Jaron Lanier Got Up My Shnoz on AI

From: Colin Hales (colin@versalog.com.au)
Date: Fri Jan 11 2002 - 16:47:13 MST

This is a dec 29 Guardian article on Jaron Lanier. Boy I wish we had more
'eccentics' like this around. We need 'em. He's well worth following. One of
the great 'sleeping bear pokers'.

The Guardian Profile -Jaron Lanier - The virtual visionary

However, I'm a bit mystified by his attitude on AI. Maybe my logic is down
the toilet. I can't tell, maybe you can.
My thoughts, written after I read the article, I dump here.
Jaron Lanier is a regular at www.edge.org <http://www.edge.org>. He’s always
very challenging and seems to make sense. However, I don’t understand his
ideas about the limits of technology. We, humans, are technology. Just
because we’re constructed with DNA or any method you’d care to consider in
no way invalidates another method for creation of intelligence. If it were
possible to invalidate other methods we’d already know how to make it,
making the whole ‘problem’ moot!

I am having trouble understanding how he could come to this position by
means of logic, unless he sees far deeper into everything than me. I am
willing to accept this, but I’d like to see some meat on the argument. All
through the history of technological development reality, in my view, has
outstripped the imaginations of the pundits. The trend is obvious. The
possibilities are endless. Why would this kind of grey luddite view be view
be put?

Putting AI as an engineering goal is precisely what I’m doing. Thus
according to his text I am “in a very strange position”, as a result. I
suppose, if one has a very sincere belief in the insurmountable intellect of
the human, then the prospect of creating our betters would be, to some
extent, belittling. The scientific method has, for most of a millennium,
decentralized humans from the center of the universe. Go back to Kepler and
have a look. AI is the last step in the process. What exactly will make this
next step not happen?

I believe that one valid perspective on humanity is that we are part of the
universe’s self awareness. This is a great honour and an amazing thing, to
be sure, but just a part. Possibly only part of a beginning. If I were
convinced of myself as occupying a preeminent central end-point, I could
thus feel somewhat miffed upon displacement. Getting beaten by your kids at
<insert game of choice> is something like the way I will feel when it
happens. A mixture of fear, pride and accomplishment.

We will be known as ‘the old ones’ by our progeny, who will take on forms we
can only guess at, and leave for the stars. Seeing the technology as an aid
to human communication only is a simple extension of what has been happening
anyway - because we’ve been -so far -unable to allow AI to happen. Yes, I
believe human capability will be enhanced - it’s why we are doing AI in a
multitude of flavours. But when a sentient AI emerges, believing that human
enhancement is all that is going to happen would require the AI to be
shackled and zombied, to keep us as ‘top dog’. History, I think, has proven
that sort of imposed power struggle not to work in the long run.

We need a devil’s advocate - look what it’s done - I’m trawling prose from
my neurons. Not a bad thing, really. Jaron has made a good thing out of
taking awkward and novel positions. In this case, I think it’s a touch
specious - No Sale.

We’re going to get out nifty human enhancers and tools and as well, it’s OK
with me just to help construct a God, and not to be one. He thinks it’s
religion to believe AI is possible, I think it’s religion to hope that it


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