Posts Tagged ‘Siri’

Letter From Claverack 09 04 2017

September 4, 2017

It is an excruciatingly beautiful day at the cottage, the sun is warm, a wind blows to temper it, the only sound is soft jazz in the other room.  I have just finished a late lunch of eggs, sunny side up, steak and toast, eaten on the deck.  The first leaves have begun to fall, scattered on the table top, reminding me of the fleetingness of time.

Soon we will be in another season, fall, which I love and loathe, as I always seem so alive in the fall and, at the same time, so painfully aware life is short and death is long. It’s been that way ever since I was a kid, walking down the leaf strewn streets of south Minneapolis, knowing winter was coming and being entranced by the magic in the air.

It is Labor Day, 2017.

“According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the holiday is ‘a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.’ Labor Day is a ‘yearly national tribute’ to the “contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and wellbeing of our country.          Newsweek, 9/04/2017

And it is a holiday with a bloody history.  “Labor” wasn’t always celebrated.  Suggested reading: Walter Lord’s “The Good Years.”

The summer is unofficially ending when this day becomes part of history.  When I was a kid, it meant school was starting the next day so this was a day I always endured fearfully.  Today, I am not fearful about returning to school.  There are other things…

Kim Jong-Un has me a little fearful as does having Trump be the president who is facing him.  There was some analysis this morning that the timing of Kim’s tests of bombs and missiles has more to do with tweaking President Xi of China than with President Trump.  The latest bomb test came just as Xi was greeting officials from the BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India and China.  Took the wind out of Xi’s sails in terms of making news.  Kim does these things lately just as Xi is set to make some news.  Hey, I’m HERE, President Xi!  Got it?  I’m here and I’ve got some pretty big toys!

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has said North Korea “is begging for war.”  President Trump is saying, “All options are on the table.” This might not end well.

Down in the Caribbean sits the Dutch island of Saba, part of the Leeward Islands, which I visited in February.  Friends have retired there and are sitting directly in the path of Hurricane Irma, now a category 4 storm.  An email today said they will be in the eye of the hurricane tomorrow and were busily preparing, friends helping friends prepare for what could be a very nasty ride.  If you pray, think of them.

Michael Eros, son of my longtime friends, Mary Clare and Jim Eros, is returning to Houston today after the Burning Man Festival.  He left Houston before Harvey hit and he will now find out what it has done to his city.  He and friends built a giant figure which they burned, leaving behind the metal shell.

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Harvey will likely be the most expensive storm in history; it is believed 180 billion dollars of damage has been done.  Ted Cruz is having a hard time now explaining why he voted against Sandy help now that he is asking for Harvey help.  The phrase, “people who live in glass houses,” comes to mind.

There are joyful things happening in the world. Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their third child.  Peggy Whitson has returned from the International Space Station, having notched more time in space than any other American.  There will be another Indiana Jones film, without Shia LeBeouf’s character.  A young girl in Harvey’s floodwaters got herself and her family rescued by asking Siri to call the Coast Guard, which rescued her as she was slipping into a sickle cell anemia crisis.

Bad things will happen.  Good things will happen.  All we need to do, to keep moving forward, is not to blow ourselves up.  I’ll pray for that.

 

 

Letter From New York 01 28 15 Pondering Artificial Intelligence

January 28, 2015

Heading down to New York, the train is running alongside the Hudson River, a sheet of white as yesterday’s snow accumulated on the river’s ice. The sun gleams down, reflecting enough that it causes eyes to squint when looking out. It is a scene of rough beauty.

In the city tonight, there will be a reunion of several of us who worked on some programs together for the Discovery Times Channel during its brief and glorious moment. Two of the people, Jon Alpert and Matt O’Neill, have gone on to be nominated twice for Academy Awards for their documentaries. Diana Sperrazza is still at Discovery, working as an Executive Producer for the Investigation Discovery Channel.

We don’t get together often so this is a special occasion.

I will slip into the city today and will probably head home tomorrow or at the latest early Friday.

Traversing south I am passing the mightiness that is West Point, a severe redoubt on the opposite bank. It is hard to be tired of this ride, one of the most beautiful in America according to most who categorize such things.

Along with the NY Times, I often check out the stories on my phone’s BBC app, an interesting re-cap of news with a British perspective. The story I found this morning most interesting was one that was headlined: AI will not kill us, says Microsoft.

How can one resist that kind of headline?

I couldn’t.

Eric Horovitz, Microsoft’s Research Chief, has an opinion markedly in contrast with some others, including physicist Stephen Hawking and entrepreneur Elon Musk, both of who are warning that Artificial Intelligence could supersede us and destroy us. Hawking has said that AI could “spell the end of the human race.” Musk has put up ten million dollars to prevent it from happening.

We are experiencing this first wave of artificial intelligence in things such as Siri, the voice-activated assistant on our iPhones or Contana on Windows Phones, which will be integrated into the next version of the Windows OS. There is a little device from Amazon called the Echo, which comes equipped with Alexa. She is the subject of an article in today’s USA Today, outlining her benefits and her limitations.

My friends, Lionel and Pierre, have an Echo and I’ve been getting to know Alexa the last couple of weeks. She’s very friendly. Her voice is silkier than Siri and she plays music well. She answers basic questions but you can’t have a conversation with her the way one could with Data, the humanoid robot of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

But you can sense it’s coming.

It’s both exciting and a little eerie. We are getting tastes of things that will come. And come they will. Because we can make them happen, we will make them happen. One day we’ll be having a conversation with Alexa’s descendants and the next they may be plotting to rid the planet of the messiness of humans. People like Horovitz suspect that one-day machines will be self-aware and where will we be then?

Back to Stephen Hawking, who has said, “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.” That’s a sobering thought: being superseded. Elon Musk thinks, “With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon.” Ouch!

Mephistopheles, get away!

According to the BBC, Sir Clive Sinclair, inventor of the Spectrum Computer, believes it is unavoidable that artificial intelligences will wipe out mankind. Double ouch!

But can AI appreciate the wonders of a ride down the Hudson River the way I can? We don’t know that yet. If they become self-aware, perhaps they will.

Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov had his robots built with three unbreakable rules. “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.”

I wonder if those who are developing AI have thought about including The Three Laws into their work? Might be a safeguard from The Terminator.