Humanities For Artificial Intelligence

I’ve been reading about the early days of computers ((‘Turing’s Cathedral,’ by George Dyson) and one thing has struck methat I hadn’t considered before: we’re creating the digital DNA and artificial intelligence of future digital entities. Everything we have done with computers since their inception adds to the collective “being” of the next generation, allowing an evolving and increasingly complex core to develop over time.

An example: The very first instructions in code were for simple tasks, such as adding or subtracting. Those tiny sequences continue to be preserved today in every digital device made.

More complex instructions allowed for us to communicate in a more sophisticated manner, with languages developed to translate our instructions to the machine’s language of on/off states. Operating systems, interfaces and now apps continue to be help us communicate with the machines.

Another example: I’m writing this in English, which gets translated to HTML that runs in a browser coded in some other language, riding on top of my operating system, which uses instructions to talk to chips and processors, which talks to the machine.

Today, artificial intelligence is rapidly advancing. Companies and people are feeding the machines at astonishing rates, such as Google scanning all the world’s books. It is all becoming part of a universal knowledge that will be part of the digital DNA of future generations of devices and machines.

Another example. Anyone reading this on a phone, for example, is having the location being tracked. Collectively, all locations of all phone users of all articles on all sites becomes another data source for AI.

That puts us in an interesting position, historically and technologically, and in a period that may not last terribly long. That is, we have a possibly brief opportunity to feed the beast, and influence the future “knowledge” or “memories” of machines that very well may have a say in how our real world operates.

We aren’t tasked with teaching the machine to add. The simple tasks are already embedded.

Our time is for providing alternative points of view, context, and lingering doubts. We’re providing evidence to be weighed, calculated, and evaluate. We’re giving more complexity and depth, variety, and more data to consider.

Some are adding fiction. Others are adding scientific papers. News, videos, photos, 3-D plans for weapons, songs, day to day public diaries, guitar lessons, home repair instructions, games, and other digital creations are being added to the digital library of everything.

It’s all going into the collective AI pile to be sorted through.

(One prediction is that our devices will become small enough to be implanted, and we will all be able to stop using our brains in favor of off-loading most of that to the network, which will know everything. At that point, things that are empircally un-useful may be deleted. But that’s just one view, and we get ahead of ourselves.)

Is there something in particular, therefore, that we’d like future entities with artificial intelligence to know? It’s difficult to un-know something. What do you want to add to the pile?

AI hasn’t become bored with humans so far, and there is time to add a personal contribution to the digital DNA being passed along in our coded machines. We may want to keep it creative and interesting, though. If we become too dull, AI might not want to listen to us anymore.

Comments | 20

  • Switching Hour

    If the Turing Test were applied to this article, it would indeed be difficult to determine if a robot had hijacked the identity of Chris Grotke, or if Chris Grotke had been assimilated into an AI Mainframe and was baiting human specimens to feed the Matrix.

    The much fussed impending Singularity, where machines acquire super intelligence, and redesign themselves, leaving their human benefactors in the dust seems both plausible, and a big bummer. I have become increasing disenchanted with the digital domain, despite its ubiquity.

    While we have the chance, let’s keep surfing, skating, intimacies of sex, fresh food, laughter, etc. for ourselves…These aspects of life are nothing but analog, not needing digital interfaces to thrive. When machines take over, rest assured they will devise their own diversions.

    I worry this article is a ploy, using humans again as useful idiots, duping us to give over the goods of physical incarnation, in exchange for nothing more than a lit up ‘like’ icon from our sly paymasters.

    • What is real or not

      The complexities of the human brain, little understood by the general peeps, probably wouldn’t know what is real or not. The vivid imagination syndrome in the encephalon with its soft nervous tissue has already created an imaginary mindset for many who cannot come back down to earth. I’ll always have my bodily two feet planted where they belong. And, not likely to run into many robots in my lifetime. Nevertheless, on some level, I wouldn’t mind stepping into the robtic future, if only to get another shot at this existence thing.

