Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Machine For Making People Unhappy


1.

- I saw you here a couple of days ago. I was sitting beside you, this same chair. Did you notice me?
- Yes.
- Then I saw you again yesterday. And here you are again today.
- You were here earlier today and left. You came back. Was it to talk to me?
- Yes.
- Really? Why?
- I just moved to the neighborhood. I wanted to talk to somebody.
- You couldn't find anyone better?
- I couldn't. And you look like you might be, what's the word, conversable? What are you writing?
- I had this idea...
- What?
- I would start a story with the line, "American life is a machine for making people unhappy."
- Is that what you think?
- If I say yes, are you leaving? What do you do, by the way?
- I act. Tell me what you're writing.
- It's a wonderful irony. Stupendous even. We Americans love our technology, especially love our computers. But as computers become more like us, acquire artificial intelligence, we become more like them, acquire computer intelligence.
- What's that?
- Theorists of artificial intelligence said from the beginning that working on how to make computers think would help us understand how we think. That didn't happen. It was the other way around: it took study of human beings before programmers could tell computers how to think. And then when smarter computers were thinking more like human beings, human being threw themselves more and more into thinking like computers, that is like computers used to think in the days before they were educated and taught to imitate humans. Computers apply rules to symbols. American society has a symbol, money, and the rule, get it. Success once was our religion. It was optional. Freedom of religion. Then it became science, the economics of Neo-Liberalism, and applicable to all. No one escapes the rule of nature. If no one will pay for anything you do since nothing else defines society you have to die. No other human qualities recognized. You are by character, education, habit or experience suited to a different kind of life? Too bad. You have to die. We operate on each other like computers on the symbol money, applying the rule, get it. Such rule application to symbols was the highest intelligence computers could produce before a philosopher taught them to act more like us. I mean us before we became Neo-Liberal.
- What did the philosopher teach them?
- And that we've forgotten? Computers had a hard time locating in the world, the particular world they were given the job to look at, the things symbolized. The symbols they were programmed to operate on named a class of things: chair, table, person. When a digital camera fed the computer an array of light and dark pixels, how were they to find in this multitude the shape of some particular thing that was an instance of a class symbolized? A philosopher told them how.
- What was his name?
- Dreyfus. U.C. Berkeley. 20th Century philosophy, in the footsteps of an ancient tradition, had worked it out. We learn to see by moving our bodies through real world of things. If a computer did the same, it would be able to know which arrangements of pixels to look for, what kinds of arrangements: lines, circles, grids, whatever. When certain movements of our eyes and hands found a regularity, a shape comes into sight out there in the world, we try those movements again, and confirm again. We develop habits of looking and we see the thing out there.
- Confusing.
- Yes. But it is what we do. Computers were taught to do it and it worked.
- Really?
- Really. First they were programmed in the neural structure of the brain, where individual neurons learn, change in response to experience. Then robots were built such that when you moved them they remembered, and compared how the world changed in appearance as they moved through it. They learned.
- Wow.
- Wow is right. Not so wow is that at the same time humans were, in country after country, moving in the opposite direction, instituting Neo-Liberal policies that explicitly reject or devalue individual learning and creativity. We humans regressed to rule and symbol, the symbol money, and the rule, get it.
- We did make the computers though, right? We had to learn to do it. That was creative.
- Ok, so we haven't totally regressed. We are professionally creative. But still our creativity, if we don't go beyond what computers can do, shares the same limits computers have to what they can learn.
- What limits?
- Learning by developing habits of movement always has a history of movement behind it, influencing which movements to try. For living beings there is always a history to the history, actions that led to the formation of the habits we use at the moment. When we program a computer to work like our brain, or teach a robot by moving its arms, development of habits starts from a fixed place. That place we built the machine from. The causality of our development, however, our education of sight by movement, goes back into the beginning of time: childhood, infancy, fetus, chromosomes, evolution, the big bang. We can imagine for ourselves no physical beginning, always a cause to a cause. In computer learning the choice of habit to be tried, like the choice of words in the creative use of language, provides an infinite number of paths to be taken, each path different depending on initial conditions. Causal determination allows for individuality. But individuality is not at issue. It's not good enough for us human beings. We can imagine for ourselves something very different and much better.
- What?
- That the experience we know as beauty, love, religious union, was there at the beginning setting us out on a very particular kind of path. The computer has no good reason to choose one path over another. What kind of shape should it start moving to look for when seeing each different shape require moves in an incompatible direction? When computer scientists tried to simulate Darwinian evolution, natural selection by random mutation,** they couldn't get anywhere. With chance producing variation, no path was continued, there was no development. When programmers try to simulate human choice they come up against the same problem. With no particular goal, the computer does not know which of many possible paths to pursue. A chair can be put in the category of wood, category of less than 10 pounds, category of to be sat upon, etc.
- How do we, people decide?
- Beauty guides us. When it does't, we act like the computers that can't evolve, can't move consistently in any one direction.
- But computers do learn. Isn't learning creative?
- Robots, computers learn, but strictly speaking this kind of learning is not creative. All is pre-determined by rules, symbols, world. The decision what category to put the chair in, wood, heavy, to be sat on, will depend on the chance factors of where the program began, and then all what subsequently happened. It's all predetermined. Beauty arises only when determination can be interrupted.
- How?
