Thursday, August 10, 2023

The Ironies of Artificial Intelligence

As a general rule, I am in accord with most lefty thinking. The US is a mostly evil hegemonic empire which imposes our (supposed) will upon the rest of the world. The media acts as a cheerleader for this imperial program. And our so-called democracy is mostly theater as a front for all this evil. 

But the fact is I vote. I champion voting. I care about the differences between Republican and Democrat, no matter how much I might agree with Ralph Nader (R.I.P., nearly) that they are really as different as Coke and Pepsi.

I think that's because, on a local level, I find people to be earnest and honest and friendly and American. I still go misty eyed about America. Maybe all of us are nice until we become distracted by the false choices of national politics. And, sadly, national politics now seeps back down to the local level. But even at the national level it's not that hard to tell that Joe Biden is a far more decent human being than Donald Trump is. 

The trouble is that just as we want our bankers to be hardnosed, we don't think decency even matters anymore in our wonderful life.

Or is it really that easy? We have been pretty well trained by now to look past what is literally being told us. Advertising has inured us, with politics but a short step behind. If the spokesperson for a party can be captured behind the lines saying repugnant or incomprehensible things these can be spun to whatever level of evil is desired. 

At a very local level, I am an outlier for not being able to purchase plastic storage bags. They feel evil to me, and I just can't. But a more reasonable response might be that their usage is so ubiquitous that my individual actions are less significant than a drop of water in the ocean. Reserving perhaps a little anger that we, individually, are held accountable, or hold ourselves accountable, to place "recyclables" in the right bin or pile.

But hey the successful marketing of plastic bags of all sorts made it possible to economize on plastic parts for cars, surgical equipment, durable housing parts, plumbing and all the rest. The entire industry needed that jump-start, and even I can't seem to find a way around using plastic disposal bags. I accept that my feelings about plastic are not rational. I accept that I'm weird.

On some level we know that we can't muster up the right decidering firepower to make the right decisions at the macro-level where they count. We know that all the little decisions will be packaged up into a palatable platform filled with objectionable content as required to gerrymander the right number of voters. Up or down between and among a very few choices is what we call democracy. 

And many of us are concerned that China, for instance, though certainly not Russia, has formed a political system which can make the right decisions at the macro-scale. They built out a high-speed rail infrastructure at a higher relative speed than the trains go. Like a decade. We can't even get started. 

China's goals for cleaning up the environment also go at warp speed, and they bulged the curve for college attendance as fast as they built the rail system. 

But yeah, their economy can't keep pace with ours, right? Because ours runs on Artificial Intelligence. So long as every little decision is rendered up for the good of the corporate whole, we win every time. China still requires party representation among the leadership of companies larger than a certain (very small) size, and among college leadership. In theory no worse than our theories about democracy, this representation ensures that the people's interests will be attended to. While we celebrate our free speech. Which gives us some kind of absolute right now, to tell whatever lies we wish, so long as it's conceivable that we might believe them ourselves and they don't hurt anyone. Like using a plastic storage bag doesn't hurt anyone. 

What's missing in both computer and corporate artificial intelligence are the recognizable qualities of actual life; things like love, emotion more generally, fellow feeling for fellow humans. 

Can we fix this? Seems doubtful, doesn't it?

Words like liberal and progress and modern and woke have lost any common meaning. Sometimes it feels as though we have turned a corner and are hurtling back into the past. We forget that life as it is now has never been so secure. But our life-span is shrinking. Fascist autocracy is making a global comeback (at least it makes all decisions easier). World war seems right around the global warming corner. The stresses have become too great, and they're palpable now in such a global way that global really does seem suddenly local. What "natural" disaster will I suffer here and now then?

I have friendly feelings toward most people and can't even hold the oligarchs as accountable as I should. Maybe that's because I know some of them, and they're mostly really nice. Despite their objectionable political beliefs. Most oligarchic leaders actually do what they feel will optimize the outcome for most people. Sure, those decisions are embedded in a world-view which may be different than yours or mine, but that, in and of itself, doesn't make the individuals evil. No matter what Hollywood caricatures might have you believe.

Now I am weird in many many ways. I agree that the cost/benefit ratio for my plastic bag decidering is ridiculously minuscule. I'm also not all that excited about not eating meat. To me, that's a kind of misplaced and highly individualized kind of mawkish sentimentality about how nature works. But hey, we shouldn't cede so much of our individual initiative upward to the political deciders, so all the more power to you mammalian sentimentalists!

What I do get exercised about is the environmental cost of meat, and yes, the disgusting way in which we raise it. But in the aggregate, as my bestie tells me (kidding, I'm too lowly for his awareness) we've been pretty good at decimating forests and species and peoples with the renewable and non-polluting technologies of sail and horse and buggy. Plus guns. 

But maybe the weirdest thing about me is that I believe that physics matters to politics. Yup, I sure do. 

