Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Learning Karate by Waxing Cars

I will introduce here an article by Peter Norvig that I recently read and involves a discussion about Artificial Intelligence, Statistical Models and Machine Learning, but before posting the link I will introduce the discussion with an example:

When I was a child I learned how to write proper Spanish by following what I will refer in this article as the karate-kid or Mr.-Miyagi approach. I present here two approaches to learn and improve your basic writing skills.
1. Take a class on grammatical and orthographic rules.
2. Read lots of grammatically and orthographically correct text, not bothering about rules.

By using the first approach you can get a sense of how to construct correct sentences early on, but the effects depend a lot on having rules hard-coded in your brain very heavily, practicing with those rules with lots of examples can certainly reinforce the rules to be learned.

The second approach does not involve learning rules at all but just reading lots of text data, let's say books. After reading lots of correctly structured sentences and words you can develop a sense of how a correctly structured sentence or word feels like without being conscious about rules. In other words for some cases you will be using rules almost without consciously thinking about them due to the amazing ability of our brains to find patterns. This second approach is the data-driven approach or as I prefer to call it, the karate-kid approach because I suspect this is the path Mr. Miyagi would have chosen if he had to mentor a pupil about how to write properly.

Mr. Miyagi asking his pupil to wax cars over and over again.
The field of Artificial Intelligence used to follow the first approach. If you want a smart computer, then hard code rules on it so that it can behave as desired. Hard-coding rules doesn't scale very well so you might want to learn the rules from data or adapt the rules over time but ultimately people realized that you might not really need to care about rules at all, as long as you just care about the system behaving as desired.  This is the topic of discussion in the article by Peter Norvig in response to Noam Chomsky's remarks where Chomsky apparently derided machine learning researchers. You can read it in the following link, I highly recommend it:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

San Francisco Bay Area - Summer 2011

Golden Gate Bridge insider's view
I'm writing this after a long gap since my last post due to the burden of moving all the way to the west coast and signing contracts for every other thing imaginable that comes with relocation. I'm working in multimedia content analysis for Android during the summer. Probably the couple of friends who read my blog already know what is Android but I will anyways write here the explanation I gave to my parents: Android is an operating system that can be installed in a variety of smart phones manufactured by different companies. It's pretty much what Windows used to be for PC's. Note: Maybe you already noticed, but obviously this doesn't represent the views from my employer in any way! The thing is I didn't feel like explaining Android is open source which means you can download, read and analyze its source code and it has a very open model for writing and publishing new applications, including games!
Yoda fountain outside of Lucasfilms

Regarding the San Francisco Bay area, there are a couple of new places I visited this time, from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to the south up to Sausalito to the north. Sausalito is on the other side of the Golden Gate bridge and I include a picture here while crossing it. Another iconic place I wanted to visit for so long was the Yoda fountain outside of Lucasfilms. I felt like the security guard outside the building gave me the "oh here it comes another freak"-kind of look :) and then gently pointed that we can park anywhere for 20 minutes, so I guess lots of Star Wars fans go there just to take a picture of the fountain. Next to the place is the Palace of Fine Arts Theater and the Exploratorium. So if you visit any of those places then you might want to take a walk and take a picture of the iconic Yoda fountain.