The Robots Will Have Feelings or We Won’t

Here.  By Paul Bloom and Sam Harris, a psychologist and a neuroscientist.

The biggest concern is that we might one day create conscious machines: sentient beings with beliefs, desires and, most morally pressing, the capacity to suffer. Nothing seems to be stopping us from doing this. Philosophers and scientists remain uncertain about how consciousness emerges from the material world, but few doubt that it does. This suggests that the creation of conscious machines is possible.

“Nothing seems to be stopping us from doing this?”  Nothing has made it possible for you to do this.  Yes, nothing except for the fact that no robot will ever have feelings or desires or beliefs.

The reason is really quite simple.  The robot is an automated material product created by humans using electronic and mechanical devices.  Everything a robot does is the result of a sequence of software commands and electronic instructions.  A robot sticks his tongue out at you because a programmer instructed it to.  It will never, ever decide, out of the blue, to stick out its tongue at you, to the shock, surprise, and consternation of it’s builders.  Never.  If it puts out its tongue, the programmers will giggle: we did it.

I have yet to read a cogent explanation of how this string of actions by human designers and builders is somehow interrupted by an independent entity that will cause it to behave differently from its instructions.  Without that step, it is never and can never be conscious or sentient and it will never have a feeling.  Everything it has is the product of design.  There is no way to interrupt this process.

I will note here that some argue that we will be able to connect biological organisms to mechanical or electronic devices.  Then we will have a biological organism that can direct the activities of mechanical or electronic devices.  That is all.  That’s not a “sentient” machine.  The biological organism, presumably, will be sentient: the machine parts will not.  There would, in fact, be nothing remarkable about it, other than the extension of human capability with technology.  We already have that.

But the height of absurdity is reached here, where the author confuses actors imitating robots imitating human gestures for the real thing (in reference to West World):

 It’s quite another to witness the torments of such creatures, as portrayed by actors such as Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton. You may still raise the question intellectually, but in your heart and your gut, you already know the answer.

The answer that you are supposed to know– the author is trying very hard to bat you around the head with it– is of course they have feelings: look at Thandie’s face!  She’s obviously in distress.  So now you know, yes, robots have feelings.

I was wrong: that previous quote was not the height of absurdity.  Here it is:   (Remember, there is no reason why such “sentient” machines need to look like us.  They can look your smartphone.)

After all, if we do manage to create machines as smart as or smarter than we are — and, more important, machines that can feel — it’s hardly clear that it would be ethical for us to use them to do our bidding, even if they were programmed to enjoy such drudgery.

So… seriously, it might just be unethical right now for you to make your smartphone do all that work for you.  You are a bully.  A slave owner.  And we now need a name for a person who believes that machines are not human and do not have reel feelings: techist?  Machinist?  Robot-owner?   Nothing sounds catchy.

The comments from readers, at first, stunned me as well.  Reader after reader agreed that it was likely we would soon have sentient robots, they would have feelings, and they should not be made to “suffer”.

I have never been able to imagine that fantastic leap these writers believe in, fervently, in which a series of switches and devices suddenly makes a free, willful decision — to do anything– that did not originate in a line of code written by a human programmer.


[whohit]The Robots Will Have Feelings or we Won’t[/whohit]

First We Took “Manhattan”

I am sick of the abuse and scorn being heaped on Woody Allen, because some actors who enhanced their careers when it was opportune with the most prestigious director in America now find it convenient to join the righteous and self-righteous and the outraged.  Let’s specify Natalie Portman, for example, who didn’t seem to object too much while starring in “Everyone Says I Love You” even though it was filmed after Farrow’s allegations went public.

And for the record, Greta Gerwig, one those who have hopped on the bandwagon, conveniently after the boost to her career from the man she now says will never direct her again– “Lady Bird” is an over-rated, mediocre film.   What, do you think, are the odds that Gerwig has even a second movie in her?  Come on– seriously.   Let alone a third.  Or fourth.  Will she ever produce anything with the sublime beauty of “Manhattan”, “Annie Hall”, “Crimes and Misdemeanors”, or “Hannah and Her Sisters”?

The makers of “Lady Bird”, like the makers of so many similar films, plainly believes that the reason you want to watch this film is because the putative main character, Lady Bird, is just so interesting.

