Friday, September 22, 2006

Hitler lost the second world war, but will he win the fifth?

It is almost a cliche to posit that the greatest Geniuses often combine different disciplines. From this perspective, Benjamin Graham brought the excessive detail-orientiation of a classically trained philologist to financial analysis. Or Picasso blended primitive art with a classical concern for structure and composition. Einstein is often held as a counter-example as someone who simply intuited a massive framework that was beautiful and correct, but newer biographers argue that Einstein's years at the patent office were formative, and that his conception of the universe derived from combining mechanical engineering with theoretical physics. From that perspective, Einstein was not an overlooked outsider, but rather ahcieved his successes because he was an insider in a different discipline.

If we accept that Genius is a form of intellectual arbitrage -- buying and selling ideas in different markets -- computers will ultimately dominate the world of intellectual arbitrage. Once there are computer readable theoretical mappings of the essences of different disciplines -- imagine an XML specification for intellectual history -- "genius ideas" will be generated at the push of a button.

My biggest fear is that, when we reach the point where humans are no longer unsurpassed the traditionally human domains, those in power will treat the less fortunate humans as bio-mass, different in degree but not in kind from so much algae. My deepest hope is that, once we reach the point where there are no tasks that humans can perform better than robots, it will open up a tremendous wave of fellow-feeling of humanity, because the traditional legitimation for social injustice ("that person deserves more because he is better than you") will no longer be sustainable, since automated agents will be performing all major tasks. How do we encourage the latter and avoid the former?

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Borrow, I'm afraid you're worst fears have already been realized. The power elite has regarded the masses as plankton for some time.
As for geniuses, computers and the meta-arbitrage or fluent exchange of ideas. Computers still comprise a subset of a vary narrow range of intelligence. In time they will no doubt begin to more thoroughly permeate consciouness and change thinking much as the alphabet, the printing press, theatre, did. But don't worry, genius is a pesky little virus. There will always be human domains that machines cannot match. Remember, we are the ones who make errors, then correct them. We ask the questions that lead to further questions. And: sha-bow: we don't devour our young, and: sha-bam: we are too sexy for our clothes.
I leave you with the words of a great 19th century genius that America saw fit to spit on and kick to the gutter:

'To pen and ode on the Oil of Bob is all sorts of a job.' Signed, Snob

7:40 PM  
Blogger georgeborrow said...

Ahh, Mr. Mous, my fear is that your thinking has been clouded by aesthetic rapture. And who wouldn't respond to the famous works of "snob" with the oh-my-god-I've-been-kicked-in-the-gut sensation that great art produces?But my feeling is that even works of the complexity and subtlety of "snob" will probably be computer-generated within twenty years.

I happily conceed that human genius is a special and wonderful thing, though the fact is that some of the most fertile ground for human genius is to alogorithmically approximate human genius. The process of "making errors and correcting them" is an essential part of human, and ultimately artificial, Intelligence -- Judea Pearl has been been working that beat for a couple decades, with increasing success. In short, the crowning achievement of human genius will be to achieve its own abolition.

But thank you for reminding me of that poem -- it might even be that the human susceptibility to aesthetic pleasure will be our final weakness in the robot wars.

5:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Borrow, really it doesn't matter much whether an algorhythm
can approximate genius on the level of perceivable complexity and subtlety. It would still be a very grainy polaroid, a schematic of a larger experience or phenemenon.
I'm afraid you've forced me to channel Susan Langer to animate one of William Shatner's soliliquies
against advanced civilizations. 'Borrow, you...must know..the genius or essence of art is not confined to the cognitive, it.. is in the body, in emotions
and in the messy ectoplasmic subjectivity of community...and cultures. You claim to undertand a work, but your understanding is cold, like one standing....on the outside... behind a disinterested force field with a gigantic bald cranium. Borrow.....it's not too late.. have you considered all this from the point of veiw of the pleasure of ...making form? THe mere physically...of chipping...away at the stone? Of piping away randomly on some notes, letting the breath and a willful suspension of will be the algorhythm. At that level the question is not so much whether a computer could that, but whether it would make the slightest difference to anyone' '
Well enuf. Let me know how your robot wars turn out.

7:01 AM  

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