Some science fiction-type nuggets from the past few weeks:
Google does machine learning using quantum computing. Apparently, a “quantum algorithm” called Grover’s algorithm can search an unsorted database in O(√N) time. The Google blog explains this in layman’s terms:
Assume I hide a ball in a cabinet with a million drawers. How many drawers do you have to open to find the ball? Sometimes you may get lucky and find the ball in the first few drawers but at other times you have to inspect almost all of them. So on average it will take you 500,000 peeks to find the ball. Now a quantum computer can perform such a search looking only into 1000 drawers.
I’ve absolutely no clue how this algorithm works – although I did take an introductory course in quantum mechanics many a moon ago, I’ve forgotten everything about it and the course probably didn’t go deep enough to explain it anyway. Google are apparently collaborating with a Canadian company called D-Wave, who develop hardware for realizing something called a “quantum adiabatic algorithm” by “magnetically coupling superconducting loops”. It is interesting that D-Wave are explicitly focusing on machine learning; the home page states that “D-Wave is pioneering the development of a new class of high-performance computing system designed to solve complex search and optimization problems, with an initial emphasis on synthetic intelligence and machine learning applications.”
Speaking of synthetic intelligence, the winter issue of H+ Magazine contains an article by Ben Goertzel where he discusses the possibility that the first artificial general intelligence will arise in China. The well-known AI researcher Hugo de Garis, who runs a lab in Xiamen in China, certainly believes that this will happen. In his words:
China has a population of 1.3 billion. The US has a population of 0.3 billion. China has averaged an economic growth rate of about 10% over the past 3 decades. The US has averaged 3%. The Chinese government is strongly committed to heavy investment into high tech. From the above premises, one can virtually prove, as in a mathematical theorem, that China in a decade or so will be in a superior position to offer top salaries (in the rich Southeastern cities) to creative, brilliant Westerners to come to China to build artificial brains — much more than will be offered by the US and Europe. With the planet‘s most creative AI researchers in China, it is then almost certain that the planet‘s first artificial intellect to be built will have Chinese characteristics.
Some other arguments in favor of this idea mentioned in the article are that “One of China‘s major advantages is the lack of strong skepticism about AGI resulting from past failures” and that China “has little of the West‘s subliminal resistance to thinking machines or immortal people”.
(By the way, the same issue contains a good article by Alexandra Carmichael on subjects frequently discussed on this blog. The most fascinating detail from that article, to me, was when she mentions “self-organized clinical trials“; apparently users of PatientsLikeMe with ALS had set up their own virtual clinical trial where some of them started to take lithium and some didn’t, after which the outcomes were compared.)
Finally, I thought this methodology for tagging images with your mind was pretty neat. This particular type of mind reading does not seem to have reached a high specificity and sensitivity yet, but that will improve in time.