Sunday, November 16, 2014

the myth of AI

edge |  A lot of us were appalled a few years ago when the American Supreme Court decided, out of the blue, to decide a question it hadn't been asked to decide, and declare that corporations are people. That's a cover for making it easier for big money to have an influence in politics. But there's another angle to it, which I don't think has been considered as much: the tech companies, which are becoming the most profitable, the fastest rising, the richest companies, with the most cash on hand, are essentially people for a different reason than that. They might be people because the Supreme Court said so, but they're essentially algorithms.

If you look at a company like Google or Amazon and many others, they do a little bit of device manufacture, but the only reason they do is to create a channel between people and algorithms. And the algorithms run on these big cloud computer facilities.

The distinction between a corporation and an algorithm is fading. Does that make an algorithm a person? Here we have this interesting confluence between two totally different worlds. We have the world of money and politics and the so-called conservative Supreme Court, with this other world of what we can call artificial intelligence, which is a movement within the technical culture to find an equivalence between computers and people. In both cases, there's an intellectual tradition that goes back many decades. Previously they'd been separated; they'd been worlds apart. Now, suddenly they've been intertwined.

The idea that computers are people has a long and storied history. It goes back to the very origins of computers, and even from before. There's always been a question about whether a program is something alive or not since it intrinsically has some kind of autonomy at the very least, or it wouldn't be a program. There has been a domineering subculture—that's been the most wealthy, prolific, and influential subculture in the technical world—that for a long time has not only promoted the idea that there's an equivalence between algorithms and life, and certain algorithms and people, but a historical determinism that we're inevitably making computers that will be smarter and better than us and will take over from us.

That mythology, in turn, has spurred a reactionary, perpetual spasm from people who are horrified by what they hear. You'll have a figure say, "The computers will take over the Earth, but that's a good thing, because people had their chance and now we should give it to the machines." Then you'll have other people say, "Oh, that's horrible, we must stop these computers." Most recently, some of the most beloved and respected figures in the tech and science world, including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, have taken that position of: "Oh my God, these things are an existential threat. They must be stopped."

In the past, all kinds of different figures have proposed that this kind of thing will happen, using different terminology. Some of them like the idea of the computers taking over, and some of them don't. What I'd like to do here today is propose that the whole basis of the conversation is itself askew, and confuses us, and does real harm to society and to our skills as engineers and scientists.
A good starting point might be the latest round of anxiety about artificial intelligence, which has been stoked by some figures who I respect tremendously, including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk. And the reason it's an interesting starting point is that it's one entry point into a knot of issues that can be understood in a lot of different ways, but it might be the right entry point for the moment, because it's the one that's resonating with people.

The usual sequence of thoughts you have here is something like: "so-and-so," who's a well-respected expert, is concerned that the machines will become smart, they'll take over, they'll destroy us, something terrible will happen. They're an existential threat, whatever scary language there is. My feeling about that is it's a kind of a non-optimal, silly way of expressing anxiety about where technology is going. The particular thing about it that isn't optimal is the way it talks about an end of human agency.

But it's a call for increased human agency, so in that sense maybe it's functional, but I want to go little deeper in it by proposing that the biggest threat of AI is probably the one that's due to AI not actually existing, to the idea being a fraud, or at least such a poorly constructed idea that it's phony. In other words, what I'm proposing is that if AI was a real thing, then it probably would be less of a threat to us than it is as a fake thing.

What do I mean by AI being a fake thing? That it adds a layer of religious thinking to what otherwise should be a technical field. Now, if we talk about the particular technical challenges that AI researchers might be interested in, we end up with something that sounds a little duller and makes a lot more sense.


BigDonOne said...

"...AI being a fake thing? "
You can't get the death penalty for murdering an algorithm, not yet anyway.
In Washington State, you could plea bargain down to JayWalkingFour, and get off with 5 minutes of Community Service no one would ever verify was performed....

Constructive_Feedback said...

[quote]The distinction between a corporation and an algorithm is fading. Does that make an algorithm a person?[/quote]

The EVOLUTIONISTS (Hawkings, Nye, Degrasse Tyson, Dawkings) believe that the "HUMAN" is a product of EVOLVED MATTER - which has magically been made INTELLIGENT with some ALGORITHM contained in a mass of elemental chemicals that formed molecules called adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine, which later ordered themselves into something called "DNA.

