Headline: “Google CEO Eric Schmidt says he’s eyeing biology for the next computing frontier” (CNBC, December 9, 2019) I first heard a thoughtful case for biological carbon-based computing from technology forecast guru George Gilder. It makes sense. Most everything invented by humans is first present in one way or another in nature. In both brains and reproduction, animals compute based on carbon chemistry. So we know carbon computing works and works well. The question is how best to harness it. Time and research will tell.
Headline: “How a Bitcoin Trail Led to a Massive Dark Web Child-Porn Site Takedown” (Wired.com, October 16, 2019) To keep financial transactions a secret, Bitcoin has rivaled cash. American Kingpin is the chilling story of a nerd who created an untraceable website using Bitcoin and Tor software that kept users anonymous. The website sold drugs, illegal weapons and, ultimately, human body parts. Payments were made using Bitcoin.
The nerd, who went by the name the Dread Pirate Roberts, from the movie The Princess Bride, was arrested because of old fashioned detective work and his own coding mistakes. However, the cyber tools Bitcoin and Tor kept users anonymous and were never breached.
The child-porn site Welcome to Video also used Tor and Bitcoin. The lucrative business was busted by tracing Bitcoin transactions using methods apparently previously available to those in law enforcement. The site’s webmaster in South Korea was arrested as were hundreds of users of the site. Bravo!
Headline: “An A.I. System Passed an Eighth-Grade Science Test. Can You?” (BestWNews, September 4, 2019) The accomplishment reported in this news is over eight years old. In 2011, IBM Watson data mining software defeated 74-time Jeopardy winner Ken Jennings and 20-time winner Brad Rutter after a three-day contest. Should we be surprised that in 2019 AI passed an 8th grade science test after IBM Watson’s years-earlier performance? No.
Grade-school level science questions are subsumed into the game of Jeopardy. Watson essentially had access to all of Wikipedia in crafting the answers. Could you answer Jeopardy questions given access to Wikipedia if timing were not an issue and you had access to Google search? Probably.
The story is not what IBM Watson did in the Jeopardy game, but how fast it worked. After that, passing an 8 th grade science test with no timing issues is trivial.
Headline: “Algorithms can turn any scene into a comic” (Technology Review, September 19, 2018). This headline is another ho-hum piece of hype. I’m no professional pixel-pusher, but canned operations in Paint Shop Pro (kind of like Photoshop for dummies), I transformed Mona Lisa into a comic. Simply reduce the number of colors, adjust the histogram and increase the contrast. Next to what more talented pixel-pushers can do in a few clicks, the AI device celebrated in this headline also dissolves into the trivial.
Headline: “Finance jobs requiring A.I. skills increased 60% last year—here’s what they look like (CNBC, September 25, 2019). The way AI would impact finance was noted over a year ago by Jeremiah Marks in a Mind Matters News podcast, here.
Headline: “Data Science Explains Why Every Hit Pop Song Sounds the Same” (Popular Mechanics, September 9, 2019)
Angus Young, the energetic over-the-top performing lead guitarist for the heavy metal band AC-DC confessed “I’m sick to death of people saying we’ve made 11 albums that sounds exactly the same. In fact, we’ve made 12 albums that sound exactly the same.”
A garage band member doesn’t need a data scientist to know why pop songs sound the same. Many pop songs use simple chord structures with chords appearing in the same sequence. Much of blues and rock follows twelve bar blues —a sequence of the same twelve chords for each verse. Examples range from Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” to Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” Blues guitarist Eric Clapton’s bio flick even uses the double entendre title A Life in 12 Bars.
Another commonly used chord sequence was explicitly celebrated in the Broadway musical “Grease” by the song “Those Magic Changes.” The song, cut from the movie version, celebrates the “50’s Progression” of chords: C, A-minor, F, G7. Everyone’s favorite simple piano duet. “Heart and Soul” uses these chords as does John Petty’s “Free Fallin’” and the chorus of the Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun.”
Headline: “McDonald’s acquires A.I. company to help automate the drive-thru, its third tech deal this year” (CNBC, September 10, 2019). I have lost my wager that McDonald’s kiosks would be gone by Thanksgiving 2019. I initially found the kiosks inconvenient compared to ordering directly from the counter. But we adapt to high technology, and I confess to overcoming my resistance inertia and to using the McDonald’s kiosk recently. And not only did I lose the bet, McDonald’s is doubling down on high tech. It is now looking at voice recognition AI to take orders in their drive-through.
The saying is true. “Forecasting is difficult. Especially if it’s about the future.”
Note: Thomas Sowell occasionally titled his columns “Random Thoughts on the Passing Scene.” We borrow his title and acknowledge the genius of his work.
Random thoughts on recent AI headlines: Google gives away “free” cookies… Also, why AI can’t predict the stock market or deal with windblown plastic bags
Random thoughts on recent AI headlines (March 18, 2019): There is usually a story under those layers of hype but not always the one you thought
Top Ten AI hypes of 2018: More help, less hype, please!