The Human Element In Freestyle Chess


“When humans team up with computers to play chess, the humans who do best are not necessarily the strongest players. They’re the ones who are modest, and who know when to listen to the computer. Often, what the human adds is knowledge of when the computer needs to look more deeply.”

Great quote from Tyler Cowen, author of a book called ‘Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation’. He’s referring to “freestyle” chess competitions, in which humans and computers play on teams together. He goes on to say:

“Today, the human-plus-machine teams are better than machines by themselves. It shows how there may always be room for a human element.”

Yes, although I hope the “may” turns out to be a “will”!

Image credit: ChessBase

The Quantified Doctor

Quantified Care

My first book, due out January 2015, is about the Quantified Self movement. It’s called Trackers: How Technology Is Helping Us Monitor & Improve Our Health. One of the chapters is about a doctor who encourages her patients to use self-tracking tools, such as Fitbit or MyFitnessPal.

Well now there’s a self-tracking company that caters specifically to doctors, called Quantified Care. I think this is a fantastic development, because these tools can benefit doctors just as much as they do their patients. Here are a couple of infographics from Quantified Care that showcase this:

QC Infographic 1

QC Infographic 2

Atheism & AI

book_3d“He’s an atheist, the rule not the exception among AI experts.” So says James Barrat, talking about Eliezer Yudkowsky from the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI).

I’m currently listening to the audio version of Barrat’s book ‘Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era’. It’s an enjoyable exploration of the dangers of artificial intelligence.

As an aside, I’m a bit worried that atheism is “the rule” for AI experts. I’d like my AI experts to be a bit more open-minded. Agnostic, at least.

The 1958 Perceptron: First Attempt At A Conscious Computer


While researching my second book, about augmented intelligence, I came across this New York Times article from July 7, 1958. The lead is “NEW NAVY DEVICE LEARNS BY DOING. Psychologist Shows Embryo of Computer Designed to Read and Grow Wiser.” Here’s the opening line:

The Navy revealed the embryo of an electronic computer today that it expects will be able to walk, talk, see, write, reproduce itself and be conscious of its existence.

The device was called a Perceptron, a marvelously 1950s scifi name, and was invented by one Frank Rosenblatt.

Of course, it was a wildly optimistic news report by The Times. 56 years later and the tech industry is nowhere near creating a conscious computer. In fact we still can’t even define consciousness, let alone create an artificial one.

Writer’s Log, 20/6/14: Update On Book Projects

A couple of quick updates on my writing projects.

1) The book I completed at the end of 2013, on the topic of self-tracking (a.k.a. Quantified Self) is still at the publisher. The publication date of January-February 2015 hasn’t changed. With any luck, it will arrive at the same time as the also long-awaited Apple iWatch!

2) I’m currently working on my second book, which will be about augmented intelligence. Earlier this month I returned from a trip to the US, where I conducted interviews and did archive research for the project. I’ll tell you more about it in upcoming posts.

My ‘Trackers’ Book Will Be Perfect For Apple’s Healthbook Users


Earlier this month I announced that my upcoming book about self-tracking had found a publisher. The book is entitled Trackers: How Technology Is Helping Us Monitor & Improve Our Health (the final title may be slightly different). My book was completed at the end of 2013 and has just started the editing process, so it’s due out January or February 2015.

Judging by a comprehensive report this morning on the 9to5Mac blog, my book will hit the market just when Apple – and probably Google too – is starting to take self-tracking mainstream in a big way. Here’s the introduction to the 9to5Mac post:

Seven years out from the original iPhone’s introduction, and four years past the iPad’s launch, Apple has found its next market ripe for reinvention: the mobile healthcare and fitness-tracking industry. Apple’s interest in healthcare and fitness tracking will be displayed in an iOS application codenamed Healthbook.

According to the article, Healthbook strongly hints at an upcoming iWatch. Although even as a standalone aggregator of heath data on the iPhone, it would be hugely valuable. As the 9to5Mac article concludes, “Healthbook may just be able to transform healthcare and fitness management for the betterment of society.” I for one can’t wait to use Healthbook, whatever its final form may be.

In my book, I deliberately left room for an Apple or Google to shake up the self-tracking market. I tell the story of a number of self-tracking companies, but the book isn’t product-centric. So this news about Apple’s Healthbook excites me greatly!



Images: 9to5Mac

Writer’s Log, 7/3/14: Publishing Contract Signed

An update on my book writing activities. As you all know, I completed my first book, about self-tracking, at the end of 2013. Today I signed a publishing contract for that book. It’s with Bateman Publishing, one of New Zealand’s top indie publishers. Just remember that last year’s Man Booker Prize winner was published by a New Zealand indie, so I have high hopes ☺

My book will be released in print and eBook formats around January or February 2015. I’m thrilled that it’s on the road to publication and I’ll keep you informed of progress.

As for my next book, I have started planning and initial research for it. I’m not yet ready to announce the topic, but I will say its another narrative nonfiction book about technology. I’ll have an update on this soon.


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