Tag Archives: brain

Thought #43. Unreliable memories.

What’s your earliest childhood memory? And your most bitter-sweet one? Can you rekindle your great and joyful past events clearly? Maybe you can answer those questions easily, but that says little about your ability to recall facts and events as they really happened.

Apparently, a single long-term memory did not even exist as an entity. Our mind is not a library where a pile of books rests waiting for being loaned at will. Each life event is broken into several pieces that are stored in different places of our brain, sometimes redundantly. When we try to recall a memory, a process of reconstruction takes place.

It often happens that we find ourselves unable to conjure up a particular event. Probably, it would come later, unexpectedly. Then, if it is still relevant, we will make an unconscious effort to store it again, reinforcing the chances of a future successful retrieval. But memories are volatile, shifting and unstable.

The process of reconstruction can add irrelevant and misleading information to the original event, making new pictures of our past reality each time we trigger and recall them. Depending on the situation in which we try to remember something, our brain can take a wrong path and end up with a wrong set of pieces to build a past experience.

I would not go so far as to say that we can barely trust our brain storage system, but next time you want to remember something, think about the possibility of taking your memories with a pinch of salt and, if you have your smartphone, take a picture. It is worth a thousand memories.

Thought #13. AI bias.

Once upon a time, people knew the difference between rightness and badness. As if it was an Opera, the history of AI (acronym of Artificial Intelligence) began promisingly, but then things started to go wrong.

The opening of AI goes back to ancestry when the Greek mythology created Pandora, the first “artificial” woman. Each Olympus god was commissioned to make a contribution to Pandora’s process of creation with the sole aim of taking beauty into account.

During the interlude, step by step, new features and unique gifts were conscientiously added by the band of male creators. They went to great lengths to make Pandora in their own image (a mental image of a sexually arousing creature).

Pandora received a jar as a wedding present and was told not to open it. Thinking that it was a mere misdemeanour, she could not help opening the jar, triggering unexpected consequences.

To the astonishment of the ancient Greek gods (and goddesses) of the epoch, the sad coda was that Pandora ended up in a poetry epoch column (probably from a tabloid) depicted as an archetype and role model of future women generations:

“From her is the race of women and female kind: of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmates in hateful poverty, but only in wealth.” ― Hesiod, Theogony

Fear for inventions and machinery has been thenceforth present. The Industrial Revolution seemed too profound a change to overcome, but eventually all the criticism levelled at technology advances started to wear off.

AI is a force to be reckoned with but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it will eventually surpass human capacities. Think about a relatively recent groundbreaking invention: the digital camera sensor. If George Orwell had known about such an invention, Nineteen Eighty-Four would probably never have been written.

Those who try to undermine science (or engineering) by spreading false alarms concerning the so-called perils of AI should be treated with the contempt that they deserve. They seldom use nothing but devious tactics to succeed in turning utter nonsense into a burning issue. Should nonsense be regarded as tantamount to blatant ignorance? Apparently, according to Prof Stephen Hawking and others of his ilk, it should not.

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” ―   Stephen Hawking

“Artificial intelligence is our biggest existential threat.” ―  Elon Musk

Nevertheless, as far as some basic safety rules are not wilfully ignored, AI is harmless, secure and risk-free. Just as women are the most perfectly created sculpture ever chiseled, driverless cars (aka autonomous car) are also something that will become ubiquitous in the forthcoming years.

Do not blame me! My complete disregard for the underminers is based on their own arguments, which should fly in the face of common sense. The inability to comprehend how technology works still rankled with them.

Not being in the mood to reproduce in my own blog more quotes from them, I rather like the idea of presenting you with a biased view of the issue, based on as yet unproven facts:

“Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time.” ― Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

“The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim.” ― Edsger W. Dijkstra

The rest is history (to be written).

Thought #11. Change your mind.

 

I love people capable of enjoying and appreciating every moment to the full. There exists a food-related word that goes perfectly well with the act of lingering enjoyment: savour.

This afternoon I was savouring the embrace of a cosy wing chair when I started asking myself about the definition of thought. After a refreshing siesta, I’m back in front of the computer, determined to type in something aesthetically attractive about thinking and thoughts, brains and minds.

Obviously, thought is the act of thinking. To us, human beings, the brain seems to be the closest thing to a magic wand that almost every single creature has. As always, there are exceptions that prove the rule, though. Deep-sea sponges, for example, are devoid of brain and have lived for millions of years successfully. Some scientists now accept as true that they once had a brain but discarded it. Apparently, there are not the only animals without the organ controlling thought, memory, feelings, etc.

Seemingly, my mind is wandering again. Let me go back to square one. However, the reader must not expect an organised essay as this is just a memory dump.

“I think, therefore I am.” (Rene Descartes)

“You liar, look at sponges!” (Me)

Well, I wonder Descartes did not know about these new insights into thinking machines, aka “brains”. What appears to be more certain is that the ability to be sentient is not exclusive to human beings. Last year, Sir David Attenborough joined 21 signatories to an open letter calling for the end to cruel brain tests on primates. Mr Attenborough explained that there is enough evidence to conclude that primates not only have feelings but also can suffer, for all intents and purposes, like us. Therefore it is inhuman to treat them as mere animals.

Sooner or later, as expected, the obvious counter-argument to the above objection was raised. More than 400 scientists including two Nobel laureates signed another open letter letting it be known that brain experiments on primates are still useful for many purposes and, in particular, are crucial to medical advances.

I read those news items when they were published. After chewing the issue over since then, I have formed a clear mental picture of the crudely wired chimps. In the cold light of day, I realised how cruel and evil we can become. I can’t just bury my head in the sand. I would call on all scientists to think outside the box in order to come up with an alternative solution.

Being a layman in science, I should not judge experts. It just so happens that I keep going over and over the chimp’s picture in my mind and that is unbearable. I prefer to think back to when I saw a couple of chimps capering around in an Attenborough’s documentary, a vivid savouring memory which is still an intoxicating thought.

In conclusion, should scientists rack their brains, they will surely have second thoughts about torturing our closest ancestors. This way, my mind could be set at rest once and for all. It speaks for itself, to err is human and to change your mind is, more often than not, a wise choice.