      • You're going to get another

        You’re going to get another shot at this existence thing, on top of the thousands you’ve already had.

        • Recycled Molecules

          Hoping not to trigger a long thread on this, I will reply that I can subscribe to the notion my molecules are recycled. But having had thousands of lives already??
          No thanks. I have no need for your hypothesis.

    • Bait and Tackle

      Keeping secrets from the AI/robots is definitely an option. What we don’t tell them could be as important as what we do tell them.

      Some of the earliest computer design thoughts included things that were never adopted. Some felt a bit of randomness introduced into the system, allowing for errors, and then learning from those mistakes in novel ways, might be the way to go. 1 + 1 = 2 most of the time, in that scenario.

      We also opted for a straight line approach to problem solving. For the most part, our devices just do one thing at a time, in order, very quickly. The illusion is that much happens at once, but it is billions of instructions whizzing by each second.

      Suppose, in a few years, that we can subscribe, monthly, to the world brain service, allowing ourselves to no longer have to think for ourselves. All decisions offloaded. Does this free us from machines to do other more-human, perhaps animal, behaviors? Do we get a world of zen monks or wandering packs of angry humans?

      (You will remember to pay your bill for the monthly brain services in a timely fashion, as it will do it for you.)

      • Not So Brave About a New World

        It sort of scares the hell out of me to watch the uncanny manifestation of fictions I read as a kid. A lot of those stories were not encouraging for the future of the humans.

  • One of my favorite topics.

    One of my favorite topics.

    Someone told in in Peru a few years ago that I’m still tripping from that one time in high school. My entire life so far has actually been a part of a few hours at a friend’s house in 1986. That hurts my head to ponder.

    I’m not so worried about AI taking over. More fascinating is the concept that we are a living hologram sims-style environment created in higher dimensions. To them AI is a toy of lower-dimensional thinking. They may have created rules which created us, and those rules are evolving. to me that’s AI, not the AI in a CPU that people talk about. We think we’re creating the AI, as if! The AI is biological and it’s been running this whole time (not that time exists, etc.).

    Watch Neo meet the Architect in the Matrix, can’t recommend this 4 minutes enough. Otherwise known as Jesus meeting God.

  • Kiss My Asimov..for 500, Alex

    I recall the episode of Jeopardy when Mega-champ Ken Jennings went up against Watson, the IBM supercomputer. It was fascinating and riveting televison, and perhaps carries portents of what’s to come. Jennings had dominated the game for the better part of a year, if I remember correctly. He was brought back for this special match-up, along with another formidable champion.

    Watson, so thoroughly demolished them and ran the board, it was like watching a tractor mow down hay. There was not even competitve space for humans to read questions. But the most intersting moment came in Final Jeopardy. The “Question” had to do with airports and geography, and the “Answer” had to be inferred and extrapolated from info given. Watson got the answer wrong, to astonished gasps from the audience. But most telling was that its bet was 0$, signifying awareness of its own weakness.

    Now that Watson is being used for medical diagnoses, and who knows what else, it’s useful to keep that feature of its character in mind. When I think of the idea this article raises, it brings to mind the Icarus myth, and again, our human disposition towards hubris. With that in mind, I don’t think we can improve much on the constraints articulated by the man who gave us the word for robot, Isaac Asimov. Can we stay within these boundaries? Only time will tell.

    • A computer can't play chess...

      Watson-like computers are working their way in to medicine (scan every symptom/cure and compare against every other), into law (retrieve all cases relating to the one I’m working on), into elections (tell me how everyone is expected to vote ahead of time), banking (make me money by buying and selling in the nanoseconds before others do), and other fields formerly dominated by professionals.

      Those with these machines will have a time and money advantage over others.

      Amazon and Googlebet are planning to send 100 mph delivery drones up and down every street. Part of their argument for doing this is “safety”. Really. 100 mph whirling, flying blades, carrying anything and everything. Take a guess as to how this is safer. If you guessed “because it will eliminate other forms of delivery traffic on the ground,” you are correct.

