This 2016 study, Universal Adversarial Perturbations, demonstrates how the introduction of specially designed low level noise into image data makes state of the art neural networks misclassify natural images with high probability. Because the noise is almost imperceptible to the human eye, I think it should be a clue that image processing technology is not ‘seeing’ images.
It is not only the fact that it is possible to throw off the technology so easily that is significant, but that the kinds of miscalculations that are made are so broad and unnatural. Had the program had any real sense of an image, adding some digital grit to a picture of a coffee pot or plant should not cause a ‘macaw’ hit, but rather some other visually similar object or plant.
While many will choose to see this paper as a suggestion for a need to improve recognition methods, I see it as supporting a shift away from outside-in, bottom-up models of perception altogether. As I have suggested in other posts, all of out current AI models are inside out.
3/16/17 – see also http://www.popsci.com/byzantine-science-deceiving-artificial-intelligence
This article that went around last year is misleading on several levels.
1. It’s not a photograph, it’s a synthetic/graphic image generated by calculated statistics.
2. It’s a composite of many measurements, not a capture of anything like light.
3. We have no way of knowing whether we are measuring the objective ‘particle nature of light’ from electron collisions, or whether we are just objectifying the collective sensitivity of the instruments we are using.
For example, if all that we had to tell whether an object existed was experiments measuring someone’s eye movements, we could not tell the difference between an eye that was looking at a moving physical object or an eye that was looking at a graphic pattern that was purely visual. We could be looking at atomic REM patterns and thinking that we’re looking at a subatomic world.
Since there is no way, rationally, to tell the difference between a consensus of shared sensations and an object detected through sensation, it is my hypothesis that realism itself breaks at the classical limit. We think that quantum physics tells us that the classical limit is a hologram, but it makes more sense to me that quantum theory breaks realism and projects a world of non-sense non-objects in public space when we are really looking at the inflection point of subjectivity on a distant scale. It is quantum physics that is a hologram, not nature.
What makes that which is authentic more significant than that which is ‘false’? Why do proprietary qualities carry more significance than generic qualities? Commonality vs uniqueness. Cardinality vs. ordinality again.
The notion of authenticity seems to carry a certain intensity all by itself. Like consciousness, authenticity can be understood on the one hand to be almost painfully self-evident. What does it really mean though, for someone or something to be original? To be absolutely novel in some sense.
The Western mindset tends toward extremism when considering issues of propriety. The significance of ownership is exaggerated, but ownership as an abstraction – generic ownership. Under Western commercialism, rights to own and control others are protected vigilantly, as long as that ownership and control is free from personal qualities.
The thing which makes a State more powerful than a Chiefdom is the same thing which makes the Western approach so invested in property and so fearful of people. In a Chiefdom, every time the chief dies, the civilization is thrown into turmoil. In a State, no one person or group of people personifies the society, they are instead public officials holding public office, for a limited time. Political parties and ideologies can linger indefinitely, policies can become permanent, but individual people flow through it as materially important, yet ultimately disposable resources.
The metaphysical and social implications of this shift from the personal to the impersonal, are profound. For the metaphysical, or perhaps mathematical, there is a shift from the cardinal to the ordinal. In a Chiefdom, rule is carried out by specific individuals, so cardinality is the underlying character. In a State, ordinality is emphasized, because government has become more of a super-human function. It’s an ongoing sequential process, and the members within it (temporarily) are motivated by their own ambitions as they would be as part of a Chiefdom, but they are also motivated to defend the collective investment in the permanence of the hierarchy.
At the same time, cardinality can apply to the State, and ordinality would apply to a Chiefdom (or gang). The state imposes cardinality – mass producing and mass controlling through counting systems. Identification numbers are produced and recorded. Individuals under a State are no longer addressed as persons individually but as members of a demographic class within their databases. Lawbreaker, head of household, homeowner, student, etc. This information is never explicitly woven into a personal portrait of the living, laughing, loving person themselves, but rather is retained as skeletal evidence of activities. Addresses, family names, employment history, driver’s license, dental records. It is essential for control that identity be validated – but only in form, not in content. The personality of the consumer-citizen (consumiten?) is irrelevant, to an almost impossible degree – yet some ghost of conscience compels an appearance of sentiment to the contrary.
