[sl4] Starglider's Mini-FAQ on Artificial Intelligence

From: Aleksei Riikonen (aleksei@iki.fi)
Date: Sat Oct 03 2009 - 01:18:59 MDT

Michael Wilson (aka "Starglider") has recently written a "Mini-FAQ on
Artificial Intelligence" on a science/philosophy subforum of a certain
somewhat random forum where he sometimes ends up discussing things:


I mention this mostly because the mini-FAQ is written in a style that
I found to be somewhat unusually honest in a refreshingly funny way,
example below (also, there are very few things in the document that
I'd disagree with):

***** start of quote *****
9. Can you tell me what it is like in the field? Having spend most of
my time doing school work I'm not sure about the current developments
and what doing work in the field involves and how I could fit in.

If you mean the history, culture, personalities etc of the field,
numerous books have been written on the subject* and they are still
restricted to a brief overview of each subfield. As a graduate, your
choice is between staying in academia, commercial narrow AI work (the
biggest areas are robotics, games and search/data mining - though not
that even in games very few people do purely AI), or joining a wildly
ambitious general AI start-up (e.g. Adaptive AI Inc).

* 'Mind Design II', compiled by John Haugeland, is a great example,
because it's basically a big collection of papers from many different
subfields where researchers trash rival approaches and claim only
their own can work, as politely as possible. Probably inaccessible to
laypeople, but it's really funny if you're in the field.

Unsurprisingly most commercial work is kind of dull - you normally
pick the off-the-shelf algorithm that has the lowest technical risk
and development time, slot it in, and spend most of your time doing
requirements capture, functional testing, interfaces and other non-AI
stuff anyway. Finance has some interesting decision support problems
and in the US particularly there have always been be a fair number of
military and intelligence projects trying to push the narrow AI
envelope (you'll need a security clearance for that).

Academia usually means slaving away for low pay implementing the
research director's ideas, when you're not grading essays or drafting
papers (for your superiors to stamp their names on and take credit).
Eventually you'll get tenure (if you're lucky) and be able to do
pretty much what you like, as long as it results in lots of papers
published and looks good at university open days. Startups focused on
general AI are usually exciting, stimulating stuff, but the jobs are
nearly impossible to get, probably involve moving across the country
or to another country, and last for an average of oh 24 months or so
before the company runs out of funding and implodes.
***** end of quote *****

Aleksei Riikonen - http://www.iki.fi/aleksei

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