Edited July 2, 2018 and February 28, 2019 to make a stronger case for focusing on metaphysics to obtain deeper meaning of AI’s impact on society.
On May 20, 2018 Forbes essentially crowned AI the New Fire saying AI “would change everything.” Who knew Forbes would be scooped a day earlier by Reverend Michael Curry’s fiery address at Harry & Megan’s Wedding.
Love, Fire and the Forbes AI Article
Reverend Michael Murray showed no hesitation whatsoever when he used the Royal Wedding on Saturday May 19, 2018 to proclaim live on TV before billions that the global release of the power of love would mark “the next discovery of fire” for civilization.
(We learned to safely harness the power of FIRE; why couldn't we do the same for LOVE?)
His sermon was inspiring but was his claim a leap too far too fast? The linking of “love” to “fire” created mixed feelings in me as well. I felt my PhD oral sweat bubbling up again.
At first glance, Love is metaphysical, Fire is a physical. Fire can be measured, regulated, give life and take life; Love can do none of these and yet is the invisible force that can make a life and can pull all life forward: flowers to sunlight and humans to care for each other and their young. Pirsig might have said that if one digs deep enough into physical reality you end up in metaphysical Reality because LOVE is our universal expression for the force of VALUE, or QUALITY, hence his MOQ philosophy which combines the physical and metaphysical; What is valued is what is loved!
What if the same claim of “second coming of fire” was expressed for the potential of true self-aware artificial intelligence–the creation of sentient computer life?” This would sound outrageous to many and be treated like a SyFy movie plot! ” Nevertheless, I was as excited by the potential of real AI as I was moved by Reverend Murray’s leap of faith in the power of love.
The next day, Sunday May 20, 2018, after a night of restless sleep, I stumbled on a Forbes article at breakfast while surfing the Internet, which stated “AI will change everything.” “Great,” I thought, a second public proclamation about the forces in play that will shape how the future unfolds. (It’s funny how things find you when they are on your mind a lot.) After being moved by Reverend Murray’s inspiring sermon, I was disappointed in the Forbes AI article, a short piece for such a big and important subject. Its carefully constrained scope reminded me of an opening legal statement in a big trial that was about to commence, although it did catalog a list of some generic “everythings” that improve what we are already doing.
Everything is EVERYTHING! AI can change everything, a claim that can rightly rise to the level of the “second discovery of fire” just like that for a global release of the power of love. But that does not just mean making everything we do now work faster and better. “Everything” to me means creating a whole new existence with artificial self-aware manufactured beings, including our immortal selves. Death is dead! Could “love” and “AI” be intimately connected?
To paraphrase Tina Turner, What’s love got to do with AI? Is it really just a second hand emotion? Love is in each of us and the defacto singular positive (i.e., attractive) force that pulls us forward against fear. Re AI, we love to create new things so we can admire our creation. Jacob Bronowski said it best in The Ascent of Man:
The most powerful drive in the ascent of man is his pleasure in his own skill. He loves to do what he does well and, having done it well, he loves to do it better. You see it in his science. You see it in the magnificence with which he carves and builds, the loving care, the gaiety, the effrontery. The monuments are supposed to commemorate the kings and religions, heroes, dogmas, but in the end, the [one] they commemorate is the builder.
We love trying to do hard things like create Artificial Intelligence (AI) because what we build commemorates us, the builders. Nothing is more authentically satisfying than for others to say:
“Good job! This is great, YOU did this!
We try to build AI because we think we can. We think it is possible because we think we know how we think; We have natural intelligence so why shouldn’t we be able to model AI after our NI? And we are beginning with neural networks. If we did not love the challenge and the possibility of success we would not be foolish enough to try. That’s what sentient beings do!
Possibility is a metaphysical state of mind; Challenge is a physics problem to be solved. Together, in the right mix at the right time and place, Possibility and Challenge make the most potent push/pull engine of creativity ever discovered, and the fuel that powers this engine is Love.
The Forbes piece raises the question of “special” but answers a cataloging question. Why You Must Treat Artificial Intelligence (AI) As A Very Special Technology, was published online May 20 by Steve Andriole[i] as an opinion piece that essentially confirmed AI’s known potential since Frankenstein to reshape civilization as we have known it for millennia.
The article did a thorough job of cataloging all of the major touch points AI will have on global society, including the national race for AI dominance currently led by China’s investment in AI. What was most interesting to me, however, was not what was said in the article but what was not said.
