Posts Tagged ‘B’

Limits to Human Understanding

May 20, 2014

This blog post was motivated by an article in the New Scientist1, “Higher State of Mind” by Douglas Heaven.  It raised the question of limits to human understanding, a topic of longstanding interest to myself.  The article reviews two paths Artificial Intelligence has taken.  One approach involved rule-based programming.  Typically the objective here was to model human information processing with the goal of having the computer “think” like a human.  This approach proved quite valuable in the development of cognitive science, as it identified problems that needed to be addressed in the development of theories and models of human information processing.   Unfortunately, it was not very successful in solving complex computational problems.
The second approach eschewed the modeling of the human and focused on developing computational solutions to difficult problems.  Machines were programed to learn and to compute statistical correlations  and inferences by studying patterns in vast amounts of data.  Neural nets were developed that successfully solved a large variety of complex computational problems.  However, although the developers of these neural nets could describe the neural net they themselves had programmed, they could not understand  how the conclusion was made.  Although they can solve a problem, they are unable to truly understand the problem.  So, there are areas of expertise where machines can be said to know not only more than we do, but also know more than we are capable of understanding.  In other words, what we can understand  may be constrained by our biological limitations.
So, what does the future hold for us?  There is an optimistic scenario and a pessimistic scenario.  According to Kurzweil a singularity will be achieved by transcending biology and we shall augment ourselves with genetic alterations,  nanotechnolgy, and machine learning.  He sees a time when we shall become immortal.  In fact, he thinks that this singularity is close enough that he is doing everything to extend his life so that he shall achieve this immortality.  This notion of a singularity was first introduced in the fifties by the mathematician John von Neuman.
A pessimistic scenario has been sketched  out by Bill Joy.  I find his name  a bit ironic.  He has written a piece titled, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us”  where he argues that technology might be making us an endangered species.
So these are two extremes.  A somewhat less extreme scenario was outlined in the movie, Collosus:  the Forbin Project, which was based on a novel by Dennis Feltham Jones, Collus.  The story takes place during the cold war with the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union.  The United States has built a complex sophisticated computer, the Collosus to manage the country’s defenses in the event of a nuclear war.  Shortly after the Collosus becomes operational, it established contact with a similar computer built by the Soviet Union.  These two systems agree that humans are not intelligent enough to manage their own affairs, so they eventually hey take over the control of the world.
So what does the future hold for us?  Who knows?

© Douglas Griffith and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What is Kahnemanite Advertising?

December 10, 2013

According to an article1 in The Economist “Kahnemanite advertising prizes emotion over information and pays more attention to a brand’s “purpose” than to its products.” Daniel Kahneman is the Nobel winning psychologist who is the author of the best selling Thinking Fast and Slow (enter Kahneman into the healthymemory blog search box to find many posts on Kahneman). System one is thinking very fast, most of which occurs below consciousness. System two takes the output of system one and processes, or in conventional parlance, thinks about it. If we didn’t have system one, we would have long ago become extinct. However, the efficiency of System one comes at some cost. It can produce erroneous or incorrect responses, and it is the role of System two to catch and correct these errors. Unfortunately, this frequently fails to happen. Emotional responding is part of System one.

Of course, it is not exactly news that advertisers like to exploit our emotional responses, but conventional advertising also likes to engage System 2. Kahnemanite advertising refers to the emphasis placed on System 1 and the cost of ignoring System 2. I found it interesting that marketers actually speak in terms of System 1 and System 2 processing.

Different methods are used to test whether System 1 is being effectively engaged. Brainjuicer asks subjects to rate an advert by saying which of eight faces, each expressing a different emotion, best reflects the feeling and intensity of the emotion. Another firm, Decode, uses implicit association in which subjects associate images (for example, a chocolate bar) with a concept (for example comfort) and times the reactions. Neuro-Insight monitors electrical activity in the brain when subjects view an advert.

The Economist article finds irony in this. It writes that “Most readers of Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow will end up of mistrusting system one for its propensity to misleading.” But if readers of Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow have correctly understood Kahneman, they will understand that most of the time System one is correct. It is only occasionally that System one will mislead.

Please understand that Kahneman, himself, is not directly involved in any of these activities. You should also be aware that Kahneman, together with his colleague Amos Tversky, are regarded by many as the fathers of behavioral economics. Behavioral economics exposes the fallacy of the rational human being, which is the foundation of conventional economics and which forms the basis of most contemporary policy. This needs to change. To read more about this enter “behavioral economics”, then “gross national happiness” into the healthymemory blog search block.

1Nothing more than feelings, The Economist, December 7th 2013, p.70.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.