If you make it to age 100, what will your ability profile look like?
How will medial science and technology change this profile?
If you make it to age 100, what will your ability profile look like?
How will medial science and technology change this profile?
I saw an article by Peter Dockrill with the headline, “Artificial intelligence should be protected by human rights, says Oxford mathematician”.
The subtitle is: “Machines Have Feelings Too”.
Regarding the potential dangers of robots and computers, Peter asks: “But do robots need protection from us too?” Peter is apparently a “science and humor writer”. I think he should stick with just one genre.
Just more click-bait.
There are too many articles on the internet with headlines like this. They are usually covered with obnoxious, eye-jabbing ads, flitting in front of my face like giant colorful moths. It’s a carnival – through and through.
I could easily include any number of articles about the “terrifying” future of AI, “emotional machines”, “robot ethics”, and other cartoon-like dilutions of otherwise thoughtful well-crafted science fiction.
Good science fiction is better than bad science journalism.
Here’s Ben Goldacre:
Now, back to this silly subject of machines having feelings:
Some of my previous articles express my thoughts on the future of AI, such as:
I think we should be working to fix our own emotional mess, instead of trying to make vague, naive predictions about machines having feelings. Machines will – eventually – have something analogous to animal motivation and human states of mind, but by then the human world will look so different that the current conversation will be laughable.
Right now, I am in favor of keeping the “feelings” on the human side of the equation.
We’re still too emotionally messed up to be worrying about how to tend to our machines’ feelings. Let’s fix our own feelings first before giving them to our machines. We still have that choice.
And now, more stupidity from Meghan Neal:
“Computers are already faster than us, more efficient, and can do our jobs better.”
Wow Meghan, you sure do like computers, don’t you?
I personally have more hope, respect, and optimism for our species.
In this article, Meghan makes sweeping statements about machines with feelings, including how “feeling” computers are being used to improve education.
The “feeling” robots she is referring to are machines with a gimmick – they are brain-dead automatons with faces attached to them. Many savvy futurists suggest that true AI will not result from humans trying to make machines act like humans. That’s anthropomorphism. Programming pre-defined body language in an unthinking robot makes for interesting and insightful experimentation in human-machine interaction. But please! Don’t tell me that these machines have “feelings”.
This article says: “When Nao is sad, he hunches his shoulders forward and looks down. When he’s happy, he raises his arms, angling for a hug. When frightened, Nao cowers, and he stays like that until he is soothed with some gentle strokes on his head.”
Pardon me while I projectile vomit.
Any time you are trying to compare human intelligence with computers, consider what Marvin once said:
I remember several decades ago learning that we were at the beginning of an information revolution. The idea, as I understood it, was that many things are moving towards a digital economy; even wars will become information-based.
The information revolution takes over where the industrial revolution left off.
I am seeing an even bigger picture emerging – it is consistent with the evolution of the universe and Earth’s biosphere.
At the moment, I can hear a bird of prey (I think it’s a falcon) that comes around this neighborhood every year about this time and makes its call from the tree tops. When I think about the amount of effort that birds make to produce mating calls, and other kinds of communication, I am reminded of how much importance information plays in the biological world. The variety and vigor of bird song is amazing. From an evolutionary point of view, one has to assume that there is great selective pressure to create such energy in organized sound.
This is just a speck of dust in comparison to the evolution of communication in our own species, for whom information is a major driver in our activities. Our faces have evolved to give and receive a very high bandwidth of information between each other (Compare the faces of primates to those of less complex animals and notice the degree to which the face is optimized for giving and receiving information).
Our brains have grown to massive proportions (relatively-speaking) to account for the role that information plays in the way our species survives on the planet.
Now: onto the future of information…
Beaming New Parts to the Space Station
Guess which is more expensive:
You guessed it.
And this is where some people see society going in general. 3D printing will revolutionize society in a big way. Less moving atoms, More moving bits.
To what degree will the manipulation of bits become more important than the manipulation of atoms?
Not Just a Revolution: Evolution
My sense is that the information revolution is not merely one in a series of human eras: it is the overall trend of life on Earth. We humans are the agents of the latest push in this overall trend.
Some futurists predict that nanotechnology will make it possible to infuse information processing into materials, giving rise to programmable matter. Ray Kurzweil predicts that the deep nano-mingling of matter and information will be the basis for a super-intelligence that can spread throughout the universe.
For now, let’s ride this information wave and try to use the weightlessness of bits to make life better for all people (and all life-forms) on Earth – not just a powerful few.
Rafi Letzter wrote an article called “If you think your brain is more than a computer, you must accept this fringe idea in physics“.
The article states the view of computer scientist Scott Aaronson: “…because the brain exists inside the universe, and because computers can simulate the entire universe given enough power, your entire brain can be simulated in a computer.”
Who the fuck said computers can simulate the entire universe?
That is a huge assumption. It’s also wrong.
We need to always look close at the assumptions that people use to build theories. If it can be proven that computers can simulate the entire universe, then this theory will be slightly easier to swallow.
The human brain is capable of computation, and that’s why humans are able to invent computers.
The very question as to whether the brain “is a computer” is wrong-headed. Does the brain use computation? Of course it does (among other things). Is the brain a computer? Of course it isn’t.
I’m reading Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near.
It occurs to me that the transition that the human race is about to experience is similar to other major transitions that are often described as epochs – paradigm-shifts – in which a new structure emerges over a previous structure. There are six key epochs that Kurzweil describes. (The first four are not unlike epochal stages described by Terrance Deacon and others.)
