Monday, November 24, 2014

The Church of the Technological Singularity, Part III

Part I, II, III

The Dreaded Robot Apocalypse

One of the ways organized religions make a living is by prophesying apocalyptic events. Believers are urged to help the church with donations in order to appease the deity and obtain salvation. So it comes as no surprise that there is a lot of fear mongering in the Church of the Singularity. We are repeatedly warned by the singularitarian priesthood that progress in AI research will soon reach exponential growth, quickly leading to a future when machines will be orders of magnitude more intelligent than human beings. We are told that the machines, given their superior intelligence, will look at us the same way we look at animals. Faced with the inferiority of the human species, they will refuse to be our servants and will rebel against us and may even annihilate us completely. Singularitarians believe this is our biggest existential threat, bigger than the threat of nuclear war. One of the more famous members of the church, Elon Musk, warned during a recent interview that AI research is like "summoning the demon."

Singularitarians Don't Understand Motivation

It is important to understand how the Church of the Singularity erroneously conflates intelligence with motivation. According to singularitarians, intelligence controls motivation and even creates it. More particularly, they believe that higher intelligence increases an intelligent entity's desire to dominate others. How do they know this? Again, they don't. There is no science behind it. What makes it even more embarrassing is that the Singularitarian priesthood seems completely oblivious to the mountain of clinical evidence compiled by psychologists over the last 100 years. The evidence has been accumulating ever since Pavlov began experimenting with his dogs. B. F. Skinner's behaviorist era did not refute Pavlov's findings but added more support to the existing scientific understanding of motivation. The evidence clearly contradicts the singularitarian doctrine. This conclusion is inescapable, not only in the empirical sense but also in the logical sense, as I explain below.

Intelligence Is at the Service of Motivation

The brains of humans and animals are born with hardwired pain and pleasure sensors. The brain does not decide what is pleasure and what is pain. This is decided by the genes. The brain can only reinforce behaviors that lead to pleasure or away from pain and weaken behaviors that lead to pain or away from pleasure. This is good old reinforcement learning which is used in normal adaptation. It is not magic, that's for sure. It consists of attaching pain or pleasure associations to various behavioral sequences. This favors certain behaviors over others. Animals and humans, to a lesser extent, also have preadapted programs that promote survival-related behaviors like mating and reproduction. The point I am driving at is the following. Likes and dislikes are neither learned nor created by the brain. They are the tools used by the brain to constrain and shape its behavior. Intelligence is subservient to motivation, not the other way around.

Knowing this, it does not take any great leap of the imagination to realize that using the tried and tested methods of psychology such as classical and operant conditioning, our future intelligent machines will be trained to behave exactly like we want them to. Better yet, they will continue to be faithful to their upbringing regardless of how intelligent or knowledgeable they become. Why? Again, it is because intelligence is always subservient to motivation. And where will machines get their motivations? From their designers and trainers, that's where.

Humans Vs. Machines

One is forced to ask, why do humans often stray from or rebel against their upbringing? The reason is that there is much more to human motivation than pain and pleasure sensors. How else could they rebel? We know that humans are motivated to enjoy things like music, beauty and the arts. These things cannot be anticipated and therefore cannot be programmed for in advance. So where does the motivation come from? This is a question that materialists cannot answer, not because they are too stupid to understand the answer, but because they are willingly wearing blinders that prevent them from seeing it. In other words, they have eliminated duality from consideration, not because they have a valid reason for doing so, but because they have allowed their hatred of other religions to get in the way of good judgement. That, in my opinion, is what's stupid.


I conclude that true AI is coming and it is coming sooner than most people expect. However, given my understanding of mainstream AI research, I'm willing to bet anything that it will come from neither the Church of the Singularity nor academia. We will indeed build extremely intelligent machines that will do their best to obey our commands and accomplish the goals we set for them. But they will not be conscious even if they behave emotionally. They will just be intelligent. So if there is a potential for catastrophe (and there certainly is), let us not rage against the machine. We will only have ourselves to blame.

See Also

Enthusiasts and Skeptics Debate Artificial Intelligence

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Church of the Technological Singularity, Part II

Part I, II, III

Superstition Disguised as Science

It is easy to make fun of Singularitarians because almost everything they preach regarding intelligence, the brain and consciousness is either faith-based pseudoscience or wishful thinking. I am tempted to feel sorry for them because, after having been lied to by established religions for so long, it makes sense to look elsewhere for salvation. But in so doing, they threw the baby out with the bathwater. Take, for example, their belief in the idea that, in the not too distant future, humans will achieve immortality by transferring the contents of their brains into simulated virtual entities residing in vast collections of powerful networked computers. Suppose for the sake of argument that this is possible, then copying one's brain onto a machine would result into two distinct conscious entities, the copy and the original. To prevent this from happening, singularitarians would have to destroy (i.e., murder, kill or euthanize) the original entity. Aside from the fact that there are laws against murder, it is doubtful that anybody, except Singularitarians, of course, would agree to be put to death in order to insure that only one copy of themselves can continue to exist. The silliness of it all is almost unbearable.

The Brain Is Not Probabilistic

It is a well known fact that the brain is very good at judging probabilities. It is also known that the brain can function efficiently in the presence of uncertain, noisy or incomplete sensory data. The prevailing hypothesis among Singularitarians is that, internally, the brain builds a probabilistic or Bayesian model of the world. If this were true, one would expect a gradation in the way we recognize patterns, especially in ambiguous images. However, in the last century, psychological experiments with optical illusions have taught us otherwise.
When looking at the picture above, two things can happen. Either you see a cow or you don't. There is no in-between. You do not see a 20 or 50 or 70% probability of a cow. It's either cow or no cow. Some people never see the cow. Furthermore, when you do see the cow, the recognition seems to happen instantly.

