Experience versus parsing


AI: Biological minds experience; Synthesis engines parse.

I was not losing any sleep over Artificial General Intelligence, which is good since “Artificial General Intelligence” is (I very recently learned) an hyperbole, inflating what ChatGPT and its ilk really are.

Baldur Bjarnason’s Artificial General Intelligence and the bird brains of Silicon Valley didn’t entirely reassure me that the synthetic text-parser we’ve been having fun with for a few months don’t present some real problems, but the problems are orders of magnitude less, and almost certainly qualitatively different from, the breathless speculations that keep turning up.

But Bjarnason’s article was so laugh-inducing and persuasive debunking that I could easily over-quote. I’ll narrow my focus to the passages I think likeliest to break the spell of any reader(s) who are overestimating AI today’s sophisticated stabs at the Turing Test:

The idea that there is intelligence somehow inherent in writing is an illusion. The intelligence is all yours, all the time: thoughts you make yourself in order to make sense of another person’s words.

Because text and language are the primary ways we experience other people’s reasoning, it’ll be next to impossible to dislodge the notion that these are genuine intelligences. No amount of examples, scientific research, or analysis will convince those who want to maintain a pseudo-religious belief in alien peer intelligences. After all, if you want to believe in aliens, an artificial one made out of supercomputers and wishful thinking feels much more plausible than little grey men from outer space. But that’s what it is: a belief in aliens.**

It doesn’t help that so many working in AI seem to want this to be true. They seem to be true believers who are convinced that the spark of Artificial General Intelligence has been struck.

They are inspired by the science fictional notion that if you make something complex enough, it will spontaneously become intelligent.

General reasoning seems to be an inherent, not emergent, property of pretty much any biological lifeform with a notable nervous system.

Baldur Bjarnason, Artificial General Intelligence and the bird brains of Silicon Valley.

Note that this is not actually human exceptionalism (not that I’d oppose that), but biological exceptionalism, commenting favorably on the actual intelligence of, say, bumble bees, with fewer than half a billion brain cells, in contrast to what machines do.

GenZ vices

People who grow up in this culture of distrust are bound to adopt self-protective codes of behavior. I’ve been teaching college students on and off for 25 years. Over the last few years, students have become much less willing to argue with one another in class. They don’t want to be viciously judged. It’s not even that they are consciously afraid of being canceled. It’s simply that the norm of non-argumentativeness in public has settled over many (but not all) parts of campus culture.

David Brooks, What Our Toxic Culture Does to the Young

History rhymes

Stephen Spender was a friend and contemporary of W. H. Auden’s, but he had nowhere near Auden’s surfeit of talent. Like Auden, he grew up in the 1930s, spent time in Berlin, saw some of what was coming, and wrote about it. His journals have interesting things in them, not least an insight he made in September 1939. “All the nice people I knew in Germany,” he says, “were either tired or weak.” Why was that the case? he asks his journal again two days later. He concludes that Yeats was right when he wrote: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”

Douglas Murray.

Note the implication: there are people with the time to peruse the journals of second-rate poets.


A salutary lesson from the coronation

The most mysterious and sacred centre of Charles’ coronation is the Anointing. In this ceremony, which dates back to the Old Testament, Charles will remove his robes of state. Dressed in a simple white shirt, he will be anointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury with oil of chrism, made on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives and blessed in a special ceremony by the Patriarch of Jerusalem.

The millions watching the Coronation won’t see any of this. Our screens will see only the anointing screen: an elaborate tapestry embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework, depicting every nation in the Commonwealth as leaves on a tree. Behind this, the Archbishop will pour the oil into an ornate silver-gilt spoon, the only surviving relic of the pre-Civil War coronation regalia, and anoint Charles on the hands, chest and head: a moment traditionally seen as between the sovereign and God, and thus closed to public view.

And in screening this moment from the view of public and cameras alike, Charles makes ceremonial acknowledgement of a truth with both personal and political significance, and profound countercultural power: that some things are not, and never will be, open to all.

Mary Harrington.

That truth is one of the reasons to oppose porn (for all the good opposition will do): it opens to all things that should be kept private.

A more dubious item

Before Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla made the trek from Buckingham Palace in the gilded Diamond Jubilee State Coach to Westminster—the nation’s coronation church since 1066—protests in and around Trafalgar Square were already taking place.

Police arrested Graham Smith, leader of the anti-monarchist group ‘Republic’, along with 52 others, invoking the fact that “their duty to prevent disruption outweighed the right to protest.”

Tristan Vanheuckelom.

We would readily recognize in, say, Red China or Russia, the suppression of dissent to created a comparably tidy spectacle. So are Red China and Russia not as bad as we’re taught, or is Britain worse?


When all you have is a hammer …

I have my own tribal biases, although lately not the ones I had for most of my life. I used to presume that the leftist take on any given subject wasn’t just wrong but informed by malice, however concealed. In the Trump era, my presumption has shifted: If the populist right is animated over some controversy, chances are the other side of the issue is the morally correct one.

[A] core conviction of Trumpism is the belief that every problem can be made less troublesome by the application of more violence. Illegal immigrants flooding the border? Shoot them in the legs. Fentanyl epidemic in the heartland? Bomb the cartels. BLM protests spiraling into riots? Invoke the Insurrection Act. D.A. breathing down your neck? Threaten “death and destruction” if you’re charged. Demonstrators disrupting your rallies? Offer to pay the legal fees of anyone who assaults them. Risk of a floor fight at your party’s political convention? Warn of riots if it happens. Lost a presidential election? Instigate a mob to overturn it by force.

