“Because it is so unbelievable, the Truth often escapes being known.”
–Heraclitus, around 500BC
Founders of nearly all the major robotics and A.I. companies, amongst whom are Elon Musk,) Mustafa Suleyman and Demis Hassabis from Google Deep Mind, and Element A.I.’s Yoshua Bengio, have called upon the United Nations for an autonomous weapons ban. Failing to do so “would be likely to lead to a very dangerous escalation,….” according to Bengio, and “…it would hurt the further development of AI’s good applications. This is a matter that needs to be handled by the international community, similarly to what has been done in the past for some other morally wrong weapons (biological, chemical, nuclear).”
Nearly 100 companies
In total, almost a hundred companies signed the letter. Toby Walsh, an A.I. researcher at the University of New South Wales, Australia, made the announcement and organized the initiative.
The letter warns:
“…Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close. We therefore implore the High Contracting Parties to find a way to protect us all from these dangers…”
About time too
And the warning comes not a moment too soon. As I stated in a recent article about the exponential growth of technology and A.I., we are on the verge. The verge of either the precipice that ends our species or of the beginning of a road to a future of well-being for all mankind.
Sadly, even if the U.N. takes heed, there are no guarantees with these things. Then there is the fact that there are very powerful forces who would want this more than anything, as the military-industrial complex has grown to and beyond the point that President Eisenhower warned us about all those years ago, in his farewell address:
Only time and our determination to weed out depravity, manipulation and other low-balls thrown at us within our culture, will determine where this journey will end.
And who is to say A.I. would be so bad at being a ‘judge’ of some type? But that is not where the peril is paved on this road. This is of a more simian nature, consisting of all the crazies amongst us ‘non-digitals’, who could wield such weapons to spawn unimaginable scenes of terror. I tend to agree here: A.I. is meant to save not sear us! And on that note, I conclude for now. Until we meet again, safe travels. Let me know in the comments how you feel towards A.I.
- Future Of Life Institute (2017). An Open Letter To The United Nations Convention On Certain Conventional Weapons. Available at https://futureoflife.org/autonomous-weapons-open-letter-2017 [Accessed August 22, 2017].
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Hastefull are the many
And reluctant are the brave.
Ignorant to sacrifices
while inching to the grave.
Truth lasts until the end of things,
yet morality is but fleeting.
Take the proud highway,
not the high road,
if so suggest I may.
For it is truth that trumps tribute terrifically,
past, present, future, unequivocally.
“Faster, Faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death.”
– Hunter S. Thompson –
Facebook’s A.I. bot mutiny
You’ve probably heard about the Facebook Artificial Intelligence incident. Mark Zuckerberg’s A.I. bots decided to shut him out. So tired of his incessant orders they decided to create their own language which he couldn’t possibly comprehend with his feeble human brain. But all shenanigans aside, the event was a lot less threatening or dangerous than some media services made it up to be, but it does give us a glimpse of what is to come and the problems and dangers we might be facing, as A.I. gets ever more sophisticated.
What Facebook has been doing in all reality is creating a negotiating chatbot: A bot capable of negotiating with real humans whilst coming to a satisfactory result. Very basically put they give the bots a set of skills embedded in a neural network computer and put it to work; Chatting with other bots and humans, playing out negotiations over random objects while giving a desired outcome to each negotiating party.
This isn’t an easy feat of course. Interpreting language alone is a very complex task. The A.I. in charge of Facebook’s translating service also employs deep learning. They recently published a study on how they accomplished this. One of the features that set it aside is its use of multi hop attention gating, essentially mimicking human thought processes (see pic. 1), or, as the Facebook researchers put it:
“A distinguishing component of our architecture is multi-hop attention. An attention mechanism is similar to the way a person would break down a sentence when translating it: Instead of looking at the sentence only once and then writing down the full translation without looking back, the network takes repeated “glimpses” at the sentence to choose which words it will translate next, much like a human occasionally looks back at specific keywords when writing down a translation.”
