Home > AGI, AI, Artificial Intelligence > Joscha Bach, Yulia Sandamirskaya: “The Third Age of AI: Understanding Machines that Understand”

Joscha Bach, Yulia Sandamirskaya: “The Third Age of AI: Understanding Machines that Understand”

September 23, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Here’s my comments and Extra Annoying Questions on this recent discussion. I like and admire/respect both of them and am not claiming to have competence in the specific domains of AI development they’re speaking on, only in the metaphysical/philosophical domains that underlie them. I don’t even disagree with the merits of each of their views on how to best proceed with AI dev in the near future. What fun would it be to write about what I don’t disagree with though? My disagreements are with the big, big, big picture issues of the relationship of consciousness, information processing, consciousness, and cosmology.

Jumping right in near the beginning…

“The intensity gets associated with brightness and the flatness gets associated with the absence of brightness, with darkness”

Joscha 12:37

First of all, the (neuronal) intensity and flatness *already are functionally just as good as* brightness and darkness. There is no advantage to conjuring non-physical, non-parsimonious, unexplained qualities of visibility to accomplish the exact same thing as was already being accomplished by invisible neuronal properties of ‘intensity’ and ‘flatness’. 

Secondly, where are the initial properties of intensity and flatness coming from? Why take those for granted but not sight? In what scope of perception and aesthetic modality is this particular time span presented as a separate event from the totality of events in the universe? What is qualifying these events of subatomic and atomic positional change, or grouping their separate instances of change together as “intense” or “flat”? Remember, this is invisible, intangible, and unconscious. It is unexperienced. A theoretical neuron prior to any perceptual conditioning that would make it familiar to us as anything resembling a neuron, or an object, or an image.

Third, what is qualifying the qualification of contrast, and why? In a hypothetical ideal neuron before all conscious experience and perception, the mechanisms are already doing what physical forces mechanically and inevitably demand. If there is a switch or gate shaped structure in a cell membrane that opens when ions pile up, that is what is going to happen regardless of whether there is any qualification of the piling of ions as ‘contrasting’ against any subsequent absence of piles of ions. Nothing is watching to see what happens if we don’t assume consciousness. So now we have exposed as unparsimonious and epiphenomenal to physics not only visibility (brightness and darkness) and observed qualities of neuronal activity (intensity and flatness), but also the purely qualitative evaluation of ‘contrast’. Without consciousness, there isn’t anything to cause a coherent contrast that defines the beginning and ending of an event.

  • 13:42 I do like Joscha’s read of the story of Genesis as a myth describing consciousness emerging from a neurological substrate, however I question why the animals he mentions are constructed ‘in the mind’ rather than discovered. Also, why so much focus on sight? What about the other senses? We can feel the heat of the sun – why not make animals out of arrays of warm and cool pixels instead of bright and dark? Why have multiple modes of aesthetic presentation at all? Again – where is the parsimony that we need for a true solution to the hard problem / explanatory gap? If we already have molecules doing what molecules must do in a neuron, which is just move or resist motion, how and why do we suddenly reach for ‘contrast’-ing qualities? If we follow physical parsimony strictly, the brain doesn’t do any ‘constructing’ of brightness, or 3d sky, or animals. The brain is *already* constructing complex molecular shapes that do everything that a physical body could possibly evolve to do – without any sense or experience and just using a simple geometry of invisible, unexperienced forces. What would a quality of ‘control’ be doing in a physical universe of automatic, statistical-mechanical inevitables?

“I suspect that our culture actually knew, at some point, that reality, and the sense of reality and being a mind, is the ability to dream – the ability to be some kind of biological machine that dreams about a world that contains it.”

