Category Archives: Science

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think – Hans Rosling

On piqd I found an interesting article on faz.de, the title “Die Welt wird immer besser: 32 gute Nachrichten” (in German). Maybe I’m an optimist, although I don’t really think so, just realist, but I really liked this article.

It appears to me that some media really live from “bad news”, like bad-news are good-news. Sometimes it feels like you really have to search for good news articles. For me, those 32 good news, were actually known, but still I hardly remember them and when reading daily news, the optimism is minimal.

In essence, that articles is a short-summary from the book “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling, who unfortunately died in February 2017. His last book was published post mortem recently in April 2018.

It appears to me that this book is well worth reading… chapter after chapter, after digesting the daily news and reset opinion.

If you can’t read that article on faz.net (as its in German) or if the article or the book are too long, I would recommend to watch this TED-Talk which takes only about 19 minutes, during which Hans Rosling summarizes a few of the facts in a very interesting way.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Predicting the Future of AI

This week, I read an article on the web-site of the German magazine Technology Review. I really liked the article because it summarizes nicely several things that I also believe. But it is not just a sceptical article, but written by an expert from the field with insight and thoughtful opinion and not just someone who publishes a rant on a hype topic.

Essay: Die sieben Todsünden der KI-Vorhersagen – Heise-Verlag / Technology Review (Germany)

Original Article: The Seven Deadly Sins of Predicting the Future of AI – by Rodney Brooks

A couple of personal thoughts on the topic: Intelligence in itself isn’t actually understood yet. This starts with the discussion around animals, and which ones are intelligent, or not, or which behaviour may be sign of intelligence or is rather a learned reaction to a specific cause or trigger.

Also Arthur C. Clarke wrote already many years back: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. What I mean here is that a lot of recent technology advancements in AI are certainly impressing, but in the end just “technology”. Assigning these things the label “intelligence” is just an opinion, which I personally would not agree to.

One specific aspect of the Essay is “exponentialism”. We human beings struggle to really get this aspect. When the chess computers were invented and finally even beat the world champion, the victory of AI was predicted very soon. What an over-estimation. But now again with AlphaGO, the same thing happens. I do certainly understand the advancement of this technology, but this machine can just play GO. Yes, it is “clever” enough to learn other board games, but just that. If we humans play a game and someone decides to slightly change a rule (like the many poker variants), we humans can easily adjust. The AlphaGO has to relearn and adapt in a very lengthy process. Human intelligence is exponentially above those technologies.

This makes it so hard for AI to survive in the real world… we humans don’t just follow rules, instead we are very creative in changing, adapting or breaking them all the time. Like in traffic… if you drive just 5km to work, you need to follow some, let’s say, 100 rules, easily. But if you watch very closely you will see that we also constantly break many of these rules. And humans can easily adjust to that behaviour, and still almost nothing happens. OK, almost. I am very sceptical if we will really see self-driving cars around in 5 years… and if, then only in controlled areas, e.g. highways.

But this specific example brings us to another aspect… the under-estimation, or more importantly, the expectations towards technology. The self-driving cars are expected to drive flawlessly. Guys, that will never happen. Of course the will be accidents caused by such cars. But then again: we humans are overall terrible drivers… in Germany 3.177 people died in 2017 in car accidents, no self-driving car around yet. Although this sounds just like inhuman statistics, the point will be if self-driving cars will cause less accidents than humans. And I guess this is a likely possibility… in several years … t.b.d.

In summary: I do certainly understand the advances in AI recently with automated machine learning etc., and I am fascinated by some of these technologies. But I’m far from a hype-state, thinking that humans will be 50% or even 80% “obsolete” in many areas like some people state. Maybe such a thing may happen in a distant future, but I would not bet on it. And I don’t believe this will be in the next 10 years, and likely not during my lifetime.

Why Germans Work Fewer Hours But Product More

If you work, like me, in a large international company and work with colleagues from many other countries, you are regularly confronted with the prejudice that Germans work so few hours and have so many holidays/vacation days.

Well, some of it is simply wrong (like having many public holidays, but thats a separate article), and then … could it be that this is part of why we are so productive? Because we really work, when we work?

Although this article is already from 2014, I just stumbled across it a few days ago when browsing some of the blogs that I follow:

Why Germans Work Fewer Hours But Produce More: A Study In Culture

Reading this takes you about 10 minutes or so … interestingly, the comments section below takes more than 90% of the web-page… some interesting stuff there also and the usual debate about “what is wrong” and “why its right”… didn’t read too much of it…

As I am German, I am by nature sceptical and do not have a tendency to be overly proud of myself or country. But I do think that some of that may be true… isn’t it?

Animals and the definition of intelligence

I think that many people too quickly come to believe that (some) animals are intelligen. Specifically pet-owners tend to believe that “their” special creature definitely must be intelligent.

I’m certainly not convinced. Some time I go I thought it is easy to tell which behaviour is intelligent, or not; but today I believe that objective criteria are hard to find. It may still be possible to argue specific behaviours or specific cases, but to instate objective criteria to decide in general about intelligence… seems to be hard or impossible.

And there are astonishing specific cases. You can see reports or videos where you really wonder: is this a fake with long and specific training of the animal; is it just coincidence; or is it a collection of very specific natural behaviour pattern, that put together create the impression of intelligent behaviour; or is it really Intelligence?

Currently I tend to think that a collection of thoroughly connected pieces of behaviour, you can call it evolution of behavioural patterns, combined together … can create the impression of intelligent behaviour. But it’s not necessarily intelligence. But I would not be sure enough to rule it out.

In any case, it is a very interesting topic and fun to watch…