S: Impressive. I’d be interested to see what future directions the involved researchers take things.
Prof. Bringsjord: “By passing many tests of this kind—however narrow—robots will build up and collect a repertoire of abilities that start to become useful when put together.”
S: Didn’t touch on how said abilities could be “added up” into a potential singular (human-like) robot. Though Bringsjord doesn’t explicitly seem to be committing to such, the video’s narrator himself claims to see it as “much like a child learning individual lessons about its actual existence”, and then “putting what it learns all together”; which is the same sort of reductionist optimism that drove and characterized artificial intelligence’s first few decades of work (before the field realized its understandings of mind and humanness were sorely needing). So the narrator lverbally) endorses the view that adding up robotic abilities is possible within a single unit, which I have yet to see proof or sufficient reason to be confident of.
(Being light, for a moment: Bringsjord could well have a capitalistic, division-of-labor sort of robotic-societal scenario ready-at-mind in espousing statements like this…)
Narrator: “The robot talked about in this video is not the first robot to seem to display a sense of self.”
S: ‘Self’ is a much trickier and more abstract notion to handle, especially in this context. No one in the video defines it, or tries to say whether or how it’s related to sentience or consciousness (defined in the two ways the narrator points to), and few philosophers and psychologists have done a good job with it as of yet, either. See Stan Klein’s work for the best modern treatment of self that I’ve yet come across.
Video: Guy with the synthetic brain
S: Huh…alright–neat, provided that’s actually real. Sort of creepy (uncanny valley, anyone?), but at least he can talk Descartes…not that I know why anyone would usefully care to do so, mind, at this specific point of time in cognitive science’s trajectory.
Dr. Hart: “The idea requires that there is something beyond the physical mechanisms of thought that experiences the sunrise, which robots would lack.”
S: Well, yeah: the “physical mechanisms of thought” don’t equal the whole, sum-total experiencer. Also, I’m not sure what he means by something being “beyond” the physical mechanisms of thought…sort of hits my ears as naive dualism, though that might only be me tripping on semantics.
Prof. Hart (?): “The ability of any entity to have subjective perceptual experiences…is distinct from other aspects of the mind, such as consciousness, creativity, intelligence, or self-awareness.”
S: Not much a fan of treating creativity and intelligence as “aspects of the mind”…same goes for consciousness, for hopefully more-obvious reasons. Maurice Merleau-Ponty is the one to look into with respect to “subjective perceptual experiences”, specifically his Phenomenology of Perception.
Narrator: “No artificial object has sentience.”
Well, naturally it’s hard to say w/r/t their status of having/not having “subjective perceptual experience”, but feelings are currently being worked on in the subfield of affective computing. (There’s still much work re. emotion to be done in psychology and the harder sciences before said subfield can *really* be considered in the context of robotic sentience, though.)
Narrator: “Sentience is the only aspect of consciousness that cannot be explained…many [scientists] go as far as to say it will never be explained by science.”
S: They may think so, and perhaps for good philosophical reasons; but that won’t stop, and indeed isn’t stopping some researchers from trying.
Narrator: “Before this [NAO robot speaking in the King’s Wise Men], nobody knew if robbots could ever be aware of themselves; and this experiment proves that they can be.”
Aware of themselves again leads to the problem briefly alluded to above, regarding the philosophical and scientific impoverishment of the notion of ‘self’. I know what the narrator is attempting to get at, but I still believe this point deserves pushing.
Narrator: “The question should be, ‘Are we nearing robotic phenomenological consciousness?’”
S: Yep! And indeed, you have people like Hubert Dreyfus arguing for “Heideggerian AI” as a remedy for AI’s current inability to exhibit “everyday coping”, i.e. operating with general intelligence and situational adaptability in the world (or “being-in-the-world”, a la Heidegger).
In cognitive science terms, this basically boils down to the main idea underlying embodied cognition, a big move away from the old Cartesian or “representational” view of mind.
Narrator: “When you take away the social constructs, categories, and classes that we all define ourselves and each other by, and just purely looking at what we are as humans and how incredibly complex we are as beings, and how remarkably well we function in a way, actually really amazing, and kind of beautiful, too…so smile, because being human means that you’re an incredible piece of work.”
S: I wish the narrator would have foregone the cheesy-but-necessary-for-his-documenting-purposes part about humans’ beauty and complexity, in favor of going a bit further into the obviously difficult and tricky territory of “social constructs, categories, and classes” that we “all define ourselves and each other by”: and how near or far robots can be said to be from having truly human-like socio-cultural sensibilities and competencies.
This post will begin exploring the practical benefits of mindfulness. Today’s focus will be focus.
There are a few ways to achieve mindfulness. One method that’s gained recent attention in the Western world is mindfulness meditation, which I will discuss below. I will then connect meditation to how we can improve our focus.
In our rapidly industrializing world, with continually proliferating distractions competing for our precious attentions, the exact opposite of mindfulness–or mind-wandering–is especially easy to let happen. Mind-wandering involves losing sight of why we’re involved in what we’re doing, and subsequently losing the ability to keep our attention fixed on that thing.
Let’s go against the grain a little here and slow down on meditation. Learning how to slow down is crucial: it allows us to detach from the ever-expanding chaos of our outer world, and zone back in on what’s truly important and relevant to what we would ultimately like to achieve.
Which brings us to this post’s scope: What meditation is, and how it can be done.
The first question is answered simply enough. Though there are a few distinct ways of defining it, one way particularly relevant to improving focus involves closing one’s eyes and shifting attention away from the outer world (or one’s distracting thoughts–whatever the element of unwanted distraction is), and in toward one’s own bodily functioning. This could take the form of focusing on the steady rhythm of one’s breath (possibly counting as each goes by to shift attention away from worrisome thoughts), or simply thinking about parts of the body and calmly noting how one feels. The latter method is especially helpful for improving our emotional awareness, a very valuable trait to develop for our overall fulfillment. (Stay tuned!)
Exercises like meditation exemplify our ability to shift attention with intention. Why is this important for focus? Because the opposite of focus is distractibility, and distractibility results when one’s attention is strained for too long on a task, event, or particular state of affairs. Meditation allows us to detach from such sources of mental burden and center back in to rediscover ourselves.
In short, then, mindful meditation helps us put things back into clearer perspective. This enables us to achieve our goals with renewed senses of purpose and self-acceptance; thus granting us access not only to why we do what we’re doing, but also what we would like to achieve by doing it over the long haul.