I think they tickle the creativity and interest of young people in AI research. It's good for public interest, they serve a purpose. For me, I don't have time. I have so many equations to work on.
What are you working on now?
I'm working on a calculus for counterfactuals—sentences that are conditioned on something that didn't happen. If Oswald didn't kill Kennedy, then who did? Sentences like that are the building blocks of scientific and moral behavior. We have a calculus that if you present knowledge about the world, the computer can answer questions of the sort. Had John McCain won the presidency, what would have happened?
Sort of like an alternative reality?
It's kind of like an alternative reality—you have to give the computer the knowledge. The ability to process that knowledge moves the computer closer to autonomy. It allows them to communicate by themselves, to take a responsibility for one's actions, a kind of moral sense of behavior. These are issues that are interesting—we could build a society of robots that are able to communicate with the notion of morals.
But we don't have to wait until we build robots. The theory of econometric prediction is changing because we have counterfactual calculus. Should we raise taxes? Should we lower interest rates? If the government raises taxes, will that pacify the unions? It's been a stumbling block for the past 150 years. We can assume something about reality before we take an action.