Category Archives: Computing

Microsoft makes good stuff?

I’m writing this post using Windows Live Writer which is actually a pretty nifty piece of software to blog with.

It neatly detected my blog (given just the URL) and with my username and password, it happily downloaded the theme from the blog, so that I get a preview of what my post will look like as I create it. Even WordPress doesn’t do that yet although that will change in WordPress 3.0 (at least for the new default theme.) Your blog will need to support XML-RPC or Atom publishing to do this kind of cool stuff though.

What’s also cool is that the interface is blog-agnostic. I could be using it to post to a Blogger blog, a WordPress blog, LiveJournal or TypePad, not to mention Microsoft’s own Live Spaces and Sharepoint blogs.

What I’d really love though is for there to be an add-on for Firefox or an extension for Chrome, so that I could quickly open Windows Live Writer after selecting an excerpt or an image on a web-page or link. If I was using Internet Explorer, I could use the Live toolbar to hook into Live Writer, but no way I’m using that browser or another toolbar. I like my vertical space! 🙂

P.S. Almost 4 years ago, I had blogged about a Firefox add-on called Performancing which did just that. Sadly, the Performancing add-on seems to have died soon after and the site itself is now some sort of blog consultancy service.

Hacking Vista

This is possibly just one of many ways you can get access to a computer running Vista. The crazy thing about this exploit is that all you require is a Live Linux CD that allows you to copy/rename files on an NTFS partition. There’s no dearth of those, the one used in the video is called Back Track

The steps are very, very simple; even your grandma could do it! All she’d have to do is watch this video and follow the same steps.

Scary? You bet!

Update: There’s quite a lot of discussion on Slashdot about this including people pointing out that a variant of this hack was available on Windows XP and 2000 too. But the more important point made was that if you have physical access to a computer and that computer’s hard disk is unencrypted (both of which are prerequisites for this hack) then you pretty much own the computer anyway. I guess the utility of this hack is for SysAdmins so that if they ever find themselves with a Vista box without a password, this is a useful way to get in.

Going google-eyed over AI

It all started with this blog post by John Battelle which mentioned Larry Page talking about AI at an AAAS conference.

Who wouldn’t be interested? Harish and I watched the short clip on ZDnet and we were both a bit taken aback by what Page was saying. (You can get a video of the complete speech on this page.)

If you look at your DNA its just about 600 MB compressed, which is smaller than any operating system. Your Linux, windows, any operating system. That includes booting up your brain, right … by definition. So your algorithms are probably not that complicated, its probably about the overall computation.

I spotted the obvious flaw there that genome size is directly related to complexity of the system. Now any biologist worth her salt will tell you that this is simply not true. Gone are the days when we believed that knowing the complete genetic code of an organism will tell us everything we need to know about that organism. Far from it, the questions raised by sequencing genomes are far more than ones it answers!

But what does this all have to do with artificial intelligence or AI? Well apparently, a lot of people are buying Larry Page’s argument! Now believe what you will about the complexity or simplicity of AI. I’m no expert in the field. But to use the supposed “simplicity” of the DNA “program” to prove your point about AI is plain wrong.

I spent some time explaining to Harish the biology behind my thinking and he converted his understanding into a blog post with a clever title. He also went around posting comments in the blogosphere talking about why Page’s logic was flawed and pointed back to his post. Except for a couple of people, most didn’t understand the point Harish was trying to make with all the biology in his post, so let me try it this one time.

Page’s argument as I understand it is:

  1. Human DNA is simple to understand.
  2. Human DNA programs for the human brain.
  3. The human brain makes human beings intelligent.
  4. Therefore, AI is simple

All cut and dried. What’s wrong? Well, a couple of things. I could debate about how simple or not simple human DNA is, but lets assume it is simple. We’d still be stuck at step 2. DNA does NOT “program” in any sense the human body or brain. Using the metaphor of a “program” is quite wrong and it is this precisely that which leads most people to make mistakes in assuming what DNA can or can’t do.

My point is that the sequence of DNA in a genome is an incomplete description of a living system. Therefore it is not a good way to estimate how easy or hard it would be to build an AI system.

I do not know enough about AIs, nor the current state of research in that field to be able to debate how close or far away we are from building one. But I do know enough biology to tell you that using DNA to argue that AI is around the corner is wrong.