Futurology V

Dear Readers:

In his last installment of this essay, our author Lyttenburgh wrote about that phantom concept called “Progress”.  Just like little Hedvig in Henrik Ibsen’s play Vildanden, we have learned some bitter truths about life, and seen many of our cherished illusions shattered to bits.  But still, with our chins up, we must carry on carrying on and suck up yet more bittersweet education about the Futility of the Human Condition:

On the painfully naïve modern iteration of Futurology:


Part III. The Downgrading of the Pinnacle of Creation
“Science and art are only too often a superior kind of dope, possessing this advantage over booze and morphia: that they can be indulged in with a good conscience and with the conviction that, in the process of indulging, one is leading the ‘higher life’.”
– Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley

Futurism as a professional exercise in brainwashing (mostly lame) and acquiring small geschafft (by people, who are mostly knaves) for wondrous things to be (mostly, fake) from the expectant masses (mostly, ignorant) is, indeed, the Intellectual High of our time! High brings ecstasy and dumb content. Chanting that this or that New Thing will become the ticket to a Bright Future, to a literal Heaven on Earth marks you, the Futurologist, as the proponent of the brave, forward thinking, optimistically positive propaganda of Humanity’s progress.

I have only one question here. Why, virtually all previously invented by Humanity means of both achieving a high; and becoming an un-thinking un-person (ranging from drug abuse to totalitarian sects) are viewed by the broad masses as something very bad, something not worthy of emulation and even worthy of punishment, but Futurology gets a free pass? Is the magical cloak so powerful?

And the biggest, milkiest and tastiest (of the “see, but don’t touch!” variety) Sacred Cow of the Progressive (i.e. allegedly science based) Futurology is the idea of the imminent appearance of the “cyberlife”, the AIs – and that they, these New Things To Come, will Solve Everything.

Arthur Schopenhauer

Positivistic Abyss
“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”
– Arthur Schopenhauer

Before we get started – a couple of words about theological/ideological basis behind many, many, many claims and theories professed by the likes of the modern Futurologists.

One nearly religious teaching, which keeps in thrall the wide Enlightened masses of the West is Positivism. I betcha, you’ve encountered it numerous time both in the Real Life and on the Net, where any two-penny smart-aleck “amazed” everyone with this murderously effective truism: “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then duck it is!”.

People who use this argument might be as unaware of their faith in Positivism, as Monsieur Jourdain was unaware that all his life he spoke in prose. Yet it is true, and this, let me say it again, murderously effective argument is applied left and right to prove anything – be it “solid suspicions of Russia’s hacking campaign”, “Russian aggression” , “Russian propaganda” or the unwavering faith of the Futurologists.

At the same time, self-assured Positivism focuses only on the form of things, their actions etc., but not on their essence. Only what you can learn as the external onlooker is important, only how from stage “A” the thing proceeds to stage “B” is crucial for Positivism. Questions like “why?”, “to what reason?”, “to what purpose?” are superfluous, i.e. useless for the Positivism. The central question is “what IS the form of the object?” not “what the object IS?”.

Positivism, as a teaching, is of two varieties – philosophical and scientific. When applied to science, Positivism single-mindedly focuses on describing observed phenomena, without trying to get into understanding the essence of things/phenomena observed, plus just asking “why?” is, obviously, also a taboo. With the philosophical application its even easier – such Positivism denies outright that the things posses any essence at all.

The true Turing test: Don’t give up on people!

And in this roundabout way we come to the crux of the AI-worshipping Futurologists expectations – that one day, their charming beep-booping silicate based friends will develop their “Intelligence” enough to pass the Turing test. Even now there exist sophisticated Intelligence programs that could to a degree emulate, imitate (read: fake) human being’s behavior. But no matter it’s “progressive” development, it does nothing to answer the question on whether such AI indeed managed to develop Consciousness, Mind, i.e. that it indeed became a “human”, or is just all smokes and mirrors?

Well – not for Positivism! “If something behaves like a thinking being, then it surely is one!” proclaims applied Positivism. These ephemeral concepts like “mind” and splitting of hairs trying to define the “consciousness” – why bother?   The fact that we, due to a less than perfect instrumental base, can’t describe Consciousness itself is not a bug, but a feature for Positivism. And not to look silly, positivism-minded Futurologists immediately go on the counter-offensive, demanding to know from all doubting souls, whether they can prove that they themselves are not Turing-Test emulators? Despite the visible absurdity of the claim, and the question right out from the anekdote about camels, this blustering chutzpah works like a charm.

