Mind Matters is a podcast and a news and commentary site where “artificial and natural intelligence meet head-on.” That’s a great slogan, but what does it mean? As your host for the podcast part of the site, I thought I’d take advantage of my role to talk you about some of our exciting plans for both the podcast and the online journal (the latter to be edited by science journalist Denyse O’Leary). Here’s a quick run-down:
Mind Matters will track the latest developments in applied AI and technology. How will AI continue to augment human performance and abilities? What are the latest innovations of AI? And how does AI affect you? How is AI applied in pricing your admission cost to see the Dallas Cowboys, and even opera tickets? How does creativity, only available from humans, affect entrepreneurism, and the free market? Will the same block chains used in BitCoin decimate the need for bankers and title companies? Will Google’s Alpha Go (written to beat the best Go players in the world) ever become self-aware and take over the world?
There’s lots of AI news on the web. Some of it is garbage and inexcusable hyperbole. So how do we detect fake news about AI? We discuss useful filters to do just that.
Keeping up on these and similar matters is a goal of Mind Matters.
Experimental and theoretical identification of the differences between AI and human intelligence need to be explored. Cars are faster than me. There is no doubt that computers add numbers faster than me. But are there things a human can do that a computer will never be able to do? Absolutely. There are the obvious differences. Computers will never be spiritual. Nor, unless programmed to appear otherwise, computers will never by themselves display compassion, love, or distress.
Emo Phillips quips that his laptop always beats him at chess, but he has yet to loose in a spirited game of kick boxing.
Speaking of chess: Over 20 years ago, world champion Gary Kasparov was beaten in chess by an IBM computer program named Deep Blue. AI has improved a lot since then, but a column in Time Magazine by David Gelernter still captures a fundamental difference between AI and humans. Gelernter wrote:
the idea that Deep Blue has a mind is absurd. How can an object that wants nothing, fears nothing, enjoys nothing, needs nothing and cares about nothing have a mind? It can win at chess, but not because it wants to. It isn’t happy when it wins or sad when it loses… Is it hoping to take Deep Pink out for a night on the town? It doesn’t care about chess or anything else. It plays the game for the same reason a calculator adds or a toaster toasts: because it is a machine designed for that purpose.
Chess AI has improved a lot since Deep Blue. AlphaZero claims to have achieved superhuman chess abilities after 24 hours of playing chess with itself. Nevertheless, Gelernter’s comments still apply.[i]
There is a lot of work published on artificial intelligence and consciousness. I think I understand the term consciousness as used in the literature; but at the end of the day, I can only vouch for my own consciousness. At least, I’m pretty sure I’m conscious. I think people I’m with are conscious but really can’t say for sure. A lot depends on how you define consciousness. We’ll try to make sure on Mind Matters that terms are defined before they are discussed. Consciousness, for example, is defined in the dictionary as being aware of your surroundings. A robot with environmental sensors is conscious by this definition. In our discussions, the topic of AI consciousness is way beyond this.
The most testable difference between human and artificial intelligence I know of is creativity. The brilliant physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose has written books on the topic. The current CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella states creativity will remain exclusively in the domain of programmers. If AI seems creative, it’s only because any creative flash of genius it produces has been preprogrammed into the software. This includes AI that continuously learns from the environment. We explore this and other ways humans are better than computers on Mind Matters.
Mind Matters will also explore human flourishing in the light of technology and AI. In developed countries like the United States, AI has replaced the travel agent, Amazon is closing brick and mortar stores by the hundreds, and taxi drivers may soon become extinct. They are the victims of Uber, Lyft, and the free market’s survival of the fittest principle. Then, there are serious vocational AI concerns of the future. What about self-driving vehicles replacing truck drivers and robots that might make the factory worker extinct. What should we expect? Is there a way to train the workforce of the future to meet these changes? We will talk to experts about such human flourishing issues on Mind Matters.
And there is a related question about the effect of AI and technology in developing countries.
Cellphones seem to be helping certain developing countries. Malawi is the poster country for how cellphones can impact the economy of a developing country. Should we therefore shower developing countries with the latest technology? Maybe.
But what developing countries need more is appropriate technology. Developing countries don’t need a faster computer, they need technology appropriate for their needs. We’ll be talking to practitioners of appropriate technology who are making a difference in developing countries. Related to appropriate technology is sustainable technology where, instead of being given a fish, developing country nationals are taught how to fish. They are helped to establish and run flourishing companies ideally built on locally available natural resources. Mind Matters is a production of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence. Among his numerous impressive accomplishments, Walter Bradley, the Center’s namesake, helped nationals in third world countries found and operate a thriving enterprise using coconuts.
Philosopher Ravi Zacharias says even more is needed. He is concerned about sterile technological development in isolation. Without social, ethical and spiritual considerations, Zacharias says of both developing and undeveloped nations that
“All we have done is being more sophisticated in the way we are destroying … culture.”
Today’s journalism and opinion pieces are biased toward this or that ideology. Like Zacharias, I am a Christian and, since I will be hosting most of the episodes, Mind Matters will approach topics from a distinct Judeo-Christian perspective. God-of-the-Gaps and Science-of-the-Gaps positioning is fun to talk about, but rarely brings true insight other than ideological justification and posturing. Some might say a Judeo-Christian perspective narrows discussion. They are wrong. The opposite is true. A broader perspective results than if we limit ourselves to a totally materialistic ideology.
Mind Matters will bring natural and artificial intelligence head to head in the areas of research, application, and education. I hope you have as much fun reading and listening on our site as Denyse and I have creating content for it.
Be sure to listen to the first episode of the Mind Matters podcast on Thursday, July 12!