Intelligence — the low kind and the artificial kind

It reached 27 degrees today where I live, and that feels pretty good after the cold stretch. Yesterday I was able to wear my Mad Bomber hat with the ear flaps up, and today I was able to switch to a flat cap with ear flaps. The sun doesn’t go down till about a minute after 5:00, which means I can at least begin my homeward commute with the car lights off, sparing my battery a little work. (I’m thoughtful like that.)

I’ve been listening to a bit of Glenn Beck in the mornings recently. I’m not a big fan of his, but I had to stop listening to his competitor on the other talk network, Mike Gallagher. Mike is a very nice guy, I’m sure, but I’ve grown more and more to suspect that he isn’t terribly bright. He thinks with his heart, which annoys me. It’s like a conservative operating with a liberal’s equipment. What made him dead to me, though, was a day some time before Christmas, when a listener called in to his show to repeat the canard that goes, “Well, you know, Abraham Lincoln owned slaves.”

[For the record, in case it comes up, Abraham Lincoln never owned a slave. Not one. Nor did his father, who was an abolitionist. Lincoln’s wife’s family owned slaves, it’s true, but the Lincolns never did. I’ll reconsider the argument if the person making it is willing to take responsibility for all his own in-laws’ actions.]

But Mike Gallagher, with his national microphone and a staff of assistants, didn’t bother to refute the assertion. He just said, “Well, Lincoln had a lot of problems in relation to black people.” Then when angry listeners (like me) called in to complain, he just said, “I didn’t say he owned slaves.”

In my opinion, all conservative talk show hosts are morally obligated to let no one ever get away with saying Lincoln owned slaves. That obligation is right up there with shooting down the “Bush blew up the Twin Towers” theory.

Anyway, as I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, I listened to a piece of Glenn Beck’s program. He was talking to a science fiction writer about the concept of Artificial Intelligence. They were agreed that humanity is in grave danger, in the fairly near future, of being surpassed and perhaps enslaved by something like androids. The Singularity, it’s called – the day when machines become smarter than humans.

Let me go out on a limb and say it – I am not worried about the Singularity.

I speak, of course, not as a person well-informed on artificial intelligence, or computer programming, or cognitive science. I speak as an old man who’s heard the boy cry “Wolf!” too many times.

All my life, dogmatic materialists have been threatening me with the end of Christianity. “Soon,” they say, “any day now – we’ll crack the central mysteries of the universe and answer all the important questions, and there will be no more need for religion.”

A popular example was the prediction that “We’ll soon be able to create life in the laboratory, proving that life began purely by chance in the primordial soup.” I’ve grown old, and that experiment still hasn’t succeeded, as far as I know. Turns out life is more complex than they expected.

There was the famous gorilla experiment, where they taught gorillas to “speak” in sign language. “This,” they told us, “will soon prove that rational sentience is not confined to human beings. The great apes have it too, but they haven’t been able to communicate with us until now.” Years later, I happened on a short article, buried somewhere in the back pages of some publication, which admitted that the experiment had failed. Gorillas aren’t really mute human beings with lots of back hair. Their communications weren’t as meaningful as the experimenters hoped and claimed. And the laboratory gorillas themselves lived sad lives, suspended between two alien worlds.

In short, my observation is that what I’ll call “Sciencists” (as opposed to genuine scientists, who do invaluable service to mankind) are forever proclaiming that they’ll soon possess the key to some great, ultimate mystery, but the key turns out to just open a door to a chamber with a further locked door.

The universe, I believe, is irreducibly complex. It’s like the Tardis – bigger on the inside than on the outside. The further you drill down, the more complicated everything gets.

The scientist J. B. S. Haldane disliked C. S. Lewis, and famously wrote a scathing review of That Hideous Strength. But he was not without wisdom, and I’m very fond of one of his quotations, from his book Possible Worlds and Other Papers – “My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

There speaks a genuine scientific mind.

2 thoughts on “Intelligence — the low kind and the artificial kind”

  1. Not once have I heard any heathen proclaim the dearth of Christianity or any other religion using such an ambiguous adverb. On the other hand, when did you say Christ was coming back?

    Lincoln was staunchly opposed to slavery but he believed in the superiority of the white race over the black. Did he refer to blacks as niggers in private? I’m satisfied he did. Should we condemn his use of that term? If that’s your pleasure. It was a vernacular for well over a century after Abe. Do you claim him as a Christian since he rented pews in at least 2 churches in Washington, but never seen in either?

    Many things are possible in a world of artificial intelligence and robotics, but I have faith in humanity. Contrary to the belief of some, I’m confident that moral and ethical values remain in science for the most part. “Can we” and “Should we” must be in equilibrium. If not, I’m an old man and doubt I’ll have to tolerate much aggravation.

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