Oh, you didn't think you'd live to see that, did you ? Really, a confession on Trilema ? The title must be lying, huh!
It is not ; but I'm with you -- I didn't think I'd live to see that either. Confessions are hard, in that in order to confess one must believe he is surrounded by people. This is the sticking point, surrounded by goats one can't confessi, not strictly and not exactly because "you can't confess to goats", but because confessions are meaningless in a goat world. So therefore I will add that not only I didn't think I'd live to see it ; but that I am very happy to have lived to see it! 'Tis a wonderful thing, I tell you, an acquired property of the self readily capable to rival others (such as "being rich" or "owning slaves") and to make the sad fact of ever approaching old age much more bearable. I know of no greater blessing than eventually integrating the capacity for confession.
So no, the title does not lie. Yossi Kreinin says :
Programmers develop their own problems. Today, we'll talk about AI problems some of us are having. As you probably already know, but my trademark thoroughness still obliges me to say, AI stands for "Artificial Intelligence" and comes in two flavors, "deterministic" (like minmax) and "statistical" (like SVM). The combined efforts of various researches lead to an important breakthrough in this field, known to meteorologists as "the AI winter". This is the season when you can't get any VC money if you mention AI anywhere in your business plan. During this season, an alternate term was invented for AI, "Machine Learning". I think that the money/no money distinction between "ML" and "AI" isn't the only one, and that in other contexts, AI=deterministic and ML=statistical, but I don't care. In real systems, you do both. Lots of things labeled as "AI" work and are useful in practical contexts. Others are crap. It's always like that, but this isn't what I came to talk about today. By "AI problems", I didn't mean the problems that people face which require the application of methods associated with the term "AI". I meant "problems" in the psychiatric sense.
A certain kind of reader will wonder whether I have the necessary qualifications to deal with a psychiatric issue so advanced. My credentials are humble, but I do work on hairy computer vision applications. The general problem computer vision deals with (identify, classify and track "objects" in real-world scenes) is considered "AI complete" by some, and I tend to agree. I don't actually work on the AI bits – the algorithms are born a level and a half above me; I'm working on the hardware & software that's supposed to run them fast. I did get to see how fairly successful AI stacks up, with different people approaching it differently. Some readers of the credential-sensitive kind will conclude that I still have no right to tackle the deep philosophical bullshit underlying Artificial Intelligence, and others will decide otherwise. Anyway, off we go.
The AI problems make a vast area; we'll only talk about a few major ones. First of all, we'll deal with my favorite issue, which is of course The Psychophysical Problem. There are folks out there who actually think they believe that their mind is software, and that consciousness can be defined as a certain structural property of information processing machines. They don't really believe it, as the ground-breaking yosefk's Mind Expansion Experiment can easily demonstrate. I'll introduce that simple yet powerful experiment in a moment, but first, I want to pay a tribute to the best movie of the previous century, which, among other notable achievements, provided the most comprehensive treatment of the psychophysical problem in the popular culture. That motion picture is of course The Terminator, part I and, to an extent, part II. World-class drama. Remarkable acting (especially in part I – there are a couple of facial expressions conveying aggressive, hopeless, cowardly and impatient stupidity previously unheard of). Loads of fun.
Back to our topic, the movie features a digital computer with an impressive set of peripheral devices, capable of passing the Turing test. The system is based on Atari hardware, as this guy has figured out from the assembly listings cleverly edited into the sequences depicting the black-and-red "perspective" of the machine. According to the mind-is-software AI weenies, the device from the movie has Real Consciousness. The fascinating question whether this is in fact the case is extensively discussed in the witty dialogs throughout the film. "I sense injuries", says the Atari-powered gadget. "This information could be called pain". Pain. The key to our elusive subject. I'm telling you, these people know their stuff.
The mind-is-software approach is based on two assumptions: the Church-Turing thesis and the feelings-are-information axiom. In my trademark orderly fashion, I'll treat the first assumption second and the second assumption first. To show the invalidity of the feelings-are-information assumption, we'll use yosefk's Mind Expansion Experiment. It has two versions: the right-handed and the left-handed, and it goes like this. If you're right-handed, put a needle in your right hand and start pushing it into your left arm. If you're left-handed, put a needle in your left hand and start pushing it into your right arm. While you're engaged in this entertaining activity, consider the question: "Is this information? How many bits would it take to represent?" Most people will reach enlightenment long before they'll cause themselves irreversible damage. Critics have pointed out that the method can cause die-hard AI weenies to actually injure themselves; the question whether this is a bug or a feature is still a subject of a hot debate in the scientific community. Anyway, we do process something that isn't exactly information, because it fucking hurts; I hope we're done with this issue now.
Now, while I am no programmer myselfii and while I fully sympathize both with the notion that computer programmers are generally speaking broken in the headiii and with the proposition that a preoccupation with "AI" belies fundamental breakage at the organic level of the brain supporting the preoccupation -- exactly in the way Morgellonsiv or motherly fixationv belie significant dysfunction even if they're not directly related to it -- I must nevertheless confess : I am fully persuaded of what is here called "the psychophysical problem".
