Little fanfare has been given to the story of a glitch in an experimental AI game from 2019, but the results seem rather poignant to me. To summarize, the AI decided that committing suicide at the beginning of the game was the best strategy because the game was too hard, and it meant fewer points off. For any kid growing up in the 80s, the idea of a computer learning the concept of futility should seem a rather significant accomplishment. The characteristic of learning futility had seemed exclusively a human trait to me that computers would never grasp, at least until I read this story. As the author of the piece put it, “it’s hard to predict what conditions matter and what doesn’t to a neural network”. Its implications in computer science are quite fascinating, though, and a good object lesson for those contemplating the Trolley Dilemma in technology.
The MIT Spam Conference concluded today with some great talks by various researchers in the field. I was particular sorry that I arrived late to miss Kathy Liszka’s talk on “Neural Networks for Image Spam”, as the tail end of it appeared very good. One thing I did notice that was quite refreshing about this year’s conference was that there were a few fresh faces, like Kathy, who were very passionate and enthusiastic about the subjects they were talking about, having an almost child-like giddiness (as in a “candy store” sort of way) zeal for what they were working on. It’s very hard to find people who have been in the field who still consider it that exciting, and these are the ones from whom the best technology typically emerges.
I was also honored with the award for “best overall paper” for the 2008 conference, which is available for download here, and is titled “Reasoning-Based Adaptive Parsing”. The presentation will be available on the conference website shortly. I’m glad people were so inspired by it. Hopefully, I provided enough of a solid level of technical content to help people realize that not all enterprise corporations are evil, secretive empires who engage academic conferences with brand whoredom on their mind.
The Spam Conference appears to be turning over a new leaf and returning to the academic field. Now that they’ve switched the cameras off and gotten rid of the press, the conference is beginning to feel like a true classroom experience once again. The “workshops”, which are really round-table type discussions, were intriguing, and the vendor whoredom was kept to a minimum. In addition to this, the first day of the conference was in a relatively small classroom, allowing for a more personal feel. I look forward to seeing how next year’s goes – hopefully it will continue in this direction.