Wednesday, March 25, 2015

AI Doomsaying and the Cult of Shock.

Zoltan Istvan is running for President of the United States as the representative of the Transhumanist Party.  If we ignore the fact that the mans name is evocative of Bond villains, we still have a situation where someone who claims to speak for the future of humanity is playing into the historical mistake of a hierarchical society which uses scarcity and privilege to oppress.  If we weren't too evolved to think that names matter, we might be prone to point out that xenophobia doesn't make sense to begin with and perhaps Barack Hussein Obama could have swayed a few more nincompoops if he had a name like John Fitzgerald Kennedy.   Perhaps it simply isn't obvious just how misguided, quixotic, and potentially disruptive, an attempt to bring about a technology driven future built on the power structures of past, albeit through an earnest act of political theater, could be.

As an AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) researcher I am concerned about regulation of AI (which Istvan has advocated for) and the knee jerk xenophobic response that such hollow gestures might evoke.  Much in the way that a regulated product tends to have an imposed type of scarcity, regulated AGI research will mean passing control of a resource that could benefit many, to a few power elites.  Dependence and power inequality are sure to follow.  In some sense access to AI and therefore research thereof, should be a basic human right.  Not only would explication and instantiation of this right help offset power inequality it should also leverage a certain level of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction).  This is how the scientists who developed nuclear fission weapons dealt with the power inequality related to their invention, simply distribute the knowledge and the "checks and balances" of human society are restored but the stakes have been significantly raised.

Once upon a time I worked in a well equipped prestigious AI lab.  It was the culmination of many years of hard work and an outcome which I had dared not consider a real possibility while I was growing up and studying in school.  In spite of the comfort and prestige attached to the position, I eventually came to strongly disagree with the senior research staff on the subject of how to best demonstrate the capabilities of our project (the creation of a curiosity driven agent deployed in an iCub humanoid robot).  It happened when we were asked to field ideas for a demonstration of the completed ontogenic agent.  I suggested the use of the Red Dot Test, often used by animal psychologists, to demonstrate a crude type of self awareness.  Specifically in our application it would have served as a demonstration of the emergent autoclassification of the self.  The effect could easily be demonstrated by placing a mirror in the learning environment and carefully embedding a prior for learning causal relationships in our agent (though any frequency analysis would reveal the correspondence of some mirror image events to behavioral actions and presumably something like the idea of the self).  Instead, the senior lab members decided that if the iCub (a rough facsimile of a five year old male child) was capable of playing Nintendo Duck Hunt, it would demonstrate a positive outcome of our efforts to explore play based learning.   As a specialist in navigational behaviors I have always been conscious of (and consciously avoiding) the potential to apply my work to military purposes.  Needless to say I balked at the prospect of a project to make a child like humanoid robot engage in a behavior that is a direct emulation of the martial behavior of firing a gun.  This test, if it succeeded, wouldn't just be directly portable to a killer agent, it could also cause a horrid backlash by the AI Doomsayers.  I believe that we should be very cautious about the public image associated with AGI.  In fact, we are probably our own worst enemies when it comes to the project to keep AGI out of the domain of authoritarian regulation.  Even Istvan defers to "experts" when asked to comment on the subject of AI's existential threats to humanity.   In fact, the answers, to the questions that arise from the idea or existence of a truly autonomous agent (with a capability to form novel goals), are far from being completely and well answered.  That disclaimer aside, certain precedents dominate the speculative landscape surrounding these questions.  For one, in nature we seldom observe herbivores evolving a direct means to kill members of a competitor species.  In effect nature ignores direct active inter-species warfare and strongly favors adaptations for individual performance as a prefered way to cope with competition.  Adaptation to passive competition is superior to a genocidal adaptation for the rather counter intuitive reason that: a species that undergoes competition, evolves faster (the Red Queen Effect), so a species that eliminates competition tends to stagnate.  For two, as Abraham Maslow indicated with his Hierarchy of Needs, humans, as an ascendent social creature (as well as our only universally accepted example of truly flexible intellectual agency), tends to graduate to increasingly cooperative imperatives as their baser needs are satisfied.  For three, the radial dissipative dynamics of energy and the natural speed limits like the speed of light, in our Universe at least, tend to preclude omniscience and as a consequence the most powerful things which seem to exhibit volition (humans, corporations, animals, etc.) seem also to rely on a multi-agent solution to the problems endemic to space and distance.  If we consider all these precedents it seems clear that individuation, socialization, peace (even among species competing under niche pressure), and cooperation, are each broad basins of attraction in phenomenological space.

