Wanneer kunstmatig intelligent gaat doen

Als kunstmatig intelligent gaat doenSiri

Sinds een paar dagen gebruik ik Siri op m’n (verouderde maar nog steeds goed werkende) iPhone 4s. Ik was wel op de hoogte van het bestaan, maar miste de Nederlandse versie. Een paar van mijn leerlingen hadden al een demonstratie gegeven wat Siri zoal kon (een aantal vragen die ze Siri stelden, zal ik hier niet herhalen).

Op een site Grappige vragen aan Siri staan een heel aantal vragen die je Siri kunt stellen. Ik heb het geprobeerd (zie de afbeeling voor de vraag en het antwoord).

Gevat antwoord, niet dan? Je zou bijna denken dat Siri echt intelligent is. Want, als je dezelfde vraag nog een keer stelt, krijg je een ander antwoord. Bij een van de antwoorden werd zelfs Einstein erbij gehaald.

Maar Siri reageert kunstmatig: hoe intelligent het ook mag lijken, het mist creativiteit. Het blijven geprogrammeerde responses, er wordt ad hoc niets nieuws bedacht.

Kunstmatig Engels?

Hoeveel anders dan bij Siri werkt het bij mijn leerlingen Engels? In hoeveel gevallen roept mijn vraagstelling een echt creatief antwoord op in plaats van een – door mij – voorgeprogrammeerd antwoord? Is het bewijs dat je een (tweede) taal beheerst juist niet het feit dat je creatief bent met die taal?


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 “You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.” ?Geoffrey Willans

“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.” ?Flora Lewis

Vintage SD&R’n’R

Beginning June, ex-Sterophonics drummer Stuart Cable was found dead in his home. He just became 40, an age he once said he would never have expected to reach. Strange as this may seem where it concerns an average person, in Cable’s case it may well be considered a small wonder. The cause of death turned out to be the detrimental consequences of a drinking binge.
Cable died the day after a concert given by his former band Stereophonics in their home country Wales. In 2003 Cable was kicked out of the band, due to his choosing his own tv career above the band’s. Some believe he never really got over it, and because of being unable to create his own success became bitter and drank away his regrets. But according to Kelly Jones, Stereophonics singer, all their grievances had been settled within one year after the breakup.
One of Cable’s friends said Stuart was a real party animal and loved the rock’n’roll lifestyle. “It was how he would have wanted to go.”

I thought the ‘sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’ were passée. Apparently not so, given the story of Stuart Cable. Far younger than the elusive members of The Stones, yet prolonging the typical lifestyle of that era of rockers. A sort of ‘vintage’.
Nonetheless, I still find it tragic. Especially considering Cable had his house soundproofed, so as to not disturb his neighbours with his drumming nor his partying. How the mighty have fallen!

Former Stereophonics drummer Stuart Cable’s tragic words just a week before his death: ‘I never thought I’d make it to 40’ – mirror.co.uk. (n.d.). . Retrieved July 3, 2010, from http://www.mirror.co.uk/celebs/news/2010/06/08/former-stereophonics-drummer-stuart-cable-s-tragic-words-just-a-week-before-his-death-i-never-thought-i-d-make-it-to-40-115875-22317740/

Bad (H)air Day?

Long-term exposure to polluted air causes more than 4.000 Londoners to die prematurely on a yearly basis. Those living city-centre are most vulnerable. This is the outcome of a recent study. Actual cause is the level of fine particular matter concentration in the air. PM2.5 is an indicator of particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers. The higher the PM2.5 lever, the greater the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. Especially children – because of smaller lung capacity – and elderly are high risk groups.
Polluted air is fast becoming one of the biggest health issues.
Boris Johnson, London’s mayor, urges for taking drastic measures to deal with the problem. He is, though, criticized for having delayed earlier planned measures for phase three low emission zone (ie, after fining larger vehicles that do not meet emission standard, also the fining of smaller vans and minibuses). Europe has warned London to clean up their air, lest London will be fined up till 300 million pound for failing to meet clean air standards. London is allowed not more than 35 “bad air” days a year. Johnson is said to take the outcome very serious and to invest 250 million pounds per year to ensure clean air for London.

How come we humans think we are so smart, yet act so stupid? In our desire for a better life, we cramp ourselves in cities; in our search for wealth we acquire goods that by their emission in fact contribute to our death (vehicles, factories and the likes); in our keeping up our status quo, we close our ears to serious warnings and refuse to take action. All until we are placed with our backs against the wall.
What strikes me most is the constant weighing of commerce versus people, leading to inexcusable delaying measures for the good of the people. The strange thing is, we seem to agree. The Dutch expression ‘As long as your hair looks okay’ fits this resigned attitude.

