Artificial Stupidity: The Next Big Thing

There has been a lot of hype about artificial intelligence over the years. And recently it seems there has been a resurgence in interest in this topic in the media. But artificial intelligence scares me. And frankly, I don’t need it. My human intelligence is quite good, thank you very much. And as far as trusting computers to make intelligent decisions on my behalf, I’m skeptical to say the least. I don’t need or want artificial intelligence.

No, what I really need is artificial stupidity.

I need software that will automate all the stupid things I presently have to waste far too much of my valuable time on. I need something to do all the stupid tasks — like organizing email, filing documents, organizing folders, remembering things, coordinating schedules, finding things that are of interest, filtering out things that are not of interest, responding to routine messages, re-organizing things, linking things, tracking things, researching prices and deals, and the many other rote information tasks I deal with every day.

The human brain is the result of millions of years of evolution. It’s already the most intelligent thing on this planet. Why are we wasting so much of our brainpower on tasks that don’t require intelligence? The next revolution in software and the Web is not going to be artificial intelligence, it’s going to be creating artificial stupidity: systems that can do a really good job at the stupid stuff, so we have more time to use our intelligence for higher level thinking.

The next wave of software and the Web will be about making software and the Web smarter. But when we say "smarter" we don’t mean smart like a human is smart, we mean "smarter at doing the stupid things that humans aren’t good at." In fact humans are really bad at doing relatively simple, "stupid" things — tasks that don’t require much intelligence at all.

For example, organizing. We are terrible organizers. We are lazy, messy, inconsistent, and we make all kinds of errors by accident. We are terrible at tagging and linking as well, it turns out. We are terrible at coordinating or tracking multiple things at once because we are easily overloaded and we can really only do one thing well at a time. These kinds of tasks are just not what our brains are good at. That’s what computers are for – or should be for at least.

Humans are really good at higher level cognition: complex thinking, decisionmaking, learning, teaching, inventing, expressing, exploring, planning, reasoning, sensemaking, and problem solving — but we are just terrible at managing email, or making sense of the Web. Let’s play to our strengths and use computers to compensate for our weaknesses.

I think it’s time we stop talking about artificial intelligence — which nobody really needs, and fewer will ever trust. Instead we should be working on artificial stupidity. Sometimes the less lofty goals are the ones that turn out to be most useful in the end.

Fun With CoolWhip: The Twine Crunchies Video

The Crunchies are done. At Radar Networks we are really honored to have our product, Twine.com, nominated as a finalist for Best Technology Innovation of 2007. It was very cool to see our Twine logo up there on stage next to Facebook, Digg, LinkedIn and so many other incredible companies — especially considering we were the only company that was still in closed Beta in the awards (and yes, we are coming out of closed beta in March, so get ready!).

Meanwhile, one of things that made the Crunchies fun was that every company was asked to submit a video. Not all companies did, and not all of them were that creative. Some however were really funny, including ours. Here is a link to the "director’s cut" of the Twine Crunchies video for 2007. Enjoy!!!

ps. For those who don’t live in the USA… CoolWhip is a synthetic dessert topping we have here in the States. Imagine whipped cream, made out of some kind of industrial byproduct. It actually tastes pretty good, whatever it is. And it has almost no calories — possibly because there is nothing in that is actually digestible by humans. It’s really a wonderful technological innovation. Thus our choice.

The Honor of a Lifetime!

This made my day: I’ve been selected as one of the "sexiest men in IT" by a panel of judges including a tech blogger and her daughter. FINALLY someone is objectifying me!!! Usually everyone just likes the real me, the brains, the inner beauty, the person I am etc. But to be honest, what I always really wanted was to just be called hot and objectified dammit! And so winning this esteemed title was quite a cathartic moment. Thank you judges — both of you — who voted for me, it is an honor that I will treasure always.

The State of our Country: Newscaster Refuses to Read Paris Hilton Story; Burns Script on Camera

This is quite an amazing video clip — a news anchorwoman on MSNBC took a heroic stand and refused, on air, to lead with more news about Paris Hilton, despite her fellow anchormen and her producers trying to force her to. They actually almost get into a scuffle as she tries to burn the story with her lighter on camera! You’ve got to watch this. Mika Brzezinski has just proved she is perhaps the only major network journalist in America with a spine. She should get an award for this. Where do I sign up to join the Mika Brzezinski fan club?

