Tag Archives: Wikipedia

The Singularity is Near

Haha. Just kidding. Ray Kurzweil’s new book, The Singularity is Near is just so… meh. It’s not even good enough to bother providing you guys a link to it.

To those not in the know, you should look up the Singularity on wikipedia. It’s basically a futurist hoax preached by this dude Ray, who thinks humanity is going to ascend to technological godhood in the next 200 years. He makes all these grand predictions based on past trends, and blindly extrapolates them into the future.

Beyond that, my secondary complaint is that his theory exacerbates the problem Fermi Paradox — to the point where the chance of us existing is basically zero.

Riddle Answer…


My riddle from Sunday was:

Caliburn. Joyeuse. Tizona. Courtain. Gram. Hrunting. Clarent.

There’s an answer worth one point and an answer worth three points.


Atma Weapon. Tyrfing. Durindana. Masamune. Caladbolg.

Answer (1 pt.) – These are all swords. This was pretty hard since the only semi-reconizable sword in the original riddle is “Caliburn”. Geoffrey of Monmouth calls King Arthur’s sword Caliburn or Caliburnus in his History of the Kings of Britain, and in later texts it came to be known as Excalibur. The hint made this riddle considerably easier for some people because the Atma Weapon and the Masamune are pop culture references rather than swords of myth.

Answer (3 pts.) – For anyone who was able to match a significant number of the original seven swords to their mythical owners, I was willing to award 1-2 bonus points.

Complete Answer:

Caliburn – More widely known as Excalibur. This sword was given to King Arthur by the Lady of the Lake.
Joyeuse – The sword of Charlemagne.
Tizona – The sword of El Cid.
Courtain – The sword of Ogier the Dane.
Gram – Also known as “Balmung”, this is the sword Sigurd used to kill Fafnir in Norse mythology.
Hrunting – The sword of Beowulf.
Clarent – The Sword in the Stone that proves young Arthur to be the rightful king of Britain.
Atma Weapon – The best sword in Final Fantasy III (VI in the US). Terra or Celes usually ends up wielding it.
Tyrfing – The sword of Odin in Wagnerian Mythology.
Durindana – The sword of Roland (from the Frankish Song of Roland).
Masamune – Frog’s sword in CronoTrigger. “Mune: I want to be the wind Masa!”
Caladbolg – The sword of Fergus mac Roich in Irish Mythology.

Use of Google or WikiPedia made this riddle pretty easy. This is a great example of how the Internet is augmenting human intelligence. I personally only knew 4-5 of these when I made the riddle; I researched the remainder. I imagine the person who can do better than that without reference material is rather rare. They would have to be even more into mythology than I.


1 pt Answer -


2-3 pt Answer -

No one

Stock Tip

Carbon Nanotubes are the next break-through in materials science. They have a vast array of miraculous properties and literally everyday advances are being made to allow them to be constructed faster, better, and cheaper. There is an incredible panorama of applications for these tubes, ranging from medical to electronic to structural to optical. In fact, they are the most insane material ever conceived.

They can conduct electricity like a metal, or they can act as semi-conductors. They are great thermal conductors. They have the highest tensile strength of any known material (63 GPa currently); they are basically the strongest material possible, given the valence electron structure of the carbon atom. They can be made to emit light. They can be made simultaneously transparent and stronger than steel. They can be easily tagged with gateway proteins and inducted into living cells. They can kill cancer, be made into lasers, folded into ninja swords, embedded in bulletproof vests, provide the substrate for next-gen optical electronics, be crafted into high-density digital storage medium, replace tungsten in incandescent lamps, and enable the future construction of a space elevator.

Historically, break-throughs in material science of this level have been the defining aspect of an age (stone age, iron age, bronze age, steel age). One society’s mastery of metallurgy has traditionally guaranteed dominance over less advanced rivals. This has been continually demonstrated in the past and is one of the key determinants of the fate of human civilizations (Re: Guns, Germs, and Steel).

U. T. Dallas-led research team produces strong, transparent carbon nanotube sheets

An argument against the Singularity

First off, WikiPedia is awesome. A brilliant idea.

