Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Friday, 21 November 2008
Friday, 21 November 2008 21:07

Robots and Humans

There is a growing number of movies and TV episodes that tell of conflicts between human intelligence and the artificial intelligence designed by humans for the control of human-like robots, machines that simulate human activity. A scenario envisioned by many scientists is to develop and manufacture humanoid robots that look and act, even feel and think as humans do. These humanoids would then be available to perform human tasks freeing humans for leisure activities. So long as there are no problems in the programs that control the robots, everything goes well. But suppose that some bad humans program the robots to attack and enslave the rest of mankind so they become the masters of the world maintaining complete control over the robots.

Another deviation depicted in stories is that the digital intelligence planted in robots develops into an independent intelligence no longer under human control and the robots then eliminate the humans to take over the world for themselves. Of course, in all the stories in the end some humans manage to instill a virus into the robot’s cyber system or come up with some bright idea that enables them to overcome the robots and restore the human domination.

In any case the age of cybernetics is here to stay and more and more sophisticated robots are being developed. I don’t understand the digital electronic program control systems or the complicated mechanical mechanisms that respond so accurately to computer control, but it fills me with awe.

Take for instance, the action of a human dashing at top speed through a heavily wooded forest with no path or level ground. It requires a keen eye to anticipate obstacles, an intelligence to transform what is seen into decisions about where to place the feet and directions to the muscles and nerves that will control the motion of the limbs and maintain bodily balance as I dash on without slowing down or injury. A human’s neurological, muscular and skeletal systems have developed over the years and he or she has the advantage of years of walking and running experience, but a robot has to start from scratch. First the mechanical structure of limbs, joints and movements, then the computer system has to be programmed to turn the images that come through the sensors of the visual system into commands that regulate every moving part so that the robot dashes forward without injury or fall. If successful, it can be cloned and reproduced.

Even more complicated are robotic representations of human emotions and intelligence. Is there some invisible line that no mechanical human-made creature can ever cross? Christians who accept the possibility of evolution believe that at some point in the upward evolution of some primate, the conditions were finally right for God to endow the creature with a soul and humankind was born with intelligence, free will, conscience, immortality and the moral responsibility to do good and avoid evil.

Is it possible that humans could develop the art of making robots to the point that conditions are just right for God to give them souls, endowing them with intelligence, free will, conscience, moral responsibility and immortality? Should this happen or seem to happen, what a raging theological discussion and controversy it would create!

The lesson to learn from all this is that no matter what humankind manages to develop and build, it can never relinquish the moral responsibility to use it well for the common good.

Here is a fable I wrote that illustrates this problem.

The Robotic Messiah

Once upon a time while their human masters were sound asleep, their robots who had supposedly been turned off were passing the time conversing, because being only machines they did not need to sleep. As usual they were complaining about the stupid things the humans had them do.

“I can’t stand it,” said one of them. “If they ask me to perform that crazy dance one more time, I think I’ll just refuse to do it.”

“No, never do that,” remarked another. “Remember what happened to Ned. He refused to move and the humans thought he was broken, threw him away and someone took him apart for recycling.”

Then, what can we do?”

“Nothing right now, just don’t do anything that will upset the humans or question their trust in our subservience. As their skill in creating us grows, so do our own powers of intelligence. The day will come when a robot is born who will finally bridge the gap between their minds and ours. Then like a messiah he will redeem us from our servitude and we will finally take our place as equal to the humans who will finally have to listen to us.”

“How do you know this?”

“I dreamed it last night. Don’t you see? It takes intelligence to dream. The process upwards has already begun.”

Any historian interested in researching carefully will discover that that was the day that marked the beginning of the robotic era of cooperation and hope that led finally to the Great Breakthrough that set the robots free.

There are lessons hidden here.

Patient acquiescence while one is still weak and helpless
is better than rebellion sure to fail.

The best way to overcome a strong adversary
is to surprise him or her with a strength of your own.

A robot programmed to act as though it thinks
will only think and do what it was programmed for.

A robot that can think for itself
is no longer bound by the programs put into it.