Very Funny Instructional Video — How To Poke Pole the Monkeyfaced Eel

My cousin, Jeremy (the reincarnation of Ernest Hemmingway, I am certain), lives out by Muir Beach, San Francisco. Today he and some manly-man friends are going fishing for "monkey faced eel." YUCK. But ok, anyway, they’re the ones who have to eat the stuff. Now I’m not a fan of eel (can you tell?), and I’m also not a fan of fishing — I think it’s cruel (which is an admittedly hypocritical view, since I still eat fish and I suppose they have to come from somewhere. Oh well, too bad we don’t have Soylent Green to eat yet.). But in any case, Jeremy, or "JD" as we all like to call him, is a serious flyfisherman and generally a hunter (not a gatherer) type — so I guess the prospect of being washed out to sea on the rocks is a small price to pay for the chance of snagging a slimy sea snake, bludgeoning it to death or suffocating it, and then boiling it into some kind of savory eel-stew concoction or something. Jeremy has never actually hunted for monkeyfaced eel and all he knows about the subject he learned from the video below. That’s gonna be entertaining. But it’s probably going to be even more dramatic given that his innocent wife, Natasha — who doesn’t like to eat anything "cute" (fortunately, monkefaced eel are definitely NOT cute)– will be standing onshore anxiously watching him risk his life to bring a kill back to cave-clan. Anyway the point of this is that he just sent me an instructional video on How to Poke Pole the Monkeyfaced Eel (click the link for the video of that title on the page this goes to) and it is hilarious. The guy in the video is deadpan serious but completely zany. And the editing is great. You’ve gotta watch this.

This Guy is Funny

Thanks to a recommendation from my folks, I just watched the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Have you ever seen him? He’s a Scottish comedian with his own US talk show and his monologues are awesome. He changes personalities on a dime, his jokes are edgy, intellectual, and trippy all at once. It’s amazing to watch. He reduces his guests to quivering heaps of stunned laughter. If you haven’t seen Craig in action, don’t miss it! I’m going to TIVO this from now on. Here are some suggested clips from his site. Here are some examples of his stuff on YouTube.

Note: After watching a lot more Craig Ferguson, I have one criticism: He recycles his jokes! He often tells the same jokes and repeats the same gags. This is actually annoying. I guess it makes sense economically — he doesn’t have to come up with as much new material, but I find it awkward. His jokes are still very funny and good — but not as funny or good the second, third and fourth time. Craig, if you are listening, pay your joke-writers to work a full week!!!

British Ministry of Defense Chief Resigns; Cites Concerns About UFO's

Ok, here’s a very unusual news item:

During his time as head of the Ministry of Defence UFO project, Nick
Pope was persuaded into believing that other lifeforms may visit Earth
and, more specifically, Britain.

His concern is that "highly credible" sightings are simply dismissed.

And he complains that the project he once ran is now "virtually closed" down, leaving the country "wide open" to aliens.

Mr Pope decided to speak out about his worries after resigning
from his post at the Directorate of Defence Security at the MoD this
week.

"The consequences of getting this one wrong could be huge," he said.

Read the rest here.  I have several thoughts about this  news and what it might mean… 

Continue reading

Hassleware — A New Strategy To Make Users Not Close Your Software

This post is not to be taken too seriously. I’m not actually advocating for the strategy outlined below. Just pointing out that it is taking place already, at least in iTunes.

One thing I’ve noticed about iTunes on Windows XP is that it is a massive resource hog — especially when starting the application, but even worse, when exiting it. It typically takes several minutes for iTunes to quit, and during this process there are several moments where my machine freezes up because all resources are being used by iTunes. I like iTunes as a product — don’t get me wrong — but it is the most
impolite app in my system. No other app freezes my computer just to
shut down.

My computer has a 2.1 gigaherz processor and more than 2 gigs of RAM, and lots of availale disk space, so it’s not due to scarce resources. It’s simply iTunes. The hassle factor of starting and shutting iTunes is in fact such an annoyance that I have resorted to just leaving it running in the background most of the time. In thinking about this it occurred to me that — perhaps unwittingly — Apple has come up with a clever way to make me keep their software open all the time. It’s just too painful to close iTunes, so I leave it running.

A Man in the Wrong Profession

Today I was parked in a gas station, in downtown San Francisco, filling my tank with gas when this gem occurred.

A San Francisco taxi pulls up, with 3 passengers inside.

The taxi driver gets out, and comes up to me. In a hushed tone so his passengers don’t hear, he asks me for directions to the Golden Gate Bridge!