Joscha 14:28

This is what I find so frustrating to me about about Joscha’s view. It is SO CLOSE to getting the bigger picture but it doesn’t go *far enough*. Why doesn’t he see that the biological machine would also be part of the dream? The universe is not a machine that dreams (how? why? parsimony, hard problem) – it’s a dream that machines sometimes. Or to be more precise (and to advertise my multisense realism views), the universe is THE dream that *partially* divides itself into dreams. I propose that these diffracted dreams lens each other to seem like anti-dreams (concrete physical objects or abstract logical concepts) and like hyper-dreams (spiritual/psychedelic/transpersonal/mytho-poetic experiences), depending on the modalities of sense and sense-making that are available, and whether they are more adhesive to the “Holos” or more cohesive to the “Graphos” end of the universal continuum of sense.

“So what do we learn from intelligence in nature? So first if first if we want to try to build it, we need to start with some substrates. So we need to start with some representations.”

Yulia 16:08

Just noting this statement because in my understanding, a physical substrate would be a presentation rather than a re-presentation. If we are talking about the substrates in nature we are talking about what? Chemistry? Cells made of molecules? Shapes moving around? Right away Yulia’s view is seems to give objects representational abilities. I understand that the hard problem of consciousness is not supposed to be part of the scope of her talk, but I am that guy who demands that at this moment in time, it needs to be part of every talk that relates to AI!

“…and in nature the representations used seem to be not distributed. Neural networks, if you’re familiar with those, multiple units, multi-dimensional vectors represent things in the world…and not just (you know) single symbols.”

Yulia 16:20

How is this power of representation given to “units” or “vectors”, particularly if we are imagining a universe prior to consciousness? Must we assume that parts of the world just do have this power to symbolize, refer to, or seem like other parts of the world in multiple ways? That’s fine, I can set aside consciousness and listen to where she is going with this.

17:16: I like what Yulia brings up about the differences between natural and technological approaches as far as nature (biology really). She says that nature begins with dynamic stability by adaptation to change (homeostasis, yes?) while AI architecture starts with something static and then we introduce change if needed. I think that’s a good point, and relate it to my view that “AI is Inside Out“. I agree and go further to add that not only does nature begin with change and add stasis when needed but nature begins with *everything* that it is while AI begins with *nothing*…or at least it did until we started using enormous training sets of training data from the world.

  • to 18:14: She’s discussing the lag between sensation and higher cognition…the delay that makes prediction useful. This is a very popular notion and it is true as far as it goes. Sure, if we look at the events in the body as a chain reaction in the micro timescale, then there is a sequence going from retina to optical nerve to visual cortex, etc – but – I would argue this is only one of many timescales that we should understand and consider. In other ways, my body’s actions are *behind* my intentions for it. My typing fingers are racing to keep up with the dictation from my inner voice, which is racing to keep up with my failing memory of the ideas that I want to express. There are many agendas that are hovering over and above my moment-to-moment perceptions, only some of which I am personally aware of at any given moment but recognize my control over them in the long term. To look only at the classical scale of time and biology is to fall prey to the fallacy of smallism.

I can identify at least six modes of causality/time with only two of them being sequential/irreversible.

The denial of other modes of causality becomes a problem if the thing we’re interested in – personal consciousness, does not exist on that timescale or causality mode that we’re assuming is the only one that is real. I don’t think that we exist in our body or brain at all. The brain doesn’t know who we are. We aren’t there, and the brain’s billions of biochemical scale agendas aren’t here. Neither description represents the other, and only the personal scale has the capacity to represent anything. I propose that they are different timescales of the same phenomenon, which is ‘consciousness’, aka nested diffractions of the aesthetic-participatory Holos. One does not cause the other in the same way that these words you see on your screen are not causing concepts to be understood, and the pixels of the screen aren’t causing a perception of them as letters. They coincide temporally, but are related only through a context of conscious perception, not built up from unconscious functions of screens, computers, bodies, or brains.

