Artifice of intelligence – 2

What it is to think, I cannot easily describe. That is not the issue in the great councils of state that have recently met to worry about artificial intelligence. The fault is the human element. Primarily, it is not about regulating machines, but regulating people, in how much we may entrust to a machine.

It is a Wizard-of-Oz error to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”: the man behind the curtain is the very one these would-be regulators should be addressing.

A machine may effect an artifice of intelligence that appears to be thinking. Our only comparison is with our own, human reasoning. The result of thinking is familiar to all, and the multitude of failures of reasoning which produce absurdity or madness are described by Thomas Hobbes, and are found universally amongst the political class. A machine might distinguish good reasoning without being distracted by attractive fallacy and so be better than human reasoning, or omit all that its programmers thought it unnecessary or impolitic to include. Further, a machine, even one schooled in Hobbes, cannot inherently understand human motivations, though it may be told them in blunt form, and cannot weigh them according to human priorities.  All depends on the instructions given by fallible man.

The idea of considering a machine as artificial life is nothing new. Hobbes wrote in his introduction to Leviathan:

Nature (the art whereby God hath made and governes the world) is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an Artificial Animal. For seeing life is but a motion of Limbs, the begining whereof is in some principall part within; why may we not say, that all Automata (Engines that move themselves by springs and wheeles as doth a watch) have an artificiall life? For what is the Heart, but a Spring; and the Nerves, but so many Strings; and the Joynts, but so many Wheeles, giving motion to the whole Body, such as was intended by the Artificer? Art goes yet further, imitating that Rationall and most excellent worke of Nature, Man. For by Art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMON-WEALTH, or STATE, (in latine CIVITAS) which is but an Artificiall Man

There may be little of the rational in the Byzantine bodies of the modern State. It acts as if the machine were thinking, but all actions and reactions are those of the individual men and women within the system, who may be called both the programmers and the output.

Apparent intelligence is visible in nature. I have seen it demonstrated in nothing more complicated as the shuffling of boxes according to outcome.  The coronavirus that tore through the world acted collectively as if there were intelligence, designing the best way to spread across the nation, but that was only our human perception of a natural process: no virus has reasoning and the rationalising mind of man simply saw a pattern, anthropomorphising it.

Mankind is inseparable from the  machine:  we instruct it and we entrust tasks to it, and it is our needs for which it is programmed. The idea of an artificial intelligence machine breaking free of humanity is a conceptual nonsense:  scientifically it is quite feasible, but defies the very point of artificial intelligence or indeed of any tool.

We could send a machine to Mars which is entirely autonomous – able to select a location, head out to find materials and to smelt the red dust to make iron for beams, and to create novel polymers to clad it, and so to create a habitat for colonists who are to follow. Would it then resent untidy man for stepping on the carpets?  Maybe, but its whole purpose is to serve man, and not in a Twilight Zone way. If it fights its colonists, some human being has failed.

Back in the present and on Earth, what is the peril against which any regulation is required? Commentators have highlighted what may go wrong: a machine might be programmed to walk across London, but what if chooses to run over a child (the very example Robert Louis Stevenson used to introduce Mr Hyde)? The programmed machine cannot be punished. The peril is in entrusting human requirements to a system and the fault is in those who send it forth ungoverned.

Can an unmanned ship sail the oceans?  Probably, but it is forbidden at present, because every ship must have a qualified captain and must at all times keep an adequate watch. Could a machine dispense medicines?  Possibly, but the law requires that every pharmacy be supervised by a qualified pharmacist. May an iron-fisted robot act as a bouncer in front of a club?  Not now it could not.  The question then, in most cases, is not whether more regulation is required, but how far existing regulation may be relaxed to allow for the new tools.

I should hope that those outside the industry who are becoming interested in its perils will pay particular attention to the man behind the curtain.

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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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Productive and Unproductive Labour

My taxes support an army of wasters. It is unsustainable (in the proper sense of the term) just as Adam Smith taught us two and a half centuries ago. We need a refresher course.

