Android personality 

I will try not to spoil Westworld but no guarantees.

So the premise of the show and movies is there is a park with androids who become dangerous. Part of the fun is determining whether this is because of an accident, systemic problems, or sabotage. Essentially this is the kind of story that motivated Isaac Asimov to create his Three Laws of Robotics.

Still, everywhere I run across androids in science-fiction there is a nagging feeling that I am actually one. I understand these machine characters better than the human ones. I better empathize with their plight of the machines. Their problems ARE my problems.

I spend far too much time thinking about how real people behave in order to better pretend that I am also one. My question about my humanity: Why would anyone who is human have to pretend to be one?

Thankfully my college education in philosophy and psychology comes to my rescue in these moments of doubt.

  1. “Normal” is an abstract concept. No one is truly normal.
  2. Confirmation bias pollute these moments.
  3. Availability bias also warps my impression.

Of course, the other problem is I tend to play my fake android and fake autism off each other. “You are not an android, you are just autistic.” vs “You are not autistic, you are just an android.”

Review: Robot Visions

Robot Visions
Robot Visions by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the Asimov’s essays about robots, computers, and cyborgs. They are well done.

The short stories at the front of the book are the same stories published in other books. There are a few new ones. So, if you do not mind re-reading them or have not read other books, then you are good. Otherwise, you should just read the first and second short stories “Robot Visions” and “Too Bad!” then skip to the last one “Christmas Without Rodney” and continue through the essays. Essentially, 347 pages of this book are unnecessary.

View all my reviews

Foundation and Earth and Alpha

Wired Science has a post about a newly found Earth-sized planet around our closest star system neighbor:

The Alpha Centauri system — composed of three stars orbiting one another — is only 4.4 light-years away, a cosmic stone’s throw from us. Though the newly discovered planet has about the same mass as our own, its orbit is 25 times smaller, so a year on this planet passes in just 3.2 days. This means the planet is sitting up against its star, roasting at perhaps 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit with a surface likely composed of molten lava.

Last year I read the Foundation series by  Isaac Asimov. In Foundation and Earth, Asimov describes a water covered planet with a small island with refugees of Earth on a planet named Alpha orbiting Alpha Centauri. This gem is nowhere close to the fictional Alpha.  But, still, a planet so close is exciting!

We have a long way to go before we could travel there as well. Probably not in my life time. Nor in the next few generations.
🙁

Privacy and Technology

Isaac Asimov has an interesting pre-World-Wide Web quote, “The advance of civilization is nothing but an exercise in the limiting of privacy.” Janov Pelorat in Foundation’s Edge (1982). Think about the word “civilization”. The root, civil, means to treat others well. In one ideal world, everyone would treat everyone else well for no reason. In hunter-gather societies, groups were small because groups were split when the group grew too large. At these small sizes, human abilities to track trustworthiness worked. Farming attached people to the land, making laws and people to enforce the laws necessary.

Privacy is good for the individual. Eliminating privacy is good for the state. Both claim their point of view is good for society. Both are right. A state with too much ability to see into the lives of  individuals will eventually abuse that power to mistreat its citizens. A state with too little ability to see into the lives of individuals will be too blind to protect citizens from mistreatment by criminals. During times of war, people want the state to protect them and the refrain, “Innocent people have nothing to hide,” gets resurrected. During times of peace, people want the state to leave them alone. It has everything to do with trust. When people no longer trust each other, they turn to the state. When people can trust each other, they stop trusting the state.

Ah. Oversimplification

As technology improves, we gain access to tools which allow us to do more with less effort. With information technology, this means we can gather more and accurate information. At the same time, it means less privacy for us.

Part of my work is to provide evidence to deans, department heads, and instructors about student online behavior. Students would be surprised at how much I can find about what they did in our system. Of course, the campus administrations would like us to be able to know everything about what the students and instructors are doing. To get the same in the bricks-and-mortar parts of campus, cameras and microphone would record and store all the audio and video for every classroom and office.

I Write Like Me

Check which famous writer you write like with this statistical analysis tool, which analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them with those of the famous writers.

Not trusting a single sample, I tested fifteen writing samples including stories and blog posts (excluding those with block quotes). The Cory Doctorow result was the most common at six.

I write like
Cory Doctorow

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I also received David Foster Wallace (3), Arthur Conan Doyle (3), J.K. Rowling (2), Isaac Asimov (1).

There was a clear pattern to the results.

  1. Cory Doctorow: Topic was work. Analyzer probably keyed on the dispassionately objective word choice.
  2. David Foster Wallace: Topic was my personal life. Analyzer probably keyed on me portraying the  absurdities.
  3. Arthur Conan Doyle: Topic was adventure story originated in high school. I probably thought too much like Sherlock Holmes then.
  4. J.K. Rowling: Topic was also adventure story composed in early college. I probably thought too much like Harry Potter then.
  5. Isaac Asimov: Topic was science. Its hard not to use scientific jargon when writing about science.

That there would be a difference between my high school and college story writing was interesting. The difference depending on whether I was writing about work, personal, or science was also interesting. I would have liked to see almost every sample I chose of my writing to reflect a single author. Otherwise, it seems results skewed towards word choice not style.

From the developer, Dmitry Chestnykh on how this works.

Actually, the algorithm is not a rocket science, and you can find it on every computer today. It’s a Bayesian classifier, which is widely used to fight spam on the Internet. Take for example the “Mark as spam” button in Gmail or Outlook. When you receive a message that you think is spam, you click this button, and the internal database gets trained to recognize future messages similar to this one as spam. This is basically how “I Write Like” works on my side: I feed it with “Frankenstein” and tell it, “This is Mary Shelley. Recognize works similar to this as Mary Shelley.” Of course, the algorithm is slightly different from the one used to detect spam, because it takes into account more stylistic features of the text, such as the number of words in sentences, the number of commas, semicolons, and whether the sentence is a direct speech or a quotation.

Bayesian filters I’ve seen given an item a score to how likely an item is something. I would like to see the strength of the scores, including distributions, and comparison of a given result to other close results. Guess I am just someone who wants to know why?