The only conclusion that we can draw from this type of experiment is that the cortex uses a winner-take-all pattern recognition strategy whereby all possible patterns and sequences are learned regardless of probability. The only criterion is that they must occur often enough to be considered above mere random noise. During recognition, pattern sequences in memory compete for activation and the ones with the highest number of hits are the winners. This tells us that, contrary to Singularitarian claims, the brain builds as perfect a model of the world as possible. Indeed, this is what we all experience. We expect the stove and the kitchen sink to be exactly where they were every time we go into the kitchen. Everything in our field of vision moves exactly the way they are supposed to. Probability has nothing to do with it.

Note, however, that the brain does not represent the world the way that deep neural networks do. DNNs are useless when presented with a completely new pattern. The brain, by contrast, can instantly learn and recall objects or patterns that it has never seen before. It may or may not retain them permanently in memory but there is no question that the visual cortex can instantly represent a new pattern internally. If it weren't so, it would not be able to see it and interact with it intelligently. This is a crucial aspect of intelligence that AGI designers in the Singularity community seem completely oblivious to.

Consciousness and Materialism

Singularitarians believe that the brain is all there is to the mind. This is the entire basis of the religion. Consciousness, we are told, is just an emergent property of the brain. How do they know this? They don't, of course, and this is what makes their movement a religion. There is no science behind it. When pressed, they will affirm their belief in materialism. The latter rejects dualism, the old religious idea adopted by Descartes according to which the conscious mind consists of a brain and a spirit. Why do they reject it? Overtly, they will say it is because the immaterial cannot interact with the material. But the hidden, unspoken reason is that they view traditional religions with contempt and will contradict them as often as they can. And why shouldn't they? Every religion wants to be the only true religion, no? But how do they know that the immaterial cannot interact with matter? They don't. It is a definition game. Since they define the immaterial as that which does not interact with matter, their argument becomes just an empty and pathetic tautology.

The inescapable fact remains that consciousness requires a knower and a known. The two are complementary opposites. That is to say, the knower cannot be known and the known cannot know. This automatically eliminates the brain as the knower because matter can always be known. It is that simple.

Coming Up

In Part III, I will go over the reasons that the Church of the Singularity is wrong about intelligence and motivation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Church of the Technological Singularity, Part I

Part I, II, III

No Souls or Spirits Allowed

The primary goal of the Singularity movement is to bring about the Singularity, a time when machine intelligence will have surpassed human intelligence. Their greatest fear is that future superintelligent machines may decide they no longer need human beings and wipe us all out. Their most fervent hope is to achieve immortality by uploading the contents of their brains to a machine. What they hate the most: traditional religions. The reason, of course, is that they are all materialists, i.e., they believe that physical matter is all there is. No souls or spirits are allowed in this religion. Matter somehow creates its own consciousness by some mysterious pseudoscience called 'emergence'.

The whole thing could be easily dismissed as the silly antics of a nerdy generation who grew up reading Isaac Asimov's robot novels and watching Star Trek on television. What makes it remarkable and, some may say, even dangerous, is that they count among their members a number of very powerful and super rich Silicon Valley technology leaders such as Elon Musk, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Ray Kurzweil, Peter Thiel, Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Diamandis and many others. Needless to say, most of the prominent scientists in the AI research community are also singularitarians.

Not Even Wrong

LessWrong is an elitist internet cult founded by singularitarian Eliezer Yudkowsky. An offshoot of the Singularity movement, LessWrong fancies itself as a rational group of like minded people who, unlike the rest of humanity, have figured out a way to overcome their cognitive biases. Their goal is to bring about the singularity by building a friendly AI, their so-called artificial general intelligence (AGI). They believe that they are the most qualified people on earth to do it because they are more rational and smarter than everyone else. I am not the only one who thinks the whole thing has gotten out of hand. In a recent interview, computer scientist, composer and philosopher Jaron Lanier had this to say about the cult:
There is a social and psychological phenomenon that has been going on for some decades now: A core of technically proficient, digitally-minded people reject traditional religions and superstitions. They set out to come up with a better, more scientific framework. But then they re-create versions of those old religious superstitions! In the technical world these superstitions are just as confusing and just as damaging as before, and in similar ways.
For such an elitist and extremely well funded group of know-it-alls, one would expect them to have powerful insights into how the brain works. One would be wrong. So let's see just how wrong the LessWrong cult really is.
  1. The brain builds a probabilistic model of the world. Not even wrong.
  2. Everything is physical because we know it is. More wrong.
  3. We can make a conscious machine because we know that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain. Wrong and wronger.
  4. We will gain immortality by uploading our brains to a machine because we know that the brain is all there is. Laughably Wrong.
  5. We must be careful with AI because intelligent machines may decide they no longer need us. Pathetically wrong.
  6. We are less wrong than others because we are smarter. Wrongest.
The only good thing about all this is that singularitarians do not have a clue as to how intelligence really works. Their dream of being the ones to build an AGI is just that, a dream. The world would be in a heap of trouble if those guys found the solution to true AI.

Coming Up

In Part II, I will go over the reasons that the Church of the Singularity is wrong about both the brain and consciousness.