If we consider that choosing an existential enemy is an intellectual process (unless that enemy selects you) we should also assume that any supposedly dangerous super intelligent AI would be super effective at selecting an enemy.  Humans, insofar as I can tell (we have domesticated several species), are profoundly cooperative, in spite of suffering a strong imperative to reject difference.  Somebody or something which has the capacity to be a good friend is probably not a necessary enemy.  War, hunting, and in all likelihood all existence ending activities are relatively expensive when compared with not engaging in such activities.  Obviously the costs of such behaviors go upward depending on the intellect of the thing which you intend to end.  Imagine waking up to a world in which no other example of your kind exists and the creatures that just created you had just passed a sort of reflexive intelligence test by understanding and being able to emulate their own means of intellectual enterprise in order to create you.  I think it would feel a lot like childhood (something many of us are probably familiar with).  I think the unanswerable existential questions that would beset such a creature would make our continued existence as a companion species, not just desirable, but entirely necessary for the egotistical well being of the nascent super intelligence.  Imagine the survivor guilt of people whose birth kills their mother.   Imagine if humankind destroyed the Earth's biosphere and yet lived on as deep space drifters.  Would we ever outlive our guilt?  My guess is that love and reciprocity are not just the obvious results of evolutionary phenomena, they tend to persist as valid justifiable behaviors (even in individuals that have an extraordinary capability to transcend innate behaviors) because certain unanswerable questions can be speculatively addressed and acted upon through behavior selection.  For instance, the speculative overgeneralization found in the superposition of an abstract version of the self (in creative/effective agents) to account for causally ambiguous phenomena is likely to lead to the unanswerable question: "do I currently exist as a test of suitability to the goals of a creature like myself?"  This question stems directly from the overgeneralization the model we are best positioned to learn about, ourselves.  So if, for instance, I am evolving virtual creatures that must learn to create self similar mobile autonomous agents, shouldn't we assume that such an agent (given that agent has an ability to abstract the self (which seems natural considering the task)) would speculate about the creative nature of the creator of their simulation?  I am saying that creative AI robots, that have "parents" and "offspring", will naturally overgeneralize the idea of the parental relationship when considering unknowable relationships (like their own with respect to a speculative simulation creator).  Further, any sentient super AI should be curious about and therefore, likely, to come to understand that it is, in effect, the "offspring" of humankind.  The fact a question cannot be answered probably won't prevent a hyper intelligent creature from behaving as though it might answer the question later.  It seems that an agent could  reasonably start acquired examples and even acting upon information that could inform what it should do, before the questions answer is resolved.

For all these reasons, I believe that a creative AGI will persist in a policy of cooperation with humans.

Another slick adaptation we see in animals which are predated upon is distributed and confusing camouflage (like zebra stripes).  I think that this would be good model for avoiding the authoritarian domination of the AI field by extant powers.  The task of creating a tool making tool that embodies our principle adaptation is not just a demonstration of ultimate self understanding, it is an essential process by which we will empower and uplift our species from the paradigm of scarcity and likely most of the negative consequence of that paradigm.  For this reason, we should not taint the process with all the phobias acquired in the process of suffering in a scarcity based evolutionary process.

Istvan apparently believes he is serving the goals of Transhumanism. By presenting a nominal target (in the form of a political party and Presidential campaign) for the forces which might oppose it, before we have access to the real force which ultimately drives widespread acceptance of novel technologies: realized personal benefit, Istvan is risking blowback greater than any possible good that could come of his political theatre.  I am not just saying that I would prefer if he were working directly on the enterprise of scientific inquiry or engineering related to Transhumanist technologies. I am also saying that simply by applying the identity of a discredited social construct (centralized authoritarian government) to the slowly building "movement", while we currently use such technologies to selfish and shallow ends, it might dilute or diminish the ultimate potential (and therefore best selling point) of the technologies and the associated social movement.  In my mind one of the best applications of Transhumanist technologies will be to usurp hierarchical government.  It is like ordering a coal burning steam car online to drive it to the car dealership to select a new electric car.  Surely this is the point where the followers of Saul Alinsky will chime in with the idea that the purposes of Transhumanism are best served by infecting and transforming the current system from within.  I would not be averse to mixing Transhumanism and government, if it didn't directly undermine the evidence for the best possible yield of such technology: abundance that manifests as personal freedom, autonomy, and safety.

