Edge.org have an interesting interview with Stephen Wolfram.

For what it’s worth I simply don’t get why Wolfram thinks a weather pattern is a computer:

We can think about all sorts of systems as effectively doing computations, whether it’s a brain, whether it’s a cloud responding to the different thermal environment that it finds itself in. We can ask ourselves, are our brains doing vastly more sophisticated computations than happens in these fluids in the atmosphere?

Stephen Wolfram

It seems you can play that sort of language game with most things:

  1. The brain is a computer because all it’s effectively doing is mapping sensory inputs to physical actions.
  2. The brain is a clockwork mechanism because its really just a complicated system of interlocking components whose arrangement determines the system’s behaviour.
  3. The universe is like a dance because it’s really just an elaborate interaction between different actors collectively bringing about a coordinated and beautiful symphony of movement.

The part of the article that caught my eye most was further down where Wolfram suggests that while the goal of many AI researchers is to build tools like Siri and Google now that understand human speech, the longer term goal should be for humans to understand computers better.

As much as I want to hate that idea I think there’s a lot to be said in its favour. I’ve always been skeptical of the claim that children should be taught to code because it will make them more employable. Although that’s likely to be true for children right now there’s no reason to think it will be true in 50 years.

Instead learning to code might produce people more at ease living in a computer managed world; the day to day world in which most adults in developed nations live.

Excluding the obvious stuff think of all the activities and interactions we experience every day which are either caused, controlled or occasioned by a computer.

  1. your cab driver’s sat nav gets its route from a remote computer
  2. the junk mail on your doormat was sent to you by an algorithm
  3. the barcode on your newspaper because computers can’t read good
  4. “Can I have a bank loan/credit card?” computer says…
  5. “This train is being held at a red signal”