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Talking with an Engineer in Silicon Valley

March 17th, 2015 | Posted by pftq in Society | #
A memoirs of sorts reflecting the talks I've had with most engineers that I met in SF the last few years.  It's funny to encounter at first, but when you're living it everyday, it really drains one's patience.  Maybe I'm having the worst of luck meeting people here, but this has been the bulk of my experience.  All responses are based on real conversations I've had; many are actually toned down from the original statements while others are pretty much direct quotes (besides obvious name changes, etc).  
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Sam: Hi, I'm Sam. Nice to meet you.
Engineer: Hi.
Sam and the engineer shake hands.
Engineer: Sorry.
Sam:...[More]
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Creating Sentient Artificial Intelligence

March 10th, 2015 | Posted by pftq in Ideas | #
Much of what people refer to as machine learning today is what's considered "weak AI", in that it is not actually thinking, hypothesizing, or behaving with a sense of self.  The latter is what some would call "strong AI," "artificial general intelligence (AGI)," or just plainly "artificial intelligence" (as opposed to "machine learning").  Below is an approach I've been rummaging on how to create an intelligence that behaves like a person would in any circumstance.  It's something that I've loosely applied to my own projects, but I've not managed to fully explore it in the general sense due to time and resource constraints.  The term I've come to use to describe this approach is conative artificial intelligence, in that the AI is intended to behave more like a creature or child than anything mechanical or data-driven.  If one reflects on intelligence in biological life, it really...[More]
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Overemphasis on Numbers

January 21st, 2015 | Posted by pftq in Society | #
This is primarily a response to Erik McClure's blog post on age discrimination.

I'm of the same age, followed a roughly similar path through school, and also thought that young adults in general were fully capable if given the chance. I've since graduated and moved to the SF Bay Area though; you'd be surprised just how many new college grads actually cannot think freely and critically. I'm sure you must have seen at least a few headlines pointing out some of the absurdity in Silicon Valley now. (Having lived here for 6 years now, I'd say the media actually understates how nonsensical some of the thinking around here is, but that's for another discussion.) That's not to say we should box people up even more when they're younger, just that I can see where some of the prejudice is coming from (yet it can be argued that it's a self-fulfilling prophecy from treating people like drones in the first place).

Speaking on just my own experience in the SF Bay Area though, my thoughts are not so much that the issue is a prejudice against age as much as the issue is an overemphasis on credentials, test scores, and numbers in general. The problems with education today are what I personally see more as part of an overall lack of critical and creative thinking in society - too much data driven. People just want to look at some threshold, do an if-greater-then condition, and be done. If you look at some of the most talented programmers, as an example, many actually do not have a formal degree in Computer Science or are self taught; recruiting based on numbers like we do now would never find them and actually weed them out. On the other side of things, I've met engineers from Ivy League schools who can barely code but get the job nonetheless from great marks in school; some cannot build a program from scratch at all unless you give them the skeleton to fill in the details on, which is arguably the bulk of the work.  I've come across engineers from firms as prestigious as Google who would not even dare explore restaurants without some external confirmation of their decisions, justifying their decisions with "social validation" (their words, not mine); there's actual fear in their eyes at the thought of going somewhere that doesn't have enough Yelp reviews, fear of the uncertainty and making any decision not backed with numbers. Of course, this is flawed thinking, lots of appeal to majority, authority, and other fallacies, but the sad part is a lot of our peers who do this most likely are not even aware of what things like logical fallacies are (in a non-math context). If you've read books like "City and the Stars" or "Childhood's End", it is getting quite close to that at least in some pockets of the country.

I agree with...[More]
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Lack of Ambition in the Bay Area

May 29th, 2014 | Posted by pftq in Society | #
A year ago, I wrote of my frustrations in finding others who were hungry or wanting to take over the world.  I couldn't put my finger on why I was stuck in the situation (and still am).  I thought perhaps it was a generational gap, since my social circles mainly consisted of people who were often more than 8 years older than me when I was in middle and high school.  At other times, I thought it was perhaps society degrading overall and becoming more flakey, passive.

I'm starting to wonder if perhaps I just don't belong on the west coast though, or at least in the bay area.  I've been reading more about the east coast (and just other places in general); this article, for example, mentions how ambition is often shunned in the bay and that really hit home for me as that is the treatment I get from most my peers:
http://www.therejectionist.com/2011/09/all-things.html

Likewise the herd mentality to do what's cool or trendy rather than find something...[More]
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Some Inspiration From the Past

July 8th, 2013 | Posted by pftq in Essays | #
     These days I don't know what I'm doing anymore.  It seems completely illogical that I'd be on the path I am now given my history.  What am I doing just making songs or chasing stocks when I used to make games, movies, entire websites, etc?

     Sometimes I forget my frustrations, but every once in a while something like this shows up and just really tests my patience with myself:
     http://all-things-andy-gavin.com/2011/02/10/crash-bandicoot-as-a-startup/

     Besides the fact I use to play those games when I was younger, being able to form a team and produce something on that scale was something I've always dreamed of doing.  It's tough finding finding people of equal or better calibur though and even tougher to find those who share similar ambitions and drive.  Like the author, I also learned most of my programming myself (home-brewed), so it's really hard to relate to colleagues who otherwise...[More]
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Perfect World

March 9th, 2012 | Posted by pftq in Stories | #
Had this whole script idea in my dream this morning.  It was like watching a live-action movie with really good effects. It even came with an ending credits song - recorded a bit of it, maybe will make it a full fledge song later one day.

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An advanced society is led by one man (the leader) who seems to have invented a means for everything (free energy, robots, etc).  He himself seems immortal and omnipotent now from his own inventions.  His daughter - he turned into part machine so she does not grow old.  His company headquarters is actually a giant parked spaceship in the city.

One day, however,...[More]
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Who You Are on the Inside

February 4th, 2012 | Posted by pftq in Stories | #
Two friends have known each other since childhood.  One has always been a bit weaker and slightly ill with an unknown virus.  The other friend makes the promise to one day find a cure to the other's condition and studies to become a doctor.

Twenty years later, the doctor gets close to understanding the nature of the illness and finding a cure.  Both are excited at the prospect, but as the cure is applied, the friend seems to gradually get weaker.  The doctor scrambles to figure out what went wrong, but each day that passes, the friend seems to slowly lose grasp on the world.  Eventually the friend becomes bedbound and the doctor caring daily for the friend.

Over time, the doctor notices that, although the friend is losing mental capacity, the friend seems physically fine.  In fact, as the friend becomes healthier, the friend becomes less mentally stable, as if gradually fading away.

The doctor...[More]
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Void

May 10th, 2011 | Posted by pftq in Essays | #
     I fear boredom.  I don't know why.  It's just the way it is.  I should be happy that my two hardest classes are now over, but I instead feel empty.  I should look forward to a fun trip I've been planning this month, but I realize that once it passes (or even in the midst of it), there will be nothing but a void.

     I can't help feeling similar to Jonathan Shields in "The Bad and the Beautiful" (1952).  It has haunted me ever since I watched it two years ago for a film class.  Of course, I will never betray anyone for any means, but like Shields, once a project or goal is finished, I don't feel satisfied at all.  Instead, I feel anguish and longing - like I have just lost purpose and have suddenly been reduced to nothing.  I can be anything and do anything, but once I stop, I sink away into the shadows.

     It is not as if I pursue a goal or task because I enjoy it either.  It...[More]
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