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Howard Yee

Software Engineer @ Rubenstein Technology Group,


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Can technology replace human intelligence?

This week in my Bioelectricity class we learned about extracellular fields. One facet of the study of extracellular field I find interesting is the determination of the field from a known source (AKA the Forward Problem) versus the determination of the source from a known field (AKA the Inverse Problem). Whereas the forward problem is simple and solutions may be obtained through calculations, the inverse problem poses a problem. The lack of uniqueness to the inverse problem means the solution requires interpretation, which may be subjective. We may also apply a mechanism for the interpretation; this mechanism is known as an AI. However, this facet of AI (document classification) is only the surface of the field.

Damon Horowitz gave a recent presentation at TEDxSoMa called “Why machines need people”. In it, he says that AI can never approach the intelligence of humans. He gives examples of AI systems, like classification and summarization. He explains that those systems are simply “pattern matching” without any intelligence behind them. If true, perhaps the subjective interpretation of inverse problems is welcomed over the dumb classification. Through experience, the interpreters may have more insight than one can impart on an algorithm.

However, what Damon failed to mention was that most of those AI systems built to do small tasks is known as weak AI. There is a whole other field of study for strong AI, whose methods of creating intelligence is much more than “pattern matching”. Proponents of strong AI believe that human intelligence can be replicated. Of course we are a long way off from seeing human-level AI. What makes human intelligence hard to replicate? Can it be simulated? What if we created a model of the human brain, would it be able to think?

Related Videos (not on Ted):
“Why Machines need People”


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  • Mar 9 2012: Does dead material have a soul? Well I personally don't think so. But is there many people here that is true believers in the Shinto religion?

    It's a no brainer... If I throw a pebble and it shows a random nature when it falls to the ground, does this point out that the pebble has a brain? The noise in signal cables, does this show that my stereo has intelligence?

    And if I construct a switch that is complicated enough, does this make the switch on the wall conscious? If I touch it, and the room lights up, does this it state that I have a moral responsibility to the switch on the wall?

    And computers that only makes calculations: Can different states in a computer memory, have feelings? Do i offend my frying pan at home, if cook the wrong dish? Is it the software or hardware that is aware?

    I guess its hard to understand computers if you haven't designed CPU:s and written in assembly language, and so on. This makes me worried if people will start demanding my dishwashers ethical rights. As some here seem to think that things are intelligent just because they can react. If these reactions is complex, does this make the complicated fabric in my clothes to have feelings? Does a cloud or ocean or the wind or a flower to have intelligence and conscious awareness? And does the universe, the mightiest of them all have rights? Or is every atom intelligent? and has the individual cells in our bodies feelings?

    So: Just because we make dead material do complex things, does not make it contentious? And if a let a plant control a super computer that makes better scores on IQ tests and know much more than you do, and it was all the right answers. Does that make this plant superior to a human being?

    So my question to you is:
    When humanoids and robots starts to act intelligent, and you will have relations to these... will you also demand these dead materials their ethical rights, to be treated fairly and forbid to use them as slaves and to treat them as commodities?
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      Mar 9 2012: Now we're talking about what alive means. We have successfully built living micro-organisms one atom at a time. If I build a replica human one atom at a time and it functions normally like the microbes do, does that have a soul? (I don't think anything has a soul, I think humans are just big fancy chemical reactions)
      • Mar 9 2012: Yes, and why can you not call this fancy chemical reactions a soul then?

        Soul is just a word that has the same meaning in both cases. The only thing is separate us is that you are keen on calling anything that moves and reacts a "what ever word". I however only call those things I regard as having a "what ever word". And to me a robot of dead material, can not possess a "what ever word", but you think it automatically has a "what ever word".

        I call this 'what ever word' a soul. What do you call it?
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      Mar 9 2012: I agree with with Peter. I don't think anything has a soul. I think that we give something we cannot explain the label "soul". How can we prove what a soul is? Dan, you refer to material and dead and alive. What makes the pebble in your statement dead? How do we know without a doubt that the pebble is dead material?

      Would you say a singular neuron is alive? If we break the neuron down to it's baser components, all we end up are inanimate material. They are composed of the same atoms, quarks, subatomic particles as any other material, dead or alive. What qualities does a neuron have that makes it alive?

      But it seems like you do not believe that individual cells have feelings, so where is the soul? If our constituent parts do not have a soul, then from where does the soul originate?
      • Mar 9 2012: Well if there is no such things as a soul, then there is no such thing as dead or alive. This breaks it all down to what we could call Shintoism.

        Then all mater are the same. This thinking leads to the conclusion that we have a moral responsibility to humanly created lifeforms, with a AI high enough to surpass or equal humans. And yes, todays AI's are then alive.

        I how ever, think this is a mystery, and that we do have a soul, as I in my essence know that I'm not a living dead, and as I know and are aware, this give me rights as a human, according to my own contentiousness.

        This is problematic to science, as evolution does not require awareness, but only reactions to make things to replicate and prosper. It can only be one of both, either we have soul or we don't. And if there is no such thing as a soul, then 'this', that we call 'don't have a soul', we then have to call something, and why not call this a soul then? Is it because your not religious that you cant use that word?