With this as a presumption - WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE THEN - that one chooses to call a CORPORATION "human"?

IF the same benefit of TIME that made "adenine and thymine" the essence of HUMANITY, superior to the carbon, oxygen and nitrogen molecules that I just washed off of my car yesterday.......................

THEN WHAT IF in the evolution of TIME - these said "corporations" are equipped with a robotic body that closely emulates all of the systems of a human body - AND THEN replaces human beings in the work place - in which after decades in which they were drawn in by their ADVANCED CONSUMER BENEFITS from this CORPORATION - in which their FOOD, their electronics, their HEALTH CARE and even the Digestive/Renal System excretions from their bodies were SERVICED BY THE CORPORATE ROBOT/DRONES?

I ask you ,sir, IF a CORPORATE ROBOT DRONE successfully tricked the HUMAN ANIMAL to yield his own innate foraging skills and begin to functionally worship the SERVICES received from the ROBOT DRONE - wouldn't it fall in line with the historical actions of other COLONIAL POWERS to reserve the right to WRITE THEIR OWN HISTORY - and thus the CORPORATE ROBOT DRONE bequeaths to all that he be called a HUMAN lest they receive no more rations and are made to fend for themselves?

Vic78 said...

Speaking of AI, Disney's doing the damn thing right now.

Vic78 said...

The anime Ghost in the Shell talks addresses evolving AI. If you haven't seen it, you're missing out.

John Kurman said...

This is why I can't read edge anymore. Bunch of wordy bastards that never get around to saying anything important. Either AI been around for a long time, or we are, as Fat Boy Lanier never quite connected, fake AI.

CNu said...

Is that gout or a huge hematoma on his right leg? either way, not good....,

Anyway, Lanier is correct in his assertions. AI IS either a myth or as it's been used lately by Musk and Hawking, a profound misnomer. The bottomline is that it's still just the egregores originally evoked by John Dee and first noted to my attention by Paco Nathan.

CNu said...

lol, please don't take this the wrong way Bro. Feed, but your grasp of reality mechanics is soooooo elementary that it's simply not possible for you to hold up your end of the discussion begging to be had. By that same token, it's not worth my time to engage the discussion you're currently prepared to have, because adding insult to intellectual injury, you're little stick-figure understanding has its dukes up posturing as if partisan. .

So, before I put my thumb down on the little faking and jabbing stickman, here's a little simple and pleasant homework assignment for you to do.

Go see Interstellar.

Deeply ponder the proposition that the mysterious emotion we call "love" is our nervous system's best effort to represent something more than space and time. Get back at me when you have some results to report. Thanks!

John Kurman said...

I'm going with 636BC, as I like that number, and it corresponds with a number of important aggregate powers coming upon the world stage. Remember, though, all aggregates are impermanent. I'm also reminded of the short story told from The Thing's point of view, which is appalled to find out that life on Earth is, unlike life in the rest of the Universe, a soul-less mechanism. The Thing is therefore duty bound to rape us into consciousness.

CNu said...

636BC and a number of important aggregate powers coming upon the world stage

Please specify a few of the aggregate powers you have in mind?

Remember, though, all aggregates are impermanent.

You sure about that?

Joint stock corporations are designed for permanence, and, an epiphytic role in the ecology of nation-states which by enforcing their contracts, have made their existence possible. When private banks got into the business of funding nation-states, then multi-national and private central banks subverted that whole "existence possible" proposition.

Cast over this now well-established backdrop, in which banks have their own distinct agenda, and the means to parasitically dominate the agency of states, i.e., the political will of humans and their sovereigns..., aren't we in fact witnessing nothing less than the raping of the overwhelming majority of these humans into oblivion or some as yet to be realized alternative?

John Kurman said...

Last point first, I believe that's what you, I and Shalizi are observing: the coldest of cold monsters.

As to the aggregate powers, it's really not so much nations and personalities, as it is technology and culture. For example, Assyria is kicking ass, but by the end of the century they have disappeared. Duke Wen of Jin in China stops the northern advance of Chu cold, but the Zhou dynasty is less than a century away from the Period of Warring States. Iron is finally coming into its own then, both in China and Asia Minor (and much, much earlier in East Africa). Printing is starting up. Coinage. Just as the telegraph and the steam engine provided the myelin sheaths for the nervous system of the long 19th century, those 7th century cultural achievements are getting us all set for Empire.