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

Saturday, November 28, 2015

My Silly Skepticism About AI and Uploading

The following is edited and adapted from the Moot to this post, an exchange with "Gareth Nelson" (his contributions are italicized, follow the link for the unedited version and context) very much like countless exchanges I have had with cocksure robocultic AI-deadenders over the past few decades, but what the hell, new readers may not be bored unto death at such re-hashes as I am. By all means follow the link and make your own contributions, if you like.

Dale -- you've said (and I love this quote of yours) "a picture of you is not you", which is entirely true and I do not claim it is at all possible to "transfer" conciousness from a brain into a computer. But if we stick with the picture analogy, I would argue that a copy of a picture is still as useful for the same purposes. When we look at a beautiful work of art, we derive pleasure from appreciating the skill of the artist... assuming the copy is of high quality we can use it for the same purposes -- appreciating the beauty.

Setting aside the obvious fact that collectors spend millions for originals while disdaining reproductions for reasons that are not entirely dismissable as snobbery, I have no objection to the fact that some people might want to believe they get the same value from a recent digitally animated Aubrey Hepburn avatar selling a candy bar as they do from her actual performance in Sabrina, I have no objection to some pervbro who wants to believe his blow up fuck doll provides as rich a relationship as he is capable of enjoying with a human partner, I have no objection to somebody who wants to believe that they make some profound connection with the Great Emancipator via his stiff animatronic duplicate in Disney World's Hall of Presidents. Hey, there's no accounting for taste.

If we say that the purpose of a brain is to yield intelligent behaviour (and secondly to control a body -- but we generally value people for what's in their cerebral cortex, not their brain stem) then a copy of a brain that yields intelligent behaviour serves the purpose just fine, at least for other people.

I'm an atheist so I don't believe the brain exists for a "purpose" in the way you seem to mean. This is not a quibble, because the theology here already figures intelligence as purposively designed in a way that smuggles your erroneous conclusions into your framing of your position in that very dispute. Your second framing of the brain as "controlling" the body is also considerably more problematic and prejudicial than you seem to realize. The brain IS the body, not a separate or superior supervisor of it. There is a whiff here of the very dualism you falsely attribute to opponents of your faith-based formulation of the "info-soul." I also think this business of introducing "control" into the picture so early is rather symptomatic, but we needn't go into all that. I do hope you see a therapist on a regular basis.
If you're a true materialist you accept that the brain is just a physical object with some complex chemical and electrical processes being responsible for its behaviour. It stands to reason that modelling those processes accurately should allow the same behaviour.

Not only does this assertion not "stand to reason," but it is a patent absurdity. I am a materialist in the matter of red wagons, but I hardly think a computer modeling a red wagon would be one, even if it might generate an image I would recognize as the representation of one. I certainly would not expect a modeled red wagon to be capable of all the things a red wagon is, nor (knowing what I do know of computer modeling) would I expect that those shared recognizably red wagonish effects would be achieved in the same way by the red wagon and the red wagon model. Not incidentally, I do not agree that we know at present that the material processes that give rise to the experience of thought (including the experience of witnessing its exhibition in others) are reducible to only those chemical and electrical processes in the brain -- and also possibly elsewhere in the body -- that we presently know and in the way we presently know them. They certainly might, but our present accounts are hilariously far from sufficient to pretend we know for sure. And there is no need in the least to invoke supernatural phenomena to recognize the highly provisional status of much of our present understanding of brain processes and to treat grandiloquent extrapolations from our present knowledge onto futurological imagineering predictions with extreme skepticism and their confident proponents as ridiculous.

You could get really silly and claim that a model of a human brain which "seems" intelligent is actually just simulating intelligence and the model is just accurately predicting the behaviour of a human brain and outputting that behavioural prediction, but then you're just arguing semantics.

How terrible it would be to elicit the judgment that I am being "silly" from you of all people! You are acting as though AI or simulated apparent persons are actual accomplishments, not futurological fancies, and that my skepticism about their realization given the poverty of our understanding is some kind of a denial of facts in evidence. You'll forgive me, but it is not the least bit silly nor merely semantic for me to point out that AI is not in evidence, that AI champions are always certain AI is around the corner when it serially fails to arrive, that our understanding of intelligence is incomplete in ways that seem likely to bedevil the construction of actually intelligent/agentic artifacts for some time, and that AI discourse and the subcultures of its enthusiasts have always been and remain indebted to pathological overconfidence, uninterrogated metaphors, troubling antipathies to materiality and biology, sociopathic aspirations of mastery, control, omniscience none of which bode well for the project to which they are devoted.


RJ Eskow said...

You could get really silly and express reluctance to being dissected and replaced by a model which "seems" like you, arguing that you would be dead and the model is merely simulating your behaviour, but then you'd just be arguing semantics.

Gareth Nelson said...

RJ - that's why I like Dale's "a picture of you is not you" quote, it's possibly one of the few things I agree with him on.

Where we disagree is that I still think a copy of a human mind would be intelligent even if it's "just" a simulation inside a computer.

Dale Carrico said...