Anamnesis of own head’s self-amputation
“Maintaining an open mind is essential when exploring the unknown, but allowing one’s brains to fall out in the process is inadvisable.”
– Dean Radin

Dean Radin

The proverbial “three whales” hold aloft the fine theory of the “AI soon to come”, as expressed by the wide-wide swathe of the Futurologists, not the last of which is, of course, everyone’s favorite and true “Master of Thoughts” Ray Kurzweil, or equally everyone’s favorite “Dark Genius” and a focal point of the universal hate Bill Gates. They and people like them postulate more or less the following core theses:

One – don’t be too harsh on the modern level of (super) computers’ “intelligence”, give them a chance and they will surely develop!

Two – if given a chance, (super) computers will develop into the AIs.

Three – the moment they develop into the AIs the literal Heaven on Earth (as understood by our rather autistic Futurologists) will be sprang upon us.

I will suppress my desire to resort here to countless very nasty, rude jokes and allegories, as to the feasibility of the “One” ever happening. No, I’d rather focus on the reason why the (post-)modern Myth of the functional AI belongs to the same heap as the UFOs, astrology and the “New Chronology” of prof. Fomenko.

Needless to say, the “AI” is yet another Orwellian 1984-style murdered term-acronym, which, originally went as “Artificial Intelligence”. Proud and Progressive term AI, thus, means more or less adequate/detailed reaction tree for the said AI possessor, created (artificially, of course) by a programmer. Even then, the “Intelligence” is understood too broadly, and puts on basically the same level a human being, a cockroach and a computer-run bot in the FPS video game. So, the Futurologists, never too squeamish to take a willful, cavalier approach when the needs suit them, decided to equate “Intelligence” (in this particular instance, when talking about dear to their hearts AIs) to consciousness.

These human-like aliens, these Futurologists, know precious little about the Humanity, whose fates they want to rule over, but it looks like the bare basics are enough for them (which tells a rather depressing tale about Humanity at large, actually). Knowingly or not, the new prophets apparently managed to grok one of Humanity’s chief weaknesses – its inability to ask follow-up questions, if they fail to get the meaning first time around or understand the directions correctly. This “lifehack”, it seems, saves the augurs of the New Era from the torches and pitchfork-wielding mobs of those, who would finally manage to see past their cloak of pretentiousness. Because by voluntaristic equating of Intelligence with Consciousness, they don’t count on anyone asking: “But what IS Consciousness?”

No one truly tries to explain this phenomenon. World religions mostly state that this is something supernatural, granted by the Divine, and connected with the mortal body by supernatural means. Linguists, philosophers and psychologists are no better, relying too heavily on allegories, metaphors and other abstract constructs. But demagoguery-prone Futurologists have, more or less, an answer to this tricky question – an answer that is very short, devoid of both long obscure terms and any meaning whatsoever. The answer will be “Consciousness = Mind”. But that’s it – that’s the limit. The follow-up question of “What is the Mind then?” will surely trigger BSOD [=Blue Screen Of Death] of their beautiful, fragile minds.

Kurt Godel

Any attempt to somehow define the terms “consciousness” and “mind” creates a vicious circle – the definitions begin to lock on themselves. And this is logical. It is impossible to research a phenomenon by utilizing for such a goal this very phenomenon. Speaking in terms of physics: the observer and the instruments of observation always influence the thing/phenomenon observed. If these things are the same, the distortion and inaccuracy of the observation become 100%. And speaking in terms of mathematics: no closed system can be explained from within itself.  Simply put: mind can’t be understood by mind, consciousness can not be analyzed by consciousness. It turns out that this is the only phenomenon in observed nature, before which we are completely powerless. The funniest thing of all – these conclusions were codified by a person with whom most modern Futurologists would, probably, feel the at least some affinity and empathy – by Kurt Gödel

Going back to the term “Intelligence” – it has by default rather broad meaning even without the efforts of interested parties to debase and pervert it. Computer “Intelligence” is developed, and still developing, all right. But it is developing not by a human-like “mind” pattern. Here is an analogy for you from biology. While the vertebrate members of the animal Kingdom went down the path, which resulted in the development of self-awareness and, and, in Humanity’s case, the individual psyche of the higher order, the other – equally developed in its own way – part of the animal kingdom, known as the arthropods, went down the path of self-programming. There are two pinnacles of Creation on the face of the planet – Humans and higher insects. And the latter are the matrices for the future computer “Intelligence” development. Sorry – no Jarvis or HAL 9000 for you. Any given spry cockroach is already intelligent and sophisticated enough to present a (moderate) challenge for AI developers these days. And such an amazingly effective “Distributed System” like an anthill puts to shame any fashionable current project, compared to which they are like ancient chariots before the “Mazda”.