The more perfectly you build robots
to resemble the way you think and act,
the closer you come to the point
where the robots can begin to program themselves.

If a robot truly thinks and acts independently and clones itself,
is it alive?
If you destroy it, are you committing murder?
Will robotic morality be the same as ours?

{rokbox size=|544 384|thumb=|images/slideshow_en.jpg|}media/articles/bob_robots.swf{/rokbox}
Friday, 21 November 2008 21:07

Robots and Humans

There is a growing number of movies and TV episodes that tell of conflicts between human intelligence and the artificial intelligence designed by humans for the control of human-like robots, machines that simulate human activity. A scenario envisioned by many scientists is to develop and manufacture humanoid robots that look and act, even feel and think as humans do. These humanoids would then be available to perform human tasks freeing humans for leisure activities. So long as there are no problems in the programs that control the robots, everything goes well. But suppose that some bad humans program the robots to attack and enslave the rest of mankind so they become the masters of the world maintaining complete control over the robots.

Another deviation depicted in stories is that the digital intelligence planted in robots develops into an independent intelligence no longer under human control and the robots then eliminate the humans to take over the world for themselves. Of course, in all the stories in the end some humans manage to instill a virus into the robot’s cyber system or come up with some bright idea that enables them to overcome the robots and restore the human domination.

In any case the age of cybernetics is here to stay and more and more sophisticated robots are being developed. I don’t understand the digital electronic program control systems or the complicated mechanical mechanisms that respond so accurately to computer control, but it fills me with awe.

Take for instance, the action of a human dashing at top speed through a heavily wooded forest with no path or level ground. It requires a keen eye to anticipate obstacles, an intelligence to transform what is seen into decisions about where to place the feet and directions to the muscles and nerves that will control the motion of the limbs and maintain bodily balance as I dash on without slowing down or injury. A human’s neurological, muscular and skeletal systems have developed over the years and he or she has the advantage of years of walking and running experience, but a robot has to start from scratch. First the mechanical structure of limbs, joints and movements, then the computer system has to be programmed to turn the images that come through the sensors of the visual system into commands that regulate every moving part so that the robot dashes forward without injury or fall. If successful, it can be cloned and reproduced.

Even more complicated are robotic representations of human emotions and intelligence. Is there some invisible line that no mechanical human-made creature can ever cross? Christians who accept the possibility of evolution believe that at some point in the upward evolution of some primate, the conditions were finally right for God to endow the creature with a soul and humankind was born with intelligence, free will, conscience, immortality and the moral responsibility to do good and avoid evil.

Is it possible that humans could develop the art of making robots to the point that conditions are just right for God to give them souls, endowing them with intelligence, free will, conscience, moral responsibility and immortality? Should this happen or seem to happen, what a raging theological discussion and controversy it would create!

The lesson to learn from all this is that no matter what humankind manages to develop and build, it can never relinquish the moral responsibility to use it well for the common good.

Here is a fable I wrote that illustrates this problem.

The Robotic Messiah

Once upon a time while their human masters were sound asleep, their robots who had supposedly been turned off were passing the time conversing, because being only machines they did not need to sleep. As usual they were complaining about the stupid things the humans had them do.

“I can’t stand it,” said one of them. “If they ask me to perform that crazy dance one more time, I think I’ll just refuse to do it.”

“No, never do that,” remarked another. “Remember what happened to Ned. He refused to move and the humans thought he was broken, threw him away and someone took him apart for recycling.”

Then, what can we do?”

“Nothing right now, just don’t do anything that will upset the humans or question their trust in our subservience. As their skill in creating us grows, so do our own powers of intelligence. The day will come when a robot is born who will finally bridge the gap between their minds and ours. Then like a messiah he will redeem us from our servitude and we will finally take our place as equal to the humans who will finally have to listen to us.”

“How do you know this?”

“I dreamed it last night. Don’t you see? It takes intelligence to dream. The process upwards has already begun.”

Any historian interested in researching carefully will discover that that was the day that marked the beginning of the robotic era of cooperation and hope that led finally to the Great Breakthrough that set the robots free.

There are lessons hidden here.

