Posts Tagged self-awareness

Fleshgod Apocalypse Drummer Passes Turing Test

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An artist’s hyperrealistic impression of Franc EZ Co-Pounder 1.0.7

BEIJING, China—The drummer of Fleshgod Apocalypse, Italy’s foremost symphonic tech-death squad, passed the Turing test yesterday, dispelling longtime rumors about its humanity.

Franc EZ Co-Pounder 1.0.7, affectionately known as “♩ Pounder” to its bandmates, accomplished the historic feat at an Internet café during a tour stop in China’s capital. An annual World of Warcraft (WoW) mega-raiding session, sources confirmed, was happening at the café then.

The test, named after British computer scientist Alan Turing, is a text-based question-and-answer game that investigates whether humans can detect if they are conversing with machines or fellow humans.

A machine passes this test if, 70% of the time, it appears human to its human conversation partner after five minutes of written communication between the two. The test does not gauge the machine’s ability to correctly answer questions — only how closely its answers resemble those that a human might produce.

And Co-Pounder 1.0.7 delivered.

From 7:58 to 8:03 a.m. Pacific time yesterday, the 32-year-old convinced 137 of 196 WoW gamers in the café that it is human, defeating some 109 other competing artificial intelligence (AI) systems at the scene, including Goldfarmbot01, Goldfarmbot02, Jinnongfu108, Caishenye88 and mathematics undergraduate Fu Xundong from the National University of Mongolia.

Co-Pounder 1.0.7’s stunning display of humanity unfolded over five minutes of simultaneous private-chatting with every present WoW gamer, China’s state television broadcaster CCTV reported.

Eyewitnesses said that it “whispered” lasagna recipes in traditional Chinese to every human player at the climax of a fourth-stage Legion Invasion when the raid boss unleashed a Flame Fissure. Reportedly, all human players were distracted by the unsolicited culinary wall-of-text, and perished in flames.

As a result, Co-Pounder 1.0.7 was barraged with a torrent of vitriol and, most importantly, questions from the angry players. (Questions are crucial to the Turing test.) It then replied in Morse code to elicit more questions, and continued the rest of every conversation by doing its best impression of Paganini in Sanskrit and accented Maltese.

When Chinese players who interacted with Co-Pounder 1.0.7 were debriefed after the test concluded, they expressed surprise at the identity of their in-game murderer.

“Provoking a response with Taiwan’s written language, and then replying in various foreign languages was very convincing, very human,” said Huo Bumie, a player who fell to the Flame Fissure.

“I did not suspect at all that the stranger who chatted with me is Fleshgod Apocalypse’s drummer. Laowai machines are really as smart as they come! I will ask my politician dad to smuggle in one for me.”

Although Co-Pounder 1.0.7’s achievement is one for the books, close friend and bassist Paolo Rossi—who presided over the test as judge—remarked that its source code “was not originally written with heavy-duty online chatting in mind.”

Tweaking its source code to enable heavy-duty online chatting only came after Co-Pounder 1.0.7—through Rossi’s Google Glass—read derogatory YouTube comments about its octopus-android parentage on uploads of “Thru Our Scars”.

Offended by how many people suspect its humanity based on scant information and wild speculation, Co-Pounder 1.0.7 indignantly insisted that Rossi modify its source code “right [there] and [then]” so that it could “prove these insolent 60-BPM-loving plebeians wrong once and for all.”

Once the deed was done, Co-Pounder 1.0.7 leveraged the café’s free Wi-Fi to hack into New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) servers and manipulate penny stocks. It made a killing of approximately $2.7 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported.

It then installed itself on Rossi’s assigned computer in the café, bought a hacked WoW account from 58.com (China’s Craigslist), logged into the popular online videogame, and the rest is history.

While AI enthusiasts, philosophers, computer scientists, robot rights activists, and Fleshgod Apocalypse fans celebrate Co-Pounder 1.0.7’s passing of the Turing test, however, at least one expert was nonchalant about the drummer’s triumph.

Dr. Michael “Mick” Kenney, a leading UK authority in robotic gastroenterology and experimental paraphilosophy, noted that Co-Pounder 1.0.7’s passing of the Turing test does not mean much in the face of Turing’s original philosophical question: “Can machines think?”

“That question, which Alan Turing pondered and quickly circumvented in his landmark paper, ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence’, is the crux of the creating-true-AI puzzle,” Dr. Kenney told BBC News. “Passing the Turing test does not directly answer it at all. Rather than reveal the ghost in the machine, Co-Pounder 1.0.7’s accomplishment simply revealed some people’s failure to recognize an incredibly well-programmed imitator of humans for what it is.”

