OT?: AI, learning networks and pattern recognition (was: Apples actual response to the Flash issue)

Ian Wood revlist at azurevision.co.uk
Mon May 3 00:27:55 EDT 2010

Now we're getting somewhere that actually has some vague relevance to  
the list.

On 2 May 2010, at 22:39, Randall Reetz wrote:

> I had assumed your questions were rhetorical.

If I ask the same questions multiple times you can be sure that  
they're not rhetorical.

> When I say that software hasn't changed I mean to say that it hasn't  
> jumped qualitative categories.  We are still living in a world where  
> computing exists as pre-written and compiled software that is  
> blindly executed by machines and stacked foundational code that has  
> no idea what it is processing, can only process linearly, all  
> semantics have been stripped, it doesn't learn from experience or  
> react to context unless this too has been pre-codified and frozen in  
> binary or byte code, etc. etc etc.  Hardware has been souped up.  So  
> our little wrote tricks can be made more elaborate within the  
> substantial confines mentioned.  These same in-paradigm restrictions  
> apply to both the software users slog through and the software we  
> use to write software.
> As a result, these very plastic machines with mercurial potential  
> are reduced to simple players that react to user interrupts.  They  
> are sequencing systems, not unlike the lead type setting racks of  
> Guttenburg-era printing presses.  Sure we have taught them some  
> interesting seeming tricks – if you can represent something as  
> digital media, be it sound, video, multi-dimentional graph space,  
> markup – our sequencer doesn't know enough to care.

So for you, for something to be 'revolutionary' it has to involve a  
full paradigm shift? That's a more extreme definition than most people  

> Current processors are capable of 6.5 million instructions per  
> second but are used less than a billionth of available cycles by the  
> standard users running standard software.

 From a pedantic, technical point of view, these days if the processor  
is being used that little then it will ramp down the clock speed,  
which has some environmental and practical benefits in itself. ;-)

> As regards photo editing software, anyone aware of the history of  
> image processing will recognize that most of the stuff seen in  
> photoshop and other programs was proposed and executed on systems  
> long before some guys in france democratized these algorithms for  
> consumer use and had their code acquired by adobe.  It used to be  
> called array arithmetic and applied smoothly to images divided up  
> into a grid of pixels.  None of these systems "see" an image for its  
> content except as an array of numbers that can be crunched  
> sequentially like a spread sheet.
> It was only when object recognition concepts were applied to photos  
> that any kind of compositional grammar could be extracted from an  
> image and compared as parts to other images similarly decomposed.   
> This is a form of semantic processing and has its parallels in other  
> media like text parsers and sound analysis software.

You haven't looked up what content-aware fill *is*, have you? It's  
based on the same basic concepts of pattern-matching/feature detection  
that facial recognition software is based on but with a different  

To paraphrase, it's not facial recognition that you think is the only  
revolutionary feature in photography in twenty years, it's pattern- 
matching/detection/eigenvectors. A lot of time and frustration would  
have been saved if you'd said that in the first place.

> Semantics opens the door to the building of systems that  
> "understand" the content they process.  That is the promised second  
> revolution in computation that really hasn't seen any practical  
> light of day as of yet.

You're jumping too many steps here - object recognition concepts are  
in *widespread* use in consumer software and devices, whether it's the  
aforementioned 'focus-on-a-face' digital cameras, healing brushes in  
many different pieces of software, feature recognition in panoramic  
stitching software or even live stitching in some of the new Sony  

Semantic processing of content doesn't magically enable a computer to  
initiate action.

> Data mining really isn't semantically mindful, simply uses  
> statistical reduction mechanisms to guess at the existence of the  
> location of pattern ( a good first step but missing the grammatical  
> hierarchy necessary to work towards a self optimized and domain  
> independent ability to detect and represent salience in the stacked  
> grammar that makes up any complex system.

Combining pattern-matching with adaptive systems, whether they be  
neural networks or something else is another matter - but it's been a  
long hard slog to find out that this is what you're talking about.

Adaptive systems themselves are also quite widespread by now, from  
Tivos learning what programmes you watch to predictive text on an  
iPhone, from iTunes 'Genius' playlists & recommendations through to  
Siri (just bought up by Apple, as it happens).

