[Humanist] 29.808 AI and Go

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Mar 24 07:34:50 CET 2016

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 808.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 23 Mar 2016 11:06:10 +0000
        From: Gabriel Egan <mail at gabrielegan.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 29.802 AI and Go
        In-Reply-To: <20160323063959.6F5B36704 at digitalhumanities.org>

Ken Friedman's contribution to the debate about AlphaGo helpfully 
mentions the folk song about the competition between a human spike 
driver on the railroad and a steam-driven machine. This seems apposite 
to me because that physical activity isn't surrounded by the aura of 
consciousness that easily obscures what happens when machines compete 
with humans. The force of the analogy seems to me to work in the 
opposite direction to Friedman's claim about it. That is, although the 
machine lost on that occasion, I don't think anyone would claim that 
humans are better at driving spikes than machines are. We conceded that 
point long ago. And the man died, of course.

Two anecdotal analogies also seem apposite to me:

1) In the mid-1980s I was witness to a heated debate at work between the 
middle-aged owner of a Porsche motor car and a young man who was keen on 
running. The matter of dispute was which of them, man or car, would be 
faster over a 100 meter run from a standing start. (Actually, it was 
what we used to call in England 'the hundred yard dash', but that's 
almost the same as 100 meters.) They decided to settle it by a race in 
the car park. It was a close thing, but the young man won by a whisker. 
But everyone present reflected that after 100 meters the young man was 
at the end of his endurance and about to flop, while the motor car was 
still in second gear and could have accelerated steadily over the next 
500 meters if there were more room in the car park.

2) In 1993 two graduate students (myself and Peter White, who went on to 
manage EEBO for ProQuest) had a dispute about the speed and accuracy of 
a hand-made concordance to Shakespeare's works versus a brute-force 
search (on an Intel 80286-driven PC) of a collection of Shakespeare 
e-texts. Under the supervision of an impartial referee we ran a race 
over 10 quotations chosen at random, and White with his copy of 
Bartlett's concordance won every time. But as White himself reflected, 
the manual method wasn't ever going to get any faster, while with my 
next grant cheque I was planning to buy an Intel 80386-driven PC that 
would improve the machine's chances and so inevitably it would be the 
better method.

Ultimately, no-one should care how the machine out-performs the human. 
Google Translate does not do translation the way a person would: it uses 
statistical inferences drawn from a vast body of existing translations 
(eg from the United Nations' large corpus of 6-language translations of 
its official documents). Human translators of languages should not draw 
much comfort from the fact that they are doing the job in a different way.


Gabriel Egan
Centre for Textual Studies

On 3/23/2016 6:39 AM, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
 >                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 802.
 >              Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
 >                         www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
 >                  Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
 >          Date: Tue, 22 Mar 2016 12:45:20 +0100
 >          From: Ken Friedman <ken.friedman.sheji at icloud.com>
 >          Subject: AI and Go
 > Friends,
 > The thread on AI and Go has been rich and interesting. I appreciate 
Tim Smithers’s comments and the responses. Tim’s earlier comments on the 
difference between "playing go" and "doing go" are very much at the 
heart of how and why Lee Sedol plays go while AlphaGo does not.
 > To understand the difference, I suggest reading Yasunari Kawabata’s 
1951 novel, The Master of Go. This explains what it is to play go.
 > Kawabata's novel is a semi-fictional retelling of an actual match 
between two champions. Kawabata, who won the Nobel Prize for literature 
in 1968, reported on this six-month-long game in 1938 for a Japanese 
newspaper. He re-used some of his own reporting in the novel.
 > The book is still imprint for those who want to get an idea of why 
AlphaGo cannot do and be what it is that a master go player does and is. 
Of course, the thread raises issues that are locked in the nature of 
culture — what it is to play, the meaning of play in culture, and the 
cultural embedment of go. So far, no artificial intelligence system can 
embody these. Perhaps this will change.
 > The thread reminds me a bit of the folk song about the contest 
between John Henry, a spike driver for the railroad, and a steam drill. 
In this case, John Henry won the competition, laying fifteen feet of 
track against nine for the steam drill. He died as he did so:
 > “Now the man that invented the steam drill
 > He thought he was mighty fine
 > But John Henry strove fifteen feet
 > The steam drill only made nine
 > “John Henry hammered in the mountains
 > His hammer was striking fire
 > But he worked so hard, it broke his poor heart
 > And he laid down his hammerand he died.”
 > The ageing protagonist in The Master of Go died not long after losing 
his match to the young champion.
 > AlphaGo certainly won match, but there is no evidence that it played 
a game.
 > Yours,
 > Ken
 > Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS | Editor-in-Chief | 设计 She Ji. 
The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation | Published by Tongji 
University in Cooperation with Elsevier | URL: 
 > Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies | College of Design and 
Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China ||| University 
Distinguished Professor | Centre for Design Innovation | Swinburne 
University of Technology | Melbourne, Australia

Professor Gabriel Egan, De Montfort University. www.gabrielegan.com
Director of the Centre for Textual Studies http://cts.dmu.ac.uk
National Teaching Fellow 2014-17 http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/ntfs
New book: Shakespeare and Ecocritical Theory:

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