        If there is no such thing like dead or alive, then we are back to square one. You are now in many respects equal to the stone, the planet, space and everything else. This is in many regards the same as Shintoism, and then you are a religious person, but you can't admit it. This is then, only a semantic problem, and a game of words and philosophical believes. As you in the essence believes in the same thing as in some religions or philosophies.

        If I write a computer program with a superior AI, does this make me to a god? Can I demand my softwares equal rights as a supreme being? And as this AI has superior intelligence and knowing, can it be elected as a presidential candidate if we change the law? Probably so. What does you more worth than my superior AI that was created and acts? What I created as the God of this higher intelligence, has now equal rights according to your logic, it has a "nothing soul" as much as you do.

        Will you understand or respect this view and standpoint?
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          Mar 10 2012: Who's to say that we are not equal to the stone, the planet, space and everything else? What I find disconcerting is our tendency to focus on the singular instead of the whole. Am I a separate entity from you? Are matter separate entities? We may focus on singular particles, but in the end, we're pure energy. In quantum field theory, particles are standing waves: an attribute of a series of waves, not a separate entity. The waves themselves are this very fluid like entity, there's no real separation of individual elements.

          Why do we have so many beliefs that make all living beings born from a large mass of energy? I-Ching, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.

          If we believe in the wave-particle duality, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, etc then I want to present the possibility that material is a waveform of probabilities while they are unobserved; this is very similar to being just a large mass of energy. The moment someone observes it, the waveform collapses and gives it a physical standing. The existence of the stone relies on something observing it; the existence of the stone is not mutually exclusive to the other material that causes the waveform to collapse.

          Humans are humans because of the experiences they receive. A person that is missing a limb or colorblind since birth lacks understanding. I want to suggest, by extension, that all matter around us is important for dictating what it means to be human. Sure, the stone is visually detached from us, but that does not mean it is a separate entity from us. There is some connection beyond our understanding. This connection, I think, it related to what makes consciousness. We seem too content at believing what we see (ie. the separation between entities) and do not question whether there's a rule/system in place that defines the apparent separation (or relationship)
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          Mar 11 2012: Dan, my difficulty lies in where to draw the line between living and non-living. eg 1. hydrogen atom 2. water molecule 3. Amino acid 4. Protein 5. Nucleic acid 6. Virus 7. Bacterium. I'm guessing that you would consider 1&2 not alive and 7 alive but I can't see a clear line. I see a gradual increase in the complexity of the chemistry. You can even find intermediates between these examples. There really is no clear distinction. We have an arbitrary group of characteristics we use to classify things as alive, but conveniently ignore those things that only show some of them.(5&6)
      • Mar 10 2012: I hope you feel equal to women. I like Robert Heinlein too. I wonder if technology is affected by the inequality between men and women. What would technology be like if men and women were equal in academia, business and other power places? I wonder.
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          Mar 11 2012: I think technology and understanding of the universe around us is stifled because of our inability to treat everyone/everything on equal grounds. This is an extension of my belief that we focus too much on the individual and singular instead of the uniform and oneness. We only notice differences, not similarities, thus our understanding of truth only comes from what we notice as different from ourselves.

          It's only recently that we've realized that time and space is the same; matter is just energy. Yet, research is still forced to focus on separate isolated fields. When we study biological systems, we devise ways to observe the system. We do not focus on how we can just measure, calculate, predict the root energies involved to see what the system is doing. This roundabout way of doing this tedious, but at the same time, necessary for now because of our lack of understanding. But we're now stuck with a chicken or egg problem. Are we roundabout because we know we lack understanding? Or do we lack understanding because we're consistently going at things the wrong way?
      • Mar 11 2012: Howard, Thanks for the provocative discussion. I agree with much of what you say. Life is everywhere. I wonder if vegetarians are not in denial of the food chain. Perhaps a head of cabbage desires to continue living just as much as a head of cattle. Looking at the differences and similarities seem to me to both be important parts of the process. I see no point in ignoring one for the other. Again, I raise what you may think is an irrelevant issue, but I do believe that if women and men were acknowledged as equal and making equal inputs into science, technology, religion, politics, education, construction, design, law, medicine and everything else they would all be substantially different and far more likely to be the way you want them to be, i.e., accurate, functional, truthful. I don't think you can ignore the distortions caused by the absence of women in the development of knowledge and society in general. You seem to choose to ignore that factor as though it is inconsequential. Looking at the individual and singular triggers the quest, inspires the pursuit of truth and understanding. We all notice both the differences and similarities. We need to go back and forth. It adds to the process and product to do that. Again, I am confident that our progress toward our shared positive goals will be accelerated as soon as women and men share power within all realms of all societies. The male/female equality issue is at the heart of why so many systems fail to accomplish their stated goals, e.g., medicine, law, war, religion, science, politics. Happy Today.
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          Mar 11 2012: The vegetarian point is interesting. If you consider a continuum from 1 "i don't eat red meat" to 10. I'm an extreme vegan, you are really eliminating food sources based on how closely related you are to them. It's basically the same question in discussion with Dan above. How closely related does the food need to be before you start to humanise it before I give it a "soul". How many western people, even meat eaters are comfortable with eating dog or monkey. (I'm not but I can't explain why)

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