Monday, April 4, 2011

Doctorow and Google (loosely linked)

Hava Siegelmann has described intelligence as "a kind of sensitivity to things". I've been giving a surface-level introduction to AI in the computer class I'm teaching and we talked about the Turing Test and the Loebner prize and some of the implications of talking about ourselves and talking about machines as those they think. And out of that ran into this several days old article on the quote unquote smarter Gmail ads and the continued push for the Priority Inbox seems to suggest that we're are not particularly interested in being that sensitive. If you're not familiar with the Priority Inbox for Gmail basically it is designed to floating the more important emails to the top of the inbox and the less important emails to the bottom. While this is built on user behavior the point is made that the technology is now deciding for the user what should be most important.
At the same time there's a certain amount of trust being built into this system so that the user is investing faith that the technology is going to consistently accurately estimate/sort emails properly and not actually cause more work if the program screws up and now I have to sort through missed emails based on a bad categorization. Are we that willing to rescind our/this sensitivity to changes in technology before sort of flipping of the auto pilot switch that indicates yes take care of me.
Obliquely related is a pretty intriguing video from Cory Doctorow* via TED discussing the protection of and exploraiton of social networking, privacy and kids. Doctorow connects Skinner's box and Facebook in a rather brilliant fashion. We no longer see our private lives as valuable or special because so many of what we do can be as possibly transparent or seemingly transparent as we choose. Doctorow also makes the point we are not thinking accurately about the future because it's too far away. In part because of how information is now available to us immediately to make both the past minute the present 10 seconds and the future 60 seconds to seem like the only/most important bits of time to have existed. This is not the "kind of sensitivity to things" Doctorow is at the very least challenging the viewer/listener with.

*Sidenote: Doctorow makes brief reference to the feedback loop between the item and the user. N. Katherine Hayles is well worth reading on this. My Mother was a Computer and How We Became Posthuman both have some good discussions of the implications of the feedback loop.

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