Intellectuall Vertue

Vertue generally, in all sorts of subjects, is somewhat that is valued for eminence; and consisteth in comparison. For if all things were equally in all men, nothing would be prized. And by Vertues INTELLECTUALL, are always understood such abilityes of the mind, as men praise, value, and desire should be in themselves; and go commonly under the name of a Good Witte; though the same word Witte, be used also, to distinguish one certain ability from the rest.

These Vertues are of two sorts; Naturall, and Acquired. By Naturall, I mean not, that which a man hath from his Birth: for that is nothing else but Sense; wherein men differ so little one from another, and from brute Beasts, as it is not to be reckoned amongst Vertues. But I mean, that Witte, which is gotten by Use onely, and Experience; without Method, Culture, or Instruction. This NATURALL WITTE, consisteth principally in two things; Celerity Of Imagining, (that is, swift succession of one thought to another;) and Steddy Direction to some approved end. On the Contrary a slow Imagination, maketh that Defect, or fault of the mind, which is commonly called DULNESSE, Stupidity, and sometimes by other names that signifie slownesse of motion, or difficulty to be moved.

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Artifice of intelligence

It makes no sense for a machine to think, but then is there any sense in animals thinking, or people? We have dreamed of thinking machines in every sci-fi novel, and while entrepreneurs think of a machine to spare the labour of thousands, the public thinks of HAL and SkyNet.

The field is inexplicable to most of us, entirely reliant on the inconceivable speeds of modern computers, but also reliant on the craft of the programmer. Even getting an arrow to bounce around a square takes a large number of options and alternatives, arranged carefully in the right order, because a computer cannot think to reason about what is expected in various circumstances-  it has to be told every step. At least, that has been the usual understanding of computers. The idea behind artificial intelligence is to produce a fuzzy logic, in the right place. However it is done, it is being done and it is not a future possibility – it used now.

From a political view the issue that has been discussed is regulation, and it has been said that Britain can be a leader in that filed. The idea of heavy-footed government imposing regulations on a field it does not understand, written by civil servants barely out of the typewriter age, trying to constrain a technology to limits it has already far exceeded, should fill entrepreneurs with dread, or would do were it not simply possible to flit abroad Britain can indeed lead, by not regulating. Things like fixing criminal responsibility on an individual if a machine kills or steals can be looked at, but Luddism has no place in the counsels of the state.

The imminent issue though it how artificial intelligence systems will skew the distribution of information.  Artificial intelligence systems now read across the internet to gain information and ‘insight’ into how to respond: but most of the internet is dangerous nonsense.  For conservatives, this is a major problem, because political ideas will be redoubled by systems which select what we see. As these are continually skewed by online radicals and promoters of ludicrous theories like socialists and flat-earthers then the information matrix goes with them.

A simple example is the clickbait that appears whenever the internet is opened, seeking shock headlines just to grab the viewer, with no moral obligation. The opinion shift against Brexit has been driven by this sort of headline (and of course by the major recession caused by lockdown, and by failure to embrace Brexit opportunities, but those are for other articles).

I would feel better if there were a way to flood the internet with the learning of Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke and Roger Scruton. Without it, only a Hobbesian ‘Madnesse’ can dominate the online world, and the imaginations of voters.

This then should be a conservative goal: teach the internet common sense and reality.

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