Deep Learning

For a while, in the mid-1970’s, I was obsessed with chess, caught up in the fever generated by Bobby Fisher. I spent many hours playing and studying the game. Among competitive players, I was just average. I didn’t have whatever it takes to play at a high level.

But I could beat any computer in the world. In those days, any reasonably competent player could. Computers just weren’t any good at chess, and experts predicted they never would be.

In a chess game there are literally millions of potential positions after just 3 moves each, and hundreds of billions of potential positions after only 4 moves. The number of potential combinations in a typical chess game exceeds the number of atoms in the universe. The reason early computers weren’t any good at chess was because they had to analyze every potential move, whereas a human player, based on experience and pattern recognition, could automatically exclude the vast majority of potential moves and focus only on the few that were sensible in that situation. Playing chess well required a degree of abstract thought that computers weren’t capable of.

Not any more. Nowadays chess computers can beat any player in the world. Cheap devices found in toy departments play at the grandmaster level. The human mind simply cannot match human-created computers when it comes to playing chess.

Go is exceedingly more complex than chess. The number of potential combinations in Go is far greater than that in chess. Yet this year a computer called AlphaGo defeated the world Go champion. As with chess, humans have created a machine that plays Go better than its creators–better even than any potential human creator.

These computer achievements are due to a process called “Deep Learning,” which uses “deep neural networks” that enable computers to mine Big Data and teach themselves, essentially imitating the human learning process, but at lightning speed. The implications of this technology, which is developing at an astonishing pace, are mind-boggling. I urge anyone who has the time to read this article, provocatively titled: “Deep Learning is Going to Teach Us All the Lesson of Our Lives: Jobs are for Machines.”

I’ve blogged often about the effects automation and robotics will likely have on human work. I won’t go into that again this morning, but the linked article addresses it well and raises some fascinating questions and concerns.

But aside from what Deep Learning means for the human job market, I wonder what it will mean for human intelligence?

Over the course of history our appreciation for what it means to be intelligent has evolved. We don’t typically consider mere literacy an indication of advanced intelligence any more, for example. When I was in school rote memorization was still being taught. The ability to memorize and recite a poem or a passage from Shakespeare was considered a sign of intelligence. Nowadays that might be a neat bar trick but hardly anyone would measure intelligence by how much stuff a person has memorized. More recently the ability to do calculus would be an indication of intelligence, for example. But if an inexpensive device most people carry in their pockets can do it better and more quickly, what’s the point of knowing how to do it? Why is it any different from being a chess grandmaster, who would be routinely defeated by an inexpensive computer?

Over the last hundred years or so humans have devised ways to measure human intelligence, and hundreds of studies have proven that intelligence correlates to nearly every measure of human well-being: education level, income, longevity, criminality, marital stability, health, etc. It would be wrong, I think, to assume that in a world of Deep Learning computers human intelligence becomes entirely irrelevant.

But other than as a measure of human capacity for well-being, what are we to do with our “intelligence” once we don’t need it for the things we’ve traditionally used it for? Are we at a point in history when in the time it would take for a human to acquire the skills, experience and education to find a cure for cancer (for example), Deep Learning machines could have already solved the issue in a small fraction of the time? Every time I think of things like this the question Wendell Berry asked many years ago rattles around in my brain, “What are people for?”

I go on about this for hours, but for now I’ll close with another interesting thought. What if in 25 years or so, what we now identify as human intelligence is no longer important, because artificial intelligence will have so far surpassed it as to make it practically irrelevant? I heard a commentator predict that when that happens, we will begin to objectively measure and assess human intellect by reference to “emotional intelligence,” rather than whether our neurons fire in ways that make us good at chess, calculus or memorizing Shakespeare.

We surely live in a fascinating time.

 

 

Advertisements

24 comments on “Deep Learning

  1. valbjerke says:

    I think artificial intelligence has led to the ‘dumbing down’ of society in general. Seldom do I meet a cashier who can count change back (the til does it for them), many people cannot perform basic math (kids use calculators in school), and I’m astonished at the lack of basic literacy skills high school graduates possess (there/their, to/too…). Now I see cars being built that parallel park for you, use a camera to back up, have lane deviation warning, predictive braking, gps (no need to read a map). Technology has negated our need to ‘think’. I could go on for hours too 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      We are definitely eliminating our need to think about some things. Who memorizes phone numbers any more? Our “devices” are serving as brain extensions. Kids don’t learn to do math the way we did because they’re learning to use calculators instead. They’re not learning handwriting because they’re learning typing and word processing instead. Maps? It’s hard to even find them these days. When I started practicing law in 1982 every attorney had a secretary. Now there are three attorneys for every secretary, and they’ve long since stopped typing and taking dictation. The attorneys (especially the younger ones) can type or dictate with voice recognition software faster than if they had someone do it for them. And cashiers? They’re fast going the way of gas station attendants and elevator operators. Within a few years I expect nearly all check out will be “self service.” The rate of change is truly amazing. But as AV asks in her comment, what happens when the power goes out?

      Liked by 1 person

      • valbjerke says:

        Exactly. Years ago when I lived South, during a particularly bad fire season, a large portion of hydro burnt up. Everything went down – bank machines, gas stations, all commercial establishments- for many miles and many communities. People came next to unhinged – in no way were they prepared. I hauled out my camp stove, made coffee and carried on. People don’t think of how technology has infiltrated everything from the simple act of turning on a gas pump, to spitting money out of an ATM, to dictating whether or not you can buy groceries when nothing can be scanned, the til won’t open and the debit machines don’t function.
        Technology may be the present and the future – and certainly has a place (medicine comes to mind) but I still carry cash, keep a full tank, and always aim for at least a year of food survival.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. NebraskaDave says:

    Bill, Hmmmmm, pretty scary. I read the article about the deep learning AI intelligence and the scenario of how it will affect the future job market. It won’t affect me so much but my daughter and grandson will have to go through the transition. How does one prepare them for such a drastic change. If I understand the article right, there will be huge changes in how incomes will be generated. I’m not sure how or where the money for basic income guarantee will come from. It sounds very close to a giant welfare class to me.

    Thanks for always giving me some thing to contemplate during the day.

    Have a great day contemplating social change.

    Nebraska Dave

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I’ve had this discussion with anyone I know who’s interested and several have said there’s no need to worry, because when technology eliminates jobs there are always new jobs to absorb the displaced workers. But no one has been able to tell me what those jobs are going to be. What will all those truck drivers do? Become IT entrepreneurs? It’s true that 80% of our population used to work in agriculture and now only about 1% do, but those ag workers transitioned to a industry–a different segment of the economy. With robotics and AI there is no other segment to transition to. That’s why people like this author are advocating guaranteed incomes.

      I haven’t seen a good answer to the question of how it will be paid for. In theory the guaranteed income replaces all existing safety nets, so that money can just be redirected. But there would still be a big hole to fill. Some say the increased productivity of automation will more than compensate for the cost of supporting unemployed laborers. Seems dubious to me. But one thing’s for sure–it’s coming fast and we’ll need to figure out something soon!

      Like

      • avwalters says:

        Unfortunately, the answer to who will pay for change is us. Through new efficiencies and technology, Americans are ever more productive. But the overwhelming benefit of that productivity has gone to the famed 1%. Worker rates of pay are stagnant–and eve fell in the past decade. There are fewer jobs, but have you heard any American politicians suggest the solution is a guaranteed wage? They’re too busy eroding the worker protections we have now.

