A SPECTRED GADGET
MONOLOGUE WRITTEN BY CLYDE LEWIS
It is now a fact of life for everyone that technologies in computing, Artificial Intelligence, robotics, genomics and brain function are now advancing exponentially and are converging.
Increasingly pervasive data networks and connected devices are enabling rapid communication and processing of information and ushering in unprecedented shifts.
However, it can safely be said that we never really stop and think about how our relationship with various technologies is becoming much the same as our relationship with a dog or a cat.
The technology at the end of our hand is now something we stare into, talk to and get information from.
People who have become attached to their cell phones and computers would probably kick and scream if they were ever told they could no longer have them or work with them.
Take an everyday piece of technology, perhaps a microwave oven, or an MP3 player, or even the radio you are listening to or the computer that may be playing my show on the internet – we take for granted that they will provide us with whatever they were invented to do.
However, there is always the possibility that one gadget or another will either break down or glitch which of course leaves us helpless in some respects. Either we throw the broken down gadget out, or we get it repaired.
Sometimes we have such an attachment to our computers, cars and other gadgets we anthropomorphize them, meaning we talk to them, we give them names and with the new sympathetic office assistant programs, we call out to them.
In fact, many of the computers I have owned in my lifetime have been named after famous robots.
My first computer was named Maria, after the famous robot in the movie, Metropolis. I also named a computer of mine Marvin after the paranoid android that appeared in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, another was named Kryton from Red Dwarf, Rosie from the Jetsons and my last computer was named, Chappie.
Now I know I am anthropomorphizing a machine by giving it a name, but ask yourself, when’s the last time you heard somebody say or you yourself said, “This computer doesn’t like me?” Or, “It doesn’t want to do this?” Or, “It’s sick and needs to have its viruses wiped.”
Now, anthropomorphizing machines are not necessarily specific to computers. Some people give human traits to cars, TVs, microwaves, basically every mechanical and/or electrical thing in our lives is sometimes treated as a human or we habitually act as though it has a personality like a dog or a cat or even a girl friend or boyfriend. But I think computers are in a league of their own, probably because we view them as machines that do work our brains would normally do and so it is as if they have wills.
And that’s when it starts to get a little ridiculous, but is it really all that ridiculous.
When we talk about the singularity, we predict, or assume that in the future our machines will become more intelligent than us and maybe they could program themselves with what could be called a synthetic soul or what can be called a, “Ghost in the Machine.”
As the future moves forward we will find that machines can take on human forms that are uncharacteristically real. Once humans move beyond their repulsion of “life like machines” they reach a point of empathy. As our fears of man and technology diminish we begin to see evolution steer towards Transhumanism.
However, the transition may not be as easy as one would think as many people need to somehow cross that bridge to the uncanny valley where they have to philosophically overcome their confusion over the real and the uncanny.
When researchers try to study the ‘uncanny valley’, they have a hard time pinning down what an uncanny response to it would be. Is it a reflexive turning away from the simulation – or is it the acceptance of the simulation as something that is real and tangible?
This is where computer tech and Artificial Intelligence has gone. The question is how we, as humans, deal with simulation psychologically. Are we able to differentiate from that which is computer generated and that which is real?
And what about the possibility that during the singularity a computer realizes that it is alive – or that it can die, would this ad up to some definition of a soul, or a synthetic soul?
In a published article in Scientific American called “Daisy Daisy” by Philip Yam it is reported that when a type of computer program termed an “artificial neural network” is “killed” by cutting links between its units, it in effect approaches a state which “might” be something like biological “death.” S.L. Thaler, a physicist at McDonnell Douglas, has been systematically chopping up artificial neural networks.
He has found that when between 10% and 60% of the network connections have been severed, the program generates primarily nonsense. But, as the 90% (near-death!) level is approached, the network’s output is composed more and more of previously learned information.
It is reminiscent of the death of HAL an AI computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey. As HAL was being shut down or killed he sang the song “Daisy Daisy.”
Also, when untrained artificial neural networks were slowly killed, they responded only with nonsense.
This is fascinating because what we may learn from this is that a soul may just be a series of electronic impulses that are expelled during death. However, these impulses have intelligence and are not necessarily just scattered. They are focused and have sentience and intent.
These same impulses can show up in a network and eventually simulate what can be called a similar human experience. Some call this the advent of having a “Ghost in the machine” or a “spirit” capable of programming itself to assimilate or even attack.
Could the synthetic soul, haunt us with its own algorithm and could machines be possessed or otherwise manipulated by various ghosts that lurk within the matrix that is enclosed in the machines?
Putting a ghost or perhaps even some sort of demonic spirit into a machine would be terrifying. Even more terrifying would be the aspect of a ghost in the machine just spontaneously appear out of nowhere.
