Category Archives: television

A&E Television tonight

So, I’m watching A&E right now, and what I’ve seen for the last 10 minutes is this 4-second or so loop over and over of some guy saying “I don’t remember if she had it on the floor right there, or…”  Weird.  Anyone else seeing that?

I Hate My Teenage Daughter, episode 2

While I did write a blog entry for last week’s pilot episode, not sure whether I’ll write a blog entry for each episode but I’ll write one tonight.

Back 15 years ago, other than reading a diary, which I’m sure nowhere near everyone kept, how did parents figure out what their children were doing?

The “family night” part of the show was pretty hilarious. It was a nice touch how Nikki and Gary “got” each other’s Pictionary pictures so quickly. It was also neat how Sophie’s mood swung so quickly. Other than that, the episode wasn’t really about the teenaged daughters. I wonder whether the Powers That Be at Fox decided to ditch the idea of the mothers disciplining their daughters (and, let’s face it, when I write it out like that, it doesn’t sound all that funny, does it?) and instead make the show about Annie and Jack. We’ll see what the next episode holds.

I thought it was curious how perceptive Jack was last week about others yet is completely clueless that Annie likes him. Wonder how many real-life people are like that.

Take the Money and Run, episode 2

Take the Money and RunThis week and the previous one, I’ve been watching “Take the Money and Run” on ABC.  I wanted to share some thoughts about tonight’s episode (Note:  Spoilers ahead).

The first thing that interested me was how I found myself rooting for the cops.  For whom do you find yourself rooting?

So, the two “robbers” won tonight.  I have a better strategy for the interrogators than they used tonight.  What they should have done was to have the “robbers” get dressed a bit ahead of the deadline, have them come into the office or the interrogation room or whatever, tell them that they’ve won and ask them where the suitcase was stashed.  Then call the “cops” and tell them where it is.  Too bad they didn’t think of that, eh?

Last thought:  I hope that “Robert” has found a new hiding place for his house key, after his house (including a map giving the approximate area of its location) and the location of his extra key were aired on national television.  Otherwise there might be real-life robbers looking for his house.

Superior Autobiographical Memory and Technology

Sorry for not writing for nearly a month, but I’ve been busy with another project.  Anyway, last night I was flipping through channels on the TV.  I briefly watched “60 Minutes” (sort of a rerun, I believe), specifically the article about “Superior Autobiographical Memory”.  Now, if psychologists describe a phenomenon using a name like that, that would suggest to me that they know nothing about it, but I digress.  At any rate, the article discussed a very small number of people who seem to be able to remember every last little detail of their lives.  That’s a very interesting talent.  It’s not one I’m sure I’d like to have (I already have a hard enough time forgetting all of the mistakes that I make) but I certainly can see some advantages in it.

While I still remember what was going on in, for example, high school, the details of everything have faded and I no longer remember them clearly.  I certainly would like to be able to remember, for example, the music that was playing in the 10th grade art class I took when I was in my final year of high school, or any of the details of the presidential elections dance of that year, or what the date of various events were, or zillions of other things.

What would be even better would be to be able to remember these things in detail, without having to be pestered by unwanted memories.  I think that technology could be used to solve this problem, although it may take a few decades (say, maybe 20 years) for technology to advance to the point where it can be applied.  The technology that I think would be useful here would be some sort of 3-D video recorder that is somehow permanently attached to a person, coupled with an incredibly large storage space that would allow a video and audio feed for a person’s entire life to be captured (it would be useful if it could record thoughts too, although I wouldn’t think that would be possible in the 20-year timeframe that I suggested above).  Combined with a really intuitive playback mechanism, I think it would be really cool to be able to look back on such video and bring any day from any time in your life back to life.

Claude Choules

Claude Choules, the last WWI combat veteran.

I think that this technology could be used for things other than amusing ourselves about our high school exploits, though.  Something else that happened last month is the death of the last remaining combat veteran of World War I, Claude Choules.  With his death is the death of all the memories of the war that he had, all of his thoughts about the war, and all of the other personal experiences that would be useful for the historian to bring the war to life.  I think that a recorder as described above would be incredibly useful as a historic record for people who have played a part, even a minor one, in significant world events.  Being able to see, as through their own eyes, what they saw in, for example, the Great War, would be invaluable.  Of course, we never really know who is going to be playing the interesting roles, so it’s important that this technology be widespread enough that we have a good enough sample of people using it.

Like any other new technology, there would be issues with it.  One big one would be privacy.  What if someone got their hands on the recording?  What if the police used it as evidence against you?  Since this technology won’t be ready for 20 years, I don’t think it’s necessary to explain how to solve these problems in detail.  To gloss over a possible solution, I would suggest that these recorders would need to be integrated sufficiently with the wearer such that the video would be unplayable by anyone else, although there would then need to be some sort of release in case of death that would allow others to play it then.  It would require a fair bit of thought to figure out how to do that, but like I said, there’s no rush.