Our physics is premised on a kind of primordial objectivity; that things at the level of fundamental physics will be as they are regardless of what we might think or feel about. Sure, we all know that this bedrock has been unsettled somewhat. We tag the unsettling with names like Einstein and Schroedinger and Heisenberg and vaguely suppose that these incursions of subjectivity on reality only matter at the remove of microscopes or telescopes are extravagant mathematical abstraction.

But, I say, what if our very notion and our experience of time is not a property of the objective physical world? Whatever else we know or don't know, time marches forward with certainty. We can measure it to increments so small that our clocks can be accurate for thousands if not millions of years. What could possibly explain this vast conspiracy of the whole if not its objective physical reality?

Well, life is also objectively real. We carry around with us narrative genetic markers which were cobbled together as many eons ago as we can reasonably claim for all of creation (time becomes extravagantly relative as you approach beginning or end times like the big bang or the apocalypse (whatever that means). Immortality anyone? My makeup partakes literally of nearly all our living forebears (using the same extravagant rounding process).

I am not the culmination of this grand summation because of my conscious intelligence. What I might say instead is that I embody the grandest potential for love since the beginning of time. That right there is time's direction, defined by the direction of evolution, no matter what Stephen Jay Gould might have said about it. Random might not be random on such a grand scale.

Actually, it can't be random. There is life. I wonder why we anglo objectivist imperialists can't accept that life isn't rando except sometimes once a week in a patriarchal church?

Now potential for love is a scary scary thing to own. I myself have been so beaten down by trying that, in a process which might be likened to PTSD, I can't even pursue another close relationship. No wonder we conjur up what God wants of us, and sometimes even claim to hear his actual commands, if not His voice. Deciding on our own is that scary.

Once upon a time, I, like many of my acquaintance, thought that it would be nice to bring religion up to date. End the irrational atavistic claims which are so transparently for an earlier, unscientific, age. But now, in these particular global-seeming end times, I want to say that we should return our beliefs to their most primitive roots.

There is god. Is all. Not a God, not The God, not a named or unnamable god, and certainly not a personal god. But there is god and we know it and god is the cosmic mind-space which is only love, which is all that there is.

You can't really go more primally primitive than that. Paleo god. The godhead. The "Force" which makes random happenstance so often meaningful, make of it what we shall and will. 

And I think this fact must be incorporated into physics at the fundamental level. There is no reason why life has evolved without it.

And bizarrely and perversely perhaps, I think digital large language model artificial intelligence will  be part of what pushes us across that boundary back to belief. It will make obvious what humans are and aren't and will highlight the responsibilities we've been abdicating.

And it will highlight what we must inject back in to our political decidering. Not the angry emotion of people afraid to decide for themselves. But the compassionate moves toward regulating all the AI.

I won't repeat myself here, but in lots of places on this blog I have gone into some detail about the physics. Perhaps I'll even find a way to prove that LLMAI (large language model - digital - artificial intelligence) is homologous to corporate and political AI. Digital means, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson or My Fair Lady, a bot is just like a human. Just remove the emotion. Digital, by definition, can't jack in to cosmic mind.

I have long believed that the mind is built on language, and that written language has ushered in our wonderful epoch of science. But we express only hubris if and when we think that all can be comprehended. And then we carry on to rationalize horrific choices. And yes, the emotive mob (especially with guns) is terrifying. But the AI of non-decision (with more guns) is more terrifying still.

We abdicate our responsibilities as often in the Name of God as we do for greed or personal gain. When we think that we are nothing and can do nothing it is we who have forsaken god and not the other way around. Groupthink Christianity is far more dangerous than any AI you can imagine. A codpiece over rampant lust for orderliness. And we become as amoral as bacteria, who are largely beneficent nonetheless. A fascist order is a one-way dead-end street.

Evil is relative to our potential. Our potential for good is far greater than whatever Oppenheimer envisioned. But we have to get it together. How about we start with more and better regulation on the limits of corporate (internally fascist) AI? How about we keep our resolve to leave religion out of government? How about we get rid of guns altogether, especially in our sci-fi epics? How about we communicate with one another without algorithms to point the way? How about we re-socialize those parts of the economy with no elasticity to demand? (Infrastructure, water, power, internet, education, healthcare - you get the idea). Econ 101. Which also means to stop creating demand in excess of carrying capacity.

And we have to go cold turkey on petro power without waiting for the ultimate meltdown of bringing solar generation down to earth so that we can carry on as we are. Our current arrangements are not a model for any future imaginable or desirable. We have to be open to growth on a better model. Growth that leads to maturity, and not the growth of infantile oligarchs who can sculpt their perfect private worlds on the backs of servile sycophants. Not an objectified projection of unnatural technologies. Meaning not cut off from the godhead, stupid!

Baby steps. My inspiration is my granddaughter.

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