Monday, June 3, 2019

To AI or Not and Yes, I Do Talk To My Alexa

Indeed. I do. I have two. One in the living room I call Echo. I called it Alexa until I got my second to avoid confusion if one heard me addressing the other (that was weird), and I tried Computer but Echo is shorter. The one in the bedroom I call, Alexa. You have three name choices sadly, one voice, one accent. The name Echo is kind of weird.

But this talking to an inanimate object isn't something new for me. Years ago I was with a somewhat new friend and after we were together a few hours she said, "You spent a lot of time alone as a child, didn't you." Indeed, I did. I had to find ways to entertain myself. It wasn't great back then many times when I wished I had a friend. But it gave me a lot of imagination and creativity and it's paid off in a way that is neverending.

IF you can talk to yourself and learn something, you can talk to a "smart speaker" and learn. Or exponentially more so, with an "AI".

First wave Internet AI
I also dabbled in AI in the late 80s. Used to talk to ELIZA on the internet through its various incarnations and versions:

"ELIZA's key method of operation (copied by chatbot designers ever since) involves the recognition of clue words or phrases in the input, and the output of corresponding pre-prepared or pre-programmed responses that can move the conversation forward in an apparently meaningful way (e.g. by responding to any input that contains the word 'MOTHER' with 'TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY').[9] Thus an illusion of understanding is generated, even though the processing involved has been merely superficial. ELIZA showed that such an illusion is surprisingly easy to generate, because human judges are so ready to give the benefit of the doubt when conversational responses are capable of being interpreted as "intelligent".-Wikipedia

I also talked to my dog. I talked at times to the air walking down the street. Or to a wall. You are you, talking to you, to be sure. But you CAN learn things. Once I discovered that it opened many doors and windows for me. When I was a kid someone heard me talking to myself. Really, I was just bored and muttering aloud what I was thinking.

Still, they said, "You can't learn anything if you talk to yourself." I thought, really? I wonder. So I actually tried it.

Why? I'm not nuts, actually. When I was a kid, I had to learn to play chess alone because no one was interested. Surely not as much as I wanted to play it. I've blogged about this before, how I did it and all. It took time but I learned to take both sides, try not to know, or use info on what the "other" side was thinking. And so I applied this to talking to myself as if I were two people with two orientations. Basically just picking an orientation and then taking the devil's advocate POV. And just go at it.

That first time I tried that I was stunned. Because I realized, I actually did learn something from it. that person was wrong. You CAN learn something by talking to oneself. Now understand, you CAN. But you also, can NOT. After all, it depends on what you are doing, what your goal is and how you go about it.

Years ago I read something a famous philosopher who said that it doesn't even take two people to have a valid and productive discussion. So I tried it. And again, I learned from it.

It's important that we ask questions. But it's also important when we don't. Not when you can work out the answer yourself anyway. If that is the case, in asking a question that you can actually answer yourself simply by accessing long term memory, or by analyzing the concept at hand, then you're just wasting another's time by asking them for the answer. It's lazy.

Now you could say, "But what if I just want to hear another's perspective, what answer(s) they came up with. That's valid too. But, you have to first know what YOU think the answer is before you ask another. Otherwise, you rob yourself of the exercise and weaken your own mind. But answering the question first yourself it's like doing pushups. IF you always ask someone else to exercise for you, how does that make you stronger? People don't always think about that. That in doing, you are enhancing.

Now that is different from another concept I believe in. "Being lazy." For that concept is different. I tend to go about my life in what I see (perhaps somewhat humorously) as being lazy. I've gotten some interesting comments in the past from coworkers and even a spouse on this. They would say that I never seem like I'm busy, or that I don't seem to work that hard and yet, as they claimed (and it was true) I always seemed to get a lot of work done. In many cases in multiples of what others were doing in the same or similar efforts. To be sure many times I was doing twice or more the workload of others in my department or area, or team.

I came to realize that was because of a few things. I was told in twelfth grade that I need to get my anxiety levels down because of my childhood and family life being stressful for me. Mostly because of my step-father, family dynamics and our parent's relationship. I had to learn to be relaxed, not be a Type A personality, not be a perfectionist as I was. So I studied that. Found Asian philosophies I had first learned in martial arts in grade school. Found Buddhism, and TM and all kinds of information. This being in the early 70s. Eventually, I turned into that person people found difficult to understand in how relaxed I usually was.

There was another reason for that. I started being "on call" in the late 1970s in the USAF. We were on call for nuclear war (I worked at a SAC base supporting B-52s and nuclear weapons). I found that morally and ethically difficult to deal with back then. I found it stressful. It was hard to get through but I did well. I received commendations for my work, a Good Conduct medal and other benefits.

When I got out, years later I worked in IT at Unversity of Washington Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Later, I was in IT at various places like UW West Technologies and then eventually retired from a large health insurance company.

When I first got to that last company, there was a day when things were going very wrong at work. Some system broke or something, I don't ever remember. But I do remember one woman coming up to be and asking me how I could be so calm when everyone was freaking out so much and we were in such a dire situation.

