Archive for May, 2014

Being. Important?

Monday, May 26th, 2014

I’m enjoying a pair of fried eggs over melted swiss cheese, on top of a slice of my home-made bread. I’m thinking about why the artificial intelligence crowd seems different to me. Different, that is, from all the other ‘crowds’ of idealists who search for ‘meaning’ in our lives.

I often read there’s a distinction between the ‘instinctive’  behavior of animals and the thoughtful approach we ourselves take. But I think the many efforts to identify meaning from within ourselves, with all the high language and ironic half-smiles, have similar results, empirically assessed, to not thinking at all. From the outside, given our consistent inabilities to change ourselves, we might as well be armadillos.

Some of us are fascinated with ‘consciousness’ – with ‘self-awareness’ – as if it’s special. Of course, since we’re the ones making it up, we can never tie down exactly what it is. The artificial intelligence people couldn’t give a hoot. They’ve defined ‘intelligence’ as the behavior of any rational agent. That is, if you place a phone call to a machine, and you can’t tell it’s a machine – it’s intelligent.

‘Consciousness’ is just another aspect of intelligence, which exists in its outward appearance – it gets measured. The AI people took ‘identity,’ stopped obsessing on it, and started building varieties of their own. In so doing, they’ve begun creating things that look a lot like us. The difference is: they’ve got a handle on what they’ve wrought.

Why they call it…

Friday, May 16th, 2014

I want to be gentle about this. I might lose you if I get excited. People are building astonishing technologies. A cellphone can be modified to work as a ‘sensor’ that detects and records body motions and vocal dynamics (deliberately, speech content is ignored – it’s irrelevant). These can be assembled into predictable ‘metrics,’ and used to match you with compatible individuals who share your gesticulations and intonation patterns. This works. Corporations assign teams this way. Cooperation improves markedly.

Today’s cellphone, as commonly used, transmits sufficient data to model individual behavioral patterns and report inconsistencies. Hospitals are exploiting this now, detecting when psychological ailments manifest symptoms – and suggesting treatments. An email advising ‘take a pill’ is cheaper than an outpatient drop-in.

We’re all being taught how indispensable our new walkie-talkies are; how you pull your device out of your bag and it knows from the time of day you are hungry and, because it knows you, where you probably want to eat. It recommends the place, and at a word, reserves a table.

You can’t begin to imagine.

No new ideas or inventions are required. The equipment is being installed. Like everyone else alive, you are surrounded by a global omniscient presence, paying personal and loving attention to you.


Due complement

Monday, May 5th, 2014

If we have an undoing, it will have to do with quantum physics. Everything does. These are the tiny tiny machinations underlying boxes and springs and tea leaves and eagles’ wings. If you control them, you can turn mountains into chocolate pudding. The high priests control them.

Like all mysteries shrouding real power, quantum physics now has a magical story and a popular legend. My son announced to me the other day, ‘things don’t exist until we perceive them.’

A glorious fallacy, indeed, urged on us in the marketplace for talkative telephones and cars that drive themselves. You’ve probably heard it yourself: somewhere in the convoluted science of the very small, you’ll encounter the bizarre difficulty of not being able to measure the speed of something while at once knowing where it is. This is because we measure things with light, and when you’re very small, the light ‘thing’ arriving to ‘see’ you actually pushes you out of the way. Tricky stuff. Confusing.

There’s a wonderful story about how people first described this stuff, when their eyes opened wide enough to start seeing it, about a century ago. A handful of brilliant physicists and mathematicians literally reformulated the foundations of the universe – and argued like crazy for twenty-five years while they did so.

One of the brightest of these was a man named Niels Bohr, who came up with his own way of describing how the seemingly impossible can really be true. He changed the definition of the word, ‘phenomenon.’ The problem is: things quite small can be described as waves, and all the mathematics work. They can be described as particles, and all the mathematics work. But those mathematics definitely don’t work with each other.

So Niels said, a ‘phenomenon’ isn’t just a thing you see – it includes the tools you use to see it with. Everybody knows that today, but somebody had to make it up. So both ways of looking are accurate – entirely correct. But incomplete. Niels coined the term ‘complementarity’ for this seeming paradox resolved. To understand very small things, you need to understand two mutually exclusive ways of thinking. Mutually exclusive, but not opposed. In fact, complementary.

Niels was a wise man, and people thought him wise. He acquired honors and awards and distinguishments by the cartload. He was deemed something of an oracle. He observed ‘complementarity’ might usefully apply to other realms of experience and thought. Someone asked, ‘what’s the complement of truth?’

Niels replied, ‘clarity.’