Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Micro Mention "The Master Algorithm"

Pedro Domingos

“The Master Algorithm” by Pedro Domingos is way fascinating—I imagine especially so for all you computer scientists out there—and I loved lying to myself for a while that it wasn’t way over my head.

I like to challenge myself with books like this sometimes, books about topics that fascinate me but are just on the edge of my ability to comprehend. So to break down what this book is about, you first need to know what an algorithm is and how it applies to computer science. Very broadly, an algorithm is a set of rules and procedures used in problem-solving. Computers love rules like if X then do Y or if 2X do Z, et cetera—et cetera in ever greater complexity. So "The Master Algorithm" is a learning model so complex and elegant that eventually, it would, in theory, be able to mimic human-level complexity of thought and then one day go beyond.

How we get there—much like the road to El Dorado—is unclear, and maybe impossible, or maybe it's just impossible today but is really inevitable. It's hard to say. As a materialist at heart, I don't believe, other than its complexity, that there is anything special about our brains, materially speaking. All they are are mostly fatty fleshy bags that hold a lot of water, consume many calories, and have measurable electrical activity. There isn't a single rare component to them from an elemental perspective. So it would seem that given enough time, we should be able to build a software model that might not exactly emulate the human brain but at least be comparable in terms of complexity. The interesting questions then are, would that software be conscious? Would it be alive? And most interesting, could you believe it if it said it was?

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