Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Commenting before moving forward;

The Growlery has two posts up (here and here) with some pithy comments on what we discussed below. As I had suspected, there are large numbers of people who are thinking along the same lines, sort of like a “swarm.” Here are a few extracted memes:

Concerning Information handling in the human:
Now, though, I did think about it. And, she (his dentist talking about his tongue) pointed out, all of this is just one small subroutine within the total body monitoring run by the central nervous system - which is, in itself, only one function of that system amongst many others.
This comment is interesting from a number of points, not the least that it suggests that human processing of information is a massively parallel affair. This coincides with current ideas of neuroanatomy with the “executive” center being in the prefrontal cortex and the areas such as Brocca’s speech center (having been described several centuries ago) and the motor cortex being ancillary to this directive. Of course we don't really understand how it works yet.

Concerning Intelligent Design:
Human beings, as I said in an earlier post, are a package evolved by evolution (or, if you are from the other shop, designed) to meet a very different world from the one within which robotics are developing.
I disagree with the Growlery on tossing a bone to the intelligent design crowd. While they pretend to be scientists, their agenda is clearly political and it pains me that we have to continually recognize their influence. Hopefully it is waning.

Concerning Lagrange points L1 an L2
I looked them up in Wikipedia. It took me less than a minute. Talk about information handling.

Concerning deposits of information in robots:
...to duplicate them onboard is unnecessary, unless security or the transmission delay is unacceptable for a particular purpose
I think I would like to say something about this in the future. Something about the fragility of information transfer (upon which all these visions of robotic swarms heavily depend). Have you ever worked in a Hospital?

Concerning the robots of the future:
It's not impossible that dentistry, like radiography, will one day be carried out by machines; but not by a humanoid robot.
This is very poignant. It just like the American auto worker in the 50’s and 60’s looking forward to the future. Little did they know that their jobs would first be shipped over seas and then be taken over by automation. I don’t think that doctors (or lawyers, for that matter) have even considered what is going to happen to their professions when EMR’s (electronic medical records) get fully implemented. In fact, they are clamouring for my office to implement a prototype information collection on all patients with respect to their mental health that will be shared by all health care professionals!!

Talk about Brave New World (a Shakespeare quote, by the way. Never to be replaced by a robot.)

Concerning the definition of “living”:
When will a machine, robot, automaton, be deemed “alive”?
I would say that this is purely a philosophical question akin to “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.” It is interesting if you read Wittgenstein to see how many of his “questions” about language are equally irrelevant a 100 years later. We should return to this after an appropriate science of neuro-informatics has been developed. Consider that working on these problems is just like Steven Weinberg and his theory of everything.

Next the Growlery refers us to five separate comments by Babbage and Lovelace. These appeared in 1998-1999 but are very relevant. The first of these is here:

What follows are just some quotes out of these commentaries that I found interesting:

Concerning “swarms” of automatons (I like this word in this context better than the word robot):
…It is not, he feels, a very great leap to imagine a linked ‘swarm’ of such vehicles, comprising, like ants, a greatly flexible, dispersed entity. The loss of a single automaton would not fatally injure the swarm, which could repair itself or even manufacture complete new vehicles. Perhaps such swarms are the future of planetary exploration and much else besides.
I think that this is a comment on the definition of life. What else is an organism but something that can “repair itself and manufacture copies of itself?” Of course that covers the Andromeda Strain and I despise Michael Critchon.

Returning to this question again:
Human sentience, it has been argued, derives from manipulative capacity and a critical number of neural connections. How large must a swarm be, Babbage wonders, to provide that critical number? He finds the question fascinating; but with the prospect of automata free to decide to copy themselves or to kill, Mary Shelley’s warning about irresponsible scientific creation carries as much weight today as it did when Babbage, as a young man, first read Frankenstein.

The Pope does Computers:
Lovelace turned to the radio, where she heard that the Vatican reputedly plans to computerise "the search for God's fingerprints in the chaos of Creation".
What an enticing little tidbit. Except, as they point out, how do you decide what is a fingerprint of God?

Dance, angels, dance on that pinhead.

On the fundamental constants of the universe:
that the fundamental constants of the universe - seemingly tailored to our existence - may also have evolved Darwinistical
I am not a physicist, but this seems to be contradicted by the fact that, as time goes on, we are able to reconstruct the universe further and further backwards in time. I am almost certain that this presupposes that the constants don’t change (wouldn't be a constant, would it). There is much speculation about these constants and, of course, the possibility of alternative universes comes up. It is my understanding that humans couldn't’t live in an alternative universe simply because only these constants only allow life as we know it.

Finally a comment on robotic surgery:
Of the medical endorobotics experts Babbage spoke to, some foresaw automated surgery useful in battlefield or other hazardous environments. Others saw brighter prospects, a way out of resource shortages in a world of escalating clinical demand. But whatever the applications for daVinci and the daVinciettes, their increasing part in medicine seems to Babbage inevitable.
Did I just see my job go down the drain? This is a long time in the future, but it is probably a real possibility. What will humans do when we are all replaced by robots. Oh, you Ludites, if you only knew!

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