7 Quick Takes (1/20/11)

— 1 —

It’s almost time for my new distance learning CS courses from Stanford to start up (yay!), so I definitely want to lead off these quick takes by linking to Wired’s interview with Peter Norvig, who taught the AI course I took last term and works with Google to design self-driving cars.

Wired: [H]ow useful is the Turing test?

Norvig: I don’t like it that much, in part because I don’t care about the philosophy angle. I want to build something useful. We already know how to make humans; I made two of them.

I like his approach. The most exciting part of AI research to be the possibility of creating new kinds of intelligence, not just aping humans.  The goal of replicating human intelligence in machines interests me primarily because it leads to greater self-knowledge, especially of our biases and flaws.  You only really understand a concept if you can teach it to others, and it would take a pretty deep understanding of our thinking to be able to simulate it.


— 2 —

The most enjoyable article I read this week is probably “Prohibitions Premier Hooch Hounds” in the Smithsonian.  It’s a profile of two prohibition agents who dressed up in elaborate costume to set up stings for speakeasies.  (They’re the guys in both pictures above).  The article is chock-a-block with hilarious anecdotes, so I’ll just highlight one:

One of Izzy’s first assignments was to bust a Manhattan speakeasy that had a reputation for spotting revenue agents. With his badge affixed to his coat, he asked the proprietor, “Would you like to sell a pint of whiskey to a deserving Prohibition agent?”?

The bar owner laughed and served him a drink. “That’s some badge you’ve got there,” he said. “Where’d ya get it?”

“I’ll take you to the place it came from,” Izzy replied, and escorted the man to the station.

— 3 —

Next in the link round-up, two fabulous stories about the power of the language.  First, via Andrew Sullivan, an author who struggled with aphasia:

Oddly, it was often the most obscure words that were easiest to recover. He struggled with words like blanket or bed, or his wife’s name Diane, words that you would think over time should have seeped into his genes. Nevertheless, he could recruit words like postillion or tardigrades to get an idea across…

Deprived of the usual routes to language, and along with them, the common clichés that many of us struggle to shed, West bestowed on his wife exquisite pet names such as: My Little Bucket of Hair; Commendatore de le Pavane Mistletoe; Dark-Eyed Junco, My Little Bunko; Diligent Apostle of Classic Stanzas. And at one point, the man uttered what has to be the most searingly romantic sentence ever uttered in history, by anyone, in any language:

“You are the hapax legomenon of my life.”

— 4 —

Next up, from Helen’s Cigarette Smoking Blog, this ploy by Paul Linebarger:

While in Korea, Linebarger masterminded the surrender of thousands of Chinese troops who considered it shameful to give up their arms. He drafted leaflets explaining how the soldiers could come forward waving their guns and shouting Chinese words like “love,” “virtue” and “humanity” — words that just happened, when pronounced in the right order, to sound like “I surrender” in English. He considered this seemingly cynical act to be the single most worthwhile thing he had done in his life.

— 5 —

I quite enjoyed fantasy author Jim Hines trying to ape the cover art found in his section of the bookstore.  Of course, he could only get so close to the originals, since he has, you know, a spine, which makes it hard to contort into the positions taken by the characters.   You may also like Megan Rosalarian Gedris’s redrawing of comic book panels to put men in the ridiculous pin-up poses of superheroines:


— 6 —

Anyone who spends time in the Christian blogosphere probably has seen the “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” spoken word poem.  Here’s my favorite rebuttal (rapped by a college friend).

Antinomianism is a leech that will bleed ya.
(If you don’t know the meaning, look it up on Wikipedia.)

Jesus didn’t come to take away the Law, or kill it.
He honored the Old Testament, came to fulfill it.

Gnosticism reappears in every generation,
Misreading Paul, and preaching segregation

Between outer works and inward salvation,
Between the God of grace and the Demiurge of creation,

Saying, “Hey, I’m spiritual, but no, I’m not religious.”
Man, without a creed, it’s only superstitious.

This is totally my second favorite rap about comparative theology by someone I went to college with.

— 7 —

Because this is still my absolute favorite:


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