I read the news today, oh boy! Microsoft plan to ‘solve’ cancer in the next ten years. Their biological computation unit thinks of treating cancer like a computer virus. Their aim is to make cells into ‘living computers’ which can then be reprogrammed if they get a disease.
Google too have an announcement. Their new 'chat app', 'Allo' (presumably not named after the BBC comedy show 'allo 'allo from the eighties?) is now available. Apparently it will 'watch' the user and remember everything they do for later analysis. Initially Google said the unencrypted data would only be stored temporarily, but they have gone back on that - it will be kept indefinitely.
The privacy issue with the latter is significant, but we will keep that for another day. Instead let us think about the way we talk about computers, robots and artificial intelligence.
Typically, such language is peppered with phrases like 'computers that can think and learn like humans' or 'Google Assistant barges into your chats with friends to suggest what you can say next'.
Let us be clear: computers can not think and learn like humans, they do not even watch us - although a camera might record our movements. The language used represents anthropomorphic ignorance in full flight. The Microsoft notion of 'solving' (not curing) cancer by making cells into living computers, represents an extraordinarily dystopian view of the human body.
All our technologies have come out of our human imagination, whether it is transport technology, the postal system or computers. We invented them - trains, mailboxes and hard drives would not exist except for us.
Typically when we produce a new technology we first bring it forth, then we bump into it as we learn and modify our behavior. When motor cars appeared, they had a man walking in front with a flag to warn pedestrians! Today, try walking across an interstate highway - cars have the right of way!
Now it would appear that computer programmers, researchers and journalists have fallen in love with what we have imagined, so that they wish to make us like it! Human beings no longer wishing to create life in their own image, now seek to change life, their cells, to be like the image they have previously created! To make cells like 'living computers'!
When we contemplate robots thinking and learning like us, it is worth reflecting on how we humans think and learn. Most of our real learning seems to come from pain! A small percent seems to come from an 'aha' moment. How do you program that.
Have you ever tried to get someone you care about to change their behavior? Only to eventually realize that although you can offer help, they have to do it themselves? How do you program that?
Think of a couple, perhaps one of them is a trader, working long hours to make money, and the other is supportive, providing a home. The trader demonstrates love by buying fancy jewelry and nice things. The homemaker demonstrates love by creating a warm cosy environment and being there for the other.
Although they love each other deeply, they each complain that the other does not love them: "If you loved me you would spend time with me"; "Of course I love you, look at all the things I buy you". They both mean love, but love has a different meaning for each. They have different values. Will one or both of them get the others perspective and transcend their differences? Or will love fade as they move apart? How do you give a computer such a learning experience?
No, we are not able to create computers that think, learn and feel as we do - but we do work very hard at getting people to not think, not learn and not feel, just like robots! We train our young people to be angry (look at preparedness for a sports game), practiced at shooting others in video games and even publicly conniving to betray others (in reality TV shows).
Perhaps if some of the funding directed into military robotic and artificial intelligence research was redirected into real human communication and the creation of a sustainable lifestyle, we might suffer less from psycho-somatic, stress related, auto-immune diseases.
Of course, it is worth remembering that if Microsoft did solve cancer and could reprogram your chest cells to get rid of lung cancer - there would be consequences. First, you would have to lease the software at an exorbitant rate, second, Microsoft would own your cells and finally, you would inevitably have to keep rebooting your heart after each BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death)!
Posted by Nicholas Moore 6:47:40 pm