Wednesday, December 26, 2007

mind's eye

When I imagine something (with my eyes closed, before I fall asleep but after I have started the process of trying to) I see it in my "mind's eye." But I'm not able to reproduce it exactly. It reappears from different perspectives, at different scales, sometimes overlapping or changing but rarely in motion: more like a series of slides projected irregularly onto the screen. Edges are fairly clear, colors and shades not very clear. The speed at which these images are generated based on my effort to direct them is astonishing, compared to how long it would take to create a similar image by hand, or in Photoshop. In the background, dark blue afterimage-like flashes play against a dark grey surface.
Here I have tried to render the image from yesterday's entry as I might picture it in my mind's eye. I am restricted by the format to a rectangular still image. It ought to be rotated at some odd angle and distorted in scale, but I left these things alone so that it can be more easily compared with the image below. It also ought to be darker than is shown here, but even as it is you may need to adjust your monitor to see it at all. Also, the edges are usually lighter than the background, rather than darker as shown here. I'd be interested in hearing if other people's experience of the "mind's eye" is similar, or seeing their attempt at an accurate (rather than poetic) representation.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Lego robot

This is a robot I made yesterday.


Merry Christmas! I just wanted to point you to some news I was excited about a few days back: Nanosolar has begun shipping their solar panels. This is exciting because their panels are printed using a printing press. This means that they are inexpensive to produce: they estimate when things really get rolling, it could drop as low as 30 cents per watt.
Nanosolar's press release

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sludge Transform

I watched this video in open mouthed astonishment. Every time I thought it couldn't get any better, it got better. The velociraptor puppets are inspired. The dinosaur motions look incredibly real-- and yet in a way, it's better than if they were real dinosaurs because they're robot dinosaurs.
The puppeteering is so good it's almost a shame the surface detail is so realistic. Just like you wouldn't color a work of origami, or the pop-ups of Rabert Sabuda, showing the underlying structure would only make these costumes more beautiful.

Making of the Dubai dinosaur park


Wednesday, December 19, 2007


This is a recent reconstruction of one of the largest winged reptiles. The paleontologist believes that it could run on four limbs and fly from a running start. He estimates the weight at 250kg.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Why Computers Can't Feel Pain

Mark Bishop is one of the few defenders of the thesis that computationalism is false. "Computationalism" is the idea that if you created a computer that accurately reproduced the calculations performed in your brain as you experience color, the computer would actually see color-- that is, have a subjective experience of color. The computer would be a conscious observer.
He points out how this leads to panpsychism: the idea that everything is conscious, including rocks. If you want to avoid panpsychism, you have to also give up the idea that mere computation is responsible for conscious experience.

Why Computers Can't Feel Pain

Monday, December 17, 2007

Unusual categories

In English, we can't say "two breads" unless we mean two types of bread. We have to say "two slices of bread" or "two loaves of bread." Sometimes this gets a little strange, like "two pairs of pants" or "two pairs of glasses" where it would be impossible to have one pant or glass.

In Japanese, it gets a lot strange. Here are a few counter words in Japanese:
chō 挺 Guns, sticks of ink, palanquins, rickshaws, violins
hai 杯 Cups and glasses of drink, spoonfuls, cuttlefish, octopuses, crabs, squid, abalone, boats
chō 丁 Tools, scissors, saws, trousers, pistols, cakes of tofu, town blocks
hon 本 Long, thin objects, rivers, roads, ties, pencils, bottles, guitars, telephone calls, movies
ki 基 Graves, wreaths, CPUs, reactors, elevators, dams
men 面 Mirrors, boards for board games (chess, Igo, Shogi), stages of computer games, walls of a room, tennis courts
wa 羽 Birds, rabbits (because of their ears);

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Leibniz and the beginnings of AI

I had to take a little break from posting for a couple of reasons: the application process for graduate school and my laptop dying the true and final death (as opposed to a blue screen, which is more akin to a fainting spell). (Those also are the reasons for the postponement of the email game, if you were wondering.) But the application was marked complete as of yesterday.

Also, I've been outlining a book. The book would be nonfiction, nominally about toys and games, but wandering off into the same kinds of topics this blog normally covers, i.e. anything that strikes my fancy. More specifically AI and philosophy.

Here is the list of chapters I've come up with:

pop-up books
war games/RPGs

So I was researching pop-up books, and thought you might like to read some of my notes for the chapter.

