I sort of want to talk about machine learning and intelligence.
I spent a bunch of time over the last few weeks messing around with Unity’s machine learning tools. I won’t be putting together any kind of tutorial or forwarding any real actionable info here, because honestly I don’t think I am in any position to offer any. I have a better idea how ML works and what sort of problems it seems to be good at, but I think that there are some very harsh limits to what machine learning is capable of. I also think that there are a lot of people out there who are quick to overlook those limits. There is this commonly held belief that machine learning will be the thing that makes computers smarter than humans. Let me tell you, Skynet, this ain’t.
If you aren’t familiar, machine learning or neural net computing or tensorflow ai or evolutionary algorithms, or any of a million other names, are ways of getting a computer to solve problems by iteratively teaching itself. Rather than getting a programmer to study the problem and come up with a generalized solution, machine learning is a method of showing the system the problem, giving it a desired goal, or goals, and then leaving the actual problem solving up to the software. It just sort of fumbles forward until it comes up with a solution that gets to the goal in as efficient a way as it can. It might not be the best solution, but it will be fairly efficient and all it will have cost is computer time.
If they were to read that last paragraph there would, no doubt, be a bunch of machine learning researchers tripping over themselves to tell me what I got wrong. There would also be another gang of researchers behind them eager to point out what the first group got wrong. It seems to be that sort of field. Everyone is pretty sure that it’s great, but none of them really know how it works. When they tell you they know how it works they are usually wrong. What they probably won’t say is that machine learning solutions are ‘smarter’ than humans.
Let me rephrase some of that. They know how machine learning works, like technically how it functions. Maybe it would be better to say that they disagree on how to make it work. Or how to make it work well. Those are really just nuances. Academic inconsistencies.
I used machine learning to teach a marble how to not fall off a track. Not how to get anywhere. Not what anything in their environment is. Nope. Just how to not fall. They don’t even avoid the edge of the track very well. They like getting right up beside the edge and not falling off. Many hours of training over a few weeks, and they will try their damndest to not fall off a track. At this point they usually succeed.
I made a machine learning agent reproduce a certain behavior that I was looking for in a variety of situations, but I don’t know thing one about machine learning. I do know this. It’s not smarter than a human.
The human brain is a massively parallel, analog, electro-chemical, comparative decision making system that never, ever stops running. Sleeping, still running. Chemically unbalanced, still running. Physically compromised, still running. Nothing short of death stops an animal brain from running. What’s more, human societies have developed high density communication systems that transfer information from one individual’s brain to another. These communication systems developed over hundreds of thousands of years. The amount of information conveyed in a simple interaction between people is absolutely staggering, but of course we take it for granted, because we are humans and we are uniquely equipped to be able to decipher that much data presented in that specific way. Tone of voice, cadence of speech, flutters of the eyelids, physical gestures of all types. Communication as dense and varied as there are groups of people to engage in them. Nothing in the realm of machine learning systems even comes close.
A computer beat several top level players at Go. That doesn’t prove that machines are smarter than humans. It proves that humans built a tool. If I use a wrench to turn a nut, that doesn’t mean that the wrench is better than my hand. It means that people have created a tool that solves the problem of enhancing grip and leverage. Wrenches are crap at shuffling cards. I can’t use a wrench to solve a rubik's cube or type this post. It is a tool that enhances human ability. The machine that is good at playing Go is just that. A machine that is good at playing Go, because people wanted to make a tool that was good at playing Go. It can’t tell me if the milk in the back of my fridge has gone bad. That would require a different tool. Maybe machine learning could be used to make it. That would not and will not make that machine smarter than the human who wanted to know about the state of their milk.
Let me also be clear here, this is not because I think that there is some intangible, fundamental, superiority of humans over the machines they create. Not even close. This is just a matter of time. Human brains run constantly and have run constantly for hundreds of thousands of years. Animal brains for hundreds of millions before that. And those brains don’t run slower than computer circuits, just different. All brains have done for over 500 million years, is figure out how to solve problems. You could throw all the Nvidia GTX cards you want into the machine learning arena, they just can’t compete with that much iteration time.
I think what a lot of folks who tout the idea of a generalized AI that’s smarter than people forget is that people created Go. It was people who created a game with such a wide possibility space that they themselves couldn’t competently calculate it. They created a problem they couldn’t solve and then hammered away on it for a couple thousand years because it was fun.