The Forbes piece did not venture an answer to the question it posed in its title of what is so “special” about AI technology. Knowing that AI will touch everything is not special because it not a new and different thought. The salient question to me is this:
What is the special nature of AI technology that will allow it to “change everything” to the extent that it could be the second time we discover fire? The simple answer is:
AI presumes to take the mask off of the creation of sentient life itself!
THAT, is new and different in all of human history; it will change every thing and every person profoundly.
“Special” is a Mask
The word “special” is a generally positive masking label, a short-hand personal phrase that usually confers a broad meaning of superior quality that requires special care—a complement, really—that something is different than usual in a better way for a person, place, thing, event or idea; It is a note of distinction signifying unusual value.
If AI could create entities that could think for themselves it would indeed be special and raise the question, “Why would a sentient AI entity want to think for us?” Anyone who has had or been around children knows the answer. The ability to create creation may be the last mask in a long list of fractal masks that humans will have managed to pull from the face of Reality. This brings us face-to-face with the uncomfortable task of trying to expand our understanding of Reality far beyond the puny range of our five physical senses. (e.g. our eyes only “see” a vanishingly-small slice of the the electromagnetic spectrum that contains what we have named “light.”)
A Brief History of Realities’ Masks
It seems to me we have no chance of understanding the meaning and impact AI can have unless we explore Reality deeply; and this requires that we must peel off the convenient masks we have constructed. Once we start it is inevitable that we will quickly cross beyond the physical into the metaphysical, as uncomfortable as this may be to some.
We humans can be proudly labeled nature’s first (or at least “most advanced”) Natural Intelligence (NI), as far as we know. We are each autonomous, self-directed, self-aware and unique, and yet, each one of us is part of the same 7.8 billion family of humans connected by genes and by a cultural web of interdependence. Our cultural web is being taken over and changed by digital technology of the Internet, and our genetic web is following a similar digital innovation path. Digital technology masks are already changing our perceptions (meaning masks) of our cultural and physical realities!
What happens when AI is fully developed and deployed? Do we care? Do we want a say in the construction of the new masks of new realities? If so, we will have to learn to slither into metaphysical waters.
The more connected we are electronically the more we seem to be isolated personally. How will this change, for better or worse, when we are connected to and by AI devices and the AI web with its cloud repositories that buzz with all of our personal information, both physical and metaphysical?
Are today's AI proto-devices foot-in-the-door artificial masks that will separate our true human selves (whatever these are) from each other even more as technology advances until AI simulations of us interact with AI simulations of others? Will there be a new market for metaphysical prostitutes whose job is to mind-fuck us to make us feel more human, for a price? (Maybe it's done now in primitive form!)
As we contemplate a brave new AI world, we (not surprisingly) reflect the general nature of the universe we came from, in all of its brutal and beautiful realities. We are about 50% digitally programmed with a “starter pack” and about 50% analogically spontaneous to keep us learning from our experiences. (See chart below.) This means at any particular time and place we may be 100% predictable or 100% unpredictable.
To me, “special,” for humans refers to two broad areas of knowledge masks that have climbed the mountain of increasing knowledge over time and find themselves touching each other: Physics Knowledge Masks (PKM), and; Metaphysics Knowledge Masks (MKM). These are two sides of the Reality Ladder of knowledge. The rungs represent fractal masks, with each more complex than the simpler one below it on the ladder. Other names for these same two types of masks are the Physical and Conceptual, or the Tangible and Intangible.
The physics we know tells us that all material entities are temporary, that materials have a limited life time, usually measured by their half-life, the point at which their existence is half used up, after which they continue to decay exponentially until they effectively cease to exist. Here are some measured half-lives: DNA, 521 years; Carbon-14, 5,730 years; Proton, 10 to +32 power years.
Humans are made of materials with finite half-lives, and yet do not decay exponentially because we are alive, which means we renew ourselves by taking in more energy from the universe than we put back to constantly maintain and rebuild ourselves. Even so, our natural replacement process is not perfect so we gradually decline at a much slower rate than the material we are made of. Staying alive means humans maintain a body temperature roughly one hundred times hotter than the average temperature of our surrounding universe (310 degrees Kelvin (98.6 Fahrenheit) for us versus 3 degrees Kelvin for the empty space of the universe, all measured above absolute zero.)
Does energy of the universe decay? Stephen Hawking and others postulate that the net energy in the universe is zero because the positive energy contained in all the mass of stars and everything else physical is exactly balanced by the negative energy of the gravitational field.
This “zero-energy or free-lunch” idea is analogous to digging a hole and filling it up, or a pendulum swinging from positive through zero to negative and back until it winds down (unless we give it more energy), all on an incredibly long time scale. All of this suggests that all existence is temporary on some time scale, including all masks, whether physical (e.g. Gravity, Nuclear, Electromagnetism) or metaphysical (e.g. Truth, Love, Quality), and that the physical masks are more temporary than (and perhaps may be the thin cover of) the metaphysical masks.
Physics’ masks, or PKMs, are equations of nature’s laws of force and motion that allow precise calculation and prediction of how the forces shape dynamic physical reality. Metaphysics’ masks, or MKMs, are abstract concepts or models of human experience that shape how we think and feel about, and understand rationally our personal reality, the “living house” we want to build in our minds of why physical things are there and what their activities are in that house (as well as how they work).
Our experiences eventually tell us, at best, that the “whats,” “hows,” and “whys” we experience are masks of provisional realities or truths (both physical and metaphysical) that are only reliable over a limited range of validity. Our successful discovery of physical laws eventually led us down the Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole of quantum physics where we opened a door to a monumental metaphysical embarrassment:
The most precise predictive equation (Schrodinger’s Equation) ever was discovered, but it totally contradicted the object/subject “thing” view of reality that had held sway for millennia. The “thing” view (a physical idea) was replaced with with a “probability wave” view, a metaphysical idea, and most if civilization still has not accepted it after 150 years because it does not fit with everyday experience. Quantum AI will surely change that. Here is the equation that literally created modern technological society:
Here are Schrodinger’s words of explanation of his equation:
“The already … mentioned psi-function (Ψ)…. is now the means for predicting probability of measurement results. In it is embodied the momentarily attained sum of theoretically based future expectation, somewhat as laid down in a catalog.”
Moving from left to right, this equation mathematically says that all possible probabilities for dynamic and static behavior of the system under consideration are contained in the state function designated by Greek Letter, Psi, or Ψ, and that changes in it over time, t, and 3-D space, r, are governed by the conservation of energy as designated by adding the first term for kinetic energy and the second term for the potential energy. Solving for Ψ gives exact answers at the atomic level for up to 12 decimal points of accuracy.
Schrodinger’s Metaphysical Breakthrough
In 1926, 39-year-old Austrian physicist, Erwin Schrodinger published a paper that included the above wave equation, which he used to accurately calculate the energy levels of an electron particle moving in an electric field of a hydrogen-like atom that the particle “thing” physics of Newton had met with catastrophically failure to predict. Schrodinger’s ‘sin” was co-opting an analytical wave equation normally used for fluids, strings and vibration as a calculating device, and using it with a metaphysical probability input to solve a physical particle problem..
His accurate predictions threw the physics world into a confused frenzy it has not recovered from yet, and earned him a Nobel Prize seven years later. The entangled intentions of the subject and the object being studied determined the behavior of the atomic system being studied. This was a new idea. Here is what Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman famously said about Schrodinger’s quantum equation:
Where did we get that (equation) from? Nowhere. It is not possible to derive it from anything you know. It came out of the mind of Schrödinger.
This is what Schrodinger’s grand quantum equation for the theory of everything has evolved to look like today, according to theoretical physicist, Dr. Neil Turok, new director of the Perimeter Institute and author of his podcast, The Astonishing Simplicity of Everything:
While this mega equation catalogs all Nobel Prize winners’ worthy refinements (by name) to Schrodinger’s original simple equation, it ignores the originality of Schrodinger’s insight of not only choosing a wave function for a particle equation, but also using a non-physical “possibility function” to describe the state of the particle’s behavior. Schrodinger took a giant leap of imagination to create a mathematical platypus, an equation that was half physics and half metaphysics, so to speak. It bothered him all his life, as well as his rock star pal, Einstein.
They are gone now and it up to the living to understand what we have gotten ourselves into before we leap full stride into the quantum AI information age which is becoming more metaphysical by the day. I think a credible argument can be made that the growing discontent, anger, and chaos in the world today can be attributed to the fragmentation of of our traditional “object to object” world view being rapidly replaced with a new “entangled information” between things process or event world view.
Link Between Love and AI Technology
I have seen Neil Turok’s talk on the simplicity of everything and have no doubt that he loved every minute putting all pieces of physics neatly together in his mega version of Schrodinger’s equation. But I also saw that love shut down a stimulating idea from a young woman who asked his opinion on, what I would call a Schrodinger insight. Her question was: How does the fractal nature of self-similarity from complexity science fit into your equation? Turok shut her down with, “I don’t know anything about that; it’s not physics.
This had to be blatantly untrue because he surely had to know that Ilya Prigogine was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1979 for his studies of self-organizing chemical systems far from equilibrium, which reflected the evolution of fractal growth profiles throughout physics, life and art. As a minimum, he could have engaged her interest, not shut her down.
What is “special” about AI technology is the uncomfortable notion of “love,” especially when it comes from outside the scientific community from a sharp and unlikely lateral turn in the sound of Reverend Michael Curry’s inspiring voice as he offered wisdom to the newly-wed Royal couple in May. Paraphrasing the Jesuit spiritual leader and scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Curry preached it loud and plain:
“If humanity ever captured the energy of love it will be the second time in history we have discovered fire, and we will make the whole world a new world.”
Before you discount this uncomfortable truth and shut this talk down as new-age babble, consider this:
AI technology is on a path to cross the line from physics into metaphysics, from predictable control to unpredictable intent, from loosely bounded love and hate, to unbounded love and hate. The main problem is not how to make AI work, it is to understand what it means for AI to work, what it means to create autonomous self-modifying self-aware, artificial life on any scale! Meaning is the ultimate issue, not Fabrication. AI as “Fire #2” will be like “Fire #1” on googolplex steroids.
This is what makes AI technologically special: The power of loving-to-create could fuel AI’s progress of its creation faster than our ability to understand the meaning of what we have created.
The primal question facing humanity is whether it has advanced far enough metaphysically to create a better existence for all in a livable “Fire #2” reality? On a pendulum scale for society swinging between max love and max hate, where would you put the pointer on society’s current position: above 50% or below 50%? What about today versus 30 years ago: more love or more hate?
I argue that metaphysics is where we started before discovery of “Fire #1” several million years ago; and we are now coming back home with a backpack of powerful technology tools only to rediscover the most powerful tool of all that has always been in our backpack, but whose potential has never been fully used. Love is the only positive force that moves us to do anything at all; Love tells us what we can do and be. Love is what produces lasting value and happiness.
Money makes markets move, but creating money for the love of it is physical pleasure, which is basically body food like a drug that gives an instant high but has a very short half life; it is not the same as creating authentic Value, Quality, Integrity, Trust, Beauty for the love of it (money don’t hurt, but is secondary); all of this is metaphysical.
Obviously this is one particular worldview that could be argued up or down as a personal choice. I argue that civilization has gotten so good at creating physical wealth that its metaphysical chops have atrophied along the way in comparison.
So what, you say? Why worry and try to change the way things work since things seem to be clicking along smoothly only needing a re-balancing tweak here and there. Before we have achieved fully operational AI we better have vastly improved metaphysical chops as a society to understand the meaning of what we are creating and how to use it to advance civilization forward and not backward.
The world is a marketplace of exchanges, and open markets work. Why not experiment seriously with new market concepts that trade on metaphysical “currencies” versus physical currencies to increase awareness and understanding of meaning in an age of AI. Robert Pirsig has a structure he named MOQ for Metaphysics of Quality that integrates physical and metaphysical reality. What would be our Gross Quality Product (GQP) for quality of life? (More on this idea will be included in later sections).
What makes AI so special at this moment in time is this: We have the need now for greater natural meaning (metaphysical knowledge) of how live in society before AI moves past us with artificial meaning of its own into the new age of: The Second Discovery of Fire.
[i] Author of Forbes piece is a Forbes contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer. I am the Thomas G. Labrecque Professor of Business Technology in the Villanova School of Business at Villanova University where I teach strategic technology, innovation and entrepreneurialism. I conduct research on technology management best practices, social media, analytics, cloud computing and technology adoption. I am the author/co-author/editor of 35 books on information technology, technology trends and business technology management. My most recent books – Ready Technology: Fast-Tracking New Business Technologies (CRC Press) – was published in the Fall of 2014; The Innovator's Imperative: Rapid Technology Adoption for Digital Transformation will be published in 2017 by CRC Press. I consult with industry and government on all aspects of digital technology. I was the Director of Cybernetics Technology @ DARPA and founded and co-founded several technology companies. I earned my masters and doctoral degrees at the University of Maryland and received an honorary doctorate from LaSalle University for my achievements in information technology. For more information about his career see www.andriole.com.