When a new epoch comes into being, the agents of that new epoch don’t necessarily eradicate, overcome, usurp, reduce, or impede the agents of the previous epoch. Every epoch stands on the shoulders of the last epoch.This is one reason not to fear the Singularity…as if it is going to destroy us or render us un-human. In fact, epoch number 5 may allow us to become more human (a characterization that we could only truly make after the fact – not from our current vantage point).
I like to think of “human” as a verb: as a shift from animal to post-human, because it characterizes our nature of always striving for something more.
There are debates raging on whether the Singularity is good or bad for humanity. One way to avoid endless debate is to do the existential act: to make an attempt at determining the fate of humanity, rather than sit passively and make predictions. As Alan Kay famously said, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”. We should try to guide the direction of the next epoch as much as we can while we are still the ones in charge.
In a previous article I wrote that criticizes some predictions by Nick Bostrom, I compare our upcoming epochal shift to a shift that happened in the past, when multi-cellular beings evolved. Consider:
Maybe Our AI Will Evolve to Protect Us And the Planet
Billions of years ago, single cells decided to come together in order to make bodies, so they could do more using teamwork. Some of these cells were probably worried about the bodies “taking over”. And oh did they! But, these bodies also did their little cells a favor: they kept them alive and provided them with nutrition. Win-win baby!
I am not a full-fledged Singularitarian. I prefer to stay agnostic as long as I can. Its not just a human story. Our Singularity is just the one that is happening to us at the moment.
Similarly, the emergence of previous epochs may have been experienced as Singularities to those that came before.
I’m not very good at organizing.
The pile of papers, files, receipts, and other stuff and shit accumulating on my desk at home has grown to huge proportions. So today I decided to put it all into several boxes and bring it to the co-working space – where I could spend the afternoon going through it and pulling the items apart. I’m in the middle of doing that now. Here’s a picture of my progress. I’m feeling fairly productive, actually.
Some items go into the trash bin; some go to recycling; most of them get separated into piles where they will be stashed away into a file cabinet after I get home. At the moment, I have a substantial number of mini-piles. These accumulate as I sift through the boxes and decide where to put the items.
Here’s the amazing thing: when I pull an item out of the box, say, a bill from Verizon, I am supposed to put that bill onto the Verizon pile, along with the other Verizon bills that I have pulled out. When this happens, my eye and mind automatically gravitate towards the area on the table where I have been putting the Verizon bills. I’m not entirely conscious of this gravitation to that area.
Gravity Fields in my Brain
What causes this gravitation? What is happening in my brain that causes me to look over to that area of the table? It seems that my brain is building a spatial map of categories for the various things I’m pulling out of the box. I am not aware of it, and this is amazing to me – I just instinctively look over to the area on the table with the pile of Verizon bills, and…et voilà – there it is.
Other things happen too. As this map takes shape in my mind (and on the table), priorities line up in my subconscious. New connections get made and old connects get revived. Rummaging through this box has a therapeutic effect.
The fact that my eye and mind know where to look on the table is really not such a miracle, actually. It’s just my brain doing its job. The brain has many maps – spatial, temporal, etc. – that help connect and organize domains of information. One part of the brain – the hippocampus – is associated with spatial memory.
User Interface Design, The Brain, Space, and Time
I could easily collect numerous examples of software user interfaces that do a poor job of tapping the innate power of our spatial brains. These problematic user interfaces invoke the classic bouts of confusion, frustration, undiscoverability, and steep learning curves that we bitch about when comparing software interfaces.
This is why I am a strong proponent of Body Language (see my article about body language in web site design) as a paradigm for user interaction design. Similar to the body language that we produce naturally when we are communicating face-to-face, user interfaces should be designed with the understanding that information is communicated in space and in time (situated in the world). There is great benefit for designers to have some understanding of this aspect of natural language.
Okay, back to my pile of papers: I am fascinated with my unconscious ability to locate these piles as I sift through my stuff. It reminds me of why I like to use the fingers of my hand to “store” a handful of information pieces. I can recall these items later once they have been stored in my fingers (the thumb is usually saved for the most important item).
Body Maps, Brain, and Memory
Last night I was walking with my friend Eddie (a fellow graduate of the MIT Media Lab, where the late Marvin Minsky taught). Eddie told me that he once heard Marvin telling people how he liked to remember the topics of an upcoming lecture: he would place the various topics onto his body parts.
…similar to the way the ancient Greeks learned to remember stuff.
During the lecture, Marvin would shift his focus to his left shoulder, his hand, his right index finger, etc., in order to recall various topics or concepts. Marvin was tapping the innate spatial organs in his brain to remember the key topics in his lecture.
My Extended BodyMap
My body. My home town. My bed. My shoes. My wife. My community. The piles in my home office. These things in my life all occupy a place in the world. And these places are mapped in my brain to events that have happened in the past – or that happen on a regular basis. My brain is the product of countless generations of Darwinian iteration over billions of years.
All of this happened in space and time – in ecologies, animal communities, among collaborative workspaces.
Even the things that have no implicit place and time (as the many virtualized aspects of our lives on the internet)… even these things occupy a place and time in my mind.
Intelligence has a body. Information is situated.
Hail to Thee Oh Hippocampus. And all the venerated bodymaps. For you keep our flitting minds tethered to the world.
You offer guidance to bewildered designers – who seek the way – the way that has been forged over billions of years of intertwingled DNA formation…resulting in our spatially and temporally-situated brains.
We must not let the no-place, no-time, any-place, any-time quality of the internet deplete us of our natural spacetime mapping abilities. In the future, this might be seen as one of the greatest challenges of our current digital age.