Hawking’s Intelligent T-Shirt

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My brother-in-law got me a fun T-shirt displaying this text:

1N73LL1G3NC3
15 7H3
4B1L17Y
70 4D4P7 70
CH4NG3
573PH3N H4WK1NG

I’ll let you wrestle through it, as that’s part of the fun.

There’s a little problem, however.

It’s wrong. Now, I don’t know if the late great Hawking said this, I haven’t checked as yet.  However, the definition itself is wrong.

Fundamentally, there are many things that can’t adapt to change.  In fact, I know quite a few people, generally ex-employees, that do their best to resist change.  That’s partly why they are “ex” employees.

Despite their resistance to change, despite their inability to adapt to change, I wouldn’t call them unintelligent.

That’s part of the problem with not having a good definition.

So, with all due (possible) respect to Stephen H., here’s my hat in the ring.

Intelligence is the reflection of the environment within our defined life form.

Let me break this down.  It starts off with “Intelligence is…”  So that part is easy.  Since it doesn’t have to deal with change, it’s directly related to something else.  So measurement should be easier.  Not easy.  Easier.

Next, it’s a reflection.  This makes our job easier, because that means there is going to be a “source” and a “target.”  Every reflection requires some form of mirror, and the mirror reflects light from some object (the source) to a mind, making an impression (the target).

What’s the source?  It’s the environment.  Buckminster Fuller said it best: Environment is everything but me.

Here’s the fun part.  Where’s the target?  It’s going to be “inside” something.

What is that “something?”

That’s OUR defined life form.  This is the trickiest part, because most of the time no one takes the time to define who has the intelligence.  If we all agree we’re evaluating the intelligence of a mouse, then there it is.  If it’s the entire mouse species, that’s different.  If it’s going to be you, that’s one thing.  But if it’s going to be a whole bunch of us, that’s very different.

No single image summarizes our dread of Artificial Intelligence more than this.

Ever heard of group intelligence?  Some feel that groups are not quite as swift as individuals.  Now we can test for that.  What is the reflection of the environment within the group?  The group may have a great reflection, but if they can’t communicate it within themselves very well, then it doesn’t do them much good.  They would still be considered “intelligent” by my definition, but as many people have argued through the years, intelligence doesn’t always mean you’re smart.

There you have it.  This doesn’t quite answer a lot of the tough questions that are still out there.  Check out the post from 6 August 2018.  In the meantime, be careful out there.

Be intelligent.  Be smart!

 

Unnatural Selection

31 years old and full of fire.

It’s been a while since Darwin published his books about living things. I can’t think of anyone who should hold the title of the world first, and most famous, behavioral scientist.

There is a problem, however. And it’s built into both of his most famous books: Origin and Descent.

He must have known he was doing it.  But as I’ve noted before, taking on GOD did not seem like the best method for influencing the course of human history.  He made the right choice.  But it also means he left us a flawed work.

The flaw is the term “Natural Selection.”

This term appears 247 times in Origin and 155 times in Descent.

Why is it a flaw?

Because it means there are forms of selection that are not natural.

What can be “not natural?”

For one, it was a popular notion that anything people did back in those days was somehow different from what the birds and bees could do.  People can talk to each other and use tools.  Birds and bees couldn’t do those things… or did they?

Of course they could.  Only people didn’t know enough to know that.

People could also choose to cross-breed trees or flowers in ways no one had ever seen before.  These ways were also deemed to be “not natural.”

We had a term for that.  We called it “synthetic.”  So you could have natural selection, and then you could have synthetic selection.

There’s another problem.

People were also considered to be extremely special in the universe.  We had a direct wireless connection to the greatest server of all time, GOD.

So not only was our behavior beyond the natural, it was SUPER-natural.

Here’s where the problem surfaces today.

By limiting his ideas to what is considered natural, Darwin left the door open to those who want to believe that everything people do is somehow above and beyond the rest of nature.

And that’s the real problem.  Because being able to use the established tools of conventional science has been good enough to understand life from bugs to butterflies.

The same tools should be good enough to understand Beyonce and Bulgaria as well.

But we don’t allow it, because we feel that somehow, they are beyond our understanding.

We shouldn’t.  Nothing is beyond our ability to imagine.

Anything less?

Well.  That would simply be, unnatural.

 

 

Where There’s Smoke

They always seem to go together.It’s no coincidence that if you see smoke, there’s fire somewhere inside.

If you live inside a house, you’re taught from an early age to save your life by GETTING OUT.

Drop.  Roll.  Know your escape route to safety.

That’s the easy way to save your life.

What if the smoke you are seeing isn’t from inside your home?