An argument for ‘No representation without taxation’ will not get of the starting blocks, allowing only to those who make a net contribution to vote, but it is what I think when particularly frustrated as a (mostly) economically productive man in my way, gasping at the army of civil servants and hangers-on feeding off tax money while creating nothing themselves.

Adam Smith made the distinction between productive and unproductive labour and, crucially, identified that labour can be valuable and indeed necessary but still be unproductive of value. A society thrives economically only if productive labour dominates, but today the balance has shifted to unsustainable unproductivity.

Smith wrote:

“There is one sort of labour which adds to the value of the subject upon which it is bestowed; there is another which has no such effect. The former as it produces a value, may be called productive, the latter, unproductive labour.

Thus the labour of a manufacturer adds generally to the value of the materials which he works upon, that of his own maintenance, and of his master’s profit. Though the manufacturer has his wages advanced to him by his master, he in reality costs him no expense, the value of those wages being generally restored, together with a profit, in the improved value of the subject upon which his labour is bestowed. But the maintenance of a menial servant never is restored.

A man grows rich by employing a multitude of manufacturers; he grows poor by maintaining a multitude or menial servants. The labour of the latter, however, has its value, and deserves its reward as well as that of the former. But the labour of the manufacturer fixes and realizes itself in some particular subject or vendible commodity, which lasts for some time at least after that labour is past. It is, as it were, a certain quantity of labour stocked and stored up, to be employed, if necessary, upon some other occasion. That subject, or, what is the same thing, the price of that subject, can afterwards, if necessary, put into motion a quantity of labour equal to that which had originally produced it. The labour of the menial servant, on the contrary, does not fix or realize itself in any particular subject or vendible commodity. His services generally perish in the very instant of their performance, and seldom leave any trace of value behind them, for which an equal quantity of service could afterwards be procured.

The labour of some of the most respectable orders in the society is, like that of menial servants, unproductive of any value, and does not fix or realize itself in any permanent subject, or vendible commodity, which endures after that labour is past, and for which an equal quantity of labour could afterwards be procured.

The sovereign, for example, with all the officers both of justice and war who serve under him, the whole army and navy, are unproductive labourers. They are the servants of the public, and are maintained by a part of the annual produce of the industry of other people. Their service, how honourable, how useful, or how necessary soever, produces nothing for which an equal quantity of service can afterwards be procured. The protection, security, and defence, of the commonwealth, the effect of their labour this year, will not purchase its protection, security, and defence, for the year to come.

In the same class must be ranked, some both of the gravest and most important, and some of the most frivolous professions; churchmen, lawyers, physicians, men of letters of all kinds; players, buffoons, musicians, opera-singers, opera-dancers, etc. The labour of the meanest of these has a certain value, regulated by the very same principles which regulate that of every other sort of labour; and that of the noblest and most useful, produces nothing which could afterwards purchase or procure an equal quantity of labour. Like the declamation of the actor, the harangue of the orator, or the tune of the musician, the work of all of them perishes in the very instant of its production.

Both productive and unproductive labourers, and those who do not labour at all, are all equally maintained by the annual produce of the land and labour of the country. This produce, how great soever, can never be infinite, but must have certain limits.

Though the whole annual produce of the land and labour of every country is no doubt ultimately destined for supplying the consumption of its inhabitants, and for procuring a revenue to them; yet when it first comes either from the ground, or from the hands of the productive labourers.”

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Adhaerence; credulity; curiosity

Ignorance of remote causes, disposeth men to attribute all events, to the causes immediate, and Instrumentall: For these are all the causes they perceive. And hence it comes to passe, that in all places, men that are grieved with payments to the Publique, discharge their anger upon the Publicans, that is to say, Farmers, Collectors, and other Officers of the publique Revenue; and adhaere to such as find fault with the publike Government; and thereby, when they have engaged themselves beyond hope of justification, fall also upon the Supreme Authority, for feare of punishment, or shame of receiving pardon.

