s3e06: Portions Of This Consciousness Are Copyright

by danhon

0.0 Station Ident

2:19pm on Wednesday, 30th March 2016. Sat at the XOXO Outpost, where I officially start on 1 April. Christina Perri’s Human on over the headphones because the lyrics[1] about being able to turn it on and being a good machine when I have to be are words that feel true at the moment. It’s sunny again in Portland today, hardly any clouds in the sky and maybe, just maybe, this is the year of Linux on the Desktop[2].

I submitted COUPLAND to McSweeney’s yesterday, which I’m feeling pretty good about, and will find out more about whether it was good enough inside of about two weeks. Seeing as it’s my first writing submission, I’m not really expecting anything from it. I’ve been cautiously taking a look at ADAMS, another piece of fiction that I’ve been kind-of writing in an attempt to make it for me instead of pouring too much pressure on myself.

[1]  human (Uncovered Version) – christina perri – Google Play Music
[2] Developers can run Bash Shell and user-mode Ubuntu Linux binaries on Windows 10 – Scott Hanselman

1.0 Portions Of This Consciousness Are Copyright

Artificial Intelligence[citation needed] continues to be a thing, today with news from Microsoft’s BUILD conference of their bot framework[1], and a pointer from there to Microsoft’s Cognitive Services[2]. Some days it feels like everyone[citation needed] is building out cloud cognition services. You’ve got Google’s cloud machine learning products[3], IBM’s Watson Services[4] and, as ever, absolutely nothing that you can plug Apple or Siri services into because they just don’t work that way.

[stream interrupted]

[stream resumed Thursday March 31, 11:42am, sitting in the sun outside]

At the same time, you’ve got McCann Japan (an ad agency) hiring its first artificially intelligent creative director[5], which prompts all the usual snark about all their other non-artificially intelligent creative directors, as well as recalling other Proclamations of Artificial Intelligence By Press Release like that time an algorithm was appointed to the board of directors[6] back in 2014 (although, of course, not really).

Like everyone else, I wonder where this is going and what it’s going for. I can see faint outlines of islands of specialization or speciation, bits of code that if you squint just right are the equivalent of the visual cortex[7] (or, more accurately, I suppose, just tiny parts *of* the visual cortex) and bits that are the equivalent of broca’s area[8]. And if you squint a little bit more, I suppose they’re each evolving on their own in different labs in different parts of the world, each according to their own (somewhat opaque) fitness functions like How Many Papers Can We Get Published or How Can We Best Discern Purchasing Intent. Are just as likely to get some sort of tool-using “intelligence” that haphazardly combines all of these discrete components that make up what we funnily call intelligence, rather than a single, top-down design? In the same way that our brain is a hodgepodge of repurposed bits and pieces[citation needed] what’s to stop a future artificial intelligence being one that incorporates code and functionality from multiple sources? A sort of “Portions of this Consciousness are (C) Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Apple; licenses are available in the EULA”[9]

That’s a silly question, of course. What will stop it is intellectual property law and licensing conditions as well as things like API rate-limiting. Well, that’s what will stop the *legal* version. Of course, if you outlaw artificial intelligence, then only outlaws…

Against all of *that* is all the bullshit stuff that we humans layer on top of all the code that reminds us, every single day, that code doesn’t spring forth without a bias in the world and that if anything and clumsily appropriating religious language, what we create is in our own image. And that means digital assistants that reflect prevailing prejudice and bias[10]: Siri, Cortana and Alexa and the so-far unnamed “OK Google” are all (mostly, modulo some internationalisation) female/women, never mind the “bitchin'” voice[11] designed to grab pilots’ attention. Not All Artificial Intelligences though, right? Just the ones that are in use the most right now just *happen* to present as female. JARVIS got to be a man, but he was a man who was capably controlling most of Stark Industries in the latest MCU movie, and also kind-of saved the day. Samantha was a woman. HAL was a man. GERTY was a man.

