JOHN MEANEY

9.3.16

DEEP THOUGHT

Today's AI news is that DeepMind's AlphaGo has won the first game against the Go world champion. As it happens, DeepMind's CEO gave a lecture at Oxford recently, and although I couldn't get there in person, the ubiquitous magic of tech allowed me to watch it streamed live. (I did manage to physically attend the first Ada Lovelace Memorial Lecture given by the awesome Barbara Liskov, a little while back.)

There's something missing from today's news reporting, which I happen to believe is significant.

Playing Go at this level requires a more "intuition"-based approach than chess, which is a significant difference between AlphaGo and Deep Blue (which beat the chess world champion back in the *gulp* last millennium). That's in the news reports, and correctly so.

The other distinction is that AlphaGo is not designed purely to play Go. It has learned the game, and an earlier project learned to play dozens of other games (all the old Atari games!), based only on an input of numbers, the ability to recognise patterns, and a goal of maximising its score. In other words, even that earlier software could adapt to a new game with new rules, something that DeepBlue could never achieve: it would require rewriting by its developers to cope with anything besides chess.

Although the overall constraint is game-playing, within that constraint the DeepMind AIs employ general learning algorithms (so-called "DQL"). And that, I suspect, is the most impressive part of all.

Meanwhile, I shouldn't be blogging... I've a book to write. Hence my vast silence for months now.

Cheers, all!

P.S. It belatedly occurs to me that my VERY FIRST STORY concerned an AI challenging its creator's father to a game of Go. That appeared just the other day, in 1992... Bloomin' heck!

24.10.15

FEELING LUCKY

Back in the day, top martial artists used to quote the golfer Tony Jacklin: "The harder I work, the luckier I get." It was a response to a spectator exclaiming that Jacklin's hole-in-one was lucky. Right...

For me it's right up there with Somerset Maugham's answer to the question of whether he wrote to a schedule or whenever inspiration struck. He said, "I write when inspiration strikes. Luckily, it turns up at nine o'clock every morning."

So here are some reasons I feel lucky right now. Random chance can strike anyone down at any time, and it plays a part in the good things also; but none of the things below happened without effort from me, apart from the last two.

  • I have a dojo in my back garden.
  • I spend at least half my life breathing fresh country air.
  • I eat healthful foods.
  • I have three new books in the works, at various stages.
  • I have eleven books already out there.
  • I gained my master's degree from Oxford.
  • I'm enjoying the heck out of minimalist shoe running.
  • Likewise my ongoing practice of dand-bethak and related calisthenics.
  • I was a member of Enoeda Sensei's dojo (a regular for 6 or 7 years, with visits thereafter).
  • Great people in my personal life.
  • Great people in my professional life. Both of my professions.
  • My parents loved me unconditionally.
  • They raised me in a country where the other things are possible.

Maybe the last two are a necessary precursor to the rest. Maybe not. People can work through all sorts of grief, can't they?

Why am I feeling in the mood for general gratitude? Dunno, but perhaps something Dr Ann Maria De Mars wrote in a recent post in her general blog had something to do with it, or perhaps the one in her stats & maths blog. Two of my regular reads.

From her latest post, following a sequence of links (as one does) brought me to this this great list of online educational resources. Of course, anyone reading this is likely to be pretty smart already, and familiar with a good percentage of the resources.

My preferred way of growing smarter involves reading actual books. Amazon is my friend. (Although Colm says: "More like the other way round, bro.") There are still things like writing code to do, or whatever is required to make use of the knowledge.

I've been thinking about ways to mix functional and object-oriented programming for some time. It's been a while since I learned a new programming language in depth, so I'm about to dive into Scala. I started a while back with the has-to-done first piece of code:

object HelloWorld {

   def main(args: Array[String]){
      println("Greetings, Cosmos!!!");
   }

}

Geek customs, eh? It's like wearing a gi to train in karate: traditional, provided you define a tradition as a practice that is decades (rather than centuries) old.

I guess tradition is a fashion that never went away. Those of us with beards are, of course, on the leading edge of fashion now. I wondered if it would happen in my lifetime...

14.9.15

BAD BLOGGER

Or consistent non-blogger... Six months absence is a bit too much. Sitrep: I've two (count 'em) books on offer to publishers right now. The cyber thriller is complete and pretty well polished, while the fantasy is a complete first draft. And I'm living in my other world, of computing (teaching high-profile technology grad programmes for Big Name Organisations), before returning to the fantasy.

The Class of 2015 from my long-term wonderful client were absolutely awesome, so a huge shout-out to The Thing, Groot, Star-Lord, Black Widow, The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Squirrel Girl and Harlequin. You were brilliant!

24.3.15

JOHN WICK

"He's not the boogeyman. He's the one you send to kill the f***ing boogeyman."

If you're in the mood for a stylish, violent revenge thriller, John Wick might be just the movie to watch. Strangely, the only Region 2 (European) DVD that I could order online was the Scandinavian version (which of course has the original English-language soundtrack included). It's the best thing I've seen Keanu Reeves in since Point Break.

He's also slated to play Barry Eisler's iconic assassin, John Rain, in a forthcoming TV series, with action stunts from the same guys that did John Wick. Let's hope the series goes ahead. At 50, Keanu Reeves is the same age as John Rain in the first novel. I hope it's successful.

13.3.15

SIR TERRY PRATCHETT, RIP