- When decision of which habits to try is guided by memory of beauty. Because we have learned, also from the beginning, that certain choices, kinds of choices, lead us back to beauty. We go from beauty to beauty. Love to love. A computer, not starting from beauty but some or other condition, set by us, never can get to beauty. How can a computer, with rules operating on symbols, ever get its entire apparatus invisible to itself? See a world whole, undivided? That is, get to beauty? The result of rule operation on symbols always will only be chance and meaninglessness.
- From love to love: what kind of story is that?
- A story of its loss and return. Trying to break out of the world of rules and symbols. Stories like a fairy tale. We start out happy, someone or some chance betrays us, we get lost and have to find our way back home. While lost the world is strange and we are strange to ourselves, the world is unclear and we see ourselves in a role, see ourselves exclusively in our habits of movement. We know from computers, as we've been talking about, such observed and guided movements educate our seeing when we get the rules right for choosing them. In these stories of going from love to love we learn how to get from the alien world of rules and symbols back home. We practice a kind of technology, using expertise with one world to get us into another. And perhaps, our experience suggests, that other world, the world of love, exercises a technology of its own, perhaps it throws its weight around in the world of rules and symbols.
- Extra sensory perception, messages from spirits. Miracles.
- I'll tell you a story, about what isn't a miracle but looks like one. I used to wear my wedding ring.
- Aren't you wearing one now?
- A different ring. I got complaints. The consensus was I shouldn't be wearing a wedding ring, it gave people false ideas, kept woman away, or in another version, attracted them. I took to saying that if I found another ring that would fit not my left hand ring finger but middle finger, was gold and the same style I'd retire the wedding ring.
- And you're going to tell me you found one? On the street? The ring you are wearing?
- All correct. Now this isn't a miracle. I used to buy and sell old watches when I was living in Europe. I have what we've been talking about, an educated eye, in relation to the kind of old things one finds at a flea market. I live in Beverly Hills. It's not at all unlikely when you think about it to find gold on the street here, rings dropping off careless, diet thinning, rich fingers. But here's another story. A British biologist has claimed that the rapidity with which birds flying in a flock react to predators demonstrates thought transference: reaction time to change of direction are four times faster than minimum tested reaction time. I went back to the original research to see if the first birds taking action responded much slower. They did. They respond with a normal reaction time. The birds with the impossibly fast reaction time aren't looking at the nearest bird in the flock but several birds away towards the initial response. They begin to calculate well before the wave of successive movements reaches their position. Human beings, when they collaborate with each other, if they stay together in the same place can achieve great results by doing the same kind of calculation. Like chess players looking many moves ahead, they think of a new idea, imagine their collaborator's response, imagine their own response to that, on and on, and reach a conclusion whether this idea is a dead end or not, and if so, move on to a new idea. Nothing telepathic or mysterious going on.
- Never?
- If they are only friends, no, I don't think so. But if they are more to each other, if they are each other's home, maybe. If failure of their project risks home. Does the world seem unreal, do they see themselves only in habits and role? Then the tools of the technology of love are set out, their creativity may attain to what we call art.
- Where does telepathy come in?
- When connection that is solidified in love makes an appearance in the world of rules and symbols. The British biologist did a study with dogs. Their human companions were told, at an arbitrarily selected time of day, to set off for home from miles away. Recording cameras on the dog at home showed them going to the door to wait at the same time.
- You said he was discredited.
- I don't know if the bird flocking research was revised after he had cited it. And people make mistakes. Anyway calculative group behavior like flocking is not going to be where we find love. I'll tell you another story. I met an acquaintance at Starbucks a couple nights ago, the night you first saw me. Maybe you saw him.
- No. I don't think so.
- We'd meet each other by chance about every few months. He invited me that night to the restaurant next door. I've been there only once before, two years ago. I'd struck up a conversation down the street with a beautiful woman putting coins in a parking meter. She was an actress, she wanted me to meet her boyfriend a movie director who was waiting for her at the restaurant. Now the next day, yesterday, I was at Trader Joe's in Westwood, waiting in a long line to pay. My attention was drawn to a woman waiting a few lines down, her face hidden by her long hair. When I'd just reached the head of the line she appeared beside me, announced, "I moved over here" and before I could reply, the cashier said, joking, you're together I hope? I'm ringing everything up together. No, just the banana was mine. Then he said I would pay for her? No, she said. She would pay for me.
- She said he said and a banana. I don't get the point of the story.
- I paid my 19 cents, said she could pay for me next time, and looked over to take a parting look at her. My thoughts stopped dead in their tracks. The beauty I'd expected was hidden behind the vale of hair was in fact there. I left in a rush. A minute later I wondered at my rush. I wished I had spoke with her. I realized she reminded me of an actress I knew, a reader of my stories on the internet who I'd met once for coffee. She'd never outside that entered my life, but she stayed in my life, if you know what I mean.
- Stayed in your thoughts.
- Yes. So later in the day, that same day I get a message about my latest stories from this actress reader that I'd not heard from in months. And then later that night I met the acquaintance I told you about here at Starbucks and he takes me to the same restaurant the girl met on the street took me to.
- Who, I take it, was the same girl you saw at Trader Joe's. She was the actress who brought you here to meet her boyfriend.
- I think so.
- Must have been. It explains her forwardness. She knew you.
- A lot of correspondences, coincidences. Was I intuitively following through on some theme, or was this an example of the world of love interfering with the world of rules and symbols, like the dog sensing from a distance the home directed movement of his human companion and going to the door to wait?
- I don't know.
- I don't either. I wrote beauty into the story in my choices, in which case I am the artist, or the world was in charge, the behind the scenes producer. Good both ways.