You will forgive me, but tho' you may like my slogan you show little sign of truly grasping its implications. Not only is a picture of you not you, but neither is a useful model of a phenomenon the phenomenon itself. Since the "copy of a human mind" about which you have such strong opinions does not, never has, nor shows any sign of coming to exist it seems to me you are free to say all sorts of things about it. That is what fiction means.

Gareth Nelson said...

No technology in human history has ever existed before the work needed to develop it was completed, so that is again quite a silly argument.

A picture of the mona lisa is not the mona lisa either, but if I want to appreciate Leonardo Da Vinci's skill then the picture of the mona lisa does fine.

A copy of a human brain does not help that original human in any form, they're still dead even if we have a copy - that is the point we seem to agree on.

Where we seem to disagree is that I claim that the copy would still be just as intelligent as the original.

I made a comment elsewhere saying I had an old friend who died and the guy was a remarkably talented coder with a great sense of humour. If we had a copy of his brain, it would be capable of the same level of programming talent and the same sense of humour, despite being "just" a copy.

jimf said...

> I had an old friend who died and the guy was a remarkably
> talented coder with a great sense of humour. If we had a
> copy of his brain, it would be capable of the same level of
> programming talent and the same sense of humour, despite
> being "just" a copy.

Well, according to at least one prominent transhumanist, you won't
even need to bother with a copy of the guy's brain. Just collect
enough photographs, report cards, yearbooks, audio/video recordings,
blog postings, twitter postings, etc. and you can cook up
an AI simulacrum (tweaked from some kind of generic baseline
human simulation, with various dials adjusted for intelligence,
personality traits, temperament, etc.) that's a good enough
copy (for the consumer of such a thing, if not for the original,
who after all won't have any say in the matter).

Hey, it's already been done on TV:
_Black Mirror_, "Be Right Back"
(with Domhnall Gleeson)

Dale Carrico said...

It cracks me up that Martine Rothblatt and others making this case are more or less promising that the same Big Data profiling that some worry targets us for incessant harassment from advertizers and partisan politicos and eventually frames us all as prosecutable in advance for crimes not necessarily yet known are in fact not only not rendering us utterly precarious and endlessly exploitable and eventually, if we prove to be nuisances, expendable or extrajudicially killable by drone but are instead delivering us eternal life as sexy omnipredicated cyberangels in Holodeck Heaven. Hey, who am I after all to call transhumanists reactionary, right?

Gareth Nelson said...

jimf - I'm actually working (very slowly) on an approach similar to what you're talking about using lifelogging. It's the reason why I have a prototype implantable computer sitting on my desk right now waiting to be sent off for silicone coating.

Building a "close enough" simulation in chatbot form like this at least is most definitely plausible. My approach however is to log lots of data for assisting with memory loss from brain damage incurred from old age and imperfect cryonics.

(By the way, it was done in Caprica first)

Dale Carrico said...

Building a "close enough" simulation in chatbot form like this at least is most definitely plausible.

Your confidence is an inspiration to us all. That and a couple of bucks might get you coffee at Starbucks.

(By the way, it was done in Caprica first)

Newcomers to sf really are so cute. I enjoyed Caprica, have it on blu-ray, but I can't say that originality is one of its qualities. At all.

Elias Altvall said...

A picture of the mona lisa is not the mona lisa either, but if I want to appreciate Leonardo Da Vinci's skill then the picture of the mona lisa does fine.

your comment about the mona lisa makes no sense, you know. I mean you are not appreciating the copy of mona lisa or the craftmanship it takes to create that copy you are appreciating Mona Lisa as painted by Da Vinci you just happen to see its copy first, it is still the original painting in the Louvre you are appreciating. And before you say that this is your point, that it is fullfillng the same function it is not you are only appreciating the picture of mona lisa because there exists an original that someday you might see. Therefore the copy of the mind can only fullfill any function if the original mind still exist (before the Merleau-Ponty fans get their panties in a twist, the body as well.) According to your own analogy.

Newcomers to SF is always awesome like I have a friend who can't shut up about the profundness found in Interstellar.

jimf said...

> . . .assisting with memory loss from brain damage
> incurred from old age. . .

That's what I use Google for. ;->

Gareth Nelson said...

Elias - if I was to go and destroy the original mona lisa, the pictures of it would still exist and serve the same purposes of allowing us to view the art and appreciate it.

I'm currently listening to some music while I type this, specifically Slayer's "South of heaven". Jeff Hanneman (the rhythm guitarist) is now dead, so not only am I not listening to the actual original band's performance (only a digital copy), it would be impossible to listen to the original band. The music still rocks though. Even if the record label's master was destroyed, the music would still rock.

If I was to copy a human brain accurately and the original human then died, then the copy would still continue to function. There is no mysterious link or connection between originals and copies that means the copy ceases to work if the original is destroyed.

Elias Altvall said...

