Pic of the day: Where has all the processing power gone? It has gone into making lifelike cinematic games, such as Dark Age of Camelot here. Perhaps that's just easier than natural language processing, or perhaps there's just more demand for lifelike furries and rogue trainers.
Limits to software
Most of you are probably familiar with "Moore's law", which states that computers (actually integrated circuits) every 18 months double in capacity. As new models become available, the price of existing processors is halved. Some experts estimate that the total processing power of a home PC in 2020 will exceed that of the human brain.
With the flood of cheap processing power, you would expect new software applications to become possible. Well, we have got cinematic games, but what about more practical things? Let us look at a couple of the most useful applications: Speech recognition and machine translation.
Speech recognition would be useful at two different levels. First, most people speak faster and easier than they write (although for me it is the other way around). It is rare to hear of anyone getting Repetitive Strain Injury in their jaw. And most people simply feel more comfortable with talking. A second use of this technology would be the responsive home, in which you talk to various functions of the house: "Reduce air temperature in living room by two degrees, turn down lamp brightness by 20% and play some of my favorite dance music." In the future homes, we are supposed to interact with all kind of appliances this way, and have them talk back (respectfully) as needed.
Sadly, the state of speech recognition right now is nothing to write home about. Not that I haven't anyway. I use a pretty decent speech recognition program on a rather high-end machine, but it is still like having dictation taken by a drunk and homesick Asian high school exchange student. The words that come down are usually genuine and occasionally even make sense when read together; but they rarely make the sense you meant them to.
Has an XCOM will, this paragraph is dictated with no use of the correction festivities, as it to wear, in the speech recognition program dragon naturally speaking. As you can see, costs of it makes sense, but other parts don't. While this has some entertainment while you, you would not like your hospital to employee and technology like this!
Neither would you want your embassies abroad to rely on machine translation of important treaties. I guess Babelfish and Google are not quite the best this world can offer; but they are not so bad that their owners or ashamed to share them with the world. Now let us see what happens when I translate this paragraph into Spanish and back, a popular Internet amusement.
"Neither nor other you wanted that their embassies to the outside trusted the automatic important treaty translation. I conjecture that Babelfish and Google are not absolutely the best ones than this world can offer; but they are not so bad that its owners or shamed to share them with the world. Now déjenos they see what happens when I translate east paragraph to Spanish and the posteriora part, a popular diversion of the Internet."
Don't try this with North Korea, folks. (Then again, the leader of the US delegation there seems to have similar capabilities for inaccuracy, according to the less supportive observers.)
I admit that I am not the simplest guy to translate. I am not a native English speaker myself, and I am heavily influenced by a number of people who loved to play with the English language: Piers Anthony and Stephen Donaldson in particular, but also many others whose name I have forgotten. Even so, I fear that there is a long road ahead before we can reliable translate even between related languages such as English, German and Spanish. With such remote languages as Korean and Japanese, the challenges are daunting even for a trained human translator. (See some instruction booklets for East Asian electronics if you doubt me.) I won't even speculate on what decade, if ever, we will be able to rely on computers to translate our phone calls as we speak. But I think the risk of our species being replaced by robots is seriously overstated. It won't happen within our natural lifespan, I believe.
(Although, if I could get my computer to write my journal for me, perhaps I could get it up on time ...)
Visit the Diary Farm for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.