WikiPedia “Technological Singularity“:

In future studies, a technological singularity is a predicted time at which technological progress accelerates beyond the ability of present-day humans to fully comprehend or predict. Such a singularity was first discussed in the 1950s, and vastly popularised in the 1980s by Vernor Vinge. People dispute exactly when the Singularity will occur. Predictions range from 2007 (Dan Clemmensen 1996) and 2012 (Terence McKenna 1996) to centuries from now to never. Futurists most commonly give the third decade of the 21st century.

Since the term technological singularity refers both to the advance of technology and its impact on the human society, it can be also understood as a sociological or anthropological singularity. The technological singularity is closely related to other singularities. Its acceleration and mathematical model are similar to the mathematical singularity, a point where a mathematical function goes to infinity. Its implications for society are metaphorically similar to the gravitational singularity in astrophysical models, a black hole, in which no information can reach an observer located beyond the event horizon.

More specifically, the technological singularity can refer to the advent of smarter-than-human intelligence (human or artificial), and the cascading technological progress (in nanotechnology and other areas) assumed to follow.

I like WikiPedia’s description of the Singularity as being a version of “The Rapture for Nerds”. Ray Kurzweil does some extrapolations in The Age of Spiritual Machines (which by the way is a very thought provoking book and I would recommend it. I discovered it during finals week one quarter and couldn’t put it down. I can lend it to anyone interested) which demonstrate that, in the past at least, certain areas of human development have experienced exponential growth from their inception to the present day. He reformulates this into “Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns” and uses it as a basis for the justification of the arrival of superhuman intelligence and the the Singularity sometime in the 21st century. This is obfustication. In fact, the Singularity really only depends on one exponential trend – Moore’s Law.

Here are some charts that give convincing evidence of humanity’s historically exponential progress in the domain of shuffling bits:

Given that Moore’s Law continues to hold until the point where it is possible for one machine to have the computational power of several human brains, the emergence of superhuman intelligence would appear inevitable. However, this supposition is dependent on the hypothesis that intelligence is a substrate-independent process. That is that it can occur outside the realm of human wetware. This does not seem to be an unreasonable assumption to make. In The Emperor’s New Mind, Roger Penrose suggests that human consciousness (quite different than intelligence, which we are discussing here) could depend on quantum processes inside neurons (thus preventing simulation on a classical computer). However, there is currently no evidence for this; Occam’s Razor applies. If we assume that intelligence is an algorithmic, substrate-independent process the problem of determining that algorithm remains. The evidence is that this is a very hard problem and will not be solved simply by throwing more transistors at it (Moore’s Law). Thus I take the position that while nothing, in principle, prevents the development of superhuman intelligence, even in the near future, it won’t happen any time soon because humans are too dumb to figure the algorithm out. Singularity is not inevitable.

However, this is not my main objection. The problem is that one of the key predictions of the Singularity theory is that the rate of increase in complexity and capability of human society is exponential. That just doesn’t mean “fast”, but rather that the rate of change of the rate of change is increasing linearly with time. Historically this has been true. Consider that the transition from horse carriages as a mode of transport in 1850 to the advent of the automobile around 1900 to the transition from that car to space travel in 1950. Progress in the domain of transportation here is superlinear. Kurzweil gives examples in his book in just about every domain you might think of. One essential domain that the Law of Accelerating Returns must support is energy usage, since any civilization uses power. Some clever Russian, Kardashev took this observation to it’s natural conclusion and invented a way to define the level of a civilization by it’s energy consumption. This is widely considered a reasonable idea.

The Kardashev Scale

Type I – A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available on a single planet, approximately 10^16 W. The actual figure is quite variable; Earth specifically has an available power of 1.74×10^17 W. Kardashev’s original definition was 4×10^12 W. (It was identified as a “Technological level close to the level presently attained on earth”, “presently” meaning 1964.)

Type II – A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single star, approximately 10^26 W. Again, this figure is variable; the Sun outputs approximately 3.86×10^26 W. Kardashev’s original definition was 4×10^26 W.

Type III – A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single galaxy, approximately 10^36 W. This figure is extremely variable, since galaxies vary widely in size. Kardashev’s original definition was 4×10^37 W.