So, will the class of 2035 be the first people in the world to have their entire past accessible to them?  Only time will tell.

another project

Watson and Jeopardy!

Not exactly current news, Watson’s appearance on Jeopardy! I’ve had
exactly a month as of today to think about it, and here’s what I think.

I used to watch Jeopardy! all the time back in the 1990s or something like that.  I haven’t really watched it much in the past 15 years or so, although I did tune in for special events like Ken Jennings winning a zillion games in a row a while back.  I only watched some parts of the Ken Jennings/Watson/Brad Ritter match back in February.  I tuned in for the last part of Monday’s episode and the first part of Tuesday’s, but the show seemed more like an infomercial for IBM than a game show, and I’m not a big fan of IBM.  I didn’t watch on Wednesday.  Of course, I didn’t need to tune in to find out the result, namely that Watson won, since it was so well-publicized.  Incidentally, it seems funny to me to name a computer after Thomas Watson, who is the same person that said in 1943 that “There is a world market for maybe five computers,” but I won’t pursue that idea further.  What I am interested in looking at was the following points.

It’s pretty obvious that the reason why Watson won is not because it is “smarter,” however you define that, than the competition, but rather because it’s a lot faster on the signalling button.  I’m not really sure what the configuration was for Watson’s signalling button, but regardless of what it was, the signalling path had to be a lot faster than it was for the two humans. Their brains aren’t hooked up directly to the signalling button; rather, their brains have to register that the question has finished being read, and then the brains need to send slow electrical impulses to the fingers, which then need to move to activate the signalling button.  So, this achievement just demonstrates how electronics are faster than the human brain (which everyone already knew), not that computers are better at answering questions than humans.

Next point.  To start, I believe that it was Marvin Minsky who said something along like “AI is anything that we haven’t done yet”.  It’s a relevant quote, since it illustrates that, once we understand how to do something, it isn’t anything special.  So, on the one hand, we probably shouldn’t discount Watson’s “achievement” solely based on the fact that a machine managed to do it and therefore it isn’t all that special, but on the other hand I think there’s a lot of room for improvement for machines.  Take the Final Jeopardy! answer on Tuesday for example.  I don’t remember exactly what the answer was anymore, but the category was “U.S. Cities” and the answer was something along the lines of “One of this city’s two airports is named after a World War II flying ace; the other, a World War II battle”.  Watson answered (queried?) “What is Toronto?”  To me, this shows a significant defect in the machine’s semantic representation of the answers and questions.  First of all, what human would provide that answer?  I’m sure that anyone, no matter how smart or dumb they are, would at least provide an answer that is a U.S. city.  If you had a highly advanced semantic map, you would realise that the answer has to be a really big city; even a city as large as Toronto only has one international airport (unless maybe you count Hamilton airport as serving Toronto).  New York?  No, its airports are named after a president and a mayor.  Los Angeles?  No.  So you might get to Chicago, and just stumble on the right answer that way.  It appears that Watson answers questions in a way that is incredibly different from how humans do, and I think that could be a significant disadvantage for it.

During part of the “infomercial”, some IBMer suggested that people might want to use this technology for intelligent agents who answer people’s questions online or whatever.  I would doubt it.  First, how much will IBM want you to pay for this sort of technology?  If history is any precedent, this won’t come cheap.  It’s probably a lot cheaper to hire people in India to chat with a website’s users.  Second, it’s a lot easier to get people to understand search engine syntax and semantics than it is to get machines to understand people semantics.  Why would anyone want to type “What’s the best resource on the web about mathematical paradoxes?” or whatever subject matter you’re interested in, when it’s a lot easier, and most people know, to just type “mathematical paradoxes”.

One final point:  I think that machines’ accomplishments such as this one can’t be considered equal to that of humans until they are intentional.  In other words, until the computer chooses to show up to the Jeopardy! match, I don’t think that the accomplishment can be considered to be equal to that of a human.  We don’t crown a pitching machine as Cy Young Award winner or a cheetah as a gold medallist in sprinting, and I think the significant thing is that these objects cannot choose or appear to choose to attend the sporting events, so similarly, Watson’s accomplishment is not complete without Watson actually choosing to show up to Jeopardy!

"The Amazing Race" and Natural Disasters

So I don’t usually write about the television shows that I watch here, but I’m a big fan of The Amazing Race. Wasn’t Kynt and Vyxsin’s performance tonight just the worst performance on a leg ever?

But what I was really thinking about as they left Japan was the earthquake/tsunami elsewhere in Japan the other day. Obviously, it occurred weeks after the show was filmed, but just after the episode in Japan was aired. That made me think about how the earthquake in New Zealand corresponded with the airing of the episode that, while it wasn’t set in New Zealand, was about as close as you can get to New Zealand without being either in New Zealand or in the water. Is China next on the natural disasters list? Should rescue teams in China be standing by?

Obviously, this is just coincidence and not something really significant, but sometimes coincidences can be interesting.