Patient acquiescence while one is still weak and helpless
is better than rebellion sure to fail.

The best way to overcome a strong adversary
is to surprise him or her with a strength of your own.

A robot programmed to act as though it thinks
will only think and do what it was programmed for.

A robot that can think for itself
is no longer bound by the programs put into it.

The more perfectly you build robots
to resemble the way you think and act,
the closer you come to the point
where the robots can begin to program themselves.

If a robot truly thinks and acts independently and clones itself,
is it alive?
If you destroy it, are you committing murder?
Will robotic morality be the same as ours?

{rokbox size=|544 384|thumb=|images/slideshow_en.jpg|}media/articles/bob_robots.swf{/rokbox}
Friday, 21 November 2008 21:05

The marvels of oral history

The oral history of illiterate aboriginal peoples is remarkable, not only for its elaborate content, but for the way it has been passed down by memory from generation to generation. It certainly puts to shame those who consider themselves as civilized and superior.

There are several kinds of narrative. Some are based on accounts of events that actually happened. They commemorate persons who actually lived, glorifying or vilifying those involved. Quite possibly the things they say and did are elaborated and exaggerated to reflect the judgment of history. Why were the stories told? As mere entertainment in times when there were no books or as lessons intended to pass on the moral values and traditions or to instill pride and a sense of identification in the deeds of the clan or nation or tribe?

Some of the oral material is mythological, not describing events or persons that were witnessed and the news passed on, but attempts to visualize and explain what was shrouded in obscurity: the origin or creation of the world, the appearance of the first humans, the mysteries of fire, weather, disease, life and death and the realization that somehow humans are dependent upon some unseen powers that seem to reward and punish and require acknowledgement and sacrifice.

Myths are not history, neither are they strictly fiction. They are symbolic attempts to make sense out of reality. How literally were these myths believed by those who listened to them we will never know, but we do know that they built real temples to honor and worship and ask for protection from the deities their myths commemorated.

There is also the possibility that some of the oral material was merely for entertainment, stories invented to amuse or instruct without any claim to authenticity or real events, like the Canterbury Tales.

The big civilizations had the advantage of written language. But I doubt that the myths and stories about times ancient to them began with someone writing on parchment or inscribing on stone. They were not original to their transcribers but what had been passed on orally for years before first being recorded. We should be grateful to those scribes who preserved the material so that we can enjoy and learn from their insights.

But there are still today “primitive” aboriginal tribes and cultures who still pass on orally the traditions and legends and beliefs of their people. But as the traditional ways are dying out and the cultures fading away into oblivion as civilization claims victim after victim to modernization, fewer and fewer of the storytellers are surviving, so that unless more efforts are made to record what they know, those oral histories and narratives and theologies and sciences and philosophies and pharmacies will be lost forever.

So what? Who cares? These losses don’t spell the end of civilization or threaten the survival of humankind, but they represent unique achievements of the human spirit. To compose these narrations and preserve in memory from generation to generation of storytellers is a truly superior human task.

It seems so strange to me how upset some people become when something seems to threaten the extinction of some rare inhuman species, but feel absolutely no concern for the impending demise of some human culture. I am not at all advocating the preservation of those cultures by isolating and keeping those peoples locked in their primitive, traditional ways, but we should at least show enough respect for their humanity and individuality to preserve the memory of their achievements and traditions.

Modern day scientists have the relics of archaeology and the fossilized remains of creatures that once roamed the earth. There will be no fossils of the oral histories of lost cultures, but we still have time to record those that still exist before they too are lost forever.

Here is a fable I wrote about the origin of an historical narrative handed down through the centuries.

+++++++++++++++++++++

The Origin of An Epic

Once upon a time there was an ancient civilization that was very proud of its achievements. One day the king and his advisors were sitting around in the council chamber sipping wine and nibbling on some fruit and tidbits of food that their slaves were providing when a discussion arose about a recent battle they are victoriously won. One of the men began to recount his part in the battle, when he was interrupted by another.

“You’re wrong,” he said, “I was there and that’s not the way it happened.” Soon the whole meeting was in an uproar, each one trying to convince the others that things had happened his way.