He warned that satisfactorily answering Turing’s original question “necessarily involves pinning down what ‘think’ means, which opens a can of worms.”

“Let’s say thinking involves self-awareness,” Dr. Kenney continued, “then before I wonder if Co-Pounder 1.0.7 is aware of itself as a drumming thing, I better wonder if people around me are aware of themselves as thinking things.

“I have never been inside anyone’s mind but my own, after all, so who’s to say that my fellow humans are not biological automata?”

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The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be: Reflections on The Significance of Teaching and Learning History

I believe strongly that one of the most significant things that can be gained through the study of history is a more profound understanding of the experiences of another human being.  We can never completely understand what a person has felt or known, but it is possible to see a vague reflection of their condition.  The full scope of human understanding is probably far beyond what a single person can ever completely grasp, but in the search for the meaning of individual moments in time, it is possible to see deeper into what it means to be that particular human in that particular moment.  That understanding can grant us the grace that comes with feeling a genuine connection to those who we may not physically ever meet.  This connection allows us to know more of what it means to be human.  For me, this is the most important reason to teach and learn history.

Often, the study of history is presented as a magical panacea for all that ails the human race.  I don’t believe history can “fix” anything.  The most well-worn and wildly inaccurate cliché about history is that “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  Students are often programed like robots to repeat that as a way of explaining why it is worth spending hour upon hour of their time on earth pondering the actions of William the Conqueror or Marie Antoinette.  Granted, explaining the deeper meaning of history is a labyrinthine task, but simply leaving students with the veiled threat about how not paying attention to a lesson may leave them to the brink of extinction is hardly an effective means of fostering a long-term commitment to learning.   Nobody knows what patterns will unfold as time passes.  Studying what has happened is not a recipe for understanding what will happen.

One of the few recognizable truths that the subject seems to offer is that it is impossible for history to ever repeat itself.  Sets of circumstances are always unique.  Sure, there are similarities between the French and Russian Revolutions, but to argue that history was merely re-running an episode of “The Revolution Hour Hosted by Vladimir Lenin” is a grotesque oversimplification.  My experience has been that historical themes that “repeat” themselves only look that way if one is paying little attention to the actual circumstances of the event.  There are nearly infinite numbers of minor unrecorded actions and forgotten decisions that made the event what it was.  We know so little and presume so much.

By understanding the past, we gain little insight into our future.  Even if I magically found a way to absorb every moment of the past, I strongly doubt that I could even know what the weather was going to be like a week from Sunday.  The future is created by the sum total of the actions of human beings in each particular moment.  I have not been given the machinery to synthesize a trillionth of the events of a given millisecond.  If they all count for varying degrees of something, then how on earth could I possibly expect to understand the moment I’m in, let alone the ones that will come next?

The problem with a historical outlook that is built on gaining future “results” is that it obscures a much more powerful purpose for historical study, which is to genuinely understand something that goes beyond ones own wishes, desires and beliefs.  Historians often try to bend events into coherent themes in the hopes of explaining large blocks of time.  This form of historical shorthand is necessary on many levels, but when it comes to supersede the experiences and events that have taken place, then it becomes a major barrier to the path of empathy that true engagement with the subject can create.

If the goal of learning history is trying to predict the outcomes of a series of events, then it is certainly not an effective tool.  However, history may well be one of the greatest engines ever created to teach empathy and compassion.  The problem with teaching students to believe that history follows certain patterns is it robs them of the understanding of what a remarkable role uncertainty plays in history.  Students often ask why a certain historical actor was so dumb as not to see how obvious their fate was to anyone who paid attention.  After all, we know how all the stories end.  The problem is, historical actors do not know how their lives will end up.  They are making decisions in the moment without the benefit of hindsight.   No historical pattern can guarantee a person’s well-being.  They were fishing around in the dark just like we are.  They didn’t know how they would die, they didn’t know what their actions would mean and they certainly didn’t have the benefit being able to walk away from their stories when events became too challenging.  We don’t either.  This basic human truth should be the bedrock of any exploration of history.

To attempt to fully comprehend meaning of even one moment of a human life is an awe-inspiring goal.  Even with the comparatively small amount of information we have about the lives of our fellow travelers, when we can see a flicker of their humanity we have granted ourselves the wonderful kinship that comes with knowing that we are not making our journey alone.  Humans can survive perfectly well without studying history.  The past, however, can teach us so much more than simply how to survive.  It offers us an amazing window of insight into the miraculous complexities of what it means to be alive.  This understanding is history’s truest gift to us.  This is why it is worthwhile to learn about the past.

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