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Artificial Biology

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@dmhcoDaniel Mark Harrison

AI Is Making Smarter Humans

In a post recently by financial engineering firm Markov’s co-founder published in Data Driven Investor, Gerardo Lemus, the post’s author, explains how it is impossible, contrary to popular acclaim by quantitative finance model makers, for an artificially-intelligent software to identify a market bubble. To quote Mr. Lemus:

Because clustering [the act of data points coinciding close together on a graph] is an unsupervised AI technique [the software] doesn’t know it refers to a bubble, so strictly speaking all it says is ‘all these data points look similar.’ A human is still needed to understand whether it is a bubble.

Such admittances are a refreshingly honest break from the more commonplace borderline delusional views so frequently adopted by tech entrepreneurs, it must be said. They also point to something I wrote about a couple of years ago, which is the central theme in my first novel The Millennial Reincarnations and to some extent in its sequel novella, Decentralised Kingdom (themselves part of an almost-complete trilogy of books titled The Millennial Trilogy). That is, the issue of “knowing” something, or if you like, then in another sense, of “being”. These questions run centrally important to the concept of artificially-intelligent entities becoming super-human, prevalent over our society, which are fears even the likes of the most fearless entrepreneurs (think: Elon Musk) harbour in private.

In the past few hundred or so years, society has gone through a substantial degree of evolution, to such an extent that for most of us in the developed world, being is very different to what it used to be. Rene Descartes postulated in the 1600s that “I think therefore I am.” What we often miss when we consider that statement in any sort of depth is the idea that knowledge and the process of thinking is not permanent; rather, as history shows, it is revisionary and fluent. We are constantly adapting our notions of what we know and what we don’t — indeed, this process marks very well the process of evolution itself. In so doing, our cognitive faculty, which controls our process of thinking, also shifts a degree.

For knowledge is mostly marked by the prevalence of consciousness. Consciousness in turn is composed of what we think about all day long (degrees of subconscious thought not withstanding, but those are even informed by our concrete underlying knowledge).

For our Middle Era ancestors, it was things like city fires ravaging entire communities, or before that, plagues that might do the same that centrally entertained their thoughts. It was lustful dreams of the maidens of captains of industry, and what they might be able to procure for dinner that evening, as Samuel Pepys diaries’ conveniently affirm for us is the case. To some extent, this is still applicable, but to a larger and larger extent, it isn’t any more.

We don’t tend to worry that much about fires catching on in buildings most of the time, after all, with the increasing sophistication of modern firefighting equipment; neither do we concern ourselves much by plagues with modern healthcare as it is. Perhaps young maidens will always take the fancy of older gentlemen, as will banquets replete with wine feed their after-work permutations, but such aspects occupy much more precision-oriented focuses today than they did before. You meet a date on Tinder, a swipe away; likewise, a pizza order or even a Persian delicacy is just a click’s work.

The implication is that virtual spaces such as those online, occupied on the cloud, are interfering somehow with our notions of thinking and, as such, being. We are becoming — behaviourally, sentiently and cognitively — very different animals to our ancestors. Ours is a world inhabited with the conceptual realisation of a sort of different dimension altogether, that which mirrors the hypothetical notion of space-time remarkably so. In this being the case, our personal biological hard-drives seem to be becoming much more expansive than they were in years before. This is evinced by the fact that now, we can make machines that do the most very basic thinking; the same sort, in fact, in many ways, that our forbearers did.

While artificially intelligent technologies might not yet be catching up to anywhere near the human being’s capacity for intelligent thought, they are making us much brighter than we’ve ever been before. As Mr. Lemus implicitly admits, human beings can identify market bubbles. Strange as it may sound, that is not something our ancestors could do with any degree of success at all.


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