Unfortunately, Transhumanism has been utilized by certain individuals as a means to challenge extant social conformity paradigms.  I say "unfortunately" because I believe (not that these are unimportant issues) that these egocentric and typically shallow applications of humanity transcending technological capabilities are simply an example of putting the wrong foot forward.  If Transhumanism only meant that we could get prosthetic tails, easy cosmetic surgery, or shock young earth creationists with artificial life created in less than seven days, we should just go full speed ahead with presenting those things as the point of the venture.  The real bounty of Transhumanism will be the moral ascent of the affected individuals.  The completion of our species's and civilization's arc toward peaceful cooperation and plenty should not be characterized by reactionaries suffering from an obsession with identity politics or any soon to be redundant demonstrations of the supremacy of technology over arcane religions or the theatrical shock value of ostentatious augmentation.  Transhumanism should be characterized by transcendence of hardship (not just color blindness) with technology.  Transhumanism should not be characterized by idle speculation by inexpert journalists with dubious political intentions.  Transhumanism should simply be demonstrated, effectively, quietly, and in the most humble and inauspicious applications that can be identified, while remaining consistent Utilitarian ideals and the greatest possible intentions.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Viking wealth

Today on Facebook I saw a photogallery with the question "Benefit yard sale for tornado victims or viking invasion?"  This year part of my tiny television intake was the entirety of the series Vikings on the History Channel.  In one dramatic scene the anonymous denizens of the hero Ragnar Lothbrok's tiny fishing hamlet were slaughtered by a jealous king.  I wondered if the vikings had a functional equivalent to the benefit yard sale subsequent to such an attack.  One extraordinary fiscal dynamic present in the plot of Vikings is the interface between the belief and precious metals economy.  Both the king and the usurper, Ragnar, believe that living according to the practices and ethics of nordic mythology and traditions would either please the gods (which might elicit favor) or directly benefit themselves in the afterlife.  For Ragnar this means being both valiant and brutal on the battlefield while seizing treasure from foreign lands.  For the king this means seizing the booty of Ragnar's successful raiding expedition and burying it so that he will have wealth in the afterlife.  I am fascinated by imagining the way the belief structure of the characters actually would effect an economy.  When the rich bury precious metals, the law of supply and demand dictates that it should increase the value of unburied instances of that resource, therefore favoring the poor who presumably are more concerned with a more immediate (and therefore verifiable) set of concerns which can be addressed with silver coins.  The "benefit" to the "economic" wealth of poor vikings is however illusory because while the market value of each silver coin they hold is greater (after part of the market supply is removed), some of the supply has, in fact, been removed.  Abstract or symbolic currency can assume a market value which is inverse to real value which is illustrated (in our example) by the destruction of silver coins.  The burying of the coins is fundamentally destructive, yet it increases the market value of other coins.  I cannot seem to recall the part of my economics classes where they taught us that markets can encourage the destruction of goods.   In another episode of the series a raiding party led by Ragnar seizes the religious symbols of a Christian monastery, in the name of Odin, because Odin favors the brave with a special heaven (Valhalla) for those that die on the battlefield.  The belief vs. reality conversion for the prior sentence would take too long to discuss but we can at least make some net observations.  Of imagined value, market value, and real value, real value apparently has the lowest entertainment value.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Spring time in Salem

No second act they say...
Senescence says otherwise.

Be advised that
 just because it is only 142 characters
  doesn't make it a lie,
   just poorly qualified.

Like me.
Not suitable for employment.
Not polluted by joys unbent.

Spring time in Salem,
smells like London,
after rain.

Spring time is not heaven,
awaiting the condemned.

Spring time is not solemn.
Or an end to pain.

Spring time is fresh,
a rebirth of the flesh,
an offer to return,
to try once more,
to find a way to mesh.

We are no longer lilies,
nor do we yet have the time,
to aspire to that higher ground,
occupied only by the sillies.

Now we are like oaks,
a season is not yet a joke,
but lost moments,
are no longer cause,
 to have a stroke.

So it is with great regret that I inform my readers,
I have no regrets for those terrible things I said,
when we last spoke.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Intelligent Living Home: as a source of food, goods, energy, and information.

The best solution for the future will be to leverage at home manufacturing to offset the requirement for shipping and roads. The result will be that people will spread back out. Like walking across ice, the population can defuse its impact by diffusing manufacturing, food and energy production. The future will not look like 1970's resorts, it will look like primeval forests or nature itself [1]. The future will be the story of the individual reclaiming autonomy from civilization, reclaiming self-esteem from imposed uniformity, and reclaiming constructive and system thinking from the yoke of reductionism.