2.

- So you live near by?
- Not far. With a mother and son. The mother lost her mind long before she got old. Sometimes she goes crazy and attacks me. The son says he is doing god's will saving the needy of the neighborhood. He's saving me.
- Is he crazy too?
- You can decide for yourself. I'll introduce you.
- No thanks. There's a name for it: messiah complex. A good subject to write about.
- I don't want to write about life with these people. I'm sick of it.
- Write that. It's funny.
- When I was growing up I believed there was some good in me, some beauty, some love that would attract love and beauty towards me. And instead I get this.
- Get what? Self pity? Get a job. Sorry. I've another idea: use the family as an example of what you were telling me, of American life, people making themselves unhappy by turning themselves into computers.
- Write that the son operates a rule on symbols. The rule: help those in need. The symbol: the needy. He does this self-consciously, deliberately not paying attention to the individual character of anyone. He keeps his eyes on the symbol, he's not interested in whether he really helps or who the people really are he puts in the class collected under the symbol. I wrote this all out long ago and threw it on the internet. No one particularly cared. Alright, here's an update: last night the mother decided I'd made her a gift of underwear and wanted to return it to me, the size wasn't right.
- Too big or too small?
- Too big. I asked.
- So she imagined it?
- Of course! Do I look like I buy underwear for eighty year old women?
- Where did it come from then?
- I'm not interested! Maybe someone threw it in the window.
- That's even stranger.
- The son knows some strange people. Yesterday morning I woke up to a woman sleeping on the floor a few feet away from me, her two shopping carts parked at her feet.
- Nice.
- The son goes out every day, giving away few dollars to the desperate, goes out at night, gawking at naked girl at strip clubs. Doing god's will by day, buying prostitutes by night. Paying a prostitute is giving her money. Giving money is helping. Helping is good. Doing good is doing god's work. Every thing is in some way like everything else, everything can be fitted into some class, made to be included under the symbol. He gets nowhere.
- Like the computer.
- Only love allows development and consistency.
- Love must have been there somewhere in him before computer craziness took hold. This giving away money of his, visiting strip clubs: not every night, every day?
- No. He's on an allowance.