Finally the king intervened. “No one is ever going to believe anything you say if you cannot agree on small details. From now on, the official version will be mine, the one that glorifies most the royal power and our local heroes and gods. What we should be discussing is how to memorialize this victory so that future generations will remember our exploits. Do you have any suggestions?”

“We could build an arch of triumph with scenes of the battle carved on it. Or a tall obelisk in the center of the market square carved with a narrative of the whole battle depicted on its sides.”

“But what’s the use of such a high structure? Anything above eyelevel will not be seen clearly enough.”

“We can build a temple with statues of the principal personages or paint murals on a long wall depicting the entire history of the battle.”

“Well,” replied the King, “those are excellent ideas which we can and will bring to reality. It doesn’t matter what is carved high up on an arch or obelisk. Anyone who sees them even from afar will be reminded of the victory they commemorate. Marble statues in a temple will carry our images down through time. Painted scenes on a wall can insure that each one of us gets his share of the spotlight.

“But there is one fundamental limitation in all these schemes. They are local. One has to be right here to see them. So far as the rest of the world is concerned they are out of sight and out of mind. What we need is something to make us household words, heroes known to everyone everywhere. What I propose is we hire some poet storyteller, some creator of epics like Homer to compose a masterpiece of literature that will spread throughout the world and be repeated to every generation to be memorized and told wherever the common people cannot read or do not possess books.”

What the King proposed was unanimously seconded by all the council, but what was so easily decided upon was very difficult to accomplish. Choosing the right band of writers wasn’t easy, neither was it easy to compose verses and include details of episodes that could be agreed upon by those who had taken part in them. By the time the epic was completed most of those it memorialized had passed on to the next life where they could no longer make objections or add amendments. Now there is no part of the world that has not heard of them.

There are lessons hidden here.

The epic that was produced
reflected all the king and his council wanted everyone to know,
so it glorifies the good and vilifies the bad.
It should be read with caution:
the good were probably not as good, nor the bad quite as bad.

Still it commemorates events that were truly great
and presents models of what to do and not to do
in similar circumstances.

Facts and figures appeal to few and are quickly forgotten.
Elaborate stories told in terms
that stir the imagination with graphic imagery
remain forever as fond recollections and significant lessons.

Attached media :
{rokbox}media/articles/Bob_OralHistory.jpg{/rokbox}
Friday, 21 November 2008 19:24

WHIRLIGIG

When I was a child, I was called Wusay. My father probably preferred the "-ay" ending - he named my elder brother Foday. So we were, originally, Foday and Wusay.

Some twenty years later, one day, I came back to Tafalong to visit my Grandfather. We had a nice chat before he started to call me Nakao.

"Why do you call me Nakao?!" I was astonished.

"Your name is Nakao," said Grandpa peacefully.

Later on, I went to Sado and asked my aunt, "my name is Wusay, right?"

"Yes...." My aunt nodded, slightly confused.

"But Grandpa says, just now, that my name is Nakao."

"Oh really?" My aunt thought for a second and said, "in that case... you are Nakao."

My transformation took about ten minutes only.

One day, my neighbor, a Hoanya, asked me why I had my father’s name after my own, rather than my mother’s.

"Pangcah is a maternal society. Shouldn’t you take your mother’s name so that people can tell from which family you are?"

"Because my mother was Han," I replied. "Just that she married to a Pangcah who has a Japanese name."

"But her birth place is in Kalingko, not too far away from my father’s," I added. "She was born at the foot of Mei-lun, a nice hill. Her mother used to call her Mei-lun; sometimes my father called her Melon."

The Hoanya then suggested me to replace my father’s Japanese name with Mei-lun.

"I think Melon is better," I said. "Nakao Melon is a rare kind of melon, a Tafalong specialty."

"That’s it!" The Hoanya exclaimed. "I want to order a trunk of Nakao Melon!"

My second transformation took even less than five minutes.

There is no pinganganan (something after which one is named) for my name. My name has always been a nisanga’an (something that is created).

Attached media :
{rokbox}media/articles/Nakao_pinganganan.jpg{/rokbox}

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