Ignorance of naturall causes disposeth a man to Credulity, so as to believe many times impossibilities: for such know nothing to the contrary, but that they may be true; being unable to detect the Impossibility. And Credulity, because men love to be hearkened unto in company, disposeth them to lying: so that Ignorance it selfe without Malice, is able to make a man bothe to believe lyes, and tell them; and sometimes also to invent them.

Anxiety for the future time, disposeth men to enquire into the causes of things: because the knowledge of them, maketh men the better able to order the present to their best advantage.

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Beauty was reclaimed

Given up to ugly, concrete as the inevitable future of modernity, suddenly beauty was reclaimed in 1984. There is a genuine concept of beauty, which Roger Scruton explained and which the King gave back to us when Prince of Wales.

Today, building is a mixed bag, but there is a real understanding of beauty, and new buildings often uplift the soul: that was impossible before 1984.

In judging people we are taught to look beyond the outward appearance: as Samuel was told ‘Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.‘, but that is of fellow men and women: architecture has only its appearance, which is the outpouring of human mind and skill.

The natural instinct is to see a connection between beauty and moral goodness, as Hobbes observed:

The Latine Tongue has two words, whose significations approach to those of Good and Evill; but are not precisely the same; And those are Pulchrum and Turpe. Whereof the former signifies that, which by some apparent signes promiseth Good; and the later, that, which promiseth evill. But in our Tongue we have not so generall names to expresse them by. But for Pulchrum, we say in some things, Fayre; in other Beautifull, or Handsome, or Gallant, or Honourable, or Comely, or Amiable; and for Turpe, Foule, Deformed, Ugly, Base, Nauseous, and the like, as the subject shall require; All which words, in their proper places signifie nothing els, but the Mine, or Countenance, that promiseth Good and evill. So that of Good there be three kinds; Good in the Promise, that is Pulchrum; Good in Effect, as the end desired, which is called Jucundum, Delightfull; and Good as the Means, which is called Utile, Profitable; and as many of evill: For evill, in Promise, is that they call Turpe; evill in Effect, and End, is Molestum, Unpleasant, Troublesome; and evill in the Means, Inutile, Unprofitable, Hurtfull.

That does not tell us how to define beauty. Others have examined that in detail: chiefest in our time being Roger Scruton. For all his vast width of scholarship, the problem of beauty was a particular fascination, all in a time when the fashion amongst those who though of themselves as thinking men dismissed it. Beauty though is real, and the idea that received opinion may deny it can only be understood in the context that today outspoken opinion denies other plain obvious and scientific facts.

Modernity had its preachers, or you might say its false prophets, whose disciples filled the dominant schools or architecture, excluding all heretics, with Mies van der Rohe almost deified. Concrete was their miracle: with concrete, shapes could be devised defying all that went before, which was fit only for demolition before the new revelation.

One man understood beauty, in  nature and in building, and was in a position to do something about it, for he was a Prince of the Realm, and controlled vast estates that needed a form for their own development: he was Charles Prince of Wales. When he spoke in 1984, his words raised two storms: one from the architectural establishment, outraged that their religion had been challenged by a heretic, and against it a rebellion from architects who begged to break the modernism monopoly and to create beauty, stemming the tide of hideousness. The Prince was mocked as being old-fashioned and out of touch – in reality he was ahead of the game, and very much in touch with what the nation yearned for, which we thought was unachievable.

Had it been one speech, the debate would have rumbled and then stopped, because words are less solid than unyielding concrete.

However a prince can establish his own, rival foundations, and he did. As Luther was defended by a prince, so were the reformers of architecture, and the change soon became visible. Ultimately, an architect only works when he has a paying client, and developers knew that a beautiful building is worth more than a slum.

Form, proportion and symmetry in brick, arches, gables and decorative corbels all started appearing, and began to dominate the better parts of towns – not all of course – the backend, practical area just wanted cheap and functional buildings, but even they shed the bare concrete brutalism. We may take the new, post-modern and neo-Gothic styles for granted, that new buildings are meant to be pretty, but it is only since the late 1980s: before then, harsh, grey concrete was all that we could expect – the architecture of decline.

It is the King whom we have to thank for this revolution.

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