The attribution of intelligence to machines, crowds of fragments, or other nerd deities obscures more than it illuminates. When people are told that a computer is intelligent, they become prone to changing themselves in order to make the computer appear to work better, instead of demanding that the computer be changed to become more useful.
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APAJaron Lanier Quotes. (n.d.). Jar of Quotes. Retrieved , from JarofQuotes.com Web site: https://www.jarofquotes.com/view.php?id=the-attribution-intelligence-to-machines-crowds-fragments-other-nerd-deities-obscures-more-than-it-illuminates-when-people-are-told-that-computer-is-intelligent-they-become-prone
ChicagoJaron Lanier Quotes. Jar of Quotes, 2020. https://www.jarofquotes.com/view.php?id=the-attribution-intelligence-to-machines-crowds-fragments-other-nerd-deities-obscures-more-than-it-illuminates-when-people-are-told-that-computer-is-intelligent-they-become-prone, accessed .
MLA"Jaron Lanier Quotes." Jar of Quotes, 2020. . https://www.jarofquotes.com/view.php?id=the-attribution-intelligence-to-machines-crowds-fragments-other-nerd-deities-obscures-more-than-it-illuminates-when-people-are-told-that-computer-is-intelligent-they-become-prone
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There are at least two ways to believe in the idea of quality. You can believe there's something ineffable going on within the human mind, or you can believe we just don't understand what quality in a mind is yet, even though we might someday. Either of those opinions allows one to distinguish quantity and quality. In order to confuse quantity and quality, you have to reject both possibilities. The mere possibility of there being something ineffable about personhood is what drives many technologists to reject the notion of quality. They want to live in an airtight reality that resembles an idealized computer program, in which everything is understood and there are no fundamental mysteries. They recoil from even the hint of a potential zone of mystery or an unresolved seam in one's worldview. This desire for absolute order usually leads to tears in human affairs, so there is a historical reason to distrust it. Materialist extremists have long seemed determined to win a race with religious fanatics: Who can do the most damage to the most people?
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The intentions of the cybernetic totalist tribe are good. They are simply following a path that was blazed in earlier times by well-meaning Freudians and Marxists - and I don't mean that in a pejorative way. I'm thinking of the earliest incarnations of Marxism, for instance, before Stalinism and Maoism killed millions. Movements associated with Freud and Marx both claimed foundations in rationality and the scientific understanding of the world. Both perceived themselves to be at war with the weird, manipulative fantasies of religions. And yet both invented their own fantasies that were just as weird. The same thing is happening again. A self-proclaimed materialist movement that attempts to base itself on science starts to look like a religion rather quickly. It soon presents its own eschatology and its own revelations about what is really going on - portentous events that no one but the initiated can appreciate. The Singularity and the noosphere, the idea that a collective consciousness emerges from all the users on the web, echo Marxist social determinism and Freud's calculus of perversions. We rush ahead of skeptical, scientific inquiry at our peril, just like the Marxists and Freudians.
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This digital revolutionary still believes in most of the lovely deep ideals that energized our work so many years ago. At the core was a sweet faith in human nature. If we empowered individuals, we believed, more good than harm would result. The way the internet has gone sour since then is truly perverse. The central faith of the web's early design has been superseded by a different faith in the centrality of imaginary entities epitomized by the idea that the internet as a whole is coming alive and turning into a superhuman creature. The designs guided by this new, perverse kind of faith put people back in the shadows. The fad for anonymity has undone the great opening-of-everyone's-windows of the 1990s. While that reversal has empowered sadists to a degree, the worst effect is a degradation of ordinary people.
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Something like missionary reductionism has happened to the internet with the rise of web 2.0. The strangeness is being leached away by the mush-making process. Individual web pages as they first appeared in the early 1990S had the flavor of personhood. MySpace preserved some of that flavor, though a process of regularized formatting had begun. Facebook went further, organizing people into multiple-choice identities, while Wikipedia seeks to erase point of view entirely. If a church or government were doing these things, it would feel authoritarian, but when technologists are the culprits, we seem hip, fresh, and inventive. People will accept ideas presented in technological form that would be abhorrent in any other form. It is utterly strange to hear my many old friends in the world of digital culture claim to be the true sons of the Renaissance without realizing that using computers to reduce individual expression is a primitive, retrograde activity, no matter how sophisticated your tools are.
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A fashionable idea in technical circles is that quantity not only turns into quality at some extreme of scale, but also does so according to principles we already understand. Some of my colleagues think a million, or perhaps a billion, fragmentary insults will eventually yield wisdom that surpasses that of any well-thought-out essay, so long as sophisticated secret statistical algorithms recombine the fragments. I disagree. A trope from the early days of computer science comes to mind: garbage in, garbage out.
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An endless series of gambits backed by gigantic investments encouraged young people entering the online world for the first time to create standardized presences on sites like Facebook. Commercial interests promoted the widespread adoption of standardized designs like the blog, and these designs encouraged pseudonymity in at least some aspects of their designs, such as comments, instead of the proud extroversion that characterized the first wave of web culture. Instead of people being treated as the sources of their own creativity, commercial aggregation and abstraction sites presented anonymized fragments of creativity as products that might have fallen from the sky or been dug up from the ground, obscuring the true sources.
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But the Turing test cuts both ways. You can't tell if a machine has gotten smarter or if you've just lowered your own standards of intelligence to such a degree that the machine seems smart. If you can have a conversation with a simulated person presented by an AI program, can you tell how far you've let your sense of personhood degrade in order to make the illusion work for you? People degrade themselves in order to make machines seem smart all the time. Before the crash, bankers believed in supposedly intelligent algorithms that could calculate credit risks before making bad loans. We ask teachers to teach to standardized tests so a student will look good to an algorithm. We have repeatedly demonstrated our species' bottomless ability to lower our standards to make information technology look good. Every instance of intelligence in a machine is ambiguous. The same ambiguity that motivated dubious academic AI projects in the past has been repackaged as mass culture today. Did that search engine really know what you want, or are you playing along, lowering your standards to make it seem clever? While it's to be expected that the human perspective will be changed by encounters with profound new technologies, the exercise of treating machine intelligence as real requires people to reduce their mooring to reality.
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If market pricing is the only legitimate test of quality, why are we still bothering with proven theorems? Why don't we just have a vote on whether a theorem is true? To make it better we'll have everyone vote on it, especially the hundreds of millions of people who don't understand the math. Would that satisfy you?
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