There is a major debate about artificial intelligence.
On one side you have Elon Musk who says that AI can be dangerous and that it needs to be regulated as soon as possible. On the other, you have people like Mark Zuckerberg saying that AI is nowhere close to being the super intelligence that Musk is fear-mongering about. (A little ironic because Mark Zuckerberg built the artificial intelligence that made it possible for a group like Cambridge Analytica to manipulate voters to impact an American presidential election… I say artificial intelligence because I have used Facebook’s custom audiences tool and it is crazy what they can do with the data that they have.)
I’m not a neuroscientist but I’m currently reading Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger by Peter Bevelin, and the first chapter of the book gave a basic introduction to how the brain works.
The book quotes Dr. Ralph Greenspan, Co-Director, Cal-BRAIN,
“In no sense does the brain work like a computer…. We do pattern recognition. Even though we are capable of logic, our brain does not operate by the principles of logic. It operates by selection of pattern recognition. It’s a dynamic network. It’s not an ‘if-then’ logic machine” (Bevelin, 18).
Bevelin also includes a quote from Warren Buffett,
“…it wasn’t that they could outthink the computer in terms of speed, but they had this ability of what you might call ‘grouping’ or ‘exclusion’, where essentially they just got right down to the few possibilities of these zillions of possibilities that really had any chance of success'” (Bevelin, 19).
Maybe this book is a little dated but that is exactly what programming has begun to do. We have figured out how to create and train neural networks to the point where many people supposedly don’t even know how the machine makes the decisions it does. They are called black box algorithms because you don’t know what’s going on in the black box other than that it works. (Side note, check out this great visual introduction to neural networks).
The human brain is complex because we have lots of functions that were developed over hundreds of thousands of years. In one sense, you could say that our brain is even flawed because the environment our brains were built for may have changed. Regardless, basic functions that we take for granted: energy, touch, sight, speech, hearing, and more were developed and improved over millennia.
We can laugh when we see the robots of Boston Dynamics now, but don’t be fooled, these machines are learning ridiculously fast. Humankind literally can’t light a candle next to the speed of innovation in technology. How long did it take humans to move compared to these machines? I don’t know the answer to this but I’m going to guess thousands of years opposed to the decades to develop the technology or the hour it might take to upload the code to a robot.
People have a tendency to say that machines or artificial intelligence today are not capable of thinking. I wonder how much of this is based on facts opposed to the bias for human superiority. I never understood why humans considered themselves superior to others whether other humans or animals. I feel like humans have a tendency to disregard the things that they do not understand. In fact, I think that’s what helps most of our society function today. Does the mass of men truly understand why they live their lives the way they do and how our society came to be? (Sometimes I feel like there was an assembly that every human being received that I ended up missing.) When we are unsatisfied, how many of us truly investigate the roots of our unhappiness? Why do we have an adage that ignorance is bliss?
I love peering behind the curtain because that is the environment that I grew up in and survived. My parents beat me, I grew up poor, I was sexually assaulted, and I wanted to know why my life sucked- so I investigated. I didn’t find pretty answers. In my experience, the more you learn, the more horrific it gets. The more I learned, the more I wanted to die. I didn’t want to have any part in this world. I tried twice and failed. It was like Lovecraftian horror but in real life, my life. I was fortunate enough to witness many system failures (personal and societal) and to be given the ability to learn why. I decided that I would take advantage of the painful experiences I overcame to do whatever I could with the little power I had to help alleviate the suffering of others. That’s why I wake up in the morning- to help or at least try to make the world a better place.
I think humans have a bad tendency to think that their brains are super unique snowflakes. I think in the end, the electricity of our neurons is not too far apart from the Boolean values of 1s and 0s. Sure it is complicated and billions of neurons, but eventually we will be able to build a computer with billions of electronic neurons too, where multiple different sectors will light up like the human brain in parallel processing. Of course, we’re not there yet, but considering the speed of the progress we’ve made in the past decade, I am 100% confident we will discover the answer soon. I think it might even be possible to brute force it. It’s just a matter of time and experience- same for a human, just now for a machine. Except this time, this machine rarely forgets.
In this sense, I think many people are writing the human brain simultaneously. Computer vision, motor functions, language processing, deep learning, etc. Fortunately or unfortunately, you can’t cut out a piece of someone’s brain or knowledge and just upload it to another human. That person could write a book or teach if they’re capable but unfortunately most human knowledge tends to be trapped in the individual. However, a machine is capable of teaching another machine easily. They speak the same language, they can process the same code. If code is experience or knowledge, machines can share that easily. I believe this means that when computers are able to learn from one another- their learning will develop exponentially faster than we could ever imagine.
Last but not least, that’s just the doomsday scenario of a super-intelligence. You can easily destroy the world with the basic programming you have today, just look at Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Palantir, and drone strikes. Unfortunately, that makes me realize that there truly is a dark side of technology today and that all those things have someone I admire in common. I fear that someday someone will write back to this time like we write about the Manhattan project.
At the same time, the only machine learning if that can be called that I’ve done is linear regression. Maybe I will change my tune once I struggle with debugging my own neural network.