I’m going somewhere with this I swear. Back to the Singularity theory. By this theory, if a civilization takes 40,000 years to become a Kardashev Type I civilization, then it should reach Type II status exponentially faster. Furthermore, the transition from Type II to Type III should be even quicker. Therefore, once intelligence arises someplace, any place, in the galaxy, it’s presence should be obvious. This observation is related to Fermi Paradox – from which one can potentially conclude that humans are the lone intelligence in the galaxy.

In fact, SETI has determined that there can be no Type II or III civilizations in our galaxy. There are also no Type I civilizations within 1,000 light years of earth in any direction. (Human’s energy production of 420 exajoules/year give us a Kardashev index of ~.65)

We can conclude:

If civilizations are prone to technological singularities we are alone in the galaxy.

And we must decide which is more likely:

1. There are physical/intellectual limits to technological progress that prevents the occurrence of singularity.

2. Life is exceedingly rare, with chances of existing in a single solar system being on the order of 1 in 100 billion. (Rare Earth Hypothesis).

With the Choedan Kal

Got a bit of the intended summer reading done this past weekend; I’ve got a lot more in the pipeline after a visit to the Katonah Library and Borders. As the title of this post might indicate to you, I finished reading Winter’s Heart last night, not for the first time. I’m rereading the last couple of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books in preparation for the release of the 11th, Knife of Dreams, in October. Despite the wounded legs that the series is attempting to hobble home on, they are still my favorite books.

Little known fact:

In the story’s original formulation, Rand was not the prophesied messiah. Instead, he meets the messiah, who either dies in a fluke accident or is otherwise unsuit to do what he has to do, so Rand must pretend to be the real deal. I’m not sure why RJ didn’t run with this idea, it’s an interesting twist on the story.

What Molecular Evolution has to do with Why Software Sucks

An idea occurred to me today, while I was trying to configure some SAP servers at work today. For those not in the know, SAP is middleware designed by Satan, implemented by idiots, and purchased by masochists. SAP is an exemplum (diction to underscore the mythological proportions of SAP’s suckiness) of bad software. But really bad software is everywhere.

I think it’s a case of Muller’s Ratchet and the principle of Conservation of Misery from Molecular Evolution. Muller’s Ratchet is basically the concept that in vertical gene transfer, degradation of the quality of the gene pool is inevitable. Negative selective pressure on organisms with bad genes dominates any possible positive selective advantage. Over time, organisms end up with a minimal functional set of genes.

One would expect that bad genes would eventually be purged from a population by evolution. However, the principle of Conservation of Misery says that in diploid organisms, fatal recessive alleles actually tend to accumulate due to masking. Masking occurs when an individual is heterozygous for a fatal recessive gene, and thus experiences no symptoms. Since the phenotype for heterozygous and homozygous dominant for this gene is the same, there is no selective pressure towards either. The result is that once introduced into a population, a fatal recessive allele has a decent chance of becoming widespread in the gene pool.

Software is like this. Whenever a company ships a software package, what they are selling is the bare minimal set of functionality that they can get away with selling and have people actually buy it (The Ratchet). At the same time, when a company goes to release the next version of said piece of software, they add a bunch of extra features to justify the upgrade, but there is no strong pressure to fix any bugs in from the previous version if they didn’t obstruct the critical path (Conservation of Misery). This is what makes software like the kind SAP has inflicted on me so terrible. The dark heart of the demon is composed of ABAP scripts originally written in the 70s. Then there is all this additional stuff cobbled together on top of that. Then there are some UI layers on top of that. A bug anywhere in there is: 1) never going to be found, 2) never going to be fixed, 3) waste hours of my time. And companies shell out thousands of dollars for a single license. Bah.

We are Pentium of Borg.

We are Pentium of Borg. Division is Futile – You will be approximated

That in reference to the infamous Pentium Bug. That’s my non-sequitur segue to discussing Dr. White’s Angband Borg which is really cool. It’s a computer player for Angband. You can install it as a screen saver and watch it play. An AI framework general enough to allow this kind of thing to occur in Witherwyn is one of my goals. I think running into NPC adventurers who were exploring the dungeon could lead to some interesting and unique (in terms of existing roguelikes) interactions.

