Our missing senses

In the 19thcentury chemistry papers people routinely described how they had eaten or smelled the compounds they were making in the lab. By today’s standards, this practice is foolish, although there are enthusiasts who still resort to this dubious methodology. But let’s dig a little deeper. While tasting the products of one’s synthesis is reckless, let’s remember the teachings of Helmholtz. Among many of his original research contributions is an argument about the role of visual sensation in science (http://study.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/Hermann%20von%20Helmholtz.pdf). All of our scientific advances depend on observations of some kind and they are inevitably visual. Appreciation of everything from numerical values to molecular structure depends on how our retina responds to a stimulus. But is it all there is? Is it enough to solely rely on visual stimuli in our attempts to understand the world? Unfortunately, we do not have many options. The sound, taste, and smell are different from vision but they are not as information-rich when it comes to understanding the matter around us. I wonder if there is a civilization out there that has developed advanced senses other than vision to respond to changes around them and extract meaningful information.

Proteinaceous intelligence (PI)

From time to time I will write short essays on artificial intelligence (AI). AI is something that I know little about, so please forgive my ignorance. Wait… What I just said already sounds dangerously foolish because, if I am not an expert, I should probably pipe down. But I won’t be quiet because AI is now everywhere and, at its core, it commonly employs linear regression analysis, which has been around forever. At least this is what I would like to believe at this stage.

I am starting to read Bostrom’s “Superintelligence” and it paints a rather gloomy picture that is in store for us if things go astray. The point is that machines may one day surpass humans. Our fate will then depend on the actions of some powerful AI system, but I have a strong feeling that this won’t happen for a while because training sets are created by humans. Having said that, I would also hate our role to be relegated to the generation of those training sets. Don’t laugh: plenty of Edisonian science feeds there, so many of us are at it already.

Here is an uncomfortable thought I just had: a scary moment is a day when our own intelligence will be referred to as some primitive proteinaceous intelligence (PI). As a corollary to that, there will be nothing artificial about AI. Think about it.