Original article was published on Artificial Intelligence on Medium
by Sean Tarzy
Harry Handshake to the rescue! That was about it. The full political experience of Dr. Harold Pockly, summarized in a sentence. Sitting in a self-driving Uber, reflecting on his candidacy for 10th grade class president, Harry allows his mind to wander as his eyes stay fixed to the 12’’ by 10’’ screen in front of him. “President Sanchez averts crisis with Middle Eastern negotiations” the TV reads, as a bright-smiled, good-looking, 6-foot Georgio Armani suited figure walks out of his plane to a cheering crowd, each voice almost believing his waving hand was meant for them personally.
Harry Handshake to the Rescue! What a stupid slogan! Even for a 16 year-old!.
It worked, however. 25 years ago, in his adolescence, Harry captured the hearts of his classmates and ascended to the throne of extra school-work and meaningless speeches. Oh Andrea Anderson! Best nipples in Elon Musk High! It would take him years of Psychology courses, a PHD, and a few years of residency to realize that was the sole reason he ran in the first place. To impress a pretty face and for the hopes of getting the esteemed honor to take the class-hottie’s virginity. He never made it to home. Second base though! If that was the final prize of such a lame extra-curricular…it was worth it! But…Handshake Harry…
The alliterative name held some water, however. He ran on the promise of transparency and diplomacy. That, no matter what problems would arise, some communication and a firm grip should alleviate the situation.
Even if he did a more-than-adequate job as an amateur politician, that position did not nearly prepare him for what the contract he just inked yesterday expects of him. After years of celebrated clinical research, revolutionary experiments, and delusional millionaires in the form of patients, Doctor Pockley is now en route to dedicate.the rest of his career towards the treatment of one man. And that man is in the car with him right now. Not as a fellow passenger, but as his current source of entertainment. With pretty hazel eyes and 32 pearly whites, President Sanchez beams at the camera as almost as if to say “I’m coming for ya, Harry.” My Patient. To everyone else he is their president. Their leader. Their source of guidance. But this…this is…my patient. He’s probably expecting someone very well-versed in politics, but instead he’s getting someone who you can almost describe as apolitical…someone whose career in politics ended in high school…instead of someone legitimate he’s getting…Handshake Harry…
One cannot help but imagine the problems that plague the world of the man who runs such a powerful country. Weird sex stuff? Drug dependance? Nuclear threats? NO, best not to speculate. I need a clear head. After a heavy deep breath, the psychiatrist turns off the digital Armani Suit, closes his eyes, crosses his arms, and does his best impression of a relaxed man with the luxury of taking a peaceful nap.
“Your Destination is on your right. Please exit the vehicle” says an emotionless alarm clock. Harry gets his bearings and looks up at a decrepit-looking building. Is this a joke? Sure enough, however, the building’s address matches the number-name combination embedded in his brain for the past two days. Slowly exiting the car, he allows his mind the sin of speculation. Is this where he lives? No the guy lives the White House, obviously…right? Is this where he takes his beautiful mistresses to give them the presidential treatment? He then shifts from scandalous speculation to rational thought. Ok. He probably just needs an inconspicuous place for stuff like this. I have never had a patient so anxious to share the fact that they see a therapist. Why should the commander in chief be any different?
As he walks towards the transparent door, a slender man with glasses excitedly rushes out of the threshold to greet him. As if he was waiting to be the rolling red carpet for this occasion. “Doctor! Such an honor” he extends his bony hand and greets the new commodity with a clammy, tight grip. Handshake Harry to the Rescue! “We’re all really excited to have you! My name is Abe.”
Understanding there was no need for further introduction or even chit-chat, Pockly responds, “Is he here right now?”
“Just follow me. All will be explained.” Abe then proceeds to lead him to the elevator and presses a half-vanished “B”. As the door opens all that is visible is a long hallway. “Down this way”, he chimes, as if there were any other option. As they reach the end of the corridor, however, they are greeted by a Steel hexagon. Abe then pokes his head to the right at a tiny hole and flashes just about the goofiest smile you can expect from someone associated with the president of the United States. The door opens.
The next moment, Harry finds himself sharing a room with a multitude of seemingly eccentric characters. A quick panoramic glance plunges Harry even further into this unending rabbit-hole of confusion.
