Monthly Archives: January 2009

It’s all in the presentation

Rheingold mentions in the chapter that “elegantly presented knowledge is a valuable currency.” In blogs, he says, the one that gets the most responses is not the one with the most information, but the one presented best. Wit and use of language are rewarded over an abundance of information. I agree. The blogs, articles, and books that I most enjoy reading are the well-written ones. A US History book is super informative, but not as enjoyable as reading John Adams. I might learn loads from a straight-up grammar book, but I’ll read Eats, Shoots and Leaves  first any day.  This is a vital part of blogging. The presentation, the writing style and the humor, is almost equally as important as the content.  

It was also fascinating to read how personal Rheingold became with the people he met through the blog. He made an observation I had never thought about before when he commented that people who work from home don’t have the human connection element throughout their day, and therefore find that human connection through blogging. This makes me think of the stay-at-home-mom blogs that have been extremely successful. Parents of young children often don’t have connection to the outside world, beyond their children and their spouse. Blogs provide a way to escape that bubble. And of course, well-written blogs have more readers and thus a wider circle with which to connect. I think it all goes back to the presentation. Is it right? No, but is it true? Absolutely.


I found this list of Photoshop tutorials on delicious. It’s amazing all that you can do with Photoshop, and how relatively simple it is to transform pictures into completely different  graphics. Online tutorials like this one make it so much less complicated than figuring it out on your own, too. Before I found this link, I wasn’t aware of how many Photoshop tutorials there are online that are easy to follow.  

My favorites were the ‘Creating a vector composite effect’ and the ‘Super slick dusky lighting effects.’ It was also cool to see how to manipulate letters in ‘CD cover design.’

*I couldn’t find the exact website again… but this one’s a lot like it. Several of the tutorials are exactly the same:

Building Community

I thought this reading was intriguing. I never really thought about how “conferencing” came about or about how important it is to the cyber community along with the daily lives of other people. I really liked the lines towards the end of the reading where it said, “Information-age hunters and gatherers were lone wolves until we found the net”. This relates to people connecting with each other through the use of virtual conferencing throughout the world. This allows people from different places to create a community in which in which there can be intellectual diversity and they can be considered “united” but in realty have never seen each other in person. Another interesting part of the reading was under social rule. One of the social rules of WELL was “Nobody is anonymous”. Everyone is “known” by their user id.

History of the Internet

Ran across this on delicious’ most popular bookmarks. It seems relevant, as we’re looking at the emergence of computing and the internet. The emphasis here is more on the development of a tool that met the needs of various entities with various historical considerations instead of philosophically thinking about possibilities of something without any practical limitations. The animation is very aesthetic too.

It’s 1975 and This Man is About to Show You the Future

Since we’re reading about the early days of computing, here’s a neat artifact from the era:

“It’s 1975 and This Man is About to Show You the Future”

It’s a gallery of images from an IBM slide presentation, courtesy of the wonderful found photograph archive Square America. Witness the introduction of key concepts like “VIRTUAL STORAGE” and “ONLINE DATA BASE” to groovily-outfitted office drones three decades ago. BOLDER is ONLINE!

Define thinking

I suppose we have to define what thinking is when we consider if machines can think. Thinking is not computing figures or following directions, obviously. Humans will think about things that a computer could never comprehend, and so computers could never fully think like a human.

Computers cannot assume human form, they cannot interact socially, and if they were to act in their own self-interest, they would still be different than humans because the needs of a computer are radically different from that of a person. A computer would never be subject to something like peer pressure, nor would they try to become queen bee of a clique. Computers have very clearly defined goals and orders, where as hormones and emotions can cloud the mind of a human, leading us to deviate from our long-term goals.

Another aspect: in psychology I learned about a pyramid that describes motivation. Primarily, as humans, we are concerned with basic desires such as hunger. Next, we require a sense of safety, and next we are motivated by a desire to belong. In general, once these primary motivations are fulfilled, we encounter the motivation of self-actualization, the desire to reach your greatest potential (eg. becoming a great athlete, being a great mother, etc). But all these motivations are intertwined, so at any time you may experience a combination of all these motivations. Computers can’t really think like humans do because the motivation to feel safe and to have a sense of belonging is impossible in a machine. Furthermore, a computer will rank its priorities, and act predictably as to which motivation it wants to fulfill. I feel that humans are more random in that the motivation we choose to fulfill depends on a lot of random things. Lastly, self-actualization is a powerful drive for humans, and by definition, a computer can’t really have this drive. If a machine were intelligent enough to try and improve its functions of its own free will without a programmer…well then it would require some sort of autonomous consciousness that closely replicated that of a brain.

