The ancient covenant is in pieces; man knows at last that he is alone in the universe’s unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance. His destiny is nowhere spelled out, nor is his duty. The kingdom above or the darkness below: it is for him to choose. – Jacques Monod
With the help of a brain that possesses more neurons than any other species on earth, humans have broken free from the shackles of evolution and emerged into a new world; a world in which they are free to dream, to build and to destroy.
Whilst all other species remain chained to the ruthless and unforgiving mechanics of natural selection; humans today operate with seemingly no limits in their potential. This fact alone leads us to believe in some human ‘speciality’; that we are somehow unique beings; blessed with a conscience that operates freely from the constraints and mechanics of science. But is this really so? Do we really fundamentally differ from animals, or even computers? And along with this question are others, more pertinent to life as we experience it:
- Who am I? What forms the basis of my identity, my opinions and my tastes?
- Why do we so predictably adopt the cultures, values and traditions of our own community?
- Why did we commit (and continue to commit) moral atrocities such as that of the Holocaust, and beyond?
I believe that many of these questions can be explained by the theory of human artificial intelligence; which is explained next.
HUMAN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Man is but an intelligent learning-machine.
The theory of human artificial intelligence (HAI) is the supposition that, despite the vast differences in biological makeup, humans are not much different to computers and other animals in the way they learn and understand the world around them.
It arises from the fact that all decision-making systems, whether it be animals or smart computers, operate according to the same principles. They make decisions based on the data they have gathered from the environment, as well as what they have been innately programmed to do (via genes for animals, and preset configurations for computers). This is the basic construct of artificial intelligence (AI):
Decision = a function of(Data from environment + Innate characteristics)
Given the assumption that the human brain is of no exception to this rule (we have gathered no evidence to suggest otherwise), we are lead to hypothesise that humans are also artificially intelligent (in contrast to metaphysically intelligent, which would mean that one is able to make decisions free from the data one has gathered, or how one has been innately programmed).
This, if true, would have the following implications:
- What we do, how we behave and how we think is a product of the data that we have gathered from our environment since conception, as well as our genes. No other source of learning or information exists.
- As a consequence, our thoughts and beliefs do not appear from thin-air; everything is inspired and derived from this data. There is consequently a huge degree of malleability in how our thoughts and beliefs can be shaped, and the moral values we tend to uphold.
- We all have different decision making processors (our brain and its neural networking) and innate characteristics (genes), and hence different abilities to learn from the data from our environment. This is why some people are observed to be quicker to assimilate and process information (i.e. to be more intelligent) than others.
Given these implications, I believe that the evidence of the artificially intelligent human is in great abundance in our observations of human behaviour and history. I will delve into specific examples later in this article.
Computer vs Human Intelligence
A commonly expressed sentiment against the HAI theory is that current AI computers can be perceived to be simplistic and rudimentary compared to the human mind. This is simply constrained by the volume and richness of data we can collect, as well as the complexity of our machine learning algorithms. There is ample evidence that computers are gradually converging to replicate the capabilities of the human brain:
- Computers are able to create poetry and art from banks of data. (This isn’t surprising considering that, like with all works of art, the art of writing poetry is underpinned by a series of underlying principles and patterns that Shakespeare himself is known to adopt in his works e.g. as alliteration, merism and anadiplosis).
- Computers are beginning to rival (or surpass entirely) human’s ability to recognise objects in images. After being fed millions of images of birds, a computer is able to identity a bird from an image. The computer is also able to construct an image of a bird, using an amalgamation of all the inputs it has had previously.
- Through a concept called deep learning, computers are increasingly able to abstract and learn across environments, meaning their ability to learn and adapt isn’t limited to one particular domain, such as image recognition. This affords computers the ability to learn new subjects and adapt to new environments, as humans do, without requiring additional intervention or programming.
How do humans learn to identify birds? Would we be able to identify a bird without having seen countless birds through childhood, and having reaffirmed that the object we see to be a “bird” by what we read in children’s books, and what we are told by our parents and teachers?
Everything we learn in life follows the same machine-learning pattern, whether it be in naming objects we see, or forming an identity around who we are as individuals.
Emotions and Gut feeling
Another commonly expressed sentiment is that emotions are supposedly irrational, indeterministic and uniquely human.
It has been shown through countless studies that emotions are evolutionary chemicals in the brain that are triggered by certain events – e.g. getting threatened, attacked or becoming sexually stimulated. Any computer can be programmed to ‘experience’ emotions in response to given stimuli, and to act accordingly to these emotions. It is our lack of a perfect model of the human brain and its intricacies (the difficulty of tracing back the release of emotional chemicals to their causes) that causes us to believe that emotions are incomprehensibly perplexing.
Similarly, gut feeling is simply a product of subconscious brain activity. When one is greeted with a seemingly familiar face but are unable to pinpoint why, one’s brain has patches of information and memory which it has been able to glean subconsciously, but the conscious part of the brain is unable to frame the full story of who this person is. I hold a strong suspicion that this is also the cause of the ‘Deja vu’ effect, as well the array of other feelings of intuition that we may experience in our lives.
