Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Artificial Intelligence Nemesis

Image Source: thebodhitrees.

The creation of AI is a story of humanity. It will end where it begins, with a nemesis that will test humankind. This is because human beings grapple with inner knowing on ever more profound levels, driven by self-engineered crises.

Artificial Intelligence: The Nemesis in the Mirror

Anonymous - This Shocking Footage Should Worry You! (2018-2019) (13 January 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

AI is a big mirror. As Google's Cloud Lead Dr. Fei-Fei Li stated, AI began with the question, "Can machines think?" Engineers began building machines to mimic human thinking, to reason, see, hear, think, move around, manipulate. That was AI's foundational dream. In the 1980s, machine learning was born, followed by deep learning, which is rooted in neuroscience. This young discipline is set to explode, due to the exploitation of big data, harvested from around the globe. Thus, no matter how the machines end up evolving, it is worth asking now what we are doing with AI and why we doing it. There are unconscious human impulses that are informing AI design.

Find your museum Doppelgänger: some people have found themselves in paintings at art museums. Image Source: Kottke / My Modern Met / Davidurbon.

This mirror will test a psychological mode which human beings have used to build, change, create: the obsession with the nemesis, the other, the twin, the Doppelgänger.

The nemesis psychological complex works by externalizing something we cannot manage inside our own natures. Once the thing is externalized, we interact with it to create new ways of understanding and operating in the world. One of my posts, I Will Teach You Infinities, described how the nemesis complex informed the structure of language, because language progressively builds away from the starting point of selfhood, or 'I.'

One of the great examples in literature of a lover projecting his own life upon the beloved is Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) projecting upon Beatrice Portinari (1265-1290) in the famed works, La Vita Nuova (The New Life; 1295) and the Divine Comedy (1308-1320). From the pits of hell to the halls of heaven, Dante's lover sought to transcend the self, and the nemesis projection experience, transforming selfish love into sacred love. In real life, Dante only met Beatrice twice. But just with that, Beatrice changed Dante's life and world literature. Or was it all Dante's doing? In this painting, Dante meets Beatrice at Ponte Santa Trìnita, a bridge in Florence, Italy; the scene was inspired by La Vita Nuova (Beatrice is in white). Dante and Beatrice (1883; oil on cavnas); Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, UK. By Henry Holiday (1839-1927). Image Source: Wiki.

This watercolour painting is by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882): Dante drawing an Angel on the Anniversary of Beatrice's Death (1853; The Ashmolean, Oxford, UK). Image Source: Ashmolean Prints.

The nemesis coping mechanism can be positive or negative. Stripped of emotional flavour, the process by which the lover 'others' the beloved in Dante's sonnets oddly resembles the urge toward a competitor in sports; the enemy in war; or an 'othered' target of racism. The final lesson which the lover, the athlete, the soldier - and even the racist - must all learn is that the answer lies in their own internal resilience and growth, not in projecting one's love, power, or fears outside. One's greatest opponent is always oneself.

Bevan Docherty and Kris Gemmell of New Zealand, 2005 New Plymouth ITU World Cup triathlon: Bevan Docherty - Super-human Triathlon Sprint Finish (23 July 2007). Video Source: Youtube.

2010 FIFA World Cup Final: Iniesta goal in World Cup final. HD (3 June 2012). Video Source: Youtube.

Watch: violent clashes between supporters and protesters at Donald Trump rally in Chicago (12 March 2016). Video Source: Youtube.

Captured Islamic State camera shows footage of ISIL/Daesh fighters engaging with Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq: Footage from ISIL GoPro shows reality of combat in Iraq (29 April 2016). Video Source: EuroNews Youtube.

In the dualistic mindset, the nemesis has been a driving force of innovation and creativity. However, it is also bound up with triggered instincts and violence: survival; group behaviour and alienation; fear; competitiveness; hierarchy. It is interesting that our fixation on dualism is intrinsically bound to our ability to create or destroy in this way. Me and you. We and them. Inside and outside. Everything we do is dictated by polarities.

It is very difficult for humans to break the auto-programming and get out of binary thinking. Perhaps this is because our brain has two spheres, and sex is binary, and we are tool-using animals, so we see oppositions everywhere. We rarely contemplate the neuter option as an active agent, except in terms of the divine, or as chaos. The nemesis will remain one of the primary determinants of our species until we heal our addiction to the concept.

