Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bruce Sterling interviewed at Next Nature


He is a pioneer of cyberpunk.

This is true, but Bruce Sterling is also a blogger (Beyond the Beyond at Wired) and one of the world's leading futurist thinkers. He recently did an interview at the website Next Nature, discussing a subject near and dear to myself and readers of this blog: the merging of humanity with machines. For this blog post, I have pulled out a few of the interview's more salient points.

In discussing artificial intelligence, a major point that Sterling comes back to is his differentiation between cognition and computation. A while back, I got into an online spat with my friend David about AI and...unless I am subject to paramnesia (but I usually do that only when it benefits me)...I sadly did conflate the concepts of cognition and computation. Lo all these months later, I now must concede David's point thanks to Sterling. As Sterling says:

"There will not be a Singularity.  I think that artificial intelligence is a bad metaphor. It is not the right way to talk about what is happening. So, I like to use the terms “cognition” and “computation”. Cognition is something that happens in brains, physical, biological brains. Computation is a thing that happens with software strings on electronic tracks that are inscribed out of silicon and put on fibre board."

Wow. Doesn't sound too good for Singularity proponents. But wait. Sterling does get at a rather Kurzweil-y notion. It is not so much that machines will become more humanlike. It is that they will surpass humans. To wit:

"An entity like Siri, for instance, is not aspiring to become more human; Siri would want to be many times more efficient than that. Siri does not have one conversation like the conversation we are having here. Siri has hundreds of thousands of conversations at once. It wants to look through more databases faster; it does not want to read its way through a book, quietly pondering, like Alan Turing might have done."

What's more, we are more like house cats than we will ever be like Siri. That is how Sterling puts it, anyway. Cats have cognitive capabilities but not computational (so far as we know). We are converging with Siri but we also converge with cats and all of the postulated technological developments of transhumanism could be applied to our pets. Sterling:

"But we never talk about [a] roboticized cat, an augmented cat, a super intelligent cat. Why? Because we are stuck in this metaphysical trench where we think it is all about humanity’s states of mind. It is not! We humans do not always have conscious states of mind: we sleep at night. Computers don’t have these behaviors. We are elderly, we forget what is going on. We are young, we do not know how to speak yet. That is cognition. You never see a computer that is so young it cannot speak."

Puts things in a different perspective, eh? Sterling offers formidable counterpoints to many things I've discussed here on ESE, putting the brakes on them without squashing them completely. I'm going to have to mull this over a while longer.

That and read more of his cyberpunk novels.




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1 comment:

  1. On FB, Bernard said: "Like "Her," right? Any AI that would get bored with me is too depressing for me to contemplate for very long. BTW I saw the headline and I was hoping for a Bruce Banner interview. Sigh."

    How he got "Banner" from "Sterling" is beyond me.

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