And Silverback Steven Responds

[ Yesterday’s post on Silverback Digest A Berdick in Your Future elicited such a thoughtful commentary from Silverback Steve (Burlington SBs) that I’ve made it today’s post. Here’s a link to yesterday’s posting. SB SM]

And here’s where to learn more about Silverback Steve:

“As the author of nearly a hundred books and God knows how many articles, white papers, and scripts, I consider myself a decent writer and thinker, with an equally decent vocabulary. And yet, I had trouble making my way through Mr. Rao’s piece. I have now read it three times, and while I understand what the author is attempting to say, he fails to make a valid point with his flowery use of language (why use a two-syllable word when a seven-syllable word will do?), which makes me wonder whether the piece was actually written by an AI as a way to prank the reader.

That said, here’s my problem with the author’s argument. As humans, we have experiences as we go through our lives, a reality that goes back to the period of proto-humans. We didn’t need language at the time (or at any time) to have, or enjoy, or learn from those experiences. But we do need language to be able to describe them to others, the first thread in the fabric of what ultimately became human society. Once language developed, it became the tool we needed to explain complicated things to others, and therefore facilitated collaborative invention and innovation. Experiences led to wisdom, which led to insight, which led to ideation, which led to collaborative action. Bang! Machines, waterwheels, telegraph networks, semiconductors.

And, AI.

Language also gave us the ability to express that most complex of all things, emotion. How does one explain love, fear, frustration, joy, or jealousy without the gift of language? With a GIF? I think not. And why would we want to?

Finally, language leads us to a place where we can create stories based on our individual and shared experiences, the weave and weft of the fabric that connects us socially. Stories represent our shared self. We call that community.

Finally, language also allows us to express our individuality. I have long argued that language is the window that allows a person to peer into the soul of a country or a culture. Consider Spanish: there is no good word in the Spanish language for ‘embarrassed.’ Shame, yes. Embarrassed? Nope. Why? Because after living in Spain for all the years that I did, I never once met a Spaniard who ever did anything for which they would be remotely embarrassed. It’s a cultural thing. I’m not embarrassed—this is who I am. Let it go.

This all started with experiences, something that an AI has no way to accumulate because it has no mechanism for experiencing the world the way humans do. My two-year-old grandson understood that when he wanted to create a tower of blocks, he had to start with a block on the floor and build upward. When an AI was asked to create a tower, it started three feet off the ground and tried to stack downward. Unlike my grandson, who has fallen countless times and, in the process, developed an intuitive understanding of gravity and knows that he must start his tower from the ground and go up, the AI has never had that experience, and has therefore never had the opportunity to learn from it.

Ultimately, the AI is only as good as what we’re able to teach it, because it can’t autonomously learn through experience—it lacks the inputs that we call senses. And our ability to teach things to a machine, which some see as a valid substitute for experience, is severely limited by Polanyi’s Paradox, which says that “We know more than we can say.” Consider this question: When it came time for you to get up this morning, how did you do that? How did you physically get out of bed? What neurons fired, what muscles contracted, what tendons and ligaments expanded and contracted, and how did you maintain balance once you stood up? We have no idea how all that happens—it just does. So how can we possibly teach a machine to do human things?

Teaching and Learning are two very different things. It would be good for us to remember that.”

[The Natural Curiosity Project is a podcast that I subscribe to and enjoy very much. It’s a refreshingly independent change from the celebrity-driven, commercial podcasts that are currently proliferating like zucchinis in August. Here’s a very brief sample. SB SM]

One thought on “And Silverback Steven Responds

  1. Great input. We must always remember that artificial ntelligence is just that, artificial.
    What we need most is wisdom and compassion.

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