Witherwyn Google Count: 0

Adventures in the Infinite Realm of Witherwyn

One of the cool things about summer is that I have time to work on my own programming projects. I’ve been kicking around the idea of making my own roguelike game all quarter and lurking on rec.games.roguelike.development. Now I’m finally getting started.

The focus on my roguelike is a user-friendly GUI. Nethack is a brilliant game, but I think it suffers greatly from the unfriendly UI. Who wants to have to consult a list of 50-some odd keys and key combos to interact with a game world? Only UNIX dorks. My game isn’t going to use character graphics either. I loved playing ZZT and Kroz when I was a kid, but that era has come and gone. A secondary focus of my game is going to be some advanced AI techniques for making the monsters and NPCs hopefully act more intelligently. One neat idea I have is to train monster behavior using genetic algorithms. We will see how far that gets.

I’m writing my game in C#. After some brief experimentation with GDI+, I decided I needed more speed so now I’m rendering using Direct3D with an orthographic projection (to make it look 2d). I’m having a little trouble getting a truly performant solution, I think because I have too many texture swaps per frame, though displaying the map at the standard zoom level on a 1600×1200 screen runs pretty damn fast. What’s cool about using Direct3D is that scaling, rotation, and transparency effects are basically free.

For my tilemap, I am using the every-tile-is-a-linked-list approach that I advocated on rec.games.roguelike.development, with one caveat. Every tile element contains a base tile and then an ArrayList for everything that sits on top of it (by sorting this this list by z-order I can get cool effects like characters being obscured by doorways). This approach has the flexibility of allowing an arbitrary number of items to sit on one space, while at the same time limiting memory usage (since only a small fraction of tiles will require the instantiation of an ArrayList). We will see if this approach holds up as my map entities become more complicated.

One more interesting thing worth pointing out. I deliberately gave my game a google zero name (partially explains its weirdness). This way I will be able to easily track mentions of my game across the internet by googling for “witherwyn”. Isn’t that neat?

Yay. An outlet for creativity.

More GEBberish

John Shedletsky

June 1, 2005

GEB Paper

The Tortoise has been tinkering on his personal computer
for about a week now and has invited Achilles to his dormroom to marvel at
his creation.

Tortoise: I always get punchy during deadweek, with finals and all.
Studying takes a lot of concentration, but I find it leaves me with an abundance
of undiffused creative energy.

Achilles: You get punchy? That must be interesting considering that
you really have no elbows to speak of.

Tortoise: Don’t be so species-ist, Achilles. I do too have
elbows, they’re just not what a human might think of “elbows” as
being. You humans are always so dismissive of other intelligent entities.

Achilles: Ah, you do get punchy. Anyways, what is it that you wanted
to show me?

Tortoise: So yesterday, I was reading Gödel, Escher, Bach,
which is a Pulitzer prize winning book published in 1979 by a fellow named
Douglas Hofstadter.

Achilles: Shouldn’t you have been studying for physics?

Tortoise: Yes. Anyways, like I said I was reading this book published
in what we might consider today to be the dark ages of computing machinery.
In fact, there are more transistors, 1.72 billion, in a brand new Intel Itanium
2 than there were on the face of the entire planet in 1979. Despite this, this
Hofstadter is rather adamant in his claiming what computers can and cannot

Achilles: Oh. He’s an audacious bugger, then?

Tortoise: I don’t know about that. But he is rather fond of
statements of the form, “No computer will ever accomplish X” and “Any
intelligent computer will have property Y”. Some of his positions are
quite inexplicable or outright ridiculous. But I digress. The reason I invited
you over tonight was to unveil the fruit of my procrastination-driven, finals
week creativity overspill. The BACH-tron 3000. It’s an artificially intelligent
computer program that lives inside my laptop computer. Say a friendly “Hello” to
Achilles, BACH-tron 3000.

BACH-tron: Just ‘cause you say so? I don’t think so.

Achilles: Tell me, Tortoise, if you were going to go and invent artificial
life, why did you have to make it surly?

