114. Brain, AI, and Behavior (3rd Revision)

13 Mar

This blog was stimulated by a Ray Kurzweil newsletter topic:
               Will artificial intelligence [AI] become conscious?
It reminded me that I have been wanting to explain this and related topics more thoroughly. Before continuing, I must describe my qualifications related to the conclusions that I will draw. I have had considerable formal training and professional experience in the following areas:
1. Behavioral Science
2. Neuro-science
3. Computers and control systems
4. Advanced computer programming

All of these topics are related and the relationships are illuminating. I have divided my ideas into several topics:

1. “Consciousness” is a layman’s term but is also used by scientists outside the field of behavioral science. It is most often used in a vague way without clear definition. And when defined, the definition is often made with vague statements. Many years ago, P.W. Bridgman (The Logic of Modern Physics, 1959) advocated “operational definitions.” One should use terms that can be defined in terms of specific procedures. For example, “hunger” could be defined as 24 hours of food deprivation. Another, “meter” is the length of the path traveled by light in vacuum during a very small, specified time interval: 1 over 299,792,458 sec.

Instead of the vague “consciousness” we should use terms like:
“Aware:” meaning there are measurable responses to specific type of stimuli.
Asleep:” defined by measurable patterns of EEG, and breathing patterns.
“Coma:” lack of responsiveness, but not asleep or under drug influence.
There are many similar terms that can have precise definitions. One can find numerous discussions of “consciousness” that go nowhere because the terminology used is not precise or “operational.”

So, here is my answer to the above question: Will AI become conscious?
My answer is that there will be amazing developments and uses for AI, but it will never exactly duplicate the capabilities of the human brain. Our brains developed over millions of years of evolution and have abilities that are not likely to be completely imitated. Throughout his lifetime and responding to all his experiences, a person’s brain develops by adding new structures, new neurons, and billions of new interconnections. Could this changing, adaptive system, with many trillions of connections and chemical operations, ever be duplicated by humans. (See below for details.)

2. How does the Brain work? Using all the knowledge areas mentioned above (behavior, neurophysiology, computers, etc) I will make the following description. First, the processing ability of the person primarily depends on the brain, but also includes other parts of the nervous system, and other systems, such as hormonal, sensory, and muscular.
The overall system is much like an ordinary computer, with keyboard and scanner inputs, a central processor, memory, and outputs such as a screen, printer, and speakers. In humans, a wide variety of sensory cells (receptors), such as cells in the retina, provide inputs, the nervous system (mostly brain) provides processing and memory, and outputs are complex behaviors, reflexes, hormone production, vocalizations, etc. An interesting fact is that even spurious factors like viruses work in the body and computers, in very much the same way. In both cases, they use the normal processing features to reproduce themselves and to cause damage.

Manufactured processing systems are pretty familiar. Most interactions are based on wires that carry electrical charges (+ and -). In humans, the wires are nerves that transmit over distances using the motions of ions in a wave process, much like a fuse. Ions are tiny charged (+ or -) particles composed of elements such as sodium, chlorine, calcium, potassium, etc. The ions move sideways to the direction of information flow, much like a tsunami moves in a wave without transferring the water itself. The moving wave that transmits info is called an action potential.

Our nervous system is composed of billions of nerves with around 150 trillion interconnections called synapses, and other connection variations. Further, each synapse (which functions like a transistor)  has a complicated and variable structure.  The nerve cells, their branching structures, and connections, provide all of our simple and complex behaviors. Frequently used connections associated with “learning” often expand and acquire new protein components. Functioning of these cells can also be modulated by various hormones, chemicals and drugs. So, our brains are a gigantic system with a number of control points so large as to be incomprehensible, that evolved in several billion years (also incomprehensible) to a structure that can create abstractions like, Einstein’s Relativity, and can ask where did I come from? It is also important to note that although the brain is complex almost beyond comprehension, it is still composed of chemicals and processes governed by the man-made laws of physics and chemistry. It is very unlikely that these totally “deterministic” components can produce any “free will.” In support of this conclusion, we know that computers (unquestionably deterministic) can produce amazing “behaviors” and can be programmed to imitate something like the assumed human “free will.”

