Artificially Yours

Gmail wants me to try twenty different types of beef jerky from a producer in Montana. It also thinks that I might need some new car insurance, and a membership in a microbrew of the month club.

Anyone with a gmail account has, by now, noticed the ads that run in a sidebar, alongside your inbox. And anyone that has written an email briefly mentioning beef jerky has probably also noticed that the ads that begin to appear in this sidebar all follow a rather meaty theme. It’s highly-specific, targeted advertising, tailored to you and your epistolary pursuits, and it’s also the driving principle behind the new frontier of artificial intelligence, and…online flirting.

Om Malik, of GigaOm, recently interviewed the founders of the new startup Iminlikewithyou, whose Facebook-era application aims to put a little competitive human spice back into the game of online flirtation. Now, you wouldn’t think that Charles Forman and Dan Albritton’s new forum for auctioning off romance would have anything to do with Jeff Hawkins and his company Numenta, but, well, you’d be wrong.

Numenta, recently profiled in this Alex Iskold article over at Read/Write Web, has recently released its first product, “an experimental software aimed at researchers and advanced developers which embodies the algorithms and techniques pioneered by Jeff and his crew”. Iskold goes on to say that, essentially, these algorithms are responsible for the creation of a model that emulates a little something that we call intelligence. This intelligence isn’t necessarily the sort that enables Bob to wow his co-workers at the launch party with his recitation of the Canterbury Tales from memory, but, it is the sort that forms the basis of how we identify, process, and act upon newly received information, and in doing so, it imitates the capabilities of the neocortex of the human brain.

Hawkins’ model is capable of receiving input, classifying it, and using that classification to make ‘educated’ assessments about what to do with this input, with the final result being actions based on these assessments. Numenta has designed this chiefly as a research tool, at this point, but, it’s not hard to see the same basic principles at work behind a host of Web 2.0 applications, highlighting the importance of intent-driven interactions, and the human aspect of the modern internet environment–whether it’s a social networking application, or an ‘intelligent’ set of advertisements tailored to your tastes. An ‘artificially intelligent’ algorithm may be responsible for all of those tasty beef jerky ads, but, they were created, in a sense, by my human-authored email, and the words that I chose–just as members of Iminlikewithyou can earn points towards being able to contact the ladies by answering questions about themselves that result in similarly targeted advertising.

It is easy, when thinking about the concept of Artificial Intelligence, to get swept away, as Iskold notes, by visions of a robot-dominated future, where the machines that we created to aid us end up being our Schwarzeneggarian overlords. (Battlestar Galactica, anyone?). However, here, in the present, what seems apparent is that one of the main, driving forces behind the development of Artificial Intelligence is the desire to enrich human interactions and human experiences. The idea is not to create an artificial form of life that is superior to us, but, to create technology that will work in concert with our most noble aims, or our most personal tastes and preferences–a technology that will look out for our best interests.

This concept is also behind the updated features of the ElephantDesktop application, which, as mentioned previously by StartupSquad, “will intelligently respond to local machine conditions by taking advantage of Intel mobility SDK that gives access to low-level device megtrics such as batteries, memory, CPU, WiFi signal strength, and network connectivity”. It’s yet another example of an idea whose execution is via technology, but, whose genesis and outcome are to be found in the human element, and how it might be better served by the technology that it has created. And artificial or not, that’s a form of intelligence whose time has definitely arrived.

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