The first paper engineering was in a book by Ramon Llull. It was designed to be a machine for thinking, an artificial intelligence. Borges points out that "in mere lucid reality... [it is not] capable of thinking a single thought, however rudimentary or fallacious... For us, that fact is of secondary importance. The perpetual motion machines depicted in sketches that confer their mystery upon the pages of the most effusive encyclopedias don't work either, nor do the metaphysical and theological theories that customarily declare who we are and what manner of thing the world is. Their public and well known futility does not diminish their interest."
It consisted of a stack of three concentric disks, of successively smaller size, which could be spun freely. Around the edges of each disk were sixteen terms, which combined made various phrases. By rotating the disks, it was possible to make all possible phrases combining those terms.

Four hundred years later, in the late 1600s, the mechanism fascinated Leibniz, who recognized that while Llulls's choice of terms was capricious and his execution of the idea simplistic, the idea of a machine for performing reasoning by mechanical combinatoric means was not, in itself, unreasonable. Beginning at age 12, he started work on this project which was always the closest to his heart, though it went uncompleted at his death.

The project consisted of a few parts, any one of which would be ambitious:
1. An ontology which contains all concepts expressible by language. An ontology can be thought of as a kind of dictionary, in which all ideas are defined by simpler ideas, until we reach the simplest concepts, the alphabet of thought. (Such an ontology is at the heart of the CYC artificial intelligence project and the Semantic Web.)
2. A simplification and making precise of grammar. Adverbs would be reduced to adjectives, which in turn would become nouns. Verbs would also be reduced to their -ing or noun form. Gender, declension, and so forth would be eliminated.
3. Every simple concept would be represented by an ideogram, a picture that would be immediately intuitive.
This Characteristica universalis would be the perfect language.
"Thus the name of each thing (or, rather, of each idea) would express its definition, and as all the properties of a thing follow logically from its definition, the name of a thing will be the key to all its properties. This does not prevent the same thing from having several other names, insofar as it possesses different properties. However, there will be one that is the key to all the others: the one that expresses the complete reduction of the idea into simple elements. All this is explained by the combinatory, which always serves as a basis for the characteristic: the formula of a concept that is in any way complex can be reduced to "factors" in a variety of ways, but there is only one reduction to "prime factors," that is, to simple elements, and it is the latter that serve as the foundation and explanation of the others.

"Such a nomenclature, in which the name of each thing (or idea) would be an adequate and transparent symbol for it and, as it were, its description or logical portrait, would clearly constitute a sort of natural language, such as Plato dreamed of in the Cratylus. It would be the Adamic language, as it was called by mystics, that is, the nomenclature that, according to Hebraic legend, the first man established in the terrestrial paradise and which men spoke until the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel (The Logic of Leibniz by Louis Couturat, Chapter 3)."

"Leibniz thought that this supposedly primitive language was certainly unknown to us (Phil., VII, 205). Hermann von der Hardt asked him if the Adamic language was not Hebrew (Dutens, VI.2, 225). Leibniz replied, "Saying that the Hebrew language is primordial is the same as saying that the trunks of trees are primordial"; and he added that the only question is to know whether Hebrew is closer than the others to their common root, otherwise unknown, and that this would be the work of comparative philology (Leibniz to Tenzel, Dutens, VI.2, 232) (The Logic of Leibniz by Louis Couturat, footnote 107)."

"In Sections V and VI of his Discourse on Metaphysics, Leibniz asserts that God simultaneously maximizes the variety, diversity and richness of the world, and minimizes the conceptual complexity of the set of ideas that determine the world. And he points out that for any finite set of points there is always a mathematical equation that goes through them, in other words, a law that determines their positions. But if the points are chosen at random, that equation will be extremely complex ("Epistemology as Information Theory: From Leibniz to Ω," by Gregory Chaitin)."

4. There would be logical operations to act on these symbols, an algebra for logic. This idea was carried forward and eventually became the "For all" "There exists" "The union of" logical operators we use today for mathematics, philosophy, and AI.

5. There would be a mechanical system to perform these logical operations.

The overall system is a familiar one. English, a natural language, is translated into a precise language with simplified grammar and limited vocabulary. This in turn is transformed into binary notation (which Leibniz also invented for this purpose) and fed into a device which performs logical operations on it. The result is that processes which were previously performed by human thought (arithmetic, proofs, if/then statements) are performed automatically. He suggested that "all disputes could one day be settled with the words 'Gentlemen, let us compute!'"