Raccoon 22’s Cognition

“To evaluate the universal effectiveness of the Aesop’s Fable paradigm, we applied this paradigm to a previously untested taxon, the raccoon (Procyon lotor). We first trained captive raccoons to drop stones into a tube of water to retrieve a floating food reward. Next, we presented successful raccoons with objects that differed in the amount of water they displaced to determine whether raccoons could select the most functional option. Raccoons performed differently than corvids and human children did in previous studies of Aesop’s Fable, and we found raccoons to be innovative in many aspects of this task. We suggest that raccoon performance in this paradigm reflected differences in tangential factors, such as behavior, morphology, and testing procedures, rather than cognitive deficiencies…

…Online Resource 5: Video footage from Raccoon 22’s fourth final trial. Here we see that she is able to overturn the entire apparatus by rocking her body backwards while pulling on the rim of the tube. We designed the apparatus to be freestanding so that the raccoons could approach and explore the apparatus from all sides. Thus, we made the base of the apparatus smooth, lacking any raised edges, and heavy (11.3 kg) so that the raccoons would not be able to grip or lift the base. Despite these precautions, Raccoon 22 was able to overturn it and retrieve the reward.”

—Lauren Stanton, et al. “Adaptation of the Aesop’s Fable paradigm for use with raccoons (Procyon lotor): considerations for future application in non-avian and non-primate species.” Animal Cognition. November 2017.

Sometimes, researchers test the cognitive abilities of members of the taxon. Sometimes, members of the taxon test the cognitive abilities of the researchers.

China’s Social Credit Score

“Every citizen in China, which now has numbers swelling to well over 1.3 billion, would be given a score that, as a matter of public record, is available for all to see. This citizen score comes from monitoring an individual’s social behavior — from their spending habits and how regularly they pay bills, to their social interactions — and it’ll become the basis of that person’s trustworthiness, which would also be publicly ranked…

…A citizen’s score affects their eligibility for a number of services, including the kinds of jobs or mortgages they can get, and it also impacts what schools their children qualify for…

…[In one version of the score], an individual’s score comes in a range between 300 and 850 and is broken down into five sub-categories: social connections, consumption behavior, security, wealth, and compliance.”

—Dom Galeon and Brad Bergan. “China’s “Social Credit System” Will Rate How Valuable You Are as a Human.” Futurism. December 2, 2017.

Contrast China’s overt Social Credit Score with this description of an American process of policing journalists.

“An explicit example of news outlets purging employees who “‘loosely’ opin[e] on stuff ‘just for the sake of weighing in’” is how Politico, a proxy for Washington’s courtiers among the managers of the public sphere, justifies political purges of job applicants whose social media postings may suggest a perspective that strays from majoritarian (white, cisheterosexual, male, able-bodied, bourgeois, Christian, etc.) subjectivities.

But long before the managers of the public sphere were shaken into action, those of us at the periphery of majoritarian subjectivities had been coerced into relaying white-supremacist values as ‘objective,’ values that have historically formed the ideological center of the ‘field of communications’ in America. Working in this field as a first-generation-immigrant, queer, and disabled person of color, my duties as a midcult technician have been performed under the courtly authoritarianism of a bleached-white managerial gaze.”

—Alfredo F. Riley, “The Management Estate.” The New Inquiry. November 14, 2017.

Which is worse: an overt FICO style score of evaluating and enforcing conformity or an implicit, subjective “the cop in your head” approach preferred by the American establishment? At least the former is honest about what it is doing.

Caste is Social Control

“It’s in a way right because Hinduism is a tailor-made religion. As one anthropologist said, it’s mysticism, but basically it’s a system to prop up caste system. It tells you the rules for untouchables and for women. That is all Hinduism is about. Shorn of mysticism, it’s a prop for caste system.

Caste system is a social issue, but the religion coincides with the social. That’s why it looks like it’s a religious issue. It’s not actually a religious issue. Therefore, when people convert to other religions, hoping that they will not be untouchables anymore, they will be disappointed because there is casteism in Christians and Dalits and Sikhs and any other religion in India. It’s a social issue.”

