Does my algorithm have a mental-health problem?

https://aeon.co/ideas/made-in-our-own-image-why-algorithms-have-mental-health-problems

Thomas T Hills is professor of psychology at the University of Warwick in Coventry, UK.

 

Is my car hallucinating? Is the algorithm that runs the police surveillance system in my city paranoid? Marvin the android in Douglas Adams’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxyhad a pain in all the diodes down his left-hand side. Is that how my toaster feels?

This all sounds ludicrous until we realise that our algorithms are increasingly being made in our own image. As we’ve learned more about our own brains, we’ve enlisted that knowledge to create algorithmic versions of ourselves. These algorithms control the speeds of driverless cars, identify targets for autonomous military drones, compute our susceptibility to commercial and political advertising, find our soulmates in online dating services, and evaluate our insurance and credit risks. Algorithms are becoming the near-sentient backdrop of our lives.

The most popular algorithms currently being put into the workforce are deep learning algorithms. These algorithms mirror the architecture of human brains by building complex representations of information. They learn to understand environments by experiencing them, identify what seems to matter, and figure out what predicts what. Being like our brains, these algorithms are increasingly at risk of mental-health problems.

Deep Blue, the algorithm that beat the world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, did so through brute force, examining millions of positions a second, up to 20 moves in the future. Anyone could understand how it worked even if they couldn’t do it themselves. AlphaGo, the deep learning algorithm that beat Lee Sedol at the game of Go in 2016, is fundamentally different. Using deep neural networks, it created its own understanding of the game, considered to be the most complex of board games. AlphaGo learned by watching others and by playing itself. Computer scientists and Go players alike are befuddled by AlphaGo’s unorthodox play. Its strategy seems at first to be awkward. Only in retrospect do we understand what AlphaGo was thinking, and even then it’s not all that clear.

To give you a better understanding of what I mean by thinking, consider this. Programs such as Deep Blue can have a bug in their programming. They can crash from memory overload. They can enter a state of paralysis due to a neverending loop or simply spit out the wrong answer on a lookup table. But all of these problems are solvable by a programmer with access to the source code, the code in which the algorithm was written.

Algorithms such as AlphaGo are entirely different. Their problems are not apparent by looking at their source code. They are embedded in the way that they represent information. That representation is an ever-changing high-dimensional space, much like walking around in a dream. Solving problems there requires nothing less than a psychotherapist for algorithms.

Take the case of driverless cars. A driverless car that sees its first stop sign in the real world will have already seen millions of stop signs during training, when it built up its mental representation of what a stop sign is. Under various light conditions, in good weather and bad, with and without bullet holes, the stop signs it was exposed to contain a bewildering variety of information. Under most normal conditions, the driverless car will recognise a stop sign for what it is. But not all conditions are normal. Some recent demonstrations have shown that a few black stickers on a stop sign can fool the algorithm into thinking that the stop sign is a 60 mph sign. Subjected to something frighteningly similar to the high-contrast shade of a tree, the algorithm hallucinates.

How many different ways can the algorithm hallucinate? To find out, we would have to provide the algorithm with all possible combinations of input stimuli. This means that there are potentially infinite ways in which it can go wrong. Crackerjack programmers already know this, and take advantage of it by creating what are called adversarial examples. The AI research group LabSix at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has shown that, by presenting images to Google’s image-classifying algorithm and using the data it sends back, they can identify the algorithm’s weak spots. They can then do things similar to fooling Google’s image-recognition software into believing that an X-rated image is just a couple of puppies playing in the grass.

Algorithms also make mistakes because they pick up on features of the environment that are correlated with outcomes, even when there is no causal relationship between them. In the algorithmic world, this is called overfitting. When this happens in a brain, we call it superstition.

The biggest algorithmic failure due to superstition that we know of so far is called the parable of Google Flu. Google Flu used what people type into Google to predict the location and intensity of influenza outbreaks. Google Flu’s predictions worked fine at first, but they grew worse over time, until eventually it was predicting twice the number of cases as were submitted to the US Centers for Disease Control. Like an algorithmic witchdoctor, Google Flu was simply paying attention to the wrong things.