Sitting down in a swivel chair is a bald white man, at least in his 70s, with a tough Irish look complimented by a bowtie and a wooden pipe protruding from his mouth. A Pipe?! Who still smokes a pipe?? Sitting on the table, cross-legged, appears to be a young man with a Jew-fro, no more than 25 years old, who seems to be intensely focused on organizing hundreds of M&Ms by their colors. Leaning casually on that same table is an attractive hispanic woman, mid-thirties, whose gaze is so confidently fixed on Harry, she must have had a head start to his entrance. It was as if she had x-ray vision and saw him right through that steel, 5inch-thick Hexagon seconds earlier. Her self-assurance and fierce attractiveness were amplified by her amplified by her nonchalant gum-chewing-nothing could phase her. To the right of the table is a standing conversation, engaged by a tall, pale woman with glasses and a lab coat, and a debonaire black man with an athletic build. The woman gracefully clutches onto her clipboard and nods solemnly as the man makes colorful hand gestures explaining what must be the meaning of life, or at least of equal importance.
Although a motley crew of such proportions surely deserves recognition, Harry only dedicates about two seconds to the gang before his eyes catch real mystery in the room. Towards the back, hanging from the ceiling had to be the most prodigious chandelier Harry has ever seen. Five Gold Disks, each about ten feet in diameter cascade down from the metallic anchor. Each disk is separated by foot-long silver pistons, which are in motion and make the sweet, swishing harmony of a really smooth sports car engine. The kind of sound you revel in showing your friends in the garage. Woven throughout this spectacle are thousands of wires. Maybe this chandelier is actually…a computer? All doubt about this theory is removed when he notices the sleek, 50 inch monitor jutting out from the bottom, accompanied by a holographic keyboard. The screen continually flashes a ring of fire in alternating colors: blue, yellow green, yellow, then rests on solid green. The pistons majestically continue to bless the room with the chorus of compression: swish, swish, swish swish swish.
In a vain attempt to capture everyone’s attention, Abe nasally announces, “Doctor Pockley has arrived.” The disheveled young man on the table does not flinch, remaining dedicated to his task of organizing candy-coated chocolates. The standing couple appear to notice Harry and Abe, but continue their conversation anyway.
“Guys!” One cannot help but feel sympathy for this man who seems to unfittingly assume a position of leadership over this circus.
“Guys! The psychiatrist! Harry! He’s here!.” All eyes finally reach the perplexed guest. Three times a charm, I guess.
“Introduce yourselves.” The room remains silent.
“Okay, I’ll do the honors…Doctor Pockley,” he motions towards the tough Irish-man sitting down. “This is Mr. Rooney,” then shifts the attention towards M & M world, “This is Lenny,” points out the impossibly cool gum-chewer, “Maria…and over here we have Doctor Brown and Saigon.”
Harry is in no mood to reciprocate the room’s lack of manners. However, during the introductions, he cannot direct his attention away from the mesmerizing machine in the back. Almost as if he were to look away, the magical contraption would disappear. He summons the discipline to turn to everyone, give a courteous nod, and then return his attention back to Abe.
For a moment, Doctor Pockley forgets the reason why he is here in the first place. Oh Yeah! The president! Is this a joke?!
“Doctor Pockley,” Abe continues. He takes a deep sigh, walks towards the machine, and carefully calculates the way he phrases his next words. He opens his arms towards the high tech cylinder. “The real president of the United States.”
If one was still not convinced of Einstein’s theory that time is relative, this 5 second moment of silence would make a strong case. In this moment, Harry allows his jaw to drop to the floor. It is in this moment that Harry finally empathizes with every patient he deemed “disassociated from reality.” What? The president? What does that even mean? Of course, I throw away my whole life on a whim and get scammed. When I check my bank account, it’s going to be empty. All because I wanted a change of pace after my divorce. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
Maria then breaks the silence. “Wow, Abe. You really know how to bring the drama. We could’ve used a drum roll, though. Damn…”
Harry has about a million different questions he wants to ask, but all that comes out is a one-syllable croak. “What?”
“I know. Your confusion are very warranted so just take a seat, and we’ll bring you up to speed.”
Pockley’s gelatinous legs collapse into the chair right next to him. Had the chair been a few more feet away, he might not have made it.
