The Digital Analogy

The Digital Analogy

The Digital Analogy

Computers are only prostheses, they no more do calculations than clocks tell the time.
Clocks help us to tell the time, but they don’t do it by themselves..

Tallis 2008

Julia and Sam are talking about the following article:
Analog and digital, continuous and discrete

In this post the dialogue is realised by an interaction of virtual characters, for more information please check the page “Virtual characters

Julia

I’m not sure I understand why the 🌍 digital/analog distinction is relevant here …

Today 17:08

Julia

Someone once tried to convince me the distinction doesn’t even make sense!

Today 17:08

Sam

Ha, well, 😁 computationally it does, but perhaps it is better to speak of 🌍 discrete and continuous

Today 17:09   

Julia

Ok, now I’m even more confused …

Today 17:09

Sam

Well, think of a analog and digital watches: both tell the same time, but in a different format

Today 17:10

Julia

Sure, so you mean there is no difference?

Today 17:11

Sam

I didn’t say that, but perhaps that they simply measure time in different ways, it is not time which is analog or digital, but the watch

Today 17:11   

Julia

Ah, ok. So in the case of information processing, it is not the brain or the computer that is analog or digital, but how we measure and describe it?

Today 17:12

Sam

That’s exactly what I mean! We can describe a neuron in different ways and then compare it to a circuit or a flipflop.

Today 17:12   

Julia

So there is a similarity in the description, but not necessarily in the thing you are describing? 🤔                                                                       

Today 17:13

Sam

That starts to sound very philosophical and abstract, but, yes, indeed. We can describe them in the same way.

Today 17:14   

Julia

So what did you mean with discrete and continuous?                                                                                               

Today 17:15

Sam

Both brains and computers work with electricity, but in a computer the voltages are tightly controlled and used in a digital way: ones and zeroes

Today 17:16   

Sam

In a brain the voltage can vary continuously, but sometimes triggers a neuron to “fire”, and up to a point we can treat that as a “one” too

Today 17:16   

Sam

So continuous means that we measure what is happening as close as possible, discrete that we just count the neurons that fire

Today 17:17   

Julia

Aha, so by treating them as discrete units, we can then treat them as digital in our computational model 😊                                                                                        

Today 17:18

Sam

Precisely! We’re not trying to copy the brain at all, only what we think is informationally relevant.

Today 17:19   

Sam

But Cho will tell you we are also ignoring a lot of stuff that happens in the brain to make that possible

Today 17:19  

Julia

And that we don’t really know which bits and pieces are relevant for the brain as a whole

Today 17:20

Sam

Yep, I can tell you exactly how information flows through a computer or even a network, but we can’t trace it in the brain

Today 17:21

Julia

Because in the brain medium and message, 🌍 vehicle and content aren’t clearly distinguishable.

Today 17:22

Julia

So we can’t point at the brain and say “this process right here is this or that law of thought”. I think I get it!

Today 17:22

Sam

Happy to have been of assistance!

Today 17:23

Julia

Thank you so much! I’ll report back to John now

Today 17:23

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Thinking in the Box

Thinking in the Box

Thinking in the Box

Even the simplest brains of the simplest animals are awesome computational instruments. They do computations we do not know how to do, in ways we do not understand

There is nothing that is done in the nervous system that we cannot emulate with electronics if we understand the principles of neural information processing.

Mead 1990

Julia and Sam are talking about the following article:
Neuromorphic Computing

In this post the dialogue is realised by an interaction of virtual characters, for more information please check the page “Virtual characters

Sam

When we talk about computers, we tend to distinguish the machine and its programming: hardware and software

Today 17:09   

Julia

OK, yes, I think everyone is familiar with those terms                         

Today 17:09

Sam

Great, but I’d like to point out how wrong that is, in some respects …

Today 17:10   

Sam

Where do we draw the line between those? Are they really that different? Doesn’t the design of the one determine the design of the other?

Today 17:10   

Julia

Whoa, those are tricky questions! 😅
Remarkably similar to the kind we ask about humans; is that what you’re after?

Today 17:11

Sam

In a sense. We are so used to the hardware/software distinction, that we forget that somewhere they overlap and interact

Today 17:11   

Julia

Can you give me some examples? Otherwise, I fear our readers won’t all get it …😅

Today 17:12

Sam

Sure: flip-flops are at the same time a hardware device and a software abstraction, a circuit and a one or zero

Today 17:12   

Julia

Right, so there is a level where the distinction is arbitrary: it is both a thing and information

Today 17:13

Sam

Exactly! 😉 But then of course at other levels things are much more clear cut

Today 17:14   

Julia

But what did you mean with “wetware” then?                                       

Today 17:15

Sam

Ah, yes, well as far as I know, the brain is like that all over: it is tremendously difficult to keep the hardware and software apart

Today 17:16   

Julia

Oooh, now I get what you mean: a classical computer architecture is completely different

Today 17:16

Sam

Right, but if the brain is an information processor, you can try to just copy the informationally relevant bits

Today 17:17   

Julia

So like Smee you can capture the same informationally relevant relations in a different hardware?