High technology - and especially AI as a super-technology - are means to achieving self-knowledge and self-expansion through dualism and associated innovations and conflicts. I think the real test we are setting up with the expansion of AI is not whether we can make a cool machine help us do things. I think we are testing ourselves, to see if we can finally create a nemesis which can help us heal the need to see our capabilities as something which must be externalized, directed, and controlled.

Artificial Intelligence and Global Security: A Classic Story?

In other words, human beings are as neurotic as they are ingenious. They are as troubled by their ability to shape nature as they are gifted with the spark of creation. Other species don't necessarily pair their primary mode of survival with a crisis of conscience and a feeling of unhealed separateness. Notice that ants are builders and tool-users, and they have no qualms about eating each other. I previously quoted ant expert Edward O. Wilson: "If ants had nuclear weapons, they would probably end the world in a week."

In another earlier post, I mentioned the 2000s' theory in international relations that global governance had become too complex for human beings to manage. In this view, AI is a godsend, a rational tool able to run a truly international system.

But would a conscious AI be rational or reasonable at this job? On 1 November 2017, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) held a series of talks about the future at the Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Summit in Washington, D.C. to consider the problem. The playlist is here.

The talks, from people working in government, academia, the Silicon Valley, and the US Military, involved themes drawn from the universal human story. We know the invention of AI is about us and not about the machines, because right away, the speakers' themes and expectations for the future featured classic narratives:
  • Dualism: the mind-body dilemma; otherness and sameness in the nemesis, the AI twin, the Doppelgänger
  • Ouroboros: the wheel, cycles to infinity, the snake eating its tail, the end is the beginning; AI will start where it began
  • PrometheusLucifer, or Satanrelated stories describe how humans try to steal powers of the gods, or try to become like God, and are punished for it
  • Icarus: technology takes us too far, too high, and we destroy ourselves
  • Tribalism: Competition between groups and nation-states. If we don't build AI, others will. This is inevitable, we must build this thing and make it the definitive tool of our group, even if it is dangerous. AI can be used to restrict and define membership in communities, both online and off. Belonging can be defined and redefined to configure societal power relationships. The commentators are aware that if you use AI to determine which groups are permitted to self-identify, you will control society, politics, and economics.
  • History as progress: there are so many possible benefits of AI (as proposed by Google's Eric Schmidt - and echoed by Google's top spokespeople, as here). It will revolutionize our lives with positive enhancements, such that all risks are secondary. But the assumption here is that AI can be controlled to serve 'history as progress,' and that AI will operate as our mechanical slave.
  • Hubris: dystopian warnings about progress. Automated systems will fail; and when they do, we won't be able to compensate for their AI-driven complexity. Or they will become self-aware and refuse to remain subservient slaves. Like Elon Musk, most people know something is wrong in this picture. AI's benefits will break down and lead to an out-of-control nightmare. This is what Eric Schmidt calls the negative movie version of AI.
  • The Logoshuman is God. In trying to imitate God, we will create something that will test the mettle of the human species. What if we invent something that surpasses all human capabilities: an immortal, anti-human predator? Will a race of machines turn us, the slavers, into slaves?
These stories may involve an unconscious reckoning with guilt about believing that we are the dominant species on this planet. A different way of expressing this idea is that we feel we are no longer one with animals, and are divorced from, or stand above, nature.

These themes suggest that the story of progress and innovation involves profound alienation. This is the core uncertainty of the human condition, because the impulse to instrumentalize, to use elements and living things as external means to our internal ends, is also a violation of the existence of those external elements and things.

External factors have their own integrity and as we exploit them, we force them into subjugated power relationships. This quandary rarely accounts for the fact that other species also use other things and creatures to survive as well. So are we still one with nature in ways that we do not fully understand? 

Can we create, build, and exploit without violating the laws of nature? This is the quandary embedded in the AI journey, and it is the larger reason why we are so interested in dualism and binaries. 

In my next post, Lessons from Building the Outer Brain, I will discuss the latest AI headlines. I will then relate these themes to conclusions at the CNAS summit regarding artificial intelligence and global security.

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