Third wave Existentialism [CCafe 9/18]

recording

(Nate Godfrey) #21

The use of algorithms to make decisions for us is pervasive and in my view a threat to creativity, camaraderie, an embodied life, a spontaneous life, a life allowing contingent responses, a life of loyalty, warmth, and solidarity. Whether or not you find the question of free will intrinsically meaningful to contemplate; it needs to be grappled with in order to respond to questions raised by the increasing application of algorithms to nudge, guide and enforce choices and actions in service of commercial imperatives and the cult of efficiency, in software used by government agencies to determine eligibility for government assistance divorced from human evaluation, and self-improvement apps in pursuit of optimal behavior and emotional well being (which I don’t see as an unmitigated good because they seek to eliminate the “poor choices” that might be driven by passion and emotion by applying reason and rationalization to all our choices thereby suppressing important aspects of being human: making mistakes, experiencing pain, being flawed.)

In the original discussion, Doug referred to AI or algorithms that might “know” ourselves better than we do. I don’t think he meant “know” in the sense of conscious knowledge. What I think he may have been referring to is the ability of computer programs to predict outcomes based on aggregate data and find connections we didn’t see and may not even understand after they are discovered. The software might show us that certain behaviors we wouldn’t have considered relevant consistently lead to certain outcomes. Yes, of course a person coded that software and designed the algorithms, but the software and it’s application to collected data uncovered things the human analyst would not have uncovered, and depending on how it is programmed it can ‘make decisions’ based on human programming but play out in ways the human engineer did not anticipate (for instance the many unintended consequences of Facebook’s behavioral modification design).

These revealed patterns and connections could be applied for the good in our lives; but my concern is whether I am going to be able to decide what to do with that information. I may want to ignore it because it is more important to me to be autonomous than to be “healthy” or behave optimally.

And this is when I find people saying to me – you aren’t autonomous anyway since you don’t have free will. People often repeat a truism along the lines of “freedom is an illusion.” Since that viewpoint seems to be prevailing, at least in the secular world as I encounter it, I feel the need to engage and challenge it since it is leading people to surrender to and view the future being imposed on us by a few technology companies as some inevitable force of evolution or history.


(Nate Godfrey) #22

I have to imagine that Google’s “Selfish Ledger” video may have been posted at some point on the Cosmos forums, but here it is. Google said it was intended for internal use and just as a thought exercise, and I actually take it as that in spite of the alarmist tone of my original post. To me it seems to have bearing not only on this discussion, but on the whole topic of human evolution which as far as I can tell is a main topic on the Cosmos site.

By the way…since this is my first time posting, I want to mention that I have been watching, listening and reading to Infinite Conversations stuff since June. I have enjoyed it immensely and it has given me a lot of stimulation and meaning and provocation. I find the regular participants in the conversations to be a fascinating variety. I love that while the conversations can be very high minded they frequently involve concrete anecdotes from peoples lives.

I find the conversation style in many of the videos to be very refreshing: people allowed to elaborate and develop their ideas at length, long pauses in which people seem to be digesting what has been said or to be waiting for a useful response rather than rushing along. I only get a little bit of that kind of conversation in my real world life, so I greatly appreciate getting some of it here.


(john davis) #23

The question of free will can be interesting to contemplate, I dont find the typical debate very interesting. One guy puts on his gloves and tries to knock out the other guy. A crude display usually follows. Other ways of working with questions interest me a lot, including poetry, art, music. There are more things in heaven and earth than can be framed in a debate.


(Douglas Duff) #24

Great to see your articulate responses @takingtigermountain. @achronon corrected me while in the discussion when I said AI could think or know, and your writing above reflects my own thinking on the matter, in a better show of wordsmanship.

I too wish for myself and others to always hold close the idea of control over our own information. Personally, I am too poor to be influenced by online product placements…too patternless on internet usage to be defined…yet still, it is all too easy for others to define me, to utilize even the littlest bits of information, whether now or in the future. @Mark_Jabbour has frequently stated that raising a child in the current wild world seems more difficult than ever…go luck to you young parents! Teach your children well. Just because it is out there does not mean we have to blindly participate.

If you haven’t checked this Cosmos Cafe episode out below, my personal algorithmic thinking has deciphered that you have an 80% chance of enjoying the content, though by enjoy I mean become even more aware of the need to be engaged and vigilant in our tragically comedic world.


(Ed Mahood) #25

Good to hear from you @takingtigermountain (preferrably “Nathaniel”, “Nat”, other?); a new voice is always welcome.

