Thursday, January 20, 2011

Donut Vs. Doughnut.

Today, I jumped in the car and went up the road. I found myself turning into the local drive-through doughnut* shop. That’s fine as far as it goes, but I was actually going to the grocery store.

My dad just gave up his driver’s license. Normally he would have gone to the grocery store.

Was I driving on ‘automatic?’

Was it ‘muscle memory,’ so beloved of fable and song?

Was my mind ‘elsewhere?’

What happened…was I even conscious? Was I ‘sleep-driving?'


Norbert Wiener (1894-1964) was an American mathematician and the founder of cybernetics.

During WW II, Wiener attempted to produce a mathematical and electronic system for communicating vital information in such areas as radar and anti-aircraft gun control.

He became interested in automatic computing and feedback theory.

Wiener founded the study of cybernetics. Cybernetics deals with the automatic control of machinery by computers, ‘robotics,’ but also the study of the human brain and nervous system.

The two systems are analogous in the interrelationship of communication and control systems. The difference is organic. It is a matter of degree and complexity of design and function.

He wrote ‘Cybernetics,’ (1948,) and ‘The Human Use of Human Beings,’ (1950.)

In philosophy and psychology, ‘will’ is considered to be a capacity to choose among alternative courses of action.

This is held to be true particularly when the action is directed toward a specific goal or is governed by definite ideals and principles of conduct. This is in contrast to behaviour which stems from instinct, impulse, reflex or habit, none of which involves a conscious decision-making process.

What is artificial ‘intelligence?’ Is it the ability to choose between two or more courses of action, none of which lead directly to clearly defined or decisive outcomes?

For the sake of modernity, let us accept John Dewey’s notion that will is not a faculty of the mind that we are born with; neither is it acquired through heredity.

He saw it as a product of experience, evolving gradually in the mind and personality of the individual. Otherwise we are stuck with ancient philosophers, or metaphysics, neither of which are very satisfactory in the age we live in.

Let them quest for God or the soul, the meaning of life if they will. We will attempt to find ‘artificial intelligence.’

If you blog on Google, or post on Facebook for a while, you will note that the ads that magically appear actually appear pretty relevant after a time. This is not a machine ‘learning’ in the classic sense. What happens is that little ‘crawler bots’ run up and down every line of text and note key words. Those words are collated in terms of subject, frequency, and association with other words. Then, if you are blogging about child care, diaper and fomula ads appear on your blog, even if you have never actually used the word ‘diaper,’ or ‘formula.’

It would seem that our machine can compare imputs, and choose between a number of courses of action, and it requires no real ‘will’ of its own. And if a machine did something unexpected, we would merely consider it a glitch or malfunction. We would inquire no further—the machine is merely broken.

Or is it? Is it really broken? Maybe it was just trying to tell us something.

But ‘will’ is a human attribute.

My will directed me to the grocery store…habit took me to the doughnut shop.

Somehow my brain, being elsewhere, still managed to drive the car safely, (or maybe even a little too fast,) and it eventually took over and got me to the destination.

‘No harm done,’ and it made me think, which is not always a good thing, but I like it.

Maybe I am being held in thrall by Tim Horton’s. Everyone says they put something in that coffee to make you go back.

Public opinion has a certain wisdom of its own, and the stuff in there is caffeine.

Nicotine is the most powerfully addictive drug I have ever had, and without coffee and smokes, I would be miserable.

In that sense the 'stick and carrot' are involved in behavioural training...right?

*Editor’s Note: For our U.S. readers, that’s ‘donut.’

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