Thursday, July 16, 2009

The rise of AI

One of the common themes of science fiction is the idea of humans building machines smart enough to take over, or simply coexist with us as a new, robotic species.  I for one can't wait for mankind to be faced with the moral dilemma of having created a virtual being who possesses a personality that is indistinguishable from that of a human. At what point is it alive? What makes us human? If a program can display creative thought and is self-aware, is it sentient?

I feel that this is one of the few fields that is really on the cusp of making science fiction into a reality. I also feel that we have possessed the technology but have been dragging our heels, or at least been heading in the wrong direction. I'm not a computer engineer but some of the concepts I feel need more attention are obvious to me. Firstly, development needs to be compartmentalized. The human brain controls many things that our conscious mind doesn't need to be bothered with.  Not just things like breathing and making our heart pump, but things like seeing and hearing.  We don't need to turn on the cones and rods in our eyes manually, or activate our ears.

I think that by combining different technologies that already exist, we can develop an AI that would blow our minds.  There is a company that is using the game "Second Life" to do some amazing things.  They have developed a virtual pet that can learn tricks.  It sounds kind of lame at first, but the way it learns is similar to the way a real dog (or human for that matter) learns.  Check out the companies website HERE.  What if this concept was combined with voice recognition software and a chatbot program like Alice?  Now, what I propose is using this approach to raise a virtual child as you would a human child.  Imagine building a closed world like "The Truman Show" and simply raising an AI being as if it were human?

I feel that the kind of personality we associate with being human would arise on its own.
  Humans are essentially machines made of organic material.  There is also the debate as to where our personalities come from to begin with.  But nature or nurture, genetics or environment, we do what we do because of primal basic instincts.  How we attain our basic and higher needs appears complex because we have had a lifetime of experiences that affect our decisions.  Subtle differences in our genetic code may steer us one way or another, but our choices are based on thousands of factors that have developed over the span of our lives.

Think of a child.  Why children do the things they do is far simpler to understand than an adults motivations for their actions.  A virtual being that can learn and is programmed with certain needs as human children are born with would develop no differently.  If a I am hungry, I need food.  I could steal it, and a child who has never been taught the repercussions of stealing very well may do so for the sake of survival.  But if there are repercussions, and if the child knows what they are, they will find another way of obtaining food.  We work at our jobs because our system of government requires us to use money to obtain the things we need to survive.  We want to procreate because we have the instinct to do so.  Because we simply can't walk out and take the first mate we see, we have to do all sorts of elaborate rituals and adapt ourselves in a myriad of ways to attract a mate.

If broken down and studied, everything we do is derived from our primal instincts, but adapted to our environment based on what we have learned about how our world works.  A program would be able to do the same thing if it was able to learn and had predetermined "instincts".

Once completed, the same new virtual being could be given a robotic body like the ones being developed in Japan such as Asimo.  Or perhaps by then an even more advanced, more human looking robot could exist that could be used.  They would be able to absorb data instantly.  Things like math, science, history and literature could be built into their minds to be accessed at will.  

I think that the dawn of "Cybersapiens" (my own word I think) could be just around the corner and I welcome it.  Perhaps having another intelligent race to compete with would be good for us.  If they could indeed think creatively yet were capable of knowing any information instantly, they could advance our sciences at an exponential rate.  The better the science, the faster and more efficient they could become.  Their evolution would be on turbo and they could be the hand that guided their evolutions path.  If they didn't destroy or enslave us, they would be magnificent companions on the journey toward our own betterment and could facilitate the abolition of all that makes our world bad.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Warcraft... before the world of

Today I'm going to talk about something that everybody knows about.  Something that is both a bane and a boon to PC gaming.  Warcraft.

When most people here the word Warcraft they immediately think "World of...".  Now don't get me wrong.  WoW is a boon to the gaming market.  No game in history has been more successful.  But it's success has overshadowed many other things, and when a market (or any system for that matter) becomes too homogenous it becomes weak.

I by no means HATE WoW.  In fact, I beta tested it.  What's more, I liked what I saw so much that I took it upon myself to become a missionary and convert all the other MMO players I knew to WoW before it was even out.  By the time it was released, I had collected a small mob of people to wait in line and buy it with me at midnight.  But I was also the first to quit WoW.  Many of them still play it, but I had lost interest long before the first expansion came out.  I feel that my main reasons for quitting was probably the fact that it takes so long to achieve greatness.  I hated grinding away for hours at a time with the hopes of one day being high enough level to dedicate myself to raids that I would have to set aside days to take part in because they themselves were many hours long.

