Archive for April, 2010

Unified Artificial Intelligence

April 3, 2010

Noah Goodman and others at MIT have recently developed an A.I. based program for determining who would send e-mail to whom at a fictitious company.  However, it’s not the application itself that is of interest.  It’s the way that they carried out the computations.  The program relies on probabilistic rules that get updated over time.  It combines some of the original ideas of expert systems (using rules and implications) with the probabilistic approach that has been successful in recent years.

The research team admits that it doesn’t have a final solution on how this should be accomplished.  It currently is too computationally intensive.

Here are some random thoughts on this issue.

  1. This sounds like an ideal topic for O.R. researchers to get involved in.  We also have expertise in logic and probabilistic reasoning.
  2. Humans are terrible at dealing with probabilities but we are pretty good at forming categories and recognizing patterns.  Perhaps the A.I.  system could be improved by using “flawed human reasoning.”  For example, the system could be overconfident, just as humans are.  It could rely too heavily on recent information.  It could use very simple rules for updating probabilities.  It could rely heavily on other program’s expertise, just as we rely on what other people think.
  3. Perhaps the best way of developing a “unified approach” is to concurrently use several approaches to arrive at conclusions, and refer to each approach as “an expert.”  Then use a unifying approach that takes the expert opinions and arrives at a group opinion.  I think that this is already done, but perhaps in slightly different ways than I am suggesting.

An Open Letter to CNN

April 2, 2010

Dear CNN,

Your prime time shows do not attract nearly as many viewers as Fox News and not as many as MSNBC.  How should you react to this bad news?  I think that you should treat this as a great opportunity to reinvigorate your brand and your offerings.  Here are some suggestions for CNN television news.

  1. Aim high! Whatever you do should be aimed at “excellence”, not judged by the number of viewers (although this is important) but at the quality of the presentation both in terms of form and content.  You should aim to be the most trusted name in news and information by those who are most knowledgeable. The rest will follow.
  2. Figure out what is worth doing, and then do it well. In this Internet age, you should figure out what your network can best accomplish.   Is your best choice really to present the news of the day over and over again?  You have Headline news for that and you also have the Internet.
  3. Be a thought leader. There is so much misinformation that circulates around, some of it caused by Fox News.  You should confront what is false and point out that it is false.  You should take stands when thoughtful people should agree.   
  4. Generate light, not heat.  Generate confidence, not fear. Too often, you have generated heat and fear.   When there are problems, confront them directly.  But most problems can be dealt with.  It is always possible to provide a balanced report that is useful.  Personally, I think that Wolf Blitzer is one of the worst hosts of those who are still on the air.  His natural inclination is to generate heat and fear.  My favorite host of yours is Fareed Zakaria, who is incredibly knowledgeable and a very interesting commentator and interviewer.
    STOP the practice of interviewing the people from both extremes on a viewpoint (or worse yet, take a viewpoint that is widely accepted and then interview the nutcase who disagrees with it).  It is much better to interview a thoughtful and knowledgeable person who is “center-left” and another who is “center-right.”  And don’t shy away from times when they agree.
  5. Add more information content that is not “news.” OK.  You are CNN News.  But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have shows dedicated to history, or science, or business, or sports, or even Operations Research.  (That is my discipline.  It is an engineering and scientific approach to improving managerial decision making.)  The important thing is that whatever you do, it should be thoughtful and well done.
  6. Innovate. Your primary goal should be to present news and information that helps views to become more thoughtful and informed citizens.  But you also should try to be as interesting as possible within that framework.  Personally, I think that filling prime time with news hosts is getting old.  It’s time to have much more variety in your prime time programming.
  7. Be fearless. If you listen only to those who only want to increase ratings, or who only want to improve revenue, you will only do incremental things, and you will copy formats from other shows.  This is a time to think big and do something important.