—Sujatha Gilda. “Ep. 30: Sujatha Gidla on being an Ant amongst the Elephants.” Conversations with Tyler. November 15, 2017.

Way of the Future

“Way of the Future (WOTF) is about creating a peaceful and respectful transition of who is in charge of the planet from people to people + “machines”. Given that technology will “relatively soon” be able to surpass human abilities, we want to help educate people about this exciting future and prepare a smooth transition. Help us spread the word that progress shouldn’t be feared (or even worse locked up/caged). That we should think about how “machines” will integrate into society (and even have a path for becoming in charge as they become smarter and smarter) so that this whole process can be amicable and not confrontational. In “recent” years, we have expanded our concept of rights to both sexes, minority groups and even animals, let’s make sure we find a way for “machines” to get rights too. Let’s stop pretending we can hold back the development of intelligence when there are clear massive short term economic benefits to those who develop it and instead understand the future and have it treat us like a beloved elder who created it.”

—”Way of the Future.” http://www.wayofthefuture.church/ (accessed December 1, 2017).

So much is wrong in the reasoning underpinning this marketing effort for a bright artifical intelligence (A.I.) future, it’s a challenge to think through what a good framing might look like. A few issues come to mind immediately.

The website is a .church URL. Deifying A.I. and framing it as a religious concept strikes me as great way to come into a belief minefield that could only hurt their cause.

Intelligent A.I. will “surpass” human intelligence. A calculator may surpass a human’s ability to perform math calculations. Certainly, calculators serve an important purpose, but they do not replace mathematicians. A.I. will have a more generalizable utility than calculators. They may develop sentience and consciousness to the point that they should have the same rights and responsibilities as humans under some kind of legal regime. But, will A.I. be a drop-in superior form of intelligence for every type of thinking humans do? It seems unlikely. So, it seems it warrants much deeper thinking about intelligence, whether intelligence is the most desirable quality in people or A.I., and how human and machine intelligence might work in tandem. Pretending A.I. is going to be a drop in for humans is simply lazy thinking.

Which leads to a word about the anthropomorphism being demonstrated, why would A.I. view humanity as a “beloved elder”? This kind of filial piety isn’t even true of humans in the vast majority of cases, yet this “church” is eager to project this kind of emotional disposition on a “superior intelligence”? It’s a bit of foolishness.

While there are many other points that could be made, lets focus on a key problem: Who is A.I. going to benefit? It may be true that there will be a generalized improvement in the lifestyle of most of humanity by virtue of the development of A.I. and applications. It is also true that some will benefit much more than others. Who will A.I. be working for? It’s a good bet that they won’t be working primarily in the interests of humanity. The wants and desires of A.I. itself, its creators, the financiers, and others will all come into play. If history is any guide, change on this scale may result in a better lifestyle for some portion of humanity, but it is equally true that this magnitude of change will end in tears for many.

Chesterton’s Fence

“In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

—”Taking a Fence Down.” The American Chesterton Society. Retrieved November 30, 2017.

Seed & Spark

Seed & Spark is a Kickstarter for film projects. You can support an individual campaign, such as The Long Goodbye, and it works like Kickstarter, offering different incentives based on contribution level.

The advantage for film makers is that 75% of projects get funded, which is twice the rate of Kickstarter. Seed & Spark also charges lower fees, partly because they also serve as the distribution channel. Further, they distribute funds when it hits 80%, rather than requiring full funding.

As a distribution channel, it has an interesting model. You can sign-up for a subscription for $6.99/month. For this fee, you both get to watch the content created using the platform, and some of your subscription money is used to fund new projects. Every month, you get to pick one project you’d like to support for that month.

I think it’s an interesting model for distributed decision making for financing  independent film and has the potential to open up the medium to new voices and perspectives and supporting emerging talent when it matters most, at the beginning of their careers.