The AI Evolution

September 10, 2015

An article at WT Vox announces, “Google Is Working on a New Type of Algorithm Called ‘Thought Vectors’.” It sounds like a good use for a baseball cap with electrodes, a battery pack, WiFi, and a person who thinks great thoughts. In actuality, it’s a project based on the work of esteemed computer scientist Geoffrey E. Hinton, who has been exploring the idea of neural networks for decades. Hinton is now working with Google to create the sophisticated algorithm of our dreams (or nightmares, depending on one’s perspective).

Existing language processing software has come a very long way; Google Translate, for example, searches dictionaries and previously translated docs to translate phrases. The app usually does a passably good job of giving one the gist of a source document, but results are far from reliably accurate (and are often grammatically comical.) Thought vectors, on the other hand, will allow software to extract meanings, not just correlations, from text.

Continuing to use translation software as the example, reporter Aiden Russell writes:

“The technique works by ascribing each word a set of numbers (or vector) that define its position in a theoretical ‘meaning space’ or cloud. A sentence can be looked at as a path between these words, which can in turn be distilled down to its own set of numbers, or thought vector….

“The key is working out which numbers to assign each word in a language – this is where deep learning comes in. Initially the positions of words within each cloud are ordered at random and the translation algorithm begins training on a dataset of translated sentences. At first the translations it produces are nonsense, but a feedback loop provides an error signal that allows the position of each word to be refined until eventually the positions of words in the cloud captures the way humans use them – effectively a map of their meanings.”

But, won’t all efficient machine learning lead to a killer-robot-ruled dystopia? Hinton bats away that claim as a distraction; he’s actually more concerned about the ways big data is already being (mis)used by intelligence agencies. The man has a point.

Cynthia Murrell, September 10, 2015

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