The Future of Artificial Intelligence

We’ve all pondered the future — a utopia filled with autonomy and convenience at our finger tips — with impunity. Many contemporary pessimists believe that implementing artificial intelligence, which, in this case, may self-replicate itself into “artificial super-intelligence” might just leave humanity vulnerable. Such qualms present themselves in irrational, yet understandable ways. For example, eminent thinkers Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk believe, aside from climate change, that the future of AI is grim because robots may end up reconfiguring themselves at an ever-increasing rate; far superior to what any human mind could process in a short period of time. Much akin to the movies I Robot and 2001: A Space odyssey, these thoughts have been infused into our minds and now rattle our brains. Could AI really pose such a dire threat to humanity or are we being unrealistic about it?

As sentient beings who are constrained by emotion, it’s hard to fathom how an autonomous system may be able to supersede us, consciously. I mean, it took evolution millions of years to construct this faulty anatomy we are endowed with; and unfortunately, we are fraught with biological problems throughout life. Thus, building a super-computer machine who doesn’t have to be bounded by withering cells and a fickle brain could easily out-think and out-perform us in no time.

We already have cars that drive themselves and IBM’s Watson that can compile millions of pages of information and piece together a normal answer through hints and clues as it once did against Jeopardy’s most brilliant contestants. That said, super-AI is essentially right around the corner.

The effect of AI on the economy will be substantial. Many menial jobs may be supplanted by robots who will do the job more efficiently and effectively. This could put a giant chasm in our financial distribution; where the divide between the poor and the rich grows alarmingly more distant. But, economists and mathematicians speculate that these problems can be solved by adjusting taxes and being monetarily cautious. The good thing about technology and humanity is that we find a way to coexist without stepping on each other’s toes. We’ve feared many things during our progress as humans, but we always seem to push the envelope without tearing the paper.

Consciousness is a sticky subject because it is highly subjective and brain-based. So, if in time these robots do experience life as we do, they will be highly susceptible to rotten emotions such as envy, hatred, deceit, and jealousy. When these emotions go unnoticed in AI, we could be in for a world of trouble. But who says we have to let these robots get to the same level as us, sentimentally? We could easily put boundaries on their expansiveness and override such self-multiplying type of advancement. Even if they somehow do figure out a way to become nearly all-powerful that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll become villainous or malicious. Since humans think like humans, we get a false view that distorts our reality by thinking every organism has to be exactly like us. That’s astoundingly untrue, we are what we are because we are made by building blocks that allow us to be what we are. Robots don’t have to operate on the same bandwidth as us.

Ultimately, I think AI will facilitate humanity in the work area and thus catapult our technology to even greater heights. I’m an optimist: scientists and engineers are wise enough to modify and predict any shortcomings in AI before they transpire. AI won’t destroy us because we won’t let them. There will be ample codes and algorithmic functions that could destruct such a hostile group of robots if need be. Super-AI I’m a bit more weary about because depending on the technological ramifications, this typer of hyper-robot could completely predict how we would look to control it which could open a can of worms. But for now, and in the near future, be jubilant and embrace artificial intelligence! We’ll be completely safe from any unfeeling machines that want to impose their will on the human civilization.

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5 Ways Your Brain Tricks You

Every decision we make goes through a bevy of obstacles before we reach the “final answer.” Our cognition is affected by everything from genes to mood to upbringing. We often think we are impartial in our steps to coming to a decision, but our brains sometimes will say otherwise. Here, I present five cognitive biases—an error in thinking, or a distortion of our perception of reality—that blur our views on things and allow us to be led astray by irrationality.

Confirmation Bias

This widely popular bias can be reinforced by any immediate search engine. Confirmation bias is the tendency to confirm whatever unsubstantiated, preconceived belief you have by only searching for information that bolsters your view and disregards disconfirming evidence. For example, on Twitter, there’s a “search” function, which allows you to type in queries on anything you want. So, if you want to confirm your bias that a movie is terrible, just type in the keywords “Godzilla” and “Terrible,” and you’ll find people agreeing with your bias, thus reinforcing your previously held notion. I find myself doing this time to time; it does offer up a pang of satisfaction.