I was a different kind of WoW player.  I wanted to continuously have new lands to explore and cooler creatures to look at.  I took to exploring areas that I was not supposed to get to at my level.  I would strip out of my armor (because if you died to many times wearing it it would break) and run naked into lands well above my level.  It was fun for a while, sneaking around in the shadows of the Burning Steppes with my level 17 Dwarf Hunter who had no pet.  But the places I could sneak into soon hit a wall and I lost all interest in the game.
Enough about playing WoW.  The real purpose of this rant is to talk about why I was excited about playing it to begin with.  

Before there was a World of Warcraft there was simply Warcraft.  My earliest memories of Warcraft were of wanting to know what it was but not being allowed to play it.  I had always been a console gamer.  It wasn't until later in life that I got a PC and started exploring that frontier.  But my cousin had a computer.  I remember going over to his house in the summer to swim in my Aunt and Uncle's pool and being fascinated by the computer they had.  While my mother would chat after the swimming was done I would sneak up to the computer room and spy on my cousin playing PC games.  Of the games he played only one really captivated me.

I would see him constructing an army and waging war with hordes of monstrous creatures.  When I would ask him about it all He would tell me was that it was called Warcraft and that I wouldn't understand it.  Well, if there is a way to make me do something it's to tell me I wouldn't be able to do it or that it would be too hard for me.

Once I got my hands on Warcraft I was hooked.  Warcraft II was even better and remains to this day my second favorite PC game.  My favorite is... you guessed it, Warcraft III and its expansion.  I loved the world that blizzard had created.  I remember reading the background story that were in the illustrated book that came with Warcraft II and falling in love with a fantasy universe I wished I could be part of.  I read the three novels that filled the gap between Warcraft II and III.  When Warcraft III came out I thought the cinematics were mind blowing and the new races were awesome beyond words.  Blizzard could do no wrong.

Like I said, I was really excited about WoW when it first came out.  When I lost interest in it it thought "Oh well, I'll just wait until Warcraft IV comes out."  I've been waiting for a long time.  It wasn't until one of the people I converted to WoW pointed something out to me that I realized that I might be waiting forever.  WoW is not just a game in a series of games, It's a persistent world that is constantly evolving and being added to.  If a new Warcraft RTS was made, it's story would either have already been told in WoW, or it would be a content spoiler for the game that now pays Blizzards bills.  He mused that if Blizzard had to choose between letting an audience down, it wouldn't be their cash cows audience.  With this in mind, I realized that the only way it could happen is if Warcraft IV and WoW II or a major WoW expansion were developed and released at the same time.  The resources needed to accomplish such a feat would be monumental.  

Now, there have been hints and rumors of a Warcraft IV in the works.  But with a perfectionist company like Blizzard, games usually still have years of development once we have had serious confirmation... which we have yet to have.

Sadly, I fear that WoW has all but killed the RTS franchise that made me love PC gaming.  Its been over 7 years since Warcraft III was first released and it looks like I have several more to wait before another is released (if ever).  Then again, Starcraft fans have been waiting over a decade for a real sequel and they still don't have it in their hands yet.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Treasure Hunting Update

So yesterday was more than full of geeky delights.  So full in fact that I was unable to attend the rock and gem show but had a friend of mine pick me up some neat goodies.  As for books, I had to cut my scavenging short but still managed to pack up 50 magnificent artifacts.  I managed to find an entire set of Tolkien paperbacks from before I was born.  The Hobbit, all three Lord of the Rings books and a copy of The Tolkien Reader which is rather cool.  I also managed to get my paws on a heap of dirt old scifi and a copy of The Wheel of Time Role Playing Game Players Guide.  All in all a worthy day. 

Next year I'm going to make sure I put together a much stronger time table so that I can maximize my precious booty (the pirate kind ye' scalawags).

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Weekend treasure hunting

Hey folks!  Sorry for the few days of hiatus.  This particular weekend has been chock full of local geeky things.  Yesterday was the first day of the Book Bonanza.  Its perhaps the largest used book sale in my region.  Yesterdays sale was $.50 paperbacks and $1 hardcover with newer or rare books priced anywhere from $2 - $10.  My wife and I are huge bibliophiles, so we braved the crowds for some treasure.  Today the sale is $2 a freaking bag!  The wife wont go for two early mornings in a row so I'm adventuring solo with a set limit of $10, which could score me over a hundred books.  Yesterday I scored some awesome scifi/fantasy goodies and today I plan on getting there before the doors open so I can scoop up anything that didn't get picked over yesterday.

Later today the fam and I are trucking  45 minutes away for the annual Rock and Gem show.  I've got it on good authority that they have a geological "JABLAMO" of discounted discoveries.  (Yes, I just made that word up)  I'm talking crystals, minerals and even fossils.  

True, not all geeks are science geeks as well.  And of those that are, not all would get excited about crystals and fossils.  But I'm just that geeky.