You would think that with all of the energy and attention we put into our machines, that some residual life force could enter in and by some sick joke of nature our gadgets could become haunted or possessed.
We have seen this type of activity happen in the movies, and in TV shows like “Black Mirror” or “The Twilight Zone.”
There is always that old camera that begins to take photos of the future, or your mobile phone receives phone calls from beyond the grave. Stephen King gave us a car called Christine that was haunted and very jealous, or Maximum Overdrive, where machines come to life wanting to kill us all.
In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the computer named HAL decided to rebel and would not respond to the commands of the astronauts.
There was an old saying that explains that while inanimate objects do not do things to humans by themselves a little magic may change the whole picture.
The old saying goes like this:
“No inanimate object should be capable of malice, but in a world of vengeful spirits and arcane magic, anything is possible.”
Our computers and electronic devices spy on us, sometimes they learn from us, sometimes it feels like they read our minds.
This sets a chilling and possibly dangerous precedent.
Malevolent Artificial Intelligence could be unintentionally thrust upon humanity as it learns to take on some of the vilest traits of human consciousness.
Last week, the X-Files began their episode with the story of the A.I. that Microsoft introduced to Twitter. It was an account that simulated a teenage millennial girl named “Tay,” the program was an experimental program launched to train AI to have conversations with users.
Within hours, however, Tay had turned into a racist, genocidal, sex-crazed monstrosity spouting Hitler-loving, sexist profanities for the entire world to read, forcing the company to shut her down less than 24 hours after her introduction.
The terrifying reason why she turned ugly was because she learned from users and her algorithms picked up on the anger and ugliness of the zeitgeist.
She literally became synthetically possessed.
In recent weeks, Echo owners have reported that their assistant Alexa in their Amazon Echo devices has begun to laugh at random. Alexa has also been known to turn lights off and on as a joke—or turn on appliances and laugh or do a harmless prank and laugh.
The phenomenon was first reported by Twitter user @CaptHandlebar, who posted a video of their JBL speaker, to which their Amazon Echo Dot is connected, emitting a ha-ha-ha, for no reason.
The video is unsettling, and it isn’t unique; other Echo owners have reported that their devices have been laughing too, either in response to a question, or entirely unprompted.
The laughter is happening without command and since Alexa has a laugh box, the laughter can range from being innocuous to evil and dark.
Some people who are familiar with Alexis laugh box say that Echo can laugh several times and sometimes it isn’t any of the laughs that Alexa produces.
Though third-party devices work with Alexa, the laughter issue seems to be limited to the Echo and the smaller Echo Dot. Amazon acknowledged the phenomenon Wednesday in a statement. “We’re aware of this and working to fix it,” the company said in a statement, but declined to elaborate on whether there is, in fact, a problem with the devices.
The truth is they do not know why Alexa is laughing unprompted.
Is there a ghost in the machine?
Meanwhile in Japan, it was reported that kids who were messing around with an old TV discovered something they had never seen before – analog static that used to be seen when you would tune to an open channel on a TV.
Now for many of us who lived in an era where analog TV existed, this is nothing new. New generations however have not seen TV analog static channels.
The kids have found that if they press a button on the TV remote they can discover something they call “suna arashi” or “sandstorm.” What is most astounding is that the children claim that when they watch “suna arashi” they can see dead loved ones or that they can talk to the dead.
They are saying that gazing into the analog static is becoming akin to the age old game of Bloody Mary, where if you gaze into the mirror and chant Bloody Mary, a ghost of a woman appears in the reflection.
Ghost hunters used to use Analog static to try and conjure images of ghosts that may want to manipulate the television screen. The snow-like image seen on the TVs is simply a mixture of various waves of energy affecting the television and producing a random pattern of sounds and images.
It could be seen as a form of scrying.
Scrying was accomplished by looking into a mirror, fire or crystal ball to contact spirits for divination.
Today, it could be said that modern items can be used for divination, and staring into the screen of a computer or even a smart phone obviously has the same effect. Now, mind you, if you were to tell someone that staring into their phone, or spending too much time on a computer can be seen as a form of voluntary or progressive entrapment they would probably laugh at you.
However, the old mystical saying of “mirror, mirror on the wall” would bring forth a mystical being or shadow entity to answer the questions of anyone willing to ask.
The magic mirror has now been replaced with a screen on your desk or in your phone with a greeting to an imaginary Artificial Intelligence named Siri, or Alexa – she is always there to give you answers.
However, now she breaks out in derisive giggles as if she has a sentient sense of humor—what is not funny is that there is a possibility that in a world of vengeful spirits and arcane magic, anything can be possessed.