Not long ago, I stepped into a lift on the 18th floor of a tall building in New York City. A young woman inside the lift was looking down at the top of her toddler’s head with embarrassment as he looked at me and grinned. When I turned to push the ground-floor button, I saw that every button had already been pushed. Kids love pushing buttons, but they only push every button when the buttons light up. From a young age, humans are driven to learn, and learning involves getting as much feedback as possible from the immediate environment. The toddler who shared my elevator was grinning because feedback – in the form of lights or sounds or any change in the state of the world – is pleasurable.
The Rise of the Useless Class
The most important question in 21st-century economics may well be: What should we do with all the superfluous people, once we have highly intelligent non-conscious algorithms that can do almost everything better than humans?
This is not an entirely new question. People have long feared that mechanization might cause mass unemployment. This never happened, because as old professions became obsolete, new professions evolved, and there was always something humans could do better than machines. Yet this is not a law of nature, and nothing guarantees it will continue to be like that in the future. The idea that humans will always have a unique ability beyond the reach of non-conscious algorithms is just wishful thinking. The current scientific answer to this pipe dream can be summarized in three simple principles:
Read the rest of this article at: Ideas.Ted.Com
Life and Death on the Mexican Border
The wall is an army in brown. It is fabricated in sections 10 girders wide, 18ft tall and crowned with a metre-high blade. To watch the slatted world on the other side – Mexico – as you walk through the city of Nogales is to be reminded of a zoetrope’s flickering image; the same sequence played again and again. The steel, untreated, is red-brown with rust, and this rust in turn has leached into the wall’s concrete base and drained down its sides to the ground.
The wall divides the town – Nogales Arizona/Nogales Sonora – though most of the population lives on the Mexican side. On one of the slopes on the US side is a shrine. Ranged along a reinforcement joist slanting from the wall’s concrete base are some burnt-out tealights in glass jars. Knotted to the vertical palings above are a length of curled yellow ribbon and, tied in place with the same kind of ribbon, a bunch of dirty plastic daisies turned brittle by the sun. Nogales, Sonora, on the other side, is 20ft below, and I realise that the wall stands on its own embankment – steep on the Mexico side, like a castle dyke. In order to climb the wall from Nogales, Sonora, you first have to climb the slope. About 38ft, all told. Through the wall, in Mexico, I can make out a white, windowless building and a sign: despacho juridico, legal office. Stencil-sprayed on the adjoining wall, a young man’s face – a boy’s really, in its chubbiness – repeated over and over, like a crude Warhol, like a picture of a martyr.
How Nature Created Consciousness - and our Brains Became Minds
The preface to his new book, the philosopher Daniel Dennett announces proudly that what we are about to read is “the sketch, the backbone, of the best scientific theory to date of how our minds came into existence”. By the end, the reader may consider it more scribble than spine – at least as far as an account of the origins of human consciousness goes. But this is still a superb book about evolution, engineering, information and design. It ranges from neuroscience to nesting birds, from computing theory to jazz, and there is something fascinating on every page.
The term “design” has a bad reputation in biology because it has been co-opted by creationists disguised as theorists of “intelligent design”. Nature is the blind watchmaker (in Richard Dawkins’s phrase), dumbly building remarkable structures through a process of random accretion and winnowing over vast spans of time. Nonetheless, Dennett argues stylishly, asking “design” questions about evolution shouldn’t be taboo, because “biology is reverse engineering”: asking what some phenomenon or structure is for is an excellent way to understand how it might have arisen.
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'There's Enough Time to Change Everything'
The polymath computer scientist David Gelernter’s wide-ranging ideas about American life.
Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic