Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Lets Talk About A.I.

A.I. has been the hot topic lately. Yes … I’m speaking about Allen Iverson and yes I’m speaking about Artificial Intelligence. Lets begin with the former. Allen Iverson was traded to the Denver Nuggets yesterday (Dec. 19) and another tumultuous, passionate and intriguing era is over for Philadelphia sports. People in Philly LOVED A.I. and people in Philly HATED A.I. … he was a lightning rod of polarized passions in a town known for polarizing passionate phanatics.

I personally loved how A.I. played the game and I always felt the ball-hog label was bullshit; especially since nobody was complaining when the “ball-hog” had an MVP season during a special year with a special coach. And when his assists shot up after the 2003 season and the rest of his game elevated once again during a time most experts predicted that his skills will suffer a significant decline due to his aging body and supposedly degrading speed … A.I. proved everybody wrong and has had MVP type years during his last two campaigns. For whatever reasons, the Sixers were never able to successfully build a high-caliber team around A.I. and even the most diehard of A.I. fans must wonder if A.I. was more of a problem then “the Answer”.

At the end of the day I judge an athlete by their game efforts and their talent level – and in those departments – A.I. has no peer. All the AI haters always spewing venom about his “practice habits” and “team skills” …. even though most of his prior teammates have vocalized nothing but praise on his work ethic and have cherished him as a teammate.

I suspect that a significant percentage of the people who despised A.I.; did so because of what they thought he represented to them … an angry young black, ghetto, hip hop loving sports millionaire that had no respect for authority, practice or rules … but I saw a young, black, ghetto, hip hop loving boy who grew into a man and always spoke from the heart, made some dumb young-boy mistakes but shaped his tremendous gifts into an athlete that rose to the top of a sport built for men one foot taller and one hundred pounds heavier… and that’s what I’m always going to respect and remember about A.I.

He's quintessentially the Ultimate Philly Athlete. He has that “Rocky” thing going for him --- the underdog reaching for levels he wasn’t built to reach and wasn’t meant to reach but had the heart to reach. Allen has legions of fans in Philadelphia (and across the league) and they span across all cultures, races and social economic groups because of his heart.

Denver took a risk on multiple levels but I sincerely believe in how AI plays the game … just keep doing your thing and I hope you get the ring.... keep driving the lane … keep getting knocked down … keep getting back up .... and keep hitting the impossible shots.

Artifical Intelligence is back in vogue and people are excited again. Moore's law has kicked in for enough years on both CPU processing power, volatile and non-volatile memory densities and software maturity that we've finally passed a threshold. Now there's a resurgence of people, papers and general excitement in the realms of artificial intelligence and robotics. More in depth brain analysis and mapping tools, decades of neuroscientists peeling away the mysterious workings of our brain and the convergence of the information theory, artificial intelligence and neuroscience communities into integrated disciplines is finally bearing some serious fruit.

As any good experienced software guy will tell you after taking a strong look at the A.I. & robotics landscape -- you are immediately struck by the GRAND software challenges that exist - including lack of standards, complexity of implementations, plurality of proprietary substrates, massive amounts of data, lack of mature multithreaded, distributed, parallel software talent and algorithms and a general lack of financial resources to support such complex projects over a fixed amount of years. Students are usually the worker bees but they tend to graduate, get a job or get pregnant.

Like always DARPA is in the game, trying to build the next "killer app" in robotics, A.I. and neuroscience. Trying to build the war machines and soldiers of the future. DARPA has been sponsoring the Grand Challenges (including the Autonomous automobile challenge won by an A.I. group from Stanford University). Fresh new energy in rocketry and space travel by the software gazillionaires and probably the most significant event in American robotics has occurred when a software heavyweight announced theire entry into the robotics software development arena.

FOLKS -- the magic is in the software - no disrespect to the great hardware engineering that allows the software to run faster, stronger and greater. But true A.I. is going to be more a function of software and algorithms until the day we can manufacture a hardware version of the brain (a trillion chips wired in a trillion ways)

Big shout out to Emerging Properties, AMD, Microsoft, Ray Kurzweil, DARPA , Stanford's AI team, Carnegie Mellon's CompSci dept, MIT, Rutgers and all the other great computer science departments that were brave enough to keep the flashlight on during the A.I. dark ages (and during the internet bubble bust) .... and a a GRAND SHOUT OUT to the other A.I and the Denver Nuggets.

Now the big question .... should I get a girlfriend in '07 ???