Friday, March 24, 2017

My dream job: chief designer at Mind Design

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Yesterday in a conversation with Clare the topic came up of my ideal job.

No problem.

Since reading Greg Bear's Queen of Angels (years ago), I've wanted to be Roger Atkins.

But with a better name - obviously.


[AXIS (Automated eXplorer of Interstellar Space) is an AI system currently orbiting planet B-2 of Alpha Centauri B. Jill is the stay-at-home duplicate. -- From pp. 128-130.]

"LitVid 21/I A Net (David Shine): "We're preparing for an interview with Roger Atkins, chief designer at Mind Design Inc. responsible for AXIS's thinker device. What questions would you like to ask of the nation's foremost designer of thinking machines? For you know of course that thinking is different from computing.

"Roger Atkins regards computers as an architect might regard bricks. He is at this moment working with his massive personal construct thinking system, which he calls Jill, after an old, that is, a former girlfriend. Part of Jill is in fact the AXIS Simulation we have been mentioning throughout this vid-week, used to model the activities of AXIS itself, which is not directly accessible.

"But there are many more parts to Jill. Jill's central mind and most of her memory and analytical peripherals are on the grounds of Mind Design Inc near Del Mar, California; Jill can access other thinkers and analytical peripherals at Mind Design Inc facilities around the world, some by satellite, most by direct optical cable connections. While we speak with Mr. Atkins, we hope also to ask a few questions of Jill.

"And we begin right now. Mr. Atkins, in the past twenty five years you have moved from the status of a contracted neural network computer designer to perhaps the most important figure in artificial intelligence research. You seem to be in an ideal position to tell us why complete, self-aware artificial intelligence has proven to be such a difficult problem."

Atkins: "First of all, my apologies, but Jill is asleep right now. Jill has been working very hard recently and deserves a rest.

"Why is artificial intelligence so difficult? I think we always knew it would be difficult. When we say artificial intelligence, of course what we mean is something that can truly imitate the human brain. We've long since had thinking systems that could far outstrip any of us in basic computation, memorizing, and for the past few decades, even in basic investigative and creative thinking, but until the design of AXIS and Jill, they were not versatile. In one way or another, these systems could not behave like human beings.

"And one important consideration was that none of these systems was truly self-aware. We believe that in time Jill, and perhaps even AXIS itself, will be capable of self-awareness. Self-awareness is the most obvious indicator of whether we have in fact created full artificial intelligence."

David Shine: "There's a joke about self-awareness ... Could you tell it to us?"

Atkins: "It's not much of a joke. No human would laugh at it. But all modern workers in artificial intelligence have installed a routine that will, so to speak, 'laugh' or perceive humor in this joke should self-awareness occur in a system."

David Shine: "And what is the joke?"

Atkins: "It's embarrassingly bad. Someday perhaps I'll change it.

   'Why did the self-aware individual look at his image in the mirror?"

David Shine: "I don't know. Why did he?"

Atkins: "'To get to the other side.'"

David Shine: "Ha."

Atkins: "See, not very funny."

David Shine: "LitVid 21 viewer Elaine Crosby, first question to Mr. Atkins please."

LVV E Crosby Chicago Crystal Brick: "Mr. Atkins, I've read your lit, and I've long admired your work, but I've always been curious. If you do awaken Jill or some other machine, what will you tell them about our world? I mean, they'll be as innocent as children. How do you explain to them why society wants to punish itself, why we're so set on lifting ourselves up by our bootstraps whatever it takes, and we don't even know where we're going?"

Atkins: "Jill is hardly innocent. Just a few minutes ago, she was examining the theory of social feedback loops, that is, checks and balances in a society. She could probably tell us more about what troubles our society than any single human scholar.

"But that's just recreation for her, in a way; unless someone comes along and specifically asks us - or rather, rents Jill - she won't provide her analysis, but it'll be stored away. I doubt that even if she did solve our problems for us, we'd listen to her"

The novel was written in 1990, twenty seven years ago. Yet the narrative on AI is completely contemporary. The 'joke' is interesting: what humour it possesses would seem to reside in its character as a weak pun. Perhaps that just shows I'm not self-aware.

At time of writing, I suspect the leading candidate for Roger Atkin's job is Andrew Ng.

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