re: the philosophy and the reality of learning and complexity (machine, artificial, real or otherwise)

recently I’ve had several thought provoking conversations with trusted cohorts and friends about AI, tech, complexity and society. One such conversation pushed me into emailing some thoughts. My email seemed a sufficiently useful condensation of my evolving thoughts so maybe it’s reasonable to share them wider for further discussion

Beyond my own life-long interests in the topics I am also a core member of the team and engaging EVERYONE about these things is foundational to anything we do. I hope you read and engage. We are all part of the same world.

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what are the possibilities for expressive, shared consequences computing?

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Hey guys,

I am so delighted by the thoughtful questions you clearly talked through together re: and the simulated possibility you went through in asking “what if they actually get this to scale?”

In math, we call this an Existence Theorem. That is, one assumes something to exist and then works hard to figure out all the implications and any possible paths to this justify this imagined object (theorem) being real and true. Obviously, religion, philosophy (moral, analytical, ethical), economics, and politics all go through these exercises as well. And any teacher worth their Socratic calling card does too.

The ultimate question to me — the Existence Theorem Of Most Importance, i do believe is… if we could teach children anything, what should we teach them? what am I, a person with an opportunity to teach, willing to take responsibility for once it is taught? and then a follow on… what are the actual possibilities for teaching them this stuff that should be taught (how, when, how much)? This is an incredibly hard question(s) that for the most part goes unasked and totally unanswered, even in places you expect it would be asked endlessly — academia and primary education.

Instead we, as adults and educators and technicians and plumbers of media, mostly assume the received opinion of the well intentioned past, with all those legends who fought hard for education and curriculum and so on, and all the “optimizations” of education honed on justice and liberty for all… we assume that a STEM + arts, or STEAM, + literacy + good grammar and a little character building according to expert studies on leveling/proficiency/mastery all point to something we can keep building from. Surely we wouldn’t be here in this age of technical wonder and growing equality if we weren’t on the right path? or at least a best possible path all things considered?

And yet… here we are, a globe full of intelligent, sentient humans staring at the undeniable facts of an already Changed Climate — the largest set of data ever available and apparent to the human animal. A world of computing and sensory technology for the capture and analysis of endless signal and data… haven’t been able to even make a noticeable dent in the awareness of even a tiny fraction of intelligent beings staring blankly at their own existential crisis. Signal as large as an entire ice continent melting in a day hasn’t registered in all these intelligence networks as a signal worth attending to. If climate change seems too hard, too big, too existentially tough to consider as a clear failure of educational pedagogy we can look at examples of how Harvey Weinstein openly abused power for decades or how Jeff Epstein with the paragons of the Latest in Humankind Improving Tech, MIT Media Lab, was able to openly spend his funds on reputation to hide his dark money and sex crime rings. We can point to the failure of journalism schools to produce a generation (the gen before this current gen) of journalists with enough adaptive skills capable of anticipating and effectively using the internet some 50 years after it became clear We Were In A New Era.

Or perhaps, most obviously damning to our failure (and our technology’s failure) to ask What Should We Be Teaching Each Other, just look at the cost of education…. how in the era of open internets, wikipedias, free software, open source operating systems, a world of 2–7 billion humans 1 degree removed connected from each other digitally… does education skyrocket in cost beyond almost any other cost in the developed world? how with all the ways to freely increase your capacity as a human laborer is the wage/wealth inequality at historical levels? how in a world of such increasing awareness are so many kids considering suicide? why, in this era of endless possibilities, are so many western societies seeing life expectancy decline?

a simple response, from my perspective: we think computers can be programmed reliably.

the enlightenment (a long long stretch of contingencies) gave us many great things, but it also poisoned us with the idea that the world (and our bodies, nature and thus our computers) could be understood as and are, in fact, deterministic machines. the scientific method has been so wildly useful we assume its simplistic grade school format is how all truth and facts become elucidated. We Can Know, We Will Know!

Biggie Point: AI, as most commonly conceived, is not possible because Intelligence, as most commonly conceived, is not real. We have grown so obsessed with Prediction and Control that we think this idea of Intelligence, lacking any functional definition, is nonetheless real and important and achievable. We Can Know, We Will Know! Technology Will Always Advance! We have gotten so crazed we actually have fears that intelligence can be programmed while at the same time will easily admit we can’t get our children to do what we ask much less keep our computers from crashing using MS Word. What exactly is our fear then, in the face of this obvious absurd situation?