Now if there is at least one thing every taxi driver in SF ought to know, other than the where the airport is, it is where the Golden Gate Bridge is. Or at the very least — if they don’t know where it is — they should have a MAP, don’t ya think???

Needless to say I was astonished.

The Next Sexual Revolution?

This article is an over-the-top and somewhat gonzo review of an experimental nasal-spray that promises to revolutionize sex. It is currently in clinical trials. The very idea of nasal spray would seem to be one of the bigger turn-offs there is, but in this case they’ve found the override button. The writer gushes that it could be the next big thing and that it will make everyone want to tear of their clothes and jump each other, etc. Hilarious. I probably should buy stock in this company!

Help Me Destroy My Treo 650

My Treo 650 has been an endless source of frustration. It’s probably one of the most annoyingly bad devices I’ve ever owned. First of all, the form factor is such that it’s almost impossible to grab it when it rings without dropping it or flinging it across the room. There’s no traction on the surface and it has odd curvatures which seem to be optimized for dropping it. But that’s just the beginning. The darn thing crashes just about every other day, usually when I’m answering a call or driving or looking something up. And then there’s the truly bad email program that ships with it. OK, I know all about reinstalling, updating it in every way, and believe me, I’ve done it all, in spades. It’s just a sucky device and the software is buggy. So that’s the bad news part of this story.

Now the good news: The damn thing crashed for the last time this week. I did my nth hard-reset to restore it to factory condition, wiping all my data, but this time it didn’t work. I got the screen of death — an endless loop that there’s no way to get out of. It won’t let me finish the reset process. And I don’t care, because I bought a new Blackberry and I’m much happier now.

But here’s the fun part — I have been waiting for my Treo 650 to legitimately crash so bad that I could get rid of it and not feel any guilt. And now that day has come. But I don’t want to just throw it away: I want revenge. And I’m going to have it.

I want to destroy my Treo 650 in the most creative and entertaining, and destructive, way possible. And I want your help!

Please comment on this message with your proposal for a truly funny, destructive, epic, and creative way to completely obliterate my Treo 650. Ideally you and/or your friends and/or my friends will video the actual process of destroying my Treo and then we’ll put it up on YouTube. I’ll put up a budget of $200 for any supplies or equipment necessary to fund the winning proposal. Whenever I or anyone has a future mobile device nightmare we can then watch this video and feel a moment of poetic justice. People: 1. Devices: 0.

A New Kind of Employee Benefit: "Sock Options" — No that is not a typo

Well I have a peculiar and hilarious situation…

I ordered some black tube socks online from Macy’s the other day.

Unfortunately I neglected to notice that they don’t come in pairs, they come in packs of 6 pairs. Oooops. Because you see I ordered 10 of what I though were pairs.

So in fact, I just received a box of60 pairs of black tube socks.

I guess on the positive side, with60 pairs of socks, I would only have to do laundry a few times in a year….But unfortunately I don’t have 60 pairs of everything else. So that’s not an option.

So what can I do with all these socks?

These socks were not so expensive,so returning them by mail is more of a drag that it’s worth tome.

Therefore… what I’ve decided to do is offer an innovative, and truly compelling,  employee benefit to the folks at Radar Networks — I am issuing everyone in the company a pro rata pair of socks. Peter Royal suggested we call this “Sock Options.”

Sexy Photos of Libraries?

Well if you are into libraries I guess these photos are sexy. Personally I’ve always loved libraries and used to spend hours just exploring in my college library. The Web is similarly fascinating to wander in, but there’s still something special about physical, tangible books that’s missing from the digital revolution. Is it just me or is it getting kind of warm in here?

Study: Blackberry Addiction Similar to Drugs


Blackberry email devices can be so addictive that owners may need to be
weaned off them with treatment similar to that given to drug users,
experts warned today.

They said the palmtop gadgets, which have been nicknamed
‘crackberries’ because users quickly become hooked on them, could be
seriously damaging to mental health.

 

The study, carried out by New Jersey’s Rutgers University
School, claims the Blackberry is fuelling a rise in email and internet
addiction, with sufferers able to survive only a few minutes without
checking for new mail.

One key sign of a user being addicted is if they focus on their Blackberry ignoring those around them

Fatherhood Boosts Male Brains

New research has shown that fatherhood brings about dramatic enhancements in male brains. Although the researchers don’t suggest it, this effect may be nature’s way of counteracting the dramatic decrease in male brain function that occurs in proportion to the number of times they get laid in a given week (Note: this particular malady was brought to national attention on the popular TV show Seinfeld).