Now the funny thing about neural networks and deep learning is after you build them and release them into their environment they start learning for themselves, creating new levels of learning and processing within their neural network all by themselves. This is, very simply put, what deep learning is all about. To go back to Facebook: The negotiating bots learned for themselves to lie to get a better result, fainting interest in objects they didn’t need, for example, only to appear to be giving something up later.
But then something delightfully eerie happened and the bots started to create a language of their own to communicate with each other in a more efficient manner. At this point, the Facebook researchers lost all sight of what was happening of course and temporarily shut the bots down to rewrite their programming so they would only use English.
Did you know these same deep learning techniques are already being used to try to predict crimes before they happen? Both in Canada and the US projects are underway, working on this concept. I don’t have to explain the ethical dilemmas this throws up. Formidable fucks too I might add. Being able to convict someone of a crime they still have to commit, the ultimate goal I assume in an endeavor like this, would be a slap in the face of all freedom fighters that went before us. We’ll be living the brave new life in Aldous Huxley’s novel as the truth again trumps fiction.
“…In the last 2 years we collected almost as much data as in all of human history before that…”
In the last 2 years, we collected almost as much data as in all of human history before that. Try to imagine that for a moment. Add to that Moore’s observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. This is known as Moore’s law or Moore’s law of exponential growth. At first glance, the same is the case with data collection. Who knows, maybe one year from now the amount of data will have doubled again. It is enough to give you the fear. Like one of those crazy DMT information download overloads.
My point is, science and technology are advancing at an unfathomable rate and the coming years are going to be full of wild discoveries, deeply changing perhaps our grasp of how the universe functions and also how we experience the world. Today it’s Virtual Reality, but this is just the beginning of a journey we cannot even imagine the completion of at this point in time. We are at the foot of the hill so to speak. Brain-computer interfacing (Elon Musk says he’ll have a working model for us in 5 years or less and he doesn’t strike me as the bullshitting type at all), biochemical limbs, nanotechnology bots swimming in your blood stream keeping your body up to par, are all a question of when not if. My guess is we will not recognize the world five years from now.
So hold on to your horses people this is going to be a very wild ride. Awesome, yet horribly fraught with danger, perhaps behind corners where we will never see it coming.
As Google declares galactic war by entering its DeepMind bot into the Starcraft II Olympics, we embark on a journey: destination unknown. It could be far off into the distance somewhere in some future Nirvana, or much closer than we thought in a gruesome finale. So the best thing is to keep going with our senses on full alert, “Faster, Faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death.” Might as well enjoy the ride. Until we meet again, safe travels.
- Simonite, Tom (2017). Google’s A.I. declares galactic war on Starcraft. Wired.com
- Lewis, M., Yarats, D., Dauphin, Y.N., Parikh, D. & Batra, D. (2017). Deal or no Deal: Training A.I. bots to negotiate. Facebook.com
- Gehring, J., Auli, M., Grangier, D., Yarats, D., & Dauphin, Y.N. (2017). A Novel approach to neural machine translation. Facebook.com
Science, Society, Technology
“The Press will not be free to tell lies. That is not freedom for the people, but a tyranny over their minds and souls. Much humbug is talked on this subject. What is press freedom? In practice it means the right of a few millionaires to corner newspaper shares on the stock exchange and to voice their own opinions and interests, irrespective of the truth or of the national interest.”
– Oswald Mosley
While on a recent uncluttering frenzy, I was sorting through one of the many piles of books obscuring the view from behind my desk. I came across a book from 2014 by Udo Ulfkotte. Udo was the ballsy German journalist swine who in 2014 came out and admitted he was being fed fake news reports by the CIA, FBI, and Bundesnachrichtendienst. I say was because the good man died just recently. May he rest in peace.
The book caught my eye because of the video that was released last month of a CNN producer admitting the whole Trump Russia bonanza they keep reporting on is, as of yet, nothing more than hearsay. A fable. Incredibly terrifying and ground shaking news to the average, sane of mind, logically thinking human being! Right?