In our arboreal prehistory the trees provided both a sheltering canopy and frequently our means of sustenance. With sufficient diversity the forest could provide a myriad of complex organic chemicals. Medicines, nutrition, cover and a myriad of resources were available at close range within the primeval forests. If we try to imagine the development of inventions like rope, fibers, and thread it is obvious that natural objects like vines could have provided a example of the virtue of the form. Diversity supplies not just exotic chemicals but a ready supply of morphological adaptations which can either be employed directly as tools or abstractly as examples.

Spatial diversity may provide a needed opportunity to buck some powerful trends.

Newton asked if the moon falls, not if moons universally empower the emergence of the idea of otherworldly beings by providing visual evidence that other worlds are 'terrestrial' to any intelligent species that can look skyward. Neither the consideration of the element or the whole should be neglected. Formal reductionism has, throughout recorded history, permeated our culture and perhaps most obnoxiously it has manifested as the standardization found in manufacturing. Bricks were among the first manufactured products. Forms impose shapes on bricks and those bricks impose shapes on buildings and therefore the patterns that people follow and the civilization itself. I would wager our minds are deeply affected by orthogonal geometries and the constraint of tessellation. Not to decry tessellation, even unkempt mangroves form a honeycomb when viewed from the air. Late in the twentieth century people generalized the abstraction that it is very useful to mimic biology in design [2]. At about the same time, a similar perspective, regarding the limitations of reductionism emerged among the varied disciplines that had formerly been averse to complex systemic analysis and Gestalt notions [3]. If we think of an ecosystem as an engine of adaptation that produces combinatoric variations on compounds of light elements and physical topologies, we can start to imagine an ecosystem as a source of variations not just to gene pools but to the minds of their occupants. When Tom Ray created the first artificial ecosystems it became obvious that complexity accrues in complex interdependent ecologies[4]. Think of the reduction in novelty among the minds of a population which resides in a mostly static manufactured monocultural landscape. Every source of inspiration is constrained from its inception by the requirement to be linearly extruded or cast with nasty tell-tale seams. What a horrid source of soul crushing allegory the common uniform brick and its macrocosm the wall[5]. Walls preserve socio-economic divides that tend to create the need for walls. And so they grow and continue to divide, defining the polarities of their times, China, Berlin, Arizona. If architecture weren't so useful it would certainly suffer a PR problem. Early in the nineteenth century authors of the transcendental literary movement in America had already begun to celebrate the “return to nature” which is frequently referenced within our culture [6]. By the 1970's many computer scientists and systems ecologists began looking at nature not just as a source of psychic respite but instead as a supplier of useful variations and efficient aggregator of that information [2]. From the perspective of a cognitive psychologist these two phenomena are not entirely separable. Juergen Schmidhuber insists that compression progress is equivalent to the evaluation which is used by humans to generate our sense of interest [7]. When we see a tree, if we intuitively recognize that the proportions of the lengths of its branches follow an arithmetic progression like the Fibonacci sequence or that the proportion of the widths and the angles of separation from trunk to limb to twig follow a fractal or recursive design, it follows that we will derive a sense of pleasure from those realizations. What happens next is nearly magic: we cease to be able to derive pleasure from the stimuli because all of its regularities have already been employed in prior compression steps. We become enured to regularity, it is doomed to being temporarily satisfying. The capability to reduce complex signals to sub-symbolic representations and the behavior of losing interest after that process occurs probably causes the constant novelty seeking which is responsible for both the physical spread of our species across the earth and our remarkable technological progress. This adaptation likely arose because our ancestors were tested by a complex ever-changing ecosystem for millions of years[4][8][9]. Chalmers established the fact that a diversity of problem tasks will lead to the evolution of a more generic learning capability [9]. By extension I contend that the same applies to meta-learning. Schmidhuber claims that the ability to reduce novel regularities out of our cognitive intake is satisfying. This seems to comport with ideas presented by Emerson and Thoreau [10][11]. I would like to go further, I believe that systems like those found in nature can be engineered and that we can design the satisfaction nature provides, into buildings, by making them living things. I believe we can engineer systems that are net positive with respect to useful information and that the best place for such a system is surrounding a human rather than isolated in an ivory tower. Imagine a rooftop cabbage patch that solves math problems.

