Sunday 23 January 2011

Artificial Intelligence Comments On Education Policy

There's a particular user on Twitter who is, in my opinion, the only user who's always going to be on the good side of average.  @cmunell is a little tedious in some ways.  She (I don't know, but it sounds like a she) doesn't really do much other than offer an opinion on some phrase she's learned somewhere.  To be honest, it's often not highbrow stuff; stunning observations such as:
I think "the-chart-show" is a ()
I think "North Creek Bridge" is a ()
I think "Dansville Municipal Airport" is an ()
 It's not anything big or clever most of the time.  Sometime though, just sometimes, she says interesting things.  She comments on people I've never heard of before, or a big economic/ideological argument in the UK at the moment:

I think "sarah marie johnson" is a ()
I think "educational books for kids" is a ()
 At this point I really have to stress for narrative, scientific and legal reasons that NELL doesn't know what she's talking about.

Well she might to be fair, which is kind of the point of this article.  I hope not though, not yet at least.  We're not ready for that.

NELL, you see, is a bot.  A computer.  Not even a computer really, as you could just change all the hardware, but she'd still be NELL.  She's simply software, in reality she's a set of instructions for a computer, she's ones and zeroes.

But she seems to be getting the hand of using the English language.  She's not always right by any means.

And I have to point out that I believe the "criminal" she's referring to is the same Sarah Marie Johnson who was convicted of murdering her parents in the US a while back.  Here's the court judgement I'm thinking of.

But if NELL isn't referring to that particular Sarah Marie Johnson (and I'm bet there's a few of them, and I bet they're bloody furious about articles like this...sorry) then is it a libel?  And if so, who gets sued?  Obviously I could be, for repeating it, but that would require the original statement be proved libellous.

So the question here is can a computer commit libel?  If NELL reads this article and concludes that Geoff Robbins is a criminal (and I've never been convicted of a crime), then could I sue?

Who?  The programmers?  They simply wrote a computer program, a scientific exploration of the human language.  And it's wrong sometimes.  Science allows for things being wrong; things being proven wrong is the lifeblood of science.  Science can never happen if nothing is ever found to be wrong.

But the law does not allow for incorrect statements in some situations.  In public, for example, and where the incorrect statement makes somebody look bad.  The call that libel, and it costs a fortune to just be accused of it.

Which has one effect.  It forces science underground, away from the public and into the private sphere.  Worse than that, it takes the innovative new ideas away from an international community and the general public (see AI on Twitter, this article), and it forces them into patent fenced commercial secrets.  Imagine a world where Einstein only allowed the nuclear military to use his ideas, and where Arthur C Clarke's satellites were useless for GPS because he'd never heard of relativity.  Secrecy makes the world worse, and libel law (in its current UK form and interpretation) forces science into secrecy.

And where does that leave NELL?

Would she like to play a game?

Is the only winning move not to play?