This isn’t the sort of species that you just surpass because you built a machine that can do multiplication real good. When it comes to being clever, humans are certifiable badasses. Problem solving, Iteration, intuitive lateral thinking. Really nothing tops us. We’ve just been doing it longer.
The wizard sits.
The wizard reclines, luxuriating upon the fabric of the universe pulled taut. Seated on a product of their own will. The imposition of their desire on local space. A type of calm radiates through their form. A body of flesh and metal coalesced through technology and sorcery. All one and the same, at a fundamental level. The forces and the fabric. The knowledge and the tools. Blood and muscle and conduits and electrical load. The suppression of fear, hesitation. The intent to manipulate. All the same. All the same. At a fundamental level.
The wizard sits and thinks.
Plans. Strategies. Tactics. Reflex and reaction. Everything must be aligned toward one singular goal. Visualize and execute.
The Void Lords demand entertainment. Diversion from the ceaseless roar of the void. In exchange they provide reward. To the victorious. To defeat a Sorcerer is to become a Sorcerer. Use of power begets power. Victory begets victory. These are the terms of existence decreed by the void. Stakes of life and power. Wizards will battle, Sorcerers will topple, a Sorcerer’s aspect consumed by another. But a wizards charge, above all else, is to put on a good show.
The wizard sits. The wizard waits.
Some pace. Some wail. Some seethe, rending the air about them with arcs of furious power. The wizard sits. The wizard contemplates. When the darkened gyre gapes and ushers them toward combat, the wizard will be ready. When the buzzer sounds, when the shot is fired, the wizard will be ready.
For now, the wizard sits.
Best Games - Saints Row IV
Let’s get this straight right off the jump. Saints Row: The Third is the best game in the Saints Row series. Volition made two games that could be fairly summed up as Grand Theft Auto clones with toilet humor before reworking the 3rd into a self aware comedy that was as much parody as it was forward looking. Saints Row: The Third raised the bar for what an open world character driven game could be and stood out as a truly wonderful experience all it’s own.
Then they made Saints Row IV. It would be easy to see this followup game as derivative. After all it did use a lot of the same assets and gameplay loops. The mission structures and events in Saints Row: The Third that seemed fresh and interesting were rehashed with the thinnest layers of polish in the 4th game. All of your favorite old characters were back. But they were old, and they were back. Like from before. Previous.
Still Saints Row IV made it here into one of my Best Games posts.
With Saints Row IV, Volition chose fun. If there was a decision to make between difficulty and fun they chose fun. If they had to choose between realism and fun they chose fun. If there was an opportunity to prioritize fun over engaging with the systems already in the game, they chose fun.
This is a game world full of a variety of fun cars and planes you can steal and roam around in, but your character can run like the flash so that is usually more fun than driving. This is a game with an arsenal ten miles deep and you never need to use it because running up a building and jumping down with the force of a small nuke is more fun. The story is absolute nonsense that straddles the line between The Matrix and Independence Day and it wears all of its influences proudly on its sleeve, but it is fun.
If you look back to reviews of the game you will see a lot of folks taking a few points off the game for being too easy. And it is. Saints Row IV is an absolute cakewalk. Past the halfway point there will rarely be anything that pops up that challenges the player in the slightest. And it doesn’t matter at all. Sometimes fun is what matters. Sometimes you have to prioritize fun.
The characters and their antics are genuinely funny, if a certain level of side eyed lowbrow is something you find funny. The kind of irreverent that is smart enough to know where to land it’s punches and when to just be silly. The writing in Saints Row IV prioritizes fun.
Saints Row: The Third is a rare beast. An open world comedy action game that refuses to be snide or gritty. There is an upbeat optimism woven into the mayhem. Violence so bizarre and unrealistic that it lends the game a sort of helium filled buoyancy. It was and is a brilliant game.
Saints Row IV does that all again but removes any and all barriers to fun. Do what you want. Be what you want. Become an agent of chaos in this simulated world. Just don’t worry, the pins will be set back up for you to knock them down all over again and again and again. In any way you like.
You know, Fun.
Fun is why Saints Row IV is one of the best games