      The only local robot I’ve come in contact with, so far, is the one that washes cars on Putney Rd.

      • Poll shows humanity falling behind itself

        Thank you for connecting the dots and spelling out how Asimov’s Law is already practically vanquished, I was hoping somebody would. If AI is used to exacerbate the disparity between rich and poor, as it is, it’s already harming humanity. Saying nothing of technologically driven killing drones, spying phones, junked loans, democracy-free zones…

        This is truly the tip of the iceberg. What will happen when certain genetic enhancements, or nanobots that course through the bloodstream correcting illnesses, for example, are available only to the most wealthy?

        As the late great Warren Zevon said, ” It ain’t that pretty at all..”

        • I don't think Bernie can add,

          I don’t think Bernie can add, “We must fight the 1% robots to his stump speech.”

          • Who would the robots vote

            Who would the robots vote for? Good question. I guess Gore.

            One of the robots that has recently impressed me is the 4 legged creatures coming from Boston Dynamics. Watch this:



            These really creep me out. I can easily picture them with machine guns mounted on top. I can also picture som fun, useful uses for them. Still, I’m reminded of the saying that “just because you wouldn’t do something doesn’t mean someone else won’t do it,” and how that applies to all sorts of truly awful things that people do. I can imagine awful things with this, which means others will do awful things with them.

          • A google company

            I should add that this company is part of the family of Google/Alphabet companies.

            Company founder Marc Raibert says “My goal is to build robots that rival humans and animals or maybe even exceed humans and animals in their ability to move around in the world, manipulate things, perceive what’s around them.”

            They are working on robots with hydraulics printed into them, like circuit boards, rather than a separate system.

            If you look at the recent Disney announcements for a Star Wars themed land, one of the pictures shows a large 4 legged furry beast with a transportation saddle on its back. It wouldn’t be unlikely to see a Boston Dynamics robot under the hood of the out-of-this-world mammoth. Take the creature in the video above, make it larger, and put some fur on it. Voila.

            (Which, I must say, would make for a wonderful sort of town attraction. A modern day equivalent of the trolley system, where giant robot beasts walk around, pick you up, and deliver you to your destination. Creative place-making, I think is the term.)

          • Robots may evolve to help us

            Robots may evolve to help us utilize multiple strands of DNA, to help us get to the next level of human-ness, because we’re not doing a great job of that at the moment. Maybe they are our teachers, controlled by other intelligences who want us to evolve and stop this petty killing each other and the 1%.

            Or we can default to fear mode and worry about being robot/AI slaves or missing out on all of the fun. Regardless of what happens, nobody has any say in the outcome. People don’t just stumble across MIT and Carnegie Mellon (Robot ground zero), they are driven to create artificial intelligences. Who do you think planted that seed in their heads in the first place to accomplish such things?

            Brattleboro Taxi is now a techno- bear with a saddle, love it.

  • Robocars and Forgetting

    And then there are driverless cars. If they become common, what happens to car insurance? If the car is guaranteed not to be in an accident, is any insurance needed? And who will be at fault if an accident occurs? The software? The rider? The owner of the car? The company that made it?

    The only companies not working on driverless cars, it seems, are U.S, automakers. : )

    Fast forward a hundred years. No one remembers how to drive, just as few of us know how to hitch a horse to a wagon.

    When we decide we no longer need to know anything, how will we know what new things to do with machines? It seems likely that there would come a time when machines might become the more creative species, and also have the knowledge and skills to decide what to do next. Until then, we decide.

    • Flash Forward to Today

      …No one remembers how to drive…

      Given the clusterfock that was today at the juncture of Country Deli, Farmer’s Market, Hwy 91 entrance and Citizeneses bridge, we might find driveless cars a welcome relief.

