Thursday, April 7, 2011

Artificial Intelligence and Humanity II

Technological advance
Nowadays chatterbots perform much better on the Turing test than they used to. Maybe not because they are getting better at imitating human chats; but because this skill has deteriorated in humans due to its restricted use. The ability to chat trough a computer can be replaced, partly, by intelligent computer programs.
Current text editors include the following functionalities: predictive algorithms that recommend the following word to be written. Spell check validation showing several alternatives to replace the misspelled word by the option chosen by the user. Automatic syntax validation, alerting the user by underlying the wrong sentence and pointing to the defective segment; it also allows the computer to correct the sentence by itself when desired by the user. Automatically replace words that are constantly repeated by a suggested synonym. These tools tend to make us dependent of the program utilities to be able to chat correctly.
Humans no longer need to have several skills because they can be performed by computers, many of these tasks can be done faster and with a higher degree of accuracy. These skills include the abilities to execute math calculations, translating a text from one language to another, the organization of large amounts of data, finding the quickest or shortest path to go from one place to another, etc. This allows us to develop other abilities which tend to be less repetitive and more creative.
Differences between humans and computers
Dorian Cole compares the "I am" statement pronounced by a human to the traditional first words of a computer program: "Hello World." A computer presents an output to human beings through an interface so that people know that it is working. The computer responds to external programs. One could hang a sign on a window saying, "Hello World," and we would see it as an imitation of the task performed by the computer program. But interpreting a sign that says, "I am," would be a difficult task.
Computers are able to change their main processing structure. They are also able to modify by themselves their software structure, which is the part that indicates what procedures they should follow. Since their creation they have been meliorating in an exponential way which makes them immensely more powerful than when they appeared. Human brains aren’t able to self-improve neither to modify themselves in such a radical way machines can. We can progress only in small increments. We can improve ourselves by learning, practice, hone our skills and acquire knowledge. Also new discoveries can increase our ability to make further discoveries. Anyway our brains today are much the same as they were ten thousand years ago.
The myth of the scientific method as the only approach to reality will become completely obsolete without loss to man's interaction with this world. The path to understanding has to be prepared by a lineal but also mysterious approach of hunches and intuitions in addition to direct perceptions and sensations.
The right hemisphere was presumed to be more “primitive” than the left because the latest deals with language, math, perform tasks in a logical and sequential order and is more specialized than the other. The right brain was also wrongly labeled as "primitive" because left brain abilities where considered more valuable. The right hemisphere process music, body language, works in a more intuitive way, and approaches things as a hole. Notice that no education system thought children to dance with the same determination they thought them mathematics. Education was mainly focused in training the left hemisphere; by better educating, valuating, rewarding and nurturing those abilities. They used to train students in order to develop skills similar to computers.
According to Brian Christian many people consider the history of AI a dehumanizing process; however it can also be considered as the opposite. We build these algorithms and computers imitating what we know about us, leveraging all the understanding of ourselves that we have. Subsequently we can see where they make a mistake. That error always has something new to teach us about who we are.
The inhuman gave us an appetite for the human; Computers and education helped us understand our need to change the priorities of the brain areas we focus in. We might have already seen the high-water mark of the left hemisphere bias; and started our return to a more balanced view of the brain and the mind.
This new level of understanding bring us real benefits including increased drive towards invention and creativity and increased positive emotions and enhancing our mental states.


Charles Gramlich said...

I haven't followed a lot of the AI stuff. I don't consider the right hemisphere primitive, just different. Both sides must function together to get effective behavior.

Just_because_today said...

your posts are so interesting. Unfortunately, I dont have anything to offer, but I do take a lot from reading them.

Elizabeth said...

Wonderful post, Mariana. I read this and think of the computer, Hal, in the movie 2001. Hal is a frightening machine. Hopefully computers will not one day take over.

Janet K said...

I think you may have made a typo on hemispheres. LEFT HEMISPHERE controls the right hand, and is usually where language is processed (ditto math, logic etc.). It is often referred to as the linear thinking side. RIGHT HEMISPHERE controls the left hand and is thought to have a more artistic and emotional role. It is often referred to as the parallel thinking side.
I think the idea of right-brainedness and left-brainedness has been overdone in the popular press. We all think with both hemispheres.

Mariana Soffer said...