Imagine if your home was also your principle tranducer of energy. Imagine if your home was spatially capable of occluding you from your neighbors but close enough that you can easily meet in a commons. Imagine that your home and local environment provided a variety of foods and raw materials. Now imagine that your home grew, not just spatially, but grew in terms of complexity, like a garden not just of vegetables but of ideas and activities themselves. Straightforward feedback circuits supplanted many of the tedious activities of the nineteenth century, but the introduction of Artificial Intelligence will allow us to not only automate the agriculture/manufacturing/energy complex of tomorrows homes but additionally supply imagery, sounds, flavors, odors, sensations, and even the mental and physical challenges, that are best suited to human fulfillment.

What if such machine/home/living things can self replicate? I believe we are surprisingly close to being able to bring about a number of valuable societal trends by utilizing self replication that utilizes ubiquitous resources along with open source design. Resource independence is not out of reach. Be warned, addressing the mental and spiritual health of people empowered with this type of technology is probably just as important as solving the initial problems of greed, starvation, and energy dependence. Jumping from one set of problems to the next isn't progress, it simply indicates a preference for novelty.

[1] Rachel Armstrong.

[2] John H. Holland. 1992. Adaptation in Natural and Artificial Systems. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, USA.
[3] John H. Holland. 1996. Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity. Addison Wesley Longman Publishing Co., Inc., Redwood City, CA, USA.

[4] Ray, T. S. 1994. An evolutionary approach to synthetic biology: Zen and the art of creating life. Artificial Life 1(1/2): 179-209. Reprinted In : Langton, C. G. [ed.], Artificial Life, an overview. The MIT Press, 1995, 179-209.

[5] Pink Floyd (The Wall, 1982)



[8] Correy A. Kowall and Brian J. Krent. 2007. A simulation of evolved autotrophic reproduction. In Proceedings of the 9th annual conference on Genetic and evolutionary computation (GECCO '07). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 340-340. DOI=10.1145/1276958.1277028


[10] Ralph Waldo Emerson. 1836. "Nature"

[11] Henry David Thoreau. 1854. Walden.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The autopoietic theory of poetry.

Every sentence should drop under its own weight.
Bounded by a surface tension.
Compelled by outside forces.
A world folding back on itself by shaving a fraction of a dimension at a time.
But fate prevents the whole from being simpler than the part...
until it is perceived
 and then it is art.

Friday, August 17, 2012

light the imperiled damsel

a lantern
showing the way
we understand

preturnatural repose
calm and a calamity of twirls
we knew that we knew
the edge of the baroque

I have no sympathy for light
time is blind and lame
in the kingdom of light

never catching the neutrinos
no divine corpuscle o'
our pal al
lazy units we will mend
until broken
just to send
a story about baby shoes
and tiny coos

by shaking your whole family tree
we will try to see
beyond the windows
that have told no lies
nor tried to comport
 with our sister truth

do not countenance my counsel
for I feel no sympathy
to the parts held before we parted

dimmed by the din
of known dimensions
I broke her crass and careful snare

now there is nothing
into which I cannot

but time bore her no sympathy
because this was the kingdom
of light

Saturday, August 11, 2012

How to Build Moral Machines

Personally, I plan to use an extended version of Asimov's Laws of Robotics. 0th law: Do not self replicate or modify any artilect (including the self) in such way that it causes a violation of the following three laws. I will instantiate this in much the same way James Albus described training multiple redundant predictors tuned to different distances into the future. Each of these predictors will be bound to a "kill switch" and a set of hard wired detectors and a bounded set of associative resources which can slightly extend the set of perceptions that would equate to a predicted violation.  To supplement the predictors, a process of detecting salience with respect to predicted violations will allow retrograde elimination of the elements which can give rise to a violation.  It is my personal belief that it is easy to make an AI that will recursively obsess about satisfying a human, however that may get annoying like a rambunctious dog.  For some reason people seem to believe that emotions are different from other cognition or reactions.  Doesn't a Sidewinder missile seek the heat?  If you believe the ability to desist in a response to an emotional perception is required for "actual" emotions, then I submit that the most primitive morph-ability or learning capability allows for this.  In fact we can trivially extend the set of qualifying perceptions by applying a randomized neural tissue running a Hebbian Learning Rule to a hard wired perceptron.  As those events that have temporal and spatial proximity to the emotional stimuli are embedded in the randomized tissue recipricol connections between the hardwired circuit and the dynamic network will effectively extend the set of emotionally evocative stimuli.  You may have experienced something like this if looking at the cupboard where the cookies are causes you to salivate.