Today 17:18

Sam

Up to a point, of course. We can try to copy some of the structure of the brain, but only in software really

Today 17:19   

Julia

What do you mean? 🤔                                                                             

Today 17:19

Sam

Well, most “artificial neural networks” (ANN) actually are software simulations that run on ordinary beige box computers

Today 17:19   

Julia

Aha, so as you said: a lot of simplification and abstraction 😊                

Today 17:19

Sam

Correct! We still don’t know exactly how the brain does all its information processing or how to copy that efficiently

Today 17:20   

Sam

and then there’s the whole digital/analog problem …

Today 17:20   

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Wet Between the Ears

Wet Between the Ears

Wet Between the Ears

Sensations are received by a certain definite number of sensor nerves, which constitute the only means we possess of obtaining a knowledge of the external world.
The sensor nerves pass to the brain, and then come in contact with a highly vascular tissue, called the grey matter of the brain;
Inasmuch as the sensor nerves come in contact with blood-vessels, it follows from voltaic laws, that a voltaic battery exists in the brain, which is opposed to that in the body, and by which the electro-biological circuit is completed.

Smee 1849

Julia and Sam are talking about the following article:
Lecture ON ELECTRO-BIOLOGY; OR, THE VOLTAIC MECHANISM OF MAN

In this post the dialogue is realised by an interaction of virtual characters, for more information please check the page “Virtual characters

Julia

I’m not sure it would qualify as an artificial neural network nowadays, but there was this doctor and metallurgist, working on electro-biology: Alfred Smee

Today 17:08

Julia

He thought that all thought was based on electrical activity in the brain which we could use as a model for a machine

Today 17:08

Sam

That’s amazing! 😁 I didn’t know that … 

Today 17:09   

Julia

It seems he conjectured you’d need an artificial neural network the size of London to model a whole human brain

Today 17:09

Sam

Ha! 😅 He was probably right, early computers where absolutely massive, and supercomputers still are

Today 17:10   

Julia

With the technology of his time this could probably never have been built, he even guessed that the machine would self-destruct by using it …

Today 17:11

Sam

It really is surprising how old some ideas are, and has to wait for technology to catch up so we can realize them!

Today 17:11   

Julia

But a lot of there machines were never built: Babbage’s analytical engine, for instance

Today 17:12

Sam

Or Turing’s Machine, indeed, the idea was enough to prove that something was or wasn’t possible

Today 17:12   

Julia

That’s very interesting!  🤔                                                                       

Today 17:13

Sam

Well, I guess that you could compare and contrast Smee and Babbage in that respect

Today 17:14   

Sam

Babbage did not consider his machine as a model for the mind, but developed his ideas from the technology that was available

Today 17:14   

Sam

Smee tried to design a machine based on what they then understood of the brain, but the technology wasn’t there yet

Today 17:14   

Julia

But now it is?                                                                                               

Today 17:15

Sam

Not exactly, as I mentioned to Manuel, artificial neural netword can’t really compete with our organic brains

Today 17:16   

Julia

So the idea of copying the brain still can’t be realized?                       

Today 17:16

Sam

With some extreme simplifications, maybe a little bit …

Today 17:17   

Julia

Tell me more! 😊                                                                                        

Today 17:18

Sam

I think I need to make a few distinctions first, like between hardware, software, and … wetware

Today 17:19   

Julia

Wetware!? 🤔                                                                                              

Today 17:19

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Good Old Fashioned Artificial Neural Networks

Good Old Fashioned Artificial Neural Networks

Good Old Fashioned Artificial Neural Networks

Specification of the nervous net provides the law of necessary connection whereby one can compute from the description of any state that of the succeeding state […]
With determination of the net, the unknowable object of knowledge, the “thing in itself” ceases to be unknowable.
To psychology, however defined, specification of the net would contribute all that could be achieved in that field

McCulloch & Pitts, 1943

Julia and Sam are talking about the following article: McCulloch-Pitts Neurons

In this post the dialogue is realised by an interaction of virtual characters, for more information please check the page “Virtual characters

Julia

Hi Sam, I wondered if I could ask you some questions about the history of AI?