        Like

      • valbjerke says:

        As many jobs that have been eliminated by technology, there always those that can’t be replaced. My daughter is a paramedic – I can think of no up and coming technology that can scrape a junkie out of an alley, start an IV whilst upside down in a water filled ditch at an accident scene….. My son drives logging truck – though there are machines to cut down, de-limb and saw to length trees, somebody still needs to haul those logs down the marginal mountain road and get them to the mill. I’ve seen robotics assemble factory transmissions – yet I have a job because when they break, somebody has to take them apart, clean them up and rebuild them – and until somebody can figure out how to get the power from the engine to the wheels in an affordable fashion so anybody can buy such a vehicle – I will keep working. For certain, many jobs have gone the way of the dodo bird due to technology – but I hope those that find themselves displaced by machines/robots/technology – learn to think outside the box. I think it’s a mistake to think we will all be victimized by technology.
        As always, your posts start some of the best discussions 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  3. avwalters says:

    Hopefully, all of this artificial intelligence will free up time for our highest and best use, creativity. I have found, though, that creativity multiplies when I’m otherwise engaged in work. I paint a room and I come up with ideas for novels. Gardening is fertile ground in more ways than one. In the meantime, I note that many of us are at wits end, when the power goes out. No computers, no entertainment, literally–no light. Here, where Northern winds and snow take the power out fairly regularly, we have oil lamps and back up heat. You can fire up the wood stove and snuggle up to a good book. Not to make too much of an old saying, but it is literally better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. All of this artificial intelligence–where will it be if the lights go out? I, too, could go on for hours…but there’s work to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      I’ve read repeatedly that once humans are liberated from the necessity of trading labor for life’s necessaries, we’ll all be able to devote our time to creative and fulfilling things instead. Some definitely would. I’d still do exactly what I’m doing. But I’m pretty sure a large segment of the population would use their leisure to smoke pot and play video games, which, come to think of it, is what a large segment of the population is already doing. 🙂

      I’m reading Small is Beautiful now. It’s been on my list a long time. Great book. Prophetic. Working with our hands is part of what it means to be human. It’s not something we should be trying to eliminate, like a disease. And I think it’s a mistake to assume that most people would prefer a life without work. At least in my subculture work is valued and greatly preferred to receiving handouts for not working. It’s fascinating to see how Schumacher anticipated these issues 50 years ago.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. I spent yesterday at a Google office, somewhat amazed at how the company has redefined work by eliminating most hierarchy and encouraging individual initiative and creativity. Maybe the future won’t be so bad. 🙂 –Curt

    Like

    • Bill says:

      If I recall correctly Google requires its employees to spend one day a week doing nothing but innovating, thinking and creating. They have no other job responsibilities that day. That kind of commitment to individual initiative and creativity has certainly paid off for them, and we have all benefited from it.

      Like

  5. theburningheart says:

    My five cents, it’s not about science, and technological innovations, but also about social, and political change. In other words we will have to rethink the future in terms of benefiting Men, and society in general, is what really need to be addressed. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      I think you’re right. We’re potentially on the cusp of a paradigm shift in what it means to be human. One example is a potential redefinition of what it means to be “intelligent.” Hopefully we won’t screw up the opportunities that are being presented to us.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Joanna says:

    Some interesting thoughts and reflections here. One thing I think we forget about regarding money, is that it is actually worthless really, it is just the oil that enables the movement of goods. It is easier to trade in numbers of coins than potatoes and easier again when using a card. How much we pay is irrelevant, it can be one, two or three oranges but what makes the difference is how long it took me to earn those oranges or where those oranges came from for me to trade with.

    People need to learn something new to keep their brain active as a way of helping to prevent dementia from what I understand, so we have a choice, keep learning or succumb to a disease. I know it is way more complicated than that, but an element of it is true. Brain lethargy is not nice. We also need the germs and bacteria of having our hands in the dirt to keep us healthy and so as good a reason as any to get out there and get our hands dirty. So maybe we will just have different motivations to continue “working”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      It’s a wild and mysterious future we face. Perhaps we’ll focus our energies on things that computers can’t do (as least not yet). Maybe we’ll cultivate emotional well-being with the same energy we’re pursuing material well-being. Let’s hope so.

      I don’t imagine a future without physical, hands-on work as necessarily an improvement. But I realize my perspective could be criticized as coming from a position of privilege. Someone slaving away in a physically-degrading mind-numbing job might disagree. But while I’m all for a world without bad work, I don’t want a world without meaningful fulfilling work.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Joanna says:

        I share your dilemma Bill. How to advocate for one without appearing to be only thinking from a white privileged box is a difficult one, but not something we should shy away from either. Glad you are thoughtfully trying to envision a better future

        Like

  7. BeeHappee says:

    Can AI write poems?

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Of course. 🙂

      Some of the most astonishing things being achieved by AI these days are in “creative” fields that supposedly were safe from AI. It uses the same “deep learning” process. So there are programs that “read” all the great poetry and literature, learn from them, then create poems that are indistinguishable from “real” poems and supposedly quite beautiful. Likewise AI is composing music and creating paintings. I suppose all of this gives support to what materialists have been arguing for centuries and can be somewhat distressing to those of us who have disagreed with them. So now what about consciousness and the “hard problem”? It’s really mind-boggling to think about. Science fiction is becoming reality.

      Liked by 1 person

      • BeeHappee says:

        Bill, now you reminded me of one Soviet kid’s film I used to watch all the time, and at that time I thought it was super cool. It was made by a Russian director in 1979, called “The Adventures of the Electronic Boy”. Story follows two identical boys, one a real human boy, the other – identical looking electronic robot. The real boy teaches the robot how to act “like a boy”. He then stuffs all the textbooks into robot’s back and sends him to school instead of himself. The robot does great, he can recall all math formulas, etc. The real boy sings in happiness how the robot gave him freedom to do whatever he wants to do – not go to school. 🙂 Until something happens. The real boy mixes up the textbooks/material that is stuffed into the robot…
        I am interested in rewatching the film. Back then, in the early 80’s, watching that as a kid, I thought it was just a cool fantasy!

        Yes, I wonder about consciousness. I recently had an argument with a materialist who claims it is all brain. My logic fails in those arguments. It is just a feeling that remains.

        Like

      • Bill says:

        Maybe it’s because I’m alone and outside most of the time (giving me plenty of time to think), or maybe it’s just because I’m that kind of weird, but for whatever reason, I think about the problem of consciousness a lot. It seems to me that that question is for all the marbles. If there is no mind separate from brain, if consciousness is a material reality that is simply the product of arranging matter in a particular way, then there is no reason humans can’t create “artificial” consciousness. At that point I suppose materialists carry the day. I suppose scientists (or more likely computers) could devise ways to upload human consciousness to machines, or new bodies, thus attaining a kind of immorality, but what would be the point if all reality is merely material. But how could we ever know if artificial consciousness exists, since the only consciousness we can be sure of is our own, and even that may be an illusion? But if consciousness can be shown to exist independently of matter, perhaps even independently of humans, that’s a game-changer too. Of course that would be even more difficult to demonstrate. As I’ve said, I find these questions fascinating. They’re good brain exercise. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes I agree Bill.. We live in fascinating times.. But like you I am concerned we will take a step too far and those futuristic films our population watch about the Robot wars could not be that too far off in the distant future..
    You can see where its all heading . And automation means less work for humans .. a subject too dense for me to go into this New Year’s morning..
    Automation is good, its called progress.. as is the technology which is enhancing this modern day world.. I see Robots on many TV add these days.. Which is a concern as we are being subliminally programmed into accepting them..

    Any ways..Nothing will replace the good old spade and fork in the garden to get out the weeds.. So I will keep on keeping on looking after my own little plot in the world.. And Pray the World Wakes up to what it is doing to itself..

    Sending you and your lovely lady wife Well wishes for a Wonderful New Year.. Sending Love, Happiness and good health your way..
    Happy New Year.
    Sue xx x 🙂

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s