Algorithmic pathologies might be fixable. But in practice, algorithms are often proprietary black boxes whose updating is commercially protected. Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction (2016) describes a veritable freakshow of commercial algorithms whose insidious pathologies play out collectively to ruin peoples’ lives. The algorithmic faultline that separates the wealthy from the poor is particularly compelling. Poorer people are more likely to have bad credit, to live in high-crime areas, and to be surrounded by other poor people with similar problems. Because of this, algorithms target these individuals for misleading ads that prey on their desperation, offer them subprime loans, and send more police to their neighbourhoods, increasing the likelihood that they will be stopped by police for crimes committed at similar rates in wealthier neighbourhoods. Algorithms used by the judicial system give these individuals longer prison sentences, reduce their chances for parole, block them from jobs, increase their mortgage rates, demand higher premiums for insurance, and so on.

This algorithmic death spiral is hidden in nesting dolls of black boxes: black-box algorithms that hide their processing in high-dimensional thoughts that we can’t access are further hidden in black boxes of proprietary ownership. This has prompted some places, such as New York City, to propose laws enforcing the monitoring of fairness in algorithms used by municipal services. But if we can’t detect bias in ourselves, why would we expect to detect it in our algorithms?

By training algorithms on human data, they learn our biases. One recent study led by Aylin Caliskan at Princeton University found that algorithms trained on the news learned racial and gender biases essentially overnight. As Caliskan noted: ‘Many people think machines are not biased. But machines are trained on human data. And humans are biased.’

Social media is a writhing nest of human bias and hatred. Algorithms that spend time on social media sites rapidly become bigots. These algorithms are biased against male nurses and female engineers. They will view issues such as immigration and minority rights in ways that don’t stand up to investigation. Given half a chance, we should expect algorithms to treat people as unfairly as people treat each other. But algorithms are by construction overconfident, with no sense of their own infallibility. Unless they are trained to do so, they have no reason to question their incompetence (much like people).

For the algorithms I’ve described above, their mental-health problems come from the quality of the data they are trained on. But algorithms can also have mental-health problems based on the way they are built. They can forget older things when they learn new information. Imagine learning a new co-worker’s name and suddenly forgetting where you live. In the extreme, algorithms can suffer from what is called catastrophic forgetting, where the entire algorithm can no longer learn or remember anything. A theory of human age-related cognitive decline is based on a similar idea: when memory becomes overpopulated, brains and desktop computers alike require more time to find what they know.

When things become pathological is often a matter of opinion. As a result, mental anomalies in humans routinely go undetected. Synaesthetes such as my daughter, who perceives written letters as colours, often don’t realise that they have a perceptual gift until they’re in their teens. Evidence based on Ronald Reagan’s speech patterns now suggeststhat he probably had dementia while in office as US president. And The Guardian reportsthat the mass shootings that have occurred every nine out of 10 days for roughly the past five years in the US are often perpetrated by so-called ‘normal’ people who happen to break under feelings of persecution and depression.

In many cases, it takes repeated malfunctioning to detect a problem. Diagnosis of schizophrenia requires at least one month of fairly debilitating symptoms. Antisocial personality disorder, the modern term for psychopathy and sociopathy, cannot be diagnosed in individuals until they are 18, and then only if there is a history of conduct disorders before the age of 15.

There are no biomarkers for most mental-health disorders, just like there are no bugs in the code for AlphaGo. The problem is not visible in our hardware. It’s in our software. The many ways our minds go wrong make each mental-health problem unique unto itself. We sort them into broad categories such as schizophrenia and Asperger’s syndrome, but most are spectrum disorders that cover symptoms we all share to different degrees. In 2006, the psychologists Matthew Keller and Geoffrey Miller argued that this is an inevitable property of the way that brains are built.

There is a lot that can go wrong in minds such as ours. Carl Jung once suggested that in every sane man hides a lunatic. As our algorithms become more like ourselves, it is getting easier to hide.

Thomas T Hills

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

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NEW PHYSICS ON THE ORIGIN OF LIFE

 

Jeremy England

By Natalie Wolchover, January 22, 2014

Why does life exist?

Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said.

 

SEE LARGER ARTICLE AT https://www.quantamagazine.org/20140122-a-new-physics-theory-of-life/

 


Researchers have discovered that simple “chemically active” droplets grow to the size of cells and spontaneously divide, suggesting they might have evolved into the first living cells.