Air pollution leads to premature deaths of more than 4,000 Londoners a year | Environment | guardian.co.uk. (n.d.). . Retrieved July 3, 2010, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jun/30/london-air-quality-premature-deaths

Buyable sustainabilty

We don’t need money to get by in life. According to Mark Boyle, founder of the Freeconomy Community living moneyless for 18 months, not an utopia, but reality. Homo sapiens is not as wise is we think him to be, since all we can think of to help keep us alive is money. If you’re not into making paper and ink out of mushrooms, pillows out of reed mace, or sleep alfresco, there still are numerous other ways to help contribute to a sustainable society. Join one of the groups where you offer your things you don’t want or need any more, so others can make use of it. If you don’t want to give it away, try sharing it with others. Several initiatives, such as Freecycle, prove to work (Freecycle has more than seven million members).
Mark Boyle is quite outspoken on sustainability. We need to really reconnect with nature, otherwise dramatic climate changes will occur. Money is not the solution. “Trying to buy our way to sustainability is as ridiculous as trying to shag our way to virginity”, says Boyle.

I’m not anxiously looking forward to hand-me-downs, a mishmash collection of furniture, or unsafe second hand electrical appliances. To be honest, the very idea is appalling. However, if I’m really serious about sustainability, I need to put my money where my mouth is (or not my money, but my stuff…). A lot of things I don’t need, are still usable. I put them on Marktplaats (So what, I’m still Dutch…). It’s a small step to give them away. Maybe next time when I need something, I will first visit Het Goed (a store the re-sells goods) before buying new.
I have, though, one flaw: I would like to have an Apple ProBook, preferably new…

Moneyless man: To gather possessions, don’t we need cash? Not so | Environment | guardian.co.uk. (n.d.). . Retrieved July 3, 2010, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/jun/29/moneyless-man-cash-gather-posessions

England rules the world…

Overpaid and under-performing, that’s what MP David Amess thinks of the players of England’s Premier League. That attitude led to the humiliating defeat (4-1) against Germany at the World Cup 2010. Amess is furious about England’s bad performance. The team’s pathetic exit from the Cup showed this team “let this country and their supporters down”.
As if fulminating were not enough, Amess filed a parliamentary motion to have parliament voice its great disappointment, and to start an inquiry into the state of the national game. Only one other MP, Mike Hancock, backed Amess’ motion. Instead, Fifa blatantly opposes any political meddling. In fact, Fifa has threatened France to be exempt from international football if France does not stop its political interference in the game.

Football fraternizes, but only – so it seems – when you are in the winning mood. The idea that the national football team is a continuation of the whole nation, may well work in (some) African and South American countries, but for most of the European countries its all about money and personal profiling. When the national anthem is played, apart from the lone individual, the vast majority of the players are dead quiet. Using politics as damage control is quite a laughing stock, and comes too late in the day.

World Cup 2010: Conservative MP demands inquiry into England failure | Football | Guardian.co.uk. (n.d.). . Retrieved July 3, 2010, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2010/jul/01/world-cup-2010-conservative-mp-england

The Perennial Booker Bridesmaid

Last Friday, at the age of 75, Beryl Bainbridge died. According to friends and colleagues, Bainbridge was a grande dame of British Literature. Her legacy is 18 novels (she was currently busy with her 19th novel), consisting roughly out of two major categories: stories about, or circling around, her own life – the earlier works -, and historical novels. Her style was “coolly stylish, meticulous, beady-eyed and horribly funny”, according John Banville, winner of a Man Booker price. Bainbridge herself won numerous prices, yet never the much desired Man Booker prize. She appeared, however, five times on its short-list winning her the title of perennial Booker Bridesmaid.
She was a unique person, as well in her writings as in her personal life. One friend described her as a complete maverick, commenting on her writing style. A true original.
On the personal level, she was good to have around with, apart from her chain-smoking and her fondness of whisky.
Her death, according to her fellow authors, makes the world of British literature feel an emptier place.

I had never heard of Beryl Bainbridge prior to this article. The term grande dame led me to believe she must be a real name in the literature scene. She was! When her friends and colleagues described who she was, I had to think of Annie M.G. Schmidt: brilliant, yet a wee bit weird and eccentric (A Wikipedia entry stated the Bainbridge at one time tried to commit suicide by putting her head into an oven). Maybe one needs those traits to escape the average.
I think I need to do Bainbridge justice by reading one of her novels…

Beryl Bainbridge dies, aged 75 | Books | guardian.co.uk. (n.d.). . Retrieved July 3, 2010, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jul/02/beryl-bainbridge-dies