Well observed, and with what was actually lacking in the “heat of the moment”. Both Doug and I are aware that what we say and what we mean doesn’t always gibe. It “looks” like the computer “knows”, but we all know that this isn’t “knowing” as we generally know it. Your description here highlights precisely why, and whatever word describes that is the word we should be using, I suppose. I don’t know what it is and tend to react a bit to allergically to the word “know”, but at least Doug knows what I mean when I get like that.

Which is why, I suppose, my allergy responses heighten … . As with “knowing”, these outcomes look like “decisions”, but more to the point, the designer often has no idea that such outcomes are possible. Unfortunately, too often the designers act as if they do. Coming back to my “stockmarket” example, the 1000-point drop in October 2015, I believe, was a software issue. No one knows why it came about. I find such events both amusing and unnerving at the same time. But too many of us laypeople are clueless regarding the subtleties of what is happening. I’m a fan of more awareness.

There’s lots to be said for what digital technology does for us, to be sure, but a bit more insight into what it does to us wouldn’t hurt either.


(Ed Mahood) #26

Well, time and motivation permitting, we’d love to see you in the CCafé sometime. It’s a lot of fun.


(john davis) #27

There’s a lot that digital technology will never do for us. Like give us the love we needed but didnt get as children or help us elect a responsible governing class or justice in any form. Assisting consumer choice as only thing it does really well is not that impressive to me.


(Nate Godfrey) #28

Thanks for your responses/welcomes @achronon, @Douggins, @johnnydavis54.

Thanks for the tip on the Jordan Brown episode @Douggins I will definitely look at it.

And @achronon , I go by Nate. Don’t know why I put the full name on my profile. And yes I hope to maybe someday join a CCafe. Often the things I want to think about and discuss outpace my ability to articulate. But I am happy to have finally posted and at least made contact via forum.


(Ed Mahood) #29

That has to be one of the most pernicious clips I’ve ever watched.

They may now claim it was just a thought exercise, but I don’t believe it for a moment. That seed was planted in 57,000 minds, and, what? they are so naive that they believe
no one is going to water it? Right.

Remember, this is the company that dropped it’s original “Do no evil” motto in 2015 and replaced it with “Do the right thing”. The narrator just told us all what Googgle thinks may be “right” … well, for them, at any rate.


(Mark Jabbour) #30

So how do “we” (= infinite conversations) do something different/better? is the question nagging our buddy @madrush … or is just another version of that what has always been?


(Mark Jabbour) #31

Yes, I checked it out (as is I generally, but not always, do.) I would like a comparison (picture of) to a chimpanzee’s or gorilla’s brain, and also, of dead person’s (human’s) brain. The human brain expands 3xs in its first year of life (fact); and then what happens? Just asking?


(john davis) #32

I’m not sure I got the gist of the video but it started out with Lamarck ( a character with a good idea) and then dipped into the Selfish gene theory and dropped a lot of thought viruses that Google knows best. It never mentions Lynne Margulis and most recent investigations on Holobionts ( the guts and microbes than run through the guts of kings and beggars), that actually impact fertility, change the genome, create conditions for suicide or health, etc. Genes dont call the shots as the video starts to admit but it failed to make a good case for the collective intelligences that cooperate rather than buy and sell based on algorithmic divination games brought to you by Google. A lot was left unsaid. A mixed message, or at least an incomplete one.

AI models what we already are. There is no alternative to humans, our bodies in space make us intelligible not computer algorithms from nowhere . You can fuck up humans with AI by hyped up self-improvement projects that break down large portions of the cognitive capacity of the population. But is AI an alternative to humanity?


(Ed Mahood) #33

Not trying to be difficult – or at least not more so than usual – but I’m not sure I understand the (real) question.

The vast majority of, say, “brain folks” (neuroscientists, brain surgeons, etc.) who look at those pictures without knowing the background will most likely unanimously tell you that the individuals possessing those brains are seriously debilitated, comatose, or dead. The catch is, though, that none of those possessors shows any signs of that at all: to all appearances, these individuals are completely “normal”. (The brain on the left from the little girl had no “language center” (for it had been surgically removed) but she was nevertheless bilingual. Go figure.)

There are, nevertheless, structural and physical differences between human and simian brains (the internet will provide you with more than you want to know about that, for sure), and why a “dead” brain is of interest is not clear to me, though …

Einstein apparently didn’t have an overly large brain. He donated his to science, as I understand. It was examined and found to be smaller than one would have expected, not any more convoluted than some think is important, but they did find that his had a higher-than-expected number of glial cells. It is my understanding that these are not directly involved in brain activity, but they act as nurturers/protectors/supporters of brain functioning, and maybe that’s why he was apparently smarter than lots of other folks.