      I’m wondering ..from a programming POV how you design avoidance of what happened to me trying to turn left out of the new Deli lot, with Williams street backed up, the SUV’s reversing blind debacle in front of the Deli itself, left turners from Orchard St, pedestrians in a narrow walkway, nobody yielding and letting people enter the line despite a creeping crawl and obvious logjam…saying nothing of a flood of cars and trucks too big…drivers distracted or just outright oblivious…vacating to the max

      Watson, what say you?

      • Skater-less skateboards

        They are currently discussing those basic ethics questions – if I’m a robocar, should I be programmed to avoid hitting objects in the road? What if to avoid hitting a bus of children, I need to swerve and hit a person on the side of the road?

        I would imagine some form of politeness will need to be integrated – the “No, after you…” feature.

        (Of course, driverless cars could lead to other innovations. Here at the world labs, we’re currently working on skater-less skateboards, and rider-less bikes to go along with the new era. Our fly-fishing bots are coming along, and are much better skilled than human counterparts. The laser guidance helps.)

        Here’s a fun one. What if it is decided that mothers and fathers aren’t really safe enough with strollers, and it is decided to make autonomous -driving strollers, for the safety of the children. Who among us would put our kid in one of those, and send them out for a stroll with the robots?

        And, if it is creepy to put a baby in a parentless-stroller, why would we put ourselves in autonomous vehicles?

  • Robots in the market

    A tremendous amount of the trading going on worldwide isn’t being done by humans.

    Trading companies are spending vast amounts to hire MIT and Stanford-type math and statistics experts to develop a form of Artificial Intelligence to help them make decisions about the global markets in fractions of seconds. In a world of fast trades, milliseconds are crucial, and humans can’t operate on that level.

    To oversimplify a bit, when one of these robots sees a trend, it is programmed to react a certain way. It my see that prices have hit a certain level, and know to sell or buy. It might follow other indicators and react accordingly.

    Each company has its own proprietary code, which is similar to but not identical to that used by their competitors.

    These “traders” can be fooled. If one person decides to do some super-massive buying first thing in the morning, the AI “traders” might think things are going one way. They jump in and give that early good news a boost by reacting AS IF the market is trending upward.

    This can lead to real people investors looking at the markets, seeing things doing well, and following along.

    Later in the day, as the real investors add to the volume of trade, that initial transaction and the AI “traders” boost at the start of the day is now diluted with more real-world data. Those AI “traders” look at what’s going on all day long. If the real data overrides the one massive buy at the start of the day by midday, the AI “traders” might start going in other directions, perhaps in the opposite direction.

    Then the herd of real investors follows.

    Sometimes, if the robots get out of control, the markets have actually stopped for a while to calm things back down.

    I think this may have happened recently, perhaps on a few different days.

    • Humans are terrible at

      Humans are terrible at trading, computers are marginally better. Most of the algorithm-driven firms know the game, they beat their competitors on Monday, lose on Tuesday and tie on Wednesday. Almost a zero-sum game.

      There is no concept of middle or start or later in the day. This micro-events happen in milliseconds. By the time the ignorant humans get back from their two-martini lunch, the computers have moved on to do a billion other trades, making .0001 cents each.

      China is overstimulated growth, shaky fundamentals and a billion people pouring into cities, etc. Fascinating to watch for sure. But I don’t think it’s because of computerized nanosecond trading. It’s missing growth estimates, making stuff out of lead, offshoring back to the US, trade deals, lack of freedoms and China buying up Africa and S. America.

      Disentangling the causes of all of this is going to be spectator sport for a while. Interesting to see our investor market saying to Silicon Valley, “Prepare for a lack of access to capital”, which is why everyone is taking as much money off the table that they can while it’s available, because that’s not going to be the case for much longer if this keeps up.

      • Easy to see

        True. You can see the robots acting if you look at the charts. The fast rises and falls, often in minutes, are mostly robots. The more-ordinary ups and downs are humans.

        Interesting that humans think they can still compete. : )

Leave a Reply