Can Computers Think? Posters

August 31, 2010

I was going to write something up about the question of artificial intelligence and whether or not computers can think. But then I came across this set of posters. So instead of writing anything I’m just going to spend a few hours reading all of them. Sorry.

But you can read them too.


Kasparov on Chess

January 25, 2010

Arts and Letters Daily‘s links today include this article by Garry Kasparov about computers and chess. It’s quite fascinating, and touches on the issue of finitude that I’ve been talking about recently and find so fascinating; it also ends with the suggestion that poker, rather than chess, is a better fit for the modern age – a suggestion I tend to agree with, for basically the reasons he gives.

Incidentally, the most recent XKCD is among the best; they hadn’t been all that great in recent weeks, but this one completely reversed that trend.

Anyway, for now, have fun with those links; I’ll hopefully have a substantial post up sometime later this week.


Natural Talent

December 3, 2008
This is something interesting that I’m going to post here even though I wrote it for somewhere else first. On the Wesnoth forums, we’re discussing the question of natural talent, specifically in the disciplines of art and music. Is it actually natural? Are they related to each other? Etc. My answer to the (rather open-ended) question is as follows:
With respect to both art and music, I fall into the same category [as Eternal] – I naturally had above-average, but not exceptional skill, but was not motivated enough to actually pursue it, and so now I fall into the category of being better at it than everyone who never took it seriously, but worse than everyone who ever did take it seriously.

For music, for example, I’m pretty sure I was better than most people; in the school orchestra I would always make 1st chair (I play(ed) cello), make all-city and all-region, etc. But I never practiced more than an hour or so a week (they tell you to practice three). When I got to 11th grade, I kept playing it, but not as often because my high school didn’t have an orchestra and I had to take private lessons, which are only once a week and didn’t motivate me to practice as much. Now, I’m in college and haven’t picked up my cello for almost a year; if I picked it up now, I could probably carry a tune on it, be mostly in tune, and maybe even be somewhat musical in my performance, but I’d be much worse than anyone my age who played an instrument regularly.

So, right now I don’t consider myself an art or a music person, even though I sort of did when I was a kid. But it’s not that I wasn’t encouraged, or was disappointed by the realization that I wasn’t really very good and had a lot to improve (I knew that fairly soon) – it was more that I realized just how much damn effort would be required to actually become good at it, and decided I’d rather become good at other things. I could have tried to be a jack-of-all-trades, and become good at mathematics, writing, music, drawing, and maybe a few other things, but I decided to focus on a few.

And, actually, it really was Wesnoth that helped choose the things I would focus on – I started writing campaigns, and found I was decent at it and people kinda liked them, at a time when I was not nearly good enough at art to do portraits (though I tried for a while – the results can probably be found around the forum – and in theory I’m still trying to improve, just slowly) and nowhere near good enough musically to contribute (obviously – musicians here are amazing). So I kept writing, got better at it, and now am in love it and am willing to put a lot of effort into getting better.

I’m also a math nerd, though that doesn’t really show up on the Wesnoth side – but that’s also really more natural talent than actual willingness to put effort into it. I’m still doing math, and plan to major in it, but I don’t yet know whether I have enough internal motivation to keep me at it when I could be writing instead.

So, basically, (like most people here) I am fairly intelligent and, when you are young, that corresponds to being naturally good at most things you attempt. Art, music, writing, mathematics, science, whatever. It’s just a question of which ones you are motivated to get good at – because you can’t be good at all of them. I don’t think it’s so much a question of giving up on one, as of embracing another and thus necessarily abandoning the others along the way.


Humility and Intelligence

November 10, 2007

I’ll just come out and say it – I find it rather odd how people, including me, are expected to downplay their intelligence.

When you do better than someone else on a test, you’re not supposed to brag about it. You say that “It’s just because I test well,” or that “I just have good memory,” or (strangest of all) “I’m just good in {that particular subject}.” If you study a lot, you’re supposed to say that you do well just because you study – you’re not really smart. If you do well because you’re smart, you treat it as dumb luck – genetics and all that. You never actually take credit for intelligence. Basically, you’re supposed to make the other person feel like they’re really just as good as you are, you just happened to do better for some reason beyond either of your control.

I understand that humility is a virtue. I don’t think that if you’re intelligent you should go out and proclaim “I am smart, much smarter than you, Hibbert!” But I don’t think we’re right in our current approach. The problem I have is that it seems like false humility to claim that you don’t possess a virtue you actually do.

And the current approach is, I think, rather dangerous for the egos of all involved.  At least I know it’s given me a giant one. The problem is that it convinces the listeners, to a certain extent, but it doesn’t convince the speakers.

Here’s what I mean – Whenever I say stuff like the above, I may appear to others to be humble. But I know what I’m saying is kind of nonsensical. It goes the other way too. When I meet someone who might perhaps be smarter than me, I don’t treat those explanations as nonsense. If they understand an area of math I haven’t learned yet, I say it’s just because they’re had that class and I haven’t. If they’re doing well in a class and I’m not (at least not as well), I’ll say it’s just because they’re working hard and I’m not – but if I wanted to, I say to myself, I could easily do just as well as them. I suspect it is the same for other people – though perhaps this is just me and other people are perfectly willing to admit there are a bunch of people much smarter than they are.

I’m not sure. But I bet that if we didn’t perform this charade, people might appear more arrogant, but they would actually be more humble. So here, I’ll say it – I’m intelligent. I’m not going to qualify that with a “fairly”, or a “most people consider me”. I am. I have other flaws I need to work on, but there’s no point in denying my intelligence just to make other people feel better. I’m not saying we the intelligent ones are better than the less-intelligent ones (I know several people I consider myself smarter than whom I also consider much better people than me, on a few different levels), just that we are indeed more intelligent and that it isn’t good for us to deny this.

Now that I’ve gone and been arrogant, does my above description seem like an accurate portrayal of how smart people are expected to act? And does my interpretation of its effects sound right?


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