My near philosophical musings about the world in general its problems and possible ways out.


When god jokes

Recently I joined a colleague for an after work beer to one of Düsseldorf’s oldest and most rustic Altbier (literally “old beer”) taverns.

Quickly, we had engaged in a profound discussion about the nature of artificial intelligence and its effects on our lives and the world as such in general.

We were not the only ones reflecting their professional and beyond thoughts in a more convenient and inspiring atmosphere than a noisy crowded open space office with only with castrated and amputated computers at hand.

At the table next to us there sat god and devil. They seemed to be regular guests here as they blended in perfectly into the crowd like locals. Maybe they indeed were locals. While my colleague suspected that god might be from rivalling Cologne, which is to be considered as rather daring when being in in Düsseldorf, the devil spoke a distinct and often ridiculed Saxon dialect.

While my colleague went on elaborating on the sad outlook that programmers might become the first victims of AI, I could not help secretly and as inconspicuously listening to the conversations at neighbouring table.

Seemingly the talks were about the gaming business, the design and development of computer games, to be more precise, using many special terms, which I do not recall, as I am not good in memorizing terms, which are unbeknownst to me.

And they seemed to be worried.

I told you before - under certain conditions it might run out of control”, I heard devil saying. He reminded me of that macho type low level programmer, who loves to touch the iron itself, who dreams of applying the raw power of a signal processor and for whom C, assembler or machine language was not to sharp a weapon, not to risk its use – and abuse.

It is all about balancing. The more autonomy you allow for the decisions taken, the more powerful will be the systems behaviour. Adding one control level on top of the other, you have to let loose at some point. First you implement decisions, then overall beliefs, driving these decisions, on the 3rd level the beliefs might alter and take different shape, even new beliefs and meta-beliefs might emerge. Isn’t that all fascinating? No one knows the outcome!” Was Gods reply.

He appeared to me as a more intellectual type nerd, one of those who go after architecture, UX & design. I wouldn’t be surprised if he would be a proponent of the recently fashionable design thinking discipline.

Meanwhile my colleague, a brilliant guy as well, went on contemplating about applying deep learning on more mundane tasks like driving a car in the asphalt jungle of a modern megalopolis. “How long do you think it will take some Google-translate grade systems to learn driving? And will the teachers, who will tell them, when their attempts will be successful, be good enough at all? Or will they just learn from their crashes? That would be a bit too human-like for my personal taste.

I uttered some Aha, ahemm, nodding, shrugging and more sophisticated forms of structured silence, while clandestinely eavesdropping some of the words from beyond the waiter’s highway, seperating our tables.

But is comes with some severe shortcomings: the outcome is no longer predictable, the overall energy consumption does not support our green computing intentions, and in the end you will lose control over the whole sprawling complexity. Eventually you will have to – and this let me tell you – you will have to push the reset button, rather sooner than later.”

Well, you guessed it. This was devil again, our real-politics guy.

Lame as a manager, but intellectually convincing gods response came like this: “Well I just could set the parameters right, I mean find the optimal set. Adjusting the degree of inclusion, compassion aggression, traditionalism, envy, trust … and the like and lock it into their firmware. While doable, this would still pose a daunting task. However by doing so I would cut evolution of, would severely limit emergent effects and stall overall progress. Letting mutation and selection adapt exactly these parameters on a secular time scale, led to those hyper successful emergent effects, like establishing a cultural evolution on top of the biological one. And now on top of that even the next layer is about to emerge in my breed, which is misleadingly dubbed Artificial Intelligence”.

At the same time my colleague mentioned this very word in some kind of mockery. As if it were the keyword, everyone was waiting for; it cut through the fog of the ear-deafening noise of the beer tavern. For a moment my colleague and god looked at each other’s, smiled, nodded, like you may greet a rare compatriot in a foreign country, recognising that they are operating in a similar business. Aren’t they?

Devil: “I don’t think that it is about flaws in the implementation, but the very goal is contradictory. The tricky thing is, that while pursuing the right thing, you will get the unwanted, rather the opposite of what you intended. Good is bad, remember Orwells, doublethink! The design flaw is that making them utterly successful is the recipe for catastrophe. Every optimisation only makes the whole collective glide even faster down the slippery slope. Your favourite breed is too much bound for success, victory and glory. What made them thriving throughout the ramp-up period, will make your lemmings eventually hit a solid wall and lead to their complete self-destruction. That’s pretty deterministic. As you consider yourself a great thinker and architect, this should have been evident to you. Interesting however things become with the introduction of AI. I have to admit that. To be really helpful AI must be enabled of taking important decisions autonomously. For doing so it has to follow pretty much the same path as your current breed did. So if you hesitate to reboot now and restart freshly, AI will take over your job rather sooner than later. Isn’t that a joke?

God: “Hmmm, well, maybe you will turn out to be right. But if so, it was a good joke anyway.

After they paid their bills in proven German manner separately but with manna and glowing coals, they departed giving five, god to his could service environment and devil down to the devilish noise of his beloved hot and smelly server room.

See you soon, when I will have some news. The story isn’t over yet, bye.“

My friend, after so many beers he was upgraded, came to the conclusion to apply AI to the entire development of the human species for its better.

Hmmm, I mumbled. It can’t get worse anyway. See you tomorrow, Bye.