What if the smoke is coming from your society?  What if the news is full of tragic stories?  What if your family and friends are touched by random violence?

What if your planet is being harassed by unthinking newly arrived inhabitants, who litter, obliterate, and violate huge portions of its landscape?  What if the Amazon is cut down?  What if we fill the atmosphere with CO2 and methane?  Why does it matter if we drive so many species to extinction?

These are all variations of seeing the smoke inside your home.  Many people see the smoke, and are crying out as loud as they can: FIRE!

My question is this.  Why can’t more people see the smoke?  How many more cries will it take to move the majority of people?  What will it take to get governments to act?  Even more critically, what will it take to make all governments act in unison?

If you are studying any social discipline, including philosophy, these questions should be at the top of your syllabus.  Your “discipline” should have a methodology, a basis of axioms and reference in which you can answer this question.  Better yet, if your discipline is mature enough, it may even suggest an optimal route of making our world a better place.

If not, then, all I can say is…

Drop.

Roll.

And …

 

 

Goodbye Soft Science

Makes as much sense as most soft science.What’s in a word?

Quite a bit, in fact.

There’s this “news” organization that calls itself “X News.”  Because it says “news” everyone gives it the same credibility as other organizations that deliver true news.

What is news?  We’ll talk about that some other day.

The fact of the matter is that when you are trying to sell something, and that something is not worth much, it’s to your benefit to disguise it.  Ask any fast-talking salesman.

So if your program is a bunch of talking heads talking nonsense, call it “news” so it has more credibility.

What about if your academic discipline is rather “funny” in itself?  What if your discipline has failed to advance our knowledge of its purported subject by any measurable amount during its entire existence?

Simple.  Call it a science.

If you’re a “real” scientist, like in chemistry, or physics, you’re not going to enjoy eating at the same table as an sociologist, or economist.

So you call yourself a “hard” scientist.  Your facts are hard.  Your experiments are hard.  Your conclusions stand the test of time and replication.  They are also hard.

What are the other guys?

So far we’ve been calling them “soft” scientists.

I suggest an improvement.

It’s time to give them a label that gives us a better idea as to what they truly are in the great scheme of things.

Squishy.

They are quite squishy.

You push them, and they move out of the way.

You can pinch, pull, stretch and fold them as much as you want, and they come back exactly the same.

That’s what economics, sociology, and a whole host of other such “sciences” can do.

So it’s time we call an ultra conservative talk show what it is.

And it’s time we call squishy sciences exactly what they are.

Squishy.

Now we need to drop the whole “science” bit from them.  But one step at a time.

 

Happy Birthday Dr. Frankenstein

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The novel Frankenstein was published 200 years ago this year, on January First.  I don’t think google did a doodle on it, but they should have.  Today (30 August) is the anniversary of the birth of the author, Mary Shelley.

Science magazine devoted a whole special section on the impact Frankenstein has had upon popular culture. [1] There’s more Franken-things than you can shake a stick at!  Each of which denotes something scary that has been created by humankind.

Try it out.  Pick any noun, say, tomato.  Stick a “franken” on it – and voila – you have a:

Franken-tomato.  Sounds like something that was genetically modified.  Could be tasty.  But our first reaction is, ugh.  Get it away from me.

That’s the whole point of Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein.

It’s not the monster that is the bad guy.  It’s us.

We create things with our knowledge, our technology, our science.  And then we abuse it, we deny it, we argue that it doesn’t exist.  Yet it does exist.

And in our active ignorance, it ends up causing harm.  In the end we may think we have won because we defeat it, but perhaps we are no better off than we were before.

This theme has been used so many times since she rediscovered it that it’s hard to pick the best examples.  Try Colossus, the Forbin Project.  Or Skynet of Terminator, or Adromeda Strain, or; do I need to continue?

The Ancient Greeks created the first rendition of this story.  They talked of Prometheus, who brought forbidden fires to humans.  Without fire we would still be running from the lions, instead of looking at them in the zoo.

What does this have to do with behavior?  Are you kidding?  What doesn’t it have to do with behavior?  This is exactly the kind of stuff we should be talking about, for every new technology: Nuclear power, DNA editing, CO2 sequestration, and more.

Even more importantly, as students of behavior, we should have a framework that allows us to understand and discuss ANY new technology regardless of what that technology may be or how it impacts us.  How’s THAT for a challenge?

Enough for today.  I wanted to make sure SOMEONE said Happy Birthday to Mary.  After all, she did something many activists have been dreaming of doing for years.  I only wish people would read her book and discuss it, intelligently.

Instead of just going, UGH.

