science

Intelligence is all artificial

A popular theme in science fiction and indeed mainstream science is the idea of AI or Artificial Intelligence. You might be surprised (I certainly was) to know this isn’t a modern concept. In fact this idea goes back to Greek mythology. For example, Hephaetus and his automata and Talos – the giant man of bronze who guarded Europa (that doesn’t sound very sci-fi more another genre…moving on!).

I’m not convinced we really understand intelligence or have a definition that stretches beyond what we think we know about who we are as a species. Part of the confusion I believe is the role of consciousness and awareness and our paranoia about surviving. But there is a double layer of hubris and fear sandwiched between thick slices of narcissism to contend with before we can digest the idea of AI.

So here are some of the basic themes sci-fi has played with over the years to give a sense of why we are stuck with perpetual repeats of ideas but in different outfits, jargon and special effects.

1: Humanity gets technologically advanced.
2: This technology ‘mimics’ thought…problem solving…
3: Technology becomes aware of itself…(stop loading the ‘Descartes-I think therefore I am’ software would be a start I suggest).
4: Now that it is ‘self-aware’ it decides to annihilate it’s creator or;
5: AI struggles with complex ethical issues, receives mixed messages – and goes with its own solution (which is bad for us – 2001 A Space Odyssey)
or;
6: Technology merges with biology (androids, cybernetics/cyborgs) with mixed results (word of warning, if you are at a nightclub with one, do not let it put its finger in your drink…Prometheus reference). Seems these beings freak us out the most as they are so close yet so far away from being human.
6: Death – suffering – ‘poor us’ humans lament their faith in trusting AI.
7: Humanity finds the thing that makes us unique in the universe and ‘wins’ – and its less dark, grimy and weather improves, suddenly the sun comes out in dystopic post-apocalyptic earth/world.

I am of course generalising, but I think it is necessary in order to get to the deeper philosophical levels of inquiry. That being said, I still love Alien for the sheer ‘s$*t your pants’ factor.

The rollercoaster is predictable for it rests on fundamental assumptions of psychology and biology. Particularly the role of ‘the mind’, of power, control, and popular concepts such as ‘Darwinian’ survival of the fittest. We are invited to take up the moral high ground as a species, that our level of consciousness combined with ethics and values makes us ‘special’ or more able to know deeper/higher/more complex notions of connection (empathy, compassion, love?). Doesn’t seem to stop us getting our asses kicked!

One of the most powerful working assumptions that acts as an accelerant to the AI phobia fire is the ‘absence of a soul’. Our connection to God or an idea of a creative force, with or without Religious doctrine runs deeply and goes largely unquestioned. But this presumes we know what a soul is/isn’t. Much like consciousness, we might just have to revisit the ‘flat-earth’ thinking associated with complex notions of awareness and ‘beingness’. Philosophy, religion and science are still competing for the rights to this ‘truth’…perhaps they should try and bore the circuits of AI with fanaticism from all angles “system failure…B-S overload…shutdown”.

For me the irony is plain to see – as afraid as we are of machines developing intelligence and ‘might’ want to destroy us, that is in fact exactly what we are doing to ourselves, except that we embrace it, call it progress…advancement…whatever helps us swallow the reality that we are the machines – robotic, hypnotically and unconsciously carrying out the programming of mass consumerism. Would be good to have an ‘off switch’ sometimes though – perhaps that is what a sense of humour is.

It comes down to the questionable criteria for intelligence. Intelligence is an invented idea therefore all intelligence is artificial, in that it is a social construction forged by institutional practices and knowledges such as science, religion, medicine, psychology. I think intelligence has been captured by rationalistic, modernistic thinking and could do with an overhaul, or ‘reboot’, because I feel quite uncomfortable with the current evidence of us being an ‘intelligent’ species.

Science fiction helps us investigate, explore and probe (woops, no pun intended) our ideas about ourselves from multiple angles. But please…no more Terminator movies…give us some respect for our intelligence.

So lets all ‘Rage Against The Machine’ – and Wake Up! I’ll leave it over to Neo wrap this one up.

Advertisement

Water water everywhere – enough on Mars to drink?

Space exploration is much like the ocean was to early sailors and explorers – a rather expansive one, but I’d like to know what Samuel Taylor Coleridge (The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner) would think of the idea of humanity insisting on travelling to another planet with literally ‘water water everywhere nor any drop to drink’. Because there is water on Mars – its frozen and there is plenty of interesting possibilities with that mere fact.

All theories aside about whether Mars once harboured life (single cellular or multicellular is beside the point), I have an issue with humans going to Mars – its quite simple – we’ll f’k it up! Here is the sad irony. We will burn, dig, destroy, our own ecosystem – especially our fragile yet bountiful water supply in order to send people to another planet that has…oooooh…..lets be generous, ‘nominal’ biodiversity and water with the slightly megalomaniacal idea that we will ‘colonise it’. We will call this ‘achievement’ monumental – slap ourselves on the back and say it was possible because of the advancement of technology.

