Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nova and AI Rough Draft

Final – AI and the Nova

While you read this, the sun is getting older (Lyotard 8). It is burning up its stores of energy until one day, some five billion years from now; there will be no more. The inevitable death of our sun brings forth the inevitable death of all life on earth and the death of all thought. Questions will also cease to exist. Not just simple yes or no questions, but also the answerless questions. The questions philosophers spend years of their lives thinking up the answer to. You have heard these questions before. One of them is, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Why answer this question? How will it further human advancement? Jean-Francois Lyotard states this claim in his essay, Can Thought go on without a Body. He believes there are more important things to dwell on such as what will happen to thought when the sun dies? Lyotard thinks we should focus more on this question then the previous questions, for “after the suns death, there won’t be a thought to know that its death took place (Lyotard 9).”

To focus on Lyotard’s goal of finding a way to continue human thought after the sun’s inevitable death will require us to examine what “thought” is. Next, we must look into artificial intelligence as a way of carrying and further developing human thought post suns death and materials that would be able to survive the death or technologies that will enable thought to outrun the effects of the cosmic death.

First, what is thought? Is it something we are capable of producing from birth? I mean is the ability to produce advance thought available at birth or does it need to be developed? Jean Piaget, a developmental theorist, believes cognitive abilities are developed and development can be recognized in four stages; sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational (Bertocci).

The first stage, sensorimotor, occurs between a child’s birth and about 2 years. These children experience the world through movement and their senses (Bertocci). Take for example a baby. If the baby is hungry, it cries. If it poops, it cries. They know when they want or need something, but they cannot express it like you or I can.

Next, a child is in the preoperational stage between the ages of about two and seven. Here, the child’s semiotic capabilities increase and rapid language development occurs (Bertocci). For example, are you thinking now as you read this essay or are you just reading? If you are just reading over this essay seeing letters and putting them together to form words, are you thinking? Surely you are. You may not remember it but letter recognition and reading was once a skill you had to learn. Through my three-year tenure at Jumpstart, a program working towards the day every child enters school prepared to succeed, I spent months, if not the whole year of being partnered with my preschool child working with him on letter recognition. Not even reading, just being able to look at a word, recognize and tell what the letters are that make that word up. It was a slow and arduous task, but necessary. Without being able to recognize letters a person would not be able to read or write.

The third stage, concrete operational, is existent in a child between the ages of seven to eleven years old. Here, cognitive development is at a point were conservation is acknowledged (Bertocci). No longer will a child put a quarter-sized blob of glue on paper to glue an elbow noodle. The child can also think logically about concrete events, conceptualize things like math with numbers but not items and can follow the trial and error approach to problem solving (Bertocci).

The final and most advanced stage of development is called formal operational. This stage encompasses most children and adults over the age of 11. Take note that not everyone is able to perform cognitive processes at the formal operational level. These processes consist of abstract thinking development such as hypothetico-deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, and deductive reasoning (Bertocci).

Here, I will discuss the formal operational as it connects to Lyotard. Basically discussing Lyotard’s She section.

Next will be a summary of AI. Stanford has a website that explains AI in laymens terms. A lot of this section will be dicussing AI in general. I found some research of artificial intelligence where it can recognize shapes and numbers. I will connect this project to Piaget’s developmental theory. My goal is to find a few more research projects to add in.

Once the AI is done I will talk about the hardware. I haven’t had a chance to do any research on this area yet, so I cant really describe what it will entail.

END/Conclusionary remarks

Now, I just spent ¬¬¬___?___ words describing why it is necessary to focus our energies not on answerless questions but on surviving or at least discovering a way to give our thoughts a chance at surviving the nova. But why did I waste my time, or your time in doing so? Some people think this concept of surviving the nova is a bunch of hogwash and unnecessary. They have a point. Who is to say we can, as a society, make it that far. I mean take a look at our struggle for energy. We go to wars because of it. Soon, if the predicted effects of global warming turn out to be true, we will be going to war over the basic building block of life, water. Also, look at where technology has gotten us. It has allowed for us to create the atom bomb, the abilities to create viruses and chemicals that can eradicate all life on earth. Lets not forget to mention man’s track record with sacrificing the rest of the world for individual benefits – our current economic crisis comes to mind.

Our outlook doesn’t look so good. Bill Joy says it best in his article, Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us. He says, “Our most powerful 21st-century technologies – robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech – are threatening to make humans an endangered species. His opinion is that we humans will create technology that will put humans in danger, maybe even extinct.

But that is a rather pessimistic outlook. Personally, I am a glass half full type of guy, not a glass half empty. So, lets examine the good that can come from continuing our thought. If we get to the point naturally, the way we are heading now, we may get there eventually. I mean we have almost five billion years left, right? Lets examine what has been done since the dawn of civilization -- Stonehenge and all of its predictive capabilities, the pyramids and modern day metropolises, suburban sprawl, indoor plumbing, electricity, televisions, internet, artificial intelligence, rockets, the International Space Station and landing on the moon. This list can go on forever. Just think, everything we humans are and created up to today have only really been in development for around five thousand years. We have at least four billion years until we face our inevitable doom. Think of what we can do!

Earth cannot be the only planet that life calls home. What if there were other planets, like us, who are having similar problems? Wouldn’t it be great if our thought machines reached those planets and helped the life forms inhabiting the planets advance to where we were when our sun died? Think of the possibilities then! Now, instead of just four billion years, the influence we as humans can have on other life forms is infinite!

I agree with Lyotard in that we should quit asking ourselves answerless questions. There is no point to them. They won’t get us anywhere or give us answers. All they do is provide entertainment for some, headaches for others, and mind training for deeper thought. So go look into how we can allow human thought to survive past our suns death. We may be able to influence other life forms or at least save some lives by allowing them to learn from our mistakes. History does repeat itself.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

Your introduction could be clearer. Lyotard is complicated and AI is complicated, but your idea is pretty straightforward: you are interested in how contemporary AI research can help us explore the literal possibility of Lyotard's vision. Putting this in a straightforward way would help the beginning of the paper greatly.

Beyond the introduction, I think your paper is quite well structured. Some of the details are off (you explain some of Bertocci's stages much better than others), and obviously most of the later details are missing, but the *shape* of the argument makes a great deal of sense to me. You introduce Lyotard, you define consciousness (that is, you phrase his philosophical problem in more material/scientific terms), analyze the possibility of AI capturing/creating consciousness, then return to the philosophical questions from a different angle. It makes a great deal of sense - the task is to pull off an adequate discussion of the problems over the next couple weeks. I think you can do it -- but you need to keep reminding yourself of what is important in your discussion, and not get lost in the interesting tangents which will inevitably arise.

I think clarifying the introduction, and laying out the structure of the argument in the introduction, will help you stay focused as you proceed.