Sign of Machine Intelligence?

by Michael Alderete on 8/28/2007

A friend sent me the following screen capture from Google News:

Google knows that President Bush thinks poor kids without health insurance is funny

I take this as another sign that the first true machine intelligence will emerge in the Googleplex.

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FON Wi-Fi service

by Michael Alderete on 8/26/2006

Back in November 2005, Robert X. Cringely wrote about something he alternatively called the Google Cube and the Google Box. Bob’s description of the Box’s capabilities and Google’s plans for it were rather grandiose, but buried at the end of the column was something I thought was a solid business idea:

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More Neat Stuff: Google Maps API

by Michael Alderete on 4/9/2005 · 5 comments

A couple of days ago I saw an eloquent “4,000 word” essay (4 photos) about the impact of clear cutting, written with the new Google Maps feature, which shows satellite photos of the map area, and allows you to zoom in and out using the same controls as the street map version.

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Gmail invites

by Michael Alderete on 2/8/2005 · 1 comment

Seems Google wants to expand the universe of Gmail users. If you want an invite (a token that enables you to create a Gmail account), I have 50. Contact URL is in the sidebar…

Update: I’m no longer sending out invites, not necessary, you should be able to sign up with Gmail directly.

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by Michael Alderete on 4/24/2004

Through the grace of a friend of a friend, I am now a Gmail user. (Gmail is the 1-gigabyte web mail service from Google that has gotten a lot of press lately.) I am only posting the news here so I can also post my thoughts on the so-called “privacy issues” that people have raised regarding Gmail, especially the moronic state senator Liz Figueroa, who this past week introduced legislation to ban Gmail.

First of all, Google is very up front and direct about how Gmail works, what information they will have about you, and how they plan to use it. If you do not like the way Gmail works, you don’t have to sign up for it. Gmail is entirely opt-in (indeed, it’s currently hard to get the opportunity to opt in).

Why a state senator feels the need to “protect” people from something they don’t have to sign up for is beyond me. More proof that politicians are publicity hounds first, uninformed technophobes second, and advocates for genuine public good dead last.

Some of us, dammit, want Gmail to do what it does: scan your e-mail to improve the quality and relevancy of ads served. Log on to Yahoo!‘s or Hotmail’s web mail systems, and tell me you actually like the horrible Atkins and dating services ads they are serving up. Tell me that’s better than targeted ads that might actually be useful.

(Before you scoff about ads that are useful, read why I like Google’s ads. I’ve bought things from the ads placed on Google searches.)

The other response to these so-called privacy advocates is more technical. The concern is that Gmail will be scanning all incoming and outgoing e-mail. Well, so do all of the other web-based e-mail services. For that matter, so do most ISPs and corporations. They are scanning for viruses, worms, and spam, but they are scanning all your e-mail already.

As usual, Tim O’Reilly has the most sane and forward-looking take on the whole issue. For my part, I’m happy to make the deal with Google, relevant ads for a great web mail service (and it is noticeably better than Yahoo!‘s e-mail service, which I’ve used extensively for many years). My only real concern is, how do I get my archived e-mail (all 250,000 messages) into it?

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Neurons in the internet

by Michael Alderete on 2/8/2003

I’ve written before about the interesting things that are taking place on the internet today. In one of the prior postings, I referenced an article that compared the structures forming on the internet to the trails that ants lay down when hunting for food, which eventually build up very sophisticated (and efficient) food gathering behavior.

But two articles over the last two weeks made me think of something different, namely, that the links that are spontaneously happening between the many active websites (mostly blogs) are similar to the formation of “neuronal paths.” We are building a giant, global brain.

The first article was Ben Hammersley’s Trackback in the Saddle Again, which describes quite a number of different ways that articles can semi-automatically form linkages to each other. The second was an interview with Cameron Marlow, the creator of Blogdex, and in particular his Social Network Explorer. Both articles illustrate how complex structures are being formed in the nodes (sites) and paths (links) between nodes.

So my thought today was, blogs and news sites are the neurons. Links from one to another are the neuronal paths, or connections between neurons. (TrackBack and its ilk are especially cool here, because the connections are two-way.) And services like Blogdex, Daypop, Social Network Explorer, and especially Google, are how the paths are reinforced to create “preferred” pathways through the internet, which alter future queries and explorations by making those paths more likely to be reused.

What’s especially neat about some of the services like Daypop is that the pathways are reinforced not only by people publishing on the web, but also by people who are just browsing the web. That is, when you follow a link off the Daypop Top 40, it records it, and that will influence how popular that link is, and therefore how many other people will see it, how long it will be around, etc.

These structures are certainly influencing how people think, if only because news stories are now frequently emerging in the blogsphere first, and once they’ve become sufficiently interesting and widespread, they cross over to the mainstream media. One could make a case that that’s how Trent Lott fell from grace.

Powerful stuff, but it’s a long way from having a giant brain. But that’s OK, on the scale of things, websites vs. neurons, there’s not enough nodes on the internet yet. Google indexes about 3 billion web pages today, but most of those don’t participate in the kinds of services described above. Blogdex and Daypop each index less than 20,000 blogs or news sites. So we’re talking pretty small numbers, today. There are thought to be 100 billion neurons in a human brain.

So our “giant” brain probably won’t be waking up and taking over the world tomorrow.

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The power of Google?

by Michael Alderete on 2/2/2003

The DHI I spent the last few days working on was moving the data for this weblog from my desktop Mac to the main server. I was able to move the data easily enough, but when I tried to actually connect to the new server, I was getting an error message that the connection was lost during the query. When I looked on the server, I could see that for some reason MySQL (the data server for this weblog) was barfing and restarting every time I tried to connect.

So I tried what I usually try in cases like this: I searched for the error message in Google, and read through the postings and solutions on message boards and archived mailing lists until I found something that worked for me. Unfortunately, this not uncommon error message was reported via a web page on my server — as it would be by any web server using PHP to access MySQL which had a problem. Can you see where this is going?

Yes, indeed, there are thousands of web sites with fucked up configurations spewing the same damn error message. All being spidered by Google. And being returned in my results. Out of 500 or so search hits I reviewed for the error message (out of 7310 hits total), only two were actually not an error page, and of those, one was in Russian.


The fact that you can read this means that I solved the issue, but it took me the better part of two days to solve, and in the end, the only way to fix things I could figure out was to re-install MySQL from an official binary distribution, not my preferred way to install software on my FreeBSD server.

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