Category Archives: Fascinating Blog

Artificial Intelligence’s biggest success isn’t making computers smarter — it’s making people dumber

Back in 1997, when IBM’s computer “Deep Blue” beat the world’s (human) champion at chess, the news world erupted:  were human beings on the way out?

Well, were they?

Today it doesn’t seem like it.  I doubt you can come up with a single substantive way that a computer being better at chess than Gary Kasparov has affected your life.  Sure, you use computers even more now, in even more ways, than you did ten years ago … but that no longer feels threatening. In fact, when IBM’s newest supercomputer “Watson” beat the all-time (human) Jeopardy champion in a test match, nobody panicked.

The success of Artificial Intelligence (AI) doesn’t seem to threaten humanity at all.

But the failure of AI may be doing lasting and terrible damage. Continue reading Artificial Intelligence’s biggest success isn’t making computers smarter — it’s making people dumber

First chess, now music: just how creative can computers get?

“Nobody’s original,” says composer David Cope.

Here’s what he means: there’s no such thing as “creativity,” only endless copying, theme, and variation. “Everybody copies from everybody. The skill is in how large a fragment you choose to copy and how elegantly you can put them together.”

Cope is making more than just an argument with the idea that “nobody’s original” – he’s making music. Cope is the world’s foremost creator of computer programs that compose classical music, and his latest program, called “Emily Howell,” recently released its first album. In several cases, classical music scholars have been unable to tell an artificial intelligence created work in the style of Bach or Mozart from the original.

That music, Cope says, is proof that creativity, as we commonly understand it, does not exist – and that people are therefore little more than complex machines constantly crunching algorithms.

“The question,” Cope says in a recent article in Miller-McCune,”isn’t whether computers have a soul, but whether humans have a soul.” His answer is “no.”

But what exactly has Cope proved? Very little, according to faculty in Saybrook’s program in Creativity Studies. Continue reading First chess, now music: just how creative can computers get?

Psychology needs poetry

Ask most poets who the biggest influences on them are, and you’ll usually get a list of other poets – Byron, Shelley, Keats, Frost, Whitman, Plath, or Ginsberg.

But when Tom Greening tries to think of the most important influences on his poetry, the two names he comes up with are psychologists.

“Rollo May was a big influence,” Greening remembers.  “And Jim Bugental, with whom I worked for many years.  Jim liked to play with words.  He sometimes made bad puns, which I don’t particularly like, but he certainly had a playful side.”

Perhaps that’s appropriate, because though he’s been a poet in some fashion for most of his life, it’s humanistic psychology – a discipline which he’s done as much as anyone to help shape – that has dominated Greening’s life work.  May and Bugental were two of the pioneers in the field, and they saw a connection between art and scholarship that seems alien in the academic world of today.

There’s now a separation between the humanities and the sciences – one so vast that it seems novel to suggest it could be any other way.  But it could:  perhaps especially in psychology.

Continue reading Psychology needs poetry

Hate is Supported by Many Systems

Are you a hateful person?

The answer may depend on where you live.

Culturally, we think of emotions as individual things: If you “love,” it is “you” loving. Jealousy, anger, and fear are also all matters of the individual psyche.

But believing that emotions are this particular is only a partial truth. There is increasing recognition that the systems we live in can predispose us to some emotions.

Previous articles on Rethinking Complexity have suggested that the workplaces we spend much of our lives in in can be dehumanizing, which is another way of saying that they predispose us to emotions like resentment and despair. Some of the most recent research, from demographer Richard Florida, suggests that many of the systems we live in can do that one worse: predisposing too many of us to hate.

Continue reading Hate is Supported by Many Systems