Anyone can look up the arguments about Dylan Farrow’s allegations if you want to.  I’ve been through them: they are weak and readily disputable.   There were no allegations at all, until a furious partner, Mia Farrow, discovered nude photos of Soon Yi in Allen’s apartment.   It is only after this bitter betrayal that Farrow, after having begged her therapist to find a way to “stop” the “satanic” Allen,  appears to have coached a daughter, Dylan, to make allegations against Allen.   When investigators interviewed Dylan, over a period of months, her story changed repeatedly.  The investigators came to the conclusion that the charges would not hold up in court.  They couldn’t say it, but I would find it hard to believe that they didn’t also notice Farrow’s desire to punish her faithless ex.

Soon Yi was never Woody Allen’s adopted or step daughter.  Allen and Farrow lived apart during their relationship, in separate New York apartments.

There were never any other allegations of that nature by anyone else against Woody Allen.  Which, if he really was the predator Farrow would like you to believe he was, would be inevitable.

The second charge is more ridiculous.  Allen married his ex’s adopted daughter.  Many media sources proffer the short-hand lie that Soon Yi was Allen’s stepdaughter or foster daughter.  She was not.   But, holy cow, even the New York Times did it!  Unbelievable.  (And then issued a correction.)   Does that tell you just how the hysteria around this issue it driving people to distort the facts?

But she was very young.  Isn’t that a serious issue?

If the age difference is very troubling to you, look up Mia Farrow’s marriage to Frank Sinatra, and her subsequent affair and marriage to Andre Previn.  And dozens of other Hollywood marriages between older male actors and very young ingenues.  And if you are going to get all righteous and prickly about the issue, should you be asking, why do so many young women hit on wealthy, successful, older men?  Do you really believe she was dragged into the marriage, kicking and screaming?

The allegation that there is something exploitative or demeaning about this relationship is, obviously, a brutal insult to Soon Yi, and I can fully understand why she would return the favor with the most powerful insult there is: silence.  Would there be a point to her appearing on Oprah or Ellen or some other insanely trivial talk show to defend herself?  To descend to the level of Allen’s most enthusiastic accusers: consumers of inane, trivial, mind-numbing pseudo-feminist discourse and gossip?

The point made is this: you people are not worthy of this discussion.

I find it stunning to realize that our society has now reached the point where we look at a consenting sexual relationship between an older adult man and younger woman as something that is obscene and repellent and vulgar and disgusting.   How dare you people make that judgement?  How dare you heave your judgement only upon the man?  We used to have a name for the female partner in these relationships.  Do you really believe that these women never sought an advantage from these relationships?  They were always only prey?

At least one writer has indicted Allen’s character because he expressed, repeatedly, throughout his career, how desirable young, beautiful women were.   As if that was something that no normal, upright, decent red-blooded American male ever thinks.  What a fantastical shock to all of us!   How dare he!  The sheer obscenity of it!  My god, the next thing you know people of disparate ages and incomes will be getting married and having sex.

* * *

Here’s another raft of accusations, about a certain professor, Dr. Dominguez.  Read it carefully, from the NY Times 2018-03-06.

The allegations from the other women ranged in severity, from inappropriate full-body hugs to claims by one woman that he grabbed her buttocks and tried to put his hand down her pants. The Chronicle reported that one graduate student in the early 1980s complained to the university about comments from Dr. Domínguez that made her feel uneasy, and that Harvard found that he had “behaved inappropriately.” Other women said they had discussed Dr. Domínguez’s behavior with Harvard employees, but had not filed formal complaints.

Hugs?  Grabbed buttocks?  Tried to put his hand down her pants?  Comments that made her feel “uncomfortable”.   This is now the benchmark of sexual harassment?

And yet every one of these accusers– who couldn’t even respond verbally to this professor at the time– will now be lauded for their courage and fearlessness.

[whohit]First We Took Manhattan[/whohit]

The Subtle Aesthetic of Soap Opera

This Piece by Lili Loofbourow

If you cannot appreciate the most complex, richest, best writing or film-making or art or music in the room because you just aren’t smart enough to get it, you will be completely baffled as to why the stuff you do get is not regarded with the same esteem.

Ms. Loofbourow believes that female writers and film-makers are just as good if not better than male writers and film-makers, but do not get the respect they deserve.  Let’s be clear– she is making a judgement based on her own personal knowledge, that female writers she knows of are just as good as male writers she knows of.

