Tag Archives: reductionism

Skyrim and the Quest for Meaning

  1. Lithium

I’m old enough to remember when video games were comparatively simple things. For example, I remember the side-scrolling video game adaptation of Robocop (1988). Relatively short, Robocop had you shooting and jumping your way from one side of the world to another. Once you got to the end of one world, you moved to another, and then another… and then the worlds started repeating themselves in slightly different colours. These games were simple to understand: you immediately knew what you were expected to do and what constituted victory. Nearly twenty-five years on, video game technology has advanced to the point where games are beginning to acquire the complex ambiguity of the real world — and with this complexity comes difficulty. Continue reading Skyrim and the Quest for Meaning

DARPA flirting with transhumanism?

neuronsIt shouldn’t come as any great surprise, I guess; it’s not like DARPA doesn’t routinely churn out ideas with more than a tinge of the science fictional about them. But according to Wired’s DangerRoom blog, everyone’s favourite Pentagon agency has decided to investigate the human brain in the same reductionist/physicalist terms that transhumanist thinkers use to discuss the potential of mind uploading and simulation:

The idea behind Darpa’s latest venture, called “Physical Intelligence” (PI) is to prove, mathematically, that the human mind is nothing more than parts and energy. In other words, all brain activities — reasoning, emoting, processing sights and smells — derive from physical mechanisms at work, acting according to the principles of “thermodynamics in open systems.” Thermodynamics is founded on the conversion of energy into work and heat within a system (which could be anything from a test-tube solution to a planet). The processes can be summed up in formalized equations and laws, which are then used to describe how systems react to changes in their surroundings.

Now, the military wants a new equation: one that explains the human mind as a thermodynamic system. Once that’s done, they’re asking for “abiotic, self-organizing electronic and chemical systems” that display the PI principles. More than just computers that think, Darpa wants to re-envision how thought works — and then design computers whose thought processes are governed by the same laws as our own.

As pointed out, that’s a pretty tall order – even for DARPA, the world leader in tall orders. But if there’s one thing they’re good at, it’s throwing money and expertise at otherwise intractable problems… and in a young field of research like this one, there’s as much to be learned from failure as success. [image by LoreleiRanveig]

And there’s an added bonus – the tinfoil hat crowd have got a nice new conspiracy to gnaw on.