Google Adwords Epic Fail!

Artificial intelligence is still a ways off :).

Each year there is a competition known well by those in the field of artificial intelligence called the Loebner Prize.  The ultimate goal of artificial intelligence is to make it indistinguishable from real intelligence (so someday geeks like me can just code up a friend in C++). In the 1950s, Alan Turing proposed a test–cleverly named the Turing Test–to measure an AI’s level of intelligence, which the Loebner Prize competition uses to select their winner.  The contestants basically write software to implement their artificial entities, and then judges chat with both real humans and the artificial entities and then guess which ones are real humans and which ones are not.

Criticisms of the accuracy of the Turing Test aside, today I saw something that reminded me of just how far off truly intelligent artificial beings really are.  I was watching a video on YouTube from Bill Maher’s TV show and he threw out some statistic like “8 kids are shot and killed with guns every day in America.”  Since that seemed like an awfully high number I decided to check into it.  So I pull up Google and type in “kids shot”.  Not my best Google search query ever, but I figured it would get the job done.  Google dutifully returned a saddening number of news stories about kids being shot by guns.  It also came back with a single advertisement generated by good ‘ole Adwords…

Adwords Epic Fail
Adwords Epic Fail

Not only is the statistic true, if you click on that advertisement, it goes to a toy gun that Target is selling!  If Target ran a TV ad for toy guns right after a news story of a kid getting shot, they’d have a PR nightmare on their hands.  Lucky for them, you can’t yet blame a computer for doing the Adwords equivalent.

Blu-ray, shmu-ray

Apparently the Blu-ray Disc Association (wow, their parties must be legendary) believes that the high definition discs are poised to breakout into the mainstream with Chinese manufacturers getting in on the action.

Not to get sidetracked or anything, but are they implying that any of the Blu-ray players purchased thus far were not, in fact, manufactured in China? But I digress…

I continue to be completely baffled by the push to cram yet another optical disc format down consumers’ throats.  Since I downloaded my first MP3 in 1994, I’ve thought to myself, “gosh, it seems like an awful waste to make all those plastic discs and ship them all over the world when people could just download music from the Internet.”  Fifteen years later, where do most people discover and obtain their music?  Online.  Despite the movie industry’s penchant for lagging the music industry by about 3-5 years in their transformation to “digital”, the studios don’t see the writing on the wall?

Video has gone streaming!  Netflix, Hulu, CBS, ABC, NBC, Amazon, iTunes, YouTube.  Even your cable company’s OnDemand service.  People are streaming video, and they’re doing it on the cheap.  And if they’re not streaming it they’re downloading it.  And if they’re not downloading it, they’re TiVo-ing it, which is just like downloading it (albeit very slowly :-P), and saving it to watch later.

So, with my $9.78 a month spent on Netflix, I can watch unlimited movies streaming live online.  Sure, they don’t have everything.  But they have a lot.  And it’s plenty to hold me over until my next DVD from my queue arrives in the mail the following day.  Honestly, how many movies can I watch?  I’ve got more than enough from Netflix alone to keep me happy, fat and unproductive sitting on my couch or in my bed.  Yet, there’s always more if you want to grab something off of iTunes.

I’ve done the math.  I own about 75 DVDs.  That’s roughly $1,500.00, or $20 a DVD.

Netflix costs me $117 a year, and I can watch 72 DVDs a year, plus, let’s say conservatively that I watch one movie a week streaming for free from Netflix.  That’s 124 movies a year, which works out to 94 cents a movie.

94 cents.  It cost me $20 per DVD.  I’m pissed!!  You say, “oh but you watched them more than once.”  Yes, that’s true.  But not much more than 3 or 4 times.

Blu-ray discs cost even more.  They certainly have come down in price, but I’m sure as hell not gonna buy movies that I have on DVD all over again.  Especially when I’ve got an upscaling DVD player.

Another thing to consider, Blu-ray is obnoxious to watch if you don’t have a TV with 120 Hz refresh (which I don’t).  My friend was showing me “how cool” HD looked on his new player, and I didn’t want to say anything.  Yes, the image quality was great–no argument here.  But on a 60 Hz refresh rate screen, the image quality was too good.  I could see the gaps between the frames, it was difficult to watch.  I’m not going to go shell out another $1,500 for a new flatscreen, at least not for a couple more years.  By then, streaming HD video will be pervasive (it nearly is now).

Blu-ray, you’re fighting a losing battle with time.  The limited utility of owning a movie on a physical medium (except, perhaps for those who are absolute diehards), plus the significantly higher cost just makes buying Blu-ray a poor choice.  If you can spend $100 on hardware that will play Blu-ray discs, versus spending $100 on a Roku, or perhaps (for a bit more $) an AppleTV and setting up Boxee, you really would be foolish to go with Blu-ray.

Maybe if those Chinese manufacturers can make the players for $0.01.  I don’t think they’ve gotten their labor costs that low ;-).