Once droplets start to divide, they can easily gain the ability to transfer genetic information, essentially divvying up a batch of protein-coding RNA or DNA into equal parcels for their daughter cells. If this genetic material coded for useful proteins that increased the rate of droplet division, natural selection would favor the behavior. Protocells, fueled by sunlight and the law of increasing entropy, would gradually have grown more complex.

droplet_1000

SOURCES:

https://www.quantamagazine.org/20170119-active-droplets-cell-division/?utm_source=Quanta+Magazine&utm_campaign=331a2e37f3-Quanta_Newsletter_Feb_27_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f0cb61321c-331a2e37f3-389572177

https://www.quantamagazine.org/20140122-a-new-physics-theory-of-life/

 

 

 

Dialogue of the Nihilist and the Chaotician

by KD Rose

Dialog

From Heavy Bags of Soul by KD Rose

Nihilist: I’ve lost faith in the Work.

Chaote: Good. What use is faith in the Work? The condition is complete continuity within complete discontinuity.

Nihilst: Yes, I know. And what good is that?

Chaote: Arbitrary perceptual intention combining with the determinism arising from absolute cause effect, creating the immensely entertaining experience of “will.”

Nihilist: That is not will. It is just arbitrary perceptions arising from environmental stimuli or cues that strike ones personal patterns, flaws, thoughts, ideas, etc that seem like patterns because they have a common perceiver.

Chaote: The things that were said to create the experience of will were not identified as will itself, you will notice.   Rather, will itself seems to be best described as a bottomless self-iterating feedback loop of consciousness− the self of selflessness.

Nihilist: No, then you are saying the mere act of perceiving it is will.

Chaote: Yes.

Nihilist: That’s not true, perception is not will.

Chaote: So what is it?

Nihilist: Perception is perception, and it is false at that.

Chaote: But will is true?

Nihilist: Supposedly. I know nothing anymore.

Chaote: Seems safer that way, eh?

Nihilist: I don’t believe in anything anymore. There is nothing that one can put stake in as true. It’s not safer, it’s devastating. There is no reason to exist.

Chaote: What are you doing?

Nihilist: What do you mean?

Chaote: Now. Right now.

Nihilist: Wasting a body.

Chaote: Then what are you?

Nihilist: Nothing.

Chaote: Then how can you be wasting a body?

Nihilist: I don’t know what you mean. It doesn’t matter whether the body is illusion or not. There is some form of consciousness here. It is wasted.

Chaote: You are using your nihilism as a buffer from the actual shock of arbitrary randomness, from chaos. There is no standard for waste, or purpose. So you’re just making one up and denying it to save your sorry identity from something even more mind blowing.

Nihilist: Chaos is meaningless.

Chaote: Of course!

Nihilist: What is the standard I am supposedly making up and then denying?

Chaote: I don’t know but it must be something, otherwise the ideas of nothing and waste would seem as arbitrary and pointless to you as they do to me.

Nihilist: The standard is to have a purpose. That has been my standard. Different systems put their own words on it. My sorry identity has already perceived mind-blowing things. What else is there?

Chaote: You seem disappointed.

Nihilist: There is no reason to exist. That is rather disappointing, yes.

Chaote: You need one?

Nihilist: My current perception is that my current consciousness needs a purpose, yes.

Chaote: No wonder you’re disappointed.

Nihilist: There is connection to larger somethings, but I no longer believe in the purpose of any larger somethings either. Just more bullshit. The masturbation of the universe. Why, how do you see everything?

Chaote: As a continually self-iterating fractal, apparent order evolving out of apparent disorder, the extrapolation of arbitrary initial conditions spiraling through infinite reflections of its own shifting image.

Nihilist: Only sounds like hell to me. It feels otherwise to you?

Chaote: In order to have hell, you have to have something to compare it to.

Nihilist: Only imagination of otherwise, and imagination of a purpose to it all.

Chaote: There can be infinite purposes!

Nihilist: Infinite purposes is the same as arbitrary meaningless.

Chaote: Right on!

Nihilist: Man is ultimately only happy striving for something. And once having tossed away the material, emotional, power plays, and all the other layers of stuff to strive for, there is nothing else. Levels of attainment…enlightenment….all a sham. No ultimate thing to strive for. No purpose.

Chaote: And instead of being amused, you’re bored!

Nihilist: What do you want from your life?

Chaote: Nothing.

Nihilist: You don’t care? Do you enjoy it?

Chaote: Yes.

Nihilist: Are you saying you are Tao? Is that why?