And we all devalue women’s writing due to the fact that “we” devalue the art works that women value more highly, because they are valued more highly by women.  I’m confused too.  Here’s a quote:

Study after study has shown that, no matter how loudly we complain that reality TV is heavily scripted, or that an image is the product of makeup, lighting, and Photoshop, we’re totally unable to disregard the evidence of our own eyes.

And that “evidence of our own eyes” is that this stuff is brilliant.

Who the hell is “we”?  In the most outrageously narcissistic comment in the piece, Ms. Loofbourow declares that she– and she alone, because all of the rest of us have deficient appreciation– knows what we are all thinking.  She can’t “disregard the evidence” of her own eyes and so she must insist that no one else can either.

She cites Mark Twain’s inadequate appreciation for Jane Austen as if, again, she really believes that Jane Austen–a fine writer who nevertheless remains one of the founders of soap opera, with it’s obsessive concern with how men unjustly under-appreciate the wonders of women–is on par with Tolstoy or Dostoevsky or even Dickens.   She is not.  She is a fine novelist in her genre who inspired an endless parade of mediocre writers– but her novels are still about the emotional lives of women who are consumed with their relationships with men and with each other and don’t have any real importance in the world of politics or science or the arts apart from their emotional lives.

Besides, it wasn’t Jane Austen’s fault that she wasn’t involved in research on gravity or negotiating treaties, or commanding armies.  What else could she write about?

This is really a giant, hoary screed at men: how dare you not think that I am as smart or smarter than you.  And rather than show us, she tells us and expects us to take her word for it.

Apparently, men like me are too stupid to realize that the narcissistic Lena Dunham character in “Tiny Furniture” is supposed to be unattractive.  I don’t believe it.  There is a difference between acknowledging the reality that cannot be denied and deliberately creating an unattractive character in order to say something important about unattractiveness.  Aura is Lena Dunham, her mother is her mother, her sister is her sister, the apartment is the apartment.

Is Maude Lewis supposed to be unattractive in “Maudie”?  Or is she just Maude Lewis, described to us by the film-makers using all of the information available to them?

Amy Schumer’s most distinctive passion is her instance that, no matter what men think, she really is very sexually attractive.  She doesn’t care what you think.  You think what she tells you to think.

Dunham is too honest to fall for that shtick.

Sometimes we just get pure blather:

Thanks to shows like Fleabag, Enlightened, Insecure, The Good Wife, Awkward Black Girl, The Book Group, Scandal, One Mississippi, The Maria Bamford Show, The Comeback, Top of the Lake, Orphan Black, Orange is the New Black, Getting On, Happy Valley, and Doll and Em, we’re finally getting some nourishing fiction that welcomes female protagonists with wrinkles and corrugated narratives that don’t easily convert to motivational posters. Most of these narratives destabilize the implied male position behind the camera and queer its conventions in sometimes transformative ways.

“Destabilize the implied male position behind the camera and queer its conventions in sometimes transformative ways”?  I defy you to defend that line.

She even believes that because three colleagues of an award-winning professor missed a clumsy joke — which, in her mind, was somehow transmuted into a brilliant piece of performance art–  that they therefore must also have completely ignored her speech, sitting there for an hour, apparently, not listening to the speaker in front of them, and had discounted her work as a teacher because they misread her lousy joke as nervousness.  This is idiotic.

In a desperate attempt to empower herself, she presents a self-condescending comment by a 19th century memoirist as an incredibly hilarious satirical jibe at Mark Twain, again, even though, it is clearly intended to disarm critics by proclaiming the modest ambition of the writer, while subtly claiming that women’s thoughts might actually have some value.

Elizabeth Gilbert, she alleges, was considered a serious writer when she wrote about men, and trivial when she wrote “Eat, Pray, Love”.  The latter truly was a mediocre book, but whoever thought she was ever a great writer must belong to the mythical “we” of this piece who only exist as the imagined monument to Lili Loufbourow’s ego.

The further you move away from white masculinity, the more points of view you have to juggle.

Well, let’s keep it simple for a minute Ms. Loufbourow: how the hell do you know what white masculinity sees?   How do you know that those who are not white males have a deeper, more embracing perspective?   Show us even one clue that you have one clue what white men see when they look at women’s writing.

I don’t regard Alice Munro as a one of the greatest writers in the English language today– or Salmon Rushdie– because she is a woman, or because he is a man.  They are both simply brilliant writers, and if you don’t know what makes them brilliant that is a limit on your perspective, not theirs.


[whohit]The Subtle Aesthetic of Soap Opera[/whohit]