World War II, which really should be understood as the second half of the single war for control of human civilization on a global level for the first time, was a narrative about embodied mechanization and depersonalization. The narrative we got in the West was that Fascism, Communism, and Nazism were totalitarian ideologies of depersonalization. The threat was of authentic personhood eclipsed permanently by a ruthlessly impersonal agenda. Different forms of distilled Statehood, three diffracted shadow projections of the same underlying social order transitioning into cold automatism The mania for refining and isolating active ingredients in the 20th century, from DNA to LSD to quantum, ran into unexpected trouble when it was applied to humanity. Racist theories and eugenics, Social Darwinism, massive ethnic cleanses and purges. Were we unconsciously looking for our absent personhood, our authenticity which was sold to the collective, or rather, to the immortal un-collective? Did we project some kind of phantom limb of our evacuated self into the public world, hiding in matter, bodies, blood, and heredity?
So what is authenticity? What is an imposter? Does a blue rose become less important if it is dyed blue rather than if it grew that way? Why should it make a difference? (we tell ourselves, with our Westernized intellect, that it shouldn’t). If you never found out that the rose was ‘only’ dyed blue, would you be wrong for enjoying it as if it were genuine? Why would you feel fooled if you found out that you were wrong about it being genuine but feel good if you found out that you were wrong about it being ‘fake’.
Who is fake? Who is phoney? Who is sold out? (does anyone still call anyone a ‘sell out’ anymore, or are we now pretty comfortable with the idea that there is nobody left who would not happily sell out if they only had the chance?) These are terms of accusation, of righteous judgment against those who have become enemies of authenticity – who have forsaken humanity itself for some ‘mere’ social-political advantage.
There is a dialectic between pride and shame which connects the fake and the genuine, with that good feeling of finding the latter and the disgust and loss of discovering the former. The irony is that the fake is always perpetrated without shame, or with shame concealed, but the genuine is often filled with shame and vulnerability…that’s somehow part of what makes it genuine. It’s authority comes from within our own personal participation, not from indirect knowledge, not from the impersonal un-collective of the Market-state.
Where do we go now that both the personal and impersonal approaches have been found fatally flawed? Can we regain what has been lost, or is it too late? Does it even matter anymore? If mass media is any indication, we have begun not only to accept the imposter, but we have elevated its significance to the highest. What is an actor or a model if not a kind of template, a vessel for ideal personal qualities made impersonal? It is to be celebrated for acting like yourself, or being a character – a proprietary character, made generic by mass distribution of their likeness. Branded celebrity. A currency of deferred personalization – vanity as commodity. Perhaps in the long run, this was the killer app that the Nazis and the Russians and the Japanese didn’t have. The promiscuous use of mass media to reflect back super-saturated simulations of personhood to the depersonalized subjects of the Market-state.
More than nuclear weapons, it was Hollywood, and Mickey Mouse, and Levi’s and Coca Cola which won the world. Nuclear memes. Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. This process too has now become ultra-automated. The problem with the celebrity machine was that it depended on individual persons. Even though they could be disposed of and recycled, it was not until reality TV and the new generation of talent shows that the power to make fame was openly elevated above celebrity itself. Fame is seen to be increasingly elected democratically, but at the same time, understood to be a fully commercial enterprise, controlled by an elite. The solution to the problem of overcoming our rejection of the imposter has been a combination of (1) suppressing the authentic; (2) conditioning the acceptance of the inauthentic, and most importantly, (3) obscuring the difference between the two.
I’m not blaming anyone for this, as much as I might like to. I’m not a Marxist or Libertarian, and I’m not advocating a return to an idealized pre-State Anarchy (though all of those are tempting in their own ways). I’m not anti-Capitalist per-se, but Capitalism is one of the names we use to refer to some of the most pervasive effects of this post-Enlightenment pendulum swing towards quantitative supremacy. I see this arc of human history, lurching back from the collapse of the West’s version of qualitative supremacy in the wake of the Dark Ages, as a natural, if not inevitable oscillation. I can’t completely accept it, since the extremes are so awful for so long, but then again, maybe it has always been awful. Objectively, it would seem that our contemporary First World ennui is a walk in the park compared to any other large group in history – or is that part of the mythology of modernism?
It seems to me that the darkness of the contemporary world is more total, more asphyxiating than any which could be conceived of in history, but it also seems like it’s probably not that bad for most people, most of the time. Utopia or Oblivion – that’s what Buckminster Fuller said. Is it true though anymore, or is that a utopian dream as well? Is the singularity just one more co-opted meme of super-signification? Is it a false light at the end of the sold-out tunnel? An imposter for the resurrection? Is technology the Blue Pill? I guess if that’s true, having an Occidental spirituality which safely elevates the disowned authentic self into a science fiction is a big improvement over having it spill out as a compulsion for racial purity. A utopia driven by technology at least doesn’t require an impossible alignment of human values forever. Maybe this Blue Pill is as Red as it gets?