Earth Science

Artificial Intelligence and You: Part 2

So, artificial intelligence, eh. On Monday, I introduced some thoughts about it, here:…e-and-you-part-1/

Today, an exploration of the language surrounding artificial intelligence. If it sounds like a language game, and as boring as parsing a poem by Hart Crane in a Grade 10 English class, I hope to convince you otherwise. The image below, for one thing, is not a language game.

Oil Spill at La Push, Washington

These small spills from passing freighters cleaning out their tanks before docking in Seattle or Vancouver are too common, especially for beaches routinely called “pristine” and used as a recreational area for people from Seattle.  If there’s a language game, and an artificial application of intelligence going on, it’s in the absence of images like this. 

That, of course, is not an example of artificial intelligence, but it is an example of both artificiality and intelligence, although perhaps not in their most positive manifestations. Same with this, a few hundred kilometres inland:

Forgotten Worlds at Soap Lake, Washington

The artifices are multiple here, and include ramshackle infrastructure, the installation of a failed service town on a sacred medicinal lake, at the foot of a seepage system from a water storage lake fed from Grand Coulee Dam, and thus a part of the vast re-engineered Columbia Basin, originally sold as a way to put poor Southern Americans on the land so they could be taught democracy by it but which quickly became the powerhouse for the Manhattan Project and for large, subsidized industrial farms. The intelligence here is mostly aggression and retreat based on the old slave cultures of the American South, and, again, survives in this impoverished form largely because of a failure of language. This is one of my favourite images from this vast inland country. It deserves a voice.

That, of course, is also not an image of artificial intelligence, but I hope it is enough to demonstrate that “intelligence” and “artifice” are a part of a “language,” which is not precisely clear. I know, I know, that’s not precisely clear, either. This might help:

Vineyard at the Rise, Vernon

The image is exactly what it is: land smoothed by bulldozer, lined with posts, strung with wires, and planted with grafted grape vines, which are attached to the wires. Drip irrigation tubing is also attached to the wires. All in all, it is a large solar array.

Of course, it’s not artificial intelligence, because that is defined as “independent, creative, and with free will,” and vineyards are certainly none of those things, but, heck, the grape vines within them have no free will, either, and the whole array is not there to solve intellectual problems. Still, I’d be hard-pressed to accept that a ballet dancer, with exquisite timing and grace of movement, is not intelligent, or that any dancer’s intelligence lay in the degree to which a body, distinct from a controlling mind, was controlled and orchestrated by that mind to achieve an effect — an effect not only physical and expressive but a lesser degree of intelligence than the writing of an algorithm for FaceBook. That’s not only nonsense, but insulting. It is also useful, because it gives us a word for physical intelligence: talent. Spiritually divided individuals, trained to separate mind and body, are trained to name the abilities of bodies to interact with the earth as “talent,” which can then be augmented through “training,” and the application of “rigorous intellectual skills.” What we get out of that is this:

Vineyard at the Rise, Vernon 

An image of mind-body relationships, social hierarchies, and a particular definition of intelligence located in will and technical manipulation, which just happens to be identical with the methods taught at universities in the West.

It would follow that if a vineyard is actually an embodiment of a form of social intelligence, then it is, in effect, a physical language, one by which a physical language of human movement, and the physical manipulation of will through artifice (or cleverness) intersects the physical language of the earth, or life, quickness or the tightness of string and weaving. But this is all a human point of view: it shows the vineyard in one of its many possible human contexts. What if we back up just a little to put the vineyard into its earth-context, and for the sake of argument allow that the earth is putting as much pressure on the mixed earth-human artifact as humans are.

The Vineyard in Its Ecosystem

The fence above, designed to keep deer out of the vineyard, is impervious to porcupines, coyotes, ravens and birds, who like grapes as much as deer do. You can see, I think, the waves of weeds and sage moving into the fenced-off space of the vineyard. From a human point of view, they are ‘reclaiming’ damaged land, ie re-building its nutrient profile, but from an Earth point of view they are moving into an opening that, if it were not open, would be closed off. It is a kind of elegant binary language, not totally dissimilar to the one the machine I am typing this on uses. But let’s back up just a bit further, to get this border zone into its ecological context:

The Vineyard’s Ecosystem in Its Ecosystem

The energy within this sagebrush hill is manifesting itself in, among other things, a nice little vole garden and a small herd of does. There are varieties of intelligence here, including some so-called “higher” intelligence in the does and the voles, but when considered as a series of interlocking ecological niches, in a multi-dimensional ecosystem, there is something like thought going on here. In this discussion of artificial intelligence, there are three points I’d like to make about that:

  1. Intelligence and artifice can be defined in a multiple of ways; making these definitions clear is socially, environmentally, economically and technologically vital;
  2. Earth-based intelligence can be used to solve problems, although of only a certain kind, and to conduct conversations and create beauty, which are activities of both artifice and intelligence; and
  3. There is a language, buried deep within contemporary English, which is an environmentally-sensitive interface language, which can extend the range of Earth-based problem-solving, conversation and creation into realms that the cultures of divided individuals call intelligence.

It is, in other words, possible to have vastly superior intelligence without resorting to methods that enslave and impoverish environments, economies and people to machine-based processes. Any failure to, at the least, consider them alongside the social positioning and military manipulations of what is currently defined as artificial intelligence, or the need for it, is an abject failure of society and government. Luckily, we can do something about it.


I will be expanding on these ideas in part 3. Look for it soon. Until then, some binary code for you to savour in your biological ways:

Cedar-Hemlock Forest, Nelson

2 replies »

  1. My recent reading of Tolkien has taught me that he read old languages as an initiate participates in sacred practices. The nearest he got to expressing this in his imaginative writing was through the Ents in The Lord of the Rings. For Treebeard language brings him into a profoundly intimate connection with the subject about whom or to whom h he speaks. But in order to do this he must take time and he has plenty of time.
    But we humans have so little time and so we create the solutions, such as the fabrication of the fenced in vineyard to which you draw our attention. We want the pleasure of drinking wine of a reasonable quality at an affordable price. Our ambition in this regard is moderate. We do not want to drink a truly great wine at a high price. I once had the intense pleasure of spending an afternoon in the cellar of a wine maker in the Macon region of Burgundy. Every one of my senses was gloriously alive as he poured glasses of different wines and spoke about them. And there was a communion that went beyond sense with the history of his region and family and the traditions of Burgundian and Maconnais winemaking. That evening he and his wife came to dinner with my wife’s aunt, his neighbour, with whom we were staying and he brought a bottle of spirit, similar to schnapps or grappa, distilled by him he told us proudly, with the personal permission of President de Gaulle himself.
    I often think about the intensity of that experience and by the way in which so many stories were intertwined or woven into that one day and by how much training and preparation were required in order to be fully alive to it al . How much easier it is to pick a bottle of moderately priced wine off the supermarket shelf that was made from grapes grown in your fenced off vineyard.
    The project of AI seems to belong, on the part of the consumer at least, to the same kind of laziness that leads me to buy moderately priced wine. I look forward to reading your next thoughts on this very much.


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