Hindsight Bias

Ever get the feeling that you “knew it all along” after the occurrence of something has taken place? If so, you may be suffering from hindsight bias. It is an illusion that an event is more predictable after-the-fact rather than before. We often don’t “know it all along,” but since our brain tricks us, we selectively recall information that may have been slightly presented to us then we rearrange the narrative to make it seem like we did. This can oversimplify natural cause and effect properties, and create a chasm in understanding because it was so seemingly “predictable.”

Gambler’s Fallacy

When a person believes that the probability of an event happening again is decreased because it has already happened, it is a glitch in thinking. This fallacy is ubiquitous in casinos, and owners dupe gamblers by making them think that each spin at the roulette table is NOT independent of the previous spin, but that’s erroneous. When you witness black come out 60 times in a row, it does not mean that the chances of red coming out next are higher than the last spin. Why? Because each spin (or event) is independent, meaning the probabilities reset back to their normal standards. The chances of a coin being flipped heads or tails is always 50 percent, regardless of what has happened before.

Negativity Bias

The old platitude, “Bad news travels fast” fits perfectly with this bias. Negativity has a stronger impact on us than positive experiences. This can be seen as a defense mechanism to shield ourselves from future negative situations. Our amygdala—the fear center in our brain—has been honed to protect us from threats by inducing responses that increase our chemicals to preserve ourselves. All news outlets thrive off of bad news, and we seem to succumb to that because we get comfortable with thinking “that’s not us; I should be grateful.” Think about how negative comments stick with you much longer than positive ones. Evolutionarily speaking, negativity reminds us that we’re fragile and not perfect, so it keeps our heads up in times of hardship.

The Ingroup Bias

Everyone has had their “cliques” or “crews” back in the day. Remember thinking that your crew was better than any outside one? The ingroup bias is a condition in which you favor people that belong to your group over ones who don’t. This bias can be harmless when speaking of elementary school, but it can stir up hate and anguish toward others when infused in something like religion. Fundamental religion subscribers often take umbrage to people who oppose their beliefs and will act unscrupulously because “their” group is correct. This can undeniably distort our vision of what’s reasonable and what isn’t.

The next time you’re at an intersection of uncertainty, be wise; make sure to consider that your brain may be leaning toward a bias of which you are unaware.

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Cell Phones Are Depriving Us of Life

In the past decade, the exponential increase in cell phone usage has spread across our planet like the bubonic plague. At any time, and in every instance, you can socialize with your family and friends without ever having seen them in the flesh. Holistically, the advancement in technology is indistinguishable from magic in the eyes of a person who existed just a mere 60 years ago. We continually share our moments in the hope that someone will experience something as we do, vicariously. Now that mega-companies like Apple and Samsung have commandeered the mobile device market, it’s inevitable that you’ll find yourself wavering over which version to buy or how the cutting-edge features will change your life for the better. This undying need to upgrade our cell phone apparatus has softened the fabric of living. By concentrating on things that are seemingly important, we deprive ourselves of what’s most important: experience.

Although cellular devices are a conduit for information, it only strengthens our need for them. Social media is the mainspring behind our society’s obsession with cellphones. Every 10 seconds, people are checking applications for all the wrong reasons; i.e., reasons that aren’t conducive to enjoying the short time on this planet. And, as time goes on, it won’t be until something catastrophic or life altering happens that you’ll suddenly realize all the time you wasted on trivial things. In terms of convenience, it’s tremendously easier to converse with people behind a screen, mainly because it’s less awkward and you have extra time to think of quality responses. But it certainly doesn’t make the dialogue any more genuine. If anything, it depreciates the value of the communication because it’s artificial. From time to time, I’ll receive a jolt of insincerity in my bloodstream and actually catch myself responding with something I would never say in person. This almost feels like I’m cheating sociological etiquette. Many lies are manufactured in this fashion because the repercussions aren’t noticeable and you can always blame the device’s ineptitude.