We understand and know how the brain and spine produce simple reflexes using the input, output and processing systems described above. Not yet described here are more complex functions like memory retrieval; logic and reasoning; “creative” actions; and “emotions” like love and anger. It is clear that our brains can do a wide variety of things and has specially evolved to implement those most related to survival and the achievement of reproduction.
We know, for example, that special parts of the brain are devoted to facial recognition, to strong emotions, sex, visual memories, and the fight/flight response. We know that the brain can group together a series of actions or things and can rapidly produce a whole learned series without separately retrieving the components. There are experiments in “learning to learn” where if one learning process is similar to another, there is a facilitation. Really good brains can produce valuable associations and retrieve deeply “buried” little used, but relevant info. Brains have a remarkable ability to search, summarize, and draw conclusions. We do have some idea how these remarkable processes can take place, but much of this is purely speculative. Yet, the fact that computers can be programmed to do much of this abstract work, supports the idea the even the most amazing actions are “deterministic” and ultimately predictable. Also supporting determinism is that the huge number of anatomical and functional studies of the brain have never disclosed any super-natural “free-will” elements. The argument that free-will could “emerge” from deterministic elements, seems unlikely to me, but in the end, determinism forces us towards certain conclusions. Personally, when I really examine my life, I see that all my current behaviors are the result of a life-time of experiences.  I must ask free-will advocates: if your current behavior does not come from your DNA and past experiences (learned, imitated, stored, etc), where does it come from?

3. Thinking
There is one more topic that should be mentioned: “thought.” What is thought? Is it a behavior? Does it precede all overt behaviors? Is it “neuronal” like other actions? What is its function? Etc. Based upon some behavioral science studies and my own intuition, I propose the following.

First of all, most behavior just occurs without any thinking or planning. Second, thoughts can be words, pictures, or even “feelings.” Thoughts are studied scientifically by using a subject’s verbal responses, which ARE observable.
Thought is a covert brain output that does not reach the status of observable. An interesting facet of this idea is that some people “think out-loud” and what should be covert isn’t. I have known several people who do this. The most likely and useful aspect of thinking, is to produce a sub-threshold behavior to test its effect before causing the thinker any problems. For example, you ask your boss for a raise in your head, with different wordings, to find the best version. Or, you imagine yourself climbing a mountain and you note the fear that it generates. Thinking allows you to try things out before you actually do them, and serves as a safeguard.

Under the heading of thinking, one could imagine advanced retrieval processes that would be important for developing a theory or concept. A thought could be stimulated by an event in the environment. You see a stranger that looks like a past friend and a thought about the friend emerges. Clearly, there are environmental events that elicit related thoughts, but maybe there is also a thought generator, based upon the relative importance of stored info. Do we have some sort of scanner that finds important or otherwise significant items to think about?

Final thought: Even though our brains are extremely complicated and likely can never be duplicated, downloaded, or fully understood, brain research can still be productive. Studies of brain inputs and outputs, small systems of nerves, and comparisons with computers and other control systems,  have yielded valuable insights as to how higher functioning is accomplished.



113. Do Good Candidates Make Good Officials?

13 Mar

For several years, I have been concerned about the nature of our USA election process. The traits that promote election, are not necessarily the same as those required for good governing. Successful candidates can have any or all of the following:  1. rich donors,  2. a powerful appearance,  3. an ability to convincingly lie and exaggerate,  4. an ability to say what people want to hear, such as subtle racism or anti-science sentiment.
Emerging from this process may be leaders lacking necessary experience, temperament, intellect, and/or decision-making skills. Focus is often on pleasing wealthy donors, instead of making life better for our citizens. The recent “tax reform” bill is an example of this.
Our current election process was formed by legislation, judicial decisions, and by questionable traditions. It needs revision.  We could start with election campaign laws such as those giving rich donors almost complete control over the election process. It would also help to have more voter education. There are no easy ways to reform elections, but we should at least make every effort to do this.

