AI in 2017

I am considering focusing my English 115 this year on issues having to do with artificial intelligence, especially in relationship to human intelligence. A couple of recent news stories suggest that it’s a topic worth considering with my students:

  • In Digital Journal, James Walker reports that Facebook “Researchers shut down AI that invented its own language.” While it is true that the two AIs involved, Bob and Alice, appeared to have deviated from standard English, it isn’t necessarily the case that the language at which they arrived was “most efficient solution”. It was simply one solution given the inputs. Other inputs might have resulted in a different “speaking in code.”
  • Some of the work is actually available from Facebook’s Code site: “Deal or no deal? Training AI bots to negotiate”.

Meir Sternberg on Narratology’s History

As part of a larger effort to think about the shape of small stories, I have begun to try to delineate more carefully the modes of oral discourse — e.g., description, narration, exposition, etc. Apart from the early work by Labov and Waletzky, whose work on narrative versus free clauses is foundational, the work I have found most compelling is that of Meir Sternberg. Re-reading his 1981 essay on “Ordering the Unordered: Time, Space, and Descriptive Coherence” is an exercise in wondering how one mind could anticipate so much of what was to come and what still needs to get done.

I’ll have more to say about Sternberg later, but in the mean time, I found this delightful excerpt from an interview in which he explains the difference, or the lack thereof, between classical and post-classical narratology.


How the American University Was Killed

In “How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps,” Debra Leigh Scott observes the following five trends: (1) defunding of public education, (2) de-professionalizing of professoriate, (3) rise of administrative class, (4) rise of corporate culture and money, and (5) destruction of students through both lowering standards as well as raising costs of university. The result is “low wage migrant professors teach repetitive courses they did not design to students who travel through on a kind of conveyor belt, only to be spit out, indebted and desperate into a jobless economy.”