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January 6, 2012

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PAGE 14A ' By Robert Leiter Jewish Exonent PHILADELPHIA The source for "Scenes From Vil- lage Life,"Amos Oz's newwork of fiction, came to the world- famous writer in a dream. "Some six or seven years ago, I dreamt that I was in an old Jewish village in Israel," Oz said in a recent interview before an appearance here at the Free Library on Logan Square. "You know, in Israel, there are between 15 and 20 such very old villages--older than the state, over 100 years old. The village in my dream was completely empty, deserted-- no people, no animals, not even birds or crickets. And I was looking for someone. "But in the middle of the dream," he explained, "as it happens in dreams, it became some people looking for me and me trying to hide. And when I woke up, I knew my next book was going to be set in one of those villages." And so it is. Recently pub- lished by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, "Scenes From Vil- lage Life" is comprised of eight interconnected short stories masquerading as a novel, all set in the small Israeli town of Tel Ilan. Though it is a century old, the town has seen some- HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 6, 2012 i Author takes a village to build a book Amos Oz thing of a revival in recent years, with tony restaurants, art galleries and boutiques polping up throughout. But when you look closer, you realize that Tel Ilan has a desolate quality. Its past is evident in the crumbling farm buildings and deserted tractors you see here and there. And strange things are happening to the people who reside there. The mayor's wife has left her husband a cryptic note and completely disappeared; an aunt expects a visit from her nephew, an injured soldier, but he never arrives; a crotchety old man, a pioneer and old-time socialist politician whose career never panned out, tells his daugh- ter that he hears somebody digging under the house at night and he suspects it's their young Arab tenant. "This book," said the au- thor, "was born out of a sense of place, out of a fascination witha specific place, unlike my other books which usually begin with characters. Here, the village is present in every story and those stories would have been unthinkable in any other place." According to Oz, this is a book "about love and loss, loneliness and longing, but it is also about death and desolation and desire and disillusionment. Even though there are new restaurants and boutiques and villas--and, of course, new tenantsthe stories are mostly about the old-timers in the village. "And all of them have lost something," he said. "They don't know exactly what they have lost and they don't know exactly where they lost it or why. But they're looking for it--in attics and basements, under beds. This is very much a book about the state of half-remembering and half- knowing." Sometimes, he added, as with the boy who goes to the library in one of the stories, "Strangers," it's about half-touching. "Half- remembering, half-knowing, half-touching--these are very common human experi- ences." Oz said that these stories, which appeared in book form three years ago in Israel, were read by some critics in Israel and elsewhere as fables of the Israeli condition, but he insists that theyare more about the human condition in general. "When I want to make a political statement," the far- from-bashful author said, "I pick up my other pen--! have two on my desk--and write an angry article and tell the government to go to hell." Oz said that he takes a philosophical position toward those who wish to read politi- cal meanings into his fiction. "A book coming from a troubled part of the world is destined to be read as an allegory," he said, "even if it's not meant to be an allegory and has nothing to do with current affairs. If it comes from Russia or Africa or the Middle East, people will look for some hidden messages," Not that Oz has ever been shy about discussing the po- litical conditions in Israel, nor was he during the Exponent interview. "There are different sets of clocks ticking simultaneous- ly--some of them good, some of them bad," the author said about the Israeli-Palestinian situation. "The really good news today is that the major- ity of Israelis and Palestinians have accepted that in the end there will be a two-state solu- tion.Are they happy about it? They are not. But they know it. "Ten or 20 or 30 years ago, most Palestinians thought that Israel was a passing infec- tion," the author continued, "and if you scratched it hard enough it would go away. And most Isfaelis assumed that the Palestinian issue yeas an artificial issue. But now both of them know that the other is real and not going away. This is a major change. It's not something you'll see on CNN or in the newspapers because it's not an event. It's a process, not a headline." Ifhewere to use a metaphor, he would say that the patient is unhappily ready for sur- gery--.the patient being the Israelis and the Palestinians. "The doctors, though, are cowards," he went on. "We don't have courageous leadership on both sides to carry out what those leaders know in their hearts they have to do--this surgery, the two-state solution. How soon this will happen, I cannot say. It's difficult to be a prophet coming from the land of the prophets. And also, the nature of leadership is surprise." But he did have a warning for those who have greeted the uprisings in Arab countries with unbounded optimism. "People talk about the 'Arab Spring' as if it were Eastern Europe after communism fell," Oz said. "But different things are happening in dif- ferent Arab countries. Egypt is not Libya and Syria is not Yemen and Tunisia is not Jordan. We have to follow this very closely because in some countries what we are going to get is not an 'Arab Spring' but an 'Islamist Winter.' And some of this will not be good for anybody, not just Israel. And it won't be good for those countries either." Robert Leiter writes for the (Philadelphia) Jewish Expo- nent, from which this article was reprinted by permission. By Tom Tugend LOS ANGELES (JTA)--A man arrives at an airport for a flight, and as he goes through security the agent asks some questions. Did anyone help him pack his suitcase? What is the purposeofhis trip? Is anyone accompanying him? During the conversation, the agent enters answers and facial reactions into a computer pre-programmed with millions of pieces of information relating to the behavior of suspicious pas- sengers. Such man-and-machine Collaborations, in this in- stance to detect terrorists, are not yet in place at air- ports. But they already are in use in fields ranging from medicine and genetics to Microsoft diagnostics and Google searches. Underlying the remark- able advances in the part- nership between humans and machines are research studies in artificial intel- ligence. AI is the subfield of computer science that aims to discover the fundamental building blocks of thought, creativity, imagination and language--those