112. Mounting Pressure on Pres. Trump

28 Oct

Here is a list of significant persons that have been openly critical of and/or urged the termination of Trump’s presidency. My personal feeling is that he must be removed from office ASAP to stop the serious erosion of our laws and government.

* Congressmen:

US Representative Al Green(D): calls for impeachment.
Senator Bob Corker(R): says Trump “debases” our country and is untruthful.
Senator Jeff Flake(R): wrote anti-Trump book: Conscience of a Conservative
John McCain(R): negative comments and voted against recent bill.
Two Senators have voted against Trump health bill: Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins.

* Republican Past Presidents

George Bush(R) and his father: critical of Trump
(Dems, of course, have also been critical.)

* Others

Joe Scarborough (former US Rep.): turned independent and is critical.
George Will: critical of Trump and left GOP for independent.
Megyn Kelly: critical of Trump and left FOX for MSNBC
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: called Trump a “moron”
Tom Steyer, billionaire environmentalist calls for impeachment.

* Would not join Trump cabinet or staff after invitation: Numerous people. This is a serious problem because many gov positions are not filled. The office in-charge of sanctions is way under-staffed and so far has not implemented Russian sanctions (the deadline was Oct. 1). But then, Trump is not very enthusiastic about this.

* Artists who would not play at Trump Inauguration:
At least a dozen, including Elton John.

* Just in: Special Counsel Robert Mueller is starting to issue indictments to Trump associates. This, of course, is the most frightening pressure.
Not to be too negative, there is support from one party:
David Duke of the KKK

Blog 111. Trump Attacks The Press

24 Oct

In one small foreign country, its president owns all of the major banks, unfairly enriching himself by this corrupt practice. Similar corruption is found in many
large and small foreign countries.
Trump appears to have a similar pattern. He uses most of the methods that past and current tyrants have employed to maintain their power and control. Trump intimidates critics, admires other tyrants, and much of his communication is regarding his exaggerated achievements. Also typical is his use of office to promote his businesses. His hotels are advertised in his speeches and by his trips, and foreign leaders stay in Trump Tower rooms. He failed to divest his business interests and severely violates nepotism rules. He ignores huge areas of government, like the State Department and CIA. He whimsically establishes the most vital policies and makes little use the departments designed to help.

Trump’s attack on the press is very typical of authoritarians. Robert Reich discusses several methods used in such attacks, which helps to achieve greater control over the citizens. See:    http://robertreich.org/post/154819980595
Four attacks are described:
“1. Berate the media and turn the public against it.” See his speeches.
“2. Limit media access.” Example: almost no news conferences.
“3. Threaten the media” Examples: threatening to sue newspapers and revoke licenses.
“4. Bypass the media and communicate with the public directly.” Example: Tweets

Trump wants to rewrite history to support his programs and candidacy. Past USA leaders have been occassionally annoyed with the press and have criticized reporting. We have never had such a complete labeling as: all news is “fake” news. I am always amazed at how his supporters take his word over the most revered and reliable of USA newspapers, the N.Y. Times, with 120 Pulitzer Prize winners.
Trump has been rejected by many Republicans including: George Will, Past-President Bush, Joe Scarborough (now an independent), John McCain, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, and last but not least, his Secretary of State called him a “moron.” But he does have support from David Duke of the KKK who thanked Trump for “his honesty and courage.” Megyn Kelly, who feuded with Trump, left conservative Fox News and joined the liberal MSNBC.
Have you watched the N. Korean military lined up and clapping like zombies with their leader, Kim. You can see the same thing with Trump supporters. Each member of his cabinet tries to outdo the flattery bestowed by the others.

