Monthly Archives: August 2014

Artificial Intelligence: Can Science Truly Recreate You? [Daily Nexus//Science & Tech, 8.28.2014]

With the unprecedented rise of millennial computing, lightning fast telecommunication, vibrant social media and virtually limitless access to information, our lives are consumed by a torrent of powerful technological influences.

The gap between who we are at a deeper, more philosophical level and who we appear to be on our various web profiles is simultaneously widened and blurred by recent scientific and technological advancements. “Who we are” has become a vexing and tiresomely complex concept, and in our push toward increasingly more efficient modes of survival, we seem to have run out of collective patience with it.

Yet in spite of this, debates over what makes us who we are continue today. The age-old question of how our minds interact with our bodies has been passed off from philosophers to computer scientists and engineers. Some of the latter figures claim that the advent of robotics and more sophisticated computing methods has made inevitable what Google engineering director Ray Kurzweil refers to as our “next stage of evolution”— by which he means artificial intelligence. A.I. is, in simplified terms, a rapidly accelerating field that tries replicating human functions and capabilities in machines to the fullest extent that current technology allows.

But is it possible for machines to exhibit complete human intelligence and consciousness?

UC Santa Barbara Psychology professor Stan Klein, whose research focuses on issues related to social knowledge representation, said that mainstream psychology believes that humans are machines, and thus can be understood from principles that comprise the backbone of modern applications in machine technology.

“The materialist dogma of modern science threatens to remove the [mind-body] issue from discussion, since it does not fit their metaphysical presumptions,” Klein said. “Perhaps they are right — or perhaps one can intelligently widen the scope of physicalism to encompass experience.”

At the forefront of such “physicalist” groups today are neuroscientists, many of whom believe that the mind can be fully reduced to electrochemical and mechanical bodily functions. From this perspective, replicating human consciousness in machines may prove less difficult than expected.

This possibility once pondered only in science fiction thrillers (in which the robots typically end up rebelling against their creators and destroying humanity) is becoming more compelling with the integration of technology and automation into nearly every facet of our lives, and may even become perfectly natural.

But is it scientifically feasible?

Albert Shin, a UC Santa Barbara Philosophy doctorate alumni and visiting assistant professor at Villanova University, said that even if we can explain the various workings of the brain, we are still missing something in our explanation of day-to-day conscious experience.

“With recent developments in cognitive and neuroscience, it is easy to think that all there is to the mind is a collection of brain cells,” Shin said. “Admittedly, the evidence suggests that there is a much closer relationship between mind and body than was argued by dualists like Descartes. But it would be a mistake to jump to the conclusion that all there is to the mind is simply matter.”

How these debates will pan out is still yet to be determined. But in proceeding, we should not forget to keep asking ourselves two basic questions. Who are we? And to what extent can — or more aptly, should — we allow science to answer that question for us?

[Feature image courtesy of Christine Daniloff/MIT]

Advertisements

Inspiration

Apologies for the delay. I haven’t been feeling inspired enough to produce worthwhile content, over the past week.

Speaking of which, today’s blurb-esque post will be about inspiration. (How uninspired, you say? Balderdash! Poppycock! Gibber-flabber, gobbledygook, pishing-posh, …!)

It’s a tricky, capricious thing, inspiration. Bedevils and frustrates just about everyone who consistently engages in projects requiring it. Indeed, in order to create something, one must first be sufficiently inspired to act on forming that very thing. So, naturally, inspiration is very important in a variety of task-related contexts.

To help get us started, a quick run over to Google Search yields:

in·spi·ra·tion
noun
1. the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.
synonyms: creativity, inventiveness, innovation, ingenuity, genius, imagination, originality; …

Very broad starting base, this. By the above definition, inspiration is a process that is directly involved in both motivation and the intrinsic stimulation required to do or feel something.

When I sat down and looked at this (then-empty) text-space last night, I thought: “I’m just not inspired enough to write anything.” But can inspiration not happen along the way during a project, rather than right at the start? Who’s to say when exactly inspiration will hit during an activity? In general, inspiration is not very finely traceable (for those without the appropriate neuroscientific tools with which to scan their mental processes in a visible format, that is). All too often, those of us who rely on inspiration (and everyone does) are very much at its unpredictable mercy.

I shall offer up a theory: that for those of us more regularly involved in the so-called creative arts–e.g., writing and the calligraphic arts–inspiration does, and should happen when we least expect it. This is because inspiration knows no master: its fickle nature occurs precisely because of our desperate attempts to capture and put a lid on it. Inspiration has a mind of its own: you could almost hear it taunting from across the room where you can’t reach it, “nuh-uh–I’ll call you!” as your pay-deadline for a project approaches nearer and nearer.

Why should things be so frustrating and complicated? Because by its very nature, inspiration’s product–namely, art–is all about relinquishing control and surrendering one’s sensibilities to the work being considered. Whether it’s nature, a painted masterpiece, or a perfectly eloquent line in a book that enthralls one’s imagination, the most genuine inspirations occur when one is falling in love with the object of his or her appraisal.

And love, that greatest work of art one could possibly create or become engrossed in, involves the ultimate in letting go of one’s usual controls and defenses. Inspiration hits when we are so inexplicably struck by the beauty of a thing, person, or idea, that one simply must “do or feel something–especially something creative”, for the purpose of an unequivocal, irrefutable, and undeniably-felt love.

And I say that’s the way inspiration should be.