Archive for December, 2022

Poem from the future

Saturday, December 31st, 2022

Now that A.I.s are able to make every movie
The films that we get are so wonderfully groovy

Stable Diffusion recycles each tale
A font of profusion that simply can’t fail

You can even decide on the cast of your choice
If you want you can choose any face, any voice

Sourced from the Crowd, and crunched in the Cloud
These movies are great, and we’re so very proud

And yet even now the fond memory lingers
Of when actors had always exactly ten fingers


Code encounters of the third kind

Friday, December 30th, 2022

Sometimes your demo code works right away. Other times it can take a solid week of hacking. And then there are those times when you encounter a demo that takes a year or so to finally work.

The first kind is very easy. The second kind is challenging. The third is very very frustrating.

Today I finally succeeded getting a demo of the third kind to work. It’s been a long haul, and I had been starting to suspect that this day would never come.

I think I’ll take the evening off now and watch an old Spielberg movie. Maybe something with mashed potatoes.

The last question

Thursday, December 29th, 2022

While we’re on the subject of chatbots, suppose we extrapolate into the future the ability of people to ask questions of computers, and to get meaningful answers. In the end, what does it all lead to?

My favorite answer to this we given by Isaac Asimov way back in 1956. I read his story >The Last Question when I was just a kid, and it has stayed with me.

The answer is unexpected, yet somehow makes perfect sense. The sign of a great science fiction mind.

Talking to computers

Wednesday, December 28th, 2022

The hype about ChatGPT has a lot of people thinking about a future in which we talk to computers, and they talk back to us. But what if we have the paradigm wrong?

Maybe the better future is not one where we talk to computers, but where we use computer assistance to talk with each other better. This is pretty much the opposite vision, although it would make use of the same technological advances.

Think about it. Why spend your time talking to a computer, when instead you can be talking with another human being?

Notable deaths

Tuesday, December 27th, 2022

I started my day this morning reading through the listing in the New York Times of Notable Deaths. These are the people who passed in 2022 of whom the Times takes special note.

It was sad, but it was also a bracing journey back through time. I met only a few of these people in person, but many of them had a profound effect on my life.

Most of these were extraordinary individuals who led exceptional lives. The rest were ordinary people who happened to find themselves on the cusp of some historic event.

Reading about all their lives, it felt as though many points of light were firing in my brain at once. I have been influenced by people on this list in so many ways.

As we go through each day, we can forget the richness of the cultural influences that surround us. It is useful to think about the people who enrich that culture, and then are gone — a reminder that we each have only a certain amount of time on this plane.

In a way, it comes down to a simple question: “What will I make of the time that I have?”

A day off

Monday, December 26th, 2022

Today was a day off for me. No errands, no deadlines. Just hanging out and enjoying the wonder of an entire day of peace.

It has been a long time since I’ve had a day like that. I had forgotten how wonderful it feels.

Alas, this probably only feels so good because it is so rare. If I were to take too many days off, the experience would most likely lose its lustre.

Hmm, I suspect there’s some sort of important principle at work here. If I really thought hard about it.

But that can wait until tomorrow.

Jews and Christmas

Sunday, December 25th, 2022

When you walk around New York City this time of year, you can’t not think about Christmas. Every shop and cafe you enter is playing Christmas songs in non-stop rotation.

Which is ironic, because NYC is one of those places in the U.S. which has a huge non-Christian population — mainly Jews and Muslims, but also pretty much every other faith, as well as a beefy contingent of complete non-believers.

As I walked into one store I was hit by another irony. They were playing Bing Crosby’s version of White Christmas, which I believe is the best selling single of all time.

The thing, in that moment, which struck me as ironic is that the most popular Christmas song of all time was written by a Jew.

But then I remembered. “Oh, right, the entire holiday is about a Jew.”

Chocolate

Saturday, December 24th, 2022

If you entered an alternate universe in which chocolate didn’t exist, how would you describe it? I know it seems like a silly question, but in a way it reveals a profound truth.

There are things whose existence we take for granted, yet which we cannot adequately describe. For all of our human communicative power, for these things we fall back on shared direct sensory experience.

We don’t spend time thinking about the impossibility of adequately describing these shared sensory experiences. We simply say the word “chocolate”, and everybody knows what we mean.

I wonder what it would be like to be a sentient species that did indeed have a way of adequately communicating such things. Such beings might look at our poor impoverished human language, and wonder how we ever manage to get through the day.

Robot with cocktail

Friday, December 23rd, 2022

In February 2020, nearly three years ago, I sketched a picture of a robot holding a cocktail. I drew it in dry erase marker, on a whiteboard in our lab’s conference room.

My sketch was meant as a kind of whimsical nod to a future where we will all be hanging out with our A.I. progeny. It wasn’t meant to last very long.

But just a few weeks later, on March 12, 2020, everyone left NYU and the University went virtual. When we all came back in September 2021, the sketch was still there.

And somehow, in all that time, nobody saw fit to erase it. I think it became a sort of lab mascot.

The robot, and the cocktail, are still there today. I took the below photo this afternoon.

Some judgment

Thursday, December 22nd, 2022

Caught the Broadway revival of Into the Woods last night. It was awesome.

I especially liked the puppets, designed by James Ortiz and wonderfully puppeteered by Kennedy Kanagawa. The puppet cow in particular was a crowd favorite.

During intermission, I was talking about the show with some friends, and trying to decide which amazing performance we liked the best. I said, tongue in cheek, “I think the cow should get a Tony.”

A woman sitting nearby suddenly jumped into our conversation. “Actually, it would be a Tony for puppetry,” she explained. She went on to elaborate. “And it would be the puppeteer who would get the award.”

None of us knew what to say to that. So we didn’t say anything.

The moment was eerily reminiscent of my experience that same morning when ChatGPT spouted nonsense. Except that ChatGPT doesn’t do that unless you ask.