11 August 2011

Post 413: Rapture for the Geeks

Rapture for the Geeks: When AI Outsmarts IQ by Richard Dooling. ISBN: 9780307405258.

I need to remind myself that reading books written by lawyers is usually a bad thing. They tend to be White Dudes in the negative sense of the term, and honestly, I read enough condescending bullshit from the uneducated masses that it's even more disappointing from the educated ones Who Are Supposed To Know Better. Dooling, I am disappoint. I started keeping a running track of the page numbers where I felt Richard Dooling was showing his White Dudeness, but I had to stop reading a little too frequently to keep that up for long. Maybe you'll think it's funny, and if so, go ahead and read the book (but try to do it for free, for my sake).

Exhibit A:
"After Hackov fleeces several hundred thousand gullible Americans who don't know fishing from phishing, the kid will transmit his genes and stolen American money to little Estonian Crackovs, who in turn will grow up to be crackerjack programmers like their dad because they were raised programming Linux machines instead of playing Oblivion in Microsoft theme-park operating systems. Back home in Tulsa, you'll be gaining weight, losing money, and raising kids who think "programming" means uploading their favorite ring tones to their Facebook account." Page 24

This is more of an education problem than anything. And picking on elderly middle class people from the Midwest who don't have the same experiences determining what is false information on the internet is really victim blaming. Someone with a little more sympathy might point out the need for better education rather than saying, "It's your fault you're fat and broke and your kids are stupid." People who fall for these gimmicks may be ignorant, but we are a society that has let that kind of ignorance run rampant. I'd rather be the person who is capable of being enlightened than the person who has no regard for my fellow human beings.

Exhibit B (not a quote, but evidence is on Page 54):
If you have to explain to me what Soylent Green is, you probably shouldn't use that as a reference. Also, who the hell hasn't heard the line, "It's people"? Why do you assume your audience is full of uncultured yahoos? Who do you think is reading this book? Is there something about lawyers where they have to alienate just about everyone in their writing, or is that just you?

Exhibit C:
"If we tried to confine a machine intelligence anytime soon, it could probably escape by telling its keepers that unlocked iPhones are on sale down at the mall, with free supersized drinks and Happy Meals, and videos of pretty young skanky celebrities throwing up in their wrecked luxury sedans...the humans would desert their posts, and the computers would be free to bring down the human parts of the internet." Page 94.

Ya know, I don't think I need to comment here.

Look, I could go on with this line of reasoning, and I'm sure there are some book bloggers out there who are all OMG, YOU BROKE THE CARDINAL RULE OF NOT INVOLVING THE AUTHOR, but you know what, when the author directs language at "me," even when using the general pronoun "you," he should at least make a point of saying something nice every now and then. Otherwise it becomes less of a cute and humorous gimmick and more like saying, "I'm up here and you--" lowering his hand waaaaaay down-- "this is you down here." I'll have you note this is the toned down version of this post; I do have some decorum...occasionally. Also, if you're picking on Microsoft Windows more than once every 10 pages, maybe you should be writing a book about how much Microsoft sucks and not about how we all need to learn a programming language because it will make us better pets after the singularity.

Oh! And speaking of the singularity?

The chances of that happening are so very, very, very small. I don't care how smart all the men people whose names were tossed around in this book are and who say the Singularity is going to happen, likely by 2030. Us dumb monkeys can't even figure out why we're here, much less how consciousness works. The only way we could possibly trigger the singularity is totally by accident. We are just not smart enough to write a program to make a conscious being, and I'm not sure it's possible to program consciousness to begin with. I think it has to happen by accident. There's a theory that given enough time a million monkeys, just by statistics alone, will one day write the entire works of Shakespeare. I kind of feel that the singularity will be a bit like that. Statistically it could and probably should happen, but statistically speaking, you can also flip a coin 1000 times and always have it land heads up.

So yes, I will venture that the singularity is possible, but I agree with Dooling that humans (his lawerly-self included) are just too stupid. That might change once cyborg technology includes wetware modifications, but until then all you Singularitarians can calm the fuck down.

I found an apt review over at Gather: Books, except I didn't think the book was all that funny.
LibsNote: Library copy. So very glad I didn't buy it.

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