Two apparently unrelated articles by superstars of the 1980s and 90s in their respective fields which share a common theme – the market’s aversion to serious innovation, it’s tendency to move incrementally towards lower levels of innovation leaving really fundamental and speculative innovation to others.
Bill Gates points out that ‘efficiency’ as in improving insulation and lowering fuel consumption is not going to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050, only serious innovation can. That’s a (possible) justification for regulation which targets breakthrough technologies like zero emissions cars (though just identifying the potential case for it, doesn’t mean you have that case, or that politicians and policy makers won’t screw up such policies).
One of the reasons I bring this up is that I hear a lot of climate change experts focus totally on 2025 or talk about how great it is that there is so much low hanging fruit that will make a difference.
This mostly focuses on saving a little bit of energy, which by itself is simply not enough. The need to get to zero emissions in key sectors almost never gets mentioned. The danger is people will think they just need to do a little bit and things will be fine.
If CO2 reduction is important, we need to make it clear to people what really matters – getting to zero.
With that kind of clarity, people will understand the need to get to zero and begin to grasp the scope and scale of innovation that is needed.
However all the talk about renewable portfolios, efficiency, and cap and trade tends to obscure the specific things that need to be done.
To achieve the kinds of innovations that will be required I think a distributed system of R&D with economic rewards for innovators and strong government encouragement is the key. There just isn’t enough work going on today to get us to where we need to go.
Meanwhile, in a marvellous and heartfelt article the great Gary Kasparov reviews Chess Metaphors: Artificial Intelligence and the Human Mind by Diego Rasskin-Gutman. He tells some great stories – can anyone find the game he talks about with Topolov, I couldn’t find it on Chessgames and the Chess Database was down. Anyway Kasparov’s theme is the same.
ith the supremacy of the chess machines now apparent and the contest of “Man vs. Machine” a thing of the past, perhaps it is time to return to the goals that made computer chess so attractive to many of the finest minds of the twentieth century. Playing better chess was a problem they wanted to solve, yes, and it has been solved. But there were other goals as well: to develop a program that played chess by thinking like a human, perhaps even by learning the game as a human does. Surely this would be a far more fruitful avenue of investigation than creating, as we are doing, ever-faster algorithms to run on ever-faster hardware.
This is our last chess metaphor, thena metaphor for how we have discarded innovation and creativity in exchange for a steady supply of marketable products. The dreams of creating an artificial intelligence that would engage in an ancient game symbolic of human thought have been abandoned. Instead, every year we have new chess programs, and new versions of old ones, that are all based on the same basic programming concepts for picking a move by searching through millions of possibilities that were developed in the 1960s and 1970s.
Like so much else in our technology-rich and innovation-poor modern world, chess computing has fallen prey to incrementalism and the demands of the market. Brute-force programs play the best chess, so why bother with anything else? Why waste time and money experimenting with new and innovative ideas when we already know what works? Such thinking should horrify anyone worthy of the name of scientist, but it seems, tragically, to be the norm. Our best minds have gone into financial engineering instead of real engineering, with catastrophic results for both sectors.