Arts

Artificial Intelligence 4: What Is Artificial?

So, Artificial Intelligence, eh. That’s dangerous stuff.
Elon Musk: An Artificial Intelligence in the Flesh
Now, when I call this very successful billionaire, flame-thrower manufacturer, battery man, car builder, rocketeer and sender of cars to Mars an artificial intelligence, I don’t mean he’s a robot. I mean very clearly that he is a man, a very igarticular type of a man, an American man, a very powerful and competent and successful man who likes to talk, likes to take risks, and is very capable at convincing people of  his ideas, of which he has a lot, much like this critter checking out his operating system:
Rather, I mean two things. First, that despite protests Musk (or Harold… or his operating system) may make, a man is not more or less intelligent than the two views of the grassland above my house shown below:
Those are two small views of the Earth’s response to heat in one location, responding now to cold, through manipulations of intermolecular bonds, water tension, gravity, the electron fields of carbon, radiant heat, the earth’s rotation, atmospheric pressure, subsurface atmospheres, bacterial colonies, and much more, including the intelligences of memory, communication, creative development, and so on. One could argue that, yes, Mr. Musk possesses an active, independent intelligence (see my discussion here), and that perhaps Harold’s ocular soul is an artifice, so let me attempt to draw a distinction between artifice and intelligence, on the principle that whether the environments I’ve shown you (human or grassland) are active or passive, they are both intelligence, and exist within an environment, which looks a bit like this:
I suspect Mr. Musk might prefer Mars or Los Angeles, but, still, a stream that creates a path for the winter porcupine on his way to chew that elm tree in the foreground, thereby focussing the sun on the streambed so that it melts and creates not only earlier spring flows but also a clearer porcupine path with a deeper streambed and more great brush to hide in (when you’re a porcupine, you’re thinking of hiding, a lot), that’s a pretty integrated system, moving itself forward in time in a way no different than a mind (without, of course, the active bits dreaming of flights to Mars.) I would like to call this system environmental intelligence, and offer the suggestion that it is this environment, and the instinctual balances it creates, which is the real intelligence and creative force here. In fact, there’s room for any level of artifice that Musk or Harold can throw at it. Have a look again at all the trails we see when we pull back just a little bit:
The porcupine trail in the bottom, created by water, we know that one, and then there’s the porcupine trail to its right, that the little pig of the pines uses when the bottom trail is flowing. Note how he (she?) stays in the shelter of the trees. The trail to the far right, that’s a deer and coyote trail. Note how it’s clear of the trees, because, well, deer are taller and get tangled up in trees, and so are pushed up-slope by them, but also because their long legs are suited to approach a hill at a certain angle, and to continue in straight lines. A winding trail through the trees is useful only when grazing, not when moving at greater speed or aiming for distance. The deer would like topple over. Similarly, the deer trail beginning in the left centre of the image is cutting the slope at the same angle, in a spot where a gap to the left of the brush leaves an opening before a rock wall, which pushes them up slope once again. They make a steep correction (as steep as possible to get it over with) and then flatten out at a shallow angle once again. Their legs are like that.
Do you see how the land is shaping behaviour here? Every animal is making its own decisions, and yet they are all shaped by the environment that they, in turn, shape. The environment is fully intelligent and full of interactive forces. They are, of course, not independent. It’s an important difference, but it’s not the one that says who is intelligent and who is not. Take a deer bed, for instance, that appears as a clear space at the same time that the birds (and the deer) eat off all the seeds of the sage (and scatter a lot of them in the process) — right when there is water to settle them into place in the crust of mosses and lichens that sprout on the soil under the snow and are gone by spring.
A different bed every night, on a slope with good sight lines (and thus good sun exposure), yet. To this beautiful balance, we can add one more term: “artifice.” It’s the root of “artificial”, as in “Artificial Intelligence,” and means…
a clever trick or stratagem; a cunning, crafty device or expedient; a wile; trickery; guile; craftiness; ingenuity; inventiveness; or a skillful or artful contrivance or expedient.
Well, that’s a great definition that covers a lot, including Mr. Musk and, blush …
… but also the Russian thistle, or tumbleweed below (this one never did get around to tumbling — personally, I think they’re evolving away from that here, in response to the environment, which is able to hold them in place without the wind blowing them around in currents like water):
Lots of skillful or artful contrivance or expedient there. If this were human, we would call those spines creative, as they are a response to a need for protection, and as for this cool effect of the heat radiating from the spines, coupled with their sharp blades, cutting through snow sliding in an avalanche over the now-molten interior of the plant …
… well, that fits the definition of an artifice, too. Could we, then, just say that an artifice (or creativity) exists within an intelligence (or environment), that the artifice is a strategy, crafted by opportunities within the environment, and the net effect is true active intelligence, whether it takes place in Elon Musk, a russian thistle or an AI playing chess with Garry Kasparov? Do they not all exist within an environment? Is not every response, motion or move in response to the environment? It is, indeed. Humans notice trees because they draw the eye up to heights or concentrate it within a stretch of land, in what is visual, hunting behaviour; starlings notice trees as a place to occupy; they are within the seeing. Together both the humans, the starlings and the trees are one intelligence.
What AI is is just such a system, working within artifices, and dependent on them. That gives the creator of the artifice tremendous power. We’ll talk about that next.

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