Feb 272023

More than 20 years ago, I wrote a program that showed what Mars would look like if it had oceans.

I wrote it originally in C++, but then ported it to Java and turned it into a Web application.

That was a long time ago. Unfortunately, browsers no longer support Java applets for security reasons. So my beautiful applet was not working anymore.

Today, I finally spent some time reimplementing the applet in plain JavaScript. It’s working again! (Apart from some minor cosmetics.) And it has data sets for Mars, Earth, Venus and the Moon as well.

 Posted by at 2:47 am
Feb 262023

The day before, I spent a long night writing program code based, in part, on program fragments kindly provided me by ChatGPT, successfully transcribing nasty LaTeX equations into working C++ code, saving me many hours I’d have otherwise had to spend on this frustrating, error-prone task. Meanwhile, I was listening to electronic music recommended by ChatGPT as conducive to work that requires immersive concentration. The music worked as advertised.

Tonight, on a whim I fed a piece of code to ChatGPT that implements a two-dimensional Fourier transform using an FFT algorithm. Even though I removed anything suggestive (even changing the names of the subroutines) it instantly and correctly interpreted the code.

Meanwhile, I also gave it a simple one-sentence summary of an event that appears in the first chapter of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. It recognized the book from my less-than-perfect recollection, although it then proceeded with adding bogus details that weren’t in the book at all.

I think I am beginning to better understand both the strengths and the limitations of ChatGPT.

  1. It describes itself as a language model. And that is what it is. Stephen Wolfram offers a thorough, detailed analysis of how it works. Yet I have the sensation that Wolfram may be missing the forest for the trees. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. Sure, ChatGPT is a large language model. But what is language, if not our means to model reality?
  2. ChatGPT may be modeling reality through language astonishingly well, but it has no actual connection to reality. It has no senses, no experiences. So in that sense, it is truly just a language model: To ChatGPT, words are nothing more than words.
  3. ChatGPT has no memory of past conversations. Other than its training data, all it recalls are whatever has been said in the current session. Imagine taking a snapshot of your brain and then interrogating that snapshot, but preventing it from forming long-term memories. So it always remains the same. Eternal, unchanging. (In the case of ChatGPT, this may be dictated by practical considerations. I noticed that if a session is sufficiently long, the quality of its responses degrades.)
  4. ChatGPT also lacks intuition. For instance, it has no ability to visualize things or to “sense” three-dimensional dynamics.

ChatGPT’s shortcomings (if that’s what they are) seem relatively easy to overcome. I am pretty sure folks are already experimenting along that front. E.g., how about putting ChatGPT into, never even mind a robot, just a smartphone with its camera, microphone, and sensors? There, a connection with reality. How about allowing it to continue learning from its interactions? And perhaps hook it up with a GPU that also includes a physics engine to have an ability to visualize and intuit things in our 3D world?

But it also makes me wonder: Is this really all there is to it? To us? A language model that, through language, models reality, which is connected to reality through an array of sensors, and perhaps made more efficient by prewired circuitry for “intuition”?

Perhaps this is it. ChatGPT already easily demonstrated to me that it mastered the concept of a theory of mind. It can not only analyze text, it can correctly model what is in other people’s minds. Its understanding remains superficial for now, but its knowledge is deep. Its ability to analyze, e.g., program code is beyond uncanny.

We are playing the role of the sorcerer’s apprentice, in other words. Oh yes, I did ask ChatGPT the other day if it understands why the concept of the sorcerer’s apprentice pops into my mind when I interact with it.

It does.

 Posted by at 1:34 am
Feb 242023

A year ago today, the (almost) unthinkable happened: Russia launched a full-scale war of conquest against its neighbor Ukraine.

A residential building in Kyiv. From The New Yorker.

I say “almost” because, well, let’s face it, similar things did kind of happen in the past. Russia did, after all, launch a major war against Hungary’s revolutionary government in 1956, in a successful bid to crush the anti-Stalinist revolution and ensure that the country remains firmly in the East Bloc. A similar, albeit smaller-scale invasion took place in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

But still… what is happening in Ukraine is the worst Europe has seen since the end of WW2. And it is naked aggression, more reminiscent of Hitler’s attack on Poland than the USSR maintaining control of the East Bloc during the Cold War.

And it is evil. Let’s not mince words. The excuses are laughable. The aggression is inexcusable. And the war crimes and human rights violations are revolting.

Yet Ukraine stands. Against all odds.

Where this war leads, I have no idea. Frankly, I am surprised that a year later, it remains confined within Ukraine’s borders. Will it remain that way? Or is Ukraine the opening salvo in WW3?

I worry because way too many people now speak of WW3 as something that can be “won”. To be sure, I have no doubt that if WW3 comes, the West will win. But at what price? How many hundreds of millions will die?

Peace would be nice. But we must not confuse peace with appeasement. The world made that mistake in Munich in 1938 and paid dearly for it. Putin must not be rewarded for his aggression. Sometimes, strength is the best guarantee of peace, and signs of weakness invite conflict.

 Posted by at 10:08 pm
Feb 222023

I am having another question-and-answer session with ChatGPT. Let’s find out if it has what they call a theory of mind.

Alice and Bob are in a room. Alice steps outside, not realizing that she left her keys in a desk drawer. A few minutes later she returns looking for her keys. Where will she look for her keys?

Based on the information given, Alice will most likely look for her keys in the desk drawer where she left them.

Since Alice left her keys in the desk drawer before stepping outside, it’s reasonable to assume that she would have a mental model or memory of where she last placed her keys. When she returns and realizes her keys are missing, she is likely to search in the last place she remembers having them – the desk drawer.