Charles Gramlich: You are right, it is an awful way to describe the right hemisphere as more primitive, but thst is how it was considered, Anyway I am changing the text to make it more clear. Thanks for pointing that out.

And it is also true that you need both sides of the brain to function together, but the different abilities are located and processed by different hemispheres, that is a fact. I guess you know they communicate trough the corpus callosum. The learning and thinking process is enhanced when both side of the brain participate in a balanced manner- There are many interesting stories about epileptic people to whom they cut that part, leaving both emispheres isolated, not being able to communicate with the other. You can read more about what happen to this people in oliver sacks first book, a man who mistook his wife for a hat, and you can also look for other stories about people who had their parts of the brain separated by other neuroscientists. They are very interesting these stories and they reveal a lot about how the brain functions.
A pleasure to hear your interesting thoughts.

Mariana Soffer said...

I am really happy that you liked my post, and also that I can see you here.
Hal is a great example of the myth of artificial intelligence, machines where suppose to develop emotions, artistic abilities, desires of their own, etc. But non of that happen, nor is going to. I do not believe that is possible, they might perform better imitations of humans but that is all. Nowadays there is a line of thought which is referred to as "the singularity" which sustains a similar myth, I really disagree with them. Check them out.
Take care and do not be afraid.

Mariana Soffer said...

You do not need to say anything, just participating here makes me wanna keep writing. Thanks a lot.

Mariana Soffer said...

Janet K:
Thanks for pointing out my mistake, I did correct it.And also thanks a lot for clarifying how each hemisphere functions, that is valuable information I should have added.

It is also an excellent remark your last one, and I completely agree, I did not mention it just for the sake of simplicity. Nevertheless different abilities are located and processed by different hemispheres (it has been proven in epileptics whose corpus callosum had been cut). But both sides of the brain generally need to function together in a coordinated way, for us to be able to perform many different tasks. Maybe I am contradicting myself with what I am saying here, but I am not as good as you are explaining such complicated things, and the brain really is complicated.
Thanks a lot for your the valuable information you added and please feel free to clarify the fact that we think with both hemispheres but each one has it's own areas of domain.

guillermo said...

Can you explain what the singularity means?

Mariana Soffer said...

here is one explanation: our human minds, at least, become immortal because we’ll be able to either download them, migrate them, or eternally repair them with our collective super intelligence. Our minds (that is ourselves) will continue on with or without our upgraded bodies.

It is from one of the 2 main philosophers of this theory.
Check this link that will clarify a bit more:

ines said...

Who is the other main person related to the singularity and which one is a good text to read from him?

Mariana Soffer said...

The other one is call Ray Kurzwell and here you have an easy to read article that might introduce you to his ideas:

J said...

I think that the potential of the brain is being very much overlooked.
Autistic savants demonstrate that brains can be so much more effective than most people experience.
If we can have those sorts of capabilites without the associated handicaps we would not need computers for many things.
I have not seen this discussed in the AI debates, but it probably is there somewhere.

This relates very much with your theme of left and right brains, because it looks like the capabilities of savants are because they use their right brains more fully.

JanetK said...

The singularity thing has a lot of different camps. The one I keep an eye on is which has a lot of singularity thinkers as well as people who are not interested in that. They have good conversations fairly often.
As I understand it they assume that artificial intelligence will get more and more powerful until it can create itself and make improvements in itself - kind of a computer 'big bang'. They do seem to try and work towards immortality, as you say. I'm not saying their wrong but I would not bet on immortality.

Mariana Soffer said...

I have been working like 14 hours, but since I read your comment that I wanted to reply to you, I am amazed, acualy yesterday I did some more reading on the brain machines, society, etc. And guess what? Savants, because I too thought that they where an interesting case to analyze, I guess our brains are in sync.

Here I am going to share with you some of the links I saved that I thought where interesting but first let me correct you: savants can be amazing either in math or in music, so they do not have a dominant brain side.

Enjoy the reading!

Mariana Soffer said...

JanetK: It is good to know that they are not all the same, I guess I had prejudged and did not gave them any chance. But I get really bored with those thoughts that computers are going to overcame humans and so on.
Let me tell you that I used to read that blog too, but a year ago I stopped, I do not know why, it had several interesting posts.
Well I remember now that one of their ideas was that computers would learn to learn by themselves and became more and more powerful, I do not like that idea either. But I guess they make you think about interesting aspects of life.