I suppose another problem in the way of machines thinking like humans is that every human is different, and that it’s inherently extremely difficult to define and to code for the aggregate behavior of a human. Even if you could provide a function that described aggregate human behavior, the resulting behavior may seem dreadfully…artificial, as there would be no small quirks or subtleties that make us distinctly human.

Just my thoughts.

AI and Creative Cognitive Process – yet another dispair.

Machines and science have gone way beyond from being mere tools of humanity. It has achieved a status of necessity among mankind and will continue to evolve along with philosophy, art and cultures.Therefore, I came to think, “what is the purpose of life when intelligence may as well be a mere algorithm, only extremely complicated?”

You might argue that machines and artificial intelligence cannot create something as human minds do, but what is a creational process? Isn’t it just a logic of selections and combinations from the surrounding materials? No creational process can be out of thin air. Every human creation is  derived from a source that is in no way perpetual, so all creations are fleeting in their essence.

It continues to perplex me and grieve me that there might not be a spiritual essence, perpetuity of existence, or most importantly, a reason behind our existence. We might as well be beings created from the chaos by chance, however unlikely it might seem. If that were be true, our existence serves no purpose and that will certainly give credance to nihilism, and though I wish it were not true, I have yet again failed to disprove any of the above speculations, and modern science only throws out more of those grim questions rather than answers.

It truly grieves me so that no bright minds have yet explained this grim theory other than the un-proven religious view of Buddhism.

Turing Test I found

I found this couple of weeks ago. Thought I’d post it here.

concept of time

I find myself, in reading these articles, sometimes having to remind myself of the time in which they were written. Bush’s article, written in 1945, talked in depth about the progression of photography as limitless, boundless in its development. Technology as a whole should be thought of in this sense. I’m particularly intrigued by Bush’s comments on the nature of man: “Presumably man’s spirit should be elevated if he can better review his shady past and analyze more completely and objectively his present problems. He has built a civilization so complex that he needs to mechanize his records more fully if he is to push its logical conclusion….” It is so incredible to think that man has so much thought and so much to say that it cannot possibly be recorded and remembered through the use of the human mind, or pen and paper. Man has created something so grand (far too grand for human capacity) that it becomes necessary to turn to technology as a means of preservation of humanity. Bush’s pondering of the plausible futures of technology are crazy to think about – I was thinking the other day about how, in a matter of a decade or two, we have progressed from cassette tapes, to CDs, to MP3s, to iPods, to iPhones….what next? What could be more capable of playing music than an iPod? In our lifetimes, there is certain to be something more, something easier at music facilitation than the technology that we have now…It is mind-boggling to think about.

Reading for Monday: Turing/Bush

Turing’s “Computing, Machinery and Intelligence” is a fascinating piece to consider when discussing the potential power of machines and what that means to us and our humanity. I’d like to extend his idea by introducing John Searle’s counter argument, as presented in a 1980 paper entitled, “Mind, Brains, and Programs.” Almost sixty years since Turing published his work, I think it’s harder to argue that a machine couldn’t be developed to convincingly pass Turing’s test–if one hasn’t already been developed. Searle introduces a counter point, the Chinese Room argument, and suggests that a machine could pass Turing’s “imitation game” without understanding what it’s doing nor helping to explain the way humans think. His example involves a English speaker in a room with a set of Chinese inputs and outputs and a set of rules to answer any potential question posed to them. With enough practice and a complete enough set of rules, it seems as if this machine (the person, rules and symbols) could answer any question in Chinese–and pass Turing’s test–without the person inside having any understanding of Chinese. If such were the case, what truly comprises thought and thinking? In these examples, I think you can go back and forth and what constitutes “thinking” and a “machine” forever, but to me I think you’re going to reach a point where the line is significantly blurred. I see no reason why–with enough time, technological advances, and understanding of ourselves–a machine couldn’t be developed to think and to understand what it’s thinking. For one thing, I’d say you certainly can’t rule anything out until, at least right now with what we know.

Bush’s piece read oddly familiar today, in the age of computing. He obviously wasn’t using many of the terms–“internet,” “computer,” and such–because they hadn’t been made up yet, but the detail with which he is able to talk about some of these future technologies is pretty incredible. On one hand, I’m not extremely surprised–I’ve read enough science fiction to have encountered similar speculation to this–but the detail with which he wrote nonetheless stood out pretty strongly. The aspect I found most interesting about his article, though, was the setting and inspiration with which he wrote it. The article is dated July 1945 and thus was published in the close months of World War 2. I really liked his suggestion that we undergo a shift and direct the powers of our intellect away from building physical objects that give us power and instead focus on more abstract, mental processes. In many ways, that shift certainly has happened today. But what implications has it had on, say, the financial markets, where it seems we’re making money from money and not really producing anything physical. What can we take from this driver of Bush’s, when you consider the fact that we’re currently at war, but that we’ve just undergone a shift in presidents?