Comment: Could robots make us better humans?

This is one of his arguments for listening to AI-generated music, studying how computers do maths and…gazing at digitally produced paintings: to understand how advanced machines work at the deepest level, in order to make sure we know everything about the technology that is now built into our lives.

Harris, J. (2019). Could robots make us better humans? The Guardian.

Putting aside the heading that conflates “robots” with “AI” there are several insightful points worth noting in this Guardian interview with Oxford-based mathematician and musician, Marcus du Sautoy. I think it’ll be easiest if I just work through the article and highlight them in the order that they appear.

1. “My PhD students seem to have to spend three years just getting to the point where they understand what’s being asked of them…”: It’s getting increasingly difficult to make advances in a variety of research domains. The low-hanging fruit has been picked and it subsequently takes longer and longer to get to the forefront of knowledge in any particular area. At some point, making progress in any scientific endeavor is going to require so much expertise that no single human being will be able to contribute much to the overall problem.

2. “I have found myself wondering, with the onslaught of new developments in AI, if the job of mathematician will still be available to humans in decades to come. Mathematics is a subject of numbers and logic. Isn’t that what computers do best?”: On top of this, we also need to contend with the idea that advances in AI seem to indicate that some of these systems are able to develop innovations in what we might consider to be deeply human pursuits. Whether we call this creativity or something else, it’s clear that AI-based systems are providing earlier insights into problems that we may have eventually arrived at ourselves, albeit at some distant point in the future.

3. “I think human laziness is a really important part of finding good, new ways to do things…”: Even in domains of knowledge that seem to be dominated by computation, there is hope in the idea that working together, we may be able to develop new solutions to complex problems. Human beings often look for shortcuts when faced with inefficiency or boredom, something that AI-based systems are unlikely to do because they can simply brute force their way through the problem. Perhaps a combination of a human desire to take the path of least resistance, combined with the massive computational resources that an AI could bring to bear, would result in a solution that’s beyond the capacity of either working in isolation.

4. “Whenever I talk about maths and music, people get very angry because they think I’m trying to take the emotion out of it…”: Du Sautoy suggests that what we’re responding to in creative works of art isn’t an innately emotional thing. Rather, there’s a mathematical structure that we recognise first, and the emotion comes later. If that’s true, then there really is nothing in the way of AI-based systems not only creating beautiful art (they already do that) but of creating art that moves us.

5. “We often behave too like machines. We get stuck. I’m probably stuck in my ways of thinking about mathematical problems”: If it’s true that AI-based systems may open us up to new ways of thinking about problems, we may find that working in collaboration with them makes us – perhaps counterintuitively – more human. If we keep asking what it is that makes us human, and let machines take on the tasks that don’t fit into that model, it may provide space for us to expand and develop those things that we believe make us unique. Rather than competing on computation and reason, what if we left those things to machines, and looked instead to find other ways of valuing human capacity?

What algorithmic art can teach us about artificial intelligence

To humans, the pictures look like haphazard arrangements of lines and blobs that lack any obvious immediate structure. But to algorithms trained to see the world on our behalf, they leap off the page as specific objects: electric fans, sewing machines, and lawnmowers. The prints are optical illusions, but only computers can see the hidden image.

Source: Vincent, J. (2018). What algorithmic art can teach us about artificial intelligence.

What I found really interesting was how “obvious” the pictures were once I read the caption. It becomes clear how much information our brains can fill in once we know what we’re looking at.

Can Machines Be Creative? Meet 9 AI ‘Artists’

Humans, however, make art for its own sake, as a form of personal expression. And as computer engineers attempt to imbue artificial intelligence (AI) with humanlike capabilities and behaviors, a question arises: Can AI create art?

Source: Can Machines Be Creative? Meet 9 AI ‘Artists’

The traditional rhetoric around AI-based systems is that they’re getting better at the kinds of computational tasks that we find difficult, but that the realm of creative expression will always be reserved for human beings. You could argue that the examples of creativity in this post are simply combinations of what human beings have already produced, but then again, isn’t creativity just a recombination of existing ideas?

The mind of the innocent – student poem

Sometimes a student submits something to me that is so different to what I usually get that I feel a need to share it. This is a contribution by one of our 4th year students, who has kindly agreed to have her work shared here.

The morning after loss is more than obvious
The sombre pierces echoes of the silence
Laid to rest: my buried innocence

Can’t digest the truth I’m told: no more tears as I sit down
The nightmare’s just beginning
The emotions in me die when sanity prevails
Daylight brings some hope but it doesn’t last at all
To heal the wounds time left for me

You can’t change what already happened
I guess that’s the burden I’ll have to live with
Nothing will ever compensate for what I’ve suffered
What’s left for you to offer?

Pain and suffering are blood brothers
Keeping each other away from the cure
Feeling perfect in the short run; dying further in the long term
Hiding from the truth I know, if I put on a facade they won’t know
How I really feel

A field of innocence contains broken flowers
I guess we’ll miss you
After 24 hours

Shameemah Hartley