Friday, November 13, 2015

Priddy Mineries; SJWs and SF; AI deep learning

Clare has had a vision these last days of a walk in the autumnal woods surrounded by the glowing colours of the falling leaves. In the last of the year's sun, we would stroll in a kaleidoscope of natural beauty.

And then there is the inevitable collision with the English climate.

In a short weather window, after a stroll in Stockhill Wood

A rain-soaked Priddy Mineries
I've been quite impressed by Ian McDonald's work so have just ordered 'Luna: New Moon' ; apparently a sequel is scheduled for publication next year and yet another volume in 2017. I particularly enjoyed his 'Brasyl', set in an alternate reality of the Latin-American country:
"A story that begins in the favelas, the slums of Rio, and quickly expands to take in drugs, corruption, and a frightening new technology that allows access to all the multiple worlds that have slipped into existence in other planes every time we make a decision."
Good review here.

I remember McDonald being a target of 'social justice warriors' for his temerity in placing his densely-imagined novels in developing countries (India is another favourite of his). This from Abigail Nussbaum's review of his earlier 'River of Gods'.
"It's a positive, vibrant, and persuasive description, but also one that gives rise to a feeling of unease when one recalls that McDonald is, after all, a white man from Belfast. What right does he have to write about India, much less to pretend to have captured its essence, much much less to imagine its future? When Nic Clarke of Eve's Alexandria reviewed River of Gods, a commenter disdainfully replied that the novel sounded to her like yet another cliché-ridden attempt by a Western writer to fetishize a nation that has become synonymous with exoticism.

"This was not long after the genre blogosphere became embroiled in what's become known as The Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of Doom, an offshoot of a WisCon panel discussing the depiction of cultures by authors foreign to them, and specifically non-white cultures by white authors, and the combination of these two discussions got me seriously reconsidering River of Gods and my, at that point, uncomplicated affection for it.

"McDonald's India feels like a real place, but I have no idea whether he's truly captured the country's spirit and described its driving conflicts with fidelity. He may very well have fictionalized a truth more complicated and nuanced than he was interested in depicting. What's kept me feeling positively towards River of Gods in spite of this realization is the fact that, as I noted above, his India is so strong and independent, so clearly its own entity directing its own fate. River of Gods may be a novel about India told by an outsider, but within the novel India is writing its own story."
I am nonetheless a fan of Abigail's generally insightful reviews. Here is Ian McDonald's background.
"Ian McDonald was born in 1960, in Manchester, to a Scottish father and Irish mother. He moved to Belfast when he was five and has lived there ever since." (Wikipedia).
Deep-Learning has swept all before it in AI, with Facebook, Google and Microsoft competing to hire the smartest researchers. I watched a good introductory video (below) yesterday (~ 40 minutes) by Andrew Ng, who heads up things at Baidu. Delved a bit into backpropagation which is intricate but comprehensible with a little application - figuring it out has been on my 'to-do' list for years.

Despite all the successes, this hierarchical neural-net approach is still modelling perception (something which apparently occupies 60% of most animals' brains). The higher-level stuff - meaning, comprehension, conversation, intentionality still seems a mystery both in paradigm and performance. Much as I would like an AI personal assistant who 'really understands me' and 'how to fix things in the world', it really isn't going to happen anytime soon (unfortunately).

I remember nostalgically when I used to travel Europe and the world as a technical consultant for Nortel. I had scarcely a care in the world as my rather large employer could be relied upon to sort out problems with transport, hotels, illness or any of the other mischances of travel in foreign cultures. If you're rich, you can buy a concierge service which provides a similar level of wraparound care. It will take Google or similar to democratise this for the masses - once they get the AI sorted out.

Like I said, don't hold your breath.