The newly coined term “Nomophobia” – Fear of being without one’s cell phone – has been slowly creeping into the ranks of psychology. The psychological attachment that has been acutely affecting teenagers is slowly spreading to all age brackets because of our dependence on these devices. Our working memory has been deteriorating because of the accessibility of anything we want to know via Google or wikiHow. Before cell phones, people made it a priority to remember things. Basically, there was no other choice: remember something or screw yourself over. Now, we rely so heavily on searching for and sifting out answers that we make ourselves self-insufficient. I can guarantee you that our parents are more independent and self-sufficient than we are essentially because we don’t push anything into long-term memory – it’s all transitory.

In the near future (the next generation), I can see our youngsters truly being overwhelmed by cell phone usage that will lead them to a sort of ‘mobile device rehab,’ if you will. Kids are being tossed mobile devices in infancy now; even if it’s a tablet or laptop, this cannot bode well for the future of cognitive expansion. Our brains work best by being thrown a wide variety of different things and learning many facets of life. Life should be spent by appreciating the moment and being grateful for things you have, rather than catering to the interest of other people’s experience. Life is teeming with uncharted experiences that are there for free, and enjoying them may involve sacrificing the thing that’s tied to your hand. I’m definitely guilty of unremitting cell phone handling, and I’m probably falling victim to cell phone addiction, but I’m glad I’m not oblivious to it. Here’s a recent incident during which I found myself perturbed about being without my phone…

I had boarded a plane with about 38 percent battery life (because Apple likes us to lose our minds over this battery problem) with airplane mode turned on. My music was playing while I read a book because the plane was exceptionally noisy. The amount of attention and comprehension I was devoting the book I was poring over had been typical. When my battery crossed the 10 percent threshold, since I’m so hyper-vigilant, I began to feel uneasy. Anxiety was brewing in me and I couldn’t focus on the book; instead, my only thought was how the hell am I going to continue reading without music from my phone? Granted, I was still – unconsciously and unbeknownst to myself – checking my phone as if it weren’t on airplane mode, as if I’d magically get a text message or update while I was 35,000 feet above the surface. Once my phone fully died, I dropped the book. I then had a profound epiphany and harkened back to the times when I was without a cell phone in life, such as when I was a kid. I noticed how my senses were a lot deeper and more powerful. I would appreciate the small things in life and take heed of what’s going on around me. The realization that I came to was that being with a cell phone nonstop is synonymous with walking through life blindfolded–unable to discern the meaningless from the significant aspects of life.

This is no cell phone embargo. I’m going to continue to explore the perks of my phone; it’s our prerogative as humans. But I will drop it when it’s not needed or when I want to challenge myself to learn things the more authentic way. It will be interesting to see how things unfold. Hopefully, we can come to a better understanding of what’s important and what isn’t.

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We’re Nothing But a Victim Of Our Brain

There’s nothing more dehumanizing than realizing that you are beholden to a part of your brain of which you have no control–the unconscious. For years, philosophers have squabbled over whether or not there’s free will, or, rather, are we just an amalgamation of neurons being shot off and transmitted throughout our prefrontal cortex thereby mitigating our sense of self. It’s quite evident that we aren’t always the drivers of our bodies and the authors of our thoughts, but astonishingly, the observers. This concept of a lack of free will is somewhat arcane, but is being uncovered slowly by neuroscience. Most of the decisions we make on a daily basis are derived from our unconscious (once dubbed as the “subconscious;” both terms are interchangeable.) Our predispositions and predilections are primarily out of our control; it’s only at the moment they arise that we feel we’ve created these feelings–which of course is illusory. Moreover, we’re plagued by cognitive biases that we generally fall victim to in the midst of quick-thinking. But, we aren’t robots (as far as i know) and we do waffle over choices ad infinitum until we stumble upon an answer that is most conducive to our wellbeing. However, if something is unbreachable, such as the aforementioned unconscious which makes up the majority of our actions, aren’t we not truly responsible for most of our wrongdoings, missteps, and negative behavior, given that we had no other choice? Aren’t we just playing to the beat of our own brain? If we were able to choose differently, wouldn’t we need a different brain that doesn’t constitute a potential predictable outcome of which you had zero choice in developing?

