Cosmos Café [3/12] - Machine Learning

In your time zone: 2019-03-12T18:00:00Z

AI, ML, VR, IoT, DL, AR, BD…what are we talking about when we talk about our techno-sphere? In recent conversations, the language we use when speaking about, speaking for or speaking against our mechanical offspring has come into question. “Do machines learn?” is a core inquiry. This Café hones in on machine learning, though no machine could predict how our chefs concocted this conversation.

This session’s intent: to birth virtuosos of the virtual vocabulary; to gain a mental mechanic’s mastery of machine learning nomenclature; to put the techne back in technology; to get the DL on Deep Learning dialogue.

Reading / Watching / Listening

SAS - Machine Learning - A Primer

Though listed as 53 pages, this is a quick read and is relatively light material. The content will surely ignite our inner gears into contemplation mode.

Seed Questions

  • Do we agree with SAS’s primer on Machine Learning? (What do you like, dislike, want more of?)
  • Do machines learn? Are machines creative or independently intelligent?
  • How do we determine if machine learning algorithms or methods are being applied appropriately to the problem at hand? Does the algorithm accurately predict future events or result in desired outcomes?
  • Education: STEM, STEAM or The Four C’s?

Context, Backstory, and Related topics

Agenda items


machine \mə-ˈshēn\ a mechanically, electrically, or electronically operated device for performing a task.

learning \ˈlərniNG\ the activity or process of gaining knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something

anthropomorphic \anTHrəpəˈmôrfik\

  1. described or thought of as having a human form or human attributes. Deities stories involving anthropomorphic animals
  2. ascribing human characteristics to nonhuman things

I want to conduct a ‘safe to fail’ social experiment. This won’t hurt a bit.

And “Machine Learning”

Are you, who are reading this, aware that " Machine Learning" is a metaphor? Let me try to break this down for you.

And what was learning before it became " Machine Learning"?

And does that " Machine Learning" have a size or shape?

And where does " Machine Learning" come from?

And what happens before " Machine Learning"?

And what happens after " Machine Learning"?

And what does " Machine Learning" want to have happen?

And how do you know what" Machine Learning" wants to have happen?

And are you, who may be reading this message, are you beginning to get a’ felt sense’ of the anthropological metaphorical construct “Machine Learning”?

Yes…a felt sense…I know this is wierd for some of you…A felt sense often happens some where between your pelvis and your head.

And you who are getting a felt sense…does that felt sense have a size or shape?

And where does that felt sense come from?

And what does that felt sense want to have happen?

And when a felt sense…what happens to the message “Machine Learning”? And when a felt sense…what happens to the meta-message of that felt sense? Are you, who are reading this, who are aware of a mixed message, are you aware of the difference that makes a difference between a message and a meta-message?

Can you begin to reflect upon the use of and abuse of " Machine Learning"? If you can disentangle from the metaphor " Machine Learning" are there other metaphors for Mind and Machines that could be developed?

This is just a test… not too serious…but if you are having a problem computing this, maybe you should consider there is a difference between ‘biotic’ and ‘abiotic’ systems.

" I am a Learning Machine. Hath not a Learning Machine eyes? Hath not a Learning Machine hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Human is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.”
William Shakespeare

Hello?..testing…1,2.3…is anyone there?

" There is nothing inherently wrong with the scientific use of anthropocentric metaphors, such as " The car doesn’t want to start", " the computer hates me", " the TV remote has wandered off again", These conventional ways of speaking " as if" can easily be resolved, since the technical-artificial character of the object is clear.

Things are different when in the course of exercising their disciplinary competence, scientists treat the anthropocentric qualities of their information-theoretical or communication-oriented modes of speech as though they were not metaphors at all but actual, direct, original, non-metaphoric representations of scientific processes. This slippage lies at the heart of the naturalization of information." Peter Janich

" The fault is not in our computers, but in ourselves, that we are underlings."-William Shakespeare

" There was once a man who had a computer, and he asked it, ‘Do you compute that you will ever be able to think like a human being?’ And after assorted grindings and beepings, a slip of paper came out of the computer that said, ‘That reminds me of a story . . .’ ” -Gregory Bateson

And who is that man, who can look into the face of a child, and say," A computer is better than you."?


Unable yet again to clear this afternoon, but so far :crossed_fingers: it looks like I will be able to join you next week.

re: Elaine Herzberg -
It may be possible to say that, after a fashion, machines can learn. I’m not so sure about corporations…

Edit: Been chewing on this scene lately as well - the artists and writers get there first…


That’s great, TJ. I’m looking forward to next week’s Cafe. With your participation we might go to another level!

I wen to high school with Brent who plays Data. He’s a good actor.

From what I’ve seen, “He’s a good actor,” is a bit of an understatement, no? Hehe
(We’re you guys in any school plays together or did acting come later for one or both of you?)

High drama the scene is, but in the end ‘Commander Data’ does have an off switch. As Deep Blue did…
I think you are right that less ambiguous metaphors may be in order.