elements of the mind that make us intelligent. Professor Judea Pearl of UCLA is among the interna- tionally recognized pioneers in the field, and on March 29. he will add to his string of honors and awards the Harvey Prize in Science and Technology from the Technion-lsrael Institute of Technology. Pearl was selected for this recognition, which carries a $75,000 honorarium, for his "wide-ranging and keen Judea Pearl,. father of slain reporter, is a leader in artificial intelligence Courtesy of Judea Pearl Judea Pearl will receive the $75,000 Harvey Prize in Science and Technology from the Technion-IsraelInstltute of Technology on March 29. research," which has led to "his foundational work that has touched a multitude of spheres in modern life," ac- cording to the citation. Pearl, 75, born and raised in the Orthodox enclave of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, leads a bifurcated life. As a professor emeritus, he teaches a class and guides doctoral students at UCLA. This, and his continuing research, takes up about half of his time. The other half is devoted to the Daniel Pearl Founda- tion, headed and established by him and his wife Ruth fol- lowing the 2002 kidnapping and murder by Pakistani ex- tremists of their son Daniel, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. The foundation seeks to perpetuate Daniel's ideals, and each year it organizes the Daniel Pearl Music Days around Daniel's Oct. 10 birthday. This year, the event was celebrated with 2,091 separate concerts and performances in 84 countries, among them such unlikely venues as Saudi Arabia and Iran, according to the foundation. The founldation also runs a fellowship that each year brings three working jour- nalists from Muslim coun- tries to the United States for five-month internships at U.S. newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, and for one week at the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. In his effort to draw some meaning from his son's murder, the computer scientist-cure-philosopher haz evolved into a forceful public speaker and news- paper columnist, including frequent commentaries in the Jewish Journal. All the while, he's contin- ued to distinguish himself in the field of computer science. In 2008, when he received the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science from the Franklin Institute, Pearl was credited with research that "changed the face of computer science," while his three books "are among the most influential works in shaping the theory and practice of knowledge-based systems." His combined work sched- ule has left Pearl little time to pursue his previous avoca- tions as leader of a Hebrew- language choir, singer, gui- tarist and collector of rare, early editions of books on Judaica, philosophy and history of science. In his professional re- search, Pearl sees the in- teraction between humans and computers as a two-way street, in which humans infuse knowledge into ma- chines, mainly in the form of natural language and graphs. The computer, in turn, sharpens human un- derstanding, to the point where, Pearl says, "The only way to learn more about ourselves is by program- ming robots to emulate our behavior and, in this way, learn the architecture of the human mind." Pearl's major contribution to the two-way dialogue between man and machine has been, first, in the area of uncertainty, a constant in every human endeavor, and later in causality, the relationship between cause and effect. In our daily lives "we are prisoners of uncertainty," Pearl says. He offers as an example a doctor's exami- nation of a patient. Using his knowledge and an array of sophisticated tools, the doctor will try to diagnose the patient's symptoms and devise a treatment. How- ever, even the best physician often can't be certain he is prescribing the best possible cure. The doctor's computer can't be certain, either, but it can review and combine thousands of pieces of infor- mation and offer the doctor a choice of the most promising treatment options. Besides the ability to manipulate and recombine innumerable bitg of informa- tion almost instantly, the robotic or computer helper can follow the resulting rules more consistently than a human, Pearl said. But even so basic an ex- ample as a medical diagnosis involves tens of thousands of facts and rules, which must be programmed by a human and digested by the computer. Pearl's next step was to fuse, or break down, this mass of facts and formulas into what he labeled "Bayes- ian networks," in honor of Thomas Bayes, an 18th century English mathema- tician. The networks mimic the neural activities of the human brain, constantly ex- changing messages without benefit of a supervisor. The research on uncer- tainty occupied Pearl for much of the first half of his career, and when it was finished in the late 1980s he turned his attention to the theory of causality to further advance the computer's learning process. Causality seems a fairly simple concept: We step on the gas pedal and the car accelerates. However, it's easy to confuse this with the mere association between occurrences. For instance, the word "malaria" is a contraction of the medieval Italian "mala" and "aria," meaning "bad air," because people who came down with the disease had often been near a swamp and breathed its foul air. Only later was it discovered that it was not the air that triggered the disease, but mosquitos that bred in the swamp. One case in which a computer helpe d involved a lengthy study at Mon- treal's McGill University that sought to prove that warm- ups before a game reduce the number and severity of sports injuries. The researchers gathered statistics from numerous teams but also had to take into account such diverse fac- tors as the types of warm-ups, attitudes of different coaches and players, ages of the team members and their previous injuries, pressures on the teams to win, fatigue from previous games, and so on. For humans, it was impos- sible to juggle all these factors for hundreds of players, and the best that could be done was to establish some general associations between warm.- ups and injuries. Computers, however, could absorb and combine all these factors, judging how they affect each other, and come up with appropriate cause-and-effect relation- ships. Pearl is now exploring ways of programming com- puters to reason introspec- tively and to take responsi- bility for their actions. Such a project conjures up sci-fi scenarios of robots eventually outsmarting and subjugating their human inventors--a possibility to which Pearl says has devoted considerable thought. While he believesthat, at least in theory, "everything man can do, robots can do better," he hopes that fu- turistic robots can also be indoctrinated with human- istic values and sensibilities. The one exception to the robot's perfectibility may be to instill and install a sense of humor. "If we can make a com- puter come up with a funny joke, whose point generally rests on a failur.e of our an- ticipated expectation, we will have reached the pinnacle of success," Pearl said.