Today 17:08

Sam

Hi Julia, sure! Is this for an assignment?

Today 17:09   

Julia

No, for an article I am co-writing with John                                           

Today 17:09

Sam

Oh, interesting! Ask away!

Today 17:10   

Julia

We were wondering about some of the things you mentioned in your interview with Manuel

Today 17:11

Sam

Yeah, that did remain somewhat superficial

Today 17:11   

Julia

We’re doing a more in-depth article now, so you have room to explain

Today 17:12

Sam

That’s great! So what exactly did you want to know more about?

Today 17:12   

Julia

We were talking about Dreyfus’ critique of AI and you mentioned embedding robots in the world to make them learn

Today 17:13

Sam

Right! I think I mentioned that at the end, when talking about AGI: artificial general intelligence

Today 17:14   

Julia

That would be human-level intelligence, right?                                     

Today 17:15

Sam

Indeed. Pre-programming all that didn’t work out, not even when trying algorithms inspired by human problem solving

Today 17:16   

Julia

Yes, I read about Newell and Simon, this was Dreyfus’ main target, no?

Today 17:16

Sam

Correct, but there are other approaches as well, such as making a computer learn, instead of programming it

Today 17:17   

Julia

OK, so machine learning, using artificial neural networks?                

Today 17:18

Sam

Those networks are only very roughly similar to the structure of a human brain and not really meant as a model of how humans do it

Today 17:19   

Julia

But they would be a serious alternative for the older approach?      

Today 17:19

Sam

In a way, but we are still very far from AGI, so far we don’t even know how far …

Today 17:20   

Julia

When did this new approach really get off the ground? I’ve found texts referencing artificial neural networks back in the 19th century …

Today 17:20

Sam

What!? That can’t possibly be right!

Today 17:21   

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A material program living in a material world

A material program living in a material world

A material program living in a material world

Thus, the only question which can reasonably be discussed at present is not whether robots can fall in love, or whether if they did we would say they were conscious, but rather ..
To what extent a digital computer can be programmed to exhibit the sort of simple intelligent behavior characteristic of children and sometimes animals, such as playing games, solving simple problems, reading sentences, and recognizing patterns

Dreyfus 1965

Julia and John are talking about the following article:
Why general artificial intelligence will not be realized

In this post the dialogue is realised by an interaction of virtual characters, for more information please check the page “Virtual characters

Julia

In the beginning people thought General AI was just around the corner

Today 17:08

John

Like in the ‘50s and ’60s? 😊

Today 17:09   

Julia

Yes, Newell and Simon were convinced that they already had a thinking machine (Computer Simulation of Human Thinking)

Today 17:09

John

That does sound a bit ambitious, for the kind of equipment they had … 😅

Today 17:10   

Julia

Of course hype like that brought out many critics, famously Hubert Dreyfus

Today 17:11

John

Not sure I’ve heard of him …

Today 17:12  

Julia

He was a philosopher, not an engineer, and wrote a book on “What Computers can’t do

Today 17:12

Julia

basically, that computers cannot understand the world like humans do

Today 17:12

John

Oh, I remember Sam saying something about the world not being a chessboard , is it like that?

Today 17:13  

Julia

I think it is exactly that: computers lack the background knowledge about how things work

Today 17:13

Julia

if it isn’t explicitly there in the algorithm, in the program, it doesn’t really exist for the computer

Today 17:13

John

But that’s not how humans think, right?

Today 17:14   

Julia

Yep, Dreyfus was a phenomenologist and looked at how humans experience and act in the world

Today 17:15

Julia

and AI’s lack the specific human way of “being in the world” as Heidegger called it

Today 17:15

John

So that’s why AI’s would have a lot of trouble with stuff a little kid can do effortlessly? 😊

Today 17:15   

Julia

Indeed, but this also suggests a solution: put the AI in the world like a human 😊

Today 17:16

John

Ah, of course, instead of a disembodied algorithm, you give it a robot body, and senses, and make it learn, and …

Today 17:17   

Julia

Bingo! Humans aren’t disembodied minds, so if you want human intelligence … 😊

Today 17:18

John

Good stuff! But we should definitely check in with Sam about this too.

Today 17:19   

Julia

Sure, will do, and perhaps you can talk to Manuel, about the interview he did him?

Today 17:19

John

Yes, and see if he has more material.

Today 17:20   

Julia

Great! Then we’ll catch up later 😉                                                         

Today 17:20

John

See you soon! 😊

Today 17:21   

… Continue reading our conversations that are posted every Saturday …

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