Monday, 17 September 2012

For Womanhood and the Empire!

I am of course mainly blogging and making YouTube videos as a form of procrastination upon procrastination.  For some reason i am continuing not to understand, i can upload any old rubbish to my other channel and get masses of views very quickly, but take care and thought over what i stick on the main one and get very few.  I really wish i knew why this happened.

Anyway, here's today's video:


It's called "Steampunk for Womanhood and the Empire!" and needs a bit of context.  When you watch a YouTube video, you get the option to read captions, which are generated by computer from the audio.  These captions are very bad indeed, and seem to have an accuracy below 1%, though i presume they're working on improving it.  When this happens, i will be rather sad because this kind of thing will be impossible.  This is nostalgia waiting to be born.  It reminds me of when i put the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales through Microsoft Word 5's spellcheck and it claimed to be about something it referred to as the "yoga zone".

Speech recognition is an AI-hard problem.  Back in the day, it was thought that thinking machines (a term once in vogue describing computers) would be difficult to program to do things which humans find difficult.  This turned out not to be so.  Instead, many problems thought to be hard to solve were in fact relatively easy and things which humans find so easy they don't even notice they're doing them are still impossible in spite of the Moore-corrected hundreds of millions of years which have passed since the first electronic brains were built.  Into the former category falls chess and arguably psychotherapy.  For years now, computers have been better than any human will ever be at chess, although it took a while for that to happen and the solution is rather boringly that rather than thinking about it, they just try a huge number of possible moves before making the best.  However, they've only recently been able to walk, they can't really see the way we can and, as the above video demonstrates, they don't understand spoken human languages and can't transcribe it.  This is particularly surprising because computers have been able to "understand" FORTRAN and other programming languages, which resemble English, since the mid-1950s.

To some extent machines are able to transcribe human speech.  In the 1960s there was a speech typewriter which could produce type in response to someone speaking Morse code to it - the human would go "dit dah dit" and it would type an R, for example.  The IBM Shoebox was another example (from 1961!):

http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/exhibits/specialprod1/specialprod1_7.html

This system worked by exploiting the fact that every English spoken digit had its own combination of high- and low-pitched sounds in a particular pattern.  The IBM Shoebox example inspired my mechanical speech recognition calculator in 'You Could've Thought Of That'.  So machines can recognise certain forms of speech provided they're quite narrowly restricted, and in fact given a less software-based approach they can be better than computers at the same level of technology.

This raises the question of what kind of object a human being is.  It's tempting to see a human as a robot controlled by a computer, but the fact that what we find easy, computers find hard and vice versa suggests that although human beings are sort of robots, they are not robots controlled by computers but, if they are machines at all, and as lumps of matter we are in a sense machines, the intelligent things we do are not the result of computer programs at all, and we probably aren't computers either.  This suggests to me that there is something out there in technology phase space which is in fact an Artificial Intelligence device, but it's nothing like a computer, though like a human being it could simulate one - but then a computer can also simulate a rain storm, but nobody gets wet if it does.

The actual story

This is an award-winning steampunk short-short i wrote which parodies Victorian melodrama in an alternate nineteenth century.  I've deliberately obscured the content but as it happens, hiding somewhere on YouTube is a video of me reading the real story.  It will be in the ebook, but the ebook is of course written by a different version of me than the version you see here because i want it to succeed alone, without anyone who reads it actually knowing me.  The use of the knife in the middle of the story makes no sense in this video but does in context.

Just to fill in the background:  this is similar to my "Backward and Forward" alternate history on the Althist Wiki on Wikia.  Technology is more advanced than here because James Watt was sent to school (in reality he was home educated and ended up improving Newcomen-style steam engines) and James II's son, James Stuart, Duke of Cambridge, survived to become James II's heir, with the result that there was no Act of Settlement.  Ultimately, this results in the European empires staying in power into the twenty-first century and colonising the Solar System at the same time as retaining a pre-Enlightenment political system with no real parliamentary democracy and the death penalty for shoplifting.  It's a nasty place, Backward and Forward - the Third Reich and Hitler would just be another power there and would probably be perceived as rather too liberal.  The story i read in "For Womanhood and the Empire!" is from a somewhat similar world, but one in which the future Queen Victoria was assassinated in a coup and a republic was established in the British Isles.

Yesterday evening's video was very different:


This is "Going The Extra Chamomile For You", the second of my herbal videos and also the first of a series based on terrible puns.  This video is entirely candlelit in an attempt to create the calm, restful atmosphere which chamomile generates.  Chamomile was our friend when Holly was a baby.  It kept us all calm, kept her botty smooth and helped with her conjunctivitis.  Chamomile is brilliant stuff.  If you haven't already become a fan, try it now!