Alarmed by an unstable homeless person on the subway? Choke him until he stops moving.

When all you have is an authoritarian hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Nick Cattagio, The Death of Jordan Neely.

Part of me — a very large part — regrets that Donald Trump not only hasn’t disappeared, but bodes to be elected in 2024, as America like a dog returns to its 2016 vomit. That’s why I continue to pass along observant stuff like the preceding.

Proud Boys eat Humble Pie

A federal jury on Thursday convicted five leaders of the Proud Boys militia—Enrique Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl, and Dominic Pezzola—on multiple felony charges related to their activities on January 6, 2021. Four of the leaders—all except Pezzola—were found guilty of a seditious conspiracy to interfere with the transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden, and the five were also convicted on charges of obstructing an official proceeding, conspiring to prevent members of Congress and federal law enforcement officers from discharging their duties, civil disorder, and destruction of government property. Prosecutors are likely to seek lengthy sentences for all five.

The Morning Dispatch, 5/5/23.

The Department of Justice apparently decided to prosecute everyone who entered the Capital in the January 6 insurrection. Consequently, a fairly close acquaintance of mine (who strolled in looking like a sightseer, not an insurrectionist, in the photos in his indictment) has been convicted on fairly minor charges.

So it warms my heart to see that the real insurrectionists are getting convicted of some much more serious charges.

A bellwether?

The North Carolina Senate voted 29-20 on Thursday, entirely along party lines, to advance legislation prohibiting most abortions after 12 weeks of gestation, with exceptions for rape and incest (up to 20 weeks of gestation), “life-limiting anomalies,” (up to 24 weeks), and life of the mother (no limit). The bill also appropriates money for child and foster care programs, contraception, and paid parental leave for teachers and government employees. North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has said he will veto the measure, but Republicans—who have supermajorities in both chambers after a state representative recently changed parties—believe they have the votes to override him.

The Morning Dispatch, 5/5/23.

Before Roe v. Wade was overturned by Dobbs, I thought that the politics of abortion, back in the states, would eventually play out with abortion laws roughly like this: bans after the first trimester with exceptions.

It’s interesting that a very red legislature may have needed to add such exceptions in order to override a blue Governor’s veto. Were I still a Republican, I would very much enjoy holding up Roy Cooper’s veto threat as proof that Democrats are the real abortion absolutists (though I’d have the extremely restrictive laws of some solid-red states to explain away).

Nellie’s nuggets

I thought banning gas stoves was a conspiracy theory? Now, hold on. I was told just in January of this year that the gas stove ban was a fake right-wing culture war thing. 

NYT: “No One Is Coming for Your Gas Stove Anytime Soon” 

Time: “How Gas Stoves Became the Latest Right-Wing Cause in the Culture Wars”

Salon: “Rumors of a gas stove ban ignite a right-wing culture war”

MSNBC: “No, the woke mob is not coming for your gas stove.”

AP News: “FACT FOCUS: Biden administration isn’t banning gas stoves”

The Washington Post: “GOP thrusts gas stoves, Biden’s green agenda into the culture wars”

Which is why it’s so weird because just this week, New York state lawmakers banned gas stoves from all new construction. So it definitely does seem like Dems are coming for gas stoves, in that they just banned them in one of America’s most populous states. 

There’s usually a slightly longer lag between when the mainstream press tells us something is a crazy lie and when the press says okay, fine, it’s not a lie, it’s actually true, and also it’s a good thing—so this is surprising. I’ll be over here huffing carbon oxides and vapors.

Bud Light mess continues: Anheuser-Busch is offering their distributors free Bud Light to help them out as sales of the very bad beer continue to fall. This is the ongoing backlash for the company making a special beer can with transwoman influencer Dylan Mulvaney’s face on it. But if they want to repair relations, they should try giving out a better beer. If someone gave me boxes of free Bud Light, I would report it as a hate crime.

Nellie Bowles, TGIF: Writers of the World, Unite!.

In that first item, on gas stoves, Nellie’s conclusion echoes Rod Dreher’s Law of Merited Impossibility.

The secret desire of the mainstream press

I … feel a certain vibe, in the eager coverage of DeSantis’s sag, suggesting that at some half-conscious level the mainstream press really wants the Trump return. They want to enjoy the Trump Show’s ratings, they want the G.O.P. defined by Trumpism while they define themselves as democracy’s defenders.

Ross Douthat, Are Anti-Trump Republicans Doomed to Repeat 2016?

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

One thought on “Experience versus parsing

  1. 1. FBI Prosecutions: Our neighbor and fellow parishioner was at the 1/6 attack, apparently just followed the mob to the Capitol. A few months ago, a bunch of FBI people showed up here and went through his apartment (while holding him under arrest until they were done). He’s now finally submitting his plea-bargain paperwork, and we hope will get off with “time served” or some affordable fine. I assume he’s typical of the non-violent, unarmed participants.
    2. Gas stoves: I’m waiting for it to sink in that gas ranges have been banned in new *restaurants*. When that happens, I expect that powerful interests will get the law changed, at least to exempt commercial uses.

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