Actually, let me go back to the McCann “hey look at us we’re relevant, we just hired a piece of software to be a Creative Director” press-release-as-marketing. In an insult[citation needed] to humans, AI-CD β is supposed to be the “*first* logic-based creative direction [based off] historical success of TV ads” (my emphasis) which, well, I’m not entirely sure what that implies to all of McCann’s previous creative directors. Presumably they were all Captain Kirks, ruled by their emotion and not paying attention to the historical successes of TV ads.

Oh, OK. Now I remember where I was going with all of this. Just a simple one, really. A lot of the “AI is going to destroy humanity” movement is invested in (somewhat false) arguments like the whole paperclip maximizer thing: tell an AI you want paperclips and before you know it the entire solar system is being put to paperclip production because the one thing fiction has taught us is that Jesus Christ are AIs literal or what.

What, you ask, does this possibly have to do with brand design, advertising, service design or whatever else the hell it was you thought you were going to get when you signed up for this stream of consciousness newsletter? Only this: what’s your utility function? What value are you maximising for? You want to know what the short-term future of AI might be like? It’s Watson, taking a significant percentage of white collar project management and procurement jobs away in government because those dumb humans didn’t realise that they were making something so complicated that they could reliably argue that a) humans couldn’t hold all of procurement legislation in their heads and b) you should just feed it all into a computer and ask if you’re allowed to buy something or not.

This is the bit where there’s some handwavium involved, but you go from the “some sort of deep neural net and Monte Carlo search that wins Go games” to “hey, can I get a plugin for Final Cut that, based on all the movies that have ever won Oscars or that have gotten good Rotten Tomatoes ratings, suggests to me different cuts of this 120 second brand advert for me?” Or ones that look at statistically significant sticky instances of language and then help, squiggly-underline-style, a bunch of copywriters and creative directors choose a tagline that some account executive or planner can justifiably say “scores better” than the other ones, even though the entire fucking algorithm is a mess?[13]

Here’s a list of Simple Things A Computer Might Be Able To Do For You Within Twelve Months That I Just Made Up:

– suggest the cutest cat picture to you
– or dog picture
– or any pet, really
– suggest better titles for your clickbait
– suggest topics for your clickbait
– press the shutter for you on your camera
– suggest which headshot is the best for you
– tell you which cats are going to be adopted and which ones aren’t (a lot of these are going to be cat ones, right?)
– ultimately lead to the banality of all human creative endeavour

Apart from maybe not, right? AlphaGo played what some players described as a beautiful, inspired move. Centaur Chess[14] is when humans and computers play collaboratively against other humans and computers and the name Centaur Chess is *way* better and cyberpunky than whatever killjoy made the Wikipedia article be called Advanced Chess. Who is that person, really.

Anyway. Enough rambling for today.

[1] Bot Framework
[2] Microsoft Cognitive Services
[3] Google Cloud Machine Learning at Scale — Google Cloud Platform
[4] IBM Bluemix – Watson
[5] McCann Japan hires first artificially intelligent creative director | The Drum
[6] A company just appointed an algorithm to its board – Marginal REVOLUTION
[7] Visual cortex – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[8] Broca’s area – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[9] Dan Hon is typing on Twitter: “Portions of this consciousness are ©️ Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Apple. Licenses are available online.”
[10] Siri, Cortana, Alexa: Why Do So Many Digital Assistants Have Feminine Names? – The Atlantic
[11] Woman behind the F/A-18’s ‘Bitchin’ Betty’ voice retires
[12] Paperclip maximizer – Lesswrongwiki
[13] Has a rampaging AI algorithm really killed thousands in Pakistan? | Science | The Guardian
[14] Advanced Chess – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

12:12pm and I should really put some sunscreen on unless you want an in-depth report on what it’s like to deal with melanoma.

Send notes, because it’s always nice to get them.

Best,

Dan