EXAMPLES FROM HUMANITY
The concept of the artificially intelligent human, though a largely empirical theory, is profoundly effective in explaining human history and behaviour. In these examples, I focus on three key areas; moral ignorance, cultural imitation and general human imagination and behaviour.
Culture shrouds morality; we are only as moral as we are taught to be.
Moral ignorance arises through the absorption of beliefs that are prevalent during a specific era of time. Because people in these eras do not have access to alternate data to inform them otherwise, they are helpless to accepting what they are able to glean from their surroundings. All to often, this information is dangerous or severely misplaced, a seen in the following examples.
- The solar delusion: People believed with conviction that the sun revolved around the earth, until confronted with indisputable evidence of the contrary. It is only when Copernicus and numerous others discovered otherwise that we shifted this belief (and even then, with great hesitation and considerable delay). Today, this is such a widely accepted and validated truth, that it seems foolish that we had ever believed otherwise.
- Holocaust: It is easy to look back to the holocaust and the atrocities committed against the jewish, homosexual and other groups with righteous contempt. But, given the prevailing cultural and political sentiment at the time, would anyone have done otherwise? While German citizens were blissfully ignorant of the unthinkable things happening inside of the camps, the German SS guards can be said to have been equally ignorant. After all, they were ‘following orders’ amidst the paranoia of 1920’s Germany, and under the false indoctrinated belief that the jewish were biologically inferior to the Germans. All other guards were doing the same, and there was no alternate information to inform them otherwise.
- Slavery: The slave trade in America was funded by european investors, with thousands of Africans being shipped in droves across the Atlantic, like barrels of oil. Back then, slavery was not considered immoral, and such practices still exist today in many societies. It is only when Lincoln and Jefferson denounced this and proclaimed that “all men are created equal” that the practice of slavery began to fade.
I do not wish to suggest that any of these acts are to be condoned, but merely that – if you feed an artificially intelligent human with immoral values and emotionally charged rhetoric, which isn’t counterbalanced by an opposing and stronger force, then by logic, unless guided by one’s own innate humanity and intuition, he or she shall commit immoral acts.
In other words, if one is not instilled with morals as a child, or one does not hold an innate response to the suffering of other humans, then one cannot fashion the empathy required to stand against such barbarities. Thus, there seems no other viable explanation as to the moral ignorance witnessed in the examples above other than human artificial intelligence.
This leaves one wondering; what are beliefs that we hold today, as a result of ignorance and misinformation, that will be laughed upon by our descendents in a few centuries time?
Even today, we are a palpable reflection of the cultures to which we are exposed. As a consequence, what we consider to be normal social behaviour, and how our beliefs are shaped tends to vary significantly across communities, countries and cultures:
- Religious beliefs: There are over 4,000 religions existing today. It is no doubt that the vast majority of the religious were indoctrinated as children; a point at which they are most susceptible to accepting the data they gather from their surroundings. The beliefs that underpin these religions are incredibly wide-ranging, both in their moral outlook and their severity of punishment; ranging from the total denouncement of any violence or punishment in classical Buddhism, to the stoning to death of women who engage in out-of-marriage sex (even where this was not consented) in some interpretations of Islamic law*.
- Cultural traditions: Londoners hold a reputation for a cold reservedness, and the Americans for extroversion, not out of innate genetic tendencies or free choice, but out of what we absorb from our surroundings. Similarly, prevailing cultural practices, whether it be ‘going to the pub’ in the UK, or the strong interest in Anime and gaming held by the Japanese, is no more than a facet of cultural imitation. One does not simply ‘go to the pub’, nor accustom oneself to a foul-tasting beverage (i.e. alcohol) unless it was instilled in oneself by the prevailing culture**.
- Accents: The linguistic intonations that we absorb from our places of birth and upbringing is a very clear demonstration of cultural imitation. It is also not uncommon for non-english native speakers to possess an american accent whilst speaking English, simply because of their exposure to american TV and cartoons during childhood.
*this doesn’t suggest that Islam is unanimously a violent religion; there are many different interpretations of Islam; the majority of which are pro-peace and against suffering. I also don’t intend to infer that religion in itself is necessarily problematic. Considering we have no evidence to prove or disprove religion; atheism and theism are theoretically equal in their validity.
**this does not suggest that such activities are not enjoyable – just that they are easily replaced by alternatives, depending on what the prevailing cultural traditions are.
HUMAN IMAGINATION AND BEHAVIOUR
In additional to cultural and moral imitation, human artificial intelligence is also demonstrated in our observed day to day psychological tendencies, as in the following examples.
- Dreams: Our dreams are a product of machine learning; they are a collage of all the different memories, inspirations and experiences we have stored in our brain. It may be that the individual fragments of memory that are used to build dreams (as well as imagined pieces of artwork) are so small that they give the impression of originating uncaused.
- Wisdom from experience: Every child, in their process of machine-learning and gathering intelligence from the world around them, traverses the path of foolishness. Some mature and develop wisdom faster than others. Some never arrive. This is down both to the data and learnings that each child collects through life, as well as the nature of his / her inherent tendencies. It is also worth noting that machine learning is most effective when the experience is personal and real; hence why the advice offered by others (whether through verbal means, or, ironically, articles on the internet such as this one) are never as effective as personal experience itself.