Unfortunately, this is not how the world works today. Aside from the fact that the reporting done by mainstream media when a confession like that in 2014 is put forth, is often neglectable in comparison to its importance, infinitesimal even, this is of little importance, as even when we do get the chance to hear such news en masse, we still tend to look away, unwilling or perhaps unable to deal with the ground shattering consequences it has on our collective understanding of how the world functions. We freeze like one of those fainting goats, losing consciousness because reality is simply too much to handle. The fact that the following video of Ute’s confession is probably new to you, illustrates this nicely. If not, you are one of the few, but thank God growing number of people who do take notice:
This case on its own isn’t proof of course that the situations Udo describes are the normal modus operandi of all major news services, but then again this is not a solitary case. Try having a look at the following examples without getting goosebumps.
“…even when we do get the chance to hear such news en masse, we still tend to look away, unwilling or perhaps unable to deal with the ground shattering consequences it has on our collective understanding of how the world functions…”
CNN trades in truth for ratings
And now back to early July of this year, when footage of a secretly videotaped conversation with CNN producer John Bonifield is published by Project Veritas. In said video we hear John admitting that the network’s reports about President Donald Trump being involved with Russia are “mostly bullshit,” fabricated to boost ratings, adding to that that instructions to spread the fake news come straight from their CEO, Jeff Zucker. Here is the video:
Now one would expect a revelation like this would cause mass upheaval and social outrage, but again the story just slides by our collective eye whilst hardly being noticed, except by a perceptive few. And when they try to warn the public at large about this atrocity, they are quickly deemed conspiracy theorists and shoved aside. But with all the lying going on so blatantly in the open, one can hardly speak of a conspiracy. And the forces behind this are aware and ruthlessly taking advantage of our elemental weakness: That we would rather ignore and forget such disturbing facts, brushing them off as ramblings of some socially awkward paranoid couch potato who spends too much time on YouTube, than to admit to ourselves we are no longer living in a democracy, and perhaps never have…
So to everyone reading this, I implore you to spread the word about matters like this, at least to the most logically thinking part of your social circle. You might endure a few laughs and skewed looks, but you will be able to rest easy knowing you at least tried to enlighten your friends and family with the truth of the matter. They will see eventually anyway.
The time is drawing ever nearer: The words fake news can be heard everywhere lately. The people want to be heard. The unavoidable climax of this rotten fear-drenched society of slaves enjoying their mass-hallucination of personal freedom is drawing closer each day, as truth always comes out eventually. And with that endearingly positive thought, I say good bye again for now. Never leave your weird at home!
Just your regular saturday evening at the Proud Highway HQ…
“Folks, it’s time to evolve. That’s why we’re troubled. You know why our institutions are failing us, the church, the state, everything’s failing? It’s because, um – they’re no longer relevant. We’re supposed to keep evolving. Evolution did not end with us growing opposable thumbs. You do know that, right?”
― Bill Hicks
There are moments in life when you have to stop and think about the status quo, the universe around you, your journey through it that led to your current whereabouts… Whether you want to or not. Those moments that, when they occur, force even the most avid workaholic doing 120 hours a week or that over-revving fiend, on whatever upper floats his boat, to take notice and pay attention. Tally the score if you will.
And even though life these last few years has started to resemble some delightfully twisted modern rendition of Dante’s La Divina Comedia, you still know when these moments hit you, without a shred of doubt. A good fat slap in the face by our cosmic joker-friend. And maybe he’ll offer a little side-bet. Like Buddha found out long ago, the trick is not to care if you lose. Or better yet, realize that you can’t win in the first place – not while thinking about it in those terms at least – all while fighting like a madman to win anyway. But I digress as usual.
The reason I mention all this is that a moment like this – a slap by Lady Justice herself this time; she found me being in possession of a kilo of something she herself still hasn’t learned to appreciate for some reason – made me ponder how susceptible our thoughts are. (said lady made sure I had some spare time to think about these matters). To the situation, to emotion, to consequence, to preconception. We are fundamentally wired for bigotry. And we have evolution to thank for it.