Paved with good intentions

Poverty in the UK remains a problem. The IFS – a financial think-tank on fiscal studies – states that the proportion of the population in relative poverty in the UK is 18.3% . In the past ten years this has been a small drop from 19.4%. Compared to the 27 members of the EU, only six countries rank higher on the list of households living in relative poverty (income below 60% of national median).
The new government seriously wants to tackle the problem. Away with the signs of poverty: water diluted milk, lampshades of old newspapers, washing-up liquid as shampoo, and more of the likes. Criticism about the lack of progress made by the former government is worded by the Tories as well as Lib Dems. Yet, Gordon Brown made the fight against poverty his central mission a decade ago. And the current government has kept Labour’s goal to end relative child poverty by the end of 2020.
Problem is that the new government does not have the money to make banning relative poverty its political spearhead. Focus needs to be on salvaging the economy. Hence, initiatives to better the lives of the poor – such as reducing the tax load – perish because of economic reasons (ie, VAT tax went up, while it is a given that the poor suffer the most of it). However disappointing the results were in beating poverty in the past decade, the results of the coming years may well be even less.

Fine words butter no parsnips, as the saying goes, underlines the discrepancy between words and deeds. Most of us know there is enough food to feed all of the world population, yet many still die of starvation. Mentioning the problem is one thing, actually doing something about it is quite another, especially if it comes down to choosing between two evils. What if reserving money for acutely fighting poverty means it cannot be spent on ensuring long-term economic stability? What if the remedy is worse than the disease? At any rate, I believe everything possible should be done to battle relative poverty. Let’s produce less audible noise about what should be done, and start doing what can be done.
Personally, I still try to keep in mind my late grandfather’s words: “A man needs a lot of things, yet he can make do with little.”

Poverty in austerity: Still with us | The Economist. (n.d.). . Retrieved July 3, 2010, from http://www.economist.com/node/16492449

An Apple a Day Keeps Gates away

The new iPhone 4 is out. A lot of the previous hickups and therefore reasons not to buy the much desired gadget have been dealt with. Following is a list of some of these reasons, and Apple’s answer. (1) expensive – Top notch material doesn’t come cheap. Compared to other products, the iPhone ranks well. (2) Anti-technology – What is good will be copied (and at times more perfected) by others. Still, the touch screen is a class on its own. (3) No multitasking – OS 4.0 does away with the annoying fact of first closing aan app before being able to start another. (4) Battery life – One of the most cried over defects of the iPhone. It’s battery runs dry before even using the phone. The new iPhone has significantly improved. (5) Poor design – Esthetics are debatable, but for now the iPhon 4 is the best looking phone available.

I can recall the run for the first iPhone: hysteria all over. Even though there are better and more advanced phones, the iPhone has achieved a cult status. At that level, no matter what reasons not to buy it, you still want to have it. That’s what amazes me of Apple’s marketing: one little gadget – if you talk about the actual size of the iPhone – got all the world to talk about it, and put Apple firmly back in the saddle. Ever wachted the series ’24’? The latest series showed all Apple computers, whereas the first series had Windows machines. Smart phone makers!

Apple iPhone 4: an update on those reasons not to buy one – Telegraph. (n.d.). . Retrieved June 9, 2010, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/apple/7811955/Apple-iPhone-4-an-update-on-those-reasons-not-to-buy-one.html

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

In the year 2031 one fifth of the population will be 65 years or older (22% to be precise), according to released figures. At this moment the population of 50 years and older already make up for more than 25%. The region with the most dense population aged 50 and older is the South East (35%), while London and Northern Ireland had the lowest percentages. Between mid 2007 and mid 2008 nearly 25,000 people of 50 years or older left London. This figure is ten times the amount of people of 50 and older that left other regions, and can be termed an exodus. The group leaving London, is mostly made up of married people that decide to leave the capital, making the singles of 65 and older stay put. This accounts for the fact that London has the highest proportions of single men and women aged 65 and older. Figures also showed the impact of an ageing population. In 2008/9 in the South West region 173 hip and knee replacements were performed per 10,000 people 65 years and older. This is the highest rate amongst the English strategic health authorities. In comparison: London had 118 replacements.

I used to sing the song ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’, when I was little and still agile enough to make the corresponding movements. Reading the article it occurred to me that ageing Britains might sing this song to indicate which parts of their bodies already underwent replacement. Despite the joking the problem of greying is a serious one. Estimates show that the current trend of older age groups growing faster than the younger ones, will continue the coming decades. This will have all kinds of negative effects, socially as well as economically, leaving England with the question as to will the next generation of mid-lifers be capable to carry the burden. Time to start promoting big families again?

Number of over 65s to rise by two thirds – Home News, UK – The Independent. (n.d.). . Retrieved June 8, 2010, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/number-of-over-65s-to-rise-by-two-thirds-1994589.html