 

[1] Science magazine, 12 January 2018, Volume 359, Issue 6372.

 

Ptolemy Was Right

Did you hear about big broohaha back in 1540?  It was so big that people started using the word “revolution” to describe anything that upset everything.

Or some guy playing with his toys.  Either way, nice picture.

Yes, this guy named Copernicus turned the world inside out by telling everyone we weren’t the center of the universe.  It was a big deal.

Except it wasn’t.  A big deal, that is.  Not in real terms.

First off, it wasn’t the first time that someone else suggested the idea.

Secondly, nothing changed.  Sure, people thought they were going to fly off the surface of the Earth because it was moving so fast, but they didn’t.  Sometimes I wish those sorts of people would, but that’s another post.

Most importantly, as students of behavior, there is no “right” or “wrong.”  There is only behavior that can be measured with respect to a purpose.

Ptolemy’s ideas that the Earth was the center of the solar system was a perfectly good idea.  It sufficed for many things, in fact, most people don’t care, even today.  And he gave it to us around 150 AD.

But for those people who really want to understand the universe, it wasn’t good enough.  Models putting Earth in the middle were complex.  Way too complex.

So a better idea came along.  It wasn’t the first time people presented the idea, but now it made more sense, because the better theory explained nature more efficiently than before.  Clock makers, astronomers, and physicists were all much happier.

So what?

When someone has a crazy theory, we shouldn’t simply dismiss them as “wrong.”  If that theory works for them, if it makes them happy, then fine.

However, if we have a question that our theory addresses more efficiently, or if our theory satisfies our purpose better than theirs, then our theory is “better” for us.  It is not necessarily better for them.

So the next time you hear someone fighting it out over their different theories of nature, sit back and relax.  You’ll know that they are both right.  Try and enjoy the spectacle.

That is, unless they are politicians fiddling with your future.  In that case, you should worry.

And that’s always right.

 

FUN Science, Art Gallery Time Machine

Did you know science could be fun?  Yes, science.

Seems a bit spotty, doesn't it?

Archimedes did it.  Einstein did it.  Now it’s our turn.  Lets do a thought experiment.

In this experiment, we’re going to transport one of the best paintings from the impressionist era back a hundred years (give or take) so that it lands smack dab in the middle of one of the best art galleries of the romantic era.

 

See what we’re doing there?  We’re sticking a little bit of the future into the past, and then figuring out what would happen.

What do YOU think will happen?  Go ahead, write down your answer.  I’ll wait.

(Insert girl from Ipanema here.)

Finished?  Great.  Now, here’s my take.

It won’t sell.  No one’s going to buy it.  Everyone will think a deranged teenager did it, and will tell the dealer to throw it away.  Since it appeared mysteriously from the future, he won’t know who to give it to.  Being a profit-minded guy, he’ll probably paint it over with gesso and sell the canvas to some poor artist who will put a proper painting over it.

Crazy?  Not really.  Consider going to an art gallery today.  What do you see?  Are there crazy pieces in there that drive you bonkers?  Could it be that one of those will sell for millions of dollars in a hundred years?

How can we know?

Right now, we can’t.  There’s this whole thing about fads and fashions that seems to be beyond anything reason will fathom, ever.  Why do women prefer certain hairstyles through the ages.  What about men and their beards, or hats?  What about architecture, writing styles, music, and just about anything else you can imagine.

Until the day comes when we can at least start to describe a fashion and do it in an organized, scientific manner, there will be no hope of understanding, let alone predicting.

Until the day comes when we have a theory of behavior that contains fads and fashions within it, then even with the best descriptions in the world, we still aren’t going to make any progress.

Until then, hang onto that ridiculous object of art your Aunt Sally got you from that yard sale.  It could be worth something.  Someday.

 

Tuning the Turing Test

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Let’s begin with the world’s greatest sci-fi movie: 2001.  This is from Piers Bizony‘s book on the making of 2001 A Space OdysseyIt's Eye-Conic.  Sorry.

Marvin Minsky had no problem understanding that the emptiness of 2001’s dialogue was intentional:

” … And after the momentous statement that the monolith must have been deliberately buried, one of the astronauts says, “Well, how about a little coffee?”  Kubrick’s idea is that the universe is too majestic for short sighted people.”

Trying to understand an “intelligence” that is much greater than our own is going to be a tough job.  Drinking a cup of java while pondering that gulf might be appropriate.

Which brings us to Alan Turing, the godfather of the modern computer.  He suggested a simple test to determine “intelligence.”  He didn’t define the term either, by the way.  What he said was put a person in a room and let them interact with a human, or machine, in a limited way (like through text only) and let them ask questions.