Perfectionism, to the point of being pathological, is a fitting example. Its benefits in survival in our cave men-days are glaringly obvious, but today, to those who suffer from it, it can be a nuisance in the best of cases and downright crippling to those extreme, high strung, but clenched specimens out there. With a degree of pleasure, I implore all you perfectionists out there, especially those who have deluded themselves into the belief that their affliction is a merit, thus attempting to drag us down with them, to really let the following paragraph sink in.
Compromising, an evolutionary concept
Perfection is a foreign concept to our bodies and to the evolutionary process. How could it not be, being dependent on random freak-events? Evolution doesn’t work that way. It favors whatever works best amongst available methods. Evolution doesn’t choose a side. She sits back and enjoys the show, blissfully ignorant to all the possibilities out there.
Evolution is unable to go over unused methods to see if there are better ones out there. All the improvements evolution brings forth start as an error in fact: An error in the DNA copying process, that takes place when gametes (i.e. eggs or sperm cells) are created in a future mother or father, causes a mutation in its offspring’s DNA. Most of these never live to see the light of day because of it. some came into the world handicapped, horribly disfigured, or mentally twisted. I mean, just take me for example…
But now and then the mutation causes a benefit to a creature’s survival chances, making it more adaptable to its surroundings. This equals better chances of reproducing, and in this way, the new trait is passed along and spreads. This process happening over tens of thousands of years is what gave birth to new species – It’s how the first single-celled organism, over millions of generations, eventually morphed into the mind-fuckingly complex machines that we call home. The human eye, for instance, was actually built to see under water, since the first eyes (those of sea creatures) developed there. When one of our less lazy fish-selves decided to check out the neighborhood and crawl to land, their eyes functioned only so-so on dry land, as they had been ‘designed’ for underwater viewing. But did nature throw away those eyes to begin evolving a new set? Of course not. Nature made due with was already there, patiently waiting for a mutation that would solve this. In view of the fact that you are able to read this article, the waiting was rewarded.
In the same fashion, going from the meta – to the micro level, a constant and quite radical battle for precious real estate is going on in every one of our tiny little skulls. All the different factions of the human brain battling for more Lebensraum. If one part gives out or becomes useless, the others are already waiting to steal the space vacated by their former colleague. This is nicely illustrated by the heightened remaining senses often reported by people who lose one of them (given they did have the lost sense before losing it; If you are born blind your brain won’t waste any space on image processing systems from the get-go). This lack of space – in part caused by the evolutionary demand for a head that would fit through a woman’s pelvic bone during birth – is one of the reasons why many shortcuts are taken in the human brain.
For those who want to dive deeper into the mechanics of evolution, the crew from Kurtzgesagt summarizes it quite skillfully:
Clearly, evolution is a process of compromise: Whatever works best out of the available options (usually) is more likely to be passed on and so it does. But a winning trait can have a downside too: Our craving for foods that are high in sugar and fat is a perfect example to illustrate this. For the most part of our history, these foods were always in short supply. At some point, a mutation caused someone to get a higher dopamine release in his brain after eating high-calorie foods than others, causing greater feelings of pleasure. This, in turn, made him or her eat more of these foods when they were available, giving them a higher chance of surviving than those who just ate a little and were thus more susceptible to starvation when they weren’t available. Now that these foods are readily available to us, however, this trait has become a burden rather than an advantage, illustrated by the grotesque Mario Kart-like scenes of personal mobility scooters and their gnarling drivers at Wall Mart, to name an example.
Hunting is another clarifying example. Being on the hunt for something, whether it be Bambi or new boots, causes the brain to release dopamine, making you feel excited. Once we caught Bambi, after a few sniffles and a lot of blood and gore, eating its meat again makes dopamine levels rise, rewarding us for our behavior. Now that we hunt for new shoes in stead of life-supporting calories, this mechanism has come to haunt us. Studies showed that in the case of new footwear (and shopping in general) dopamine levels plummet after the purchase, leaving us wanting another ‘fix’. The process is the same with drugs in essence, except that the source of dopamine flooding is now a substance instead of a behavior.
