Friday, April 20, 2007

5 - Limitations of the Computer Analogy

What are the limitations that you are talking about ?

Look I am using computer technology to – in a sense – model the mental behavior of human beings but it is only fair that I point out to you that using computers as an analogy of the human mind is NOT something new, and earlier attempts to model the human mind on digital computers have generally resulted in very limited success. Despite the hype with Artificial Intelligence (AI) since the early sixties it is still not possible to construct a computer, or rather develop the software that passes the Turing test.

What is the Turing test ?

This test, developed in the fifties required a system to respond to questions or stimuli in a manner indistinguishable from that of a real person and carry on this charade for a specified amount of time. The success of IBM’s chess playing computer, Deep Blue, which had beaten Gary Kasparov is no indication of any intelligence because it would not be able to replicate very simple human behavior like carrying on a conversation or guiding a robot across a busy street.

I have heard of Artificial Intelligence and of a primitive software analogy for the human mind … can you elaborate on that for a moment.

The hard disk of a computer, or rather the software that resides on it, can be seen, at a very gross level, to mirror the mind or the soul. Should you replace the entire software on the hard disk of one computer with that of another, then the two computers would be indistinguishable from each other.

It is almost be like the transmigration of a very primitive soul !

We can carry this analogy further along by considering a network of computers, say a local area network [ LAN ], where each computer picks up the relevant software from a central, big computer, called a server. This ties-in very neatly with the Hindu concept of one central soul, with serves as the repository of all knowledge and consciousness and where each individual person, or his soul, is a manifestation of this divinity. When new computer hardware is first put into the network, it connects to the server and picks the relevant software that breathes life into the computer. The software determines the behavior of the individual computer and gives it a personality. In the course of its active life, this computer modifies the software (or data ...) on the server. Should the computer die or become dysfunctional, all that needs to be done is to throw it away and replace it with another computer. The new born computer will pick up the software from the server, left behind from its earlier incarnation, and carry on from there on. We can triumphantly say that this is an excellent model for the transmigration of the soul.

But is this model really flawless ?

Not at all, not at all. The real question is where is the communication channel ? In fact scientists have still not found out the exact mechanism by which an individual soul communicates with the great central soul. There is no psychic equivalent of the physical Ethernet cable (which connects computers together) or the stream of electromagnetic signals that carry the data over the cable.

Perhaps there is some as yet undiscovered extra-sensory capability

That is an explanation that you tend to invoke when you do not have a really good answer – that this communication mechanism is beyond the sensory capabilities of the physical world and its existence cannot be detected by any rational method. But even though rationality has its limitations this immediate attempt to isolate this phenomenon beyond the realm of the rational sciences smacks of escapism. All but the most ardent believer would expect something more substantial.

So how do you explain the communication ?

I will come to it in a minute but there is a second flaw and perhaps bigger flaw that you need to be aware of.

What is that ?

It is in the assumption is that there is indeed some software, that is a collection of computer programs plus data, which can indeed model the human mind and soul. Nothing could be further than the truth. All computer programs have at the core an algorithm, which specifies the logic that dictates how the software will behave under various circumstances ... and this principle seems to be at a complete variance from the way human beings behave. People are impulsive, do not do what seems to be logical and are capable of drawing conclusions without analysing all the data .... these are impossible in the algorithmic methodology that is the heart of the computer program. Various attempts to simulate this irrational but goal directed behaviour by building algorithms that learn as they go along or make heuristic shortcuts have been successful only to a very limited extent.

So if I understand you correctly there are two fundamental problems in using computer technology to model mental, thinking and psychic behaviour, namely
* The absence of a well defined theory of algorithms that allow us to have any degree of confidence in our ability to model human thought on a digital machine and
* The absence of a proven communication channel that would allow sentient individual to communicate without resorting to physical media

These are hard obstacles and I do not wish to bypass them with any magic or occult mumbo-jumbo. Instead, let us look at two approaches namely (a) Patterns and (b) the Universal Turing Machine. But please understand that this means two major detours from our original path … and you have to bear with this till we come back here again.

What are these two detours ?

These are detours into
* The realm of patterns and
* The realm of the Universal Turing Machine

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