  • to 25:39 …cool stuff about insect brains, neural circuits etc. 
  • 25:56 talking about population coding, distributed representations. I disagree with the direction that representation is supposed to take here, as far as I think that it is important to at least understand that brain functions cannot *literally* re-present anything. It is actually the image of the brain that is a presentation in our personal awareness that iconically recapitulates some aspects of the subpersonal timescale of awareness that we’re riding on top of. Again, I think we’re riding in parallel, not in series, with the phenomenon that we see as brain activity. I suggest that the brain activity never adds up to a conscious experience. The brain is the physical inflection point of what we do to the body and what the body does to us. Its activity is already a conscious experience in a smaller and larger timescale than our own, that is being used by the back end of another, personal timescale of conscious experience. What we see as the body is, in that timescale of awareness that is subpersonal rather than subconscious, a vast layer of conscious experiences that only look like mechanisms because of the perceptual lensing that diffracts perspective from all of the others. The personal scope of awareness sees the subpersonal scope of awareness as a body/cells/molecules because it’s objectifying the vast distance between that biological/zoological era of conscious experience so that it can coexist with our own. It is, in some sense, our evolutionary past – still living prehistorically. We relate to it as an alien community through microscoping instruments. I say this to point way toward a new idea. I’m not expecting that this would be common knowledge and I don’t consider that cutting edge thinkers like Sandamirskaya and Bach are ‘wrong’ for not thinking of it that way. Yes, I made this view of the universe up – but I think that it does actually work better than the alternatives that I have seen so far.
  • to 34:00 talking about the unity of the brain’s physical hardware with its (presumed) computing algorithms vs the disjunction between AI algorithms and the hardware/architectures we’ve been using. Good stuff, and again aligns with my view of AI being inverted or inside out. Our computers are a bottom-up facade that imitate some symptoms of some intelligence. Natural intelligence is bottom up, top down, center out, periphery in, and everything in between. It is not an imitation or an algorithm but it uses divided conscious experience to imitate and systemize as well as having its own genuine agendas that are much more life affirming and holistic than mere survival or control. Survival and control are annoyances for intelligence. Obstructions to slow down the progress from thin scopes of anesthetized consciousness to richer aesthetics of sophisticated consciousness. Yulia is explaining why neuroscience provides a good example of working AI that we should study and emulate – I agree that we should, but not because I think it will lead to true AGI, just that it will lead to more satisfying prosthetics for our own aesthetic-participatory/experiential enhancement…which is really what we’re trying to do anyhow, rather than conjure a competing inorganic super-species that cannot be killed.

When Joscha resumes after 34:00, he discusses Dall-E and the idea of AI as ‘dreaming’ but at the same time as ‘brute force’ with superhuman training on 800 million images. Here I think the latter is mutually exclusive of the former. Brute force training yes, dreaming and learning, no. Not literally. No more than a coin sorter learns banking. No more than an emoji smiles at us. I know this is tedious but I am compelled to continue to remind the world about the pathetic fallacy. Dall-E doesn’t see anything. It doesn’t need to. It’s not dreaming up images for us. It’s a fancy cash register that we have connected to a hypnotic display of its statistical outputs. Nothing wrong with that – it’s an amazing and mostly welcome addition to our experience and understanding. It is art in a sense, but in another it’s just a Ouija board through which we see recombinations of art that human beings have made for other human beings based on what they can see. If we want to get political about it, it’s a bit of a colonial land grab for intellectual property – but I’m ok with that for the moment.

In the dialogue that follows in the middle of the video, there is some interesting and unintentionally connected discussion about the lack of global understanding of the brain and the lack of interdisciplinary communication within academia between neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, neuromorphic engineers. (philosophers of mind not invited ;( ).
Note to self: get a bit more background on the AI silver bullet of the moment, the stochastic Gradient Descent Algorithm

Bach and Sandamirskaya discuss the benefits and limitations of the neuromorphic, embodied hardware approach vs investing more in building simulations using traditional computing hardware. We are now into the shop talk part of the presentation. I’m more of a spectator here, so it’s interesting but I have nothing to add.

By 57:12 Joscha makes an hypothesis about the failure of AI thus far to develop higher understanding.

“…the current systems are not entangled with the world, but I don’t think it’s because they are not robots, I think it’s because they’re not real time.”

To this I say it’s because ‘they’ are not real. It’s the same reason why the person in the mirror isn’t actually looking back at you. There is no person there. There is an image in our visual awareness. The mirror doesn’t even see it. There is no image for the mirror, it’s just a plane of electromagnetically conditioned metal behind glass that happens to do the same kind of thing that the matter of our eyeballs does, which is just optical physics that need not have any visible presentation at all.