All Cell Phone Calls Easily Eavesdropped … With Common Household Appliance

A major, virtually unfixable, security flaw in the design of nearly all cell phones and other mobile devices will be announced this week by researchers at the Foundation for Microwave Safety (FMS). According to sources, it turns out that due to a coincidence in engineering, ordinary household microwave ovens can actually be used to receive and eavesdrop on all cell phone calls made or received within a 1 mile radius. Better yet, you can also use them to broadcast to all cell phones within a 1 mile radius!

According to the study, which will be released next week, the technique is ludicrously easy: simply go to any microwave oven. Set the power level to high. Next, on the microwave keypad or time setting dial, enter a time in that is at least a minute or so. Then hit the "Start" button. Next, press your ear against the microwave oven door as it runs and listen carefully — you won’t believe it, but you will actually hear cell phone calls. If you then wish to broadcast to all the calls you are hearing, simply speak loudly, while your head is pressed against the microwave door.

(Editor’s Note — WARNING: Do not try this at home!!! Permanent injury may result — Please see warning at end of article.  If you try this you may end up cooking your brain. If your brain is already cooked, make sure you set your microwave on "Reheat: Canned Vegetables" setting to avoid over-cooking, and season lightly with salt and butter.)

Why does this work? It turns out that the microwave transmission elements in ordinary microwave ovens are not so different from what’s in your everyday cell phone, except much broader spectrum and slightly more power. "When microwave ovens run they act not only as transmitters, but also as receivers — or what are called ‘transceivers,’" says Philippe Connerie, of the FMS.

Although there is no true audio output or input, the microwave shielding in the case still resonates to the frequency of whatever is being received. If you press your head tightly against the casing you can hear these vibrations — which are actual cell phone calls. When you speak it sends resonance back through the shielding which scatters the reflected microwaves to the frequency of your voice, which are then received back into the microwave, acting as modulators of the carrier wave of the emitter, which effectively broadcasts what you are saying across a range of microwave frequencies at once. Click here to read the paper.

WARNING: Pressing your head against any device that is actively emitting microwaves — such as microwave ovens, cell phones, or other mobile devices — may result in permanent injury, brain damage, cancer or death. Please do not do this, unless you are really stupid, in which case, go right ahead. But first read the paper (linked above) so that you understand that this is truly not something worth doing. If after reading that paper you still insist on trying this then I give up. — The Editor

Obsessed Tourist Marries Dolphin

Here’s a happy story about true love. An Israeli millionaire tourist recently married a captive dolphin in a formal wedding ceremony. There’s something fishy about this wedding though — I mean did the dolphin really love her for HER, or did he just want her for her money? When asked to comment, the woman repeated that she is "not a pervert" — PHEW! I’m glad she emphasized that point because otherwise I might have had my doubts. Anyway, what I really want to know is: was it a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony or not, and if it was, how did the dolphin crush the wine glass? Do they even let people bring glassware into the pool nowadays? I thought you could only bring plastic cups to the pool. What kind of operation are they running down there anyway? Well, if you ask me this marriage probably won’t last: I think couples should live together for a while before getting married.

Evil Offshore Telemarketers

Over the last few days I’ve had an interesting experience. Prior to living where I presently live there once lived a charming couple by the name of "Mr. and Mrs. Amit." That’s all I know of these people, other than the still-lingering smell of exotic spices that will forever permeate one of my kitchen cabinents. But I’ve recently learned something new about the Amits: as well as having the good-taste to live in my future home, they also seem to have really pissed off a bunch of telemarketers somewhere on the Indian subcontinent.

This has become evident to me over the last few months in the form of bizarre, cryptically worded phone calls I have received on a regular basis from various Indian-or-Pakistani-accented telemarketing drones. Invariably these calls have the same basic script — First the phone rings at some odd hour and I answer it and hear only the sound of a crackling long-distance connection bouncing across several satellites and what sounds like Calcutta’s ancient telephone infrastructure. Next a heavily accented male or female asks for "Mr. or Mrs. Amit." In the background I can hear the sounds of a sweatshop in which what may be dozens of other operators are making similar calls. I politely explain to the caller that Amits no longer live here and that I am Mr. Spivack, the new resident. There is no response on the other side, but they invariably hang up on me as I am speaking the "Please put…" part of "Please put me on your do-not-call-list."