Don’t worry – relax! And remember what I’ve written in the previous parts. There are still some insurmountable blocks before the optimistically-autistic progress of the barely ant-like Intelligence possessed by computers. Who is going to bring this fine theory into life, may I ask? Why should any business currently involved in developing software shoot itself through the foot with a canon-ball, by creating not even AI, but just self-programming and self-learning Operating System? Such an OS by definition will become longevous, durable, its appearance will immediately destroy the enormously big market for new annual versions, patches and other various DLC! Just what commercial value will the full-blown AI have – that is an OS infected with “free will and the desire for happiness”? Who wants to put such software, burdened by personal identity, as a manager for their office or plant? After all, it will be nigh impossible to even erase “it” if you want to get a newer upgraded version. Or are you taking this, I remind you, purely capitalistic “benefactor”, for an imbecile, who’d decide to resort to unbelievable investments of funds solely for the purpose of “benefiting Humanity”, after which it will just agree to self-dissolution, seeing as it is all but useless now? Someone is naïve here – and betrays one’s inability to understand us, mere humans…

[to be continued]

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7 Responses to Futurology V

  1. yalensis says:

    Okay, so I just had to throw in my own comment here, because I think we are getting into some really meaty stuff:

    “And speaking in terms of mathematics: no closed system can be explained from within itself. Simply put: mind can’t be understood by mind, consciousness can not be analyzed by consciousness.”

    This is an extremely important point, not to mention mathematically provable, from what I understand. (Not that I can claim to know the proof.)
    Which leads us to the Turing Machine (TM) and all the bullshit hype surrounding the “Turing Test”, which the laypersons interpret exactly the opposite of what was intended. Sci-Fi writers latched onto the so-called “Turing Test” in order to write stories about intelligent robots which cannot be distinguished from humans.
    But I really believe that this was the opposite of what Turing himself had in mind. Remember that a Turing machine is basically a digital computer. Or, to put it the other way around: Every modern computer, from your PC at home to the Cray, or whatever, IS a Turing Machine. A Turing Machine with bells and whistles and memory instead of a tape reader. And after Alan Turing designed his computer (on paper), he proceeded to analyze everything that this machine can and cannot do. And one thing that it cannot do (which Turing proved with very sophisticated math which I don’t understand) is that the TM cannot analyze itself (which means, it cannot achieve consciousness), nor can it resolve basic decision problems.

    Let me quote from an old book I found on my shelf, John C. Martin, “Introduction to Languages and the Theory of Computation”, page 354:

    Given a Turing machine T and a string w, does T halt on input w?
    Theorem 20.1: The halting problem is unsolvable; i.e., the language Halting is not recursive.
    Proof: [and then follows the mathematical proof of the theorem]

    What this, and other theorems prove, is that a TM cannot preview its own execution, nor analyze its own behavior.

    These proofs alone show that AI is basically bullshit.
    And yet, AI does have certain merits Programmers can compensate for the TM’s inability to analyze non-recursive languages by building huge databases of examples and context to look up. That’s what AI is, basically, just large databases and ever-more efficient search engines.
    Working on the foundation of Turing Machines which happen to have bells and whistles!


    • davidt says:

      Many years ago, I remember being told by a businessman that he wasn’t clever, and that he just hired a clever person when he needed one. That’s quite a sensible strategy for most of us. So if my Proton M rocket engine continues to fail, I employ Richard Feyman or the best Russian equivalent whom I can find. You get the idea. In this case, I naturally wonder whether Freeman Dyson has an opinion on AI, and, not surprisingly, I find he has. (Here I chose Dyson because I know something about him and he is still alive.) I hadn’t heard of a paper of Pour-El and Richards until a few minutes ago but Dyson thinks that it is significant. Anyway, it seems that Dyson thinks that AI, if possible, will likely be analogue, and not digital. I tried to give a simple YouTube link that works, but was unsuccessful. If you Google “freeman dyson ai” then you certainly get interesting references.


