Here’s Suki – an eight week old Golden Doodle! She believes firmly in sleeping all day and yowling all night. For her first photoshoot, Suki has adopted a half under the sofa position, so she can still see out or dive for cover.
Before getting hit by this K9 Tsunami, I was reading and still in theory am reading three books. The first is Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book which queries the future of humanity and artificial intelligence. There are so many interesting arguments in this book and I haven’t finished reading it. Not now likely to finish reading it for some time – please see above.
Harari posits that if we cannot establish consciousness in humans – which we cannot – how much less able are we to establish consciousness in computers. Even in the 21st century we have no way of understanding the source of the human mind. We do not know whether it is a shared phenomenon or an individual thing. All we can say for certain as individuals is that we ourselves have consciousness. Harari writes:
Perhaps I am trapped inside a virtual world, and all the beings I see are merely simulations.”
Welcome to The Matrix!
According to The Turing Test, there is a method for determining consciousness in computers. In order to establish whether a computer has a mind you ask it certain questions, at the same time as asking those questions of a human. Ask any questions you like and take whatever time you like. If you cannot make up your mind or choose wrongly, the computer has proved it has a mind. Or has it? Alan Turing was a mathematician famous for having helped Britain win the seond world war by cracking the enigma code. His reward was to suffer chemical castration in an attempt to cure his homosexuality, which ultimately led to his committing suicide.
Harari’s point is that Turing knew that being a gay man in 1950s Britain it didn’t matter who you were or what you knew. It only mattered how you were perceived by society. Acceptance of a mind was, and still is, a social and legal convention, rather than a scientific phenomena.
Am I a simulated puppy eating simulated shoes?
Two other books I am attempting to read this week are:
George Szirtes, The Photographer at Sixteen. The memoire of poet Szirtes in which he looks back over his Hungarian, Jewish roots, his problematic relationship with his mother, going further back into their midnight flight from Budapest into Austria to eventually reach London. What struck me about this account is the compassionate way they as refugees were treated by aid agencies – compared with contemporary refugee stories.
Szirtes chooses to tell his story starting with his adulthood, moving backwards through the years to arrive at his mother as a young woman in Budapest. Most life accounts tend to work the other way around, but he’s a poet so we forgive him. There is a rather charming anecdote about their life in London in 1967 when his mother (Magda) is bedridden due to illness and needs to employ cleaners.
“The cleaners came during the day and I met only two of them on my early return from school. Both were male. One was an out of work young actor who was to commit suicide a year later. The other was a singer called David Jones with eyes of different colours. He was later known as David Bowie.”
If Yuval Noah Harari is concerned with the merging of human consciousness with AI, the third book I’m reading from writer Richard Mabey is Nature Cure ( 2021 edition, Little Toller Books). Mabey believes that our mastery of technology has freed us from a sense of responsibility to the planet which houses us.
“We’re becoming unearthly, freed we like to think from the physical imperatives of nature by technology … our role on the planet is compromised by…the belief that our particular brand of consciousness makes us uniquely privileged as a species, entitled to evaluate and manage the lives of all the others on our own terms.”
A buddhist friend of mine believes that the planet will always survive – in one form or another. It is we who will not. That is part of our unknowable future.