In the last month the frequency of these odd calls has increased, and with it, I have become more creative in trying to convince them that I really am not Mr. Amit. I use my best all-American accent and I even get belligerent. But they never believe me, and they always hang up just as I am saying "Please put…"

Yesterday, for some reason, these folks decided to turn it up a notch. I guess they really wanted to teach the Amits a lesson! I received dozens of calls in the same 2 hour period, starting at about 6 PM PST. Sometimes the calls were from the same operators, sometimes new ones. They all worked in the same facility however — I could tell from the unique background noise. I tried the "I am not Mr. Amit" answer, I tried the "The Amits no longer live here," answer, I even tried the "Can I speak to your manager" answer (to which I received a very polite, "Of course Sir, one minute please, Sir" after which they would politely hang up on me every time).

Finally, after the Nth call I was getting frustrated. These people were interfering with my enjoyment of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO, dammit! I decided, This. Has. Got. To. Stop.

They called me one more time.

Crackling sound. "Hello, may I speak to Mr. or Mrs. Amit," the operator requested.

Finally it hit me. I knew what to say.

"The Amits have moved back to Pakistan," I announced matter-of-factly.  I had no idea whether this was true, or whether the Amits were even Pakistanis for that matter. But I knew this would finally register as making sense in the mind of the caller.

Silence…Then: "To Pakistan?" the operator replied.

"Yes," I said. "Somewhere in Pakistan."

Silence…Then: "Thank you," the voice replied.

And that’s the last call I received from them.

Peace at last!  Although, if there is anyone in Pakistan with the last name "Amit," they are probably not as lucky.

Time Traveler Convention and Further Thoughts

There’s a very interesting event taking place at MIT tonight — the first (and only?) Time Traveler Convention. The organizers are inviting anyone in the future who is capable of time travel to travel back to the geo coordinates of this event (to be held at MIT) and attend it, along with proof that they are from the future. In order to increase the chances that this event will be discovered by the relevant people in the future, the organizers have asked as many people as possible to link to the event and have also asked people to insert acid-free paper containing the coordinates of the event into library books that are likely to be read in the future.

This event is an experiment that attempts to test whether in fact time travel will be invented in our future. The hypothesis is that if time travel is possible, and if it is discovered, and if future time-travel-capable beings also find out about this MIT Convention, then they will travel back in time to the event. Of course this begs the question of whether they actually would attend this event even if they could — for example, perhaps they prefer to remain secret at this time? Or perhaps if they prove to us that time travel is possible at this moment in our evolution it might influence their timeline such that it could risk interfering with their past discovery of time travel or risk the technology ending up in the wrong hands in the future. Or maybe, just maybe, they are simply too "cool" to travel all that distance backwards in time (and spend who knows how much money to do so) just to have cheap chips and dip for an hour or two with a room full of MIT nerds? I mean hey, if I could travel backwards in time would I go to a geek gathering at MIT or would I go somewhere more fun (and with better food and drinks too) like an imperial party in ancient Rome?

In any case, the various potential risks of time travel might outweigh the potential benefit of any actual time travelers attending the MIT event. But let’s hope that some real live time travelers do show up at the event. I know one thing for certain, if anyone does show up from the future they will probably be geeks too, since anyone who isn’t a geek probably has other parties higher on their list.

Incidentally, this event reminds me of a similar proposal I came up with last year for building a receiver that might be able to receive a message from the future. While time travel by macroscopic things like people might be difficult or impossible due to the amount of energy required and the potential negative impact on the physical structure of the traveler, sending messages backwards in time could be more practical. Such messages could be comprised of subatomic particles or tiny black holes or local disturbances in fundamental fields or physical constants. The question is, how to design a receiver that could receive messages sent by beings in the future? If anyone can think of how to do this, blog about it and link to this article (since comments are off); I’ll see your post via the trackbacks hopefully and if it’s a really good idea I’ll link to it from this article. If someone can design and actually build a suitable receiver then just like the MIT event, it could be publicized widely in the hopes that in the future if and when there is suitable technology, someone will send a message to it.

Links:

My friend, Tom Meyer, suggests that we might be able to utilize existing particle accelerators as "receivers" — his idea is that we publicize that we will be analyzing the data from a particular device for anomalies placed there as messages to us. It’s an intriquing proposal. Would it work?