There is a website I thought you might like, I relate it to lesswrong, but I like it more, in this site Is where I first read things related to the singularity long time ago.
Here you have an example:, I think they are not much in favor of it, but they talk about it anyway.

Hope you like the site Janet

Good luck

J said...

14 hours? Maybe you should go to the park for a bit, feed the pigeons, relax a bit!

Are the parks in BA safe?

You are right to raise the point about dominant left or right side. When I mention that, it is because I was thinking of Daniel Tammet. He seems to use synaesthesia as part of his mathematical abilities, he sees numbers as shapes in his mind and so seems to use a right brain visual method instead of left.
I don't know if all autistic savants are similar in this respect.

Snyder is interesting, I've seen some of his work before and the TMS cap which gives people a brain power boost.

He says
"My hypothesis is that savants have privileged access to lower level, less-processed information, before it is packaged into holistic concepts and meaningful labels. Due to a failure in top-down inhibition, they can tap into information that exists in all of our brains, but is normally beyond conscious awareness."

Which almost seems to say that evolution has made us stupid, and has developed an inhibitor for many abilities, probably because an autistic personality does not lead to much sex. No gigi gigi, no evolution.

On the other hand it may be that our society, by placing so much importance on intellectual power, has moved in an autistic direction.

It is true that many of our technological achievements mimic the abilities of an autistic savant - photography, computer memory and calculation, musical recording.

What is the best balance in intellectual attributes - if there is such a thing?

What if Ray Kurzweil's future is simply an autistic's version of heaven?


JanetK said...

J, I think that it has been clearly shown that the brain is plastic. If an area is not being used for its usual purpose, another aspect of thought will take it over. The same amount of cognition would be going on in savants as in normal people but it would be doing fewer types of things. So those fewer things would be done faster etc.
Evolution has probably left us with a close to optional range of cognitive abilities with enough variation to cover the variations in situations /environments. Savants do not seem well suited to human life and often need protection and care.
As you hinted, I think I notice a lot of Asperger's spectrum people in the singularity camp. But 'it takes all types' as they say. Mild Aspergers do very well in many environments.

Mariana Soffer said...

J: you are right I should go out but I am fascinated with a project I am doing.
Yes there are nice parks here.
I do not know much about savants, but it is an interesting question, indeed I would like to do more research about them.
I like hia hypotesis.
Well I do think that the way humans evolved the last 200 years certainly did not lead them to have a more pleasant life. They kind of loose focus on what to care about.
I am not sure that we have moved towards autistic direction, I think that is a condition that you can not change, whether you can emphatize or relate to people or not. but It might have lead us to be more disconnected from one another. You can check some of my previous posts like.

Yes that is very interesting that technology leads us many times to the savants abilities.

I think there is a best balance, I do think we need to start paying more attention in finding it.

Sorry but I do not get much the last question, sounds interesting but I can not figure it out.


Mariana Soffer said...

Regarding plasticity of the brain, there are many interesting cases of people who loose a part of it due to a stroke, or a tumor, and they also loose the functionality that part had, but many people manage to regain that functionality with time and practice, which ends up allocated in another part of the brain.
Maybe savants besides doing less things can perform things faster because they are more disconnected from the emotions, and that allows them to act more like machines.
You are right when you talk about human evolution providing variety against the limitations of the savants, that is very interesting.

Asperger's in the singularity, interesting theory, very interesting one. I have a friend who has it (mild), and he is not specially into the singularity but he does have strange theories about machines abilities and evolution. He is actually a kind of genius in many aspects, it would be a very interesting person to explore.

J said...

JanetK, I think brain plasticity is very interesting, makes for a lot of strange phenomena. I don't think plasticity is the whole cause of savant talents, I think it's more a change of internal focus, but it wouldn't surprise me if plasticity plays a role.
I agree, there's no doubt that people with austism and aspergers can do really well, lead successful lives especially in science based subjects.

J said...

Speaking of chatterbots, did you see that thing about the American's automated sock puppet project? They are flooding the blogosphere with automated blog trolls.
As better AI develops they are sure to be used to influence public opinion.

Dave King said...

I like your suggestion that it might be that human chat has deteriorated rather than the ability to imitate it has improved. I think you may well be correct in this. How much evidence is there?

