Showing posts from 2019

Understanding understanding – could an A.I. cook meth?

What would it take to say that an artificial system “understands” something? What do we mean when we say humans understand something? I asked those questions on Twitter recently and it prompted some very interesting debate, which I will try to summarise and expand on here.

Several people complained that the questions were unanswerable until I had defined “understanding”, but that was exactly the problem – I didn’t have a good understanding of what understanding means. That’s what I was trying to unpick.
I know, of course, that there is a rich philosophical literature on this question, but the bits of it I’ve read were not quite getting at what I was after. I was trying to get to a cognitive or computational framework defining the parameters that constitute understanding in a human, such that we could operationalise it to the point that we could implement it in an artificial intelligence.
So, rather than starting with a definition, let me start with an illustration and see if we can us…

Genetics is Karma - Western science meets Eastern philosophy

In November 2018, I had the pleasure of taking part in a conversation with Swami Sarvapriyananda, on the relationship between science (genetics and neuroscience, in particular) and Eastern philosophies (Vedantic philosophy, in particular). The event was organised and hosted by the Rubin Museum in New York, and prompted by the publication of my book, Innate.

The conversation was framed around the concept of karma, which has some interesting parallels with evolutionary influences on human nature, genetic effects on our individual natures, and neural mechanisms of learning and memory. But, as you will see, the discussion was quite wide-ranging, touching also on reductionism in neuroscience, subjective experience, the self, perception, qualia, free will, morality, artificial intelligence, and the hard problem of consciousness.
Though I am not a believer in Eastern religions (or any religion), I do find many aspects of the underlying philosophy – especially the emphasis on flux over stasis…