The Natural Stupidity of Artificial Intelligence by A. Michael Noll

Monday, June 18th, 2018

The Natural Stupidity of Artificial Intelligence

A. Michael Noll

June 17, 2018

© Copyright 2018 AMN

Clearly, the future is coming, but at times we seem mostly to be chasing the past. Artificial intelligence is today’s “new” rage. But I think it is mostly hype and faith, coupled with a blind, and perhaps deliberate, ignorance of what was done decades ago.

In the 1960’s, digital computers were programmed and used at Bell Telephone Laboratories (Bell Labs) to “compose” music. Today the same algorithmic approach is called artificial intelligence. Digital computers were also programmed in the early 1960s at Bell Labs to create art. And today this too is called artificial intelligence. Back then decades ago, the intelligence was the human who wrote the program and also the human who chose which computer-generated music and art was most liked.

A modern jetliner can fly itself. But is this artificial intelligence, or simply computer control following algorithms? The human pilots are just there to take over in case of an emergency.

What is “artificial intelligence?” “Artificial” means false, fake, not natural. “Intelligence” is the ability to process information and then to perform appropriate actions. It seems to imply some sort of innate human ability. Clearly, a machine is not human and thus cannot possess human qualities, such as intelligence. The “intelligence” of a machine consists of programmed algorithms that the machine carries out. It is not a human quality – it is fake.

I am reminded of decades ago when we were told that the human brain was like a digital computer, and that neurons rather than bits were involved. Well, this theory went nowhere and the human brain is still much of a mystery. There was decades ago the computer program ELIZA created by Joseph Weizenbaum that could act as a psychotherapist.* Weizenbaum explored in his book the human fascination with autonomous machines. – and this was over four decades ago. I expressed concern in 1961 about computers that could learn and act.**

Today there clearly is considerable hype and publicity being given to artificial intelligence. It promises much, but seems mostly to attract investors and big companies that hope to cash in on it all (or the next “new” thing). The ignorance of what went on in the past, coupled with the lust of greed, is the natural stupidity of artificial intelligence.


* Joseph Weizenbaum, Computer Power and Human Reason, W. H. Freeman and Company (New York), 1976.

** A. Michael Noll, “Electronic Computer – Friend or Foe?” the Orbit, Vol. 5, No.3 (March 1961), Newark College of Engineering, pp. 8 & 16.

A. Michael Noll

The Innovation Garden by A. Michael Noll

Monday, May 21st, 2018

The Innovation Garden

A. Michael Noll

May 20, 2018

© Copyright 2018 AMN

Long before Silicon Valley invaded California, there was an “Innovation Garden” flourishing in New Jersey. Which easily qualified as the Invention State.

Thomas A. Edison and his laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey cemented New Jersey’s role in innovation. Many smaller manufactures of electrical equipment became located in New Jersey, all wit their on innovations. RCA Laboratories in Princeton, New Jersey was formed in 1942 and a host of inventions resulted, including color television.

One of the more famous R&D facilities in New Jersey was Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc. (Bell Labs). The freedom to take risk, coupled with a proximity to practical problems, characterized Bell Labs. These factors are today associated with Silicon Valley, but were present decades before at Bell Labs and the other R&D facilities located in New Jersey. The very “silicon” in Silicon Valley came from William Shockley, one of the inventors of the transistor at Bell Labs who later went to California.

New Jersey is known as the Garden State, but it also should be credited as being an early “Innovation Garden.”

The story of Bell Labs, from my personal perspectives, can be downloaded at:

Book Cover featuring Bell Labs

An Interview with Vint Cerf at MSU

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

On May 10th, 2018, Google’s ‘father of the Internet’, Vint Cerf gave the Quello Lecture at MSU, entitled ‘The Unfinished Internet’. Before the interview, he was interviewed by Scott Pohl of WKAR public radio. Here is that interview:

Vint Cerf Speaking at MSU on 10 May @ 3:30PM

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018


The Internet grew out of a successful US Defense Department experiment in packet switching and became a platform upon which a wide range of new applications have evolved. New technologies such as smart phones have reinforced the utility of the Internet by spreading access to it at increasing bandwidths and geographic scope. The Internet is estimated to have reached about 50% of the world’s population. As this decade comes to a close, what challenges remain and what new ideas may be pursued? Security, safety, reliability, misinformation, botnets, privacy, and a host of other concerns clamor for attention. Powerful machine learning tools and collaborative technologies are increasing our capacity to solve problems and ask new and challenging questions.

This talk raises questions and poses problems that need attention if we are to make of the Internet the tool it has the capacity to become.

Vinton G. Cerf is vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google. He contributes to global policy development and continued spread of the Internet. Widely known as one of the “Fathers of the Internet,” Cerf is the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet. He has served in executive positions at MCI, the Corporation for National Research Initiatives and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and on the faculty of Stanford University.

Vint Cerf served as chairman of the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) from 2000-2007 and has been a Visiting Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 1998. Cerf served as founding president of the Internet Society (ISOC) from 1992-1995. Cerf is a Foreign Member of the British Royal Society and Swedish Academy of Engineering, and Fellow of IEEE, ACM, and American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the International Engineering Consortium, the Computer History Museum, the British Computer Society, the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, the Worshipful Company of Stationers and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He has served as President of the Association for Computing Machinery, chairman of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) and completed a term as Chairman of the Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology for the US National Institute of Standards and Technology. President Obama appointed him to the National Science Board in 2012.

