tetrel Logo tetrel Logo

42 does not have to be the answer.

2021-05-25 by Johannes Humbert (LinkedIn | Twitter)

Yes, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is fun, it is fiction in the truest sense of the word. And this naturally raises the question of what it has to do here on the blog? For two reasons: Today is International Towel Day. That would actually be enough. But Douglas Adams, the author, had been working intensively on artificial intelligence. And thus also me…

Starting with Marvin, the depressive-suicidal robot. In this cosmos of crazy ideas and scenarios that appear in the five-part trilogy, he occupies an exceptional position. You really have to come up with the idea of establishing something like a depressive robot with suicidal thoughts as a character. Especially when you consider when it was all written - in the 1970s.

User error…

And then, of course, Deep Thought, the supercomputer, the predecessor of Earth. I beg your pardon? Yes, the Earth is a supercomputer that had (had) the sole task of determining the actual question of the meaning of life, the universe and all the rest. Because after seven and a half million years of computing time, Deep Thought had delivered the answer, it was: 42. Only Deep Thought could no longer remember the actual exact question. That’s why the Earth was built, in order to find out. Unfortunately, however, Earth was destroyed by the Vogons beforehand to make room for a galactic hyperspace express route.

42!

OK, a bit far-fetched, you might think, if you want to make the connection to AI. But it’s actually quite simple: AI is not a miracle thing, AI cannot solve all problems. Especially not if you don’t have a clear focus on why you want to use AI - or lose sight of the original reason in the implementation process, as Deep Thought did. AI can be a powerful tool to successfully get far ahead in business. Especially in the field of NLP, Natural Language Processing. But it is worth asking yourself elementary questions over and over again. For example, “What do I actually want to achieve? What are my KPIs?” Doing “something with AI” just for the sake of it, because AI is so hot right now, leads to results like 42…

This is also somewhat reminiscent of a Monty Python sketch (the similarity in name to our favourite programming language is really a coincidence) - “The Machine with the Bing”: in a hospital, a surgery room, many important doctors and - a machine. This machine does “Bing”. The doctors talk about it proudly. “Ahh, there it is, our latest acquisition, was quite expensive.”, “Oh, is that the machine that makes “Bing”?”, “Yaaa! That’s it!” Yes, and none of the doctors has the faintest idea what this machine is actually good for, why it was purchased, for a lot of money. All they know is that it goes “Bing”. Or to get back on track here: “Bing” is something like 42.

Prediction and Reality

But “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is also interesting because some of the things that appear in it are already a reality today. Unthinkable at the time of publication and dismissed as crazy, e-books (the actual travel guide through the galaxy - with touchscreen!), the content of this (a crowdsourcing project by “some passing strangers”) or the Babelfish (a simultaneous translator in the ear) as well as “Eddie”, the intelligent (but underchallenged, and therefore slightly depressed) on-board computer of the spaceship “Heart of Gold”, for example in voice assistants such as Siri or Alexa, are now everyday life. You can read a detailed list of these here, for example: https://1e9.community/t/diese-6-technologien-hat-per-anhalter-durch-die-galaxis-vorhergesagt/904

Seriously:

The occasion, International Towel Day, may seem strange, come hell or high water and all that. But this is a serious piece of advice from us to you: in AI projects, don’t lose sight of the goal, nor forget the actual reason for it. AI simply requires clearly defined KPIs, strategies, objectives and and and…

…and if you like, we will send you a short demo of our NLP solutions as well as the first volume of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. But only today. Because only today is International Towel Day. With this in mind:

Happy Towel Day!

PS: Why actually International “Towel Day”? Because it’s the first and best tip in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - always carry a towel. A towel is about the most useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can carry. It is of great practical value - you can wrap yourself in it for warmth as you hop across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the glowing marble sands of Santriaginus V as you breathe in the intoxicating vapours of the sea; you can sleep under the stars glowing so red in the deserts of Kakrafoon below; you can use it as a sail on a mini-raft as you sail down the sluggish and deliberate flowing Moth River, and wet it makes an excellent melee weapon; you can tie it to your face to protect yourself from noxious gases or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Chatterbox of Traal (a maddeningly stupid creature, it assumes if you can’t see it, it can’t see you - as daft as a brush, but very, very voracious); in danger you can wave your towel as a distress signal and, of course, dry yourself off with it, if it’s still clean enough by then.

But more importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. If, for example, a non-hitchhiker notices that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he also has a toothbrush, flannel, soap, biscuit tin, water bottle, compass, map, roll of string, insect spray, rain gear, space suit and so on. And he will then gladly lend the hitchhiker these or a dozen other things that the hitchhiker happens to have just “lost”. For he thinks that a man who hitchhikes across the galaxy, leads a hard life, gets into the dirtiest corners, fights terrible superpowers, finally makes his way to his destination and still knows where his towel is, must be a man you can rely on.