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  • Jack Lau

Let's try an A.I. Experiment

It is quite amazing how many times the word artificial intelligence is mentioned in our daily conversations these days. Just yesterday, we were fortunate to be invited on a boat trip (yes, that is one of the upside on a super-hot summer day, and have some friends who remember us :). Our host was curious as to what A.I. could do?

Are we expecting Terminator Skynet? Or are we expecting the like of a Robo-surgeon like that in Star Wars.

Well, unfortunately, just while we are fantasying, there are also news that yet another accident on self-driving car in the United States.

So, we would like to something different. We will share you some thoughts first, and then invite you to a lab to get a feel what is like. Yeah, Experiment! And, for those of you whose last lab experiment was to start a flame with a Bunsen Burner in a chemistry lab when you were sweet fourteen, don't worry, this is easy, safe and fun. Guaranteed! (And, if you don't remember what a Bunsen Burner is like, then (ha ha), you are not alone :)

The Thoughts (Motivation for trying the Lab)

Quite a number of friends have been sharing with us various impressions on artificial intelligence. We thought we would discuss this a bit here.

Most of us can imagine computer program that can recognize a face; play chess game; or park a Tesla on its own.

All of these we somehow think that it is A.I. It is true they all are. But, how does it different from the "older" type of technology, such as punching some numbers at the ATM machine and the cash spits out? Or, a commercial pilot switching on auto pilot and the plane can continue to fly without any further human interaction? Or, for that matter, you enter some data on the Excel spreadsheet and a macro will automatically calculate the sum and average of those numbers?

In the classic undergraduate text book on Artificial Intelligence, Stuart Russell (a UC Berkeley computer professor) and Peter Norvig (a research director at Google), wrote, "AI as the study of agents that receive percepts from the environment and perform an actions".

One definition that many of us accept is that a machine possesses intelligence (artificial) "if a human interrogator, after posing some written questions, cannot tell whether the written responses come from a person or from a computer." (Think of a perfect computer chat bot, the kind in the movie like "Her". (The movie is about a loner who starts talking to a virtual voice; and it get so real that he actually thinks that the voice is from a real person, with emotion and everything.)

See, for a human not to feel that he/she is conversing to a machine, the machine will have to understand the speech (not just lexically) but in context. It also has to respond, like a human, based on context (emotional context, physical environment, timing, etc.)

So, can machine really understand our speech? Just pause for a moment. Intuitively, to understand a sentence, the first thing is to be able to dissect it. You can think of dissecting a sentence in a grammatical sense.

Try imagine this simple phrase:

"Jack and Jill went up the Hill",

(Side track: No, no, no ...not all Jack ends up with a Jill as life partner. In fact, for our young parents who are thinking of naming your future boy, please consider the implication of calling him Jack. For his whole life, he may have to search for the elusive Jill. Just not fair.)

Ok, back to science. For us human, the "Jack and Jill went up the Hill", means two people (Jack and Jill), taking an action (in this case "going"), and arriving at a destination ("the Hill").

And, that is the way we comprehend. If we change the sentence to

"John and Mary went up the stairs", we would essentially substitute "Jack and Jill" with "John and Mary" as the two people in action. Instead of arriving at "the Hill" as the destination, they would now end up at the top of "the stairs".

That is how language works. So, if we can design a machine that figures who are the "people", what are the actions ("verbs"), figure out the nouns, and maybe even find out the adverbs and adjectives, we can begin to comprehend.

The Fun Part. Let's Try Some Lab.

So, now, let's try this on a real A.I engine. Google provides a fun web page for you to experience the computer ability to break down a sentence and even figure out the "sentiment" of that sentence. (And, it works in multiple languages…)

Here is the internet link:

Once you click open this web page, you can type any sentence you want under the "Try the API" section (see below.) We will now type in the sentence "Jack and Jill went up the hill."

Notice that the machine is able to pick up all the syntax of the sentence.

You can click on the "Syntax" tab as shown above. It clearly dissects the sentence.

Go play with the engine and try click on the "entities" tab and "sentiment" tab as well.

Or if you feel like it, copy and paste the entire "Jack and Jill" song into the box and see what happens.

Jack and Jill went up the hill

To fetch a pail of water.

Jack fell down and broke his crown,

And Jill came tumbling after.

Up Jack got, and home did trot,

As fast as he could caper,

He went to bed to mend his head,

With vinegar and brown paper

And, for those who want to try a different language, such as Chinese, please feel free!

Let's show you one.


Just like the English version, the engine recognizes that there are 2 people (marked as PERSON) and they are climbing up the hill (LOCATION).

You can take a look at the syntax analysis above as well. For those of you who know the Chinese language though, you do notice that there is a slight error in that the engine misunderstood "一起" which means "together" as a noun. But, hopefully you get the idea.

Have a nice week. Hope you enjoy this slightly longer blog. Please do experiment. It is a lot of fun.

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