Artificial Intelligence Unsure What to Make of Beck, O’Reilly

I love science fiction.

Given 20 undirected minutes in a bookstore I will always seek out a Hugo award winner or, lacking one that I have not read, something published by TOR, Del Rey or Spectra (just a to name a few). The idea of artificial intelligence (AI) has been covered over and over in science fiction and is almost always a topic of significant conflict. What would happen if computers or robots were given the ability to think for themselves? What if they developed sentience and turned their cold, unemotional and undeviating logic on the body of work the deeply flawed human species has created? What would it think of us?

Like so many other concepts before, it would appear that the topic of AI is no longer reserved for the science fiction. The ridiculously powerful minds incubated at Pittsburgh’s own Carnegie Mellon University have created NELL, which stands for Never Ending Language Learner, and unleashed it on a half a billion pages of text on the internet. NELL is basically reading everything she can get a hold of and developing her own conclusions about what she finds to determine what is indeed fact.

NELL reads the Web 24 hours a day, seven days a week, learning language like a human would — cumulatively, over a long period of time. It parses text on the Internet for ontological categories, like “plants,” “music” and “sports teams,” then uses contextual clues to sort out what things belong in which categories, like “Nirvana is a grunge band” and “Peyton Manning plays for the Indianapolis Colts.” And, perhaps most Skynet-horror-inducing, “anger is an emotion.”

Cool? Hell yea, and scary too.

Of course I decided to take a look at what NELL had concluded about the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama and you might be interested in the conclusion. Not only does she know with 100% certaintly that he is person and a politician. It is also 99.9% sure he is a male and 98.4% confident he is the President of the United States. All this while also having to parse the following bits of info that repeatedly appeared in the data:

“_ is a secret Muslim”
“_ is a closet Muslim”
“_ is an empty suit”
“_ being a socialist”

Gee, I wonder what portion of the 500,000,000 web pages that NELL read gave her that idea?

I also found it quite funny that NELL has “only weak evidence” to say that Glenn Beck (87.5%) or Bill O’Reilly (87.5%) are actually people. Take a hint from this website NELL, they are not.

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