Friday, June 9, 2023

#160 / Mind Reader


Artificial Intelligence (or A.I., to use the terminology that is ever more frequently employed) is definitely the "next big thing." Some are prophesying doom. To get an informed take on why we should be worried, click that link, above - the one mentioning "doom" - for a video from the makers of "The Social Dilemma." 
Big businesses, let it be said, are apparently not that worried about our A.I. future. They are, increasingly, "all in." If that brings you any comfort, just remember that the giant oil companies profess not to be worried, either, about the fact that our continued combustion of hydrocarbon fuels might put our human civilization in peril - or even end all life on the planet. If everyone starts getting worried, that could really undermine their business model!

In early May, The New York Times published an article that was titled, "A.I. to Read Your Mind Is Up Next." That, of course, is the hard copy version. The online headline will differ. If you can skate past the paywall, the link I have provided should take you right there. Here are a couple of pertinent paragraphs:

In a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the researchers described an A.I. that could translate the private thoughts of human subjects by analyzing fMRI scans, which measure the flow of blood to different regions in the brain.

Already, researchers have developed language-decoding methods to pick up the attempted speech of people who have lost the ability to speak, and to allow paralyzed people to write while just thinking of writing. But the new language decoder is one of the first to not rely on implants. In the study, it was able to turn a person’s imagined speech into actual speech and, when subjects were shown silent films, it could generate relatively accurate descriptions of what was happening onscreen (emphasis added).
Those reading this blog posting may, or may not, have heard about (or even read) what was once a rather famous book, Man A Machine, by Julien Offray de La Mettrie. I still have a copy of the book on my shelves - and my underlining proves that I definitely read it. In fact, I remember it rather well. As Wikipedia tells us (click the link to the title), "de La Mettrie extends Descartes' argument that animals are mere automatons, or machines, to human beings."
I did decline, when I read the book - and I still decline - de La Mettrie's invitation to consider that human beings are actually just "machines." Think about it, though; that is exactly what the concept of "Artificial Intelligence" invites us to do. The idea that "intelligence" (see definition below) is nothing more than mechanical manipulations of information, done super fast, is to suck out the marrow from the bones of our glory, leaving only structural sticks behind.


The capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.
I have no doubt that we can invent ways to make inanimate and unliving, mechanical processes duplicate the "intellectual products" that we, and our intelligence, have learned how to produce ourselves. ChatGPT may well be able to write a senior thesis, using the prodigious power of computers to pull examples and analogues from the entire written, oral, and visual products of human civilization.

But for whom are these artificially conjured products produced? For some human being, somewhere. 
That is their only value, and I am suggesting that you shouldn't believe it when someone invites you to equate your human existence with what a machine can accomplish (and particularly when you are told that the machine can do it better than you can). 
Human beings are NOT "machines." When we start thinking that we are, that is when we begin denying exactly what is most precious and unique in the fact of our existence. That is when we begin turning a divine mystery (and destiny) into a complex conjugation of computer code. That is when we start selling ourselves short!
If you think that that equating ourselves to a machine is ever going to work out alright - in the human world that we have created (and in the World of Nature, which we most emphatically did not create) - then I just say, "Good Luck!"
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