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Computation And The Illusion of Being Cared For
March 20, 2016

Mysterious title to this blog post...

Last year I created some code to take the Netflix movie recommendations on my account and my wife's account and combine our projected ratings for the movies. Then I sorted the list.

For some time now, I've enjoyed this type of strategy for helping people decide on shared things, whether it be a baby name, or a movie. It seems to work pretty well!

After watching a couple of movies taken from this list recently, I was quite smitten with the result. In both cases, the movies were ones I probably never would have picked off of the shelf, and yet we really did enjoy watching them.

After yet more reflection, I think I've realized that part of what made the end result so nice is that it almost felt like we had hired a person to sift through a bunch of facts about who we are, what our values are, the kind of things that delight us, and then that person went off and spent a few days looking through movies, trying to find ones that would be a perfect fit for the two of us.

Of course, that didn't happen. It was just computer code at Netflix -- lots of machine learning / modeling techniques, and then a simple match rank algorithm to combine Meredith's and my recommendations.

This makes me curious about the future: How often will people feel "cared for" in a sense when in fact it's just algorithms optimizing their lives. Maybe I'm unusual, but in reflecting on this, I actually did feel kind of cared for after watching those two movies. It felt like someone was looking out for me, being thoughtful, on my behalf.

Modeling a Person
February 5, 2016

One of the odd things that Ray Kurzweil has talked about is the idea of recreating his father as an artificial intelligence, and to do so using old photographs and writings of his father's. Upon hearing this, even though it sounds bizarre, I felt compassion for him -- he lost his father at a relatively young age, and it was obviously a huge loss for him. His faith in bringing him back seems to have grown out of his deep hope that it might be possible, however unlikely.

All this said, something struck me today that isn't completely unrelated. In past months I've pondered the (not new, I don't think) idea of building up an AI by feeding it a stream of video, sound, and touch, and having its algorithms attempt to build a model that can predict the next "frame" of sensory data. Thus, one gets "free" supervised training data.

Let's connect this idea to Ray's dream of modeling his father, but let's assume his father was still living. What we'll do is have his father wear something like Google Glass, which will record everything his father is seeing and hearing. We'll also have him wear a thin nylon-like suit that will record the X/Y/Z position of his body parts and what touch stimuli he is receiving. The system will then record everything that he says, everything he types, and every motor control that he does.

Once we've done this, we again have a "supervised" training set... the stimuli he is receiving are the inputs, and his behaviors are the outputs... everything from what he says, to the exact tone of his voice, to the precise way he holds his head, or how often he blinks.

Let's imagine we capture a few petabytes of this data, and then we use a fancy computer in 2065 with an insane amount of neural network capability to train a neural net that tries to predict what his father's behavior will be in a given situation.

Finally, we'll run the neural net, and have it run in VR, creating a photo-realistic representation of the man, and to interact with him, you strap on a VR headset, and enter that virtual world.

I'm curious what this might be like in a year like 2065... would such a technique exist?  Would it be in any way compelling?  And how about the limit... given enough time, might we be able to "model" a person well enough to create a VR likeness of them that was very compelling?

Tesla 7.1 Software: Summoning Car From/To Garage
January 10, 2016

Tesla has released the next iteration of their software, and videos are cropping up of people summoning their cars to or from their garage. The car even autonomously opens their garage door.

These "firsts" are really delightful for us tech folk. They bring a smile to my face. Well done Tesla people.

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