Showing posts from November, 2011

A Chinese Room with a View

These days the name of Alan Turing is associated as much with computers as the name Isaac Newton is with gravity. Quite rightly so. Whilst his work on cryptanalysis at Bletchley Park during World War Two might cause some to consider him a shadowy figure in the world of twentieth century espionage, I would like to think that in the long historical view it will be a thought experiment of his that will be remembered most of all - the Turing Test . In its simplest form the test states that if an interrogator having a conversation over a keyboard (online chat, basically) with a second party cannot distinguish between a real person and a computer program, then the computer (program) could be said to be thinking. Even though this once thought experiment has now been carried out in reality, (most notably at the Loebner Prize which has been carried out annually since 1991) no-one yet wants to stick their neck out and claim that a machine has definitely passed and ipso facto can think.

Canon Fodder

It is surprising how seriously some people take fiction sometimes. The word canon  originally meant the books of the Bible that were official and contained the true scriptures as laid down by the various churches and faiths who concerned themselves with such things. It has since been sequestered by the enthusiasts of various fictional worlds to mean the events and stories that officially "happened" in that universe. When a fictional world or universe is created often additional spin off fiction is produced - initially to capitalise on any possible popularity of the franchise and turn a tidy buck. Some early examples of such works were the Star Wars novels Splinter of the Minds Eye  and Han Solo at Stars End  which were churned out shortly after the success of the original Star Wars film (the one that is now rather dully referred to as A New Hope ). Despite claims on the covers that these novels were " from the adventures of Luke Skywalker " they really didn&

Losing my Marbles

These days there is no excuse for not knowing the answer to trivial questions. The answer is always on the end of a google and we now have google at our fingertips most of the time. However, it is sometimes more fun not to know something. I have no idea what the Elgin Marbles actually are and I prefer it that way. I know that they're in the British Museum, I know that people think that the UK should return them to Greece, but I have absolutely no desire to type the phrase " Elgin Marbles " into a search engine and dispose of my ignorance. This is because what I imagine they might be is more fun. When I was a kid I had one of those furry pencil cases; mine was orange and I didn't use it to keep pencils in. Oh no, I used it for my collection of marbles.  I was obsessed with marbles. In retrospect it was a short lived obsession, but it seemed all consuming at the time.  It was symptomatic of the wider craze sweeping the school; in the playground in between lessons

Déjà Vu Too

I'm sure this has happened before. Do you think it has happened before? Don't you remember reading a blog entry by me on the subject of déjà vu? However in this case it actually has. I did indeed write about déjà vu back in September 2009 . I'm not intending to go over the same ground here, but recently woke from a dream with some new insights into what might make this bizarre sensation, this mental feedback, tick. In the original blog entry I hypothesised that déjà vu was caused by the short term memory (in other words the current experience, the present, the now ) being misidentified as long term memory. This does make some kind of sense. However doesn't explain one of the stronger sensations that can be experienced during a promnesiac episode. Often my experience of déjà vu is not so much I'm sure this has happened before but rather I am sure that I have dreamed this before . This makes me inclined to think that déjà vu may be the activation of a system