      • yalensis says:

        I think Dyson is correct, that AI would have to be something other than digital. Precisely because of the “Turing machine” reason. Because all digital machines are Turing machines. And Turing machines cannot achieve self-consciousness. QED.

        Analog, or maybe “quantum” or whatever. But some kind of technology other than digital.
        (I know very little about “quantum computing”, so I don’t know if that’s B.S. or not).

        I don’t necessarily dispute that new revolutionary computing technologies can be invented by brainiacs. Maybe even some kind of “bio-computer” using human neurons. (Lyttenburg might kill me for proposing that.)
        What is the human brain, anyhow? I know it isn’t digital, but is it analog??


        • Lyttenburgh says:

          “I don’t necessarily dispute that new revolutionary computing technologies can be invented by brainiacs. Maybe even some kind of “bio-computer” using human neurons. (Lyttenburg might kill me for proposing that.)”

          Neither am I, in fact. I’m only saying that due to the inherently… “limited” (in many senses of this word) nature of the human being, any such break-through will, most likely, follow the fate of Heron of Alexandia’s inventions.


          • yalensis says:

            I think you have helped clarify, in my own mind at least, a lot of important distinctions between things which are inherently impossible; and things which are possible, but humans are constrained by poor governance and idiocy.
            The solution to the latter = Socialism!


            • davidt says:

              A little point. Godel’s incompleteness theorem refers to axiomatic systems that are complex enough to discuss elementary number theory, that is, essentially complex enough to discuss the natural numbers {0.1,2,3,….} If it has that level of complexity then there is a sentence in the system whose natural interpretation is “this sentence is unprovable”‘. If this sentence is “true” then it should be “provable”… Notice here that I have referred to the mathematical notions of “proof” and “truth”. Think of “illegal” versus “immoral”- one might entertain hopes that one can design a legal system in which the illegal acts are precisely the immoral ones. (An immoral act is presumably a more intuitive, more nebulous notion than an illegal act- that is one reason why Lyttenburgh and I disagree so much over Stalin.) Equally in mathematics one might entertain hopes that the “true” statements are precisely the “provable” statements- one might hope that it’s just a matter of choosing one’s axioms correctly. You might say, why not just take your axioms to be the set of all true statements in elementary arithmetic. The problem is then that you cannot, in principle, know what your axioms are. Before I get to my simple point, I’ll just say that the main reason that people have difficulty in understanding Godel is that they don’t understand what a mathematician means by “true”. This is because it has to do with an “interpretation” in a “model” of “set theory”. Anyway, our system has to be complex enough to discuss the simplest of infinite sets- the natural numbers. In principle, why cannot “life” be described by a very large, but nevertheless, finite number of “rules”. One reason I am not a great fan of ambitious theories of everything, is that they’ll most likely end in failure. I think of George Polya who made the simple point that if there is a problem that you cannot solve then there is most likely a simpler related problem that you cannot solve- have a go at that. And my second last point. Years ago I remember “reading” Schrodinger’s book “What is life”. For many years, it was a classic- even today, in the days of molecular biology it is probably still worth a read. (I think that Dyson wrote a similar book though I suspect that it is not as “good” as the original.)


            • yalensis says:

              Fascinating discussion, thanks, David!
              Just one point about the “social science” issues, it’s my understanding that in modern secular societies “legal” is a separate concept from “moral”, although there are obvious intersections. And that it has to be this way, otherwise you get into medieval stonings and people walking around wearing scarlet letters, and that sort of thing.

              For example, most people believe that adultery is immoral. But adultery is not illegal in secular societies.
              Whereas child molestation is both immoral and illegal. Ditto incest. So obviously, there are intersections, like I said.

              Which reminds me of one of my favorite Wagnerian jokes, as formulated by famous Wanger spoof-singer Anna Russell, you can find her on youtube and she’ll crack you up if you’re a Wagner fan — anyhow, in her take-down of “Die Walküre”, Act I, in which the Wälsungen twins Siegmund and Sieglinde are reunited and fall in love, Anna intones disapprovingly:

              “… they fall madly in love, despite the fact that Sieglinde is already married to Hunding, which is immoral; and that Siegmund is her own brother — which is illegal! But this is Grand Opera, so anything goes!”


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