Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Robocalypse Now

To say a robot has "learned" something is to denigrate every living learning being in what I consider an inexcusable and also dangerous way. Being existentially impressed by a computer cranking through sprawling arithmetic calculations faster than a genius is exactly as mistaken as being existentially impressed by a hydraulic press crushing objects that a strongman can't: calculation is more muscular than thoughtful. As Hannah Arendt wrote in the 1950s, "the newly invented electronic machines... are, like all machines, mere substitutes... of human labor power, following the time-honored device of all division of labor to break down every operation into its simplest constituent motions, substituting, for instance, repeated addition for multiplication... All that the giant computers prove is that the modern age was wrong to believe with Hobbes that rationality, in the sense of 'reckoning with consequences,' is the highest and most human of man's capacities." That is, calculation is an already instrumentalized dimension of thought as against the reflective, critical, imaginative dimensions of thought of the rational/political animal. The robocalypse is not and will not be a matter of killer robots conquering the earth, but of reductive robotic premises deranging our sense of the political substance of historical struggles for freedom and justice, and rationalizing the denigration, exploitation and abuse of people and fellow earthlings.


jimf said...

> All that the giant computers prove is that the modern age was
> wrong to believe with Hobbes that rationality, in the sense of
> 'reckoning with consequences,' is the highest and most human of
> man's capacities."

'reckoning with consequences' presumably means what we would
call "formal logic" or "deductive reasoning".

This one is still worth reading:

_What Computers Still Can't Do: A Critique of
Artifical Reason_, Hubert L. Dreyfus, MIT Press,
(There are some extensive quotes from the book in the comment thread of )

Here's something relevant from the more recent past:

BCS Lovelace Lecture 2015 - Prof Stephen Furber
"Computers & Brains"

"We still don't have a convincing demonstration of a machine
that will pass Alan Turing's test. And my take on this, my view
as to why this has turned out to be so difficult, to build machines
with humanlike intelligence, is that we've not really worked out
what human intelligence is to start off with."

jimf said...

> To say a robot has "learned" something. . .
New Approach Trains Robots to Match Human Dexterity and Speed
MAY 21, 2015

. . .

The new approach includes a powerful artificial intelligence
technique known as “deep learning,” which has previously been
used to achieve major advances in both computer vision and
speech recognition. . .

Despite their progress, the researchers acknowledge that they
are still far away — perhaps more than a decade — from their
goal of building a truly autonomous robot, such as a home worker
or elder care machine that could perform complex tasks without
human supervision.

The researchers said that while their new approach represents an
important leap, it is also fragile. For example, the bottle
cap-threading technique will work reliably when the bottle is
moved from one location to another or if the bottle is of a
different color. But if the bottle is tilted at an angle before
it is picked up, the robot will completely fail.

“There is nothing better to ask a roboticist [than],
‘If you change the conditions, will it still work?’ ”
Dr. Abbeel said. . .

Perhaps more than a decade. Bummer. I need one of these right now!

jimf said...

Guess I'll pass on this one:
Review: ‘Tomorrowland,’ Brad Bird’s Lesson in Optimism
MAY 21, 2015

. . .

Perhaps “Tomorrowland” should not be blamed for succumbing to
the poverty of vision it works so hard to attack. Maybe the
forces of negativity are just too strong. But it’s also possible
that the movie is confused about how to imagine and oppose those
forces. False cheer can be just as insidious as easy despair.
And the world hardly suffers from a shortage of empty encouragement,
of sponsored inducements to emulate various dreamers and disrupters,
of bland universal appeals to the power of individuality.
“Tomorrowland” works entirely at that level, which is to say
in the vocabulary of advertisement. Its idea of the future is
abstract, theoretical and empty, and it can only fill in the
blank space with exhortations to believe and to hope. But belief
without content, without a critical picture of the world as it is,
is really just propaganda. “Tomorrowland,” searching for incitements
to dream, finds slogans and mistakes them for poetry.

Take me home to the Futurama II.

Those were the days of lasers in the jungle, lasers in the jungle somwhere.

jimf said...

Hm. Does Peter Thiel have a magic cock ring that lets him
visit Galt's Dimension when he puts it on?

That would explain a thing or two.

Dale Carrico said...

The mind reels. Or perhaps that's the stomach.