Maybe the brain isn’t where we need to start looking.


(Ed Mahood) #34

Not as far as I can see.

And, as you so aptly noted, one of the most pernicious aspects of that video what what was not being said. It is astounding what kind of a cocktail you can get by mixing a pinch of this, a shot of that, a spritzer of something else.


(john davis) #35

Maybe he was smarter than other folks because he studied really hard. And he was not infallible. Many of his ideas didnt work out. He was good at using his imagination as he said most of his ideas were of a kinesthetic nature. I am not naive about the perceptual calling all of the shots, we need good concepts but there is an interplay between, in those messy gray zones, between sleep and wake and dream, that supplements math and logic in crucial ways. It is not in the brain but in the brains of many persons, who have bodies and who share an environment. Out of that mix our evolution emerges.


(Nate Godfrey) #36

Ed Mahoodachronon

johnnydavis54:

But is AI an alternative to humanity?

Not as far as I can see.

Nor I, most vehemently. And though they seemed to be hinting at that, and as John said, leaving too much unsaid; they clearly were saying that the “ledger” AKA everything that google, facebook, apple, and amazon are collecting about us could have a central role in human evolution.

An aspect of the video I found particularly troubling is the focus on individual behavior at the exclusion of institutional and societal level behavior. At one point they mention possible insights on depression, abuse and poverty implying that learning about individuals behavior leading to those things would alone solve them, thereby entirely bypassing the other side of the equation: economic and political power structures. So, on the one hand, the video would suggest taking this very long-term broad view of human evolution, on the other hand, it remains very focused on individual behavior.

I soft-pedaled the video to mitigate against my own fear and loathing of the ideas in it. On re-watching it I am also inclined to think it should be taken as a roadmap for their plans. What I do believe, however, is that some of the people behind these ideas at Google and other companies involved in this kind of thing really do believe (perhaps delusionally) they are doing something good for society and now apparently the species itself. This, of course, makes them even more dangerous. Below is an example of that grandiosity.

The following is from the New Yorker article: Can Mark Zuckerberg Fix Facebook Before It Breaks Democracy? by Evan Osnos. The article describes the many ways Facebook can steer behavior in the actual world both intentionally and unintentionally. It also explores Zuckerberg’s mindset, and it would seem that Zuckerberg sees himself as a modern Augustus.

Zuckerberg told me, “You have all these good and bad and complex figures. I think Augustus is one of the most fascinating. Basically, through a really harsh approach, he established two hundred years of world peace.” For non-classics majors: Augustus Caesar, born in 63 B.C., staked his claim to power at the age of eighteen…

“What are the trade-offs in that?” Zuckerberg said, growing animated. “On the one hand, world peace is a long-term goal that people talk about today. Two hundred years feels unattainable.” On the other hand, he said, “that didn’t come for free, and he had to do certain things…

i shudder to think what those “certain things” (beyond the ones we’ve already seen) will be in Zuckerberg’s case

then toward the end of the article

he decided long ago that no historical change is painless. Like Augustus, he is at peace with his trade-offs. Between speech and truth, he chose speech. Between speed and perfection, he chose speed. Between scale and safety, he chose scale. His life thus far has convinced him that he can solve “problem after problem after problem,” no matter the howling from the public it may cause.

After talking with Zuckerberg Osnos doesn’t think Zuckerberg is up to the role

I found Zuckerberg straining, not always coherently, to grasp problems for which he was plainly unprepared. These are not technical puzzles to be cracked in the middle of the night but some of the subtlest aspects of human affairs, including the meaning of truth, the limits of free speech, and the origins of violence.

I have a feeling Zuckerberg is the least interesting of the tech giant leaders. But in general, however selfishly motivated these characters are, they are living so far from our reality and yet have so much power to shape it, that I really want to understand them.


(Nate Godfrey) #37

That is one of the things that excites me about the infinite conversations project. I think so far it is doing something different/better, but the question of course is how to maintain that at a larger scale. I think slow growth will improve it’s chances.


(Mark Jabbour) #38

I didn’t know for sure where to put (post) this as it speaks to such much on this platform. Consciousness, altered or “normal”, quantum psychics, free will, etc., seems to be somewhere near the center of the conversation, anyway … maybe it deserves its own @ccafe discussion?