3.

- What are you doing later?
- Nothing. I never do anything.
- You eat, don't you?
- I eat. You too?
- I eat. Wouldn't you like to invite me for dinner?
- I would but can't afford to.
- Just one time.
- Maybe I should. It's an occasion. The poorest woman in Beverly Hills has met the poorest man. An old woman I know lays claim to the title, but she's a fraud.***
- Let's go eat.


Further Reading:
How Do You Make A Computer Not Want To Be A Computer?
The Picture Of George Sand
____________________
Hubert Dreyfus - Human versus Machine
** Monsters
*** Bird Song & Machine Talk

_________________________________________________________________

Postscript: Anarchist Texts

1.  Two Kinds Of Mystery
Can you get people to make a better world just by demanding it, or do you first need to talk about what kind of people can actually make a better world?    
A dispute over helping people is not a dispute of reasons and logic. With a few exceptions everyone agrees it is better to keep people alive and healthy than not. The dispute is over where people find mystery.  
There are two places to find mystery, and the corresponding two kinds of people who find themselves living in these places.  
 First, there are the people who think they owe society, and society owes them.  
 And second, there are the people who think social obligation comes from what they owe themselves. "Social justice" is the demand of people of the first kind. The mysterious knowledge that this is right comes from their unconsciously learned, repeatedly regained security of acting in role. They feel a "patriotic" love of the scenario that they play roles in, and believe society owes them justice as payment for fulfilling their obligations to play their roles.  
The mystery the second kind of people see is that love makes us happy, and that when we forget to love we owe it to ourselves to remember. Their demand is personal integrity, not social justice but the personal justice of being fair to ourselves.    
They say: We don't owe others anything, except to remind them to remember to love. We owe each other that because of the coincidence of motives that makes social life possible. When I help you remember to love, not only is there a chance you'll love me in return, but you serve as a reminder to me to love when I forget. Helping you I help myself, when I remember what I have done, when I look at you now and am reminded, and in expectation of good things from you in the future. The people who believe in obligations to and from society don't agree with each other what these obligations are. How can they when the origin of their mystery is unconscious learning?    
And the people who believe only in obligation to oneself can't agree to any set program of social justice at all. They want to find out what social arrangements, in this particular time and this place, work best to help people remember what they owe themselves.    
The people who believe in social obligation each know which programs they want, but they can't agree with each other.    
The people who believe in obligation to oneself can agree with each other, and don't have any preconceptions of the best way of moving forward.    
We have social mystery, we have personal mystery, both somehow locked within our nature. You know, don't you, what kind of people can actually make a better world.

2.  Gods For Staying In The World And Gods For Getting Out

                            
                                 MANY GODS                ONE GOD                           
                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                
IN THE WORLD              ritual                         empire                                             


OUT OF WORLD            beauty                       love              


God: The word "god" represents nothing visible in the world. Rather the word "god" functions to remind us of feelings that are invisible. Stories of gods connect these invisible feelings to the visible events in the world of the story.
Immortality: The immortality of gods tells us gods are to be understood, not as physical things, but in relation to these invisible feelings. The gods are acting either in passion, when like us in our passions they have no awareness of themselves and thus no awareness of their mortality. Or they act with love, in which case since there is no separation in the things of the world there can be no awareness of death. Death can come only from dissolution of a whole into parts. 
Passion: Acting with passion (socially educated instinct) the gods express staying in the world.
Love: Acting with love (in the sight of beauty) the gods express getting out of the world.
Many Gods For Getting Out Of The World: Contemplating the beauty of an individual thing is to partly get out of the world of different things. This is expressed by the many different gods associated with different things. 
One And Only God For Getting Out Of The World: Getting out entirely, the invisible feelings of love and religious experience are expressed by the "one and only" god, the god of love.  
Many Gods For Staying In The World: The different gods of staying in the world represent different feelings, passions unconsciously learned acting in a group, one group among many, in the practice of ritual.  
One And Only God For Staying In The World: When the one and only god is a god of staying in the world, the invisible feeling expressed is the product of continuous ritual of a "one and only" group, a group in the power of a king or emperor who is a stand in for the one and only god.