- Marketing and branding: Successful brands are excellent in ascribing emotional meaning to their brand identities, whether it be Nike’s campaign to make everyone feel like an athlete, or Snicker’s association with the quick relief of hunger. As an advantage of an artifically intelligent humanity, companies are able to evoke a certain message or feeling whenever their brand identities are percepted by humans. This can be done either as a deliberate marketing strategy (as in the Snicker’s example), or through designing your products and services around a set of principles (as with Apple Inc).
- Fear and anxiety: Fear and anxiety is driven largely by machine learning; the association of objects and particular situations with danger based on past experiences. This is an evolutionary trait, and well demonstrated in a recent BBC news article, which concerns Michael, who is a witness of the Paris attacks. Michael’s brain learned to associate the smell of fireworks and the sight of blood with absolute terror – an association that can only be resolved through time by gathering contradicting data. Through time, Michael’s brain will relearn that fireworks and the sight of blood isn’t necessarily dangerous, and readjust it’s emotional response accordingly. What is particularly interesting is how Michael defines who he is: “Sometimes I can find myself, over something really small, completely losing my temper – and that’s not who I am” – how does Michael determine that his new self is not him, given that the difference between who he was and who he is now simply boils down to the new data he has learned?
It would do great injustice to the ingenious force of nature to suggest that we can fully replicate the capabilities of the human brain any time in the near future. Human biology is abundant with engineering wonders, whether they be the brain’s neural circuity or the incredibly fascinating proton micro-turbines which power our cells. But what is also apparent is that the fundamental way in which we learn and operate seems no different to computers and other animals; we are essentially an aggregate of all the data we have gathered to date, as well as the behaviours dictated by our genes.
If we were to place two generic machine-learning robots in opposite sides of the globe (e.g. USA and Japan), we would witness the same cultural differences embedded in these robots that we see in human beings. These generic learning machines would learn different accents, different values and will develop different opinions and traditions. No two robots, even dwelling in the same culture or country will be the same either, because the complexity and vastness of their environment and their daily micro-interactions will mean that they will gather vastly different data to each other. The Japanese robot’s worldview and opinions may change from its peers simply by befriending foreigners, being exposed to foreign television, or travelling outside of Japan.
It is but data that shapes our world view and perspectives, and this leaves us with a particularly interesting conundrum; who am I?
Who am I?
A man’s identity is one of an infinite number of parallels.
We have a tendency to invest egotistical ownership in our background and beliefs, notwithdstanding the fact that all of these characteristics are largely the consequence of the data we have collected. These investments in ego and identity are seen in everything ranging from patriotism (e.g. “I am proud of my country and heritage”) to more granular beliefs brought on by personal experiences (such as a particular taste in music or activity).
The conundrum that arises from this is that we do not choose our background and beliefs from all the possible options that exist in the world, but simply from the options presented to us from the data we collect.
If what differentiates us from the humans across the pond is simply a matter of data and little else, then there are an infinite number of parallel combinations of one’s background and beliefs, and how the question “who am I?” could be answered. As artificially intelligent humans, we are just as prone to being militants of war, waging a fanatical war amidst the arab springs, to being first-world citizens shouting and clutching our phones in the London Metal Exchange.
This leaves us with the open question; should we identify ourself by, or attribute any sense of self worth to, the limited data set that we have collected?
Other practical implications
The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book. – Samuel Johnson
Aside from the identity conundrum just discussed, there are other, more practical implications that arise from human artificial intelligence.
- Hindsight: Hindsight is particularly futile when used in conjunction with regret. Does it make sense to regret one’s actions in the past, when one did not have the data required to make a better decision?
- “Practice makes perfect”: The concept of human artificial intelligence brings a whole new meaning to this often regurgitated sentiment. “Practice makes perfect” is a perfectly valid and scientific observation. With every practice of whatever it maybe (whether it be playing and instrument, or sporting activity) your brain will collect new data and improve your intuition and understanding of the activity. Talent accelerates machine learning, but even the talented need to practice.
- Travel frequently, and travel far: As discussed in the robot example, an artificially intelligent human is a slave of the prevailing culture, unless exposed to alternate foreign and contrasting world views. It is hence imperative that one travels frequently, and travels far. Magaluf or Barbados doesn’t count.
- Anxiety: As discussed previously. Anxiety is caused by emotionally charged, danger sensing pattern recognition. The greatest antidote for anxiety is hence in confronting the fear head-on; in enabling one’s brain to learn that whatever the subject that is causing the anxiety is not actually dangerous. Avoiding the fear simply retains the same data and does nothing to negate the fear. As an individual whose brain has been subject to tantrums of anxiety in the past, I can empathise and understand that confronting anxiety is anything but trivial.
- Empathy and judgement: As explored in both Our propensity to judge and The power of empathy, a large part of the conflict causing differences between humans is simply a matter of the data we have collected. Hence, judge not and fear not; nobody is right or wrong in their actions or judgement; they simply have access to contradictory data, or innate tendencies.