To start the discussion from the accessible end : if I drive a needle in my arm, what will happen is that some cells will get destroyed ; through their destruction will release toxic substances, much like you trying to burn down your couch ; these toxic substances will find their way to nerves, which will fire ; the firing of the nerves will be interpreted in the base of the brain, a cellular structure we share with many animals, not all of which mammal, and drive a reaction.
You know this is so from a number of directly and easily accessible events and circumstances, briefly enumerated here :
- The pain caused by a wound is in direct relation to cell rupture, not to "seriousness" or any such measure. This is why very fine needles cause a lot less pain than thicker ones, even if they should drive deeper ; and also why a smooth blade hurts less than a piece of slag.
- Internal bruising, for instance, does not hurt, even if the same exact wound would hurt something fierce were it obtained through skin breaching trauma. This is because the very same signals are interpreted differently.
- If you grab one pipe traversed by warm water, you will perceive the sensation of having grabbed on one pipe traversed by warm water. If you instead grab one pipe traversed by cold water, you will perceive the sensation of having grabbed on one pipe traversed by cold water. If however you grab on an assemblage of two intertwining pipes which each carry warm and cold water respectively, you will not experience anything other than an intense and urgent burning sensation -- notwithstanding that neither cold nor warm nor their combination in any sense hurts your grabber. This is because simultaneous firing of both kinds is interpreted in a certain way, irrespective of reality.
So then yes, I fully believe that pain is simply information and strictly nothing else. I can also estimate the bit count, for courtesy : the nerve density in the human arm is about 10 per thousand basal cells ; a human cell is about 100 micrometers in diameter, meaning that a surface of 1mm2 would contain about 108 basal cells or something like one million neurons. These million neurons can fire their sodium-potassium powered charges about 500 times per secondvi ; admitting for the sake of simplicity that these firings are single-bit rather than single-bytevii we are looking at about 500 Mbps worth of information exchange to relay the discrete "needle in arm" phenomena.
But this isn't really the crux of the matter : the fact that Yossi Kreinin can and does use the example of a needle in arm already defeats his argument : if it didn't convey information, then what did it convey ? On what basis can he evaluate what will happen to me if I do what he says ?
If I aim to convey non-informational content to others, such as through the use of metaphor, or beatings, the situation I confront is fundamentally ambiguous : even if I have some guesses as to a class of possible outcomes (which are almost always vague things like "we're either going to make a new friend or a new enemy"), I have no idea what exactly will happen. Yossi K. does not find himself in this situation, and the reason he doesn't find himself in this situation is precisely that pain is information. What else ?
I understand the pedestrian "oh, people are speshul" touchy-feely low level socialism that animates him, "living things shouldn't be used" bla bla. Nevertheless, as convenient as the soul would be for his infanitle political and ideological commitments, the case still stands that such a thing as a soul doth not exist. Whether from this it then follows that indeed consciousness, and from there on outright humanity, is merely an emergent property of matter, be it its structure as currently fashionable, be it its substance (as the Greeks believed - I for instance am supposed to be made of gold, Yossi, of silver) is mostly besides the point. Two men stabbed identically with identical needles will be both in pain, and two sacks of flesh identical to the two men but not arbitrarily called "two men" by Yossi K or Kindergarten Block B will still be identical to them.
I get that the preteen proposition "what if your wife was snatched by the wife snatchers while you slept and replaced with a seemingly identical Japanese fuckpillow" gives a certain class of people the hibby-jibbies. These people are usually called children, and are distinguished from the actual adults by that sign that they've never taken a girl from the environment and beaten her into her improved version, called a woman. Consequently they naively imagine that "daddy is hurting mommy", and other such, as adequate to their age.
That, then, is my confession ; by my hand and my rod -- my deed.———
- Have you seen Visconti's Stranger, by the way ? [↩]
- Yes, I can program computers. Similarly, you can bake. Are you a baker ? So then, I'm not a programmer. [↩]
- Much like the math teachers they come from. [↩]
- A clincially relevant preoccupation with fibers found in or emanating from one's own body. [↩]
- The normal evolution of the human brain has children around the age of maybe 10 simply stop listening to their mothers. At all. It drives most women to the brink of insanity, especially because that's just about the time their father is also starting to look elsewhere. Nevertheless, it is normal, a necessary part of the maturation of the human brain exactly like the impetuus to walk around the age of six months or the tendency to go around screaming "mine" a little later. Its absence is a diseased state, literally mental retardation, and almost always an indication of future morbidity, which generally manifests as schizophrenia.
This then has supported in the classical discipline of psychology the notion of the "schizogenic mother", supposedly a kind of mother who induces the disease in her children. The 1800s observers noticed the relation and made an assumption, which is only partially incorrect : there is a genetic component to the disease, which is obviously in part shared with the mother. There isn't however a behavioural component to it in the sense there contemplated -- it's not the mother that somehow contributes to the development of the disease. On the contrary, it's the child that fails to separate, and then that failure drives scarification in the woman, which then appears pathological to later examination but hasn't in any sense caused either the situation or the condition. [↩]
- The observed refractory rate (directly equivalent to the penile property) is somewhere around 2ms, so we'll go with that. [↩]
- Nothing keeps the wetware from measuring potential levels, there's no rule every information processing machine must be binary. [↩]