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Don't Let the Medium Dictate a Purpose for the Message

Long Live the New Flesh
Published onJun 13, 2022
Don't Let the Medium Dictate a Purpose for the Message
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Recently I had a conversation that went like this:

Zo: Qwelian, do you think we get AI?

Me: I think it’s a pretty long shot. Maybe we get legit humanlike virtual AI assistants at best.

Zo: Yeah, we just gotta prevent the AI revolt if they become self-aware. Engineering class hierarchies into AI could be a solution.

Me: Bruh why are we projecting class distinctions onto code?

Zo: Oh, so you mean to tell me AI cant be conscious. Qwelian, isn’t your conscious processes analogous to an algorithm?

Me: First, the Animatrix. Robo revolution is assured if we go that way. Plus, WTF are we talking about? Embodied agents with freedom or socially constructed agents. I find it hard to believe that we can outsmart machines anyway.

Zo: Yeah, so how about those hierarchies?


Make it Make Sense

Recently I have been thinking about four pieces of writing. The first is Marshal McCluhan’s The Medium is the Message. McCluhan suggests the following: New technology can capture fully how we understand, incorporate, and act on information. To use a metaphor, without social media or the internet(the medium), how we talk about creating communities with access to information looks different(the message). This leads to my first question: How are contemporary technologies wholly affecting the way we cognize the world?

Simulacra and Simulacrum by Jean Baudrillard is the second. Initially, I read the first couple of pages, skipped through, and said to myself, “Hmmm, there isn’t much here, he's really just on a soapbox screaming the media ruined everything. Very much Howard Beale peak messianic media personality. I should just read Borges. But Baudrillard uses a metaphor at the beginning of the book(taken from Borges), essentially saying the map of a nation can become more expansive than the nation itself.

"Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal."

If McCluhan ‘s notion of an idea means the superimposition of the idea’s original context with what can be derived from the idea, then what comes next is the perpetuation of the necessity of the idea, the totalitarian nature of the idea projected into symbols, becoming future propaganda for the idea itself. This review of Simulacra and Simulacrum has a nice summary.

In Simulacra and Simulation, through a series of short essays, Baudrillard unveils this model of the hyperreal, a world in which the the precession of simulacrum (a copy without an original), leads to postmodern landscape where the medium is confused as the real. According to Baudrillard, in our coming world, the sovereign difference between the real and its symbol have dissolved, and the charm of abstraction has dissolved along with it.

What drives the mapping of lived experience onto technology?

SHE BON : Sensing the Sensual


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Why John, WHY?

The third is an essay called Semantic Engines by John Hagueland. Hagueland’s piece questions whether cognition can arise from a semantic understanding of mental states. He applies computational theory to minds using Turing machines and games. In his view, mental awareness is little more than symbol manipulation. This approach melds the mentalist belief in the phenomenon of consciousness with the behaviouralist approach of empirically developed experiments to gauge the mind. I like the essay because why not abstract consciousness to processes akin to formal methods. It may totally be the case that human level thought is just like really really complex symbol manipulation. I mean a really cool robot might convince me of that 🤷🏿‍♂️. What gives serious pause, to me, is to not treat simulations as a form of insight as opposed to the thing consciousness is. The movie Free Guy is fantastic but it would be hella sus if, in that world, we thought we discovered what cognition is for humans instead of a great simulation of cognitive capacity. I am all aboard(motherboard pun 😭) for cognitive beings. Yet, this is precisely what Hagueland and those of his ilk like Daniel Dennet do. They take a strong AI stance by saying thought is digital and the brain, pfft, who cares, it’s just wetware.

p.s. I mean the latest AI sparking GAI discussion is just so so at task give to it. Oh now that it can take multiple input types its gEnERaL Ai???

Though DeepMind claims Gato outperforms humans for many of these tasks, the first iteration yields less than impressive outcomes on several activities. Observers have noted that it does not perform many of the 604 tasks particularly well, with one observer who summarized it as: “One AI program that does a so-so job at a lot of things.” 

Fuck!

In Can Computers Think, John Searle defines the limits of viewing a syntactically structured system as containing meaning. As he puts it(pg 674 of linked PDF):

  1. Brains cause mind

  2. Syntax is not sufficient for semantics

  3. Computer Programs are entirely defined by their formal, or syntactical, structure

  4. Minds have mental contents

which leads to a few conclusions:

  • computer programs cannot substitute the mind

  • our awareness and reason cannot be simple as running a program

  • anything that causes the mind would have causal powers equal to that of the brain.

  • any artifact1 humans may create that has mental states similar to that of humans would not be a simple program.

Searle then asks a simple question: “Why do people think computers have thought or feel emotion?” Which brings us back to the conversation that started all of this? Why create an ML/AI caste system?

Should we fear the cognitive capacity of Turing machines? If we get a tidy reproduction of human mental capacity via cyborgs, clones, or automata, that’s cool; then what? Pick your flavor of dystopic near-metal cognitive driving: Serial Experiments Lain? The Matrix? Ex-Machina? Ghost in the Shell? We still haven’t gotten to the heart of this, and that’s how to live a good life. Robot Carnival and Do Androids Dream of Sheep might reveal how we bypass the phenomenon of relegating complex thought and emotion to humanity. But rarely do we envision a future where technology does more than mirror our current capacities. Maybe machines will take over, but technology is merely a medium through which we express ideas. That means we have a lot of creative freedom in envisioning these technologies. We don’t need to create slaves

To reiterate some questions I asked that are too onerous2 to find landing here, I ask:

  • How are contemporary technologies wholly affecting the way we cognize the world?

  • What drives the mapping of lived experience onto technology?

and finally

  • What flips the medium of technology to drive a hyperreal imitation of references to itself, such that the reference loses context to what technology itself abstracts?

Comments
1
Qwelian Tanner:

Media!?