains the cases that you have observed and use your theory to predict future observations in good scientific fashion.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Review: The Candyrat Record You Tube Channel

There is a channel on You Tube called Candyrat Records. It consists of promotional videos for the artists that record on their label. They are all excellent guitar players. In fact, that seems to be the one common attribute of all the artist on their label. They span the range from rock to folk, jazz to classical, and everything in between. There are soloists and groups, large and small. But they all are extremely talented musicians.

They play all kinds of instruments. Some are standard six string acoustics. Some have special necks with frets set at odd angles to promote perfect intonation. Some are interesting custom instruments like the guitar that has six bass harp strings strung above the standard fret board or the double neck instrument that has a standard electric six string on the bottom neck and an electric mandola on the top neck.

Some of the artists perform unique covers of popular songs while a lot of them play pieces of their own composition. They make extensive use of harmonic chimes and specialized two handed tapping techniques that both sound the note and select the pitch with a single motion. It really must be seen to be appreciated.

They often also play the bodies of their instruments like a drum ensemble while simultaneously playing the strings. It is very inspirational for a guitarist to see such a wide range of demonstrations of what can be accomplished on a guitar.

Some of the videos include the music that is being played on a strip at the bottom of the screen. Somehow that seems a little bit like bragging. As if they are saying, “let me show you how difficult this music is.” But it is seriously beautiful music.

Often the visuals that accompany the music are riveting as well. Sometime they are simply shots of the guitarist playing in an interesting setting. Other times, they are images of dancers dancing to the music or abstract patterns. They all augment the music in one way or another. It’s like the artist is saying instead of music and lyrics I’m going to augment my music with visuals.

In short, I like the channel a lot and highly recommend it to anyone that likes instrumental string music. It is good music to write by. I was catching up on the music that has been posted there recently while I was writing this blog post. Do yourself a favor and look it up sometime. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

There is no Absolute Truth

Scientists today think they’ve got a pretty good handle on the way the universe works. I’m not so sure. I think there are a number of things that we have established about the way this particular corner of the universe works but by the very nature of science all we can do is take what we have observed and try to generalize from it and make predictions based upon what we have observed.

Everyone has experienced things that defy rational explanation. Scientists choose to ignore them as outliers that aren’t worthy of systematic study. They dismiss anything that doesn’t fit the standard model of the universe as coincidence or some kind of mistake.

I pride myself on being a skeptic. I don’t believe there is anything that is supernatural. I do believe that we are far from a comprehensive understanding of the natural though. All science was initially dismissed as nonsense until someone persisted at studying the phenomena in question until they understood it and could generate reproducible results.

It may be true that we have harvested a lot of the low hanging fruit of scientific knowledge. That doesn’t mean that subtle, more difficult to reproduce phenomena doesn’t exit.

I do think it is wrong to deliberately con people into believing in things by trickery and lies. I am an agnostic myself. I don’t believe or disbelieve in a deity, rather I admit that I don’t know and have no way of finding out. I don’t believe that people can speak for god. That is how charlatans and hypocrites dupe gullible people into doing things contrary to their best interests.

We must continually test our theories and pay attention to the evidence of our own eyes. But just because a phenomenon can be produced by trickery doesn’t mean that there isn’t a valid phenomena that is not the result of tricks. When trickery is discovered it becomes part of our arsenal of techniques to determine whether a phenomena is real or not.

We also have to be on constant guard against our desire to believe something is so without clear evidence to support it. The hardest thing to realize is that you can’t prove that something doesn’t exist. That is the Achilles’ heel of the scientific method. You can verify that every time you measure something you come up with the same answer but you can’t say absolutely whether it will turn out the same the next time you measure it.

In the final analysis, science is just another faith. It is the belief that things will continue to work the way they’ve always worked. And while that is a pretty good bet in general, we have to hold the door open a crack for that which we haven’t adequately explained yet.

There is no absolute truth. Neither religions nor science can offer absolute truth. The universe is too big a place for that.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Ancient Alternatives

Modern people tend to underestimate the intellectual capabilities of ancient civilizations. They were operating with the same mental facilities that we have. The primary handicap that is presumed that they were plagued by was the ability to pass knowledge from person to person and generation to generation via some form of writing. I think it is presumptuous to think that they didn’t have some form of persistent communication that did not survive well.

