I am reading a book called Mind, Life and The Universe: Conversations With Great Scientists Of Our Time. It is a compilation of interviews with scientists. It is fascinating reading. Holding one book letting one know so many areas in which one knows nothing is nothing but humbling.
One interview is with Jane Goodall. She says that what struck her as horrifying while studying chimpanzees was the fact that they could identify with a clan and go on to attack, maim or kill fellow chimpanzees belonging to a different clan. Similar to what human beings do to each other. Somewhere along the evolutionary cycle, our genes seem to have mutated thus – to identify race and religion and any number of extra associations and look down upon others.
Carl Sagan, in his book, The Cosmic Connection, writes about how if an alien civilization were observing us now, they would think that what we value most is violence. For that is what is available as entertainment and that is what being streamed into our homes everyday, and what our children engage in, in the form of video games.
Last week, we did not need aliens to observe and see what is taught to us. A twitter bot, Tay, written by humans was let loose in the internet to learn and respond like a real user (The future is not far when a good cybot becomes the President of a country). Within 24 hours, we had turned Tay into a racist, misogynist, abuse-spewing user. Who can blame Tay for learning to be a racist jerk in one day? If that is what we are teaching twitter bots, could it be what we are teaching our children in a slower, sturdier manner?
I quote from article below:
“Unfortunately, in the first 24 hours of coming online, a coordinated attack by a subset of people exploited a vulnerability in Tay,” Lee explained. “As a result, Tay tweeted wildly inappropriate and reprehensible words and images.”
How do we teach an algorithm empathy? As Jane Goodall said, “Only when our clever brain and our human heart work together in harmony can we achieve our true potential.”
I remember a P.G. Wodehouse book, Right Ho Jeeves, in which Jeeves (that all-knowing butler who saves his young, idiotic, but thoroughly good-natured master, Bertie Wooster many times over) says, that the best way to unite warring factions is to introduce a common enemy.
It looks like an alien invasion might save us from ourselves. If those aliens are only 0.1% percent more evolved than us, we can be their chimps.