Every once in a while I receive a request like the one quoted below. I’m not quite sure what kind of school assignment this is or what its purpose is. It would be actually good to think about next generation Roombas and self-driving cars, or at least revisit those Scientific American articles, or even revisit colleague’s web pages to catch up on recent research in this area, but it would also be good to tackle some of the questions I’m actually researching for the papers I’m writing. And although I do not intend to reply, such emails still stay in my mind for a while.  It also makes me think how email may only appear to make people accessible:

Hello, my name is [].  I am currently researching AI for a paper I am writing.  I am hoping you would be willing to answer a few questions on the subject, and if not be able to give me the name of someone who could.  If you do answer these questions feel free to be as descriptive or as vague as you deem necessary.

Here are the questions:

Can you define artificial intelligence for me?

[…]Thank you in advance for your time,


Another student had emailed me with the title:

Scientist Interview PLEASE READ NOW!!!!!!!!!!

  3 Responses to “Can you define artificial intelligence for me?”

  1. Hi Lada – have you considered that it may not be a student at all, and that perhaps your inbox spam has become self-aware?

  2. If it’s not in my area, I tend to just respond and say it’s not in my area. When I was a student and a scientist responded to my message, I found it nice that they took the time to respond to me. And if it is something I actually know something about, then I’d try to answer their question. I still remember how different people responded when I was a random inquirer (and on occasion, it still happens), so assuming this was an e-mail with legitimate intent and not some spam, I would actually choose to respond in some way. If it seems illegitimate, then that’s another story.

  3. Mason, you’re a noble soul. And I think you’re right.

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