The Edge.org, the online salon for the world’s “most complex and sophisticated minds,” has released the answers to its annual question. This year’s question was What Do You Think About Machines That Think? (“Is AI becoming increasingly real? Are we now in the new era of AI?, ), and there were 186 respondents, including philosopher Daniel Dennett (“The Singularity—an Urban Legend?”), musician Brian Eno (“Just a New Fractal Detail in the Big Picture”), physicist Freeman Dyson (“I Could Be Wrong”), cognitive scientist Steven Pinker (“Thinking Does Not Imply Subjugating”), neuroscientist Sam Harris (“Can We Avoid a Digital Apocalypse?“), Gary Marcus, Jonathan Gottschall , neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky (“It Depends“), scholar of Chinese thought Edward Slingerland (“Machines Aren’t Thinking About Anything“), and other luminaries (full list). Founder of the Edge, the publisher and literary agent John Brockman, strives to create a “third culture,” which “consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.”
Tom Stoppard has written his first new play in almost a decade. It will open at the National Theatre in London on January 28, and it’s about…consciousness! The Hard Problem, named for philosopher David Chalmers’ famous formulation of the supreme mystery of qualia, tells the story of a young psychologist at a brain-science institute. According to the overview, the protagonist Hilary “is nursing a private sorrow and a troubling question at work, where psychology and biology meet. If there is nothing but matter, what is consciousness?” With his new play, the author of Arcadia and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead asks: “Is the day coming when the computer and the fMRI scanner will answer all the questions psychology can ask?” Here is a recent TED Talk by Chalmers, who calls the study of consciousness “still a science of correlations, not explanations.” (Apparently, Qualia is also the name of a luxury resort on an island in Australia. See above)
London-based artist Aiste Noreikaite has developed a high-tech device that translates neural processes into sound in real time using EEG technology. According to Noreikaite, the Experience Helmet, which looks like an ordinary white motorcycle helmet, creates an “audible reflection of one’s personal experience of the present moment.” The sounds inside the helmet become higher when users have clear minds, and faster and more rhythmic when they focus on particular subjects.
(via The Creator’s Project)
(photo credit Natalja Safronova)
Patrick Tresset is a French scientist and artist “investigates human artistic activity, computational creativity and our relation to machines.” When he lost the ability to paint and draw by hand, he invented a robot named Paul, a “creative prosthetic” with a mechanical eye and motorized arm for sketching portraits. He calls his most recent version Paul-IX. As quoted by The Creators Project, Tresset asks: “What is the point for such a robot to dedicate its existence to drawings that comment on human existence, rather than be a utilitarian slave as expected of it?” Watch video of Paul in action here.
Paul-IV.a, FASTE-2, Creil, France, 2014, photo by Patrick Tresset
Over at The New Statesman, the neuroscientist Daniel Glaser writes about being the first scientist to judge the Man Booker Prize, the prestigious literary award for the best novel written in English and published in the UK. Glaser reminds us that science is a part of culture, and that scientists are important readers too. He reveals that he chose physical copies of the books—he had to read 156 in all, about one every day—because “your encoding of memory is richer if it’s multisensory.” Richard Flanagan won the prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a story about an Australian doctor, his love affair with his uncle’s wife, and one day in a Japanese slave labor camp in 1943.
(Image credit: The Los Angeles Times website via Alastair Grant/Associated Press)
What’s that thing about monkeys typing Shakespeare? Give an abstract device an infinite amount of time to produce a endless string of random linguistic symbols and there is a technically a non-zero probability that such a “monkey” will eventually hit upon any existing piece of literature, the theorem goes. In other words, pure chance can be highly creative. In the 1960s, movements like the Oulipo imposed certain constraints on their work, following certain patterns (the most famous example may be the experimental novel La Disparition by Georges Perec, written without the letter e). With these algorithms, the creative act becomes a calculable operation. The result may or may not be inherently meaningful. In the case of the monkey, the result would be as meaningful as the original, but would not arrive for the duration of our universe. Some people are even programming computerto produce books. Phillip Parker, Professor of Marketing at INSEAD Business School, has patented a program that can receive a small amount of information mimic the thought process of an expert. The process takes thirteen minutes, and Parker claims to be able to program romance novels and even rudimentary poetry (the program has produced over 2oo,000 books). Recently I’ve thought about this phenomenon after encountering Google Voice transcripts for my phone messages, which produce hilarious and even brilliant errors:
“Bye bye. Thank you very much catch her to work Hi. This past sorry it is, actually some fire Yeah, okay. Alright friends and I’ll pass. Something written about it’s all right with you, cool trying to heydude fresh. We know with the Ohh, Ohh I’m calling about the truck I guess.”
How would the meaning be changed if I told you what the caller was actually saying? In the digital age, Roland Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” seems especially prescient. What will happen to creativity? I like this quote from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: “The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined, out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.” Maybe he meant a computer, processing.