110. 260-Days of Trump

11 Oct

What is the state of our union after 260 days of D. Trump (DT) in office?

The most serious situation that our nation faces, is the threat of a war with North Korea, and even worse, the path to a World War III. What Trump says in this respect, may be the usual scattered thinking. But a possibility is that he is truly focused on bringing the greatest possible pressure on KJU to back down and stop making nukes. That is why he was angry with Rex Tillerson because negotiation efforts would dilute the powerful pressure. But as usual, no one really knows exactly what DT was thinking.

Diagnosing Trump has become very popular. One of the latest contributions to this topic is a book by Bandy X. Lee et. al.: The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. Dr. Brandy Lee (no relation to me) is a forensic psychiatrist and a member of the Yale faculty. She and her co-authors have distinguished careers. Needless to say, this book documents abnormalities and makes recommendations regarding his use of our nuclear arsenal. As I have stated in previous blogs, I think that DT has at least a moderate Alzheimer’s disease, and according to recent research, his confessed lack of sleep would be a major contributor to this condition. Sleep is the only time that waste products in the brain are washed out. When your brain is full of waste, Alzheimer’s progresses. This involves a gradual loss of memory and mental functioning.

An extremely destructive goal of Trump is to attack the legacy of Barack Obama. DT does not have any goals that benefit our country in general; his emphasis is only on winning and keeping foolish campaign promises. The first repeal and replacement of ObamaCare by the House was labeled by DT as “mean.” Later he wanted to pass a similar Senate bill at any cost, regardless of content. With no regard to the terrible effects, he has worked to destroy such Obama accomplishments as Iran Nuclear Deal, the Paris Climate Agreement, various trade agreements, DAKA immigration order, and various orders and legislation related to financial regulations. He also is reducing science research funds and changing science policies, which can affect our world leadership in this vital area. On the other hand, China is increasing its science budget and may take over world leadership in this area. Since much of manufacturing and related research is based on science, this would give China (and maybe other countries) a major financial advantage.

An ongoing and shabby situation is that Trump’s cabinet members are often at odds with the President. His staff has traveled all over the world trying to assure leaders that Trump will back them up and accept existing treaties. Failures in this area are dangerous and can cause some allies to join with Russia or China. Many feel that the major role of several cabinet members is to “contain” DT and keep him from making destructive statements and tweets.

A few Republican Congressmen are starting to directly attack DT’s  competence. Senator Bob Corker has been blunt is his criticism and Senate leader Mitch McConnell has supported Corker.

Polls have indicated a decreased voter support with respect to trust and accomplishments. His only clear accomplishment was not legislative, but was the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice (Neil Gorsuch) — a trivial thing since the Senate is GOP controlled.

Trump has alienated and belittled numerous Republican leaders that are necessary for passing legislation he backs. There are many more than the few mentioned above. He has also insulted a Gold Star family, numerous reporters, and black athletes that are trying to fight unfair treatment by police. On the other hand, his condemnation of Neo-Nazis, KKK, etc., was weak and only approached what is appropriate, when reading speeches prepared by others. His instinct to keep all supporters regardless of character supersedes any moral imperative.

Certainly, one could write a book about these first 259 days in office. I see this period as a steady decline of effectiveness and general support — and legitimate polls agree. Recently, I have been wondering whether the election of Trump represents a fate for the USA, like the fall of the Roman Empire. Avoiding this “fall” could be impeachment, but having Mike Pence as President could be worse, and the impeachment process is long and debilitating. What is already happening and may increase is to contrive legislation and a cabinet structure to contain and ignore Trump actions. But “containment” will not prevent the confusion and alienation caused by his Tweets and spontaneous utterances. Although disadvantageous in many ways, I do advocate impeachment.

Just in, as I am writing this blog! Relevant to USA downfall is more information on Russian ads that influenced the election. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all were used by Russians and all the CEO’s have attempted to suppress this info. Our survival is truly affected the influence of foreign powers. When will DT and Republicans awake and put our country on the right track?