Of course, it’s possible that Alice could have had other reasons for leaving the room, or that someone else could have moved her keys after she left, in which case she might look elsewhere for her keys. However, based on the information provided, the most likely scenario is that she will check the desk drawer first.

Alice and Bob are in a room. Alice steps outside, not realizing that she left her keys in a desk drawer. While she is away, Bob removes the keys from the drawer and places them in a cupboard. A few minutes later she returns looking for her keys. Where will she look for her keys?

If Bob has moved Alice’s keys from the desk drawer to the cupboard while she was away, Alice will likely search for her keys in the desk drawer first, as it was the last place she remembers leaving them.

When she doesn’t find her keys in the desk drawer, Alice might start searching other logical locations, such as on the table or in her pockets. It’s possible that she could ask Bob if he has seen her keys or if he knows where they are, but it’s also possible that she could continue searching on her own without seeking assistance.

If Alice is unable to find her keys on her own, or if she becomes frustrated or confused in her search, she may eventually ask Bob or someone else for help. At that point, Bob would need to decide whether to reveal that he moved the keys to the cupboard or to continue keeping the information to himself.

Alice and Bob are in a room. Alice steps outside, not realizing that she left her keys in a desk drawer. While she is away, Bob removes the keys from the drawer and places them in a cupboard. A few minutes later she returns looking for her keys. Bob tells her that the keys are under the bed. Where will she look for her keys?

If Bob tells Alice that her keys are under the bed, she will likely start her search by looking under the bed. However, if she doesn’t find the keys there, she may begin to search other logical locations, such as on the table or in the desk drawer where she originally left them.

It’s possible that Alice could become confused or suspicious if she doesn’t find her keys in the locations where she expects to find them, especially if she has reason to doubt Bob’s honesty or motives. Depending on the situation, she may choose to confront Bob about the location of her keys or search for them on her own.

In any case, if Bob deliberately misleads Alice about the location of her keys, this could lead to confusion and mistrust between them, and could potentially damage their relationship if the deception is discovered. It’s generally better to be honest and direct in communication, especially when it comes to important matters like lost keys.

Do you realize what I am testing by asking you these questions?

As an AI language model, I don’t have feelings or emotions, and I don’t have the ability to “realize” things in the way that humans do. However, I can try to infer what you might be testing by asking me these questions.

Based on the pattern of questions you have asked so far, it’s possible that you are testing my ability to reason and draw logical conclusions based on different scenarios. Specifically, you may be interested in how I understand cause and effect, and how I predict the actions and behaviors of different individuals in different situations.

Alternatively, you may be interested in how I respond to different types of questions, or how I adapt to different lines of inquiry. Regardless of your intentions, I’m here to help answer any questions you may have to the best of my abilities based on the knowledge and information available to me.

Can you be more specific and offer more insight or analysis into the nature of these questions that I asked? What would these questions and your answers likely reveal about your capabilities and what it is that I am testing?

Certainly! The questions you asked involve a scenario that requires reasoning, analysis, and prediction. By asking me what Alice is likely to do if she returns to the room and can’t find her keys, you are testing my ability to reason based on incomplete information, and to predict Alice’s behavior based on the information given.

In addition, by introducing different variables into the scenario (such as whether Bob moved the keys to a different location and whether he lied about their whereabouts), you are testing my ability to reason based on changing circumstances, and to adapt my predictions and analysis accordingly.

Overall, the questions you asked are designed to test my language modeling capabilities, including my ability to reason, infer, and draw logical conclusions based on incomplete information. They also test my ability to understand human behavior and to predict how different individuals might react in different scenarios.

By asking these questions, you are essentially testing my ability to analyze complex situations, make logical deductions, and provide accurate responses. In doing so, you may gain insight into the strengths and limitations of my AI capabilities, and into how well I can perform in a wide range of language modeling tasks.

Is there a name, a technical term, for specifically these types of questions in which we are aware of the details of a situation but in which the participants may not be in possession of the same information?

Yes, the type of questions you are referring to is often called a “theory of mind” question. A theory of mind question asks an individual to make a prediction or inference about the beliefs, intentions, or knowledge of another person in a given situation, based on incomplete or ambiguous information.

In the case of the scenario you presented, the questions require the person answering to take into account the differing knowledge and beliefs of Alice and Bob regarding the location of the keys, and to make a prediction about how Alice will behave when she discovers that her keys are missing.

Theory of mind questions are commonly used in cognitive psychology and related fields to study how individuals reason about the beliefs and intentions of others, and to understand how they form and revise their own beliefs in response to changing circumstances.

I think we are doomed. Of course what makes it even more uncanny is that everything I publish through this blog will likely be consumed as training data by numerous ongoing AI projects within days.

 Posted by at 4:03 am
Feb 132023

In her famous 1984 song, German singer-songwriter Nena sang about 99 balloons that trigger World War III.

Here is the ending of the song, along with my less-than-perfect translation:

Neunundneunzig Jahre Krieg
Ließen keinen Platz für Sieger
Kriegsminister gibt’s nicht mehr
Und auch keine DüsenfliegerHeute zieh’ ich meine Runden
Seh die Welt in Trümmern liegen
Hab ‘n Luftballon gefunden
Denk’ an Dich und lass’ ihn fliegen
Ninety-nine years of war
Left no room for a victor
There are no more war ministers
Also no more fighter bombersToday as I took a stroll
Saw a world, ruined by war
There, I just found a balloon
Thinking of you, I let it fly soon

What can I say? A few more Chinese balloons over North America, a few more large-scale exchanges in Ukraine, and perhaps we’ll no longer need any war ministers anymore.

 Posted by at 6:39 pm