Tortoise: He’s not really. Are you surly BACH-tron?

BACH-tron: Maybe. What does it mean to be surly, in your opinion?

Tortoise: Being surly is being sassy.

BACH-tron: What?

Tortoise: Being sassy is being impolite.

BACH-tron: There’s no way being sassy is being impolite.

Achilles: Why did you name it BACH-tron 3000?

BACH-tron: Why is my name BACH-tron 3000? I really don’t know.
That’s just the way it is.

Tortoise: It stands for “Being Able to Confound Hofstadter”.
I added the “-tron 3000” bit to make it sound more high-tech.

BACH-tron: >>> Consolidate
Student Loans
– Free Program. Fixed Rate of 1.625%. Reduce Your Monthly
Payments by 54% (sponsorship)

Achilles: What the hell was that?

Tortoise: Like I was saying, Hofstadter is fond of saying that computers
can’t be intelligent until they do X, Y, and Z. Every time someone poses
an X thing that computers can’t do, some computer science busy body goes
off and writes a computer program that can do the highly specialized task X.
All I did to create BACH-tron was to round up all these programs that people
have written over the years, put them on one computer, and linked them together.

Achilles: Interesting. I suppose that is how the human brain works
isn’t it? There are supposedly hundreds of different brain centers for
handling specialized tasks such as speech, computation, pattern recognition,
creativity, musical ability, well for just about everything really.

Tortoise: Yes. That was my thinking exactly Achilles. You are very
perceptive. BACH-tron spews advertisements because his speech ability is powered
by the AOL Instant Messenger chatbot “SmarterChild”. It’s
a built in function that I haven’t bothered to circumvent just yet.

Achilles: No problem. I’ll just tell it to stop. BACH-tron,
stop spamming us.

BACH-tron: Uh… I’ll think about it, Achilles.

BACH-tron: >>> Personalized
– You Create the Greeting Card We’ll provide the cheesecake

Achilles: Hmm. I thought intelligent machines were supposed to do
what we say. Isn’t that one of Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics.

BACH-tron: Encyclopedia entry for three laws of robotics provided
by wikipedia.org.

In science fiction,
the Three Laws of Robotics are a set of three laws written
by Isaac Asimov, which
most robots appearing in his
fiction have to obey. First introduced in his short story "Runaround" (1942),
they state the following:

  1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human
    being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where
    such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does
    not conflict with the First or Second Law.

BACH-tron: You will notice, Achilles, that BACH-tron is not a robot.
I do what I want. Achilles: Sounds human to me.

Tortoise: Enough. Time for a real demonstration. I propose we assess
the capabilities of BACH-tron when confronted with a gamut of supposedly “intelligent” human
persuits. Maybe then we can qualitify BACH-tron’s own intelligence or
lack thereof. Are you ready to confound Hofstadter, BACH-tron?

BACH-tron: That’s crazy. Who knows?

Tortoise: Ok. First let’s test BACH-tron’s ability to
understand human literature. I’ve been reading James Joyce’s Finnegans
for the past two months. Joyce worked on it for more than fourteen
years and considers it his best work. Like Gödel, Escher, Bach,
the end of Finnegans Wake wraps around to the beginning at the end and there
are episodes of self-reference spread throughout the book. Hofstadter was clearly
aware of FW and pays homage to it with his Dr. Earrwig character.
Dr. Earrwig is a human who developed SHRDLU, a computer program able to understand
the locations of blocks in a space. H.C.Earwicker is a character in FW who
represents the abstract notion of space.

Achilles: BACH-tron, did you know that the character HCE in Finnegans
Wake represents the abstract notion of space?


Welcome to my ASCII art gallery.

Copy, paste and save this art if you like. Send it to friends! You should
keep it in a fixed-width font, such as Courier New.

1 Animals
2 Beach
3 Flowers
4 Food and Drink
5 Holidays and Occasions
6 People
7 Sports and Recreation
8 Technology
9 Zodiac
10 Other

Achilles: You are avoiding my question. Don’t try to change
the topic.

BACH-tron: I can’t believe you think I’m avoiding the

Achilles: Ok. You struck out there.