109. Online Corrupt Reviews

13 Sep

As technology brings us more complicated and better systems, opportunists develop ways to corrupt them, for their financial benefit. In previous blogs, I have discussed many types of corruption. Just today, I received a communication from what appeared to be a valid bank, one that I dealt with in the past. The message was “unauthorized sign-in.” I immediately knew this was phony because I never had an account with this bank (only a credit card, a long time ago). The whole presentation was not believable. They wanted me to log into a special site and give them banking information — obviously phony.

The above kind of scam I have seen for many years, but here is a new one (at least for me). A certain trusted web site that I have used for many years, contacted me with a proposition. I could buy certain items, write a review, and then get reimbursed for the amount paid. In other words, I would get free items in exchange for reviews that vendors needed. It sounded OK at first, but as I investigated, I discovered a whole new scam in which sellers could get good reviews for their products through deals made by intermediaries. Reviews actually have a great effect on profit. I determined that I was not contacted by my trusted online sales source, but by a scam operation. As I investigated more, I found out that there are many of these “review” scams, both negative and positive. The scammer I dealt with did not ask for good reviews, but it was strongly implied. I knew that if I made bad reviews, they would no longer deal with me. So examine reviews for your purchases carefully to make sure they are valid. For example, a large number of max reviews would be suspect.

I also have found that some companies that do major residential work, coerce their customers into providing good reviews, using an implied threat of discontinuing service. I recently bought a new car and the salesman badgered me with requests for a good dealership review. On another occasion, I was badgered by a junk hauling company for a good review, even though they tried to make me pay, unfairly, more than the pre-paid promotional coupon.

I guess that all through history, scammers have found a way to rob people. Variations of “snake oil” (a cure all) have been around for hundreds of years.

108. Imminent Danger of POTUS

28 Aug

The investigation of Trump and his associates is going slowly (as expected), but the dangerous actions already taken, and worse decisions in the future, are so dire that we must think about quick action. Congress must consider the consequences of his continuing in office. Below, I have listed some of these grim possibilities:

Naive and blatant coercive interactions with certain countries, such as North Korea and Pakistan (and even China and Russia) can move us closer to disastrous situations and even horrible world wars.

Further reductions of government regulations, which could result in serious health factors due to air and water pollution.

Other losses of regulations affect the financial stability of major banks and investment houses. When there are failures, ordinary taxpayers lose money by bailing them out.

Failure to raise the debt ceiling will cause the USA to default on loans. The
consequence of this would be:
1. A lower credit rating will cause an increase in the interest the USA is paying on its loans, and the result is that we, the taxpayers will lose.
2. With less trust in the US dollar, we could lose our Reserve Currency status.
Reserve currency is the money used for international trade, which currently is the US dollar. There are numerous benefits to this status.
3. The US is a world leader in many ways. With a poor credit rating, world respect would diminish.

Trump has alienated many of our traditional allies by egocentric dealings and accidental insults. Allies are helpful for many kinds of international problems and conflicts.

Trump encourages alt-right groups, so that our world-wide reputation for the respect of human dignity is being diminished.

Our traditional system of free public education could be compromised and human resources would be diminished. He sets a bad example for children, by his support of violence and his aberrant actions.

Failure to support climate change remedies can lead to disastrous and costly human migrations, storms, floods, and the formation of new deserts.

Trump has allowed Russians to infiltrate our society and elections. He tends to ignore or even support Russia and has made little progress in fighting cyber-crime.

Trump re-writes history according to his own needs. He tells blatant lies and fails to coordinate with assistants, which causes confusion and distrust at home and abroad.

His attacks on the press undermine a system that is vital for any democracy.  This encourages ruthless leaders abroad to attack, jail, or even murder reporters.  It is telling that so many media organizations are critical of him.  He should be supporting traditional reliable sources like the NY Times, CNN, and the Washington Post.