“Stupidity is a structure of thought as such. There are imbecile thoughts […] that are made up entirely of truths” Deleuze (Nietzsche and Philosophy).
This issue I want to a quick run around some of the connections being made between Intelligence, AI, Cognitive Science, and the Brain. Some of the claims made for AI and Neuroscience are completely unsubstantiated – we need to submit every neatly-packaged black-box foregone conclusion to rigorous and continuous scrutiny. Everything from discriminatory algorithms to absurd claims of “mind-reading”.
But first: here’s a brilliant essay on the historical ways that the idea of “intelligence” has been used as an instrument of domination and destruction – against women, minorities, non-westerners, and animals. Stephen Cave is executive director and senior research fellow of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at the University of Cambridge.
The conjunction of AI and Cognitive (Brain) sciences is giving rise to some pretty immense claims which need to be closely analysed: given that scientists claim they can read people’s minds and reconstruct them as videos, are able to identify that racism and sexism are supposedly ‘optical illusions’ in the brain and are part of ‘the human condition’, and that your thoughts and beliefs can be hacked through electrical signals (you could drive a truck through the logic that’s presented as proof), so you might be surprised to find that at current rates of imaging protocol rates the 86 billion neurons in the human brain will be fully imaged in, oh, … about 17 million years time.
It’s all so deterministic, absurdly imprecise and subjective given the claims, and then, of course, there’s that old problem of being unable to reproduce the results. Damn it!
Then there’s this: “Functional MRI (fMRI) is 25 years old, yet surprisingly its most common statistical methods have not been validated using real data. Here, we used resting-state fMRI data from 499 healthy controls to conduct 3 million task group analyses. We should find 5% false positives, but instead, we found that the most common [bug-riddled] software packages for fMRI analysis (SPM, FSL, AFNI) can result in false-positive rates of up to 70%. These results question the validity of some 40,000 fMRI studies and may have a large impact on the interpretation of neuroimaging results.” And that’s just the software.
You know, that multimillion dollar contraption that can read your true thoughts, create videos of your mind, and can hack your thoughts and beliefs through electrical signals – it’s bug-riddled and completely unproven. Meanwhile, advocates have been trying for years to have the ‘blobology’ admitted into court as legal evidence.
As far as examining “brain imaging” and “thought processes” goes, we might as well go back the Rorshach Ink Blots – great new book on their history and reception released this week – which are at least are more colourful, less dangerous, and they come on plain paper. And in fact, these researchers think that’s exactly what fMRI images are – seeing shapes in seemingly random spatial patterns.
It’s also useful to remember that ‘brain science’ treatments once used the good old scientific technique called the ‘transorbital lobotomy’, which involved inserting an ice pick into a patient’s skull through the bone known as the orbit at the back of the eye socket. Patients were generally subdued with electroshock therapy beforehand. Then the ice pick was driven through the back of the eye with a hammer (NB: not for the faint-hearted). There, it would be moved back and forth in the same motion as an eggbeater, severing connections between the thalamus (which controls the motor systems of the brain, extending to basic functions like movement and consciousness) and frontal lobes (which regulate higher intellect)”. It was used on women exhibiting “unpredictable behaviour” and infamously carried out on John F. Kennedy’s sister, Rosemary Kennedy when it was feared she might have pre-marital sex, get pregnant, and embarrass the family.
The two largest brain mapping projects in the world are the EU’s Human Brain Project (HBP) and the US’s Brain Research through Advanced Innovative Neurotechnologies (i.e., BRAIN, surprisingly). If you want to know why there is such anger and dis-satisfaction with the European Commission (BREXIT) read this great account of the purposelessness and arrogance of the EU’s Euro 1 billion Human Brain Project – a bureaucratic success but a scientific failure. That a brain is not a giant supercomputer, and that as a biological system inseparably integrated into a living organism it operates utterly differently from our digital computers is seen inside the HBP cult as a deranged heresy of incompetent looneys who rightfully shall never get any proper funding.
On the other hand, the best single go-to source to understand the State-of-the-Art in Neuroscience is this outstanding short interview with Dr. James Giordano (read his bio and weep) with the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies (a must-subscribe for anyone concerned with government policy and technology).
Lastly, it’s 20 years ago this week that Dolly the Sheep was cloned. The German Government just announced Euro 50,000 fines and 3 year jail terms for anyone doing genetic engineering outside of a licensed facility. Here’s an excellently written and highly informative essay by John Hawks on Cloning a Woolly Mammoth – here’s a shorter, more mainstream article from The Guardian. Clue: it’s much more Woolly than it is Mammoth.
It seems appropriate to close this Not-So-Smart Everything section with a link to a great online course: Calling Bullshit from Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West and University of Washington (Syllabus here).