The real AI agenda

    On a post by Wm Briggs, about artificial intelligence, a commenter with the monniker "ItsAllBullshit" writes: 
    "AI is a smoke screen for what they really want to do, control who works where.  If you are familiar with the way that algorithms work, you will understand that AI today is simply an inefficient automatic labeling machine made quick through the use of large computation centers.  It will never approach human intelligence and they know this.  They just need an excuse that allows them to control whatever it is they will claim the 'AI' will manage.  Probably government."

    I can't speak to the technical aspects, but as far as the agenda behind AI, I think he is exactly right.  The real purpose is to centralize control.  The rulers of this world are willing to spend billions of dollars to fund this kind of technology because what is billions of dollars when at the end of it you get total control?  That's also what is behind the whole Internet of Things business.  Even now, with all the control they have, you cannot shut down someone's refrigerator at the touch of a button.  You would have to physically take it away, which is much more difficult.  But if the "Internet of Things" goes the way they want, it will indeed be possible.  
    In other words, all the talk about whether self-aware or independently learning machines are possible is just to fool the masses or to motivate workers and make them think they are working on some grand project.  But those funding the whole business don't really care about the philosophical aspects and probably don't believe in them anyway.  It's just a tool for control.

    So, the question is not, what will an AI do, but what will the people in control of it do?  Pay attention to the man behind the curtain.  
    Another Wmbriggs post discusses some incidents where AI tools don't behave in the way the makers want them to.  There are several examples of this kind of thing, but ultimately, this is not inherent to the technology; it just means that the makers have not figured out how to get it to say what they want.  I have full confidence that given enough time and effort, they will figure out how to create a system which will given them the exact results they desire and even to change as acceptable terminology changes.  Because that was the goal in the first place.  

The statistical model of ability vs. the unpredictability of genius

    As education has expanded and the opportunities for intellectual accomplishment has increased, the great minds of the past can still hold their own.  They had less knowledge than we do now, but in terms of intelligence, creativity, and in particular insight, they are as good or better than anyone working today.  

    And if you think about it, this is quite surprising.  Not only do we have a much larger population than existed prior to the twentieth century, with a far higher proportion of the population literate, but there are also many more people who do intellectual work either professionally or in their leisure time.  

    If it is assumed that ability is evenly distributed throughout all populations, then for the reasons listed, we should have far more ability to draw upon.  And thus, we should have completely surpassed the past.  And certainly in some areas we have.  But then why are some of the greats of the past still great?  Consider Dante, Virgil, and Homer.  William James Tychonievich has referred to them as the "three greatest writers who ever lived".  I have not read enough to make that assesment but what I would say is that they are not only better than the vast majority of writers working today, but much better.  

    Why should it be that one of the small number of literate people from a society with a small poulation should be so much better than the far greater number of writers working today?  

    One reason of course is that the modern environment is not conducive to producing great literature; modern culture has gone so far off the rails that it does not provide promising raw material.  Especially for areas like literature, talent alone does not suffice, one's life experiences are also important.  

    But even in mathematics and areas of science that are less dependent upon life experience, many of the past masters are still as good as anyone working now.  And it is even more surprising when we consider that athletic records have been regularly broken and yet intellectual accomplishments still stand.  

    I do not think there is only one answer.  There are a variety of reasons that could be involved: one is a lack of motivation: people in the past frequently considered intellectual accomplishment as having some sort of transcendental value, now it is just viewed as a career.  Another reason could be decreasing intelligence or creativity.  But perhaps the most important reason is that geniuses appear when and where they appear and this is not easily predictable.  

How tall was Zacchaeus?

    Zacchaeus the tax collector is introduced in the book of Luke, chapter 19: 

       "And entering in, He walked through Jericho.  And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, who was the chief of the publicans, and he was rich.  And he sought to see Jesus who He was, and he could not for the crowd, because he was low of stature.  And running before, he climed up into a sycamore tree, that he might see him; for he was to pass that way.  And when Jesus was come to the place, looking up, He saw him, and said to him: Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for this day I must abide in thy house." (Luke 19:1-5).  

    A few months ago, I was pondering the question of how tall was Zacchaeus?  Of course, it's not something we can ever know with any degree of certainty.  But on the other hand, it's not beyond all speculation.  

    The first thing to note is that Zacchaeus was noticeably short, so the question is, how short (or tall) does someone have to be for it to be notable?  This is largely a statistical question.  Height has been found to be normally distributed and in the normal distribution, the mean height is also the modal and the median height.  So, one way to phrase this question is, how much does someone's height have to deviate from the mean to be noticeable?

    In the present time, a man who is 6 ft (about 183 cm) tall is considered noticeably tall.  It is hard to find the average height worldwide, but at least in English-speaking countries, 6 ft is roughly three inches (7.62 cm) or one standard deviation above the mean height, i.e., at the 84th percentile.  So, likewise, we may say that one standard deviation below or 5 ft 6 inches (167.64 cm) is noticeably short in English-speaking countries in the present time.       

    So, then the question is, how tall were people in Palestine 2,000 years ago?  Probably shorter than people now because of generally worse nutrition.  There is an interesting blog post that discusses the height of Isaac Newton, based on an article by Milo Keynes called "The Personality of Isaac Newton".  The article estimates that Newton stood 5 ft 6 inches tall and also discusses Newton's speculation as to the height of the Ancient Egyptians: 

    "Newton is trying to calculate the dimensions of an ancient building, and concludes that the 'ordinary stature of men' was about the same 3,000 years ago as it was in Newton's time, namely 5 feet 6 inches, which is exactly the estimate I have given for Newtn's own height.  

    Here are the quotations from Newton himself: 

    'The measures of Feet and Cubits now far exceed the proportion of human members; and yet Mr. Greaves shews from the Aegyptian monuments, that the human stature was about the same above 3000 years ago, as it is now ...

    The stature of the human body, according to the Talmuidsts, contains about 3 Cubits from the feet to the head; and if the feet be raised, and the arms be lifted up, it will add one Cubit more, and contatin 4 Cubits.  Now the ordinary stature of men, when they are bare-foot, is greater than 5 Roman Feet, and less than 6 Roman Feet, and it may be best fix'd at 5 Feet and a half."

    Now, it is interesting that Newton mentions the Talmudists, by which I assume he mentions the compilers of the Talmud, which was finished around the year 500.  Also, I would not expect the height of the Ancient Egyptians to deviate so much from the citizens of Roman Palestine, so 5 ft 6 inches is a good estimate for the mean male height in the time of Jesus.  

    In doing some research for this post, I found some people who have speculated that Zacchaeus actually had dwarfism, which in the present time is defined as a height below 4 ft 8 inches (142.24 cm).  But I consider this unlikely.  

    If the standard deviation in the time of Jesus was the same as it is now in English speaking countries (which is an assumption; I am not sure whether this would be true in general), then we can estimate that Zacchaeus was less than 5 ft 3 inches (160 cm).  I will estimate that since Zacchaeus had to climb a tree, rather than just stand at the edge of the crowd that his height was less than one standard deviation below the mean, but since he is not described as having dwarfism, probably above 5 ft.  I will speculate that Zacchaeus was somewhere from 5ft to 5 ft 1 inches tall.      

The real AI agenda

    On a post  by Wm Briggs, about artificial intelligence, a commenter with the monniker "ItsAllBullshit" writes:           "...