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...


Simon Laub

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.


Simon Laub

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 wanted to
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 innermost feelings.
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 precision).
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 a worm....
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.
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.
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.

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 circumstances.
For the believer, their existential circumstances result form their intended creation as conscious beings.
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.

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.

Amazon: [1].


Simon Laub

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,
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.''


Simon Laub

Aloysius on religion, and more.

Very funny piece in AISB No. 134:

Aloysius Hacker answers your questions:
Dear Aloysius,
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 ''militant secularists''?
Yours, Seeker.

Dear Seeker,
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 simulation.
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.
Yours, Aloysius.
See the Simulation Argument for more.


Simon Laub

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 agency.
Some argue that these concepts evolved to maintain social order by minimizing anti social behaviour.
In the article I especially ''enjoyed'' the part where we were asked to consider the omniscient surveillance government NewLand:
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.
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.
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.

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.


Simon Laub


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