In cyberspace (2013 and beyond), Silicon Sirens might try to crash and drown us.
In pretty much the same way as Homers sirens tried to drown Ulysses.
It is not all bad though... Certainly, it has lead J.E. Tardy to some pretty interesting
observations about building a Conscious Machine...
Still, it might be difficult not to listen to the sirens.
Deciding what should be in, and what should be out of consciousness must be
a rather complex task (for the brain)... See Brain-chat and the Global Workspace Theory.
Indeed, with sirens everywhere, keeping our (mental and social) world on track was never easy...
See Aloysius on religion and Religion and the social order...
Chatty Silicon Sirens.
Apparently, we might soon (late 2012 and beyond) meet an army of (deceptive) chatbots on the internet...
These deceptibots will lurk in social networks, messaging apps and webmail. And
it is expected that in some chatrooms they will soon outnumber humans.
According to a report in NewScientist (June 23rd 2012) the internet has led to a
step-change in chatbot ability. Self-learning programs are fed by millions
of internet users. New bots that are monitoring and mirroring what people say
to them online.
And, as a result, some of these (chat)bots are actually getting pretty good. E.g. see chatbots.
And obviously, as a technology gets better and cheaper, it is co-opted by criminals.
So, according to NewScientist, we should now prepare for a coming army of deceptibots, send out to defraud us ...
Ohh well, Silicon Sirens ... why not :-)
More about chatbots at the Loebner prize page.
The Creation of a Conscious Machine.
Ulysses and the Sirens - And why we cannot always trust ourselves.
Amazon review (4 stars out of 5)
of J.E.Tardy's book ''The Creation of a Conscious Machine''.
August 26th, 2012 by Simon Laub.
Sailing can be dangerous. Perils Homers Ulysses knew all about:
On one particular island sirens would sing so beautifully that
all those who heard this would become possessed,
turning their boats
towards the island, crashing and drowning on its shores.
So, Ulysses had his men tie him to the mast of his ship as they rowed past,
and fill their own ears with wax
to block out the song.
Sure enough, when they sailed past Ulysses heard the song and desperatley
go to the island, but his men, as ordered, did not let him down.
And so they all survived the sirens.
According to Tardy, Homers story tells us that sometimes we can't trust our
Sometimes we need mechanisms to circumvent our own
behavioural imperatives and produce alternate behavior.
One mechanism to help us with all of this could be consciousness.
And in order to understand ourselves better, it would be nice if
we could describe consciousness (to the level of programmable
This, however is not so easy. In the early days of artificial intelligence
people were convinced that conscious machines were just around the corner.
Now, people are sometimes quite pleased with mimicking the intelligence of
And a lot of fear is also holding us back. Fear that knowing about
conscious machines might not be such a good idea after all....
Blasphemous, immoral and dangerous?
Refreshingly, Tardy takes the opposite view. And says that blashemy
comes from those who thinks our work could actually surpass God's work.
Man was given complete dominion over the world. Our destiny
is to seek the truth about ourselves and the reality that surrounds us.
A wonderful quote that certainly helps us set sail (to use another maritime
metaphor). Obviously, understanding does not diminish the human in
true spiritual dimensions. It is part of human destiny.
We were not placed in this world to build walls
to protect our self-esteem.
If... we confirm our status as creatures, it would surely be
humbling, but also, another step on the road to wisdom.
Sure, even for humans it is easy to be dull, with predictable behaviour,
never changing fundamental motivations and with a lack empathy for others. So, imagine a conscious
machine that is the opposite: Witty, independent, self-aware, self-improving and compassionate.
Surely, this would change society!
Tardy also has some brilliant comments about the Turing Test,
and whether it actually helps us to identify conscious things. Is it really
enough to sit in front of a Tv screen and receive as little as 36.000 bytes
from someone, to be convinced that they are conscious? In Tardys view:
It is technically possible, today, to develop a system capable of passing the
Turing test. The primary obstacle is no longer technical; it is financial.
Here, Tardy also gives some interesting points about perceived intelligence vs.
internal intelligence. Leading up to comments about group and social intelligence.
Tardy thinks the human brain and its functioning is just one source
among others for building conscious machines. Which is probably right. Nevertheless,
as humans, it does seem the most interesting object in the world, which I think
he downplays somewhat in the book. On the other hand, there are many (brilliant) quotes on consciousness and religion, which other, more fearful, authors mights have downplayed:
For the atheist, humans are conscious as a result of their existential
It might be a relatively small book, but in the end you were happy to have read
it. And are now a little bit better prepared to continue the voyage out to understand
what mind and consciousness is all about.
For the believer, their existential circumstances result form their
intended creation as conscious beings.
Btw. I got this letter from J.E. Tardy himself, as I started out reading the book:
Indeed, a big thing, the creation of a conscious machine
Brain Chat and Global Workspace Theory.
According to a (March 20, 2010) NewScientist article, ''Brain Chat'' (about: Global Workspace Theory),
consciousness is all about getting enough of the right brain cells to
talk about the same thing.
According to Wikipedia:
The easiest way to think about GWT is in terms of a ''theater metaphor.''
In the ''theater of consciousness'' a ''spotlight of selective attention'' shines a bright spot on stage.
The bright spot reveals the contents of consciousness, actors moving in and out, making speeches or interacting with each other.
Behind the scenes, also in the dark, are the director (executive processes), stage hands, script writers, scene designers and the like.
They shape the visible activities in the bright spot, but are themselves invisible. Baars argues that this is distinct from the concept
of the Cartesian theater, since it is not based on the implicit dualistic assumption of ''someone'' viewing the theater.
