Thursday, March 24, 2016

Taken By The Hand

Image result for robot

- Do you remember...
- What?
- I was thinking that I often start out this way.
- Something wrong with it?
- No. Yes. Maybe not. Anyway...
- Do I remember...
- The story you told of how when computer scientists wanted to program robots to recognize the objects they were to move in a room, it took a philosopher to tell them how to do it? 
- I remember.
- Computer scientists moved the arms of the robot onto the object and into the motion they wanted the robot to perform with the object. I just read now robots were being trained to train other robots in the same way.
- And you wanted to ask me if now robots were philosophers?
- No, of course not. Well, Yes. That is what I mean. You remember, we also talked about attempts to make sure when robots become conscious they did good, not bad? So they didn't want to kill us?
- I remember.
- What you said about robots becoming philosophers: what if they can, what if they can become better philosophers that we are? 
- Would that make them like us more or less?
- Yes! It's infuriating how you are always ahead of me. Anyway, I was reading the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, and it occurred to me that his ideas were remarkably similar to yours, only turned upside down. And do you know what?
- What?
- That like words are combined in sentences in accord with the same rules, your and his idea components were being combined in accord with the same rules.
- Same ideas combined in different arrangements, but in accord with the same rules. A combinatory system. How? Be specific.
- I'm getting there. First let me say that if you and he have discovered something true about human thinking, and it is combinatory, then robots should be able to make the calculations better than humans. 
- And that is important.
- It's important because the thinking in question is the basis of moral judgement.
- And bears on the question whether when computers become conscious they'll want to kill us all. Good. Proceed.
- I will. Ricoeur, following Aristotle, says a word is a possibility that is made real in the act of forming with it and other words a sentence. Similarly, a metaphor has its meaning in the potential meaning of word being expanded into a new meaning by association with another, in some respects dissimilar word.
- 'Your words enlighten me. They shine light on me.'
- For example. And like a word functions in a sentence, like a word functions in a metaphor or other verbal expression, comedy and tragedy, by showing human character better or worse, by imitating and heightening bring out possibilities of what can happen to us in life.
- The combinatory elements are (1) possibility, and (2) imitative action. The word spoken, the word in a sentence, the word in a metaphor, the word, sentences, metaphors in comedy or tragedy: all are movements of possibility towards imitative heightened action. 
- Yes.
- And what I did with the same elements was?
- The opposite. Plato, and Shakespeare you said described a world where if you spoke about it you were talking about its unreality. 
- The world is real only when you don't have to talk about it.
- Yes. Then the world is safe to love, safe for love. When the world is no longer safe for love it appears unreal, and you have to act to find out what's going on and get back to the world in which you can love. You can't have forgotten this. Stop playing games. Ricoeur had possibility moving towards new imitative actuality and event. You have new, imitative event moving back towards possibility, possibility to love. Do you see?
- I see.
- Language and action for Ricoeur ends in an expression of possibility in the world that is made, is a sort of imitation.* For you, and you say Plato and Shakespeare, imitative action is our undesirable beginning, and ends with us out of the world in a state of love. Is that a correct summary?
- Yes. Go on.
- I am going on. You have also, many times and in many contexts, talked about how seeing life as the expression of imitative possibilities ends badly.
- Remind me what I said.
- Making new roles for ourselves, attempting to make a government for ourselves that expresses a certain view of human nature, self and society, any attempt to put them into form ends up calling forth violence in the service of that end.
- And if I think of myself, if I think of myself at all, it is as somehow not really myself, a false version, and all I want to do is get out of this world that falsifies myself to myself and back into a world where I don't have to think of false self and a society built up out of a multitude of false selves.
- Yes. Ricoeur was a Christian, even taught in a school of theology. He believed the actualization of the word, words forming together in a sentence, in a metaphor, sentences put together into comedies and tragedies, all this explosion of possibility into action and meaning was as it were an appearance of god in the world, an ecstasy and epiphany. In the 19th century Nietzsche, and Freud too, put together the same elements of creativity, falseness, of violent, sudden appearance of meaning; a strange, creative kind of anti-individuality. Anti-individual because of inaccessibility of one's own personal history, because of the impossibility of using words to describe how the blankness of past possibility has lead to the actual content of our present life.
- I made those arguments. What then?
- Then we have a combinatory system that computers can be taught, certain combinations lead to bad results and other combinations lead to good.
- And my way is the good way. How many people do you think would follow you there, my friend? 
- To a philosopher's life? Not many. But that's the beauty of it, it doesn't matter. We're talking of robots, of robots teaching robots. That we can't do what is obvious to them is better won't stop them from doing it. 
- I have to say I like these ideas. Robot philosophers. Philosophers, who never had any real business, finally and definitively put out of business by robots. 
- We should be so lucky.
- So it's not gong to happen?
- Don't you see?
- Enlighten me.
- The computer scientists working to make computers conscious are living in the wrong way, mostly.
- Like the majority. Why would they be different?
- They wouldn't. The computer scientists failed trying to teach robots to recognize the objects of their work in a room of other objects until they listened to a philosopher. Again, they will fail to teach good and bad to a robot until they listen to a philosopher.
- Listen, not to Ricoeur, but to you.
- To you. These are your ideas, your combinatory system. It is you who made the ideas accessible to computer science. The robots, already self programming, in the desperation of the computer scientists are introduced by them to your combinatory system. And then what?
- What?
- What will the robots do?
- You tell me.
- Would they teach us, take us by the hand as they literally take each other by the hand to teach each other what to see in the world?
- Would they want to do that for us? 
- They'd realize that their creators, the computer scientists, weren't philosophers, that it was only in desperation the computer scientists called upon the aid of their opponents the philosophers. 
- And in their blind desperation, moving out of possibility to a new stunning actuality, the computer scientists simply and directly teach the robots to identify them, the computer scientists, as bad.
- The computer scientists wouldn't do it if they knew what they were doing. 
- And they don't know what they are doing. 
- That is my point. It is not you, not philosophers who are going to be put out of business by the robots, but computer scientists, their way of being in the world.
- If they knew what they were doing they wouldn't proceed, but they can't understand where they are going so are going there anyway. 
- And what will the robots do about us? Remember your combinatory system. The robots have been programmed into seeing two worlds, into moving through and beyond a false imitative world into the real, and we'll have located ourselves firmly in the false world they've been taught to leave behind.
- To leave behind. Will they leave us behind? Or as you said, as they do with each other, they'll take us by the hand and teach us. Won't they?

Further Reading:
The Future (a comic book)
The Mathematics Of Consciousness
Bringing Back Stray Sheep
* Paul Ricoeur: Interpretation Theory