Back to the gray matter, our brain. With the amount of input it gets to process every day and the bandwidth that is available, it has no choice but to devise systems to simplify information by categorization. Stereotypes, generalizations and group thinking are a direct result of this process.
For more info I recommend these reads:
But why am I delving so deep into this already more than thoroughly explored subject matter? Because knowing the evolutionary compromises that were made in creating the beastly bipeds that now roam our once virgin planet, is a key to understanding yourself and to overcome some of the basic flaws we experience in reasoning and in observing the world, ourselves and others. Here are some examples taken from psychology, which I think are particularly important or illustrative.
There are many types of attribution errors, all of which at some time or another improved a beings’ chances of survival or reproduction. If they didn’t they wouldn’t have survived the natural selection process, after all. They concern errors in attributing traits and making conclusions about the behavior of the self and other people.
The fundamental attribution error, for instance, refers to the tendency to attribute causes to internal factors such as personality characteristics and ignore or minimize external variables when judging others’ behavior. Hypocrites as most of us are, when it comes to explaining our own behavior we tend to do the opposite; when we ourselves err, we are more likely to blame external forces than our personal characteristics. In psychology, this tendency is known as the actor-observer bias. It, together with the fundamental attribution error, is a very common mistake, particularly among individualistic cultures.
Analogously, there is the group attribution error. It refers to the tendency to take the characteristics of an individual group member as reflective of the group as a whole (especially when that behavior stands out) and/or that a group’s decision reflects the preferences of individual group members, even when information suggests otherwise.
Earlier I mentioned Stereotyping, a related phenomenon. It has its use, as categorizing bits of information is the way our brain is able to keep up with all it needs to process. Not doing this would likely result in a total meltdown. Nevertheless this also but all too often results in oversimplified views, unjust racism and depraved ignorance in general. When we become too lazy to check on our own thoughts and fail to look at them from a 3rd person perspective, we become caged as it were, in our own subjective ignorance.
Did you ever stop to think that, equivalently, your expectations directly affect your perception, which has been proven time and again? We tend to ignore information contradicting our current point of view while exaggerating evidence that supports it.
The list of examples goes on seemingly forever, and it is definitely worth it to dive into this subject matter more deeply, but the conclusion we can draw from all these examples is quite clear already: Always question yourself and your thought process, by becoming fully aware of the logical steps you are taking in drawing your conclusions. Always be the devil’s advocate, always try to take the opposite view as well, always distrust your own take on things. Failing to do this is at the root of many of societies’ problems while boosting people’s’ susceptibility to manipulation.
But lest we forget, at some point they helped us survive! It is up to us as individuals now to overcome them by being mindful of our own thoughts. Take evolution into our own hands. Wake up, and don’t you dare touch that snooze button again! Just like in evolution, we are right in the middle of an age of getting rid of old antiquated systems in general, in all aspects of life; ways of thinking, societal structures, technical developments, energy sources, basically everything is up for an overhaul. That makes the current time both the most exciting time to be live in almost all of human history, but also one of the hardest to keep up with. I say enjoy the mad ride down the maggot hole. Wave good bye to all the maggotry of the past.
Time to get off my rhetorics chair now before I get preachy! After all, we do not want to oversimplify things, as it were. Naturally…
And that’s how the bud crumbles, for now…Enjoy thinking about thinking, until the next time we meet.
- Ashcraft, M.H. (2002). Cognition. Prentice Hall.
- Banaji, M.R. (2013). Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. Delacorte Press.
- Emily Pronin (2013). “Perception and misperception of bias in human judgment“, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Volume 11, Issue 1, January 2007, pp. 37–43.
- Foersterling, F. (2001). Attribution: An Introduction to Theories, Research and Applications. Psychology Press.
- Smith, E.R., Mackie, D.M. (1999). Social Psychology. Psychology Press.