There are plenty of examples in the modern world. Just try to find an eight inch floppy disk drive. Not only is the drive hard to find but chances are, the media has deteriorated and is no longer readable. That is less than a century ago and yet anything stored on eight inch floppies is virtually lost to us.

What’s more, who’s to say that, even if we make storage media that can survive millennia, anyone will be able to deduce how to make sense of it after all that time.  Similarly, ancient civilizations may have taken an entirely different approach to storing knowledge. Egyptian hieroglyphs are an example of knowledge that would still be lost to us if it weren’t for the Rosetta Stone. When the library at Alexandria burned who knows what knowledge was lost to the world.

My point is, information is ephemeral. It is more startling when it survives more than a couple of hundred years than it is that ancient civilizations knew more about the way the world works than we give them credit for. For that matter, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover that there are a bunch of things that they knew about that we haven’t rediscovered.

Homo sapiens is a clever creature. We are able to figure out incredibly ingenious ways of solving problems that we are confronted with. We are eager to share these insights with our friends and family. It would surprise me more to find that our ancestors were the bumbling oafs that we stereotype them to be than it would to find that they had cobbled together some altogether unfamiliar way of passing these insights on to future generations.

Writing is a miracle. It is at the foundation of our modern civilization. But who is the only way to preserve knowledge. It does seem to be the preferred method that has been used since we’ve been recording history. There does seem to be some kind of gap between any previous means of storing knowledge and our writing, else we would have transcribed the older knowledge, not to mention the fact that we would still know how the older method worked.

This is of course speculation but it is at least as likely in my mind as it is that we have been visited by aliens from other stars. I’m not agreeing or arguing with either theory just asserting that it is not a foregone conclusion that it was Ancient Aliens that taught humanity any of the wondrous  things that we keep discovering that they accomplished.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Social Impacts of Exponential Technological Growth

I was ordering dinner tonight. The restaurant was offering a discount and had sent a numeric code to my phone to validate the offer. It struck me how dependent we have become on our smart phones. I use mine for everything from controlling various devices via Bluetooth to looking up facts on the internet. It has become our version of the Star Trek Tricorder, Communicator, and the PADD all rolled into one.

We are still inventing sensors and add ons for the phone but it truly is the universal tool. I have a Bluetooth blood pressure cuff that provides data to a health app. There are pedometer apps that take advantage of the motion sensors built into the phone. The sensor suite on my wrist, otherwise known as my Fitbit, reports detailed information on my steps, my exercising, my heart rate, and my sleep patterns to an app on my phone.

There are countless apps for other purposes. I have one that draws a waterfall display of the audio spectrum. I have another app that mimics a spirit level. There are map apps that tell me where I am at all times or let me explore the geography of a town on the other side of the world with photographic resolution.

I’m not really expecting that you aren’t aware of most of these features. Instead, I am trying to point out how diverse the tasks are that these devises perform and how totally alien they would have been to most of us twenty years ago. Even ten years ago we would have marveled at most of them.

These devices are changing our everyday lives. They are changing how we think about the world and our relationship with it. They are changing the way we relate to other people. They are changing the way we develop our self image.

Recent studies suggest that we perform better on cognitive tasks when our phones are turned off and in another room. It is no secret how devastating becoming distracted by them can be. Texting while driving or even walking is now considered criminally negligent. Some studies indicate that even talking on the phone hands free can be dangerously distracting. And yet we are clearly addicted to these devices.

On the horizon is the driverless car. In many ways, it will be so much safer than the manually driven cars we now depend on for transportation. But what about when things go wrong. There have already been discussions of having autonomous cars programmed such that they save the most lives possible in an accident rather than giving precedence to saving the passengers in the vehicle that the autonomous driver is controlling.

Whatever develops it is certain that the future will continue to change at an ever accelerating pace. And we will continue to be challenged to adapt our social interactions to these technological changes. The important thing to remember is to preserve our humanity and respect each other. Technology often glosses over the importance of being considerate of each other.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.