We must be the only virus/plague that is consciously aware of our own toxicity and demise as a result yet still behaves like the microbial version in spite of this awareness and simply decides to ‘spread’. I am really hoping Mars has a better immune system than earth – hopefully its slightly less hospitable environment might wake us up.
This is where science fiction becomes more like science ‘friction’ – there are elements that are familiar enough to be plausible but the context doesn’t quite fit so we dismiss it. Think the Matrix – Smiths speech to Morpheus about human beings not being Mammals – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IM1-DQ2Wo_w Or Robert A Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange land – that starts with the first ever manned mission to Mars that becomes incredibly ‘awkward’ for humanity as they realise ‘we are not alone’.

So – I raise my glass of fresh – almost pure – water to those signing up for a 1 way flight to Mars. Perhaps they could read Coleridge’s epic poem on their way – probably take the whole trip to get through it – by then they might be wanting to send a message back saying.

“Grass definitely not greener – send water.”

Running on nothing so my feet feel free

Guitar solo by Mark Knopfler – anyone feeling it? Well…clearly you missed the 80’s – Money for Nothing is a classic and is the nominated backtrack to this piece (perhaps minus the ever so blatant homophobic reference in the middle of the song).

So I am ditching the running shoes in favour of going bare foot (now that title should make more sense) because quite frankly I trust my body. ‘Barefoot’ running is not quite accurate – a thin piece of rubber is strapped to your foot providing protection from sharp bits. This is where we get the interesting tension and polarity between our ‘natural design’ and the belief that technology improves on this ‘design’ (not here to argue who or what or where we were manufactured). But it is interesting that human beings have been around for ‘quite a while’ and shoes ….not so long.

It’s no mean feat (ha – pun intended) to take on the might of the scientific and medical industry that relies on our ‘design faults’ to keep a multitude of professionals and manufacturers busily providing us with salvation from all sorts of biomechanically induced ailments. There is a whole language of pathology and treatment regimes and shiny new shoes with go faster stripes are often the solution.

I’m not convinced anymore as I feel the drive for profit and marketing has captured the technological advancements in sport science leaving me with a distinct case of Iatrogenesis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iatrogenesis. The challenge of those going ‘back to basics’ is to navigate the plethora of rhetoric pushing the cause of ‘improvement’ as we instantly assume that science advances things.

The fact that people can make their own shoes (I know a guy who made his out of old go-cart tyres! – bit of DIY kiwi style) is a frightening prospect to a multinational corporation and their profit margins. Eventually they will relent and find some way to say ‘natural is best’ – put their logo on and claim it as their idea and everyone will rush out and pay exorbitant amounts of money for the privilege.

So – if the shoe fits – you can still go barefoot.

The Gene Genie

Jeannie here, talking about the ‘gene genie’, that is the mystery of the genetic code and many feel that the person who cracks it would be – well – a ‘genius’.

There is a little bit of my previous tongue in cheek swipe at people preferring to be ‘right’ rather than the truth re-entering via the never ending dualistic dance that science does around ‘why we are the way we are’. That is all arguments still boil down to ‘nature vrs nurture’. The ability to control what is seen as ‘true’ is the ultimate form of power. Science and Religion have battled this out for long enough in my opinion.

So it was with great delight that all of a sudden – geneticists were thrown a curve ball with Schizophrenia – its never good when genes don’t fit. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=11193204.

Have you ever been at a dinner party where politics, science or religion comes up? Watch perfectly reasonable people suddenly become feral and feel yourself slipping slowly under the table to escape (or wish you had a magic lamp!).

What is lost in the zealous disparaging remarks about the validity of either argument is the possibility that neither might have a firm grasp on the ‘truth’. But the investment in being ‘right’ by sociologists, biologists (the scientists – who argue with each other) and godologists – leaves a damaging ripple throughout the collective consciousness of humanity. That is – you have to ‘pick a side’ – its worse than English football fans! (football fans anywhere in the world actually). Loyalty to one side is absolutely required.

So as a genuine Jeannie/Genie – I would like to grant humanity 3 wishes (I have made them on its behalf – because I can).
1: That science be divorced from its forced marriage with the pharmaceutical industry – stop the invention of ‘dis-ease’.
2: We reintegrate our curriculum – bold but necessary – the separation of subjects is fundamentally flawed and doomed to maintain the current fallacy of ‘knowledge’.
3: That there be no more Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals generated by the Psychiatric ‘industry’.

Time to get back in the lamp – but keep the light on.