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A. Makelov

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Yossarian lives!

“They’re trying to kill me,” Yossarian told him calmly.
“No one’s trying to kill you,” Clevinger cried.
“Then why are they shooting at me?” Yossarian asked.
“They’re shooting at everyone,” Clevinger answered. “They’re trying to kill everyone.”
“And what difference does that make?”

Joseph Heller, “Catch 22”




It’s not a metaphor for a search engine. Get it? It’s a thing that finds metaphors for you. And it’s called “Yossarian Lives!”. Now how cool is that. I saw this sometime this summer, and recently the alpha’s image search has become operational. I tried it briefly and I have to admit the images it returned were pretty crazy and I could see a meaningful connection to my query in only a couple of them – but still, it was an interesting analogy. I was yossarianlives!ing for “moon” and I got devils. I then realized the shape of their horns resembled that of the moon crescent and was “wow”. Of course, there might have been many other connections I missed, due to the Stephen Fry problem (oh man I love these guys, they like everything I like).

Is the Stephen Fry problem just a convenient excuse? Is the final version going to be much better than the alpha? Are the images returned plain random? The future will show. However, the idea itself is amazing. “Outsourcing our minds”, bla bla bla. Shut up. Nothing (or at least, nothing yet) can outsource your mind, it can only inspire you to think deeper. Yossarian Lives!, if it lives up to its promise, will be a free, automated, non-stop service for blowing people’s minds. Remember the good old hanging around and not thinking about anything, just staring at the emptiness, when suddenly an amazing idea flashes through you mind, and you’re like “OMG THIS IS SO EPIC HOW COULD I NOT SEE THE CONNECTION BEFORE”? No more waiting for it to randomly happen – you just go to Yossarian Lives!, strike a couple of keys and be like “Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow….” for hours. An intellectual bomb. A mind-bender. In terms of a simple metaphor (haha), if the thing works as promised, we’ll have

\frac{\text{Yossarian Lives!}}{\text{hanging around waiting for a flash}}=\frac{\text{taking the roller coaster}}{\text{walking to grandma's house}} \ \ \ (1)

Is (1) good? Is it bad? Is it unnatural? Well, it’s tempting, and it could bring great change to the way people think about the world. And I think this is always good. If you don’t like it you just don’t use it.

Some other arguments the creators bring up (as if (1) is not enough) can be found in this very interesting essay. A great one is the following: search engines nowadays are, by nature, predicting their users and pointing them either to knowledge the majority of other people found useful (like, autocompletion), or to knowledge that is similar to what they searched for before. This may have many obvious advantages, but they come at a price: your knowledge horizon becomes conformist and hard to change. Search engines are trying to kill everyone. So they’re trying to kill you! It’s a pretty unfortunate Catch-22, isn’t it? On the other hand, the more subjective nature of the experience of understanding a metaphor has the potential to turn all this around (and confuse entire nations, I’m guessing, but there’s no other way).

Another reason why I find all this amazing is that this project seems to lie at the intersection of… everything. You notice this post is in almost all categories on my blog, as well as in Meta. Yossarian Lives!’s very heart is an objective process that seeks highly subjective results. The idea relates mathematics with art, determinism and rigorous theoretical ideas with the mind’s inner, sometimes seemingly arbitrary, associations and feelings. All fields of knowledge are basically clustered around these two poles, which often leads to people entirely dedicating themselves to one and forgetting the other, and consequently to lack of communication, understanding, and, I’m pretty sure, many interesting ideas. Well, I believe the poles are much closer than they appear to be to most people, and this project has a great potential to make me more right (:

So, what are you waiting for??? Go ahead and try it!


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