If you destroy the original Mona Lisa we still are just appreciating the original artistry of da Vinci not the copy but what the copy is a representation of. The music you listen to is not a copy in the same way you mean that one can copy a brain by now this should be obvious. What you are listning to is a musical recording of someone playing playing a song this is not a copy in the sense of a photo of a painting the same that a photo of the grand canyon is not a copy of it. This act of recording can not be compared to copy a complex organism that is not completely understood. For example i would make the argument that while you can record music you cannot copy music when you hear the works of let say Mozart or Lizt or Bellman what you are hearing is not a copy but a recording or live preformance of another artist fyllning there noted but using there own artistery to bring them alive. But like what has already been said there is no mind seperate from The body there is only the body of which what we call conciousness is a part of.

Dale Carrico said...

If an asshole techbro lacks the sensitivity to tell the difference between a fuckdoll and a person does that make the fuckdoll a person? No, actually, stupidity isn't a magic power that transforms egregious errors into deep truths.

Dale Carrico said...

I would say the enjoyment of a live concert and then the enjoyment of a recording of that concert will or at ant rate can be profoundly different, and that the enjoyment of that recording on vinyl, CD, cassette tape will also be different. Seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre is different from seeing the best reproduction of it elsewhere and is also different from what it was like to see it upon completion in Da Vinci's studio. Benjamin's elaboration of *aura* -- whatever my quibbles with the notion -- in "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility" (it's at among other places) is an obvious jumping off point for discussion on this topic.

Elias Altvall said...

Of course! I mean this weird analogy of copy fails because there is a massive difference between copies as we use the word. Just read walter benjamin other wife i would just spend a number of pages here to say pretty much exactly what he said about it. Also you really cannot compare copies or emulators or photos to down loading or transfer of conciousness, they are radically different things.

Dale Carrico said...

In case it wasn't clear, I was mostly responding to Gareth. Agree with you what photographs do are so radically different from what consciousnesses do all these glib analogies are very deranging of basic sense.

Elias Altvall said...

I realised that you responded to Gareth you just said something i felt i should have said so i wanted to just comment.

Dale Carrico said...


Gareth Nelson said...

"Also you really cannot compare copies or emulators or photos to down loading or transfer of conciousness, they are radically different things."

TRANSFER of consciousness is not what we're talking about at all.

I'm talking about copying of an intelligent system (a brain) by mapping out the parts (neurons) and how those parts interact (neural activity and dynamics, inputs and outputs) and building another system that behaves in the same manner.

You are completely correct that there is no mind separate from the body. The brain after all is part of the body, and in many ways we can say that the brain IS the mind. Direct analogies to computers often fail because in the brain the "software" (memories, personality etc) and the "hardware" are the same thing - when we learn something new or when we remember an experience our dendrite structures physically change.

None of this means that brains can't be copied though, and that is exactly what I keep trying to get at. So long as we replicate the functionality of the individual units (neurons) and connect those individual units up in the right way we should get the same behaviour.

I stepped on a bit of glass by mistake earlier today, a piece i'd missed when sweeping up a broken cup. When I did that, the glass penetrated the skin of my foot slightly and activated pain receptors.

The signal from those pain receptors travelled up through the nerves in my leg and then through the spinal cord to my brain where it was processed and my motor cortex sent other signals back out to the muscles causing my mouth to utter the words "ow" and my foot to raise up for inspection by my eyes and my arms to pull the glass out.

If the pain signal was sent to a simulation of my brain, the simulation would perform all the same processing and send out the same motor signals. If hooked up to my body in the same way, you'd see exactly the same responses.

The external behaviours in other words would be absolutely identical.

I would not claim the simulation to be conscious, if that's the point that people are getting stuck on - but it would be just as intelligent and capable of all the same behaviours.

The practical purposes which are served by an intelligence in biological form would also be served by an intelligence constructed by copying a biological brain.

Dale Carrico said...

We get it, Gareth. You want your sexy sexbot. Lower your standards enough, and you'll get it. Mannequins, balloons, and dildos already abound -- let a bazillion flowers bloom. Nobody is arguing with this obvious truism, but neither is anybody going to pretend that you are onto something profound or original here.

Elias Altvall said...

You see Gareth the big problem is that we so not know enough about the brain to make those claim. I will admit on a philosophical level I am incredibley sceptical but i am willing to be swayed by scientific evidence that does not exist and from what i think we are finding in neuroscience and other legimate scientific principles shows how it is much more difficult than previously thought. So in order for you thought experiments to work we have to accept a lot of ifs which are so numerous that it becomes meaningless exercises. And this "copy" you keep mentioning would not be a copy would it? i mean it would be its own life form that we just happen to create if i buy all the ifs. Because the way that most likely would yield best results would not be copying a brain but build one from The ground this would also yield benficial results other principles than "AI". Again if i would buy into the ifs.

jimf said...

> Mannequins, balloons, and dildos already abound

Could you upload Johnny Depp's brain? Oxford Professor on Transcendence

I still haven't seen the movie. Maybe I'll look for it in
the discount bin the next time I'm. . . next to a discount

I have an idea though -- let's call the first genuine
C. elegans simulation "Johnny Depp". I guess it'll potentially
be immortal, eh? (It would certainly deserve to be preserved,
along with other historic software. Al Kossow, are you
listening? ;-> )

Elias Altvall said...

With Johnny Depps current movie out put i am afraid if he lives for ever.