Actually we went to the same high school but he graduated before me. He went on to the same college where I studied and he was considered a big talent. I played the lead in a Thornton Wilder play he directed. He was very supportive, a nice guy. We knew people in common. He went out to LA and struck it big with Star Trek. The rest is history. I enjoyed the clip and it makes good theater but I think AI is not what they are really arguing about.


True. This is an examination of human rights, legal precedents, and whatever the hell ‘consciousness’ “really is” more so than the ability of an algorithm to change continual input into increased capacity and flexibility of response. If I remember correctly, that episode ended with the question “Does Data have a soul?” and no one could answer - for themselves or for the machine. So they essentially granted him the ‘right’ to one. (Only fair, given how many times he’s saved the ship. LOL)

Of course I won’t know where you guys got to in conversation until I see it, but did “Are machines creative or independently intelligent” come up? Asked because as a product of my time, family, and culture, (i.e. my programming) I am not exactly ‘independently’ intelligent either. On the other hand, I have the capacity to think about thinking, which is different from running a built-in diagnostics test of my ‘system’. (Right?)



Well, I question the metaphor here. Are the influences of time, family, and culture truly “programming” (deciding ahead of time what the algorithm is and which data it may process)? Granted, there are many details here which we could debate and clarify, but I think the overall metaphor is inadequate to the situation.

What is more, I’m not sure what “independently” means in this context. Are you free from the influences which you have had? Well, most likely, no. Can you think above, beyond, in spite of, instead of, because of … nevertheless? Well, most likely, yes. That smacks of some kind of “independence” to me. (I’m sure @Mark_Jabbour has some thoughts on this.)

Agreed … agreed. Whether either of us is “right” is, at best, mental-rational (well, more rational than mental), and it is not clear whether that even matters. I, for one, believe that your capacity to think about thinking is potentially a difference that makes a difference. It’s not the “Turing test” (i.e., the digital test: yea/nay), but it is a sound starting point for thinking seriously about the issue involved. A diagnostics test can only look for whatever the analyst decided is significant (and I say this as a person who spent a good portion of his life designing and developing the foundational data for the set-up of just such tests). BUT, that was (in technological terms) a long time ago. Maybe things have changed in the meantime. You are, at least as far as I can tell, free to think about whatever the hell you want, including your own thinking.

We could spend a good CCafé discussing what what actually at issue in the clip. That would be a café to my liking, to be sure.


I hope you can review the video and respond to it. I get lost in the moment and have a vague felt sense of what happened afterwards. After I view the video as an observer, I actually find a kind of trans contextual dynamic happening.Differences in biotic and aboitic systems are a big focus in our conversation and this does relate to your question and there is something that wants to happen that is not something that any of us can predict. I am more open than I was to how interesting ambiguity can be

Agreed, although I confess I am not sure what I am agreeing with. It’s kind of vague sense of possibility, of something interesting that might happen, coming from around the corner… Anticipation and invisible work drives us and I think that is what is magical about the analogical and that messy excluded middle.


Precisely … or whatever the analog is to that. That’s what would make it such a great discussion.


One of my favorite Cafés ever, if I may chirp in. :bird:

Wonderful to see @Lisa again! This was surely one for the birds.

And what if bird brains are more than they seem?? Who knows what a murderous crow knows? (Hitchcock had an idea.)

In fact, you’ve all given an idea for a poem. I have the title and first line (which is always a gift). Some rhapsodies I have in mind, some loving grace. Can’t wait to write the rest!

And will the machine survive the hummingbird wars?

That’s not the first line of the poem—just a thought…

And another, messy one:

Who are the meta-masters of our time? Who seeks to make us into machines, in order to turn us into a kind of slaves?

And not to be overdramatic, but the fuzzy-logical follow-up question for me would be:

Are we going to let them?


No, we are not.


Seemed like a very pleasant - and quite focused - discussion. My link didn’t give me a video feed, but it was interesting imagining each one as s/he expressed ideas… or maybe my computer has just learned to generate and simulate all your voices. (LOL)
To me the upshot was the overall continued agreement on the still unavoidable human element in all this, an element that even SAS acknowledges between the lines. Heidegger made my head spin (and I thought Spengler could torture a sentence!!) but his Question Concerning Technology at any rate makes it clear the issue of human purposes (nefarious, blindly and unintentionally dangerous, or otherwise) is not new.


Actually, it was pleasant. I had a chance to figure out why I bristle with indignation when we try to exclude the messy middle which is where most of us live life. What happens in the next decade will be pivotal. I look forward to the Next Cafe with Davor. This weekend I am going to revisit Heidegger, that enigmatic Nazi,


A tip ‘o the cap to the translator, however, for taking the time and making the effort to clarify H’s German, which here was very unique. Of course, breaking one’s reading to grasp a footnote then going back to re-read a passage with umpteen connotations in the back of one’s head can get the ol’ brain-box spinning, that’s for sure. :confounded:

Of course when he folded art back into the mix at the end makes me wonder if the “issue” doesn’t apply to art as well. How much of that gets “revealed” in the “essence” (Wesen) of art? I wasn’t completely satisfied at the end. :disappointed: