Wednesday 28 March 2018

#486 Life as a pool table - part 9

The concept of an ego
Let's imagine that as well as our robots reproducing, their cells reproduce too. In fact if I'd explained the development of the robot and its cells properly, this would be a given because we know that the robots is made of dust and we know that the dust reproduces (see previous parts). The addition of brain cells is generally useful to the robot insofar as they allow it to behave in more complex ways that aid its survival and reproduction, therefore they're inherited. We reach the stage where the robot has about 250,000 neurons, which is about as many as a fly.

We discussed previously how a slug could make a decision using just two neurons. With 250,000 neurons, things become more interesting. Our robot's brain can effectively decide to play a mini lottery inside its own head to determine which neurons respond, resulting in unpredictable outcomes. The reason for this is clear. If the robot behaved predictably then its predators (which we've never introduced but let's just say there are some) would have a much easier task of catching it.

The robot can now sense a lot more of what's going on both inside its own body and in the world around it. It also has a relatively good degree of decision-making ability, at least compared to a sea slug. Yet it has no intent or forethought. It doesn't know what it's doing. As outsiders, we can certainly explain its behaviour because in terms of our own understanding, the rationales for many of its decisions are clear but they're not at all clear to the robot.

The concept of language
The growth of the robot's brain continues. Having seen the robot acquire its senses in part 5, we know that it can hear sound. Assuming the robot has a mouth, a windpipe and some lungs, it's not much of a stretch to imagine that one or more robots might start to produce sounds that can be heard by itself and other robots. Such sounds are produced completely unwittingly and without any intention, yet they attract the attention of other robots, making it easier to find mates to reproduce with, which makes the ability to make sounds an inherited feature.

In our earliest population of dust balls, those that survived were the ones that rolled around most easily. That is to say, those that were most easily transferable from one place to another, the reason being that the quality of transferability increased the dust ball's chances of reproduction. The same is true of the robot's earliest spoken words. Without any intent or planning, those sounds that are most efficiently and effectively produced and transmitted to other robots are the ones that are in turn picked up and reproduced by those other robots. Still without understanding and without reason.


Fizzfan said...

“It doesn't know what it's doing. As outsiders, we can certainly explain its behaviour because in terms of our own understanding, the rationales for many of its decisions are clear but they're not at all clear to the robot.”

I guess that’s the problem. We view most things from our own understanding.
Is an ego just as much a projection of self onto others, rather than being entirely owned by who we are judging?

Unpredictable outcomes.
They must be very important for evolution. Lots of lessons learned and honing of new skills.
Comedically I love unpredictable outcomes. That feeling of a whole concept being delivered by a curve ball you hadn’t been expecting.
Day to day though I hate it. I’m sadly very unadventurous. I think it’s more to do with navigating people than things though.

Sounds, tones, language. Voices are incredibly telling in many more ways than words, especially tone and inflection. The right words delivered in the wrong way may as well have been left unsaid.
I’m sure we’re all attracted to certain sorts of sounds. I bought some guinea pigs years ago based almost entirely on their little whistley warbles.

You’re too good at this Dan. It’s like lateral mind sweeping. I think you should start classes.

Good news of the day:-
A primary school in Essex is piloting a new project that brings elderly people suffering from isolation, depression and early dementia into the classroom to work with four- and five-year-old children. They’ll read books, sing songs, and do puzzles with children.
The potential benefits for children include positive changes in perceptions and attitudes towards older people, increased self-confidence, better behaviour in school, increased self-management skills, and higher standardised reading test scores.
One little boy, who had not spoken since joining the school at the start of term, spoke for the first time while taking part in the project. “For these children to have the experience of building an emotional bond with these elderly members of our community, as well as the opportunity to speak with them and develop their language skills is crucial,” said Maria Zgouralis, head of early years.
This makes me VERY happy.
I guess it’s a bit like having your Grandparents at school with you. Who wouldn’t love that when you’re a child. The benefits to the elderly people would be company, mental activity and feeling useful. It’s just win, win! Awwww.

Profound Familiarity said...

I might need some help in taking this thought experiment to whatever final state it ends up reaching. I'm thinking about covering: sweating/running, pack-hunting, identity, the further evolution of culture and language, some metaphysics (beliefs, stories). Maybe the subconscious.

None of these ideas are my own but when Dan Dennett starts talking about the evolution of the mind, he often jumps from one "this is how this trick is done" explanation to the next, whereas I'd much rather continue with this kind of ground-up conceptual development although I'm not sure how exactly to do that or where it will finish. It might be that once I'm done with the above topics, I then move onto what people have often thought the mind to be like (e.g. a cartesian theatre - or like in Men In Black when they pop the guy's face off and it's a tiny little alien inside pulling levers) and how it's different from that.

Oh that's absolutely brilliant about the old people. A real win-win-win situation! (Old people, teachers, children). Plus old people know about life. Well, the ones that aren't losing their marbles. It is very heartwarming isn't it?

Ha, I'm not sure my grandad would be much use, he HATED school and bunked off most of it. My grandma was a teacher though so, y'know, swings and roundabouts. Yes it is a very positive story.

Fizzfan said...

Sounds flippin awesome! (If you get fatigued though, please don’t feel obliged to continue, I’m slightly concerned my enthusiasm might be unintentionally holding you to a task you’d rather not complete)
To be honest you could cover pretty much anything. I just really admire you even trying to put all these concepts into words.
It’s like having a random package of very interesting little thought triggers delivered every day.
Its quite a feat you know. I’m very impressed, and I’m honestly not impressed that easily.
Explaining how the mind works? Phwerrgghhh.

I, like your grandad, hated school and bunked off a lot. They’re strange, largely inadequate but wholly necessary moulding machines:(
Boo to institutions, I’ve never been a fan, but I know we need them.

My MIL would be an amazing teacher for little ones. She’s very sweet and kind. Not so sure about my Mum or Dad, although kids do tend to love my Dad because he’s a bit eccentric.

Profound Familiarity said...

I'll definitely finish the series.

Is this the first time you've mentioned your parents? You've spoken about your MIL a few times.

Fizzfan said...


I don’t know? They’ve been divorced some 40 years now.
My Dads a cross between Lord Bath, Billy Graham and Micheal Parkinson and my Mums a tad more parochial (wouldn’t take much tho) and quite a sweet lady.

Here’s a excerpt from a response from my Dad to my last birthday card to him.......
“Old age is OK I suppose. Nothing much has changed here....the crosswords are getting harder, willy less so.

Triple take reread while saying out loud to myself. “Dad that is SOOO inappropriate!”
Then couldn’t stop laughing.

Profound Familiarity said...

Yeah thanks for sharing that.