Chaote: I am saying there is a probability that I could be anything at all.

Nihilist: But there are higher probabilities for this lifetime based on your particular situations and gifts, correct?

Chaote: Probably. Isn’t indeterminacy fun! Consciousness manifests indeterminacy. Cause effect is obviously absolute.

Nihilist: Um…. how do you say cause-effect is absolute?

Chaote: Everything is caused by something.

Nihilist: Really. And there is nothing self-created? The initial whatever must be self created, no?

Chaote: Doesn’t matter. That is just a masturbatory question.

Nihilist: Laughs

Chaote: If the initial conditions arise spontaneously, you could just as well say nothing created them.

Nihilist: I don’t wish to create an arbitrary purpose. I could, but it would be a lie. I could treat the world as a playground, but that would be just another form of lie. The only thing I can think of is that I like learning and exploring the unknown. But that would just be another game too− one that apparently has nothing at the end of it. Should I just get lost in humanness? Numb the consciousness with the veils of human life? Pretend I am not aware?

Chaote: You could start by reminding yourself that you really don’t have control of what’s happening to you.

Nihilist: What good would that do?

Chaote: Anything could potentially happen, so instead of arbitrarily identifying your awareness with this so called (non) truth of yours, just wait and see what does happen.

Nihilist: Should I look for burning bushes in the sky?

Chaote: You are hung up on this no meaning, no purpose awareness boredom repetition. It will pass.

Nihilist: Waiting for arbitrary happenings? What will it pass into next? The mouse will round the next corner of the endless maze and describe what it sees?

Chaote: Quite possibly.

Nihilist: One day, a mouse will figure out how to destroy all perception of the maze and mice. And what insights do you cast from your corner of the run? What phase, if any, are you in?

Chaote: Apparently the one where nothing actually matters and it is enjoyable.

Nihilist: Some would call that a final phase.

Chaote: I don’t know about anything being final. Out of infinite possibilities, initial conditions are chosen entirely at random. Any attempt at ultimate control is superfluous.

Nihilist: And you still say you seek nothing and just plan to enjoy arbitrary whatever?

Chaote: Yes.

Nihilist: Have you ever had communications with what people would label a higher being, or your higher self, or the universe, etc, type thing?

Chaote: Probably. Grins

Nihilist: Well how do you fit those into your paradigm of arbitrariness?

Chaote: They must have been caused by something which must be integrated into the pattern somehow, and the structure of the pattern is originated by arbitrariness.

Nihilist: So you are talking antecedents of determinism again. That would only be a theory, would it not? That the structure of the pattern is originated by arbitrariness?

Chaote: Yes, just a theory. But a meta-theory at that. The theory of theories.

Nihilist: Yes, yes, the map is not the territory, etc. But the very theory of arbitrariness would say, would it not, that the probability at some point would be that the origin would not be arbitrary.

Chaote: Yes, it would. In fact, the initial condition can never actually be observed so they might as well not exist. Pure chaos creates determinism from indeterminacy.

Nihilist: Well, that would be one name to give it. Others would be God, Self, Universe, Will, etc.

Chaote: Certainly.

Nihilist: Then the construct is just using the name chaos as another pose of the big dad in the sky, only one with no purpose.

Chaote: Except it would have no attributes in this case.

Nihilist: Oh, I don’t know. It ‘makes the origin of everything,’ ‘creates determinism from indeterminacy,’ ‘makes the structure of the pattern’…sounds like the big impartial dad of the universe to me.

Chaote: But there’s nothing actually there; it’s just a byword for a process.

Nihilist: And what is the fuel for this process?

Chaote: Information does not require fuel.

Nihilist: Information?

Chaote: Patterns.

Nihilist: Patterns and process imply movement, do they not? Or change. Otherwise there would be no patterns or determinism from indeterminacy. Movement or change implies fuel.

Chaote: That sounds Newtonian. Of course there is change, but not necessarily conversion of energy from one state to another.

Nihilist: No, not conversion of energy. But the energy needed for the movement at all…or call it inertia− the energy needed for inertia.

Chaote: And what are energy and inertia?

Nihilist: Concepts…. devised to explain other concepts.

Chaote: Right, so the point is, in the realm of concepts, it is no use to appeal to other concepts to explain how concepts themselves work. Pure information cannot depend upon energy, which is just a term of information itself. Concepts + information.

