2015-16 Term 2 Week 2: Learning Journal – UoPeople

Another week at UoPeople finished! This week was challenging but it was a lot of fun too. Our assignment is worth turning into a real app too, I swear. It was a very busy week but I managed to pull through, mainly thanks to my wife for picking up my slack.

So to start off with, remember how many times I’ve posted about double checking my work before submitting? Me neither… I’ve lost count. Well I did it again – I submitted an assignment with a mistake in it :-/ Judging by the rubric it looks like I’ll only miss out on marks from one section, but man it hurts when you realize after the fact.

The mistake actually frustrated me a lot and I was stressing out about it more than I should have. I think it was effecting my concentration at my new job, because I later got an email saying I had left a trailing semicolon in my code. That semicolon meant that about 2000 students were not able to load the coding challenge that was affected. Oops!

Obviously my reaction was to apologize and proclaim that I wouldn’t let it happen again. My boss then consoled me with a nice anecdote of how others at Khan Academy have made mistakes too, and that it happens. It’s important when we make mistakes, not to get too upset and instead think of ways to prevent them in the future. I already know this but it’s easy to forget when you’re working so hard at being the best you can be.

OK, so lesson relearned… again. Double check work, and don’t fret when you still make a mistake – it’s not worth it. Good. Moving on.

I mentioned that our assignment was a lot of fun this week, and it was. Our goal was to make a couple lists of words such as a list of proper nouns, common nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc, and create sentences out of them based on some simple syntactic rules. The sentences are randomly generated and come out sounding really silly, but they follow basic rules of English, so they kind of make sense if you read them aloud. Here’s a few examples:

The troll runs if her bird reads although Cohen sleeps but Dan talks or its agitated company talks.

A troll runs because some agitated skunk sleeps.

That unicorn who runs talks but a company reads or Miss America sleeps if your child stinks if Mary stinks and the unicorn who eats reads or Dan eats.

 A cat stinks because Bob sleeps but Grandma eats or its bird stinks but Miss America reads and every tiny agitated active child stinks but Rob jumps.

 Richard Nixon talks if Richard Nixon reads but a big pretty child sleeps.

My troll sees every troll.

 Jane sleeps.

I didn’t make any of these up, they are all randomly generated from my class assignment 🙂 Hilarious I know… Seriously I think some of the sentences are really funny, and it’s going to get a lot more inappropriate after I submit the “respectful” version for school.

Now, this assignment got me thinking about some things, and as a part of our learning journal assignment we are to write about something important we are reflecting on. The question and my answer looks like this:

6. Finally, describe one important thing that you are thinking about in relation to the activity.

One important thing I’m thinking about, and this in relation to the programming assignment we had this week, is how complicated data structures and recursion are used for programming AI. When I finally completed the assignment, I realized that there could be a much larger data base of vocabulary to draw from, and the complexity of how those words are assembled could be made more interesting by using a Linked List to connect certain words or phrases to others.

In our assignment there are a lot of sentences that although syntactically make sense, are obviously made by a computer which is not aware of the fact that it is in fact “speaking” English. It makes me think about the complexity of Microsoft’s Cortona, or Apple’s Siri. It’s funny how inhuman they can be, but at the same time there is a lot of complexity to them both too. It’s amazing how far we’ve come along in making human like AI – which brings me to another thought. What does it mean to be intelligent?

I believe it was Allan Turing who asked “what does it mean to think?”, and in his mind a computer is capable of thinking just as much as any man. But why is it that we only see it as thinking if it thinks like us?

Even we don’t think like “us”… I like my coffee black, and my tea with honey. You may like your coffee with 1 sugar 2 milk… Or maybe you voted Conservative, but I voted Liberal. We all think differently, so who’s to say a machine isn’t thinking just because it thinks differently? And further more, why does a computer have to be intelligent according to the rules that we humans define? Is it not possible for a machine to be intelligent in ways we can’t understand?

How about being sentient? At what point does a machine become intelligent enough that it becomes self-aware? And what does it look like when a machine is sentient – if they are so far outside of our understanding – would we even know? In other words, what does machine like AI look like, and why does a machine have to replicate our intelligence to be perceived as intelligent?


Just something to think about if that sort of thing interests you. I wonder about this stuff all the time – what the future of technology will be like. And I suppose more importantly, what place humans will have in a world populated by intelligent machines. Or maybe we will become those intelligent machines – who knows?

Let me know what your thoughts are on Artificial Intelligence and what it’s role will be in the future. How long do you think it will be – if ever – before we call a machine a sentient being?

Cheers everyone,





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