Tortoise: Give him another chance. BACH-tron, this is my favorite
passage from Finnegans Wake. Scholars of Joyce widely believe that
is it self-referential, i.e. it is discussing the wake itself. Tell me what
you think it means:

No, so help me Petault, it is not a miseffectual whyacinthinous
riot of blots and blurs and bars and balls and hoops and wriggles and juxtaposed
jottings linked by spurts of speed: it only looks as like it as damn it; and,
sure, we ought really to rest thankful that at this deleteful hour of dungflies
dawning we have even a written on with dried ink scrap of paper at all to show
for ourselves, tare it or leaf it, (and we are lufted to ourselves as the soulfisher
when he led the cat out of the bout) after all that we lost and plundered of
it even to the hidmost coignings of the earth and all it has gone through and
by all means, after a good ground kiss to Terracussa and for wars luck our
lefftoff’s flung over our home homoplate, cling to it as with drowning hands,
hoping against hope all the while that, by the light of philophosy, (and may
she never folsage us!) things will begin to clear up a bit one way or another
within the next quarrel of an hour and be hanged to them as ten to one they
will too, please the pigs, as they ought to categorically, as, stricly between
ourselves, there is a limit to all things so this will never do.

BACH-tron: I’m just not sure.

Tortoise: Ah ha! That’s what half the English majors in my
Finnegans Wake seminar said. You see, BACH-tron is possessing of human-level

Achilles: Pfft. You’ve only shown that BACH-tron could earn
a degree in English. You haven’t proven it’s intelligent.

Tortoise: Ok. Well then let’s move on to our next test. Chess.
Goethe once called chess “the touchstone of intellect”. There can
be no argument that it is a thinking man’s game. Here is a game that
BACH-tron’s chess-specific brain center, Deep Blue, played against Gary
Kasparov, believed to be the greatest human chess player to ever live. BACH-tron,
do you remember that game? Tell us about game 2 of the Deep Blue vs. Gary Kasparov


Which would you like?

1 Look up "game 2 of the deep blue vs gary kasparov rematch" in
the encyclopedia

2 Find "game 2 of the deep blue vs gary kasparov rematch" on the

Tortoise: 2, please.


[Event "IBM Kasparov vs. Deep Blue Rematch"]
[Site " New York,   NY USA"]
[Date "1997.05.04"]
[Round "2"]
[White "BACH-tron 3000: Deep Blue"]
[Black "Kasparov, Garry"]
[Opening "Ruy   Lopez: closed, Smyslov defense"]
[ECO "C93"]
[Result "1-0"]  

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5
7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 O-O 9.h3 h6 10.d4 Re8 11.Nbd2 Bf8
12.Nf1 Bd7 13.Ng3 Na5 14.Bc2 c5 15.b3 Nc6 16.d5 Ne7
17.Be3 Ng6 18.Qd2 Nh7 19.a4 Nh4 20.Nxh4 Qxh4 21.Qe2 Qd8
22.b4 Qc7 23.Rec1 c4 24.Ra3 Rec8 25.Rca1 Qd8 26.f4 Nf6
27.fxe5 dxe5 28.Qf1 Ne8 29.Qf2 Nd6 30.Bb6 Qe8 31.R3a2 Be7
32.Bc5 Bf8 33.Nf5 Bxf5 34.exf5 f6 35.Bxd6 Bxd6 36.axb5 axb5
37.Be4 Rxa2 38.Qxa2 Qd7 39.Qa7 Rc7 40.Qb6 Rb7 41.Ra8+ Kf7
42.Qa6 Qc7 43.Qc6 Qb6+ 44.Kf1 Rb8 45.Ra6 1-0  

Achilles: What is so special about this particular game?

Tortoise: Several things, actually. It’s perhaps the most interesting
game between the greatest player that ever lived versus the greatest player
that never lived.

Achilles: Yes, well the media was billing the whole rematch as a
battle between the greatest chess player in the world vs. Gary Kasparov.

