Launch, Rocket, Land, Repeat. Thinking Beyond Reason is the bottomline for developing AI for good.

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Machines do have the potential to liberate our minds from many things, but how can a mind unaware of its shackles be liberated? (Image from https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap061228.html)

Launch Time. High levels of conscious thought —  humanity’s next evolutionary step.

In, “It’s Alive,” (2017, 138 ) Professor Toby Walsh (aka the rock star of the digital revolution) comments “high levels of conscious thought” are a new arrival in the human capability arena. He notes that history shows that humans, until recently, were more used to manual labour and physical acts than intellectual gymnastics.

In, ‘The Age of Empire,’ (1987) the late British historian, Professor Eric Hobsbawm comments that history is very much alive;  we don’t know how alive because we simply aren’t aware of how it influences are daily existence.  Understanding history’s influence is crucial to developing high levels of conscious thought.  

What does ‘high levels of conscious thought’ mean? And why is it so important to be able to develop this en masse?

In a nut shell, high levels of conscious thought refer to a capacity  to think beyond the framework offered by the Age of Reason (Western history). It is the a ability to be consciously aware of how much this epoch influences our daily decisions, actions, thought patterns – how it frames our experience of our world(s) – from

  • intimate relationships  to national elections
  • giving birth to dying 
  • family to the workplace
  • watching sunsets to watching Netflix
  • kindergarten to PhD – and any and everything in between. 

Please forgive the brevity of this debate, a historical exegesis of the Age of Reason is a BIG topic – the aim of this article is to LAUNCH you into a state of: “OMG – I had NO idea how much history is in ME!”

Rocket Time. “OMG the Age of Reason influences ME!”

While the Age of Reason was (is) largely a Western institution its breath and depth went viral. 

For example, and the following list is NOT exhaustive, but what do: 

  • research into deep learning via neural pathways  
  • sexual intimacy
  • brain upgrades 
  • labour markets, including the gig economy
  • homophobia 
  • big data 
  • mental health and physical health
  • first and third wold development/under development
  • Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex’s visit to Australia 
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • sexism, racism, ageism (any ism you can think of) 
  • the holocaust, genocides  
  • World Wars and countless others 
  • climate change and environmental protection
  • how you are feeling today
  • death and birth
  • current trends in education 
  • global population growth
  • social media, and 
  • Automated Lethal Weapons (ALW’s)

 have in common? The Age of Reason. 

The pathways forged by the Age of Reason and its impact upon how humanity – across the globe – experiences life –  are almost invisible and profound. They are the nexus of the Human Social Condition (HSC);  a condition that while extricably linked to the Age of Reason – manages to market itself as a complete non event, not worthy of social recognition and completely benign. It is any thing but! 

The HSC and the Age of Reason are a dynamic duo. Here are some examples of them in action.

“WOW, I saw Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex today. They stopped and spoke to me! I feel so happy, so excited, so EMOTIONAL-on top of the world!”

And for the Republicans amongst us:

“What a day! Caught in traffic – late to work, missed the kids pick up, couldn’t find a park – all because of the wretched royal visit. Didn’t even know it was on! It makes me so angry and frustrated.  It totally messed up my day!”

How do these quotes – from royalist or republican – reflect René Descartes (whose work laid the foundations for rationalism and the Age of Reason) quote: “I think therefore I am?” 

Let’s start with the royalist’s comment:

“I feel so happy, so excited …. on top of the world.” 

Why does the royalist experience this ‘subjective’ state, these happy emotions? Because Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex spoke with them. Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex were the ‘objects’ (the I think) that the royalist used to make sense of the their subjective  (the I am) feelings. 

To make sense of their royal experience, our royalist ‘thought” to “feel” . Their thoughts made sense of their feelings:  I think therefore I am. 

The republican went through the same process – they placed the object before the subject and defined their feelings (subjective) through thought (objective). 

The object was the royal visit – an object which left our republican feeling (subjective emotion) frustrated and angry – because of the practical and quantifiable outcomes of the royal visit (the object): road blocks, detours, crowds – being late to work …..

In each of these examples, the experiences of  our everyday people  were framed and influenced by history: the Age of Reason and its sibling – the HSC (Human Social Condition).  Is this a problem? No and YES!

The Age of Reason has supported humanity’s evolutionary journey – it paved the way for the omnipotence of science – the validation and legitimation of rational thought, objective and quantifiable outcomes as the key building blocks of human knowledge. These were necessary steps towards current technological breakthroughs that permeate all areas of human and non human existence on Earth (Earth’s solar system and others) – but it also did a lot more than this. 

Land Time. ”One giant leap for MAN kind …

The  raison d’être of the Age of Reason was to contest the omnipotence of religious world views.  It evolved to challenge notions that religious icons were responsible for everything that happened – and that power should naturally reside with those that had direct access to communicating with omniscient beings e.g. Kings, Queens, Priests, Bishops and so on.  

