Augmented Intelligence

Intelligence is a fun topic to delve into. Early sentient intelligent studies were incredibly one-sided, focusing only on homo sapiens sapiens, and failed to resolve any of its mysteries; much later when scientists started to search for other intelligent life on our planet (and found many, but let us consider the incredible dolphins and orangutans), things started to get more interesting. If we can find out the difference between our lesser cousins and ourselves, we could find out the real meaning of being sentient. Many differences have been found. Humans can laugh (though there’s no evidence that dolphins can’t or that orangutans need to), contemplate the future, appreciate art, and have commited relationships. However, there is no single test (except anything prejudiced in our favor) that denotes that a dolphin or a big ape is any less intelligent than we are. Both are amazing creatures, able to adapt to a variety of situations. The dolphin’s cousin – the killer whale – is perhaps the only ‘intelligent’ sea predator.

Perhaps one reason we can’t define what it means to be human is because it is an ever-changing ideal. An Egyptian is hardly similar to a modern man – both had immensely dissimilar ideas, viewpoints and morals. Like every experience, every conversation, every new thought changes a single human, every great revolution, every piece of invention and organization changes the ideal of humanity as a whole. And lately, that pace of change has been inexorably greater, mostly because of Augmented Intelligence.

Every technology or tool that we invent makes us more capable. If intelligence is a measure of how capable we are at solving set tasks, it can be said that every tool makes us more intelligent, however crass that analogy may be. But when talking about simple instruments like a hammer or a microscope, there is a clear dilenation between the inanimate tool and the human behind it. When immersive computing is brought into the equation, things are subtly changed. Most of the time, that is because the computer is an infinitely resourceful tool, able to mould itself around the intelligence of its user, extending it – perhaps to do rigorous number crunching or extensive analysis. Remember the match between Big Blue and Kasparov? It wasn’t Big Blue who beat Kasparov, it was the research team behind the computer, but we forget the distinction easily.

Augmented Intelligence is thus a misnomer. Our intelligence increases only in that we are able to do more tasks easily, and some tasks that we couldn’t do before. It is no different than the earliest of our inventions: using fire to eat cooked food. But since Augmented Intelligence arouses in us visions of a metal man, a hybrid between man and machine, nanobots and more, which somehow give us more capabilities than a normal human, we tend to shy away from it. In reality, the cellphone that you have, the calculator that you use, the computer that you send emails from, the TV or radio that brings you information all augments your intelligence. And like every other piece of technology, it changes the humanity in us only so long as we let it. Augmented Intelligence, like its counterpart Artificial Intelligence is at the heart of many controversies and false truths of the Silicon Age. And yet, it is also an under-exploited capability that we humans have, right now.

Aside from the way AI has subtly changed our lives, we refuse, perhaps for fear of losing our humanity, to clearly examine how a man-machine relationship works. A closer look at the interface between a human and a computer, and the various ways to enhance that relationship would be in order if we are to further add to our humanity. One of the subtle ways in which to do that would be to organize man-machine vs man-machine chess competitions. Instead of perpetuating a Man vs specific Machine in a special context, the focus will then change to the collaboration between Man and Machine. That would help everyone.

Ingrid/Debra

Debra Messing and Ingrid Bergman look so similar!

I was watching JFK on CD today; before the movie started there were a couple of trailers of other movies they have in their catalogue and I was immediately struck by Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. She looks so much like Debra Messing of Will & Grace fame. Since Casablanca was shot in 1942, this is either an incredible coincidence, or there is something wrong with my eyes =)

See larger version of the above photos: Ingrid | Debra

Snow Crash

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

[Slashdot | Amazon | Neal Stephenson]

I’ve mentioned Neal Stephenson before, he’s the guy who brought cyberpunk fiction into the mainstream, and even though the furor of the immersive web has died down a lot, he still wears the cyberpunk crown. Whatever anyone says about the genre as a whole (drivellish teenage hormone infection may come to your mind), Snow Crash is a literary classic in its own right.

Before I go further, what is cyberpunk fiction? I can’t give you traditional examples, because there is no precedent for this sort of writing. The closest in mainstream media nowadays is the Kill Bill movie by Tarantino. Snow Crash plays with many streams (as diverse as Sumerian history and hacker lingo), new and unique words (like the ‘Metaverse’, ‘Avatars’ and the ‘Deliverator’), interesting unique characters (like Hiro, Y.T, and Raven), and troubling undertones of the difference between a utopian cyber-netherworld and the reality of the mudworld. Cyberpunk fiction is about the ever-cool fuzion, bringing together diverse elements from everywhere into a coherent (and sometimes not so) plot.

Like many online works (which it has decidedly influenced) Snow Crash doesn’t read like a conventional book. It breaks rules and makes reading and understanding it harder, and many sections of the book (including references to binary and hex) would be indicipherable to anyone not familiar with computer lingo. It also has a very abrupt ending and if you don’t follow the story very well (and appreciate the nuances of the plot and puns that are littered everywhere) it will be a very bad read.

But for anyone who aspires to understand the hacker, the script kiddie, the kewlness of code, the relationship that true koders have with the ninja and the art of war, the fascination that many hackers have with the weirdest of alternate lifestyles, Snow Crash is a must read.

Related links:

Vysnu, slower or swankier?

I’m in a bit of a spot lately regarding this blog. As you probably have experienced, this page takes around ten seconds (average, on my less than 10KB/s connection) to load. Sig9, which is hosted on the same server, manages to chunk out a page in under two seconds. While the Sig9 main page is focused, small and sweet (largely due to Vivek), Vysnu looks and acts like a pig bladder – bloated out of proportion.

So why do I persist with this design? One of the major reasons is that Vysnu is blue. While many other people have white blogs, Vysnu embraces the Grecian Jug, at first mostly because I was so fed up of black on white. But every design also takes a cost in usability and I fear this is getting too unwieldy.

For a few days, I’ve been playing with an alternate, much lighter layout. As you can see, it’s black on white (though it has a few nifty tricks). But I’m stuck between worlds here because I really like the current layout too and it would have been a non-issue had page-load speeds been faster.

So I’m turning to you people, what do you think? Do you think the page-load speeds are bearable? What parts of the site do you rarely use (the kewl links, the categories, the outside links, the archives), what things should I scrap? Should I start over with a newer, faster layout? Tell me any suggestions you have and since I’m going to work on this site anyway, tell me anything that you want added 🙂 to this site.

I’m also pursuing other methods to speed up this site, so if you think something has blazed up suddenly, it isn’t you =)