Nihilist: Perhaps, but inertia would not be the same term as energy and pattern and information could be. Inertia would describe their existence. Insomuch as all words are concepts, nevertheless, inertia describes a property.

Chaote: The tendency not to change?

Nihilist: The tendency to remain in the state that one is in….this includes movement….to go on moving in the same way.

Chaote: Isn’t that just another way of referring to the deterministic character of self-propagating systems?

Nihilist: I see no determinism in inertia. Only continual movement.

Chaote: But there has to be a cause, does there not?

Nihilist: You said yourself that origins are unknown, therefore what do they matter. I don’t agree, but that was your statement.

Chaote: The point is that motion is determined. It is not the motion I am claiming to be arbitrary, but rather the origin of the motion.

Nihilist: If the origin of the motion is arbitrary, then the motion is also arbitrary!

Chaote:   Good one.

Nihilist: The things to wait for in life, as you said− all arbitrary.

Chaote: Ultimately the motion would be arbitrary, but from inside it looks like a determined system.

Nihilist: From inside?

Chaote: When perceiving pattern as a part of it.

Nihilist: ‘Pattern’ meaning what?

Chaote: Information manifesting consciously.

Nihilist: Yes, but one knows now that it is not a determined system, regardless of perception.

Chaote: Probably. Grins

Nihilist: Back to square zero. Or should I say Ouroboros.

Chaote: Best of luck in your passionate attempt at negation.

Nihilist: Passionate attempts to negate are only monumental efforts to find that which cannot be negated. Best of luck with the butterflies.

Chaote: Oh, we’ve moved on to Minkowski seagulls.


KD ROSEK.D. Rose is a poet and author who currently has published “Heavy Bags of Soul”, “Inside Sorrow”, “I AM”, “Erasing: Shadows”, “Anger’s Children”, and “The Brevity of Twit.”

K.D. has an eclectic mind and loves language, physics, philosophy, photography, design, art, writing, symbolism, semiotics, spirituality, and Dr. Who. KD Rose is an avid supporter of music, the arts, cutting edge science, technology, and creativity in all forms that encourage us to expand and explore past the artificial limits we often set for ourselves in order to see the everyday connections that exist among all things.

K.D. is also a spoonie and prefers to think of herself as “a spoonie on the lam.”

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THE TALE OF MAN

 

 

 

by Tomaj Javidtash

 

 

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Man wakes up in the middle of existence; he cannot remember how and why he ended up here. He doesn’t remember anything. Unable to remember, he decides to forget, to forget that he has forgotten something. In his attempt at forgetting his forgetfulness he begins to fill the surrounding void with objects of his own imagination; he is obsessed with decorating the void so he forgets he is in the void; he becomes the master decorator and he calls his business life. Little does he know that he is still in the middle of the void trying to remember how he ended up there. He makes up stories as to how he is here; he can’t help but imagine a fall; he makes up stories after stories, calls them science, philosophy, religion; he seeks as if there was something to seek for. He makes up names to account for the alleged fall: God, Self, consciousness, creation, Big Bang, world, Brahman, etc. He imagines a thing and calls it truth. He decorates the void with these idols.

How deluded is this creature! What he had forgotten after waking up in the middle of existence was that “waking up in the middle of existence forgetful of how and why he ended up here” was one of his own stories. In reality none of it has ever happened; nothing has ever happened; there is nothing to remember as there is nothing to forget. Nothing is nor is not. If truth is inexpressible it is because there is nothing to express; if Self cannot be known it is because there is nothing to know: Nothing has ever happened.


 

Tomaj Javidtash is the author of writing about quantum physics, quantum entanglement and the indistinguishability of particles.  He write non-fiction books available on Amazon.com about the non-dual aspects of quantum physics.

NOEMAYA

Man wakes up in the middle of existence; he cannot remember how and why he ended up here. He doesn’t remember anything. Unable to remember, he decides to forget, to forget that he has forgotten something. In his attempt at forgetting his forgetfulness he begins to fill the surrounding void with objects of his own imagination; he is obsessed with decorating the void so he forgets he is in the void; he becomes the master decorator and he calls his business life. Little does he know that he is still in the middle of the void trying to remember how he ended up there. He makes up stories as to how he is here; he can’t help but imagine a fall; he makes up stories after stories, calls them science, philosophy, religion; he seeks as if there was something to seek for. He makes up names to account for the…

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