Today, this remains the best test we have of machine intelligence.

Here’s the problem.  What kind of person are you going to put in that room.  For instance, if you put my mother in law, she’s likely to think that the navigator voice in the GPS is already intelligent.  You should see the conversations they have while we drive along.

If you put some genius, like Doug Hofstadter or Doug Lenat in that room, chances are they can ask one question and game over.

So, next time you think of the Turing Test, also consider who you are going to put in that room.  If you’re scientifically oriented, then you want a “standard” human.  Good luck!

In the meantime, I’m going to get some coffee.

Is This All You Got?

If you look closely enough, you can see grandpa.Not canvas, stone, but close enough.

Not really grandpa, but our distant cousins.  Very distant.

In fact, if every generation is good for 25 years, then we’re talking almost 3000 generations ago.  That’s a lot of cousins.

Turns out that we have found some of their earliest artworks.

This is important because, well, it was important to them.

You see, this art wasn’t something that was assigned as a class assignment.  It wasn’t even something that a few crazy teens decided to do in order to assert their independence.

This art took time in every aspect of the word, and of the work.  Time to make the materials.  Time to make fires in order to see the work.  Time to make torches that you took into the cave.  Time to find the cave.  And perhaps most important of all, time to figure out what they were going to represent, artistically.

Here’s the fun part.

Today, we see art everywhere.  It’s all around us.  There is so much art that our appreciation of it has gone pretty much down to zero.

Why should it have been different back then?  Why couldn’t they have scratched art into the sand, the trees, even into themselves?

Chances are that they did.  We can’t see it because of a couple of things.

The first, big thing is that all those other techniques they used are much less permanent than cave painting.

But there’s a second, almost-as-big a thing as the first.

Our minds aren’t quite open to the possibility that they did it.  “Scientists” are still arguing whether or not Neanderthals could have created artwork.  Well, now we know.  The answer is YES.  Only 5,000 years old.Getting them to admit that they made art in any other place than a cave?  They’ll never go for it.

It will be up to some young, up-and-coming young student of behavior to take that bull by the horns and prove it to all the old teachers that yes, Neanderthals liked to express themselves in many ways.

That’s why they need a good theory of behavior.  We do it.  Our ancestors did it.  Why not our distant cousins?

And if not, why not?

In the meantime, I’m going to go make some art that’ll last at least as long.

First, I need a cave.

 

Greatest Challenge For AI

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A great book on the making of Stanley Kubrick’s and Arthur C Clarke’s 2001 A Space Odyssesy is fantastic.  I recommend seeing Stanley’s movie, getting Arthur’s book, and reading Bizony’s book as well.

Now, one prediction talked about in Bizony’s book was that we would have “Artificial Intelligence” by the year 2001.

It hasn’t happened.  Not in the way we want, anyway.

The reason is that the brilliant minds who are tackling the problem start from the basis of natural sciences.  They use math, engineering, biology, physics, all sorts of cool backgrounds.

It’s the wrong place to start.

Intelligence, whatever it may be, is a fundamental behavior.

Everything that it’s based upon, everything that we ask it to do for us, is also behavior.

In fact, the only thing “natural” about intelligence is the body we give it.

What our brightest minds must do is figure out what it is they want to achieve.  Here’s an example using today’s subject; intelligence.  However, as you’ll soon see, one small question quickly blossoms into lots of prickly questions, each of which must also be addressed.

Yes, they have to be answered.  If you don’t, then you’re in danger of falling into one of those loopy traps that never let you out.

Here’s simple question number one, Q1: Define Intelligence.

Go ahead.  Define it any way you want.  Now, for the prickly parts.

No single image summarizes our dread of Artificial Intelligence more than this.Q2:  You started as a baby, and before that you were less than a baby.  At what point in your lifetime did you become, “intelligent?”

Be careful with Q2, because if you’re defining something that is truly natural and scientifically rigorous, it shouldn’t change quickly, and should have specific characteristics that remain stable no matter what form YOU take.

Q3: You are related to other animals on this planet.  Are any of THEM “intelligent?”  This one is not only prickly, but also tricky, because it ties into the next question.

Q4: Even if your species is the only intelligence on the planet, it still came from the primordial swamp a few billion years ago.  Assuming the ooze was not intelligent, and that you are, at what point in the development of life did “intelligence” arise?

There you have it.  Only four (or so) questions to answer before anyone can truly create artificial intelligence.  Except that this is only for intelligence itself.  Of course, we still have to define all sorts of other things, but that’s for another day.

Knowing when to quit?

That’s intelligence.