One of my computer gurus ran into trouble with his machine recently. For two days, he bent over it, wondering what went wrong inside its “little black box.” He finally fixed the problem, but isn’t certain why it occurred. I shouldn’t laugh because I depend on this guy’s expertise. Nonetheless, his dilemma struck me as funny.
He’s not alone in his puzzlement. When it comes to Artificial Intelligence, (AI) designers are scratching their heads to explain how the system they created works. (Artificial Intelligence Has Some Explaining to Do,” by Jeremy Kahn, Bloomberg Businessweek, Dec. 17, 2018 pgs. 24-26.) That’s because, like the human brain, once AI takes control over its “faculties,” it’s free to follow a number of unpredictable paths. Inventiveness has its benefits, but also its drawbacks. If we don’t understand how the dots are connected, how can be sure of the conclusion? The question is no idle one, especially when it comes to getting a medical diagnosis.
Reading computer minds is likely to become the next frontier in technology. How good we become at it is another question. After all, we know so little about our own minds. Take Millennials, as a subject. Social scientists have been studying their behavior for a while but have yet to come up with any definitive explanations for them. (“Generations,” The Week, Dec. 21-18, 2018, pg. 48.) Today’s youth appear to be less worldly than past generations. They care less about owning a car or a house. Some researchers attribute their attitudes to poverty. College debt leaves graduates poorer than past generations. But other researchers say, no. What we are seeing is a cultural shift based upon concerns for the environment and social justice. At the moment, most conclusions are based on speculation.
The mystery surrounding our brains is okay with me. We don’t want to be easily programmable — though many have tried, from Hitler, to Russian hackers, to Facebook.
Someone wrote on Facebook the other day that Nostradamus predicted World War III would begin in 2019. I’m not cashing in my stock, however. Nostradamus had no better grasp of humans than the scientist who are forced to explain their algorithms. Who, for example, could have predicted that patriarchs would seize upon the #MeToo movement to bar women from economic power? Yet, that’s what they have done, justifying their decision as “playing it safe.” (“After #MeToo, Wall Street Avoids Women,” The Week, Dec. 21-28, 2018, pg. 48.)
In this universe, there is only one tenant I trust: the uncertainty principle. I cling to it with the fervor others reserve for the Ten Commandments. While I admit I know nothing about the mind of God, it’s more humbling to accept I know even less about the human one.