“Dr. Pockley. What you are looking at is a system solely dedicated to the deep learning, artificial intelligence neural network that calculates the optimal decisions for the United States. So, in essence, this is the president” Harry responds with a blank stare, and Abe continues, “Are you familiar with how artificial intelligence and neural networks work?”
“We figured as much. Which is actually good for us. We have enough tech-heads in our corner already…anyway, Neural networks work by the input of large amounts of data being fed into the computer. Let’s take a step back and start with AI. Artificial Intelligence, for our purposes, is the technology by which a computer can do the every-day human decisions we take for granted. Great. Now, let’s take this a little further; as a subset of that, we have machine learning.
“You see, regular problem solving consists of teaching a method of doing something, and then using that method to produce answers. So, you might tell a seventh grader, ‘the equation is y = 2x + 5. Plug in the value of ‘5’ for ‘x’ to find ‘y’.’ And the child will, hopefully, respond with a confident ’15.’ You see, we defined a method for doing something, and we get the answer.”
Harry nodded as if to say “Yes, I can keep up with elementary school math.”
“So, with AI, specifically machine learning……We feed the network a bunch of answers and then get back a method for doing it. So, we might tell the computer, ‘x = 5, then y = 15.’ Well, there are quite a few functions that satisfy this. Infinite functions! But then we give another set of answers-when ‘x’ is ‘6’, ‘y’ equals ’17’. This will narrow down the possible equations. We then feed it enough data until it can conclude, with almost full accuracy, ‘the method you’re looking for is y = 2x + 5.’ This is, of course, a very oversimplified way of how machine learning works.
“Now let’s go a step further…” Profundity of the situation aside, Harry is amazed at how much pride this nerdy man takes in explaining computers.
“Deep Learning is an evolution of Machine Learning, a subset within the subset, if you will. Deep Learning is all about neural networks, and the computer self-correcting itself after cycling through the same data many times. There’s supervised learning, and unsupervised learning. Supervised learning means that we give the computer a an answer key with a one-to-one correspondence with the data we feed it. The computer then has an exact goal of what the data should be classified as.” Abe then strides over to the chalkboard adjacent to the computer. A chalkboard?! He then sloppily draws a number ‘2.’ “What number is this?”
Maria then blurts out, “Get on with it, Blue’s Clues”, which is greeted by a room of chuckles and blushing from Abe.
Harry feels he is in no comfort zone to laugh. He obligingly responds, “2.”
Grateful for his cooperative student, Abe excitingly replies “Right! Even though that is a pathetic job of writing the number ‘2’, a five year old can easy classify this as the number ‘2.’ Computers, however, are not as…intuitive, at least not biologically. So, we have to program them to be. We have to tell the computer ‘this is a ‘two!’ Not a ‘one’, not a ‘three’, not a ‘nine!’ We feed the computer a whole array of ‘2s’, but not just ‘2s.’ We give it a bunch of ‘1s’ and ‘3s’ and the answer key for those as well. The first time the computer does this, it will see a 2 and classify it randomly; odds are it won’t be classified as a two. So, when it is classified as say, a nine, we pretty much say, ‘bad computer! That was supposed to be a two!’ Obviously just that kind of admonition is not the most productive, so the computer calculates the error of its guess. Basically, ‘how much exactly was I wrong by’. It then uses what’s called ‘back-propagation’ aided by ‘gradient descent’ to fix its network. After each cycle, the error is continuously shrunk until it reaches its minimum. This is how it works…of course, oversimplified.
“Now the exciting stuff lies in how this baby works! Which is much similar to the human brain-which is where you come in.” Abe draws on the chalkboard three column of circles, “Each of these represents one neuron. This first column represents the ‘input layer’, this second column represents the ‘hidden layer’ and the third represents the ‘output layer’” He then proceeds to connect the neurons to each other with lines. “Each neuron comes with what’s called an activation function between -1 and 1. The impact of each neuron depends on what their activation function is, and the weights that link them to the neurons of the next layer. As the network runs through many epochs, the network learns to associate the appropriate neurons with appropriate weights. So, it will trigger the same set of neurons each time in order to get the desired results. I believe there is an expression in this in psychology.”
“Neurons that fire together wire together…” Harry contributes.
“Right! Now we’ve really only scratched the surface…”
My President? My Patient? What is this shit?
To be continued…