The problem is the assumption that we are our body, or are in our body, or are generated by a brain/body rather than seeing physicality as a representation of consciousness on one timescale that is more fully presented in another that we can’t directly access. When we see an actor in a movie, we are seeing a moving image and hearing sound. I think that the experience of that screen image as a person is made available to us not through processing of those images and sounds but through the common sense that all images and sounds have with the visible and aural aspects of our personal experience. We see a person *through* the image rather than because of it. We see the ‘whole’ through ‘holes’ in our perception.

This is a massive intellectual shift, so I don’t expect anyone to be able to pull it off just by thinking about it for 30 seconds, even if they wanted to. It took several years of deep consideration for me. The hints are all around us though. Perceptual ‘fill-in’ is the rule, not the exception. Intuition. Presentiment. Precognitive dreams, remote viewing, and other psi. NDEs. Blindsight and synesthesia.

When we see each other as an image of a human body we are using our own limited human sight, which is also limited by the animal body>eyes>biology>chemistry>physics. All of that is only the small illuminated subset of consciousness-that-we-are-personally-conscious-of-when-we-are-normatively-awake. It should be clear that is not all that we are. I am not just these words, or the writer of these words, or a brain or a body, or a process using a brain or body, I am a conscious experience in a universe of conscious experiences that are holarchically diffracted (top down, bottom up, center out, etc). My intelligence isn’t an algorithm. My intelligence is a modality of awareness that uses algorithms and anti-algorithms alike. It feasts on understanding like olfactory-gustatory awareness feasts on food.

Even that is not all of who I am, and even “I” am not all of the larger transpersonal experience that I live through and that lives through me. I think that people who are gifted with deep understanding of mathematics and systemizing logic tend to have been conditioned to use that part of the psyche to the exclusion of other modes of sense and sense making, leaving the rich heritage of human understanding of larger psychic contexts to atrophy, or worse, reappear as a projected shadow appearance of ‘woo’ to the defensive ego, still wounded from the injury of centuries under our history of theocratic rule. This is of course very dangerous, and even more dangerous, you need that atrophied part of the psyche to understand why it is dangerous…which is why seeing the hard problem in the first place is too hard for many people, even many philosophers who have been discussing it for decades.

Synchronistically, I now return to the video at 57:54, where Yulia touches on climate change (or more importantly, from our perspective, climate destabilization) and the flawed expectation of mind uploading. I agree with her that it won’t work, although probably for different reasons. It’s not because the substrate matters – it does, but only because the substrate itself is a lensing artifact masking what is actually the totality of conscious experience.

Organic matter and biology are a living history of conscious experience that cannot be transcended without losing the significance and grounding of that history. Just as our body cannot survive by drinking an image of water, higher consciousness cannot flourish in a sandbox of abstract semiotic switches. We flourish *in spite of* the limits of body and brain, not because our experience is being generated by them.

This is not to say that I think organic matter and biology are in any way the limits of consciousness or human consciousness, but rather they are a symptom of the recipe for the development of the rich human qualities of consciousness that we value most. The actual recipe of human consciousness is made of an immense history of conscious experience, wrapped around itself in obscenely complicated ways that might echo the way that protein structures are ordered. This recipe includes seemingly senseless repetition of particular conscious experiences over vast durations of time. I don’t think that this authenticity can be faked. Unlike the patina of an antique chair or the bouquet of a vintage wine that could in theory be replicated artificially, the humanness of human consciousness depends on the actual authenticity of the experience. It actually takes billions of years of just these types of physical > chemical > organic > cellular > somatic > cerebral > anthropological > cultural > historical experiences to build the capacity to appreciate the richness and significance of those layers. Putting a huge data set end product of that chain of experience in the hands of a purely pre-organic electrochemical processor and expecting it to animate into human-like awareness is like trying to train a hydrogen bomb to sing songs around a campfire.

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