The Age of Reason allowed for ways of knowing that relied – not on a few ‘chosen’  and powerful individuals engaging in illusive conversations with the heavenly realms – but on quantifiable methods, that could be repeated, rigorously tested and deemed objective.

The problem with The Age of Reason’s recognition of the objective scientific method as THE legitimate pathway to the development and creation of true knowledge – was that it deemed some people naturally more able to utilise this method than others.  It also placed a premium on quantifiable results.

Humanity’s more rational and objective specimens were  thought to have greater control and use of their mental faculties than their subjective and irrational counterparts. The latter were overly influenced and in some cases completely overruled by the emotionality and physicality of their physical bodies. And this is where it gets messy. 

The realm of rational, objective thought was ‘scientifically proven‘ to be the natural domain of white, middle class, heterosexual males.  Such human beings could make sense of and control the troublesome urges of their emotive and sexual bodies, and were naturally suited to positions of power over others – roles of decision making, the hallowed halls of academia and science, politics, business, law and order, finance and governance. 

Irrational thought, behaviour overly influenced and even determined by the emotional and sexual bodies – was scientifically proven to be the natural domain of women, gays, lesbians blacks and people of colour, non caucasian races and ethnicities, the working classes, the poor and the infirm (this list is not exhaustive).  How did this play out? Some examples include: 

  • The Western Industrial Revolution. The physical bodies of working class (and poor) men, women and children – had to be controlled by the rational, objective mind of the white middle class male.  Cue industrialised labour conditions – the machine as more valuable than the human body, and the rise of capitalism as the only way to do business.  
  •  Colonialism and Slavery. The ‘primitive’ body, and its environment  – ruled by nature, had to be controlled in every way – by the white mind. E.g., the Congo Free State and King Leopold of Belgium’s  ‘native policy’. Modern estimates cite this policy as responsible for the death of at least 10 million native Congolese people. 
  • The death of AI’s founding father, Alan Turing, in 1954. 

Alan Turing – the father of AI, experienced the Age of Reason in its rawest form.  Despite his brilliance as a mathematician and his seminal contribution to the outcome of WW2 – Turing was sentenced to chemical castration because he was gay. And being gay in 1950s Britain was illegal. 

Turing’s  mathematical genius, his gender, class, race –  would have placed him at the privileged hierarchical end of the  rational/objective – irrational/subjective continuum, but his sexuality negated this privilege. 

54 years after his suicide, at 41, Turing was awarded a posthumous royal pardon. In that time technology, AI, thinking machines have developed in ways that most of us do not understand nor could have imagined. Yet homophobia still exists,  being gay is still illegal in numerous countries – and far too many people – while abhorred – are not surprised when gays are beaten, murdered, and tormented. Somehow this behaviour makes a sad sense to us – that is how much history is still in us. 

Walsh (2017, 11) notes that subjective social change happens a lot more slowly than objective technological advances – this is no accident.

Humanity invests a lot more time and resources into its objective advancements than its subjective ones.  It just seems sensible to do so – after all, investments in technology, physical sciences, medical research, building, economics, energy and so on – yield quantifiable, exponential and tangible results – that offer enormous benefits to humanity.

Scientific and technological developments build upon each other.  Such a process isn’t wrong. It should be applauded and continued, BUT exploring deep learning via neural pathways and developing brain upgrades won’t lead to high levels of conscious thought, because the very methods used to develop such technologies are firmly embedded within the Age of Reason: the objective as superior to the subjective – technology as superior to humanity.  This is humanity thinking in repeat mode.

Repeat mode has consequences. It makes us less able and willing to:

  • invest time in understanding and working with new technological developments
  • explore our social world – easier to be distracted by the objective hum drum of our mobile devices
  • deal with mental health issues – which will continue to increase
  • take responsibility for our selves
  • think – why bother when machines can do it better than us – or so we think. But that’s when thinking is equated to processing information – dealing with large amounts of content, and knowledge is something that is always external to us.  

Repeat mode helps to support a human population unready for technological advances, unwilling to step into the unknown, and eventually unable to think for themselves. No wonder people worry about machines being in control! 

 Repeat Time: Life on Mars …. . 

Walsh (2017, 192) bemoans the low the number of women involved with the current technological revolution. He suggests more should be done to increase the number of girls doing science, maths and technology. 

I applaud Walsh’s calls for supporting women into the world of developing technologies, including AI, but why do they need to be mathematicians or IT experts? 

If history is NOT to be REPEATED and technologies are to be developed that support the development of high levels of conscious thought – en masse – then people who have the ability to think beyond the confines of the human social condition, beyond the frame of Reason,  must be at the forefront of the development of such technologies. 

Mathematicians, scientists, IT developers need to understand how much history is in them, because they need to be able to recognise the depth and breath of the human social condition and its impact upon their work. Without this knowledge, and despite their best intentions, history will  REPEAT itself – albeit in a different format – or mathematical formulation.  After all, the low representation of women in AI development has its roots firmly embedded in the Age of Reason – history.