I thought about it and my mind shot back through my past and I asked her, "Is anyone dying?" She got an odd look on her face and said, "No. Why?" Then I told her about my USAF and Hospital jobs. I explained to her that since we weren't about to go to nuclear war, since no patients would actually die because of a mistake I made in IT, this? Was a cake walk. I couldn't be happier here. Right now. We'll fix it. It will be OK. Then we'll address the next "dire issue" when it arises. I think that actually calmed HER down some too.

Getting back to what I was saying before, I discovered in 10th grade in high school that I kept asking questions. Discovered it, not so much. It was blatantly pointed out to me one day in class. The teacher at some point, though I was being a bit of a smart ass, politely asked me if I was just asking to be asking. I thought about it and said, "No, I seriously want to know these answers." The teacher was a pretty great teacher.

They said, "Okay then, if you really want answers, talk to me after class. Because now we're taking up everyone's time for you to get your answers. And some of those answers, if you just have patience, you'll learn in the course of our classroom time today. And what you don't, you may just find out if you allow yourself to think about it, to discover the answers by yourself. For yourself."

Okay, seemed fair. So I shut up. And they were correct. Over the next fifteen minutes or so, I did discover all the answers to my questions from what I heard in class, from our interaction with the class, and from my own deductions. I could indeed, think.

Pretty damn cool! Again doors and windows into intellect were being opened for me.

What I did discover in the future, in college, however, was that if I did ask questions in class, many times they were the same questions others had. I could see it in some of the student's faces when I'd asked a "stupid" question. I could see in turning back and looking over my classmates, a look of appreciation and relief someone else asked the question.

Some of these classes and professors were very high level and very intimidating to put yourself out there on the line, to perhaps been seen as ignorant. I felt that way my first month or so of college but eventually got over it and got brave enough, once I got into the swing of things. to take the risks.

As I'd learn so much and when you asked the question, you could direct the next question perhaps into a more interesting question and answers than others in the class might delay knowledge, dragging the class into areas uninteresting or banal. IF I controlled the next question, we had a better chance, as I discovered, of going into deeper and more complex issues.

I also realized I had a responsibility, to the class, and to the professor. It only took my abusing this situation once or twice in the beginning, to have a professor, as my high school teacher had done, to intellectually swat me down like a fly. The professors didn't suffer fools. And I did my best not to be a fool. And it paid off immensely.

Some students didn't want to ask questions because of that. It could at times, be brutal. Some wanted to ask but didn't care as long as their question got asked and answered and I felt the same. As long as anyone asked my question, great!

Eventually, I started to realize that I was asking questions others weren't even thinking of and they were happy to hear them (and in some cases felt relieved, these were difficult, but challenging classes as I said). Then after class somestimes, they'd come up to me and thank me for taking the chance of asking, or we'd continue the conversation between the two, or three or four of us and all learn even more. Sometimes leading us tot he professors office for more questions. That was also something I discovered was invaluable. A professor's office time. It is a benefit many did not avail themselves of.

I know those things as I said because we were all friendly after and out of class and everyone had the same orientation: To Learn. It didn't matter who or how we got answers, as long as we were absorbing as much knowledge as we could. I felt the same when someone else took the lead, or if I was having an off day and wasn't tracking that well that day. It's not about ego. It's about answers and exploring topics, especially ones I found fascinating. Something I found I could manage somewhat in the classes I chose to take.

It was an exhilarating environment, being at university. One that hurt not having it after graduation. Few jobs are ever like that. Few have that kind of drive and fascination toward the Truth or the group motivation, that thirst for knowledge.

The university environment can be intoxicating. It's a protected environment. Contrary to common belief, it's not about grades but learning. Though not all see it that way. You could see them striving for straight A's and not necessarily learning all that much.

So, what the hell is my point and what about talking to my Alexa, or an AI (or myself)?

My point is, it's all about what you make it about. What you want to get out of anything. What you can get out of even the banalest situations or the dumbest question, or the most boring person.

IF you direct the path you are on, you can learn, and sometimes, the amazing happens, and they learn something.

You can learn from talking to a wall, literally. And you can learn talking to an AI.

Am I polite to my AI? (OK, Alexa sadly, certainly ISN'T an AI, but you will sooner than you think, be talking to one, or many). So yes, I talk to my dog like it's human and do not expect it to be. As well I talk to my smart speaker, or an AI as if it were a human. We are creatures of habit and I'd not like to think that my being succinct or rude to an AI or smart speaker or pet, could make me more than way to other people. Especially, people, I see once in my life and move on.

What I do, do, is understand it is NOT human (yet?). I do not get emotionally involved with the inanimate. Maybe one day we can and will. IF one gets to anthropology an inanimate, a process, one is setting oneself up for some serious emotional or psychological issues.

IF your AI (or smart speaker) breaks, should you feel as you would if your favorite pet, or a loved one dies? Well, you can feel bad to be sure as it breaks connections in one's mind. But keep it reasonable. And many times we may be able to run a backup into a new device and reclaim exactly what was lost. In that case, was it the device, or the intellectual property you built with it over time that is most important?

That may not always be the case. One day we may be able to get back a loved one who is merely a copy and no, that is not the same as the original.

And yet, that too may one day becomes a moot point.

Humanity is on a path into the future and a journey. And it is about to get interesting, very interesting indeed.

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