The Trouble with Gerrold: Artificial stupidity

David Gerrold
April 6, 2012 —  (Page 3 of 3)

True intelligence—sentience—has to be self-informing. It has to have the ability to learn. It needs to be able to recognize and adjust to circumstances not hardwired in. It would be able to model new patterns of information as it encountered them and consider the consequences of various actions. So that’s the next piece of the puzzle: the ability to create appropriate responses to unfamiliar situations.

When we see dolphins create new hunting patterns to catch fish in shallow waters, or chimps using sticks as tools to pry termites out of nests, when we see squirrels running obstacle courses to get to the bird feeder, and ants finding new routes to an unrinsed soda can, we are seeing how intelligence functions in practice: “I’m hungry, here’s food. I’ll try this and see if it gets me food.”

Indeed, this may be the evolutionary source of intelligence. Dr. Jack Cohen, a British biologist who informs the work of many science fiction writers, including Terry Pratchett and Anne McCaffrey (and myself), says that “Intelligence arises first in predators, because how smart do you have to be to sneak up on a blade of grass?” As predators become smarter, prey animals must develop stronger defenses, thus an evolutionary arms race is born. As intelligence develops, it becomes an evolutionary advantage.

The roots of language can be found in all the different calls that penguins and whales and cats and apes use to communicate with each other. At some point in the evolutionary history of our species, language and the resultant symbology achieved a critical threshold, an ability in the species to store and communicate experience. The result was that functioning intelligence hit a critical mass and our species became something else entirely: cognitive.

Some anthropologists believe that the tipping point occurred when primitive humans began burying their dead with weapons and pottery and trinkets. A burial suggests a ritual, and a ritual suggests a recognition of the personhood of the deceased. This certainly fits in with current theories that true intelligence—sentience—requires self-awareness. Not just awareness of one’s own self, but also awareness of the self-ness of others.

We see it in elephants and dolphins and dogs. We call it empathy. It’s a recognition of other people’s ability to hurt. (Autism is a kind of emotional blindness to the self-ness of others. While many autistic people have enormous cognitive ability—what we call “savants”—their ability to function is impaired by their inability to empathize with the feelings of others.)

Self-awareness as a philosophical construct is often summed up as cogito ergo sum: “I think, therefore I am.” More recent philosophers are unwilling to put Descartes before the horse. Many feel it’s more appropriate to say, “I think I think, therefore I think I am. I think.” That is, we have thoughts, but are we really thinking or are we just having thoughts? (Yes, I know. That one makes my brain hurt too.)

A key component of self-awareness is self-image. As a sentient being becomes aware of himself as an actor within his circumstances, he also creates an idealized image, a model of how a good person should behave. And this may be the heart of all neuroses. The human being worries, “Am I good person? Did I do right?” Dogs, cows, elephants and sea otters do not.

The point is that as we open the Pandora’s box of synthesizing intelligence, we are going to be dealing with some very interesting artifacts: unintended and unforeseen consequences, not the least of which is that as awareness grows, so does identity, and with identity comes the need to survive, and that triggers the development of emotions and all the attendant mishigoss that comes with emotions.

Marvin the Paranoid Android might be inevitable.

David Gerrold is the author of over 50 books, several hundred articles and columns, and over a dozen television episodes, including the famous "Star Trek" episode, "The Trouble with Tribbles." He is also an authority on computer software and programming, and takes a broad view of the evolution of advanced technologies. Readers may remember Gerrold from the Computer Language Magazine forum on CompuServe, where he was a frequent and prolific contributor in the 1990s.

Related Search Term(s): artificial intelligence

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04/09/2012 03:33:05 PM EST

I have long espoused the need for 'Artifical Stupidity'. The applications for A.S. are both immediate and highly productive. Consider the need to thoroughly test and indemnify a new product. Using advanced A.S., all of the stupid, illogical, dangerous, ill-considered, and just flat wrong ways can be found and executed. What about applying A.S. to every newly proposed legislation, regulation, or bill, as a way to discover effects of 'The Law of Unintended Consequences'. Carter Shore

United StatesCarter Shore

04/10/2012 09:34:08 PM EST

Personally I think it is OK for people to enjoy themselves on sites such as Facebook and other fun sites. It does not mean that they are of low intelligence. I have been developing software for over 20+ years, I know about 13 or so software languages and do this professionally. I also enjoy Facebook, for it gives me a chance to speak with my relatives around the country who are all very intelligent and who work in all facets of this life, and get to know people from around the world. Everyone is entitled to ones own opinion, but I do not agree with name calling or judging. I thought that when I was going to read this article it would be an interesting article like I would find on Tedtalk. I have been studying the art of artificial intelligence for years and admire how far the technology has come. I guess you could say that I agree to disagree with most of what was stated in this article.

United StatesChristopher

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