A robot couldn’t use a Ouiji Board, much less dream one up.

  In the Science Times section of the Jun 3, 2008 NYT there was an interesting series of predictions given by futurist Ray Kurzweil.  He has a decent track record and now posits that: solar power will be economical in ten years; soon there will be a drug that will let you eat whatever you want, and by 2050 “humans and/or machines [will] start evolving into immortal beings with ever-improving software”.

  Most interestingly, he predicts that by 2020 or so, with new tools including nanotechnology, gene sequencing, and brain scans etc, we will be “adding computers to our brains and building machines as smart as ourselves”.

  Another interesting fellow, V. S. Ramachandran does not agree.  He is a neuroscientist with impressive range having done research and written fascinating books about phantom limbs and consciousness; is (or was) on the board of directors of the San Diego Museum of Art in La Jolla; and lectured widely about art, perception, and the brain.  (Including at the National Council for Education of Ceramic Arts!)

  Ramachandran allows that a thinking feeling machine might one day be possible, but not a reverse engineered brain.  “My colleague Francis Crick used to say that God is a hacker, not an engineer.  You can do reverse engineering, but you can’t do reverse hacking.”

  I agree with Dr. Ramachandran. Think about it.  An immortal man/robot hybrid would not have thoughts about sex or death and since the primordial soup, evolution of life on the planet has been guided by pursuit of the former and avoidance of the latter.  Still is: look at any billboard.

  Furthermore, it’s the incredibly inscrutable array of connections and cross connections that has led to the invention of the wheel, penicillin, thermos bottles, crepes suzette, the push-up bra, and everything else.  Even experts can’t account for all the stuff they come up with. 

  For example, Irvin Yalom begins his book Existential Psychotherapy with an anecdote about a cooking class in which he and several friends had enrolled.  After repeated failures at home, he went back to the school to watch again. 

  He hadn’t originally noticed that the chef did more than simply follow a recipe.  She would taste, readjust, and even incorporate afterthoughts.  Thus, before even beginning to really convey his thoughts about existential psychodynamics, he admitted that while “Formal texts, journal articles, and lectures portray therapy as precise and systematic, … and a careful rational program… I believe deeply that when no one is looking, the therapist throws in the “real thing”.

  (BTW, the book is really interesting and his selection of cookware provocative:   “The existential position emphasizes a different kind of basic conflict: neither a conflict with suppressed instinctual strivings nor one with internalized significant adults, but instead a conflict that flows from the individual’s confrontation with the givens of existence… Death – Freedom – Existential Isolation – Meaninglessness. )

  Or to come at it from an entirely different perspective: in the June 21 edition of the Wall Street Journal, billionaire financier George Soros credited his success to his backaches.  “I would say that I basically have survived by recognizing my mistakes.  I very often used to get backaches due to the fact that I was wrong.  When I make the right decision, the backache goes away.

  As a final example of the irreplicability  of the gray matter in our skull I’m reminded of an issue of the New Yorker a few years back.  In it were an interview with Bill Gates and an article by Oliver Sacks about Temple Grandin, the autistic veterinarian who says she feels like an “anthropologist on Mars”.  It was impossible to read the two pieces and not recognize characteristics and mannerisms of each in the other.

  Like it or not, we’re dang complex.  Maybe unfigureoutable.

3 Responses to “A robot couldn’t use a Ouiji Board, much less dream one up.”

  1. andrew gierke Says:

    This might be one of those issues that forces my generation and your generation to rift. I cant say which side I would take.

    For one, I aggree that were dang complex and there is a lot we will never know. One of those things we will never know is if robots can think or dream. That seems almost as unaswerable as if there is a god.

    If you look at the exponential rate of growth there is no question that soon enough we will be creating incredible complex stuff. Look at the new atom collider under switzerland andd france that is said to create mini black holes.

    It follows that there will be intelligent artificial things that can reproduce themselves. there are laready 3d printers that make more 3d priniters (asexual reproduction). Isnt that how the first oragnism were created on this planet? You can follow my train of thought. Soon there will be crazy shit going on that we cant even comprehend. And who knows what they will be thinking.

  2. andrew gierke Says:


  3. andrew gierke Says:

    I read the above article and thought is was relatant for yours.

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