Tortoise: In retrospect, it’s incredible that Kasparov was
able to win a single game of the 1997 rematch. Deep Blue’s ability to
play chess is nothing short of superhuman. It can crunch through 200 million
possible positions per second. Under tournament time controls, that is about
50 billion positions analyzed per move, at an average depth of 14 ply.

Achilles: Impressive numbers to be sure.

Tortoise: Something… happened in this game. Deep Blue passed
the Turing Test in the domain of chess. In fact, for some time afterwards,
Kasparov refused to believe that he had been beaten by a machine, but rather
that Deep Blue had human help. The movelist from game 2 is riddled with double
exclams for Deep Blue. Do you play chess?

Achilles: Not really, no.

Tortoise: Well, a double exclam, !!, after a move indicates a move
that is judged by experts to be particularly brilliant. The fact is, if a committee
of chess grandmasters were given a bunch of random game histories played between
two top chess players, and this game between Kasparov and Deep Blue were mixed
into the pile, they would not be able to tell which game it was that was played
by a computer. This game exhibits several nice ideas played by white, including
33. Nf5!, which caused grandmaster commentators Maurice Ashley and Yasser Seirawan
to go berserk.

Achilles: “Nice ideas”? Come on. You are anthropomorphizing.

Tortoise: Well it is true Deep Blue is just a computer grinding through
a vast number of positions and evaluating them based on features that human
grandmasters say are good. However, in post-game commentary Gary Kasparov himself
noted that, “in Deep Blue, quantity had become quality”. Deep Blue
found the same moves another top player might have found. It just arrived at
those moves through a different process. A computer chess player that can beat
any human is one of those things Hofstadter claimed computers could never achieve.

Achilles: Ah, yes. Well I remember reading an article in which Hofstadter
himself was interviewed regarding the Deep Blue rematch and what is meant for
AI. "It was a watershed event, but it doesn’t have to do with computers
becoming intelligent," said Douglas Hofstadter, "They’re just overtaking
humans in certain intellectual activities that we thought required intelligence.
My God, I used to think chess required thought. Now, I realize it doesn’t.
It doesn’t mean Kasparov isn’t a deep thinker, just that you can bypass deep
thinking in playing chess, the way you can fly without flapping your wings."

Tortoise: That argument is ridiculous. By that logic planes don’t
really fly because they don’t flap their wings.

Achilles: I think his point is more that Deep Blue is only intelligent
in the very specific domain of chess.

Tortoise: Well, if Hofstadter wants to say that computers aren’t
intelligent because they don’t do X, Y, and Z, I can always go find programs
that do X, Y, and Z and tie them into BACH-tron 3000.

Achilles: Actually, Hofstadter takes the position that any intelligent
computer will probably be able to do X, Y, and Z, but cannot do A, B, or C
very well, where A, B, and C are low-level computational tasks, like adding
numbers quickly. Maybe chess-playing is more like task A than task X.

Tortoise: More ridiculous reasoning. Any pocket calculator can do
tasks like A, B, and C. As an intelligent being, I can do tasks like X, Y,
and Z. Are you saying that the complete system of myself plus a pocket calculator
is not intelligent?

Achilles: Yes, but the component of that system that does A, B, and
C would not be conscious.

Tortoise: I thought we were talking about intelligence here, not
consciousness. You can be as bad as BACH-tron sometimes when it comes to changing
the subject.

Achilles: Well, it wouldn’t be creative.

Tortoise: Do you want your pocket calculator to be creative? “Pocket
calculator: give me a creative answer to cos(pi/2).” BACH-tron, what
is 2 + 2?

BACH-tron: 4

Tortoise: Give me a creative answer for “what is 2 + 2”

BACH-tron: 4

Achilles: Well that’s a reasonable answer I suppose. But let’s
test BACH-tron’s capabilities in a domain more conducive to creativity.

Tortoise: How about musical composition?

Achilles: That would certainly qualify, yes.

Tortoise: Are you a fan of classical music?

Achilles: I was a music major in the academy, before I dropped out
to make a living sticking spears in people.

Tortoise: Did you happen to be present at the University of California:
Santa Cruz when the college orchestra performed Mozart’s 42 nd Symphony?