I will pause here with that and direct you to a 3 part series of essays (that I have more parts coming soonish) that continues to add a little meat to this line of questioning: .

What to Do? What Should We Teach Our Children?
Computation and all of STEM must be realigned against the non-predictive. non controllable reality. Reality is actually a volatile recursive evolving set of feedback loops. It is not encased by Prediction and Control. We live and survive within it, not above it or outside it. yes, we actually live within reality and we are changed by it and change aspects of it, we are in no way disconnected from it. If computers are going to actually become useful tools for the Human Experience and help us ADAPT they have to come into alignment with reality and stop being exclusively about abstracting consequences away from themselves and us humans.

A brief outline of the ToDo List:

1) Concepts/Brands are hard to get people to forget entirely… so sometimes we have to re-brand things… INTELLIGENCE MUST BE REDEFINED (in words and in actuality)

2) Technology must be loosened from its rigid foundation, rigid assumptions of If Its A Technology It Must Be Progress. TECHNOLOGY MUST BE REDEFINED (in words and in actuality…. )

3) Every Being (human and animal, life form) must be allowed in. TECHNOLOGY MUST BE SHAPE-ABLE and COME TO USEABLE BY ALL BEINGS SHARING EARTH, including itself. A real concern for and sharing of consequences by technology with everything else becomes the necessary ecological (moral and ethical) regulation nature is already so full of.

(tiny outcome of the above: programming languages need to go away. they are the first and most obvious gatekeeper to the above. Maslo’s major LONG TERM goal is to show people very clearly that there is no different between data and programs, particularly with modern computing networks. Once this is more obvious more people can participate in training/shaping a network of interacting beings to be helpful towards consequences we desire… much like… most humans are able to easily and readily communicate with each other and most mammalian creatures… why should the world of tech be any harder or less able to coincide with human needs?)

We have not done these ToDos yet because we strongly believe our own received opinions. We literally operate as though a few hundred dudes, mostly working in world war times, in the 20th century (the legends of computing technology) had reasonably good, complete and progressive ideas about How To Program Computers and Design Networks of Complex Machines. Facts: they did not. More Facts: a few folks actually contorted the nuanced ideas of Ada Lovelace, the Hidden Figures heroines -“computers”, Alan Turing and Emmy Noether, into these strange International Business Machines.

The way we make and use and deploy computers nowadays will seem as impoverished, ignorant, unjust and facile to our future selves as so many of our “technologies” of the past seem to us now. The abuses of printing press by religion . The abuses of law by monarchs. The abuses of currency/capital by the elite/states… and so on. These abuses persist so long as imaginations are reduced and other possibilities scared out of existence.

And so I’ll leave this today with an imagination catalyst:
what if using a computer was as lovely, delightful and human-affirming as playing coo with a child? or as magical as taking on a new puppy into your life? or teaching a room of energetic 5th graders? what if instead of treating computers as beasts of burden and instead of treating beasts of burden as beasts of burden we asked ourselves… what would the world look like if everything wasn’t organized around Autonomous Man and how to get out of being directly engaged with the world? What would it even mean to invest in building technology and education that wasn’t just about teaching people to optimize for survival in world in which Autonomous Man Can Know, Must Know, Will Know and Account For All the Knowing? why would our ideas be any less likely or useful than today’s approach to technology that may or may not actually be as progressed as we think?

Can we even conceive of these things?

Let’s try.

Maslo is one growing attempt.

I also recommend the following books (and have a bajillion others for the interested):
Against Method — by Paul Feyerabend — a liberal arts scientist’s 1975 book that might help you re-conceive of just how knowledge/authority comes about and might or might not matter.

The Philosophical Baby, by Alison Gopnik — our best thinking/awareness might happen before we even retain long term “conscious memory”

Abraham Maslow, Theory of Human Motivation — while lacking rigor by today’s “standards”… still worthy as possibility

Thank you for thinking through all this with me.

So much more to talk about and do and try and help others with.


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I be doing stuff. and other stuff. More stuff. I believe in infinite regression of doing stuff.

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