A reflection on the state of chess and computers. Here is my favorite part:
The AI crowd, too, was pleased with the result and the attention, but dismayed by the fact that Deep Blue was hardly what their predecessors had imagined decades earlier when they dreamed of creating a machine to defeat the world chess champion. Instead of a computer that thought and played chess like a human, with human creativity and intuition, they got one that played like a machine, systematically evaluating 200 million possible moves on the chess board per second and winning with brute number-crunching force . . . .
It was an impressive achievement, of course, and a human achievement by the members of the IBM team, but Deep Blue was only intelligent the way your programmable alarm clock is intelligent. Not that losing to a $10 million alarm clock made me feel any better.
- For some related news: a few months ago MIT News had a piece announcing a new Artificial Intelligence project led by Marvin Minsky, among others. Finding the field of AI to be in stasis, the goal is to reinvigorate through a series of new problems to tackle. One of the most interesting and crucial of these is, " can the computer read, understand, and explain a children's book?"
- Brad DeLong summons from the archives (start reading after the bullet points) a discussion of a remarkable undergraduate thesis. (Probably not a remarkable finding in itself -- an interesting project would be to dig up famous academics' undergrad theses. They are probably in general much more interesting than most of what their tenured research careers have produced.)
- Deirdre McCloskey, a very good writer and economist (!), offers a personal account of the power of rhetoric in economic science. I thought this was an important and amusing look at the power (or lack thereof) of statistical significance in empirical tests. A good quote:
For one thing, I came to understand that the point of literary study is not merely to dole out stars for greatness. For another - you can see how it might be encouraged by an interest in the rhetoric of economics - I realised that literary, philosophical and narrative sciences (those sciences humaines) exhibit forms of knowledge not attainable by first-order predicate logic, or a system of axioms rich enough to contain arithmetic. For still another, I grasped that logics and axioms depend on such knowledge. And out of all this came the gobsmacking insight that language is more than the transmittal of bits of information. Language is a way of being human - the way of being human - a mobile army of metaphors (you might say).
- This Keynes quote has been floating around the blogosphere lately and I remember it being one of my favorites when I read it in my third semester of grad school. It is from John Maynard Keynes' General Theory of Employment, Interest Rates, and Money, and it discusses the powerful influence the classical school of economics must have had, prior to the 1930s, on everything from economic thought to policy:
It must have been due to a complex of suitabilities in the doctrine to the envi- ronment into which [classical economics] was projected. That it reached conclusions quite different from what the ordinary uninstructed person would expect added, I suppose, to its intellectual prestige. That its teaching, translated into practice, was austere and often unpalatable, lent it virtue. That it was adapted to carry a vast and logical superstructure, gave it beauty. That it could explain much social injustice and apparent cruelty as an inevitable incident in the scheme of progress, and the attemp to change such things as likely on the whole to do more harm than good, com- mended it to authority. That it afforded a measure of justification to the free activities of the individual capitalist, attracted to it the support of the dominant social force behind authority.
Finally, here is a great New Republic article criticizing American business schools for the country's inability to produce real goods in order to be more self-sufficient.