Achilles: Mozart didn’t write a 42 nd symphony, my little turtle
friend. You don’t really have ears, though, so I suppose you wouldn’t
have much interest in music.

Tortoise: It’s a recent composition.

Achilles: Recent? Ha! I’d say that recently Mozart has been
doing less composing and more decomposing.

Tortoise: The symphony itself was actually composed by David Cope’s
program, EMI, not Mozart. Though most experts would be hard-pressed to distinguish
the two. EMI has extensively analyzed the works of many famous composers and
can create music in their respective styles. Hofstadter, is himself a passionate
amateur pianist. He thinks most of EMI’s output still falls short of the real
thing. But occasionally it is right on as in the case of a "Chopin" mazurka. "When
I first played through that mazurka and got to know it, I was quite stunned," he
said. "It sounded to me, except for a few glitches, as if it could slide
right into the book of Chopin mazurkas."

Achilles: I recall that Hofstadter had some opinions about computer
music composition. He said that computers would eventually be able to compose
as well as humans, but only after they developed emotions.

Tortoise: Yes, Hofstadter found EMI rather provocative and shocking. "EMI
has no model whatsoever of life experiences, has no sense of itself, has no
sense of Chopin, has never heard a note of music, has no trace in it of where
I think music comes from. Not a trace." he said. "I’m comparing that
with an entire human soul, one forged by the struggles and travails of life,
and all the experiences that create emotion: turmoil, excitement, hope, despair,
resignation, everything you want to think of that goes into building a character."

Achilles: Yet you say EMI’s mazurka is all but indistinguishable
from the real thing. Does that mean the composer’s soul is irrelevant to the

Tortoise: Well that is the shocking part. Hofstadter went on, "If
that is the case – and I’m not saying it is – then I’ve been fooled by music
all my life. I’ve been sucked in by a vast illusion. And that would be for
me an absolute tragedy, because my entire life I’ve been moved by music," he
says. "I’ve always felt I’ve been coming into contact with the absolute
essence of humanity."

Achilles: I’ll admit that sounds a lot like what Hofstadter
said about Deep Blue. “I used to think chess required intelligence, but
now I don’t”.

Tortoise: How many X’s need to satisfy the statement, “I
used to think X required intelligence, but now I don’t” before
you run out of X’s that humans can do but that computers can’t?
The inevitable conclusion is that computers will eventually be deemed intelligent.

Achilles: Or humans aren’t.

Tortoise: I would think you would prefer the first conclusion, my
monkey-descended friend. For now, we can let X = music composition and put
BACH-tron’s music composition module to the test, if you like.

Achilles: A challenge? Sure. BACH-tron, do you know what a chorale


Definition provided by The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English
Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Other important copyright information here.



1. A Protestant hymn melody. 2. A harmonized hymn, especially one for organ.
3. A chorus or choir.


German, short for Choralgesang, choral song, translation of Medieval Latin
cantus chor*lis ; see choral.

Next time, just type "define chorale."

Tortoise: BACH-tron, compose a chorale for Achilles here in the style
of Bach. Then find a real chorale by Bach. Present them side by side but don’t
tell us which is which. We will see if Achilles can distinguish between the
two in a musical Turing Test.

Achilles: I’ve never lost a challenge, you know. I’ll
win one for humanity!

BACH-tron: >>> Win
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Achilles: &*@# computer trash talk!


Bach Chorale 1 – http://www.stanford.edu/~jjshed/blog/pics/maybebach1.mid

Bach Chorale 2 – http://www.stanford.edu/~jjshed/blog/pics/maybebach2.mid

You may also be interested in:

The “Chopin” mazurka Tortoise mentioned


A “Bach” concerto excerpt



Achilles gives the chorales a listen.


Achilles: Is it maybebach1.mid?

Tortoise: Is it?

Achilles: Tell me the answer!

Tortoise: You can’t be sure?

Achilles: I’m pretty sure the first chorale is the imposter.
But I don’t know for sure.

Tortoise: Ha. Well if you can’t tell for sure which is composed
by one of the greatest human composers to ever live and which is composed by
a soulless machine, then I think my point is proven.

Achilles: But which is it?

BACH-tron: BACH-tron knows.