Turing Test: passed

Do Feelings Compute? If Not, The Turing Test Doesn’t Mean Much
by Geoff Nunberg
July 01, 2014

At an event held at the Royal Society in London, for the first time ever, a computer passed the Turing Test, which is widely taken as the benchmark for saying a machine is engaging in intelligent thought.
But like the other much-hyped triumphs of artificial intelligence, this one wasn’t quite what it appeared.
Computers can do things that seem quintessentially human, but they usually take a different path to get there.
IBM’s Deep Blue mastered chess not by refining its intuitions but by evaluating hundreds of millions of positions per second.
Watson won at Jeopardy not by wide reading but by swallowing all of Wikipedia

The Turing Test Is Not What You Think It Is
by Alva Noë
June 13, 2014


Turing Tests in Creative Arts

When Words Were Worth Fighting Over

When Words Were Worth Fighting Over
by Geoff Nunberg
October 03, 2012

The New York Times warned that it would accelerate the deterioration of the language.

debates about language are always proxy wars.
They’re the dream work of culture, the play within a play, where social anxieties are staged as soap opera.
When you hear people keening histrionically about the confusion of “like” and “as,” you can safely assume there’s something more going on.

David Skinner understands that it takes some cultural background to explain why “so many sane and distinguished persons could see a dictionary as representing the end of the world.” True, for a lot of those people, attacking the Third was simply a way of asserting their own claims to refinement.

Nowadays, a dictionary entry is about as hard to come by as a Facebook profile.

Since the time of Webster’s Third, people have been framing usage issues as a pseudo-philosophical dispute between “descriptivist” and “prescriptivist” views of language, the one telling it like it is and the other telling it like it ought to be.

all the old distinctions have been effaced — between high and low, formal and casual, print and oral, public and private.

Where do you locate the mainstream of English in the flood of words that pours in over all the different screens in our lives? It’s not a stream at all, just a limitless ocean of yammer. Even with their modern tools, you have to feel for the lexicographers who are out there trying to sift through it all.

we still cling to the idea that a dictionary entry confers official recognition on a word.
When the OED announced that it would be including texting abbreviations like “LOL,” The New York Times praised it for “an affirmation of the plasticity of the English language.”

Big Data has spawned a cult of infallibility

Forget YOLO: Why ‘Big Data’ Should Be The Word Of The Year
by Geoff Nunberg
December 20, 2012

Whatever the sticklers say, data isn’t a plural noun like “pebbles.” It’s a mass noun like “dust.”

It’s only when all those little chunks are aggregated that they turn into Big Data; then the software called analytics can scour it for patterns

You idly click on an ad for a pair of red sneakers one morning, and they’ll stalk you to the end of your days.
It makes me nostalgic for the age when cyberspace promised a liberating anonymity.
I think of that famous 1993 New Yorker cartoon by Peter Steiner: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.
Now it’s more like, “On the Internet, everybody knows what brand of dog food you buy.”

In some circles, Big Data has spawned a cult of infallibility — a vision of prediction obviating explanation and math trumping science.
In a manifesto in Wired, Chris Anderson wrote, “With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves.”

The trouble is that you can’t always believe what they’re saying.
When you’ve got algorithms weighing hundreds of factors over a huge data set, you can’t really know why they come to a particular decision or whether it really makes sense.

When I was working with systems like these some years ago at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, we used to talk about a 95 percent solution.
So what if Amazon’s algorithms conclude that I’d be interested in Celine Dion’s greatest hits, as long as they get 19 out of 20 recommendations right?
But those odds are less reassuring when the algorithms are selecting candidates for the no-fly list.

I don’t know if the phrase Big Data itself will be around 20 years from now, when we’ll probably be measuring information in humongobytes.
People will be amused to recall that a couple of exabytes were once considered big data, the way we laugh to think of a time when $15,000 a year sounded like big money.
But 19 out of 20 is probably still going to be a good hit rate for those algorithms, and people will still feel the need to sort out the causes from the correlations — still asking the old question, what are patterns for?


May 14, 2012

June 7, 2015

Selfie: Word Of The Year

Narcissistic Or Not, ‘Selfie’ Is Nunberg’s Word Of The Year
by Geoff Nunberg
December 19, 2013

mayfly words — the ones that bubble briefly to the surface in the wake of some fad or fashion.

Over recent years, the people at Oxford Dictionaries have chosen items such as “locavore,” “hypermiling,” “refudiate” and “unfriend,” among others.
You’d never know it was a period touched by economic collapse, bitter partisanship, or the growth of the surveillance state.
So I wasn’t surprised when Oxford announced last month that their choice for the word of the year was “selfie,” which beat out “twerk” and “binge-watch.”
It struck me as a word that wears its ephemerality on its outstretched sleeve — any phenomenon whose most prominent evangelists are Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, Kendall and Kylie, not to mention Justin Bieber, probably isn’t a good bet to be around for the long haul.

SAT: Linguist in Dudgeon

Sorry Assiduous (adj.) SAT-Takers, Linguist In Dudgeon (n.) Over Vocab Flashcards
by Geoff Nunberg
NPR. December 23, 2013

It wasn’t until the test-prep industry took off a few years later that people realized you could work the system, and students began boning up on the words that were likely to appear on the exam. “SAT words,” people called them, with the implication that they existed only to be tested.
If you wanted to use a word like “vociferous,” you’d add the tag “SAT word” to signal that you weren’t showing off.

Now the new College Board president, David Coleman, wants to sweep away all those writerly words like “mendacious” and “jettison” that students learn for the exam.
They’re to be replaced by words like “hypothesis” and “transform” — what Coleman calls “the real language of power.”

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