> Such systems will need to work all of the time.  ALL OF THE TIME!   
> Only pausing momentarily to pay attention to our interactions as  
> needed.  Once they are running, these systems will subsume all of  
> the manual activity we have been made to perform to this day.  Think  
> "fly by wire" for processing.

That's a really REALLY bad analogy. FBW is a pilot-initiated control  
system. It's smaller/lighter (the initial reason for it's use) and it  
reacts to changes faster than the pilot can to stop stalls etc, in a  
similar way to ABS systems in a car reducing the chances of a skid. It  
doesn't *initiate* anything in itself, it's 'just' a moderated control/ 
feedback system.

> Gone is the need to discreetly encode every single bit in exactly  
> the only possible sequence.

This sentence makes no sense. Did you mean 'process' rather than  

> What it means is the difference between writing a letter and our  
> computer interceding by understanding the meta-intent of the wrote  
> and inefficient processes we engage in today – what are letters  
> for?  What resources is this user or entity after and why?  Who has  
> those resources?  Whom of those who have the desired resources need  
> something that we might have in exchange?  How are the vectors of  
> intent among all entities entangled and grouped and how can our  
> systems work towards the optimization of this global intent matrix?

I like William Gibson or Stuart & Cohen as much as the next SF fan,  
but again you're taking too many steps at once.

Emergent behaviour from a complex system (such as bypassing letter  
writing by finding another way of communicating or reason for doing  
things) is *emergent behaviour* - by definition you can't predict what  
form it will take and you can't *plan* for it. You can't even plan  
that it will *happen*.

In the same way, setting up a protocol for a network doesn't let you  
predict that most internet traffic some years later will be via  
Facebook or MMORPGs.

> So, when I use the word "revisionist" I am calling attention to the  
> old sheep dressed up in new clothing but still being sheep.

Having now looked in a number of dictionaries on and offline, I stand  
with Richmond's response. In common usage it's a word with very  
specific connotations and they aren't ones that people associate with  
software. With Steve Jobs, perhaps, but not with software. ;-)

> Software feature creep is not really evolving software.

That's a matter of definition. Within the photography field, apps like  
Aperture and LightRoom have had huge impacts on people's ways of  
working (often making whole suites of other apps redundant in one go),  
looking at a wider field the explosion of geolocation features and  
services has revolutionised mobile devices and our interactions with  
them, multi-touch devices are giving us new ways to physically  
interact with computing systems.

> That the jump is so long in coming is understandable.  It is easy to  
> send a punch card through a machine and have it react accordingly  
> every time.  The jump from wrote execution of static code to self  
> aware semantically self optimized pattern engines is a big big big  
> jump.  But it isn't as big as it might at first seem.  It is  
> happening.  It will happen.  And computing will finally result in  
> the kind of substantial increase in productivity that its expense  
> requires.

1. Much of what you're talking about as a final aim is emergent  
behaviour - you *can't* predict what will or won't happen, or when.

2. We've already been through the substantial increases in  
productivity that the expense of computing requires. Increased  
productivity isn't the problem - *expected* productivity is the  
problem because it automatically increases as productivity increases.

3. Adaptive systems don't just happen. They need to be trained, and  
for the level of abstraction you're talking about they have to be  
trained *a lot*. From a pragmatic point of view, much of that  
increased productivity will be swallowed up by learning to be a good  
system trainer, in the same way that certain types of information  
research have been vastly increased via the net, only to be swallowed  
up in learning to use search engines efficiently and learning how to  
winnow out all the chaff.

4. The level of independent action you appear to be happy with in a  
computer gives most people the screaming heebie-jeebies and flashbacks  
to "I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that".

5. Most importantly, your entire body of communications on the list  
appears to miss out a vital step - how do adaptive systems magically  
morph into systems capable of initiating actions without user or  
programmer input? I'm uncomfortably reminded of S. Harris's 'then a  
miracle occurs' cartoon. :-(

6. On a slightly more tongue-in-cheek note, enjoy the minutes between  
the first ubiquitous 'self aware semantically self optimized pattern  
engine' and dying/transcending/experiencing "It's life Jim, but not as  
we know it" in the ensuing technological singularity. ;-)


P.S. It's 'rote', not 'wrote'. I know it's just a typo, but it's one  
that drastically alters some of your sentences.

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