Cerf is a recipient of numerous awards and commendations in connection with his work on the Internet, including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, US National Medal of Technology, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, the Prince of Asturias Award, the Tunisian National Medal of Science, the Japan Prize, the Charles Stark Draper award, the ACM Turing Award, Officer of the Legion d’Honneur and 29 honorary degrees. In December 1994, People magazine identified Cerf as one of that year’s “25 Most Intriguing People.”

His personal interests include fine wine, gourmet cooking and science fiction. Cerf and his wife, Sigrid, were married in 1966 and have two sons, David and Bennett.

Quello Lecture by Richard Stallman, Free Software Foundation (the uncut version)

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

On April 11th, 2017, Richard Stallman, the President and Founder of the Free Software Foundation, gave a Quello Lecture at Michigan State University on “A Free Digital Society”. Here is the unedited version of this full talk, which you are free to use for educational purposes. The first hour is focus on ‘free software’, and the second hour moves into the discussion of surveillance, censorship, problems with Internet services, and discussion of electronic voting, and the war on sharing. There is also a short video of an interview with Richard here.

Richard Stallman talk at MSU from Quello Center on Vimeo.

Path of a Lecture and Interview with Richard Stallman

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

Irem Gokce Yildirim, a masters student at MSU in my course on media and information policy, interviewed Richard Stallman after his Quello Lecture at MSU. It was her first interview, and she did a great job, with support from her husband, Ustun. Both are from Turkey and both are associated with the Free Software Foundation, for which Richard is the President and Founder.

RMS and Dutton at Auction of GNU at End of Lecture

The back story on how this happened is interesting to me. Ustun, pictured getting an autograph from Stallman, alerted Irem to an early visit by Richard to Michigan. Irem alerted me in class and suggested we invite Richard. This kicked off communications to get Richard Stallman to MSU for a Quello Lecture, and to asking Irem to play an important role in conducting the interview.

Irem and rms

Her interview and Richard Stallman’s lecture will be posted on the Quello site in due course, but this is how it all happened. Thanks to Irem and Ustun for enhancing the academic climate at the Quello Center and MSU’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences.

Ustun and rms

Post Script: Ustun won the GNU in the auction, and the photo is showing Ustun getting rms’s signature on the GNU. First auction at any Quello event, I believe.

Colleagues Toast Completion of WILMA Reports

Saturday, December 17th, 2016

Aleks Yankelevich and Mitch Shapiro toast (with new Quello mugs!) the completion of their two reports, both of which were central to a major Quello Center project on Wireless Innovation in Last Mile Access (WILMA). Aleks led the report on regulatory issues surrounding key spectrum of value to wireless, and Mitch led the report on business strategy case studies of wireless initiatives. Both reports will be released in the coming months when reviews are completed.

A Challenge to Virtual Reality by A. Michael Noll

Monday, September 26th, 2016

A Challenge to Virtual Reality

A. Michael Noll

September 26, 2016

© 2016 AMN

Is today’s virtual reality little more than real fantasy?

Back in the 1960s, Maurice Constant of the National Film board of Canada visited Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. I was in the audience listening to him challenge us to make a system that would allow a designer to actually mold with their hands a virtual clay that existed only in the computer – seeing and feeling simultaneously in 3D. I was challenged by this vision, and subsequently designed and built an interactive 3D stereoscopic system that offered tactile feeling through force feedback, along with a stereoscopic display. This project started in the late 1960s and was the subject of my doctoral dissertation. I now challenge today’s haptic and virtual reality communities to create the technology to implement Maurice’s vision.

My research was completed in 1971 and resulted in a US patent[1] and also a published paper[2]. The system I invented had 3D force feedback, in which virtual objects had actual weight, in addition to feel. There also was simultaneous stereoscopic real-time display. The next step in my research would have been a 3D head-mounted display to superimpose the computer-generated 3D imagery on reality with half-silvered mirrors, and some sort of finger feel. However, my career changed direction, as I accepted an assignment on the staff of the President’s Science Advisor, and I did not continue this research.

One application for my 3D “feelie” that I proposed was to facilitate tactile telecommunication. I suggested that a person could feel cloth, or other objects, over distances – in effect, a “touch” telephone.

It is perplexing that with the advances in technology that have occurred since the early 1970s that what is today called “virtual reality” and “haptic” seem behind our vision back then. I therefore issue my challenge to today’s community to create what was envisioned decades ago. Otherwise, much of today’s virtual reality indeed is little more than real fantasy.

[1] Noll, A. Michael, “Tactile man-machine communication system,” US Patent 3,919,691, filed May 26, 1971.

[2] Noll, A. Michael, “Man-Machine Tactile Communication,” SID Journal (The Official Journal of the Society for Information Display), Vol. 1, No. 2, (July/August 1972), pp. 5-11.

A. Michael Noll

A. Michael Noll

New Quello Project on the Last Mile of Access – WILMA

Monday, July 25th, 2016

The Quello Center has launched a promising project with the Quilt, a network of those providing Internet links to research and educational institutions, called RENs (Research and Educational Networks). We are helping them look at the policy issues such as in spectrum use, and business models, through a set of case studies, that might help them leap across the last mile of access to deep rural areas but also distressed areas of metropolitan regions. Wireless is the most obvious solution to this last mile, but understanding the changing technical, regulatory, industry, and financial constraints and opportunities will be challenging. The project title is Wireless Innovation for Last Mile Access (WILMA). More information is on our research site at:

Bill Dutton in front of MERIT for our first meeting.

Bill Dutton in front of MERIT for our first meeting.