Elon Musk wants to create a life on Mars – and technology can help him achieve that – but if he, and those around him, cannot work in ways that emanate from and support high levels of conscious thinking – humanity’s sojourn to Mars will be a sad repeat of its existence on earth. 

In a discussion on neuroscience and brain upgrades, Professor Wolcott applauds research that brings labs into lives – BUT lives also need to be brought into labs [Wolcott, R (2017) Hackers, Empathy and Neuroscience: A Conversation with Moran Cerf (article originally appeared in Forbes Magazine May 9, 2017)] Why? If the people developing brain upgrades do not understand how the human social condition influences their work, if they have no idea how much history is in them – then the technologies they develop are going to include a complementary dose of the human social condition – history will repeat itself.

Machines do have the potential to liberate our minds from many things, but how can a mind unaware of its shackles be liberated? 

Technologies do offer humanity enormous potential for bettering its, and the planet it inhabits, existence, but it cannot do this on its own. There is too much hidden history embodied in us and the technologies we develop for them to offer humanity any liberating mental or emotional panacea. We might think  technologies can do this for us but then we are thinking within the confines of Reason. 

The deep pathways of the human social condition need as much attention if not more – than their neural counterparts, because it is the former – not the latter – that provide an accessible everyday platform for changing how people think – make sense of their world – en masse. 

We worry about the invasive nature of modern technologies, social media, but these pale in comparison to the invasive nature of the human social condition. The former are in many ways  by products of the Age of Reason, as is the invisibility of the human social condition – one doesn’t come without the other. This is a problem, because we cannot develop new ways of thinking without exposing – empirically – how history influences us. As long as it remains invisible – history will repeat itself.

Machines can help us think differently – but we need to help machines to think differently, too. Otherwise … history repeats itself — and as history shows, the consequences will be anything but good for humanity and all it encompasses.

Higher levels of conscious thought — an ability to literally think beyond the frame of reason is essential for creating an empirical framework that can support the development of AI and other technologies for the betterment of humanity. Such a framework requires that the subjective (the social) and the objective (the machine) work together in ways as never before. This is the framework that leads to high levels of conscious thought — the pathway to super intelligence, for humans and perhaps machines. This is creating NOT repeating history — this is thinking beyond reason. 

Beyond Reason: the next step on humanity’s evolutionary thinking pathway

A ‘knowledge revolution’ is how Professor Walsh describes the impact of  current and future technological developments taking place in the world. I prefer to call it a content or information processing revolution. Why? I believe a knowledge revolution is yet to come. 

The Age of Reason, its pursuit of the scientific method and objectivity has led humanity to develop machines that can process information at a far greater rate than we can. If we stick to the frames of reference laid down by Reason – then these machines are more intelligent than us. Why? Because they can process information in quantities, objectively, at speeds and in ways that we cannot. Thus humanity is no longer at the top of the evolutionary scale. That would be the Reasonable conclusion. 

If, however, we leave the information processing to machines and learn to think beyond the confines of Reason – we have a knowledge revolution. Learning to: 

  • develop knowledge, and knowing, in different ways
  • experience life in different ways.

Developing high levels of conscious thought  is a dynamic and rigorous process that works across discipline boundaries, at any life cycle stage and with any information – whether mathematics, history, IT, art, daily life  experiences. 

Like Reason,  its predecessor on the evolutionary thinking scale –  there is a method, a process, a formula, empirical evidence to work with and from — for developing high levels of conscious thought. This method is eminently quantifiable, evidenced by the  creative courage and innovative thought processes it enables. Furthermore, developing high levels of conscious thought is the first step towards developing super intelligence — not in machines – IN HUMANS!

“… superintelligence (is) an intellect that is smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills’ (Bostrom in Walsh, 2017, 129)”.

The starting point for developing high levels of conscious thought is simple — assess how much history is in you. 

If you are feeling good, bad, upset, angry, happy, elated, sad because of … something … then you make sense of your daily experiences through the deep pathways of the human social condition — grounded in the Age of Reason. This is YOUR OMG moment! Why? Because you have taken the first steps to developing high levels of conscious thought — to thinking beyond reason.

The Age of Reason was an evolutionary step in developing humanity’s intelligence — but it is only a step. It is time to explore ways of thinking that extend beyond the framework offered by history.

We cannot develop machines that can think if we cannot learn to think differently ourselves. It is time to go beyond reason. 

Commercially viable and globally relevant —  humanity ignores the  development of high levels of conscious thought at its peril.

Dr. Louise Bricknell recently completed an ethnographic study of labour hire and the gig economy — on a factory floor. Her conclusion? Machines 1: humans 0

This article is dedicated to AC, without whom it would never have been written. Thank you.