for repeatedly quoting shit from this series of essays. But I read a couple of them every day, for a break, and I keep being struck by them. So here’s another:
For instance, the other day I recalled a famous passage from Adam Smith that I wanted to cite: something about an earthquake in China. I briefly considered scouring my shelves in search of my copy of The Wealth of Nations. But I have thousands of books spread throughout my house, and they are badly organized. I recently spent an hour looking for a title, and then another skimming its text, only to discover that it wasn’t the book I had wanted in the first place. And so it would have proved in the present case: for the passage I dimly remembered from Smith is to be found in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Why not just type the words “adam smith china earthquake” into Google? Mission accomplished.
Of course, more or less everyone has come to depend on the Internet in this way. Increasingly, however, I rely on Google to recall my own thoughts. Being lazy, I am prone to cannibalizing my work: something said in a lecture will get plowed into an op-ed; the op-ed will later be absorbed into a book; snippets from the book may get spoken in another lecture. This process will occasionally leave me wondering just how and where and to what shameful extent I have plagiarized myself. Once again, the gates of memory swing not from my own medial temporal lobes but from a computer cluster far away, presumably where the rent is lower.
When I was in the AI lab at USC we always talked about building an AI, teaching it in various clever ways — teach it like you teach a child! — and this is a clever way of thinking about AI that various AI labs are starting to catch on to, although the main thing about AI labs is that they don’t really like to be called AI labs anymore since the term is so effusive, and they know it.
But we don’t spend enough time thinking about cognition as an enterprise, something to be done cooperatively, even though we do it all the time: Monica knows where everything is in the house; I know the best way to make a pizza. She puts it in the oven, I check it, or tell her when to check it. She tells me where to find my socks. This is a stupid example but it’s one everybody can understand.
But there’s another level, one we’re just starting to see plainly because it’s so plain, and that level is using tools to think, to remember. And most of what’s happened so far has been an accident, as in the above quote, and the tools help us with our “thinking” almost as an afterthought. I’ve been interested for years in making a tool that helped us think better, whose main purpose would be for that and not anything else, but various things have kept me from it.
Someday, when Wes graduates, we can start building it.