Harlequin said...

another thought provoking post; visiting here is always a treat. i like how you have worked with this intriguing and ( perhaps necessary??) dialectic tension. are you a sherry turkel fan?? some of what is here offers echoes of that earlier work.

Mariana Soffer said...


I am not sure that autistic people (no matter which level of autism they have) can do really well in life, moat of them are not able to leave without being
taking care of and they have a serious deficit on a couple of the most fullfilling aspects of human life which are having relationship and
being able to communicate properly. But people with Asperger (depending on the level they have of it) have a much better
chance of leading a fullfilling life.
Nevertheless I agree that neuroplasticity is one of the most amazing qualities humans got, and it makes me happier to know that
it exists and that humans can change and evolve in lots of things.

Mariana Soffer said...

J: Never heard of them, interesting, thanks for letting me know about them.Here is an interesting article about it:
it says they spent 200M in this program. I think, no matter the good intentions the program creators might have, this kind
of interventions in social media are wrong and dangerous, It is not right to make people belive something that is not true
by manipulating the social media like that.

Mariana Soffer said...

Dave King: I am glad you liked that idea, for me it is also a really interesting point, I am not sure there is real evidence
of that (I think it is really difficut to measure, dough I thought we could compare the amount of different words used by people in different years)
but I know there are modern thinkers that believe that. For example
Baronesse Greenfield says regarding communication trough internet:"lack of empathy may be among the negative changes.
She quotes a teacher who told her of a change in the ability of her pupils to understand others.
She points out that irony, metaphor and sympathy can all be lost in cyberspace."

Mariana Soffer said...

Harlequin:Thank you very much my amusing friend, I am going to blush! How Interesting this woman! I never heard about her before,
but I have been reading her on internet and yes, she seems to think very similar in some aspects, I reall want to read her
last book, because it has been said about it that
"Sherry Turkle doesn't want to get rid of technology, but she thinks it's time to put it in its place.", which is an idea I
Like, I am definitely keep exploring her, she has some chats in youtube that seem to be interesting as well.
Tell me how do you know so many interesting thinkers? Please recommend me others you think I might be interested in.
Take care dear friend.

Anonymous said...

Much edifying article, I must say. This post is fully encouraging in its own ways and I am sure that it will even get success in inspiring many people like me.And yes i have tweeted your site .

JanetK said...

Susan Greenfield has been countered by a number of bloggers and challenged to produce evidence for some of her statements about internet, twitter, Facebook etc. She certainly has done very amazing research and teaching. But on effects of technology she has not done any research as far as I know. Some of her statements are the opposite of what research has been done. V. Bell at Mind Hacks has written about this a number of times. One this particular subject I take what Greenfield says with a grain of salt.

J said...

Mariana, well, you may be interested in this here interview about the sock puppeting and about virtual game currencies too. I hadn't realised there was money to be made selling magic swords in World of Warcraft, but apparently there are billions of dollars changing hands over games.

J said...

By the way, if you need a +5 fireblade that's good against the undead, I can maybe sort you out. I'm just saying, if you want one, no one need know ;)

Mariana Soffer said...

Thanks a lot for your encouraging comment, I think I saw your tweet, but I am not sure if it is the one I think, can you send me a tweet to let me know?

Mariana Soffer said...

Janet K:
At first I found what this woman said very interesting and I was almost sure she was pretty accurate in her observations. This was probably because she is a great speaker and also because I was going trough a period where I was doubting about technology benefits.
But then I thought about her ideas again and did not liked them that much. I brought back one thought I always agreed with which is that neither tools nor technology can be defined as good or bad, it all depends on what humans do with them.

Mariana Soffer said...

Thanks for the video, I did not have a clue about the subject, it was very interesting to me to realize that that existed. And regarding virtual currencies, I guess you know I am really interested in the subject, you might probably seen my posts: current currencies, and the other about social games that wonders what is the reason people spend money in virtual goods such as a virtual air conditioner to make more comfortable one of the rooms of the game they play on the computer.

Mariana Soffer said...

j: What is that? I dont have a clue. Is it something from a social game? I guess you are joking but sadly I am not a big gammer. Hep.

J said...

Ah, I used to be a Dungeons and Dragons geek, in other words... joke.
A joke that fell flat, a joke that's laying face down in the desert miles from water.

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