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Deus Ex Duis

Based on the recommendations of some trusted folks, I started watching Person of Interest.  If you are not familiar with the show (now finished), it was created by Jonathan Nolan and J.J. Abrams, and involves competing AI systems trying to take over the world.  I'm up to season 4 of 5 now, in marathon sessions.

Actually, I kind of enjoy not having to wait five years for this story to unfold.

From a technical standpoint, it is a well-done show.  The production values are very high.  The characters are interesting and multi-dimensional.  The writing is exceptional, with interlocking story arcs over 1, 5, 10, and 30 episodes, plus a single arc over the entire five-year run.  Due to a limited number of story lines, there are a number of likenesses to Batman, Charlie's Angels, Serpico, and a handful of other shows, but essentially that makes this show interesting, since the "flavor" changes over time.  I like that the opening titles evolve to reflect the story line, and the graphics are very good.

One thing occurred to me, though.  I started to wonder how much of the "surveillance" culture is complete bullshit.  How much of it was manufactured through the media in order to make us believe we are all being watched by some cold AI creation?

The reason I bring this up is because I've been doing a lot of reading on the human brain.  It is enlightening to see how much of its function is a complete mystery, even now.  One of the major mysteries is how the brain forms and stores memories.

See, we can map down to individual cells how the brain adjusts to new memories.  The brain's structure modifies to allow new channels to form, based on the type of information being stored.  For instance, when we learn new languages, certain areas of the brain change in response to the new skill.

However, The changes are not memories being stored, they are processing and physical function changes.  For instance, to form new sounds for the second language, the voice, tongue and jaw must learn new ways of moving, and those movements are stored in the form of re-arranged brain cells.  What this doesn't tell us, though, is where the information is being stored.

In other words, the brain controls motor and autonomous functions in the body.  It can be modified to learn new movements and to channel information into the network for those movements.  But, those networks do not contain the information.  So where is it?

This process is referred to as "non-local consciousness."  Memories and information are not stored within our physical bodies.  Our bodies change to perform new functions based on information, but the information is not coming from within the body.

This falls under a very old argument.  Aristotle said that all things are physical and that some physical process can be found to explain everything, also known as "materialism."  Plato, on the other hand, postulated that there was an intangible aspect to the Universe that did not reside in physical things.  This is generally referred to as the "metaphysical" weltanschaaung.  Together, they form the Aristotelian and the Platonic schools of philosophy, and humanity has been arguing these two views in one form or another ever since.

For centuries, the Aristotelians have been winning the battle, up until the Higgs boson.  As you can imagine, a lot was riding on the CERN and that little shard of reality.  If mass could be imparted by a physical thing, then pretty much the entire Universe was Aristotelian.  If, however, it didn't exist, then there was a very likely chance that the Universe was Platonic.  Three thousand years of bickering went into that search.

It seems, now, that the Higgs boson doesn't exist and that some part of the Universe is non-local and non-tangible, and is even responsible for imparting physicality on all we sense.

So what does all this have to do with Person of Interest and AI, you ask.  Glad you did.

If our thoughts, memories and emotions are being channeled by our brains from some metaphysical realm, then the possibility of actually creating "living" machines may be impossible.  You can tinker with the lights and wires for all eternity, but all you will ever have is a faster calculator with more bells and whistles.  It may emulate human movements and responses, and may even alter its code to adjust to changing variables, but it will never be alive and self-aware.

It would, however, suit certain interest to have the world think that such a creature could exist.  If some group could convince the world that it had created such a machine, and that we should all surrender to its superior wisdom and ability, then this group would have ultimate power without the machine.  And who would ever really know?

We would all think that we were being monitored all the time.  A few lucky busts here and there would reinforce the illusion that some superior machine was watching everything and no one would ever question it out of fear of punishment.  It would be a completely bloodless takeover, achieving centuries of effort to achieve with little success.

Sold as safety and security, it would be nothing more than a man behind a curtain, a mirage, a phantasm.

Shows like Person of Interest or Westworld condition us to think that such things are possible.  The constant barrage of media stories make us think that AI is just around the corner and that thinking machines will be among us within the decade.

I, for one, am beginning to think it is all a ruse.  Working on the assumption that memory, emotion and inspiration are functions of wires and sparks, these people have been on a fool's errand for decades, pouring billions of dollars into an effort that is doomed to fail, because it does not contemplate non-locality, nor can we engineer such a thing - at least not yet.  It is beyond numbers and exceeds our current engineering capabilities, because we are barking up the wrong philosophical tree.  The pot of gold at the end of our current rainbow is empty.

Real AI cannot exist in a closed and physical Universe, simply because it doesn't work that way.  I suspect the wizards have discovered their error and are panicking.  Knowing that they cannot make the real thing, they are reduced to conditioning us through good production values, decent acting and some nice computer graphics.  If we believe it is possible, then we will believe it is probable, and will surrender to the phantom of the opera.

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