New: Book Report: BAE05: Ellen Ullman's "Dining with Robots"

The Best American Essays 2005 contains two essays which pay homage to the then recently-deceased chef Julia Child. One of them is by Ellen Ullman. Ellen Ullman is a geek; she writes about software development; here in the essay "Dining with Robots" she writes about a clunky metaphor. When she was learning to write computer programs, she heard this metaphor; when I was learning to code, I heard this metaphor. Maybe it's universal. The metaphor is this:

A computer program is like a recipe. It's a set of instructions.

Ellen Ullman points out that this metaphor doesn't work when you look at a recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking--she looks at a recipe that mentions "important guests" and "a good bordeaux". These are real-world concepts, not easily expressed as computer data structures.

This leads Ms. Ullman to some musing on the topic: AI is a hard problem. More specifically, creating artificial intelligence that will interact with humans is a hard problem. But she wrote this article for non-technical people, so she doesn't talk about various past AI techniques which flopped. Instead, she talks about the peculiarly human thinking we do automatically at a dinner party: sitting in a chair, understanding the utility of an ice-cream spoon; tasting.

Then it gets weirder. What a fun essay.

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Posted 2006-09-13

 Anonymous said...


08 May, 2008 22:04
 lahosken said...


10 May, 2008 06:53
 Anonymous said...

these critisizing commentors are morons

05 October, 2009 19:30