Brain processes that happen automatically with little to no conscious effort surprisingly occur more than we think. Experiments conducted at the University of Columbia asked participants to perform a set of tasks under functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI). One of the tasks was pressing a specific button with their right or left hand, which seemingly would be unpredictable to onlookers and one’s self. However, what the participants didn’t know was that whatever choices they eventually chose, it was already decided by their unconscious 7 seconds before with 98% accuracy! The FMRI was beaming with blood flow to that specific area in the brain which would press the right or left button. This stood as a clear indicator that our unconscious is in the driver seat and we are just the presenters of what it chooses, in the end. As soon as consciousness kicks in, it’s by that point we are duped into thinking we’ve actually, consciously, made the decisions ourselves.

We are constricted and influenced by our genes, environment, and evolutionary upbringing, all of which we had no conscious modifications toward. When you really inspect your thoughts, you’ll come to a stark realization that thoughts arise out of nowhere. We tend to witness our inner lives so frequently that we aren’t jarred by the outcomes of things that happen solely because we think we’re always in control and it was our fault for choosing this or that. Causes and effects that happen systematically in the universe make things irreversible or unchangeable; if you were given a chance to redo your final decision on something, as long as the universe is configured the same way (mostly your brain & body) then you’ll choose that same exact choice the second time around.

Think of all the chemicals that propel you into a merry temperament or a testy mood. These emotions are sustained through a myriad of brain functioning variables that are mostly out of our grasp. If we really have absolute free will, wouldn’t we all be in great shape, happy as a clam, smart as whip, and in deep love? Our brain dictates our behavior and we can’t tap into our most profound facet of our brain that’s responsible for most of how we act. Thus, as disconcerting as it may be, we are, which Sam Harris so elegantly states: “You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm”

Cognitive biases also have their way of manipulating us into using shortcuts as survival tactics developed through years of trial and error. The confirmation bias–a bias which tends to favor the preconceived beliefs a person thinks are true no matter how much opposing evidence is provided– is what keeps inveterate traditions around. I find myself conforming to the confirmation bias sometimes by looking up something that favors my outlook on a particular subject, but usually things that are opinionated and trivial. This bias can be detrimental when people start believing in unrealistic things and devise their life around something that’s extraordinarily farcical such as thinking UFO’s are hovering over your house every-night, for the odd and narcissistic sake that they want to abduct you and no one else. Blocking out contrary evidence can hamper someone’s mental development and ultimately affect those around you. Conspiracy theorists and the like tend to gravitate toward conformation of their irrational notions rather than the dis-conformation of what lies beneath the veracity of that belief. We are preprogrammed to act this way in order for the brain to make sense of things in an easier fashion and to fill the gaps in our logic. Overcoming this bias takes practice and an open-minded attitude to see things from both sides and recognize that empirical evidence supersedes belief no matter how near and dear that belief may be to you.

I think the for most part our brains have been molded over years and years of evolution to act a certain way. And since we don’t exist in an era where survival is urgent every single day, we’re burdened with these subtle glitches in our thinking that leave us swayed toward one side rather than the other. Our will is finite; it can only go so far. Some people can wake up tomorrow and decide to go on a strict diet, while others will vacillate the idea until they’ve essentially run out of time. Our brains are plastic and we can mend them to some degree, but we cannot replace them (not yet at least.) So, whichever way your brain is constructed you have to realize your strengths and weaknesses and act accordingly because your brain has an uncanny way of misleading you towards conclusions that may be good for you in the moment, but harmful for you in the long run.

 

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