quotes from "Possible Minds: Twenty-Five Ways of Looking at AI"

June 23, 2019
"Possible Minds: Twenty-Five Ways of Looking at AI" is a collection of modern responses to Norbert Wiener's 1948 seminal work "Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine" (Either this book was more of a slog than some, or I'm not dedicating enough time to reading, or I'm getting slow in my middle age :-D) Here are some quotes I found thought provoking:
The philosopher Stephen Toulmin identified the transparency-versus-opacity contrast as the key to understanding the ancient rivalry between Greek and Babylonian sciences. According to Toulmin, the Babylonian astronomers were masters of black-box predictions, far surpassing their Greek rivals in accuracy and consistency of celestial observations. Yet science favored the creative-speculative strategy of the Greek astronomers, which was wild with metaphorical imagery: circular tubes full of fire, small holes through which celestial fire was visible as stars, and hemispherical Earth riding on turtleback. It was this wild modeling strategy, not Babylonian extrapolation, that jolted Eratosthenes (276–194 BC) to perform one of the most creative experiments in the ancient world and calculate the circumference of the Earth. Such an experiment would never have occurred to a Babylonian data fitter.
Judea Pearl, "The Limitations of Opaque Learning Machines"
The defining characteristic of a complex system is that it constitutes its own simplest behavioral description. The simplest complete model of an organism is the organism itself.
George Dyson, "The Third Law"
We should all make it a regular practice to reread books from our youth, where we are apt to discover clear previews of some of our own later "discoveries" and "inventions," along with a wealth of insights to which we were bound to be impervious until our minds had been torn and tattered, exercised and enlarged, by confrontations with life's problems.
Daniel C. Dennett, "What Can We Do?"
In the long run, there is no distinction between arming ourselves and arming our enemies.
Norbert Wiener, quoted in Daniel C. Dennett, "What Can We Do?"
In a moving passage from his 1935 novel Odd John, science fiction's singular genius Olaf Stapledon has his hero, a superhuman (mutant) intelligence, describe Homo sapiens as "the Archaeopteryx of the spirit." He says this fondly to his friend and biographer, who is a normal human. Archaeopteryx was a noble creature, and a bridge to greater ones.
Frank Wilczek, "The Unity of Intelligence"
A former colleague of mine, Gérard Bricogne, used to joke that carbon-based intelligence was simply a catalyst for the evolution of silicon-based intelligence.
Venki Ramakrishnan, "Will Computers Become Our Overlords"
But if we step back and look at life on Earth, we see that we are far from the most resilient species. If we're going to be taken over at some point, it will be by some of Earth's oldest life-forms, like bacteria, which can live anywhere from Antarctica to deep-sea thermal vents hotter than boiling water, or in acid environments that would melt you and me. So when people ask where we're headed, we need to put the question in a broader context. I don't know what sort of future AI will bring: whether AI will make humans subservient or obsolete or will be a useful and welcome enhancement of our abilities that will enrich our lives. But I am reasonably certain that computers will never be the overlords of bacteria.
Venki Ramakrishnan, "Will Computers Become Our Overlords"
A common test I have for U.S. citizens is this: Do you know anybody who owns a pickup truck? It's the number-one-selling vehicle in the United States, and if you don't know people like that, you're out of touch with more than 50 percent of Americans.