And is not located in a single place in the mind.
GWT was introduced in 1983 by Bernard Baars (Neuroscience Institute, San Diego):
He proposed that non-conscious experiences are processed locally
within separate regions of the brain,
According to NewScientist, lack of compelling evidence
left the theory languishing on the shelf for years, until
Stanislas Dehaene of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research
and his team updated the theory with the latest findings on the brain's wiring:
like the visual cortex.
According to this theory,
we only become conscious of this information,
if these signals are
broadcast to an assembly of neurons distributed across many different
regions of the brain
- the ''global workspace'' - which then reverberates
in a flash of coordinated activity.
The result is a mental interpretation
of the world that has integrated all the senses into a single picture,
while filtering out conflicting pieces of information.
Conscious perception does coincide with a burst of activity in
some of the regions implicated in (a version of) the GW model, spanning
the frontal, parietal and temporal brain regions.
What's more, the researchers again found a 300 ms delay between
presenting the stimuli and witnessing the explosion of neural activity.
This 300 ms delay is one of the theory's key predictions, since you would
expect any signals to take a while, relatively speaking, to
reach the different parts of of the global workspace, before we
are fully aware of perceiving something.
// Bioengineer Rodrigo Quiroga has done work with certain medial temporal lobe neurons:
Some of these neurons fired about 300 ms after a target stimulus (that eventually became conscious). The
same neurons never fired at that late stage when the stimulus was
processed non-consciously. //
In patients with brain damage to their prefrontal cortex (disrupting
the long-distance connectivity in the global workspace) it takes
a longer time to become conscious of a certain stimulus.
Which makes sense, as the information now has to find its
way through alternative, longer routes.
Certain regions of the brain's global workspace, dubbed
the default mode network (DMN), are active even when we are resting
and not concentrating on any particular task.
So, there is more to learn... like, certainly, the brain must have the ability
to prevent conflicting messages from separate regions of the brains
from being broadcast to the global workspace, as this would confuse
our picture of the world.
Here, it has been found, that the activity of the DMN
dropped exponentially starting with healthy volunteers right down to those
in a vegative state.
We still don't know the exact chain of activity within the global workspace,
or what information the brain regions are communicating to each other....
These neurons are electrical units in a chemical soup, and we
have not yet decoded their language.
And, yes, experiments like the so-called binocular rivalry experiment does
provide good evidence that the brain does indeed actively select,
which information to send to our consciousness.
Indeed, a brilliant article!
With a lot of intriguing information. And a lot of questions still unanswered...
E.g. I am wondering how this relates to Tononis integrated information theory of consciousness,
where ''The unified nature of consciousness stems from a multitude of interactions
among relevant parts of the brain.''
Aloysius on religion, and more.
Very funny piece in AISB No. 134:
Aloysius Hacker answers your questions:
See the Simulation Argument for more.
As a long-standing member of the UK's religious community, can you
tell us please whether you agree with Baroness Warsi's attack on
Ours is a scientific religion, whose dogma we expect to
be confirmed by experiment. If, as we believe, we are all
agents in a massive computer simulation, then this truth will
be uncovered by the inevitable discovery of bugs in the
Those interested to take part can, for a modest investment,
obtain our CREATION (Computational Representation of
Everything in an All-Powerful Tool to Implement Omnipotence
in your Name) simulation kit.
We also hope that this will provide insights into the kinds
of bugs we might identify in the real creation.
Religion and the social order.
In Cognitive Science 36 (2012) 846-869 there is an article with the rather intriguing title ''What does G*d Know? Supernatural Agents' Access to Socially Strategic and Non-Strategic Information'' by
Benjamin Purzycki, Daniel N. Finkel, John Shaver, Nathan Wales, Adam B. Cohen and Richard Sosis (Department of
Anthropology, University of Connecticut and Department of Psychology, Arizona State University).
In the introduction one reads:
The most prominent cognitive theories of religion have argued that belief
in supernatural agents represents an overuse of cognitive mechanisms
devoted to everyday social processes like theory of mind and perception of
In the article I especially ''enjoyed'' the part where we were asked to consider the omniscient surveillance government NewLand:
Some argue that these concepts evolved to maintain social order by minimizing
anti social behaviour.
Newland is akin to some conceptions of gods insofar as it is omniscient, moralistic,
and equipped with the capacity to punish and reward people, but it is not supernatural.
Indeed, funny how concepts of heaven in the hands of people (easily) can lead to (with the slightest misuse of power)
hell on Earth...
In the conclusion one reads:
Findings are consistent with claims by cognitive scientists of religion that
supernatural agent belief merge from the same cognitive mechanisms that produce
all social cognition.
Interestingly, while some people claim to believe in an omniscient and omnipotent
supernatural agent, in real time they often maintain theologically incorrect
versions of belief that place anthropomorphic limits on these agents.
Our results are consistent with the ''super natural punishment hypothesis'', which maintains
that belief in supernatural sanctions evolved to promote cooperation
and inhibit impulsive self-interested behaviour.
Certainly, it is not all that surprising that models of the world are made in peoples mind,
and that these models can be more or less sophisticated...
It is that thing with Umwelt and Umgebung: We live in a world that is restricted by our senses and cognition.
I.e. (according to the german biologist von Uexkull) our senses gives us a Umwelt (the environment, surrounding world) to live in
- Whereas the bigger reality out there is the Umgebung. Something we know very little about (What it is, and how it works).
See Incognito for more.